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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Cover Reveal: The Gate Beyond Oblivion by Ryan Kirk

Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Hive Interview with Ryan Kirk

Today we are excited to reveal the cover for Ryan Kirk’s upcoming new epic fantasy The Gate Beyond Oblivion (Oblivion's Gate book #1). Ryan is the bestselling author of The Nightblades trilogy and the Blades Of The Fallen trilogy from 47North.

Today we are happy to reveal the cover for Ryan’s upcoming book “The Gate Beyond Oblivion”. My thanks to Ryan Kirk and Michael Evan for this cover reveal. Checkout the cover and the official blurb below:

Pre-order the book HERE

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A broken warrior. A hunted thief. The courage to save an empire.

As one of the empire's most skilled soldiers, Brandt is no stranger to combat. After he and his fellow wolfblades fight a merciless warrior armed with impossible magic, Brandt is left shattered. Searching for answers, Brandt stumbles upon a secret war, fought by a very few, that threatens the land he calls home.

Alena is a gifted student studying for university exams. She moonlights as a thief and spy, searching for a purpose beyond the walls of her small town. When she steals a powerful artifact she becomes the most wanted thief in the empire, sending her fleeing across the continent for safety.

Their quest for answers uncovers lies buried for generations. Lies at the heart of their empire.

As a mysterious and powerful enemy prepares their assault, Brandt and Alena must race to find the truth and save their home.

Before the Gate Beyond Oblivion summons them both.

SPFBO Interview: Virginia McClain

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little about yourself?

I am tall for a woman, but because I almost never wear heels people think of me as average height (until I put on heels and then everyone comments on how tall I am). Most of my friends consider me quirky but dependable. I am the friend that people call at 2am when their pet dies or their significant other breaks up with them. Lately, I spend my free time reading, running, and hanging upside down from very long pieces of fabric (aerial silks). 

Do you have a day job? If so, what is it? 

Sort of? I write (and do all the backend indie publishing stuff) and take care of my three-year-old daughter. She recently started pre-school so I drop her off and head to a cafe for a few hours to work five days a week. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, I can do graphic design work and advertising even when she's at home with me. 

How old were you when you first sat down to write a fantasy story or novel? And how old were you when you made your first professional sale? 

I was 5 the first time I put crayon to paper to tell a tale of dragons and hedgehogs. The spelling was more creative than the stories, but it was (barely) legible. My mom saved it for ages and gave it to me a few years ago. It's pretty hilarious (to me anyway).

My first professional sale was when I was 23. I sold a short story to a literary journal called The First Line. I think they paid me $25. I was so damned proud of that story. I still have copies of it. It wasn't fantasy, but it was action-adventure, and I was thrilled about the whole thing. 

Serious writing takes not only a story to tell, but the craft of writing to tell it well—can you comment on your journey as a writer? 

I've a lot of books that I have no intention of publishing. I mean, that wasn't the plan when I sat down to write them. I don't think I've ever sat down to write a book and thought "I'll never publish this." (I do think that about short stories all the time. I often consider short stories just exercise in prose.) But, after writing them, I've decided some stories just aren't good enough to need an audience. The first draft of Blade's Edge was the third full novel I wrote. And I didn't decide to publish it until I rewrote a few times. Point being, I've written a lot of stuff that I've never let anyone read, or only let my mom read. Of course she thinks they're all wonderful, but that's what moms are for. A lot of what I've written really just amounts to practice. Which is as it should be. The more you practice anything the better you get at it, and whether you practice on a single story until you get it down well enough to sell, or practice a dozen stories only once until you write one that you think people will want to read doesn't really matter. What matters is that you practiced first, and got better, and then gave your story the best you had at the time. I have written and published six books since I released Blade's Edge. I recently had to reread Blade's Edge in order to prepare for the third Gensokai book, and while I still love the story and the characters, there were bits of it that made me cringe, all choices of style or wording. My writing is better now. It wasn't bad then, but it's better now and seeing my old stuff can feel a bit embarrassing if I don't remind myself that I'm supposed to be better now. What would be embarrassing is if I hadn't improved at all as a writer in five years. 

What do you think characterizes your writing style? 

Hmm... I try to keep things to a quick pace, and I don't like to delve too much into description of people or settings. I like to drop the bare minimum of description so that things aren't happening in the void of space (unless they're meant to be happening in the void of space) and then move on to the action. Some of my readers love this, and others hate it (which means they are not likely to remain my readers). I write for folks who read as I do, and want to imagine the details for themselves. Readers who prefer the details filled in for them will probably find my descriptions insufficient. 

How often do you write? Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired? Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day? 

I go through periods (usually a month or two at a time) where I have fixed daily word counts while I knock out the first draft of a book. This works well for me, and then gives me something to edit. However, after I've done a 4 to 6 week intensive writing period, I usually take a few weeks off, and just read a bunch and watch shows. I wouldn't mind writing every day for a lower word count and then just switching projects after I finish a draft, but my schedule doesn't currently work with that. Maybe once my daughter is a bit older and I have more than 2.5 hrs of work time per day. 

What made you decide to self-publish Blade’s Edge as opposed to traditional publishing? 

I was following Hugh Howey's blog at the time that I was re-writing Blade's Edge and considering my publishing options. I'd had some success selling short stories in my early twenties, so I thought I might have some success with traditional publication. However, the more I learned about indie publishing vs. trad publishing (thanks to Hugh Howey's blog, and others) the more I realized I didn't want to sell that many of my rights, or give up that much of my income. Or wait for as long as the trad publishing cycle can take. Also, I LOVE being in control of all the details of making my books look good, and while I would love to have the widespread distribution that traditional publication can offer, that was really the only thing I wanted out of traditional publishing that indie publishing struggles to provide. So, in the end I never even submitted Blade's Edge to an agent, or anyone else. Instead, I ran a Kickstarter so I could hire the editor and cover artist I wanted and went from there. 

What do you think the greatest advantage of self-publishing is?

Control! I have control over just about every detail of my books. I have a number of friends in the trad game and they don't have a say in any of those pieces and often find it incredibly frustrating. (Especially when they get stuck with a lackluster cover, or weird formatting, or their publishers price their ebook too high.) 

On the other hand, is there anything you feel self-published authors may miss out on? 

Being on shelves in bookstores. It is very difficult (though not impossible) to do this as an indie, and I would love it if my books made it on to more shelves in bookstores and libraries. Also, I would kind of love it if I didn't have to do all of my own promotion. I could hire someone to do this as an indie, but I'm not making enough money to make it worthwhile to do so yet, and besides, I can do it myself, so I do. But the learning curve on promotion and advertising is steep and I have taken a very long time to gain just a tiny modicum of success in terms of building an audience and gaining readership. That said, not all publishing houses represent their authors very well, and even with a trad deal I might still be in charge of a lot of my own promotion and... argh... I can't imagine giving up that much of my royalties and still not having someone else promote me. 

One of the big challenges with self-publishing is finding readers. Was that your experience? 

Yeah. Always. I have a solid cover for my genre, and I'm constantly messing with my blurb to make it better, but none of that matters if my book doesn't wind up in front of readers who are interested in my genre/sub genre. That's the magic challenge. My best month of sales ever was when Blade's Edge got a BookBub featured deal. Suddenly my readership went from hundreds to thousands. That was huge. However, I didn't do a great job capitalizing on it, and I am just now learning how to advertise properly (and kicking myself for not having done so back when my book was in the top of all its categories). I have more readers now, but need a steady stream of new ones if I hope to make this job pay for itself. 

Why did you enter SPFBO? 

A well placed question, as I did it largely to help out with the previous question... gaining readers. I did not expect to make the finals back when I entered, but I figured just being in the competition would gain me some visibility. Sure enough, I got a nice little spike in sales when I entered. Another spike when Blade's Edge was made a semi-finalist, and another still when it was made a finalist. It has been great for visibility, and no matter what happens in the finals I already feel like I've won.

To be clear though, my favorite part of the entire competition has been making friends with other authors in the mix. Between Facebook and Twitter, I've made lots of friends with other authors and bloggers and it has been fantastic. (Though the absolute best is the group chat we started with all this year's finalists. The ten of us are now buddies and we all swap stories and share support almost daily.) 

What would you do if you won the SPFBO? 

Definitely do a goofy dance. Probably buy myself a nice bottle of alcohol and a fancy meal. Take a selfie with the selfie stick? You know, the usual. But, as I mentioned earlier, thanks to the new friends and added readership I feel like I already won. It would be difficult to top all that. 

For those that haven’t read Blade’s Edge, can you tell us a bit about it? 

WHO HASN'T READ BLADE'S EDGE YET!?!?!? Just kidding. Most people, that's who. Let's see... Since anyone can go read the description if they want to, I'll give you my one liner that I use to get people's attention at conventions and events: It's Song of the Lioness meets Avatar the Last Airbender with a dash Shōgun. 

What was your initial inspiration for Chronicles of Gensokai series? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea? 

So... I lived in the northern part of Japan for two years. While I was there, I was teaching mostly night classes and I had my days to myself. One of the things I did to keep myself entertained was bike all over the countryside where we lived and check out all the little mountain shrines that topped just about every summit you could find. Most of the smaller shines were shinto (there were also some very large and impressive buddhist temples nearby) and one day when I was sitting next to one of the shrines and contemplating the view, I wondered what would happen if the spirit the shrine was dedicated to decided to show up and ask me what I wanted.

The idea stuck with me, and then more ideas piled on top of it (as ideas are wont to do) until I had a magic system inspired by meditation practices and the elements, kami (spirits) who show up to help or hinder humans as they go about their lives, and two young girls whose lives had been irremediably altered by an oppressive, misogynistic regime.

I wrote the first draft back in November of 2009 (yes it was a NaNo project but I wrote over 100k that month). Then I set it aside until 2013, when I decided to rewrite it one chapter at a time as a webserial for the now defunct JukePop serials. It was cool to have a paying market for it, and it was good motivation to actually edit it. (Spoiler alert though: editing sequentially one chapter at a time does not work for me.) So, the whole thing got a complete rewrite from the JukePop version to the Kickstarter version. And by the time it went to actual publication--print, ebook, the whole deal--it contained fewer than 10,000 words of the original draft. 

Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers will sympathize with them?

Mishi legitimately thinks she's bad at everything when she first starts training. Of course, she's not wrong, she's trying a bunch of things she's never done before, and she's not magically good at them she has to work at it, but she berates herself for it more than she probably should which... well, that's something I sympathize with pretty strongly, not sure about everyone else.

Taka... Taka has this great relationship with a red tailed hawk later on in the book. It was one of my favorite things to write. His form of affection is a fairly painful bite, and she just accepts that he's going to make her bleed a tiny bit whenever he says hi. That probably doesn't sound compelling but... he's a hawk. He's not a pet. 

What was your favorite part about writing Blade’s Edge? 

It has been so long that any answer I give now will be 90% fiction, but... Probably all of the interactions between Mishi and Tatsu, and Taka and Yanagi. 

You’ve created an interesting world with a unique magic system. What challenges did you face not just in making it accessible, but in incorporating all the information that needed to be conveyed to make the story work? 

This was the book that taught me how to appreciate world building notes. Because I did NOT make world building notes to start with. I just vomited up 100,000 word of prose that was over 50% world building and character backstory right onto the page. Giant conversations about how kiso works, what kishoshi can and can't do, who has how much power and why. Ugh... it was awful. That was in the first draft.

Then, in the second and third drafts, I went through and deleted all the giant info dumps, turned them into notes for my own reference, and went back through to sprinkle the relevant information wherever necessary, as lightly as possible. Ever since then, I have made copious world building and character notes BEFORE I start any project and then I sprinkle those details in as needed. It is very important to ME to know how all of my systems work. It is not important to the reader until it's relevant to the plot, so I do my best to not spread that on too thick. 

Writing the sequel to a well-received book can be stressful :) How was writing Traitor’s Hope different from Blade’s Edge? Did the final version of this book differ from how you envisioned it as you were completing Blade’s Edge and looking ahead to the series as a whole? 

When I finished the final draft of Blade's Edge, I wasn't sure I was going to write a sequel. I'd left room for one, but I figured I would pursue other projects first, or maybe just never get around to it. I wanted it to be its own story. But the more I thought about it the more I realized I'd left a lot unanswered, and in particular I wanted to [spoiler redacted] and [spoiler redacted]. So, I decided to get down to business and write a second Gensokai book instead of moving forward on one of my other finished drafts.

It was the right thing to do because that's where my brain went, but yes, it was more stressful to write Traitor's Hope than Blade's Edge. Even though Blade's Edge only had about 300 hundred readers in that first year, I was terrified of disappointing them. Traitor's Hope has a different feel to it than Blade's Edge in a number of ways. I'm just now starting to reread it to prep for the third Gensokai book, but Traitor's Hope has enough of a dark edge to it that once I finished it I needed to take a break to do something more lighthearted. (Which is why I released a five book humorous urban fantasy series over the past two years instead of moving onto the next Gensokai story.) 

How many books have you planned for the series? 

Undetermined. I'm writing a third book in the Chronicles of Gensokai right now, and it happens not long after Traitor's Hope, but it largely follows new characters and will have a pretty different feel to the other two books. I expect it to have a few sequels of its own, and I also have ideas for some 1000 years earlier prequels to Blade's Edge down the line as well. All in all, there might be around nine books in this universe, but they will all be standalones in their own right, so the plan could change at any time. 

What sort of research did you do for the series? 

Years of martial arts training, two years of living in Japan, visiting many museums related to feudal Japan, reading some historical fiction books and then comparing those to actual historical articles, and then throwing most of that away as I created a world that has its own history and isn't actually Japan, but merely takes inspiration from it. (And yes, I used the Japanese language for a lot of things instead of making up a new one, because I do not have Tolkein's patience for creating new languages just for fun.) 

Would you say that Chronicles of Gensokai series follows tropes or kicks them? Depends on the trope. It follows some and kicks others. Folks looking for romance will ultimately be disappointed unless they come back for book two. The women all rescue themselves and... *shrugs* I love some tropes and avoid/twist others at every opportunity. 

Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of Blade’s Edge? 

I sent a synopsis and a couple of key scene descriptions to the talented Juan Carlos Barquet, and he sent me three sketches. From there we went back and forth until we wound up with the current cover. It depicts a combination of scenes really, but ultimately I liked the effect enough that I didn't worry about it not being completely accurate to the story. If I could go back in time I would have made fewer of my own suggestions and let him do more of what he wanted. I honestly could have gone with any of the sketches he first sent they were all great and it was near impossible to choose one. 

Which question about the series do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it! 

 It could be because it's 1am, but I'm struggling to come up with anything right now. Maybe something about the names of characters? I named most of the characters for animals, and I always chuckle to myself at their animal personae, but I doubt most readers notice them. 

What’s your publishing Schedule for 2020/2021? 

I am currently working on the 3rd Gensokai book. I hope to have it out by January of 2021. However, there is another project I am currently working on (also Gensokai related) that I can't really talk about yet, but if it winds up happening it will probably delay the release of the third Gensokai book by a few months at least. Sadly, either way, I doubt I will release anything new in 2020. Which will be a bit sad for me as I've released something every year since 2017. I might have to try to squeeze out a novella or something just to keep the streak alive. 

Do you have any other authorial goals that you are striving towards that you want to talk about? 

I am currently dipping my toes into some GameDev stuff. No idea how that will go, but it's kind of fun to think about. Also, I might apply for some grants and/or writer residencies. 

Can you name three books you adore as a reader, but that make you feel inadequate as a writer/in awe of the craft?

Graceling by Kristin Cashore was the first book that I read and then almost threw across the room because I wished I had written it. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik is so good it gives me shivers, and Shades of Magic by V.E. Schwab (and its sequels) just make me want to be a better writer every time I think about them. 

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers? 

Thanks so much for having me! I hope my rambling 1am responses aren't too hard to follow. 

Friday, February 21, 2020

Paris Adrift by EJ Swift

Official Author Website
Order Paris Adrift over here (USA) or here (UK)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: E. J. Swift is the author of The Osiris Project trilogy, a speculative fiction series set in a world radically altered by climate change, comprising OSIRIS, CATAVEIRO and TAMARUQ. Her short fiction has appeared in anthologies from Salt Publishing, NewCon Press and Jurassic London, including The Best British Fantasy (Salt Publishing, 2013 and 2014).

Swift was shortlisted for a 2013 BSFA Award in the Short Fiction category for her story "Saga's Children" (The Lowest Heaven, Jurassic) and was longlisted for the 2015 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award for "The Spiders of Stockholm" (Irregularity, Jurassic).

FORMAT: Paris Adrift was published by Solaris in 2018 and reissued in 2020. It's available in all formats from most retailers. Cover art by Joey Hi-Fi. The book counts 250 pages. 

OVERVIEW: The concept of time-travel is seducing. I love exploring it in fiction. Contrary to books describing the time-travel mechanism, Paris Adrift focuses on characters, not on science. The time portal, found in the keg room of a bar, allows the book’s protagonist, Hallie, to move through time. Hallie moved to Paris to escape her dull life, and find the meaning of it all (life, her emotions, family stuff). When a woman known as The Chronometrist approaches her, she discovers there’s more than one layer to reality. 

The strength of the novel lies mainly in exploring Hallie’s bar life and her relationships with her newfound family. They all approach adulthood. They lack an agenda or a deeper understanding of life. They drink, dance, flirt, and try to make it through the shift, sober. Emotions and relationships keep them busy and allow not to think of what to do with the rest of their lives. 

Even though I found Hallie’s behavior irritating, I related to her on some level. She wants more from her life than getting a degree, work, and family. She’s looking for a deeper meaning of it all, a quest I haven’t finished myself :) Like Hallie, her friends advance into adulthood. In their free time, they discuss Brexit, climate change, inequality, refugee crises, and more. They try to change reality, but not too hard and in rather shallow ways. 

A new political party, the Moulin Vert, led by charismatic Aide Lefort, gets their vote. Paris Adrift takes a stance on political issues, but it lacks any deeper insight into them or an idea of how to act on a bigger scale. Hallie’s friend, Gabriela, plans to become vegetarian because the meat industry hurts the planet. Don’t misunderstand me. I’ve been vegetarian for twenty years, more than half of my life. I just expect something more than that from a politically and environmentally engaged novel. A meaningful action plan instead of repeating catchphrases, maybe? 

The time travel mechanism remains unexplained. A handful of people, known as incumbents, can travel through time thanks to “anomalies” tied to individual travelers. Each travel takes a toll and with time leads to addiction. Hallie is such an incumbent. At first, she can’t believe she actually travels through time. After a few trips, though, she can’t resist it and her health suffers. During her travels, she affects the building of the Sacré Coeur or helps A Jewish musician to escape occupied city. 

In theory, her travels serve a higher goal - stopping the world from becoming a nuclear wasteland. Only Hallie doesn’t know this. Her travels and their goals are, supposedly, planned and designed by members of the mysterious Order of Janus who remain somewhere in the background for most of the novel. As a result, the plot meanders and lacks direction.

Paris Adrift contains many subplots (including a romance) and resolves most of them well. Even though I enjoyed reading it, I feel it lacks substance. It has memorable (if directionless) characters and an important (but shallowly presented) political message. Well worth a read, but something’s lacking.
Monday, February 17, 2020

SPFBO Finalist: Spark City by Robert J. Power (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski, David Stewart, Justine Bergman and Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order Spark City over HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

Friday, February 14, 2020

Tenth Anniversary Guest Post & Giveaway by M. R. Mathias

Hey FBC fans, it’s me, M.R. Mathias. It’s been a while, but I am honored to be able to pop in, make an announcement or two, and give away some Fantastica audiobook bundles.

First to the announcement, this July will mark the 10th Anniversary of the, The Sword and the Dragon - The Wardstone Trilogy Book One. (Which is also nearing the 10th anniversary of its FBC review) To celebrate, and since over the decade the trilogy sold over a million individual Kindle copies, we reformatted the interiors of all three titles and slapped on these amazing new covers by Jason McIntyre.


If you are one of the many thousands of readers who enjoyed The Wardstone Trilogy in eBook, grab a set for your bookshelf. Or if you read The Sword and the Dragon, but not the rest of the trilogy, you should look at the reviews for books two and three. I wrote the whole thing back to back to back, knowing it was going to be a trilogy, and remain so. But I tried very hard to give each volume a fulfilling ending. Either way, now you can get the whole trilogy in these eye-catching paperbacks, or if you prefer eBook, The Complete Wardstone Trilogy (digital box set,) is now available via Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.


Now to the giveaway.

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Fantastica, is a recently completed four book series. Right before Christmas, the audiobook narration to the four-book collection dropped, and we were left with a whole bunch of free audible audio codes to the individual titles. The narrator, Will Hahn, was kind enough to put together 15 (10 US, 5 UK) four code bundles, so each winner will be able to get all four titles in the series, from their respective Audible store.


I will leave it up to the fine folks at FBC to figure out who gets the prizes. Good Luck, and if you win, please take a moment to write an Audible or Amazon review.

*Note: In the unlikely event you don’t win, there is a huge free preview of book one, Taerak’s Void in Fantastica: The Complete Four Book Collection.

My newest project is a trilogy called Dragon Racers. It is a little different than my usual thing. More Steampunk or Gaslamp than traditional epic, but still with magic and dragons. (*grins and shrugs) Some of the story and characters are based on Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese Mythology, and all in all it’s hopefully worthy of the good reviews it has so far received.


On a personal note. I told you guys last year; my eyes are screen-fried, and I almost lost a foot to an infection brought on by diabetes. On top of that, I might have early onset Alzheimer’s, so you won’t see much more “new” material from me. I figure six completed series, five of which happen in the same world, is enough for one brain. I have self-published over three million words. I already have several hundred well defined characters living in my head. It isn’t easy keeping them quiet. Besides all of that, my wife was diagnosed with Breast Cancer right before Thanksgiving, and by the time this post is published, we will be well into her twenty weeks of Chemo.

Wish us luck in battle friends, and please keep reading (and listening) and sharing what you enjoy.

To enter to win, please send in your entries with the subject line "FANTASTICA" to and please also mention your country (USA/UK) in the body of the email. Contest will end on 29th February 12:01 PM.

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: M. R. Mathias lives on 5 wooded acres. Like the wizards of old, he tends to the animals who share that space and inspire the creatures in his works. He likes to deep sea fish, to attend sporting events, and genre/cosplay conventions. He has sold well over a million eBooks. His work is critically acclaimed, and he has won multiple literary awards, including a coveted Locus Poll nomination. You can follow him @DahgMahn on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram
Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Scaled Tartan by Raymond St. Elmo mini-review

Official Author Website
Buy the books HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Quest of the Five Clans series

Monday, February 10, 2020

Cover Reveal Q&A: Of Honey And Wildfires by Sarah Chorn (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Seraphina's Lament
Read Stalin, Communism & Fantasy by Sarah Chorn (guest post)

Today we have the immense pleasure of hosting the cover reveal for Sarah Chorn’s upcoming standalone fantasy volume. Sarah’s debut Seraphina’s Lament was a particularly unique one with its magic system as well as its historical inspiration. Of Honey And Wildfires is an exciting new standalone story and Sarah was super kind to answer a few questions to talk about the world, the story and how Pen Astridge blew her cover expectations right out the gate…..

Q] Thank you for joining us, Sarah, and welcome to Fantasy Book Critic! It’s truly a pleasure for allowing us this opportunity to host this cover reveal. How have you been? 

SC: Oh, you know… kicking ass and taking names.

Q] Can you give us an idea of how Of Honey And Wildfires came to fruition? What was your inspiration for this story?

SC: I don’t ever really know how these things happen. I think it’s a mixture of me being weird and the books I read. I tend to only read historical nonfiction books when I’m editing. I kind of flit from subject to subject, whatever interests me at the time. At this specific time, I decided to read a bit on the Wild West. I started reading a book about the gold rush, and then moved on to the early oil industry and settlers and all this and it just kind of… came together from there, I guess. A secondary wild west-esque world started to develop in my mind, complete with corporate interest and battles over resource ownership and etc. Oil and coal became the jumping off point for my magic system. I read a book about Kit Carson, which inspired the development of Christopher Hobson in the book, and his daughter Cassandra was inspired by Kit’s eldest daughter named Adelaide… and here we are.

Q] I would love to hear more details on that gorgeous cover. Who's the artist/designer, and can you give us a little insight into the process for coming up with that incredible piece?

SC: Pen Astridge is the cover artist and the genius is really all hers. I’m pretty much the worst possible person to think of cover art ideas. I think I’m too close to the book, so I just can’t figure out what should go on the cover. For this one, when she asked for ideas or inspiration, I basically had nothing. “Uh… so it’s set in a sort of Wild West. The west has mountains and stuff… uh…” and then I let her run with it. I don’t know what kind of magic she uses to come up with this stuff, but that’s basically all I gave her and she bequeathed me with this beautiful cover. The woman is a wizard. I will never be able to praise her highly enough. I’m really glad she tolerates me.

Q] I believe Of Honey And Wildfires is set in a completely different world than your debut. What drove you to write a standalone story that’s not set in the same world as your debut?

SC: This one is a bit… awkward on my part, but I’ll be honest. Seraphina’s Lament was just so dark, I think I needed a mental break from that world and those characters before I could return to it. I needed a bit of a palate cleanser, if you will. This is a totally different world, and it’s sad and still has its own kind of darkness, but the writing of Seraphina’s Lament just about hollowed me out. I tried to start An Elegy For Hope (The Bloodlands, book 2) and I just… felt too bruised, I guess, so I figured maybe I needed to have this side project going on. A place where I can still tell stories, and explore themes and ideas, but ones that aren’t quite as “here, take my soul and flay it” as Seraphina’s Lament was for me to write.

Basically, I did this for my mental health. I can’t not tell stories. That being said, I needed a bit of a change of pace after Seraphina’s Lament and while this book literally made me sob while writing the last third of it, and I’ve read it and revised it a million times and have yet to make it through without ugly crying, it’s a very different kind of sadness, and there’s more hope here and I think that’s just really what I needed or I would have burned out.

Q] Was the writing process different with Of Honey and Wildfires and did you face any challenges with this genre shift?

SC: Yeah, so this one was a bit of a challenge. First, I’ve never written in first person POV before, and I’ve got two of them in this book, as well as a third person POV, and that was a bit of a challenge for me to wrap my head around. There were lots of, “Oh crap, this character is third person, not first person… REWRITE” moments.

Secondly, the book is set in this place called “Shine Territory” which is literally closed off from the rest of the world by this thing called the Boundary, and owned by an outside company. The development of a world in a closed system like this was something I thought would be easy, but ended up being a lot more challenging than I expected. Basically, there’s a whole bunch of people trapped in this one place, completely incapable to leave, at the mercy of outside interests and somehow, I had to figure out how life went on without the outside world touching this place and for whatever reason, it really tied me in knots at times. The outside world and this territory really had to touch JUST ENOUGH, and managing that balance was an experience.

Last, the magic system is… well, I tried to keep it a bit nebulous, for reasons which will become obvious in two of the POVs almost instantly, and that was hard as well. I wanted to lay out all the rules and say, “This is what “shine” is, and this is what it does, and here is why…” and I know people like their magic systems to be clearly defined, but I couldn’t do that because of (SPOILERS) so trying to toe that line between this magic system needing definition and rules and boundaries, and then trying to keep it sort of nebulous and undefined in some respects, was really a balancing act. I’m still not sure if I got it right.

(Wildfire picture credit: Patrick Orton, Getty Images)

Q] How did you come up with the title Of Honey and Wildfires? How does it tie with the plot of the book?

SC: This book is a lot of things (I think I’ve learned I tend to work in layers), but thematically, I think this book is an exploration of many different kinds of love. Sometimes love is sweet, sometimes it burns. We tend to think love means romance, but I think we forget, a lot of times, how much of a driving force love between siblings, friends, parents, etc. can be. Sometimes love feels a lot more like a knife. Sometimes the softest touch is the most painful. Sometimes it’s love that breaks you. I told a friend just today, “I kind of take the idea of love and say, ‘Look at how pretty this knife is. I wonder how well it cuts.’”

Anyway, there’s a quote I put on the first page of the book, which is where I actually got the title from. I think it kind of shows strength in ways that we don’t typically think of it (it’s also just a gorgeous quote) and I really think it fit the tone of the themes I was running with for the book. It is:

Just because you are soft does not mean you are not a force. Both honey and wildfire are the color gold.

- Victoria Erikson, Edge of Wonder: Notes on the Wildness of Being

Q] Your book has a real interesting magic system as you had mentioned your research on twitter. What can you reveal about the magic system that you have created? What are some of its unique features?

SC: I have a whole long blog post about this on my website. Basically, the magic system is inspired by oil and coal. Specifically, the mid-1800’s oil and coal industry. In the book, a bunch of settlers traveled west to try their luck out beyond the borders of the Union. One guy dug a well on his property, looking for water, and ended up striking shine.

Shine comes in oil or rock form (rock is more expensive, and lasts longer, but is harder to get and relies on child labor). Shine can be used for just about anything. If it’s rubbed on thread, the cloth that uses that thread will never tear. If it’s dabbed in a wound, the wound will heal faster. Put some in water, and it will cool or warm as you will it. Use shine rocks to light a fire, or shine oil in a lamp, and the flame will never flicker or go out. Three shine rocks can be used to power trains for years and years. Guns shoot shine, not bullets. Since this is a closed system, food has to cross the Boundary and is often rotten by the time it gets in, so shine rubbed on rotten food will bring it back to health and prolong its shelf life. On the flip side, there’s “shine addiction.” People who drink this stuff get addicted to it, totally strung out, and end up dying an early death. Think heroin.

A lot of this stuff is based in history. Oil actually WAS used as medicine. Coal was a fantastic find because it packed so much energy in those rocks. I just made my shine rocks, more powerful and last a whole lot longer. The oil and coal industry really drove technology forward in leaps and bounds, and I tried to take the essence of that, and the fight over control of the resources (corporate interest and the like), but sort of twisted it to be a bit more… mystical.

Q] What do you hope your readers take away from this book?

SC: I mean, I guess my minimum would be, “Wow, reading this book wasn’t a terrible experience.”

Q] Thank you again for taking the time to chat with us, Sarah. When can readers be able to read Of Honey And Wildfires? Anything else you have going on right now that you'd like the world to know about?

SC: I’m aiming for a March 31st release date right now. On the side, I’m starting to write An Elegy For Hope, which is the book after Seraphina’s Lament. I’m also writing Glass Rhapsody, which is the next (standalone) book set in this world.


Pre-order Of Honey And Wildfires over HERE

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: From the moment the first settler dug a well and struck a lode of shine, the world changed. Now, everything revolves around that magical oil.

What began as a simple scouting expedition becomes a life-changing ordeal for Arlen Esco. The son of a powerful mogul, Arlen is kidnapped and forced to confront uncomfortable truths his father has kept hidden. In his hands lies a decision that will determine the fate of everyone he loves—and impact the lives of every person in Shine Territory.

The daughter of an infamous saboteur and outlaw, Cassandra has her own dangerous secrets to protect. When the lives of those she loves are threatened, she realizes that she is uniquely placed to change the balance of power in Shine Territory once and for all.

Secrets breed more secrets. Somehow, Arlen and Cassandra must find their own truths in the middle of a garden of lies.

Friday, February 7, 2020

A Prince of Song & Shade by Lisa Cassidy Review

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Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Tale of Stars and Shadow
Read our interview with Lisa CassidyOrder A Prince of Song & Shade over HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

A Conjuring of Assassins by Cate Glass mini-review (reviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)

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Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Illusion of Thieves

Monday, February 3, 2020

SPFBO Finalist: A Tale of Stars and Shadow by Lisa Cassidy (reviewed by David Stewart, Justine Bergman, Lukasz Przywoski and Mihir Wanchoo)

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Order A Tale of Stars & Shadow over HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

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