Experience The Deathsniffer’s Assistant in a New Way December 15th!

The date is coming up on the audio book release date of The Deathsniffer’s Assistant!

51uxsbppcnl-_aa300_
cover for the audio edition!

Maybe you’ve been meaning to check out the book and haven’t been able to make time in your busy schedule. Maybe you’ve already read it and want to reread. Or maybe you’re like me, and think of audiobooks as a form of adaptation, and just want to see TDA adapted to a new format! There are tons of reasons to pick it up in either digital or physical format!

The audiobook of The Deathsniffer’s Assistant is published by Tantor Audio, performed by Romy Nordlinger, and proliferated by Audible. Here are some places you can pick it up!

Tantor’s Site: You can get the book here in physical form as either an Audio CD, which can be played in most CD players, and an MP3 CD, which will not work in a base model CD player, but will contain an MP3 that you can access from a computer or MP3 CD player!

Audible Site: If you’d rather go digital, you can get the audiobook off Audible! It can be purchased with either credits, if you have an Audible membership, or normal money! Through the audible app, you can listen to the book on your phone or computer easily.

Amazon: Finally, you can buy it in either physical or digital via Amazon! The physical version has Amazon Prime attached to it, so if you’re a Prime member, you can have it at your house in two days! Amazon also has the awesome functionality where, if you’ve already bought the Kindle edition of the book, you can get the audible version for only four dollars!

People are already asking me the big question, of course, which is — will The Timeseer’s Gambit also be out, and if so, when? And what about books three and four? The short answer is, it depends! Tantor wants to see how the first one sells before it commits to the sequels. The best way to make sure you get to hear Olivia’s first official serial killer case is to pick up the first one and give it a listen!

Advertisements

The Heartreader’s Secret is Complete!

After a solid two months of writing 40 hours a week, I have finally written the last word in the first draft of The Heartreader’s Secret, Faraday Files number 3!

It’s only been done for a few hours now, so there’s no news on when it’ll be in your hands. Hopefully not too long, but publishing takes a while… and there’s a lot of work left to do on the book. But this stuff is honestly the easy part, and I can’t wait until the book is in your hands!

Here are some quick facts about The Heartreader’s Secret:

1. The first draft has clocked at 144k words. The Deathsniffer’s Assistant finished at 160k. The Timeseer’s Gambit was 132. That puts THS firmly in the middle of the three so far. It’s worth noting that word count can change a lot in revisions, of course! TDA and TTG ended up essentially the same length as TDA lost scenes and TTG picked some up.

2. It’s the darkest book in the series. The Faraday Files book are meant to act as both self-contained stories and four acts of one narrative. THS is very much the lowest point for the heroes as we head into the climax and finale in the final book.

3. It isn’t set (entirely) in Darrington City. Olivia and Chris’s case in this book takes them out of the big city and to the rambling country estate where Olivia grew up. Summergrove has become a hotbed for activity, with Rachel Albany, Rosemary Buckley, Emilia Banks, and Francis Livingstone all out there — not to mention Olivia’s mother, Elouise Faraday! It’s inevitable that Chris and Olivia would find themselves out there, and in this book, they do.

4. The titular heartreader is Rachel Albany. Rachel has always been my most challenging character to write, and her prominent role in this book is part of why it’s taken me so long to finish it! But despite her title call, Rachel doesn’t play as prominent a role as Olivia and Will do in the first two books, or Rosemary will in book 4, The Spiritbinder’s Key. THS is the most ensemble book in the series, and pretty much everybody gets a lot of stuff to do.

5. It’s been the hardest book to write by far. TTG stayed miraculously on-point. It only very occasionally diverged from the outline, and only in minor ways. TDA was a far more rambling, out of control creature… but it was also my first book and was a simpler narrative. It was easier to course correct when it strayed. But THS would not stay on topic. Chekov’s guns refused to fire. Entire characters wouldn’t fulfill their designated role. Planned dynamics didn’t play out. New characters appeared. Events played out differently than I envisioned. This book just would not behave, and with so many moving pieces I needed to get squared away for the final book, it was a pain to restructure everything over and over again!

6. I know a whole lot about apples, ciders, and horticulture now. Like, too much. Olivia’s family runs a famous orchard, mill, and cidery. I have something like fifty pages of research about apples, of which I’ve used maybe three lines. Oh, well. I got to drink a lot of different hard ciders for research 😉

Hungry for more? Keep your eyes peeled for more information about The Heartreader’s Secret, coming… hopefully soon!

October Reads – Oct 2

Continuing my series of spooky SFF reads you can pick up to get into the October spirit, here’s day two!

The Poison Throne by Celine Keirnan

7302398What’s it about?

Daughter of the king’s trusted confidante, Wynter grew up close friends with the two royal princes. Returning to the castle where she was raised after a long absence, she quickly learns that something has changed. The king has become a malevolent shadow of himself, his eldest and favoured son missing, and gibbets, torture, and whispers of a horrific ‘Bloody Machine’ have turned Wynter’s childhood home into a nightmare.

This is the first book in the Moorehawke Trilogy, a dark but still airy-feeling character driven fantasy series by Irish author Celine Keirnan. They’re fast reads with really compelling relationships and a lot of diversity!

How SFF is it?

Very! It takes place in a barely alternate Earth populated by talking cats, friendly ghosts, and werewolves howling in the night. It has a late west European medieval/early Renaissance feel to it. While not really high fantasy — few characters have any sort of real magical abilities — it definitely fits nicely into what you’d expect from a fantasy novel.

Why is it spooky?

Those friendly ghosts I mentioned above aren’t being so friendly anymore. The castle the book takes place in is haunted, and where once it’s spirits were friends, they’ve turned strange and mad and malevolent. There are some really outright eerie sequences involving the castle’s undead denizens!

This book also just has a sense of creeping dread about it. There isn’t much action and it’s a very slow burn, but it works well with the heavy sense that Something Is Wrong, that terrible things are happening and are only getting worse, that there is some awful unknowable secret just under our feet.

Finally, there’s some grisly details that add a gothic tone to it all, with the tortures mad King Jonathan is inflicting on his subjects and the way the castle has changed.

October Reads – Oct 1

I looooove the fall!

Specifically, I love October. I love the cool air, the leaves changing, the pumpkin spice, and getting to break out my scarves and sweaters. The sights and smells and mood are all just one of my favourite times of year! Moreover, the third Faraday Files book, which I’m working at a breakneck pace to finish this month, takes place deep in the Harvest season! So the autumn mood is really inspiring me!

The centrepiece of October is Halloween, which I love best of all. I thought for this month, I’d share a bunch of spooky, moody SFF-ish books that you may or may not have checked out!

To start…

The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Keirnan

What’s it about?

5356476After the suicide of her longtime girlfriend, author Sarah Crowe falls into a depression she can’t shake. Finding it impossible to write, Sarah impuslively spends a summer holed up in Rhode Island. She rents a little cottage whose grounds contain a gigantic, ancient red oak that has always been associated with mysterious, often gruesome circumstances.

This book plays havoc with your sense of what is and isn’t real. Sarah kills herself after the events of this summer. It sounds like a spoiler, but it’s more or less the first thing you find out when you start the book, because of the in-universe foreword by her editor. This is a publication of Sarah’s journals from that summer. And the real power of the book is that foreword, which holds just enough hints and glimpses into the real world, beyond the filter of Sarah’s madness, to confuse every attempt to decode what really happened.

How SFF is it?

Not very. This book is much closer to pure horror than anything else I plan to include on this list at this point. It has a contemporary setting and the characters feel like they live in the real world. At the same time, there’s very little communication with the outside world beyond the cottage and the red tree. It also feels very SFF to me, specifically in some of the weirder elements that I really don’t want to spoil! It’s also worth noting that the main character, Sarah, is actually an SFF author! Which is pretty cool.

Why is it spooky?

The kind of spookiness this book is going for is the idea of unknowable forces, of things that existed long before our civilizations, continue to exit in the shadowed corners of them, and will go on long after we’re gone. It taps into anxieties about the wildness of nature, the way that the natural world is in so many ways anathema to humanity and how we live, and the idea of vast powers and terrifying little glitches in the matrix that exist just below our feet.  It also plays with madness a lot, and the fear of the thing in the corner of your eye, and how you can convince yourself it was real… or was it actually real all along?

Year of the Deathsniffer

ME, THE INSIDE OF MY HEAD, AND DREAMS COMING TRUE

Almost two weeks ago now, on July 13th 2016, The Deathsniffer’s Assistant had its first birthday.

My parents got me a lemon cheesecake and took me out for dinner. I got some well-wishes from fans and industry friends on social media. I procrastinated writing this blog post, and the day passed.

It was both really, really exciting, and kind of low-key underwhelming. Partially because my second book is coming out in a couple of weeks, which is just crazy, and it’s hard to look back on and celebrate a year of my first baby when I’m currently having labour pains for my second! (And working on my third. Crap, I’m going to end up with so many of these things.) But mostly, I think it’s because I’m getting accustomed to this. In a good way!  When TDA hit shelves and kindles a year ago, it felt like living in a brilliant flash of a moment. My lifelong dream was coming true. Strangers were buying my writing, liking it, wanting more. Absolutely none of that has stopped being amazing, but, having achieved my dreams, my life didn’t stop.

Writing this, I’m remembering my favourite scene from the massively underrated Tangled, my favourite Disney Princess movie. (I, um, might be a little in love with the Disney Princess canon.) Rapunzel is about to see the floating lantern festival and gets a little scared, wondering what happens after you achieve your dream. I know that feel, Rapunzel. I think I’ve spent a lot of this year dancing with it.

Putting The Deathsniffer’s Assistant into readers’ hands didn’t make my life complete in the way that I irrationally always thought it would. And I’m realizing that these things I’m saying are making me sound like the year has been a disappointment, that nothing lived up to my expectations. Really, it’s the opposite of that. My fans are the gift that keeps on giving. Every @ on twitter, every new review, and every comment on my site still makes my day. What I’m saying is something that I think is a lot more universal: life is never complete, and it just keeps going.

That’s what I’ve spent the last two weeks thinking about. I thought publishing TDA was going to be the culmination of my life’s work, but I think I’ve realized that it’s just the start of it, the springboard I’ve built to go ever upwards.

 SUCCESS AND SATISFACTION

I think I can say, with firm certainty, that The Deathsniffer’s Assistant has been a resounding success.

I’ve sold considerably more copies than I ever expected for an indie publisher without in-store distribution. (Without sharing specific numbers, it’s only about half of what would be considered a success from a major house, but for my situation, it’s extremely strong!) My Amazon ranking in the paid Kindle store has twice broken the top one thousand, and once broken the top one hundred. And my reviews have been phenomenal. In one year, only one single reader has ever said that they outright didn’t like it. This matters a lot to me. I think I’d rather sell five thousand copies to universal acclaim than five hundred thousand to a lukewarm response. With a 4.4 on Amazon (of almost 100 reviews) and a 4.1 on Amazon (of almost 300 ratings), I can safely say that people really dig it, and that’s fantastic.

I’ve always wanted to make money writing. First of all, because money is wonderful and I am poor and I like to eat. But secondly, because, despite the way we romanticize the starving artist, it’s the ultimate dream to have someone give you cash not because you performed a service, but because you created something. I mean, hell. I’d almost pay you to read my books! The chance to share my stories with a receptive audience is almost payment in itself. When that audience is actually trading currency for the privilege, it’s kind of enough to make a creative-type weak at the knees.

For literally as long as I can remember, I’ve been telling stories. I can’t possibly overstate how grateful I am for the 4.4s and 4.1s and dollars in my bank account that are the evidence of a year spent telling them on a large scale.

I AM REALLY BAD AT COMMUNICATION EXCEPT FOR WHEN I’M NOT

We get it, Kate. You don’t like blogging! Yeah, well. I think I just might hate the act of throwing my voice out there into the void. But what I love? Is actually engaging with people, and talking about my work.

I’ve  numerous done book clubs and signings this year. It’s been wonderful. Especially the book clubs, because I get to talk with people who have already finished the book and have so many questions. I love answering questions. I love talking about my behind-the-scenes insights. I love getting into discussions about my own stuff, talking about my process, and  digging into the meat of my characters.

I’ve discovered that as much as I struggle with the act of stringing together non-fictional words about me, my work, and my process when I’m doing it alone, I absolutely love it when I’m doing it with others. I want you guys to know that I am always open to questions and thoughts and discussions about my life, my work, or anything about me! While I agonize over topics for blog posts, I just love getting to answer directed questions. Consider my door wide open.

AUTOPSIES AND APOLOGIES

All right. Time for this.

I didn’t want to say anything negative about my own work until a year after it was out there. For a lot of reasons, but mostly two.

The first is because it’s really easy to get down on your own work, seeing problems where they aren’t any. (For instance, there’s one scene in TDA that I wrote while extremely sick, and I hate it so much because all I can see is how miserable I was and how bad it was the first time I wrote it because I was so sick. It’s fine, now. Some people say it’s one of their favourite scenes! But all I can see is how much I hate it.) The second you vocalize those things, it can cause this effect where, now that I’ve pointed out a problem that doesn’t exist, other people start seeing the problem, too. And it still doesn’t exist! I wanted to let enough time pass that, like with the scene above, I can be objective and only talk about things I actually think were mistakes.

The second reason, obviously, is that when you’re trying to sell something to someone, you don’t point out how bad it is, haha. “Hey, you should buy this car! It smells like old fish and the e-brake doesn’t work and I really hate the trunk size. Only five thousand dollars!” I wanted to wait until the time to sell TDA was mostly over, and the time to discuss TDA had started in full.

In all honesty, there are still some things about the book I hate irrationally because of what the experience of writing it was like. For example, that one scene I describe above. It’s still fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. And I still hate it. There are some spots where I wish, with the eye of a hyper-critical creator, that I could go in and tweak and play around and make it “better.” I’m not going to talk about those things.

I do kind of want to talk about Ethan Grey.

!!HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!!

I want to do another Backstage Character Pass series where I talk about the characters from TDA who won’t be appearing in the rest of the series — the cast of the val Daren murder mystery. I have a lot to talk about with those characters, and wanted to wait until I could go into the nitty gritty details of the mystery without spoiling it. So that’s coming! For now, I just want to say that I think I could have handled my killer better.

I think I came at it from a good angle. For my first mystery, I wanted something really classic. The murdered patriarch. The elegant, grieving widow with a secret. The fey and beautiful daughter. The shark creditor. The spurned mistress. The spurned mistress, obviously would be the killer. And I got this idea that I could put a modern twist on the spurned mistress characters, and have it be a gay man.

I go back and forth on whether or not Ethan was fundamentally a mistake. I still like the idea. And when you read The Timeseer’s Gambit, I hope you’ll see that I use Chris’s reactions to him in interesting ways, as well as seeing some more positive LGBTQ characters. But a book has got to stand on its own, and Ethan straddles the line perilously close to that predatory gay man trope who tries to trick straight guys into doing gay things and is unhinged and dangerous. Like, really close. Close enough that I think I could have done better.

I tried to mitigate the circumstances. I do think that Ethan is a tragic character. Being gay didn’t make him a killer — a society that forced him into the shadows and convinced him that he was evil did. He was pushed to the sidelines and the choices he made were just a stacking Russian doll of ways to push back until he had crossed so many lines he didn’t know which way was up anymore. In a world that had accepted him, Ethan wouldn’t have become what he did. He’d have been a brilliant, celebrated artist with someone who loved him. I tried to use Olivia to show this, to be the one person who could see past the way things “should be” to mourn for his potential.

Was it enough? Honestly, probably not.

My own history and beliefs don’t really make a difference, and intent only goes so far. I made a conscious choice to hold back on outing my queer characters until book 2, and I think if I wrote the book again, I’d make it explicitly clear for least one of them. Gay people can be killers just as well as straight people. But my only visible gay character being a killer? Not ideal.

Some of you are probably reading this thinking “I don’t know, I thought it was fine.” Others might be going “that’s a nice apology, but you can’t unring that bell!” And perspectives are going to differ. I get that. But this is why I waited so long — to be sure that I knew how I felt about my own choice. And I think that I didn’t quite do my best to ensure that my people got the rep we deserve. All I can say is that I can’t go back, but book 2 is going to bring it in spades

!!END OF SPOILERS!!

THE FUTURE

If you’re like me and procrastinate reading articles the same way I procrastinate writing them , The Timeseer’s Gambit might already be out when you’re reading this. It’s my great hope that it’ll have as good a year as The Deathsniffer’s Assistant did. As many positive reviews, as many sales, and as many opportunities to communicate with my fans.

I think it’s the better book. I think people are going to like it. I hope I have less to answer for in my autopsy for this one, and I hope all readers respond to it the way early ones have.

Who knows how it’ll feel in a year? Or, for that matter, how TDA will feel another year from now? Will I mark the date at all, or will it just float by? Time will tell! All I can say is that this has been one of the best years of my life, thanks to the book, and thanks to all of you who’ve read it.

Cover Reveal for The Timeseer’s Gambit!

My second book, The Timeseer’s Gambit, is going to be out in just two weeks now, and I’m so excited to reveal its cover here today!

2-Timeseer's-Gambit-final-front-cover-for-preview

The cover for  The Timeseer’s Gambit features Chris alongside William, the titular Timeseer, set against warm colours to make you think of hot, heavy summer days. I was lucky enough to get the same artist who worked on The Deathsniffer’s Assistant and I absolutely love how they look side by side! The Kindle version of The Timeseer’s Gambit is now available for preorder at Amazon.com and other territories, so grab your copy today! (Paperbacks will be available for purchase on release day!)

Super excited for everyone to get their hands on this book! I think everyone is going to love it.

Oh, Hey, Long Time No See

Wow, this is embarrassing, isn’t it? After all that talk about making an effort to blog more and get myself out there and make sure I’m staying in close touch with you guys, I seem to have gotten worse than ever at this. Huh.

After about two years of doing this, I’m coming to the conclusion that I am just bad at blogging. Or, no. Let’s scratch that. I think I’m actually pretty good at blogging. People keep telling me that they really love my blog and they think my posts are really compelling and interesting and they love reading them. The truth is probably closer to this:

I hate blogging.

I have got this idea in my head about what a blog post needs to be, and one of those things is that it needs to have effort put into it. Which may or may not be true, but god dammit, it’s stuck in my head like a song that won’t leave. When I just have some hot take I want to throw out there, I go to my twitter.  Blogging feels like an obligation that’s going to absorb my valuable writing energy. Which it kinda does.

Anyway. I feel like I’ve made this damn spiel so many times, everyone must be bored of it! This isn’t a blog post about my issues with blogging. Rather, this is a blog post I’m putting the absolute minimum amount of energy into to see if it can be done, instead of getting myself all worked up about things!

UPDATES:

The Deathsniffer’s Assistant has been out for almost a year! It’s birthday is only two days away, and I’m really excited to hit that milestone. I’m intending to write a big postmortem on the book and do something to celebrate the birthday. We’ll see if it actually gets done! For now, let me just say that I’m really, really happy with how this year has gone and I’m so, so grateful to all of you for buying a copy and telling your friends and supporting me. I write for you guys.

The Timeseer’s Gambit is out in only twenty-five days! Holy crap! The time has flown, and also, has dragged so slow I could cry. I am really proud of this one and so frigging excited to get it into your hands. Early reviews are starting to go up, and the consensus so far is that it’s as good or better than the first one. (Yay!) I am really just so pumped to start talking about the book with you. My cover reveal is next week (pushing it close to pub, I know!) and I hope you guys love it!

The Heartreader’s Secret is looking a hell of a lot better than it was the last time I updated this blog, when I posted talking about how I’d spent five months writing a single chapter. The good news is there is now a lot more than one chapter hammered out on this manuscript! The going is still slow-ish compared to how fast TTG came out, but it’s a much more complicated book. I think it’s going to turn out considerably longer than the first two (which have almost the exact same word/page count!), which could be great or terrible depending. I’m still at a stage with this book where I’m worried it’s not very good, so I can’t say that I’m excited to get it out there in front of you all. But it’s coming, and it’s turning out mostly the way I want it to, so that’s good.

As for me, personally, it’s been a long summer so far. What do you mean, summer has just started? Dammit! It isn’t over yet?? I hate summer, I really do. I’m one of those weird people who would rather sit curled up by the fire with blankets while a blizzard rages outside than go to the beach. I hate the beach, actually. And the heat. And bugs. And eighteen hours of daylight. And I’m pale as a ghost and sunburn like I’m being roasted. Summer is not my time. I’ve been a little down, a little unfocused, and really, really excited for autumn to get here. Okay, is summer over, yet? What’s that? It’s only been a minute since I started writing this paragraph? HOW IS IT STILL HERE?

I’ve also read some books that are totally worth checking out. In the sci-fi side of things, I’m still digging the absolute pants off of  The Expanse series by James S A Corey. As for fantasy, Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan just recently came out in paperback and I tore through it in a day or less. So good. And on the romance front, I’ve been absolutely thrilled over how good Sarah Maclean’s Rules of Scoundrels series is, especially the second one!

So that’s it. This took very little effort and was fun to write, so hey, that’s something.

The Best Books I Read in 2015

It’s been an amazing year for me in reading. Normally, there are only a couple books in a year I discover that I want to share with everyone I know. In 2015, not so much! There were long stretches where I found I had a hard time reading at all because I’d burned through three winners in a row and doubted I could find anything that could measure up! It’s honestly hard to narrow my best reads of 2015 down to just five, but I’m going to try. In no particular order…

1. The Fifth Season – NK Jemisin

I’ve loved every book that Nora Jemisin has written. She’s an immensely talented writer and her stories are incredibly unique. Her work is always so utterly unlike anything I’ve seen before, and that’s part of what makes it so engaging. But only part. Just as much credit has to be given to the pure strength of her prose. Jemisin’s writing can carry you away as she bends the rules of language and uses words as paints.

The Fifth Season blows everything else she’s written out of the water. It’s dark, it’s beautiful, it’s unforgiving, it will make you wince and sob and wish and think. It tells a unique, fantasy story about marginalized groups without ever descending to the platitude of allegory. It’s grand, epic, and apocalyptic, filled with some of the most fascinating and complex world-building I’ve seen in fantasy, but it’s also intimate and personal.

2. The Girl With All The Gifts – Mike Carey

The thing about The Girl With All The Gifts is that as soon as you know anything at all about it, it’s already half ruined. I could say that it inhabits a genre I usually have no use for, but then I’d have to assign it a genre, and that would ruin it. I could say that it’s the best take on one specific theme I’ve ever seen, but if I name the theme, that would also ruin it. I could talk about how it lets female characters do things that female characters rarely get to do, but I don’t want to talk about those things, because that would spoil that they happen!

I’ll recommend The Girl With All The Gifts in the same way the back of the book does: this is a story about a little girl named Melanie. She wants to marry a prince and loves going to class and learning. Every morning, she’s unchained from her bed, strapped into a chair, and wheeled into the schoolroom by military personelle. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they never laugh.

It’s a book where you discover… everything. You start with only that knowledge – a little girl named Melanie locked in a room in a military base – and bit by bit you unearth her story. And it’s absolutely brilliant. If you’re the type who can go into a book with blind trust that it’ll be good, check it out and please don’t find out anything else before you do!

3. Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, and Abaddon’s Gate – James S. A. Corey

I’m cheating and counting these three as one book due to being the first three in a series that I really can’t pick a favourite from.

A friend recommended me Leviathan Wakes years ago, promising diverse and memorable sci-fi. I bought it and it’s been sitting on my shelf for a long time. I love sci-fi, really, but it always takes me just that little bit more gumption to dig into than my other genres of choice, and the book looked a little intimidating. I finally got around to reading it this year in preparation for The Expanse TV adaptation on Sy-Fy and oh my god, I can’t believe I put something this amazing off.

The Expanse are amazing, wonderful books. I’ve always had a taste for the Lovecraftian, and The Expanse is something entirely unique in that the space horrors leave us alone until we actually go into space to find them. They’re also as strangely beautiful as they are deeply horrific.

It’s appropriate that the books are being made into TV, because I find they have the same appeal as my favourite television series do. They’re filled with well drawn, likeable characters, and a damned compelling central conflict that’s framed in new and exciting ways in each separate book. They’re also amazingly diverse and have some of the best minority characters (and certainly the highest volume of minority characters) that I’ve seen in books this year. Leviathan Wakes strays a little too close to typical white-guy sci-fi, but the authors make up for it in spades in the rest of the series. I’m devastated that after Cibola Burn and Nemesis Games, I’m going to have to wait for the next one like a peasant, biting my nails down the whole time.

4. A Natural History of Dragons – Marie Brennan

I enjoyed Brennan’s Onyx Court series. Especially the brilliant third book, A Star Shall Fall, which is one of my favourite novels of all time. So I was prepared to like her newest Lady Trent Memoirs series. I was not prepared for just how much.

As you may have guessed, I love mannered fantasy. I also, coincidentally, love ladylike fantasy protagonists who are nevertheless tough and empowered. And on top of that, I love anything that mixes science with magic. So I shouldn’t have been surprised by how much I adored this book. But I still didn’t expect just how much it captured me. As much as I loved the plot, a travelogue romp about curses, religious sects, smuggling rings, and conspiracies, what I loved a thousand times more was the natural history itself. Every time Isabella did a dissection, or wrote down her observations about how a dragon moved or nested or its hunting behaviours, I was just utterly captured.

The conceit of the book – framed around being a fictional memoir written by Lady Trent herself – just adds another layer of enjoyment. Isabella’s passion for learning comes across through “her” writing, and I held my breath when she was close to breakthroughs and cheered whenever she finally teased out some bit of new knowledge about the creatures she loved so much.

5. Words of Radiance – Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson is undoubtably one of the most talented fantasy writers of this age, and I feel comfortable stating that his work is going to be remembered for generations to come. The fantasy he writes today is going to be a bar set for the future of the genre. No one writes world-building as complex and layered as he does, and no one is so perfectly in control of every aspect of the story they want to tell.

Despite all this, he’s never been one of my personal favourites. His writing focuses very much on combat, on tests of strength, and on becoming more powerful. He does it better than anyone, but it’s not my usual cup of tea. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read of his, but never with total abandon before.

Words of Radiance changed that.

I did just mention that I love ladylike protagonists who are very strong and tough and complex and empowered! I’ve always been very girly in a lot of ways, and I’ve always found it hard to find female characters who are overtly feminine without being damsels or background characters. Words of Radiance is very much about Shallan Davar, a quirky, determined, and complicated artist who is everything I love in ladylike protags. She also happens to be, amusingly enough, another natural historian, eager to unlock the secrets of the strange world these books are set in. Shallan has the kind of backstory that could make a stone weep, but her determination to see a good world and live there is deeply affecting and touching.

Shallan, combined with the unbelievably detailed world Sanderson has created in this series, made this book something that captured me from its first page to its eventual thousandth. I’ve thought about it constantly since I put it down and I really can’t wait for the next one.

There you have it! Each of these books are absolutely brilliant and you should seek them out! I can’t wait to discover all the great books I’ll find this year and I can’t wait to share them with you.

In Defense of the “Weak” Male Lead

There are certain traits that we, as a society, tend to value in a male lead. Stoicism. Wordliness. Confidence. Physicality. Adventurousness. Fortitude. Courage. There’s a certain image that is conjured to mind when you think of a “hero,” and he’s probably every single one of those. His flaws usually involve overconfidence, insensitivity, or inflexibility — when they’re even portrayed as flaws. He’s James T. Kirk, Indiana Jones, Nathan Drake, Commander Shepard, and Owen Grady. And he is absolutely everywhere.

He isn’t, as those who have read my first novel will know by now, in The Deathsniffer’s Assistant.

Christopher Buckley is an altogether different sort of male lead. He’s proper, stuffy, prudish, insecure, physically unimpressive, squeamish, and meticulously groomed. He cares about fashion, societal expectation, and his own personal comfort. He doesn’t like situations that put him into any kind of discomfort, and he’d really rather be discussing society gossip with a cup of tea than kicking any ass or taking any names.

While more masculine women are mostly accepted as characters, more feminine men absolutely are not. And the answer why is fairly obvious. Masculine is good, feminine is bad. A woman who can fight alongside the men is respected. A man who’d prefer to talk fashion with the women is not.

And yet, I’ve always loved this type of character. He’s rare and unique and that makes him special to me. I’m bored with tough, snarky white guys whose value is measured in their ability to grizzle their way through any situation. Chris is in rare company. Already, some of my reviews have negatively pointed out how much he cares about the opinions of others and his strict compliance to the rules of courtesy. Which is about what I expected. Chris isn’t the sort of character who gets showered with love from the masses. He’s always going to appeal only to a niche. I’m proud of him.

I’d like to draw attention to some of his compatriots. Male leads — and they have to be leads! — from fantasy novels who are defined primarily by uncertainty, insecurity, fragility, or propriety. Men who have strong character arcs that aren’t about overcoming their softer attributes, but about becoming more flexible, more empathetic, or more open-minded, while still embracing their “weak” personality traits. I love this characters and I have so much respect for them and the authors who choose to write about them.

1. Eldyn Garritt (The Wyrdwood Trilogy by Galen Beckett)
Eldyn is a the impoverished son of a once wealthy family, money that was drunk away by his abusive father after the loss of his mother. He works as a clerk and dreams of investing in a major venture to reclaim his family fortune and enter polite society once again. Eldyn falls in love with the theatre and the actors who perform there, but he’s torn between the impropriety and immortality of that life and his faith in God. Eldyn is sensitive, kind, soft-spoken, and extremely concerned about the appearance of respectability. His arc has him fall in love with a fellow actor, be forced to confront the ugly truths about the church, and learn to fight for a cause he believes in. But he ends the trilogy as sweet and kind and yielding as ever. Eldyn shares main character status with two others and his plot is intertwined with the other two.

2. Portier de Savin-Duplais (The Spirit Lens by Carol Berg)
From birth, Portier dreamed of becoming a great mage. But after years studying at the Collegia Magica, he was finally forced to admit that he had no talent for the art. His father, ashamed of his son’s failure, attempted to kill him, and Portier was turned patricide in self-defense. It’s hard to say which of these events contributed to Portier’s desperate self-loathing, insecurity, and skittishness, but it’s probably a combination. Portier badly wants people to like him and he still dreams of magic, which makes him a very internal character, constantly battling his own self-hate and lack of confidence as he acts as an undercover agent to solve the mystery of who is trying to assassinate the King. He grows to accept himself, at least in part, but he continues to be as proper and as careful and as studious as ever. Portier is the solo protagonist of The Spirit Lens and is a supporting character in the subsequent novels in the series.

3. Travis Wilder (The Last Rune by Mark Anthony)
Saloon keeper Travis Wilder is a skinny, shy, sweet, withdrawn lad with big, ill-fitting glasses, floppy hair, and a kind smile. He works his nine to five and tries to bury the trauma of his youth until he’s pulled into the fantasy word of Eldh, and something entirely shocking happens. He doesn’t learn to wield a sword. He doesn’t lead any armies. He doesn’t become brave and tough. Instead, he learns that he has a talent for runecasting — which is a challenge for him due to his severe dyslexia — and falls in love with handsome knight. Travis spends seven books becoming a hero, but he’s a hero who always has a soft smile, who’s shy and kind, who’s terrified of hurting people, who struggles with his own self-worth. Travis shares his main character status in all seven books with the emotionally distant and expertly confident doctor Grace Beckett, which provides a great gender reversal.

4. Sedric Meldar (The Rain Wilds Chronicles by Robin Hobb)
Sedric Meldar fell in love with the wrong person when he went head over heels for the confident, intelligent, sly Hest Finbok. It was easy to ignore all the ways Hest could be cruel when the good times were so good. So good, in fact, that Sedric convinced Hest to marry his friend Alise so that they could continue on in secret. When Sedric ends up on the wild and dangerous Rain Wilds River, with Alise and without Hest, he’s forced to realize and confront truths that he’s spent his entire life avoiding. Sedric is the jackpot for the “weak” male character. He’s delicate, sensitive, proper, fancy, and buckles under adversity. While he excels in the civilized world due to his extremely organized mind and his social aplomb, he’s a disaster in a typical fantasy plot. Sedric’s arc is brutal and epic. He struggles with depression and suicide, has to come to terms with his status both as a victim of Hest and an accomplice in helping Hest victimize others, and reaches the absolute lowest point of self-worth I’ve ever seen from a fantasy hero. But he rises again and rebuilds himself… and is just as proper and sensitive as ever, and would still vastly prefer an afternoon tea to a river adventure. Sedric shares his main character status with three other characters, including Alise herself.

5. Vanyel Ashkevron (The Last Herald-Mage by Mercedes Lackey)
And, of course, the original flavour. Like many other women my age and younger who are passionate about fantasy, Valdemar was a huge cornerstone of my growth, Vanyel especially. Vanyel’s books span thirty years of his life, and he starts as the quiet, soft, musically inclined nobleman and ends his life as the most famous hero of his nation. Vanyel is defined by his longing for love and his fear of loss and how hard those two traits are to coexist. He’s also shy and sweet, and is known for his love of fine things, his vanity for his looks, and his passion for music. Vanyel is the sole main character of his trilogy and the defining character of the entire 20+ book Valdemar series.

There’s something worth mentioning about this list, of course. All these characters except one are queer. I love seeing queer characters in fantasy, and there are a lot of them who are masculine and tough and some who even fit into that fellow we outlined up top. But insofar as I can tell, there’s only one heterosexual male in all fantasy with this archetype! In addition, these were the only five I could think of in the whole catalogue I’ve read that were protagonists and not secondary characters!

I want to see more characters like this in all media. Especially as protagonists! Not only does it buck gender stereotypes, it says that we do not fine stereotypically “feminine” qualities as being inherently inferior to stereotypically “masculine” ones! And the more characters we see like this, the more normal they’ll become.

And I just… like them! All of these characters instantly appealed to me and stood out to me. They’re different. They struggle with things I can identify with. They flout the concept of toxic masculinity hard. They grow and learn and becoming better people, but they don’t move out of their archetypes and into a more acceptable one. That’s something that should be valued.

My Paper Baby Learns to Crawl (by Samantha Bryant)

change1There are so many other talented authors at my publisher, Curiosity Quills! One of them is the clever and funny Samantha Bryant, whose debut novel GOING THROUGH THE CHANGE about menopausal superheroines is unique, witty, brilliant, and even important. I can’t remember the last genre book I’ve read where women over fifty get the spotlight! I loved the book and you all should definitely get a copy to see it for yourself. The following is a guest post from Samatha herself as she talks about the process I’m currently going through: the first few months of your book’s life. Enjoy!

My Paper Baby Learns to Crawl

Whew, motherhood! They grow up so fast! My baby is already three months old as I  write this. Not my literal baby—those are 8 and 15 (!)—but my paper baby. My debut  novel: Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel.  Paper babies grow up faster than the flesh and blood sort. She’s only a few months old  and she’s out there in the world, making her way with or without me.  It’s an exciting and  terrifying time. What if she falls down? What if she becomes huge?

Like any mother, I want the best for my brain-child. I want her to be successful and well- treated. After all, I worked hard to bring her into this world and make her the best book I  could.

Like any first time mother, I’ve been a little overwhelmed and unsure what the best  things to do might be to help make that happen. I’ve done and continue to do what I can  to clear the path for her, to help her have a good shelf life. I seek reviews and  promotional opportunities so people will know about her and read her. I reach out (and that’s no easy thing for a dorky introvert like me).

But, the truth is, she’ll stand or fall on her own now. I’ve done my part, and now it’s up to her.  I just hope I raised her right, and that she’ll be a good book.

It’s been quite a start. I’m proud of her. She’s stood up to criticism (we’re up to twenty-three reviews now), and found new friends. In a reversal of the usual pattern of child rearing, it’s she who is opening doors for me now.

Because of her, I was able to participate in the Read Local Book Fair in Durham, NC and will be a guest at Atomacon this fall. She’s the reason I was interviewed for a local radio show (Carolina Book Beat). She got me an invitation to write a novella for a superhero anthology, too. I guess we’re already to that “mother of an adult child” stage, where we are friends and can help each other.

Oh, and did I tell you the exciting news? I’m pregnant again. I’ve just finished the sequel and sent her to the publisher. With a little luck, she’ll join her sister in a bookstore near you in early 2016!

___________________________________________________

change2Going Through the Change is going through a change in price for a couple of days in early August. On August 5th and 6th you can get the Kindle edition for free on Amazon. Check it out at: http://bitly.com/face-the-change

Samantha Bryant is a middle school Spanish teacher by day and a mom and novelist by night. That makes her a superhero all the time. Her debut novel, Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel is now for sale by Curiosity Quills. find her online on her blogTwitter, on Facebook, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on the Curiosity Quills page, or on Google+.