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!

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Buy: BookPassage ~ Amazon.com 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.

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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 Tor.com. 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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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

THE MEGAROTHKE by Robert Ashcroft

I got to know Robert Ashcroft at this year's WorldCon, and his insights were extremely helpful. His book, THE MEGAROTHKE, is a gripping sci-fi/horror:

Seven years after the limitless depths of the Hollow War decimated Earth, leaving only 50,000 humans to fight for survival in Los Angeles, Theo Abrams is sent on a mission to destroy the enigmatic being that initiated this apocalypse, confronting the fact that humanity's yearning to transcend reality caused its downfall . . .

According to your website bio, you are trained as cryptologic linguist. Can you explain?

 A cryptologic linguist is someone who listens to enemy communications in a foreign language. While I can't talk a lot about my experiences, I can say that I was qualified in Korean and Spanish. A big part of what influenced The Megarothke came from simply living in an active duty environment. It's a foreign culture to most Americans, but unlike traveling, it's a culture that demands immediate assimilation and obedience.

Imagine, for example, if you had to go to boot camp before flying to Tokyo or Paris. A French waiter might refuse to serve you, but they aren’t going to scream at you and make your whole family do push-ups. We trample over other etiquettes while on vacation, but in uniform, you can't walk inside a building without taking off your hat. There is a joke that you have to use sunscreen because a sunburn would constitute damage to government property. This mentality runs very deep.

While serving, you also don't have to think about a lot of societal problems. You don't have to shop or worry about being laid off. But on the other hand, you feel responsible for what's happening, even when it's not you, and the army doesn't have a perfect track record. What's also amazing to me about our military situation is the lack of any nuanced scrutiny by the American public. We're either faultless heroes or high school drop-outs/criminals. The cultural divide is huge, and there really isn't enough productive discussion around our greater, global foreign policy.

That being said, I understand. We're busy. We're trying to get by. We don't have a lot of access to where the decisions are being made. This sense of frustration is what I wanted to articulate with Theo, the main character. He is not someone that is in place to make a difference, even when he sees things he knows need to change. All he can really do is press forward and try to protect his friends and family.

Indeed. THE MEGAROTHKE explores the horrors of war, and how people try to rebuild after it. What do you hope readers gain from Theo and his experiences?

 Oh shoot. I may have answered a lot of this in the previous question. I want people to stop and consider where our money and energy goes as a culture. Self-gratification and violence are over-budgeted, in my opinion.

On another note, I do think that in the stages of post-apocalyptic rebuilding, most cities would be authoritarian. Democracy is a lot of work and very hard to maintain. Anyone who doesn’t believe that humans like authoritarian regimes has never paid $65 a month to an HOA just to receive passive aggressive snail mail about their garbage can being out on the curb. That might be over-sharing.

No such thing. In your interview with Bookpeople, you said the hardest thing about writing is, "Protecting the time and space necessary to let yourself―and sometimes force yourself―to do good work." In what ways have you found this necessary time and space?

I recently canceled my home internet. I have unlimited data on my cell phone, and can do a WiFi hotspot, so I'm not 100 percent cut off from the world. But overall, it's helped me focus to remove two devices (the television and laptop) from my list of distractions. Before that, it was so easy to bounce between all three devices. We spend our lives staring at screens connected to the internet. Within 24 hours of cutting it off, I had located solitaire. That was a big realization for me. I even searched for Space Cadet, that pinball game, but it doesn't come pre-installed.

Robert's art studio.
Apparently, we thrive on distractions! What are some of your current projects?

 I'm sort of in a short story renaissance. I also recently bought a whole bunch of paint supplies and started learning how to work with acrylics. I made a little studio in my house. My goal is to get good enough to eventually do my own artwork someday, but that’s a long way off. If anyone reading this has any tips, feel free to send them along! Plus, it's just really fun and rewarding!

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