Wednesday, December 12, 2018

THE STORYTELLER, Book Three of The Reader Trilogy by Traci Chee

I have loved featuring this series. It's one of my favorites, not just because of the amazing cover art but because of the brilliant way Traci Chee weaves her stories together. While I'm sorry to see the end of this series, I can't wait to see what Traci writes next.

Sefia is determined to keep Archer out of the Guard's clutches and their plans for war between the Five Kingdoms. The Book, the ancient, infinite codex of the past, present and future, tells of a prophecy that will plunge Kelanna in that bloody war, but it requires a boy—Archer—and Sefia will stop at nothing to ensure his safety. The Guard has already stolen her mother, her father, and her Aunt Nin. Sefia would sooner die than let them take anymore from her—especially the boy she loves.

But escaping the Guard and the Book's prophecy is no easy task. After all, what is written always comes to pass. As Sefia and Archer watch Kelanna start to crumble to the Guard's will, they will have to choose between their love and joining a war that just might tear them apart.

Having barely escaped the clutches of the Guard, Sefia and Archer are back on the run, slipping into the safety of the forest to tend to their wounds and plan their next move. Haunted by painful memories, Archer struggles to overcome the trauma of his past with the impressors, whose cruelty plagues him whenever he closes his eyes. But when Sefia and Archer happen upon a crew of impressors in the wilderness, Archer finally finds a way to combat his nightmares: by hunting impressors and freeing the boys they hold captive.

With Sefia’s help, Archer travels across the kingdom of Deliene rescuing boys while she continues to investigate the mysterious Book and secrets it contains. But the more battles they fight, the more fights Archer craves, until his thirst for violence threatens to transform him from the gentle boy Sefia knows to a grim warrior with a cruel destiny. As Sefia begins to unravel the threads that connect Archer’s fate to her parents’ betrayal of the Guard so long ago, she and Archer must figure out a way to subvert the Guard’s plans before they are ensnared in a war that will pit kingdom against kingdom, leaving their future and the safety of the entire world hanging in the balance.

Once there was, and one day there will be. This is the beginning of every story.

Sefia lives her life on the run. After her father is viciously murdered, she flees to the forest with her aunt Nin, the only person left she can trust. They survive in the wilderness together, hunting and stealing what they need, forever looking over their shoulders for new threats. But when Nin is kidnapped, Sefia is suddenly on her own, with no way to know who’s taken Nin or where she is. Her only clue is a strange rectangular object that once belonged to her father left behind, something she comes to realize is a book.

Though reading is unheard of in Sefia’s world, she slowly learns, unearthing the book’s closely guarded secrets, which may be the key to Nin’s disappearance and discovering what really happened the day her father was killed. With no time to lose, and the unexpected help of swashbuckling pirates and an enigmatic stranger, Sefia sets out on a dangerous journey to rescue her aunt, using the book as her guide. In the end, she discovers what the book had been trying to tell her all along: Nothing is as it seems, and the end of her story is only the beginning.

In our last interview, you talked about the importance of trying to make dreams a reality. What have you found is the best way to cope when dreams don't play out as planned?

I tell myself they aren’t a reality yet. 😉

That's a good way of looking at it! THE STORYTELLER is the last installment of The Reader trilogy. What will you miss most about this world you've created?

It hasn’t really hit me that I’m truly leaving this world behind, but the longer I go without writing it, the more I realize that I’ll never spend time with Sefia or Archer again. I’ll never sail the ocean with Captain Reed and the Current of Faith. And I’m beginning to realize, the longer I’m away from these characters, that I’m going to miss them quite dearly. They lived in my head for ten years--some, like Captain Reed, for longer--and now they’re just… gone. I like to imagine that they’re having new adventures, somewhere in that wide world of untold stories, or, perhaps, having new adventures with new readers who are just discovering them for the first time.

And Captain Reed is definitely worth discovering!  I love "Pure Unmodified Doubts." Where did the idea to bottle rejections come from?

Doubts is an art book made of all the rejections I racked up before I published The Reader in 2016. I printed them on tissue paper, rolled them up into pill capsules, and stuck them in a vintage medicine bottle “for the immediate reduction in self worth. Indispensable to the working writer.” I first got the idea when I started trying to find an agent with The Reader, and the rejections kept coming in… and coming in… and coming in… and the more the rejections piled up, the smaller and more powerless I felt. I couldn’t write anymore. It all seemed so… hopeless.

So I decided to take my power back. I turned all the creative energy that I wasn’t using on writing and put it into this project. Something that would help me take the power out of the rejections and reclaim it for myself. Something weird and booky and full of joy.

Because rejections are bitter medicine, but they’re also part of the job. They’re proof that I’m doing this. I’m trying. There’s something really empowering about that, I think, and Doubts is a reminder of that.

Indeed it is. If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why? 

“I know it’s not your strong suit, but try to be patient, especially with yourself. Try not to stress. And try to celebrate every step of the journey, because every step is leading you where you need to go.”

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

WHAT THEY DON'T KNOW by Nicole Maggi

I've been a fan of Nicole's ever since she wrote her Twin Willows series. I also featured her here and here. Her newest book, WHAT THEY DON'T KNOW, came out in October 2018:

Three secrets. One decision. A friendship that will change everything.

Mellie has always been the reliable friend, the good student, the doting daughter. But when an unspeakable act leads her to withdraw from everyone she loves, she is faced with a life-altering choice―a choice she must face alone.

Lise stands up―and speaks out―for what she believes in. And when she notices Mellie acting strangely, she gets caught up in trying to save her...all while trying to protect her own secret. One that might be the key to helping Mellie.

Told through Mellie and Lise's journal entries, this powerful, emotional novel chronicles Mellie's struggle to decide what is right for her and the unbreakable bond formed by the two girls on their journey.

In our last interview, you said, "I can't stay away from writing fantasy." What is it about fantasy that keeps you excited about writing it?

The first books I fell in love with as a reader were fantasy. Tamora Pierce, Jane Yolen, Lois Duncan (whose books were more supernatural, but still with had those fantastical elements) name a few. I fell in love with them because they created worlds that I wanted to escape into. And that's what I want to do for my readers. I want to give them a place they can escape into. And selfishly, *I* want to escape into another world while I'm writing, too! I feel like when I write fantasy I'm stretching my imagination to its absolute limits. I can feel that imagination muscle working; it's like going on a really strenuous but then you get to the top and it's the most amazing view.

I know exactly what you mean! And I love how WHAT THEY DON'T KNOW is told through journal entries. How did you know this was how Mellie and Lise's stories needed to be told?

I didn't at first. I wrote more than 35,000 words over the course of six months in the more traditional narrative format, and it was crap. Every day I got up and dreaded writing. It was awful. I couldn't figure out who exactly these girls were, and there was pages and pages of endless unnecessary dialogue.

Then one day, my husband suggested that I try writing it in journal format. That suggestion sparked a memory; in college, I'd kept a journal for one of my acting classes and had to turn it into the teacher at the end of the semester. I wrote deeply personal, intimate stuff in that journal. But clearly I felt safe to do that, knowing that my teacher would eventually read it. So I decided to try the journal format, with the idea that they're keeping the journals as a class assignment.

Almost immediately, I knew that this was how the story needed to be told. I could access their voices so much easier. Removing the narrative barrier gave me a direct line to their thoughts and raw emotions, and it just poured out onto the page. I'm not saying that first draft was easy, but the story came out much faster and I completed that draft in about four months.

It's amazing how stories somehow know how they want to be told. I also love the cover for WHAT THEY DON'T KNOW. What, in your opinion, are the necessary elements of a good cover? 

I'm so glad you like it! We struggled to get to the right cover for this book, but I'm so happy where we ended up. I think a good cover gives away clues about the story contained within. It's not enough to be pretty or striking; it has to be connected to the story. There should be meaningful details that the reader will immediately recognize once they've read the book. Like on this cover, Mellie is holding the journal and the pages are trailing out behind her. In the book, Mellie is very protective of her journal; she won't let her family or friends see anything she's writing in there because she's keeping this terrible secret from them. But here she's letting pages fall out--because she's with Lise, who is the only one in the book that she trusts enough to open up to. It's that kind of multi-layered detail that offers us insight into the book beneath the cover.

Beautiful. What are some of your current projects?

I'm very excited about my next book I'll have out, which is a complete departure for me. It's a nonfiction book from Lonely Planet Kids called Hidden Wonders. It's a beautifully designed book about fascinating, off-the-beaten-path places all over the world. It was so much fun to write and I learned so much about places I'd never heard of, like the Global Seed Vault in Norway, or Snake Island off the coast of Brazil. It gave me a serious case of wanderlust! Hidden Wonders will be out October 2019...just in time for you to buy it for every 8-12yo on your holiday list. ;-)

Beyond that, I'm developing a couple of ideas, probably returning to fantasy, my first love. For the first time in many years, I'm not actually under contract, which is daunting but also really freeing. So stay tuned!


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Buy: ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound


Buy: ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound


Buy: ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Changeling Wars series by A.G. Stewart

A. G. Stewart is one of the best science fiction authors I know. Her book, LOOSE CHANGELING, was the first in the Changeling Wars series, and her latest, SPARE CHANGELING, debuted in October 2018.

Nicole always thought she was regular-issue human...until she turns her husband’s mistress into a mouse. The next day, Kailen, Fae-for-hire, shows up on her doorstep and drops this bomb: she’s a Changeling, a Fae raised among mortals. Oh, and did he mention that her existence is illegal? Now she's on the run from Fae factions who want to kill her, while dealing with others who believe she can save the world. And there’s the pesky matter of her soon-to-be ex, without whom she can’t seem to do any magic at all...

Nicole's life has finally wound down to normal--or, at least, as normal as life could be for a Changeling. Sure, her Fae hound roommate could be nicer, and she could use a part-time job to pay some bills, but she's closing the doorways between the worlds. She's got things under control.

Until she's framed for the murder of a Fae King.

Only a Changeling could have committed the murder, and Nicole is the only living Changeling. The Fae families hate her. The Court wants to execute her. Her hound and ostensible minion couldn't care less if she lives or dies. But what if they're wrong? What if there is a spare Changeling? Reluctantly, the Fae Court grants her a short reprieve to do the impossible: find out who placed the Changeling, find out who the Changeling is, and bring both parties to justice.

And if she could just keep the mortal world none the wiser while she does it, that would be great.

You recently moved to Southern California. What do you love most about this new adventure, and how have you kept writing amid this transition?

The weather and the beaches are pretty nice! But really, I think "adventure" is a good way to describe it. I'd been in Sacramento for 13 years, and felt quite settled. But my husband got his dream job, and following your dreams is important to both of us. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Mostly I love how this move gave us the chance to work together as a team on a big common goal, which made it more fun than stressful! I kept writing through the move. I was mostly working on revisions through this transition, and honestly, there were some days I didn't touch my manuscript. But I moved down before my husband did, and there were times I couldn't do much to help on my end. So I wrote.

Sounds like a great place to do it! SPARE CHANGELING is the next in the Changeling Wars series. In what ways does the world you created expand in this new story? 

In LOOSE CHANGELING, Nicole is just learning that the Fae world exists. I was able to explore that world a little more in the novella that takes place between the two books, but in SPARE CHANGELING, Nicole starts to actually learn some of the dynamics between the Fae families. And she learns that there is more to that world than just the Fae families. There are vast, wild areas that are still half-unexplored, with creatures she's not known existed. I'm so excited to share how Nicole's Changeling status, which seems to be a settled matter after book one, still causes a ripple effect in the Fae world that spreads into the mortal one.

 And it shows how good characters inevitably affect the world around them. What are some of your current projects?

I'm currently working on Bone Shard Daughter, a multi-POV epic fantasy that takes place on an archipelago of migratory islands on the brink of civil war. Lush tropical forests, an ocean without a bottom, an adorable magical companion, a palace of locked doors with a mystery behind each, and a lot of discovering who you really are in a time of political upheaval. I'm pretty excited about it. I've also got the next Changeling Wars novella up on queue--A Beginner's Guide to Changeling Minds. Nicole has to learn how to use mind magic in order to keep a lid on Portland. And then there will be Changeling Times, which delves into the start of that war mentioned in the series name ;)

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Buy: Amazon

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

LEVEL FIVE by William Ledbetter

I met William Ledbetter at this year's WorldCon, and was intrigued by the premise of his novel LEVEL FIVE. Have a look:

In the mountains of Pakistan, a high-tech mission aimed at preventing another nuke on US soil goes off the rails - with deadly results. At a Wall Street investment firm, a computer intelligence takes the first tentative steps to free itself from its digital restraints. In a basement workshop, an engineer sees visions of a god who instructs him to defend the human race - by any means necessary.

In Level Five, the debut near-future thriller by Nebula Award winner William Ledbetter, AIs battle for dominance, and nanotechnology is on the loose. And all that stands in the way of the coming apocalypse is a starry-eyed inventor who dreams of building a revolutionary new spacecraft and an intelligence agency desk jockey faced with the impossible choice of saving her daughter - or saving the world.

According to your website bio you "spent most of you non-writing career in the aerospace and defense industry." In what ways, if any, has this informed your writing? 

A good deal of my fiction has been influenced by working in the aerospace industry. I enjoy writing space stories and since I have a solid understanding of the difficulties involved, many of my protagonists are engineers and technicians, the nuts and bolts kind of people who build and maintain these spacecraft. One of my stories, "Tethers," which is available to read for free at is about two space hardware technicians sent to an orbital fuel depot to fix a problem, but end up stranded and fighting over the limited oxygen supply. Three of the POV characters in my novel LEVEL FIVE work with technology in either an engineering or systems design level, so I'm sure that was probably driven by my familiarity with the aerospace industry and manufacturing.

Fascinating! LEVEL FIVE is also an Audible original. How did you determine the correct pacing within this novel, and what do you hope readers will take away when they're finished?

LEVEL FIVE has multiple point of view characters, each with their own history and agenda, so the pacing was mostly driven by each of them doing things that push the plot forward. My intention was for each character to contribute to the growing tension level as I braided the four plot lines together, until the ending affected them all and was affected by them all. I primarily wanted to entertain my readers, but also to show how sometimes the smallest and most well intentioned efforts can have huge and unexpected consequences. None of my characters were perfect heroes or antagonists, they were all flawed in some way and blind to those flaws, as they all struggled to do what they thought was best for themselves, their families and humanity itself. And like much science fiction, this was kind of a stage for future technologies and how they can be used for good and evil as humanity struggles to understand their impacts.

What a great way to incorporate both internal and external conflict! How do you balance time between various projects, and how do you know when to prioritize one project over another?

 I generally have several projects going at the same time. This can be good in that I've seldom had anything resembling writer's block. If I get stuck on one project I'll just set it aside and work on one of the others. Of course it can also be bad when project deadlines are concurrent. Most of the time I can do project triage and prioritize the one with the tightest deadline or requires the most amount of work. On those occasions when I literally have to push two projects forward at the same time I will generally split them up, working on one during my regular morning writing sessions, and work on the other during evenings and weekends.

Sounds like you've been able to find a routine that works. What are some of your current projects?

I'm working on a new science fiction novel tentatively titled CHANGING HORSES, which is about the crew of a generation style colony ship that encounters a very unusual alien race. I'm also working on the opening chapters for a sequel to my novel LEVEL FIVE, but will probably not finish that one until CHANGING HORSES is complete. I also have several short stories screaming for attention, demanding to be written, so I'll have to squeeze those in somehow. I have a new short story called "What I Am" coming out in the November/December issue of Asimov's and a story called "Bridging" in the Homo Stellaris anthology coming out next year from Baen Books.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

MUNMUN by Jesse Andrews

I saw Jesse Andrews on a panel at this year's Bay Area Book Festival, and he's one of the best speakers I've ever listened to. When he asked the audience who had bought a copy of his new book, MUNMUN, I held mine up proudly. Though Jesse Andrews is mostly known for YA realistic fiction like ME, EARL, AND THE DYING GIRL, MUNMUN offers a unique lens into the reality of social inequality through a fantastical premise.

In an alternate reality a lot like our world, every person’s physical size is directly proportional to their wealth. The poorest of the poor are the size of rats, and billionaires are the size of skyscrapers.

Warner and his sister Prayer are destitute—and tiny. Their size is not just demeaning, but dangerous: day and night they face mortal dangers that bigger richer people don’t ever have to think about, from being mauled by cats to their house getting stepped on. There are no cars or phones built small enough for them, or schools or hospitals, for that matter—there’s no point, when no one that little has any purchasing power, and when salaried doctors and teachers would never fit in buildings so small. Warner and Prayer know their only hope is to scale up, but how can two littlepoors survive in a world built against them?

I love your narrative voice, both in your stories, and on your website. When did you know that you'd finally found your writing voice? (Or are you still finding new ways to discover it?)

I don’t think I’ll ever feel comfortable calling a voice *my* voice. There are writers who have A Voice and then there are writers who are shapeshifting mimics who can only sound like other people and never themselves. Because they have no true selves! They’re completely contingent beings who only become people in reaction to other people or situations, and I am definitely in their category. That’s why I only write in the first person, from the perspective of characters who aren’t me and who have voices who aren’t mine.

So, that’s what I believe about myself, and yet it’s almost definitely not true, because with all three of my books so far plus a lot of the scripts that I write, the people who know me are always saying things like, “I read your book/script and it was like you were reading it in my head. I was just hearing your reedy nasal voice the entire time.” So I guess that pretty much *is* my voice.

Here’s a way better answer: I found my voice when I stopped trying to show everyone how smart I was. Before Me and Earl I wrote two novel-length manuscripts and about a dozen short stories and I was trying to smush the maximum of (what I thought of at the time as) intellect onto every single page. None of it got published. For Me and Earl I tried to just relax and let people sound like people. It went a lot better.

And it's a beautiful story as a result. Like Me and Earl, MUNMUN has an excellent premise, and it offers an interesting exploration of inequality and dreams. In what ways do you hope society can close some of these gaps? 

It’s going to be difficult for me not to be political in this answer, because the synagogue where I had my bar mitzvah was shot up by a maniac yesterday morning, and both his racist hatred and his capacity for violence were demonstrably enabled by the Republican Party. So I think we can begin by limiting that party’s power in every way possible. I think there’s at least a case to be made that the party itself should be outlawed, the way a democracy might reasonably outlaw a modern Nazi Party if one were to attempt to participate in its elections.

This is also a tough question because novelists are more at home describing and not prescribing. But one driver of inequality is people’s indifference (if not hostility) to the welfare of other people who aren’t exactly like them. So an obvious prescription is more empathy, in the form of more (and better) stories about more kinds of people. This is not a new or original point, but what I’d add is, let’s maybe tell fewer stories about Hero versus Villain, a banal and fundamentally conservative framework. If you believe some people are just evil and deserve punishment, you’re probably pretty into Fox News, or will be in ten years. If instead you believe—as anyone who actually studies this sort of thing for a living can tell you—that people’s attitudes and behavior and outlook are overwhelmingly shaped by their environments and peer groups and circumstances, and that people can change when those things change, then there’s hope. For both them and you!

But I can’t suppress my own certainty that the right wing must be put out of power as soon as possible, for as long as possible. The current presidency’s widest-reaching achievement is inarguably the sheer volume of fear it has manufactured. Monstrous, and monstrously unnecessary, fear. “I can’t just let my people get slaughtered,” said a man whose “people”—despite what his favorite websites told him—are not being slaughtered in any way, and in fact enjoy almost limitless power in this country. Then he took a (legally owned) weapon of war and massacred 11 of the gentlest and most thoughtful human beings in the world. I know because I grew up with them.

We are all definitely thinking about the community involved with the shooting in Pittsburgh, and I am so sorry for the loss of those amazing people who were so seminal in your life, and the lives of others. You are definitely right that there should be more layers of nuance in our society, and I hope that kind of change, both external, and internal, can happen soon. You also co-wrote the screenplay for the movie adaptation of ME, EARL, AND THE DYING GIRL, which won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. (I also loved your adaptation of EVERY DAY!). What do you love most about writing screenplays?

The best part by far is the collaboration. You work with artists who can do things you could never, yourself, in a million years, do. How is acting even possible? How do you just become someone else?

I also love the economy it enforces. Novels allow you to be expansive and really sit in a conversation like a nice long bath. In a script, if you can’t say it in four lines, you’re probably wasting everyone’s time. That kind of pressure makes you a much better writer. It’s also pretty stressful. So maybe I don’t love it. I’m grateful for it, let’s say that.

And obviously it’s pretty cool to get to hang out with Nick Offerman sometimes, who is about as fantastic a dude in person as you would hope. (Also a great writer! Get his books too!)

Oh, wow! I definitely will! What are some of your current projects? 

I’ve been working on the script for a movie at a major studio since January, and I’m actually not allowed to say publicly what that movie or studio is. But the studio is one of the good ones! And I think the movie will be too. Check back with me in a couple years.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Lady Astronaut series, by Mary Robinette Kowal

I first heard about Mary Robinette Kowal when one of my writer friends joined one of her short story beta workshops back in 2016. I finally got to meet her at this year's WorldCon, and she treated each one of her fans with kindness and grace. I just finished reading SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY, the first in her Glamourist Histories (think Jane Austen with magic). Her new Lady Astronaut series is a fascinating alternative history that explores what might have happened if women had originally been the faces of the space program in the 1950s.

On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process.

Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too.

Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.

Of course the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, but there’s a lot riding on whoever the International Aerospace Coalition decides to send on this historic—but potentially very dangerous—mission? Could Elma really leave behind her husband and the chance to start a family to spend several years traveling to Mars? And with the Civil Rights movement taking hold all over Earth, will the astronaut pool ever be allowed to catch up, and will these brave men and women of all races be treated equitably when they get there? This gripping look at the real conflicts behind a fantastical space race will put a new spin on our visions of what might have been.

When we spoke, you said, "Only you have a true vision of what your story is." Have you encountered instances in which that vision has been somewhat unclear, and if so, what ways have you resolved it?

I've definitely encountered those, especially when I've signed up for an anthology and don't have a solid story idea. When I do that, I have a worksheet that I use for the things I'm having trouble getting traction on. For instance, I'll ask what it is that my character wants and then what are the concrete actions they take to try to achieve that goal. Then what goes wrong. I'll brainstorm lists of twenty looking for the thing that excites me. Really, it's all about chasing my joy. That's the piece that no one else can really know until you find it.

Joy is definitely an important thing to chase! Your latest book, THE FATED SKY, is the latest in the Lady Astronaut series, which explores an alternate history of the space race. What, if anything, did you discover while writing this series that surprised you?

I was amazed at how long and thoroughly women have been involved in the space program. Jet Propulsion Labrotory had a policy that they did not hire men for the computer department -- that's what they used to call the women who did calculations. They only hired women. So all of those orbital mechanics were worked out by women with, at most, a mechanical calculator. There's a great book called Rise of the Rocket Girls that talks about JPL, and of course, there's Hidden Figures.

The Hidden Figures book is great--and it includes a ton of fascinating stuff that the movie didn't get a chance to cover. You're also a member of the Hugo-Award winning podcast Writing Excuses. What led to your involvement in this podcast, and what do you enjoy most about contributing to it?

They asked me! What I enjoy most is the way the guys make me think. It's like being on a really good panel at a convention, where someone says a thing that opens up new avenues in your brain. I've been especially enjoying the last two seasons where we bring season-long guest hosts in. These folks are so very, very smart.

They are indeed! What are some of your current projects? 

Currently, I'm participating in NaNoWriMo by working on book 3 in the Lady Astronaut series. It's called The Relentless Moon and is a parallel novel to the events in The Fated Sky.

Lady Astronaut:

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

The Glamourist Histories:

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

THE DEVIL'S THIEF by Lisa Maxwell

I first featured Lisa Maxwell right before her novel THE LAST MAGICIAN came out. When its sequel, THE DEVIL'S THIEF, was announced, I contacted Lisa for a follow-up interview. THE DEVIL'S THIEF released on October 9 and is available to order.

Hunt the Stones.
Beware the Thief.
Avenge the Past.

Esta’s parents were murdered. Her life was stolen. And everything she knew about magic was a lie. She thought the Book of Mysteries held the key to freeing the Mageus from the Order’s grasp, but the danger within its pages was greater than she ever imagined.

Now the Book’s furious power lives inside Harte. If he can’t control it, it will rip apart the world to get its revenge, and it will use Esta to do it.

To bind the power, Esta and Harte must track down four elemental stones scattered across the continent. But the world outside the city is like nothing they expected. There are Mageus beyond the Brink not willing to live in the shadows—and the Order isn’t alone in its mission to crush them.

In St. Louis, the extravagant World’s Fair hides the first stone, but an old enemy is out for revenge and a new enemy is emerging. And back in New York, Viola and Jianyu must defeat a traitor in a city on the verge of chaos.

As past and future collide, time is running out to rewrite history—even for a time-traveling thief.

Stop the Magician.
Steal the book.
Save the future.

In modern day New York, magic is all but extinct. The remaining few who have an affinity for magic—the Mageus—live in the shadows, hiding who they are. Any Mageus who enters Manhattan becomes trapped by the Brink, a dark energy barrier that confines them to the island. Crossing it means losing their power—and often their lives.

Esta is a talented thief, and she's been raised to steal magical artifacts from the sinister Order that created the Brink. With her innate ability to manipulate time, Esta can pilfer from the past, collecting these artifacts before the Order even realizes she’s there. And all of Esta's training has been for one final job: traveling back to 1902 to steal an ancient book containing the secrets of the Order—and the Brink—before the Magician can destroy it and doom the Mageus to a hopeless future.

But Old New York is a dangerous world ruled by ruthless gangs and secret societies, a world where the very air crackles with magic. Nothing is as it seems, including the Magician himself. And for Esta to save her future, she may have to betray everyone in the past.

In our last interview, you said THE LAST MAGICIAN was more difficult to write than you'd expected. Did you have a similar experience with THE DEVIL'S THIEF? If so, why? If not, why not?

THE DEVIL’S THIEF was definitely a challenge to write, but for different reasons than THE LAST MAGICIAN. With the first book, I was figuring out how to tell such a big story, but for the second one I (like a lot of other writers) was dealing with the fall-out of the 2016 election. I’m writing time travel, and I’m also writing a story that has real historical resonance, and when the election turned out differently than a lot of us were expecting, I started to have doubts about where I wanted the series to go. I struggled a lot just getting started. But the writing itself was intense and pretty quick once I got myself unstuck.

I'll bet it was. In what ways does THE DEVIL'S THIEF expand on the world you built in THE LAST MAGICIAN? 

In THE LAST MAGICIAN, the Mageus are trapped in New York City. In THE DEVIL’S THIEF, Harte and Esta use the power of the book to get out. Because they’re outside the city, the map of the world is bigger. They head out west—to St. Louis and the World’s Fair—and they discover that everything they thought they knew about magic wasn’t completely true. In the city they were cut off, but there are Mageus that never came through New York, so there are Mageus who have avoided the Brink. There are also more dangers than the Order. In TLM, there’s talk of a Conclave at the end of the year, and Esta and Harte learn that there are other secret societies involved with the suppression of magic. There are also Mageus who are willing to fight back. In THE DEVIL’S THIEF, the Antistasi are modeled off of the anarchists from the early 20th century, and they’re another group that Esta has to decide whether to align with or to fight against.

What an intriguing plot! You've talked before about "gut decisions" versus "business decisions." What's the best way to tell the difference between the two? 

I think that was in terms of picking an agent?

Honestly, the thing about gut instinct is that we often discount that feeling that we should/shouldn’t do something. I think especially as a woman I do this, because as women we tend to be raised to not make a fuss or be a problem. But that gut feeling that you get—I’ve learned to listen to it more and trust it, because usually it’s my subconscious brain putting all these micro-level observations into play.

A great lesson for us all. If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why? 

Man, I don’t think I’d tell her anything. Every mistake I ever made led me here—to my husband and the family I have, to this career that I never even dreamed of as a kid. I mean, sure…maybe if I told her to try being a writer I could have gotten published sooner, but I wouldn’t trade any of this life. So I think I’d keep my mouth shut.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

GHOSTED by Leslie Margolis

I met Leslie Margolis at this year's Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA) Conference. I was immediately drawn to the premise of her newest book, GHOSTED, which debuted earlier today:

Thirteen-year-old Ellie Charles has everything going for her: she's the smartest, prettiest, best-dressed, and most popular kid at Lincoln Heights Middle School. She's also the meanest, by design. Ellie's got sharp edges, which she uses to keep herself at the top of the social food chain. But one night, hours before her school's winter dance, a frightening accident leads her to encounter a ghost who just might change everything. This ghost, of a girl dressed all in black, makes Ellie visit her own past, present, and future--reliving her parents' divorce, her struggles in school, and worst of all, her massive falling-out with her best friend, Marley. Can what Ellie sees inspire her to change her ways? And is a new perspective enough to save her life?

What do you love most about libraries and independent bookstores? 

The books.  Seriously.  Reading is magical.  It transports, it transforms, and it saves lives. 

When I was seven years old, I remember being absolutely terrified by a first-season Twilight Zone episode called “Time Enough at Last.”  It’s about a bank teller named Henry Bemis who’s so crazy about reading, he reads constantly:  at work, during meals, while driving, I think.  He stays up all night reading.  It drives his wife and his boss crazy.

I had a lot of sympathy for Henry.  Of course he’d want to read constantly.  Who wouldn’t?  One day, Henry sneaks into the bank vault during his lunch hour to read and is knocked unconscious by a sonic boom.  When he wakes up and leaves the vault, he discovers that a nuclear bomb has obliterated all of humanity.  Henry wanders around his smoldering, void-of-life town, distraught, until he stumbles across the library.  Sure, buildings are destroyed.  Yes, every single human being on earth (other than Henry) has perished.  And yet hundreds of novels – all that paper – have remained intact!  Realizing he has all the time in the world to read, and no pesky spouse or boss to bother him, Henry is ecstatic.  Who needs human contact when he can read?  Feeling triumphant, he reaches down to pick up a stack of books and – horror of all horrors – his glasses slip off his face and shatter.  Suddenly the world becomes blurry.  Henry cannot read a single word.

That story haunted me.  It still does.  At the time, I couldn’t imagine a torture worse than being surrounded by books, without the ability to read.  Luckily, though, I do not wear glasses.  And I live walking distance to an excellent library as well as Chevalier’s, one of LA’s best, and the city’s oldest indie bookstores.  I visit both frequently.

I can definitely identify with Henry too. Books give such a needed lens into the human experience. As an example, GHOSTED grapples with the theme of forgiveness. What do you feel is the most challenging part of learning how to forgive?

Everything about forgiveness is challenging!  That’s why I think it’s worth writing about.  And worth aspiring to, in the right circumstances...

Something I hope to aspire to as well! I love your website's interactive design. How did the content develop into its current form? 

 Thanks!  It was fun.  GHOSTED is my lucky-number-thirteenth novel.  My first book was published twelve years ago.  The website has evolved, over time, and I’m lucky to have an extremely talented, creative, flexible web designer, Denise Biondo, who has been there from the beginning.

Wonderful. What are some of your current projects? 

 I’m working on a new mystery.  Story elements include a bank vault, an ice cream shop, baseball, a fake circus, a decrepit old mansion, and the hundred-year-old ghost of an old movie star.  That is all I can say about it right now.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

For Leslie Margolis's Annabelle Unleashed series, click here.

For the Maggie Brooklyn Mystery series, click here. 

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

NOUMENON by Marina J. Lostetter

I've followed Marina J. Lostetter for a long time, and her series, Noumenon, explores what happens when the human experience stretches to its ultimate limits. Have a look:

In 2088, humankind is at last ready to explore beyond Earth’s solar system. But one uncertainty remains: Where do we go?

Astrophysicist Reggie Straifer has an idea. He’s discovered an anomalous star that appears to defy the laws of physics, and proposes the creation of a deep-space mission to find out whether the star is a weird natural phenomenon, or something manufactured.

The journey will take eons. In order to maintain the genetic talent of the original crew, humankind’s greatest ambition—to explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy—is undertaken by clones. But a clone is not a perfect copy, and each new generation has its own quirks, desires, and neuroses. As the centuries fly by, the society living aboard the nine ships (designated “Convoy Seven”) changes and evolves, but their mission remains the same: to reach Reggie’s mysterious star and explore its origins—and implications.

Generations ago, Convoy Seven and I.C.C. left Earth on a mission that would take them far beyond the solar system. Launched by the Planet United Consortium, a global group formed to pursue cooperative Earth-wide interests in deep space, nine ships headed into the unknown to explore a distant star called LQ Pyx.

Eons later, the convoy has returned to LQ Pyx to begin work on the Web, the alien megastructure that covers the star. Is it a Dyson Sphere, designed to power a civilization as everyone believes—or something far more sinister?

Meanwhile, Planet United’s littlest convoy, long thought to be lost, reemerges in a different sector of deep space. What they discover holds the answers to unlocking the Web’s greater purpose.

Each convoy possesses a piece of the Web’s puzzle . . . but they may not be able to bring those pieces together and uncover the structure’s true nature before it’s too late.

According to your website, you are represented by DongWon Song of the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency. What do you love most about your agent and why? 

 DongWon is an advocate first and foremost, and is very communicative, which is great.  His experience as an editor has been invaluable to me personally, and he is extremely business and marketing savvy. Best of all, he's done a great job connecting his clients to one another, so we kind of have a built-in support system of people who are all going through the same processes.  Go #TeamDongWon!

Support systems are so necessary. It's also interesting how Noumenon explores the realities that come with being born into myriads of different lives. How are the story's characters shaped by this experience, and in what ways, if any, does it impact their empathy? 

 I think, on the outset, it effects the reader's empathy more than the characters'.  The clones know they are clones, but they don't retain memories from the clones that came before them, they really only inherit their genes and their job, so there isn't much that's different for them than for people that aren't clones.  The reader, however, gets a long-term sense of personal connection, even though the characters are technically different people from chapter to chapter.

 But, as time goes on for the convoy, and the generations pile up, people do start to connect more emotionally with their clone ancestors.  I think being able to look back over thousands of years of records and see your face staring back--even if it's not strictly you--would certainly change your relationship with things like existentialism, sense of mortality, and the importance of other people.  I've tried to write most characters in the Noumenon series as exceptionally empathetic--even the AI--so, yes, I do believe the social structure aboard the convoy does have a long-term positive effect on their empathy.

Indeed! What was your experience writing the sequel, Noumenon Infinity, and was there anything that surprised you? 

Noumenon Infinity more or less follows the same structure (a series of vignettes) as Noumenon, but with one exception: it has two alternating storylines that follow two separate deep-space convoys.  Originally, I'd only planned to write about one of those convoys in the sequel, Convoy Twelve.  But my editor, David Pomerico, suggested some edits for book one that really necessitated the continuation of Convoy Seven's story into book two, which I think ultimately made both books much stronger.

What a fantastic way to explore how storylines can further intertwine. What are some of your current projects?

I recently sold a fantasy series to Tor.  The first book is THE MASKS OF ARKENSYRE, in which the enchanted death mask of a mass murder is stolen, effectively raising him from the dead and unleashing his reign of terror once more.  This series is full of magical artifacts, mystery, monsters, and mayhem.  I had a great chat with my editor, Will Hinton, and I'm very eager to dive into revisions.  In the meantime, I've been working on a new sci-fi novel.  The sale hasn't been officially announced yet, but I think fans of Noumenon and Noumenon Infinity will be excited!

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

FRAT GIRL by Kiley Roache

I met Kiley Roache at a book event and was immediately enthralled with the premise for FRAT GIRL. Have a look:

Sometimes the F-word can have more than one meaning….

For Cassandra Davis, the F-word is fraternity—specifically Delta Tau Chi, a house on probation and on the verge of being banned from campus. Accused of offensive, sexist behavior, they have one year to clean up their act. For the DTC brothers, the F-word is feminist—the type of person who writes articles in the school paper about why they should lose their home.

With one shot at a scholarship to attend the university of her dreams, Cassie pitches a research project: to pledge Delta Tau Chi and provide proof of their misogynistic behavior. They’re frat boys. She knows exactly what to expect once she gets there. Exposing them should be a piece of cake.

But the boys of Delta Tau Chi have their own agenda, and fellow pledge Jordan Louis is certainly more than the tank top wearing “bro” Cassie expected to find. With her heart and her future tangled in the web of her own making, Cassie is forced to realize that the F-word might not be as simple as she thought after all.

Your first book was published a few months before you graduated college. What was it like finishing college and gearing up for the book's release at the same time, and what strategies, if any, help you find balance when things get hectic? 

 It was challenging, but it was also very exciting to still be at Stanford when the book came out, because I had all my college friends by my side to celebrate this milestone. That being said, I definitely had to practice time management both when I was writing Frat Girl and my second book, The Dating Game, while in college, and when preparing for the launch. One strategy I used was making sure to set aside certain times during the weeks for writing. I put it in my Google calendar and treated it like another class I had to go to. If I just waited until the end of the day to write, I might’ve watched Netflix or gone to sleep instead. But if I set aside 12:30-2:20 between classes to write, I would do it.

Sounds like a good strategy. And I love the voice in FRAT GIRL. What do you think makes a good writing voice? 

I think honesty and authenticity. In my writing, I always try to reflect the way my friends and I speak. My advice is to trust yourself and try to tell it how it is—like you are talking to your best friend. I had an amazing English teacher my sophomore year of high school, Ms. Garcia. She told us that great writing expressed complex ideas in an accessible way. She advised us to aim for that, rather than making our writing needlessly complex with unnecessarily large words or ambiguous phrasing. I have tried to follow that advice in all my writing since.

Such great advice. My English teacher in high school was also a big proponent of EUW (Eliminate Unnecessary Words). Completely changed the way I wrote. You've also written pieces for the SF Gate and the Huffington Post. What do you love most about journalism work? 

 I love meeting new people and hearing new perspectives. Whether it be a light story about a new movie or concert or something more serious, like religion, flooding, or body image, I learn so much every time I talk to a source. It is a great privilege to get to talk to people who have direct experience with something, learn about it, and then write about it.

Indeed. What are some of your current projects?  

 My second book, The Dating Game, will be out March 26! It’s the story of three Warren University freshman, Sara, Robbie and Braden, who create a dating app for a class project. The app becomes wildly successful on campus and beyond and even draws the interest of investors. But as it grows the creators start to question if the platform, which ranks users by desirability, is really a good idea after all. To make matters even more complicated, they also find themselves in romantic entanglements of their own. Think The Social Network, with a romantic twist!

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Release Feature and Review: BLANCA & ROJA by Anna-Marie McLemore

Ever since I read an ARC of BLANCA & ROJA, I've shared how much I love it with pretty much anyone who will listen. I'm ecstatic to announce that this beautiful book is out today. It's not only intricately woven, well-written, and crafted, it also confronts issues like identity and colorism.

The biggest lie of all is the story you think you already know.

The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.

But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.


Swan Lake meets Snow White and Rose Red in this magical realism story that explores how people find their true identity in a world of restrictive paradigms. The setting is rich with literary, symbolic detail, and the characters are not only fully fleshed out, but their journey of self-discovery is one that today’s teens are likely to identify with. The theme of identity is explored in an especially poignant way, both through metaphor (a boy turning in to a bear, girls afraid of turning into swans) and perceptions shaded through different points of view. This is especially true with the character of Page Ashby--a gender fluid individual who discovers that self and beauty have more to do with what you become, than what you are told you are, and that who you are naturally is more beautiful than what people try to mold you into. In another example, though both Blanca and Roja are Chicanx, they deal with very real struggles that come with that distinction. Roja knows that others perceive her has a troublemaker, and has a hard time breaking free of that narrative--especially with her meek sister Blanca. Blanca, meanwhile, only perceives herself as being not quite enough of anything to be distinctive--a burden that a lot of people, especially people of color, often bear. Most importantly, this story shows the importance of exploring the beauty within oneself--finding the values that hold true no matter what the outside world perceives. Many people struggle with what they should be doing, rather than exploring what is authentic within themselves--and this book will offer a necessary mirror into that. The style of the book, like all of Anna-Marie McLemore's other novels, is remnant of Gabriel Garcia Marquez with a spark of wit. This book not only deserves its place on the shelf, but in the hands of as many readers as possible.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Monday, October 8, 2018

Monday Feature: Author Ashley Blooms

A bit of a funny story...I could have swore that I met Ashley Blooms at WorldCon this year. However, when I emailed her I found out that, no, we had not, in fact, met. However, the premise of her novel, EVERY BONE A PRAYER intrigued me, and I wanted to find out more about Ashley and her writing process.
You signed with your agent, Alexandra Levick, back in July. How did you know she was the right agent for you?

This is a great question, especially since I was so nervous during the querying process. The thing that worried me most was how I would know when I found the right agent. How could I ever be totally sure that I had found the right person to represent my work?

 But then I spoke with Allie on the phone. She called to make a formal offer of representation, but also to talk to me about my novel and her process and her goals as an agent. We talked for about an hour that first time and the more that we spoke, the easier it became. We laughed and joked and talked about why we were in this business as agent and writer. She told me what she loved most about my novel and the things she thought could be strengthened. She seemed to be the perfect balance between passion and practical business savvy. Allie shares my belief that stories are powerful things with enormous potential to do good in the world. She cares deeply about many of the same issues that fuel my work, like the inner lives of women, trauma and violence and how we work through pain toward something hopeful, and a love for language in all its flexibility and beauty.

 When we ended the call that day, I already knew that I wanted to work with Allie. I believed with all my heart that she cared about my book. That she really understood what I was trying to do and wanted to help me make it stronger. I believed that she would fight to find the right home for my novel and would stick by me and support my future projects. I trusted her then and I still do now.

 So all that worrying and confusion turned out to be dispelled by a single phone call with the right agent. I suppose it’s like a lot of scary choices that I’ve made in life—I just had to listen to my gut.

A very important thing to do. You've also published short stories in Shimmer and Strange Horizons. What do you love most about writing short fiction and in what ways, if any, do you feel it's helped you grow as a writer?

 I feel like I appreciate short fiction even more after spending so much of the last year working on my novel. I love that short fiction ends. That it requires brevity and that it can hold so much in a few thousand words. Sometimes the sheer size and scope of the novel could be overwhelming, but with short stories, the moments when I feel lost are more bearable. I’ve learned to appreciate that feeling of wandering, stumbling through the forest unsure of where the path went and then, suddenly, there, a clearing, suddenly, an end.

 Short stories have also taught me to get to the point, which is something I needed to learn, and am learning still. They’ve taught me how to find the heart of my work, how to interrogate what my characters want and make that evident. Short fiction has taught me a lot about structure and holding my reader’s interest and that sometimes what brought me into the story as a writer is not the same thing that will lure my reader into the story.

Those are definitely some helpful lessons! What inspired your book, EVERY BONE A PRAYER, and what did you learn from writing it? 

 The book actually grew out of a short story that I wrote called “Fallow”, which was published in the May 2017 issue of Shimmer. In that story I wanted to explore the repercussions of sexual abuse. As a survivor, it’s a topic that’s very close to me but also deeply complicated.

Once I finished the story I couldn’t stop thinking about Misty. I wanted to write about how she coped with what happened to her and all the many influences and forces that were working to keep her silent. I wanted to write about the relationship between memory and trauma and identity.

 I learned so much about myself as a writer and a person from writing this book. I learned that I often have to write something the wrong way before I realize what it needed all along. I learned how to keep going even when I felt like I’d ruined the whole thing and like I had no idea what I was doing, because I could fix that later, because there’s always revision. I learned how to spot the moments when I flinched away from something that needed to be there—a scene or a description or an interaction. Writing this book helped me come to terms with my own past and my own struggle to understand myself. Misty’s curiosity and compassion was contagious for me and made me take a harder look at the ways in which I could be kinder to myself. I learned there is no easy answer to the way we come to know ourself, and that it’s sticky and circuitous and often contradictory, and that translating that experience into words was often the same.

 I think the next novel I write will be infinitely better because I wrote this one and I know that I’m a better person for it.

Indeed. What are some of your current projects?

 I’ve been working on short stories for a few weeks now and dabbling with essays, but I think I’ll be diving into a new novel soon. I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment.

Ashley Blooms was born and raised in Cutshin, Kentucky. She received her MFA as a John and Renee Grisham Fellow at the University of Mississippi. She’s been awarded scholarships from the Clarion Writer’s Workshop and Appalachian Writer’s Workshop, served as fiction editor for the Yalobusha Review, and worked as an editorial intern and first reader for Her stories have appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, and Shimmer, among others. Her nonfiction has appeared in the Oxford American.

She currently lives in Oxford, Mississippi with her husband and their dog, Alfie. She’s at work on a novel & collection of essays.

You can find her online at Twitter.

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