Category Archives: RLovatt

Upcoming Changes

Hey guys!

If you follow us on Facebook, you may have noticed my post a day or so ago stating that we might be experiencing some downtime in the near future. This hasn’t happened yet, and won’t until we’re 100% ready.

We’re switching away from, to a hosted website. Almost everything has been transferred over and configured at this point besides for the domain name. We’ll be doing that shortly once we work out all the kinks in the new site and make sure it’s all shiny and polished.

For our on-site subscribers ( Followers, not email subscribers), if you’d like to continue seeing our posts and reviews, please do consider following us via email using the widget on the sidebar. Otherwise, follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter to keep up-to-date with our blog.

Thanks, and happy reading!

Oh — and we have a new member on our team, Gama Ray Martinez, check out his very first review here. :)

New from Guy Gavriel Kay — CHILDREN OF EARTH AND SKY

Children of Earth and Sky - Guy Gavriel Kay


Guy Gavriel Kay

New American Library Hardcover

May 10, 2016


The bestselling author of the groundbreaking novels Under Heaven and River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay is back with a new novel, Children of Earth and Sky, set in a world inspired by the conflicts and dramas of Renaissance Europe. Against this tumultuous backdrop the lives of men and women unfold on the borderlands—where empires and faiths collide.

From the small coastal town of Senjan, notorious for its pirates, a young woman sets out to find vengeance for her lost family. That same spring, from the wealthy city-state of Seressa, famous for its canals and lagoon, come two very different people: a young artist traveling to the dangerous east to paint the grand khalif at his request—and possibly to do more—and a fiercely intelligent, angry woman, posing as a doctor’s wife, but sent by Seressa as a spy.

The trading ship that carries them is commanded by the accomplished younger son of a merchant family, ambivalent about the life he’s been born to live. And farther east a boy trains to become a soldier in the elite infantry of the khalif—to win glory in the war everyone knows is coming.

As these lives entwine, their fates—and those of many others—will hang in the balance, when the khalif sends out his massive army to take the great fortress that is the gateway to the western world…

Guy Gavriel Kay’s 13th novel, Children of Earth and Sky, is set to be released in May of next year; in it, Kay steps away from China’s Tang Dynasty and ventures into the realms of Renaissance Europe. The cover was revealed earlier today on the B&N blog.

A (Slight Noisy) Audio Interview with Scott Lynch

After a weekend of stalking Scott Lynch, author of the Gentleman Bastards series back in April, he finally allowed me to corner him and ask him some questions in a noisy hallway. We spoke of The Thorn of Emberlain, and his plans for the future of his series, Super Secret Lynch #1, and zombies.

I attempted to clean the audio up a little bit, which may have caused some distortions. My apologies for that, but I hope you enjoy! Also.. I am so sorry for the 7-ish minute mark. I made a joke about doing what I did, and SJardine forced me to follow through with it.


For those of you unable to listen to the audio, /u/justamathnerd on reddit has provided a bit of a recap:

  • There are no major flashbacks in Thorn of Emberlain. He mentions that “since this is an even numbered book,” there won’t be flashbacks, even though he included some in Red Seas Under Red Skies. I assume that means that the next odd numbered book (the one after Thorn) will have flashbacks.
  • We’re gonna get some new “main” characters that will stick for the rest of the series, seemingly they’ll be the Spoilers So Far[1] since he describes them as Jean and Locke’s “opponents.” He talks about how there will be two concurrent stories, Jean and Locke’s as well as these new characters.
  • He can’t talk about his new project, but hopes to be able to by the end of 2015. He includes a cryptic hint: Hint[2] Who knows what that means? I’m sure people will come up with some interesting theories.
  • In response to whether there is going to be more magic or Eldren or clarification on any of that stuff, he said there will be more magic and clarification, but that “not every mystery will be revealed, and not every question will have an answer.” He says he’s a “big believer in leaving some things to the reader’s imagination and leaving some things unsolved.”
  • He hopes that Untitled Lynch #1 will be the first of a series of side-projects or standalones, but he would like the “central spine of [his] work to be the ongoing Gentleman Bastard sequence and related works, and maybe some other long fantasy series.” He likes long series, but he wants to dabble in off-shoots or projects that are unrelated as well.
  • The main Gentleman Bastard series is 7 books with some non-essential tie-ins (he has some novellas planned, so my guess is that’s what he means). The follow-up to that will be another 7 books set 20 years after the first. It will feature many of the same characters and many of the same type of situations, and will resolve the “grand story.” It will take us to the natural end of several characters’ lives, show off what happens and tie everything up.
  • He’s optimistic about speeding his pace up. He says he’s gotten it down to two years between books and wants to get it to one. He says if that was the pace, he could conceivably be done in 10 years, and jokes about how he’s “said this kind of thing before.” It sounds like he’s pretty happy with his output and pace which is all that matters, really.


An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir : Review


Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.


An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir is a good read. It’s engaging enough to be engrossing, and has enough character development and action to keep readers hooked. This review isn’t going to be pretty, but one thing for sure is that Sabaa Tahir can definitely write. I personally may have found some things lacking, but her prose was unfaltering. With some refinement that we’ll hopefully see in future novels, I think she could even be excellent.

That being said, I was disappointing in An Ember in the Ashes. I had high hopes for this title, and all the other reviews that I had read seemed overwhelmingly positive. I agree, in large part, with them. However, for me, An Ember in the Ashes wasn’t enough. For those of you whom have been reading fantasy (or really, any genre fiction) for any length of time, the love triangles, and almost all plot twists/major developments will be painfully predictable. I can see this as being a good read for someone who needs something “light” after reading a heavy series, or for readers just getting into the genre.

It’s odd to call this book light, when it’s set in a world with merciless killings, brutality, and the fact rape is used as a plot device to move the story along (I’m not opening that can of worms in this review though.) It still managed to feel like a lighter read though, due to the fact that we’re only told about the brutality of the world, never really shown besides for at the very beginning of the book. This — the telling and not showing, did lead to a disappointing lack in world building. I’m hoping it’s something that gets expanded upon in the sequel, and that we do get to see more of the world and get some actual descriptions; as it stands, it kind of felt flat, as though the backdrop of a play was changed and barely alluded to.

I don’t mean for this to sound all bad. I got through this book in a couple of sittings, and I will probably read the sequel when it comes out. I didn’t love this book, I didn’t think it was a sensational masterpiece, or even really innovative, but I did enjoy it. Based on other reviews, and the fact that Paramount optioned it in a 7-figure deal does clearly show that it’s a loved book, just not by me.

If you’re interested, we’ve included a brief sample of the audiobook:

Update Regarding Hugo Nominations

For those of you who aren’t following Sasquan on Facebook, or aren’t on their mailing list, they announced earlier today that there have been two modifications made to the Hugo ballot, as two of the nominees were ineligible.

  1. In the Best Novelette category, “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House) was originally published online in 2013 prior to its appearance in that collection.
    It has been replaced by “The Day the World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Lightspeed Magazine, April 2014)
  2. In the Best Professional Artist category, Jon Eno was replaced by Kirk DouPonce. Eno didn’t publish any qualifying artwork in 2014.

The complete ballot with the incorporated changes:

Best Novel (1827 nominating ballots)

  • Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
  • Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos (47North)
  • Skin Game by Jim Butcher (Roc Books)

Best Novella (1083 nominating ballots)

  • Big Boys Don’t Cry by Tom Kratman (Castalia House)
  • “Flow” by Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Analog, Nov 2014)
  • One Bright Star to Guide Them by John C. Wright (Castalia House)
  • “Pale Realms of Shade” by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
  • “The Plural of Helen of Troy by John C. Wright (City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, Castalia House)

Best Novelette (1031 nominating ballots)

  • “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” by Gray Rinehart (Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, May 2014)
  • “Championship B’tok” by Edward M. Lerner (Analog, Sept 2014)
  • “The Day the World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Lightspeed Magazine, April 2014)
  • “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” by Michael F. Flynn (Analog, June 2014)
  • “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” by Rajnar Vajra (Analog, Jul/Aug 2014)

Best Short Story (1174 nominating ballots)

  • “Goodnight Stars” by Annie Bellet (The End is Now (Apocalypse Triptych Book 2), Broad Reach Publishing)
  • “On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli (Sci Phi Journal #2, Nov 2014)
  • “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
  • “Totaled” by Kary English (Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, July 2014)
  • “Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)

Best Related Work (1150 nominating ballots)

  • “The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF” by Ken Burnside (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)
  • Letters from Gardner by Lou Antonelli (The Merry Blacksmith Press)
  • Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth by John C. Wright (Castalia House)
  • “Why Science is Never Settled” by Tedd Roberts (
  • Wisdom from My Internet by Michael Z. Williamson (Patriarchy Press)

Best Graphic Story (785 nominating ballots)

  • Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt (Marvel Comics)
  • Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics)
  • Saga Volume 3 written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
  • Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)
  • The Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate by Carter Reid (The Zombie Nation)

Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) (1285 nominating ballots)

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, concept and story by Ed Brubaker, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Entertainment, Perception, Sony Pictures Imageworks)
  • Edge of Tomorrow screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, directed by Doug Liman (Village Roadshow, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, 3 Arts Entertainment; Viz Productions)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
  • Interstellar screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, directed by Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lynda Obst Productions, Syncopy)
  • The Lego Movie written by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, LEGO Systems A/S Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, Warner Bros. Animation (as Warner Animation Group))

Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) (938 nominating ballots)

  • Doctor Who: “Listen” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon (BBC Television)
  • The Flash: “Pilot” teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, story by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, directed by David Nutter (The CW) (Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television)
  • Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper” written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  • Grimm: “Once We Were Gods”, written by Alan DiFiore, directed by Steven DePaul (NBC) (GK Productions, Hazy Mills Productions, Universal TV)
  • Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried” written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions; Space/BBC America)

Best Editor (Short Form) (870 nominating ballots)

  • Jennifer Brozek
  • Vox Day
  • Mike Resnick
  • Edmund R. Schubert
  • Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Best Editor (Long Form) (712 nominating ballots)

  • Vox Day
  • Sheila Gilbert
  • Jim Minz
  • Anne Sowards
  • Toni Weisskopf

Best Professional Artist (753 nominating ballots)

  • Julie Dillon
  • Kirk DouPonce
  • Nick Greenwood
  • Alan Pollack
  • Carter Reid

Best Semiprozine (660 nominating ballots)

  • Abyss & Apex Wendy Delmater editor and publisher
  • Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Association Incorporated, 2014 editors David Kernot and Sue Burtsztynski
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews
  • Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
  • Strange Horizons Niall Harrison Editor-in-Chief

Best Fanzine (576 nominating ballots)

  • Black Gate, edited by John O’Neill
  • Elitist Book Reviews edited by Steven Diamond
  • Journey Planet edited by James Bacon, Chris Garcia, Alissa McKersie, Colin Harris, and Helen Montgomery
  • The Revenge of Hump Day edited by Tim Bolgeo
  • Tangent SF Online, edited by Dave Truesdale

Best Fancast (668 nominating ballots)

  • Adventures in SF Publishing Brent Bower (Executive Producer), Kristi Charish, Timothy C. Ward & Moses Siregar III (Co-Hosts, Interviewers and Producers)
  • Dungeon Crawlers Radio Daniel Swenson (Producer/Host), Travis Alexander & Scott Tomlin (Hosts), Dale Newton (Host/Tech), Damien Swenson (Audio/Video Tech)
  • Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
  • The Sci Phi Show Jason Rennie
  • Tea and Jeopardy Emma Newman and Peter Newman

Best Fan Writer (777 nominating ballots)

  • Dave Freer
  • Amanda S. Green
  • Jeffro Johnson
  • Laura J. Mixon
  • Cedar Sanderson

Best Fan Artist (296 nominating ballots)

  • Ninni Aalto
  • Brad Foster
  • Elizabeth Leggett
  • Spring Schoenhuth
  • Steve Stiles

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (851 nominating ballots)
Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2013 or 2014, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).

  • Wesley Chu*
  • Jason Cordova
  • Kary English*
  • Rolf Nelson
  • Eric S. Raymond

For more information on Sasquan and the Hugo Awards, go to:

Interview with Larry Niven

I’ve conducted many interviews over the years of running this blog. Some have been with bigger authors than others, and with each of them I’ve had some feelings of nervousness. I tend to gripe about that to those around me in the hours preceding an interview. With this interview, be glad you weren’t anywhere near me in the days leading up to it.

It’s not so much that I am, or was, terrified of Larry Niven. He’s an absolutely sweet guy and a pleasure to chat with. No, the issue came with the 130 or so people who would be watching this interview. I don’t do public speaking… So, for those of you whom will be listening to the audio, I’d like to apologize in advance for how terribly awkward I was.

[For convenience LN = Larry Niven and RL = Rebecca Lovatt, and TD = Tom Doherty].

RL: I’m Rebecca Lovatt, a fantasy reviewer for the Arched Doorway. I am here with Larry Niven, who probably needs no introduction since you are here anyways.

LN: If you need an introduction, check your program book.

RL: Obviously everyone [here] knows who you are, so could you tell us a story about yourself that we don’t know?

LN: Give me a minute. Hmm. Yes I’ve got stories that you don’t know. I’m just trying to select.. Let me tell you a longish story, ok?

RL: Alright.

LN: There’s a movie out, or it came out a few years ago called Battlefield Earth. Many of you are nodding your head, you’ve all seen it. Here’s my story. I’m a judge for the Writers of the Future and Galaxy Press which are Scientologists and I get along with them mostly. It’s easy and they are doing good in the world. They are giving the first big breaks to a number of science fiction writers and other writers too. Anyone who has a pulpish mind could compete for these. 

The rewards are great, not just money, though there’s money… thanks to me. But publicity also. Ok, they made a movie called Battlefield Earth and they were ready to publicise it in their usual way, which was flamboyant and get it done. They invited several, perhaps all, of the judges of Writers of the Future, and they ran a red carpet up and down Hollywood Boulevard, up and across and back down, and put up stadia and invited a lot of fans to sit in the stadia and watch us walk the red carpet.

So that’s the first time that me and my wife Marilyn had done such a thing. It was fun. We go into Grauman’s Chinese which I had been familiar since I was a kid. Grauman’s Chinese now called something else; pavilion in the front, built in the grand style that was popular when movies were just coming on the scene. We collect free popcorn and soft drinks and look around. There are two more judges and their wives, that is Jerry Pournelle and Roberta Pournelle, and Tim Powers and Serena Powers.

We obviously all gather, we don’t see any other judges and we are waiting for the movie to start and Jerry says “What are we going to tell Joni?” Joni Labaqui is the publicity director for Galaxy Press–and for Battlefield Earth of course. There is no avoiding her because we are going to be crossing the street and have dinner in the building next door. The Galaxy Press building. Jerry says “cause the movies going to be awful” and we all nod our heads. There’s a ghastly silence and I said “I’m going to tell the exact truth” and Tim says ‘that’s horrible idea’, and tells an awful story about rejecting a bad story as a judge and then lying to the guy who had written it.

Now the movie comes on, and many of you have seen it, it’s wild, and Jerry’s position is that the guy who played the head villain was the only big name they actually had, because he’s a Scientologist, and nobody was willing to tell him when he was overacting. So you saw the movie, make your own judgement. The movie ends and we spill toward the restrooms. A young lady intercepted me and says she was Joni’s acolyte and how did I like the movie? And I said, “I came expecting to have a wonderful time and I did.”

We use the restrooms and we spill out into the lobby. I link up with Marilyn, we find Jerry and Roberta outdoors and Jerry says “did Joni’s acolyte get to you?” and I said “Yeah.” and I told him what I said and Jerry laughed. And then Tim and Serena appear, and Tim is distraught; he’s in great distress, Joni’s acolyte got to him and asked him how he liked the movie, and he said “it was the best thing since Shakespeare.” Or some such, he said “it was a wonderful work of art and bound to win an Oscar.” She said she wanted to videotape him. Jerry then says, “Niven is a master of diplomacy” and told Tim what I had said–came expecting to have a wonderful time and I did. That was that, until the next morning because we went to dinner but we didn’t run across Joni.

Joni Labaqui phones me at 10AM at my office at home and she says, “What did you think of the movie?” and I said that “I came expecting to have a wonderful time and I did.” and Joni laughs like a maniac and then she says “that is exactly what Tim Powers told me.” You’re never going to read this story because I don’t dare write it.

RL: Alright thank you for that.

So Ringworld, you returned back to that in 2009 with Ringworld’s children..

LN: Oh okay, I have trouble keeping track. 

RL: So what was it like returning back to that?

LN: Uhm, it went like this–Ringworld in 1970 I think, and then Ringworld Engineer is 10 years later, and then the Ringworld Throne 15 years later, and then Ringworld’s Children not very long after that. A few years, a couple of years, I don’t know. 

Ringworld and Ringworld Engineers… Robert Heinlein said they read like one long novel, which I thought was wonderful. Particularly since it had taken me so long to write the sequel.  This is David Gerrold style, if you guy’s have been following The War Against the Chtorr you probably got old doing it. That’s the way it was with the Ringworld series.

The Ringworld Throne… that’s when Barbara Hambley phoned me and said “I’m putting together an anthology of women vampire stories called Sisters of the Night, and two of my regulars bailed out. Would you give me a vampire story?” I said, “I don’t do vampire stories.”

She said Ringworld vampires from Ringworld Engineers and I started thinking and a whole novel involved, including a novella that was too big for her book so she had to publish a section of it.

Ringworld’s Children emerged from the internet, there’s a website that exists just to discuss my stuff, at least on the surface and they were arguing about ‘Could Seeker have had a child from Teela Brown?’. The answer to that one was no, but they had the wrong answer, you don’t get a story out of me unless you’ve got the wrong answer.

Lets see that’s the story of the Ringworld Sequence up until Ed Firman wanted to write stories that started with the Fleet of Worlds as described in Ringworld. Ed wrote five books essentially with me, but using my stuff and without much input from me in the way of text. The last one followed Ringworld’s Children. You’re up to speed on the Ringworld without those stories, you can read them for fun, they are good, but canonical they are not quite.

RL: Alright thank you, and I believe after almost every one you’ve said you will not be writing more in the series.

LN: That’s correct.

RL: Will you be writing more in the series?

LN: Just like I have been telling you for about 40 years now, I am not going to write more in the series.

RL: Any hints as to when we can look forward to you not writing more in the series?

LN: I have no ambition to write more about the Ringworld. I sent it out of sight, it’s out of reach of known space, and let’s leave it that way.

RL: Alright then, is there anything you are currently working on, or anything we can look forward to from you that’s not Ringworld related?

LN: Sure. You’ve seen the Dream Park series? There are four books in Dream Park and Steven Barnes is tired of them, my collaborator. Steven wanted to write a swords and sorcery novel and that sounded like fun. We set it in the Magic Goes Away series, in which history shows that magic grows less powerful as you approach the present. It’s called the Seascape Tattoo. Let me tell you about the Seascape Tattoo, we’ve got a character who resembles Conan the Sumerian and his name is Aros. Aros has got lot’s of scars, and some of those scars he’s had them tattooed. 

[Larry stood up and began pointing to different parts of his chest at this point. I’m also not sure on the spelling of the character’s name. Aros could be wrong.]

Your first sight of Aros is without a shirt, he’s got a seascape with ships down here, and a sun up here and maybe there are two suns because he got bitten by some spiders once upon a time and that left marks, and he got slashed with a sword. It’s easy to see he got slashed by a sword because that’s the horizon, and ships down here.

Sounds like a detail but we made a good use of the seascape tattoo, and there is some time travel involved and some magic. Aros is one of the main characters and the other is a wizard. They don’t get along too well at first. You’ll be seeing this in maybe a year, we want to fiddle with the ending. What else? You’ve seen Shipstar and The Bowl of Heaven, read The Bowl of Heaven first because this is a two-part novel. Steven, Jerry Pournelle and I are working on a novel. We’re just getting it started. This is set in the Legacy of Heorot universe, I guess this is a good time to apologise for that title, it is my fault.

Jerry and I were going to write a short story with intent to win a Nebula Award, and we chose a high falutin title that only an English student would recognise, and I regret we kept it. But it’s a good series, it’s among the best things I’ve done and we did it with Steven Barnes, and did a lot of lecturing. It was a crazy scene, Steve would appear with a block of text on his computer and Jerry and I would tear into it and rebuild it. And that’s an awful experience, except it’s also an education, and Steve took it as an education.

We did that with what is by now two novels plus a novella called the Secret of Blackship Island that is only on your computer. Plus the one we’ve just started which doesn’t have a name yet.

RL: Alright thank you, I know I for sure am looking forward to those, and I reckon there is probably one or two people in here who are as well. 

As you’re speaking of collaborators… What are some of the challenges that you face when you’re with new authors that you are collaborating with, or just in general when you are doing collaborative works?

LN: I do a lot of collaboration and I like it. But every collaboration is different from all the others. There are a few basic rules and I wrote about them once 20 or 30 years ago and they haven’t changed much. You don’t collaborate with a novice, and you don’t collaborate with someone you don’t trust to come through. You get that trust by talking about a collaboration until you are both sure. That is recreation, you are not doing work until you write text, you’ve got to think of it that way. 

You’re going to do about 80 percent of the work, collaborations are about 160 percent as much work as a solo flight, because of the interaction factor. You’re doing it to get a better book, if you think you can do it better alone you should write it alone. This has worked out for me throughout my entire career.

Including the first novel which was written totally for fun with David Gerrold, the Flying Sorcerer’s, with a title like that you know it’s not intended to be serious. We rebuilt the space program using balloons on another world, a world of two suns.

What was the question again?

RL: What are some of the challenges you face on collaborative works?

LN: Yeah, challenges with collaborators. It’s the communication thing. Let me tell you this, tell you a little long… Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett were within range of me, because they were publicizing Good Omens. A book I highly recommend, it’s wonderful. I have read it more than once, and that’s unusual.

Terry’s plane had been delayed by six hours, I took him home, I didn’t know what we were going to do there but it wound up we started talking collaboration, and we were going to write a book together involving a beanstalk. We had a lot of fun, but at the end of it were weren’t going to write it. Writing it with Terry Pratchett would have been a disaster, he writes so much faster than I do.

He would have run away from me and it would have been all Terry. That is the only challenge I can lay out as something you’ve got to face, if your pacing is different you’re in trouble. If your collaborator gets a stroke you’re in trouble. So you may have to face finishing it yourself, that’s not my story, that’s Arthur Clarke and Frederik Pohl. 

Frederik Pohl finished it for the title. His most recent Frederik Pohl and Arthur C. Clarke, but by then Clarke was not able to write anymore and what Frederick started with was a handful of notes. You’re taking a chance when you start a book of your own as well. You don’t know you’re capable of finishing it, you always could before if you’ve got a record. But your first one, god knows.

My first was a novella that appeared in Worlds Of Tomorrow magazine, and Fred Pohl took it down to Betty Ballantine and suggested it could become a novel. I didn’t know how to expand it into a novel, I didn’t know I could do that. It turned out I could, but it’s just under 60,000 words which is tiny by today’s standards. Writing is a risk, if you’re going to do it, don’t do a collaboration yet if you’re just starting.

Particularly don’t do it with someone who is just starting, because he doesn’t know and you don’t know and it’s a big risk.

RL: Alright, just keeping with that last bit do you have any other advice for people who may be looking to get into writing perhaps? 

LN: Ok. I ran across a woman at a convention party room and she said as follows. When we got into conversation she said ‘I’ve talked to some of the best writers in the field. I’ve talked to Anne McCaffrey, Gordy Dixon and several big names and they gave me advice on how to write and I still can’t seem to produce anything.’ 

And I said tell me a story, and she blocked. If you don’t have a story there is no point in getting good advice. What else could I tell you? There are mechanics you need to understand, and the truth is, I don’t anymore. My memory reaches back to when the tools of a writers trade included a reel of paper and the delusion that you were talented. I got that off a cartoon, but also you needed scissors and scotch tape. You’d use those instead of rewriting a whole page to fix one line. you need lines that were that much apart [he indicated with his fingers] so you’d have room for notes scribbled in. That was for your first draft and intermediate drafts.

Your final draft had to look neat, so you had to do it all over again. Everyone my age remembers whiteout, which is used to erase, and lots of people my age remember the selectric II typewriter, which would do your erasing for you. There were two ribbons, one was whiteout. You would type the whiteout letter over the one you wanted to remove, and it would be blocked, not gone. You could still tell it was there but you could fix it. And Jerry once reminded me that if you hit the wrong letter at the start of a sentence you would spend a few seconds trying to rewrite the sentence trying to start with that letter. I’m reminding some of you, and telling the rest of you that this was the way it was before computers. Computers are wonderful.

Advice for writers? Get yourselves a computer and understand computers. Harlan Ellison still writes with a typewriter but I don’t recommend this. In fact I don’t recommend trying to write like Harlan Ellison. It’s too difficult, and certainly never try to write like Ray Bradbury, it is too difficult.  Ray has ruined a lot of good writers.

RL: Thank you, and can you tell us about Niven’s Law? 

LN: Well, sure, why not? Niven’s Laws have changed over the years, but these are what I figured are basic truths. Not always though, one of the basic truths is to never let a waiter escape. A waiter hovering over your elbows while you’re in deep conversation is rude, don’t do that.  Remember that the waiter doesn’t have to come back, or doesn’t have to come back at your convenience.

But basics, Niven’s Laws One: A and B. Never throw shit at an armed man. Never stand next to somebody who’s throwing shit at an armed man. Most of you probably don’t remember the 1964 democratic national convention in Chicago. Outside there were people called Yippies and they were throwing shit in baggies at the policemen, forgetting that the uniform doesn’t matter if you go straight to the hind frame through the nose. It’s basic.

Lets see… I’m not remembering all of Niven’s Laws, but there is an important one and it’s wordy, sorry about that. Sorry about that, I always try to be as concise as I can, always. But there is no cause so truthful, so good, so clearly virtuous that you cannot find a fool following. Next time you liberals read some quote from Rush Limbaugh remember that there are  conservatives who are as bright as you are. You can always find a fool following a cause you want to denigrate.

Others… well there’s Fuzzy Pink’s Law, my wife’s law is never waste calories. whether you eat that hot fudge sundae is up to your doctor and your dietitian, but whether you eat a bad hot fudge sundae is a violation.

As for the rest of Niven’s Laws you can find them. There is a book called Niven’s Laws that was put out by one of the convention publishers.

RL: Alright thank you very much, and what would you say your proudest moment has been over the course of your writing career?

LN: I’ve been told that I am this year’s Grand Master for the Science Fiction Writers of America. I’m very proud of that, but I was very proud of my first Hugo Award for Neutron Star, and all subsequent Hugo Awards too. I think that stopped around 1975, I haven’t had a Hugo in a dog’s lifetime, in two dog’s lifetimes. But I’ve won other awards, but those I think were the most important. That first Hugo really nailed that for me, I was going to be a writer.

RL: I think by the time you’ve won a Hugo you probably already are a writer.

LN: Yeah, and you wouldn’t think I’d need verification, and you’d be probably right. Getting published was a very proud moment. A check for 25 bucks from Frederick Pohl for the Coldest Place, a story that was obsolete before it was published. Many or most of you know that story–the coldest place in the solar system was supposed to be the back side of Mercury because Mercury was supposed to be a one face world. Facing the sun with just one face as the Moon faces the Earth with just one face, and then some Russian scientist demonstrated that Mercury can’t keep an atmosphere it’s too small. It loses its atmosphere at all times, the difference is that Mercury is close enough to pick up more atmosphere, hydrogen atoms, protons from the solar wind at all times. So there will be an atmosphere to carry heat from the hot side. 

That was the problem till someone else demonstrated that Mercury rotates one and a half times per year so that there aren’t any spaces on Mercury that don’t see sunlight except at the poles.

So, obsolete.

RL: And I’m going to ask you a question that you probably aren’t going to like. Who is your favorite author?

LN: How many people do I want to insult? No I can’t name a favorite author. In particular I have this software problem, or character flaw, I can’t remember peoples names easily. So by the time a new writer has established himself I still haven’t memorized his name. I haven’t memorized his name until he is middle aged author. So I would be ignoring some really good writers. 

There is one called Stephenson? Snow Crash.

RL: Neal Stephenson 

LN: Yeah, I like him very much. Once upon a time, no writer really likes to name all writers he doesn’t like as much as this one. Arthur C. Clarke was in town and do for a party to be held at Jerry Pournelle’s that night, but that morning he was on a radio show and they asked him “who’s your favorite writer?” He said “Larry Niven”, and then he had to apologise to Jerry. In fact he felt called on to apologise to Jerry, who forgave him almost at once. 

RL: Thanks, and my apologies for that. So of all of your books, which one would you say was the most difficult one to write?

LN: That’s easy, there was Destiny’s Road. I had this neat idea for a spacecraft that leaves a colony, winding around to leave a lava surface as a road for future generations and disappears off into the distance and never comes back. 

Pick it up 200 years later with a kid growing up and write a man’s life story. A life story in fiction is likely to be until he is in his 30s or 40s, because you probably don’t want to carry on till his death. I didn’t at any rate, but I flinched from writing a man’s life story. Robert Heinlein did it all the time, I had never done it before.

I turned in Destiny’s Road four years after the contract lapsed, and occasionally it got mentioned by Bob Gleeson and Tom Doherty, but they never nagged me. I guess they had faith I’d come through, or else their business plans included a few failures. At any rate I’m extremely proud of Destiny’s Road, and there was a reviewer who said ‘Niven usually does fireworks. He doesn’t in this book, but without the fireworks going, by god the man could sing.’

As I say I’m proud of it. 

RL: That’s awesome, and you should be proud of it. It’s a good read.

LN: Thank you. 

RL: Which do you prefer, ebooks or paperback?

LN: Ebooks or paperback? Of course there are three choices, the third being hardback.

RL: I just meant physical copies…

LN: I don’t have a preference, I’ll sell it to you in any form. I like ebooks a lot more than the publishers do; the publishers are having trouble with their sales. I’ve talked with Tom Doherty on this and his take is that it’s ruining the field. It’s destroying the bookstores, people used to wander into bookstores because bookstores used to be right next to the bakery or something. 

And if they wandered in they would walk out with a book, they don’t do that anymore. They have to consciously want to buy a book and go looking for it, or something that will suit. That’s Tom’s take and I don’t say he’s wrong.

TD: I didn’t say that ebooks were ruining bookstores, what I said was they served a different need entirely. What they do — if you know what you want they are great. They are not great for discovery, there is too much out there. It’s like finding needles in haystacks, if you don’t know what you want. If you want your backlist, it’s great; you can look there and find it all. But for new authors it’s much harder, there is good stuff out there but there is an awful lot of bad stuff too. 

We get a lot of feedback on and people are so disappointed by the last three books they bought, because they bought books from just a couple of lines. They weren’t edited, they weren’t polished, and the person didn’t have a particular talent. Now there’s very talented people out there too, but it’s very hard to take the time to tell the difference on the internet.

LN: If you heard that, good. If not, Tom will be around and he’s going to be on panels so you can get this elaborated. The one thing he said that is well-worth noticing… and what was it? Sorry guys it’s Saturday morning after a Friday night with a lot of music. 

My point however is… I work through my agent Eleanor Wood, who puts my lapsed stories from my backlist onto the internet, and I’m getting 85 percent royalties. I got 4 percent royalties from World of Ptavvs (my first novel), and I’m used to getting 8. It’s hard to fight that Tom.

TD: It’s hard to fight that if you’re Larry Niven, and people are looking for your stuff. 

LN: Yeah, that’s the point I wanted to make. Tom’s point is that if you’re a well-established writer everything is golden for you on the internet. If you are a novice, how are you going to get noticed? Your editor from a magazine isn’t going to run down the street to Betty Ballantine with a something that could become a novel. Betty is in another field now, and the bookstores keep closing, and the publishers need to notice you.

People complain about the editors these days, they aren’t doing as much work to produce a really good book out of something that is the high end of mediocre. They used to do that, well Bob Gleeson still does that, but they don’t all.

RL: Thank you, and I have to say it’s probably quite nice having the person you’re quoting in the audience to correct you as you quote them.

LN: Yeah, I was hoping that would happen.

[The second half of the interview was a Q&A with the audience. If you’d like to listen to that. It starts around the 38:30 mark.]

RL: Alright, thank you everyone for coming to listen, and thank you Mr. Niven!

The Zombie Combat Field Guide: A Coloring and Activity Book For Fighting the Living Dead by Roger Ma : Review


The Zombie Combat Manual provided potential zombie fighters with comprehensive instructions on how to do battle in the inevitable outbreak of an undead plague. However, even the most comprehensive advice is useless without study and practice.

Thus, the Institute for Undead Combat Studies has created an essential field handbook to help combatants of the walking dead hone their fighting skills, ensuring maximum preparedness for the zombie apocalypse. This interactive guide includes:
Detailed technique illustrations, anatomical diagrams, and zombie combat drawings you can color
Puzzles and brain exercises to help remember key combat terminology
Work pages on making the right choices during an undead outbreak
and much more!
Anyone can become an effective warrior against the walking dead. Make sure you’re ready to fight when the time comes—or prepare to join the zombie horde…

When I first accepted the offer to review this title, I didn’t take the time to consider the fact that not only had I never reviewed a colouring book before, I also had no idea how to review one. What would I say? That the lines were especially easy to stay within, without being too confining to ones artistic creativity? That the outlines of the undead creatures were really inspiring, and that I didn’t put down my crayons until even the gaps in the letters were filled in?


Fair warning, it will try to make you do exercise.


Fortunately, after going through The Zombie Combat Field Guide, I found that my worries were (mostly) unfounded. This activity book was a delight, and I enjoyed it.

Receiving this activity book in the mail was the most excited I’d ever been about receiving a colouring book in years. There’s more to this little booklet than meets the eyes.. There are questionnaires and trivia, and illustrated guides. All for the sole purpose of getting you prepared for the hoards of the undead.

This is something that primarily pre-teen/young teenage boys would enjoy the most. Scratch that. No. This is an essential item for every zombie lover, with a desire to spend an evening colouring, and learning their role in the apocalyptic world. You will finish this activity book with a working knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of your enemy. You’ll know how best to defeat them, and what weapons will be able your best option. In short, if you’ve ever wondered where the best place to stab a zombie in the head is for maximum effectiveness, then this is for you.

The Zombie Combat Field Guide: A Coloring and Activity Book For Fighting the Living Dead by Roger Ma was released today, January 6th 2015.

I received a free copy of this publication from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Most Anticipated Fantasy Books of 2015

Happy New Year!

Continuing with yesterday’s post (Best Books of 2014), here are the books we’re looking forward to the most in 2015. Descriptions, release dates, and covers have been added where possible.

Shane’s (SJardine):

The Aeronaut’s Windlass (Cinderspires #1) by Jim Butcher:

The Cinder Spires is set in a world “of black spires that tower for miles over a mist-shrouded surface” and follows a war between two of the Spires: Spire Albion and Spire Aurora.

It’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets Sherlock meets Hornblower. There are goggles and airships and steam power and bizarre crystal technology and talking cats, who are horrid little bullies. – From Goodreads

I’m not 100 percent positive that this book will be published in 2015, but I really hope it is. Jim Butcher is one of my favorite authors, and if anyone can pull off a great Steampunk novel, he can.

Fool’s Quest (Fits and the Fool #2) by Robin Hobb:

This will be the continuation of Hobb’s the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, and I find myself checking daily to see if any more information has been released about it. I can’t wait to find out what happens after the events of Fool’s Assassin. Fitzchivalry Farseer never seems to catch a break.

Tentative publication date: August 11th 2015 by Del Rey

Magic Shifts (Kate Daniels #8) by Ilona Andrews:


Mercenary Kate Daniels and her Mate, former Beast Lord Curran Lennart, have broken with Pack, but Curran misses challenges of leading, so he grabs when Pack offers him its stake in the Mercenary Guild. As a veteran merc, Kate can take over Guild’s unfinished jobs, not knowing they are connected. An old enemy has arisen.Goodreads

The Kate Daniels series is another Urban Fantasy series I’ve discovered in the last few months that I burned through in just a couple days. The name Magic Shifts sounds like it will describe this next book perfect, everything is starting to change for Kate and Curran.

Expected publication: August 4th 2015 by Ace

The Iron Ghost (Copper Promise #2) by Jen Williams:


Beware the dawning of a new mage…

Wydrin of Crosshaven, Sir Sebastian and Lord Aaron Frith are experienced in the perils of stirring up the old gods. They are also familiar with defeating them, and the heroes of Baneswatch are now enjoying the perks of suddenly being very much in demand for their services.

When a job comes up in the distant city of Skaldshollow, it looks like easy coin – retrieve a stolen item, admire the views, get paid. But in a place twisted and haunted by ancient magic, with the most infamous mage of them all, Joah Demonsworn, making a reappearance, our heroes soon find themselves threatened by enemies on all sides, old and new. And in the frozen mountains, the stones are walking… – Goodreads

I don’t think this series has a publisher in the US yet, so I’m probably going to have to convince one of my friends across the pond to send me a copy. I enjoyed the first one enough that I’m willing to pay international shipping just to get my copy of it.

Expected publication: February 26th 2015 by Headline

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The Arched Doorway: Year in Review 2014

It’s been an exciting year for us here at the Arched Doorway. We had two new members join our team — SJardine and MelissaKat. We owe at least half of this year’s posts to SJardine, who took the reigns while I was unable to tend to the site.

For me, this past year has been a fantastic one. I traveled through New Zealand; Neverland’s Library was released; I attended Ad Astra, Phoenix ComicCon, World Fantasy Con, and a couple of others; I got to interview Tom Doherty at the Tor office, (something that I’m still slightly mindblown over); I’ve seen and met many other great people over the course of the year; and I’ve made new friends, and met old ones (in person) for the first time.

It’s been a fairly decent year for the blog as well, a bit slower than previous years, but altogether decent. Below is a (mostly) complete archive of this year’s posts, separated into different categories.

Anyways, thanks for reading, and for a wonderful 2014. I look forward to sharing 2015 with all of you.

Best wishes and happy New Year,
Rebecca Lovatt



Steven Erikson
Patricia Briggs
Mark Lawrence
Tom Doherty
Robin Hobb
Kenny Soward
Mary Robinette Kowal


William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: The Empire Striketh Back, by Ian Doescher
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: The Jedi Doth Return, by Ian Doescher
The Treasury of the Fantastic edited by David Sandner and Jacob Weisman
A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish
Magic City: Recent Spells edited by Paula Guran
Relic of Death by David Bernstein
Surrogate by David Bernstein
The Wurms of Blearmoth by Steven Erikson
Half a King (Shattered Sea #1) by Joe Abercrombie
Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb
The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory
Closer to Home by Mercedes Lackey
No True Way by Mercedes Lackey

Elderwood Manor by Christopher Fulbright and Angeline Hawkes
The High Druid’s Blade by Terry Brooks
The Exiled by William Meikle
Shifting Shadows: Stories From the World of Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs
Black Out by Tim Curran
Mercury Revolts by Robert Kroese
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, by Randall Munroe
Rise of the King: Companion Codex, II by R.A. Salvatore
Magisterium: The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black
The Last Mile by Tim Waggoner
War Cry by Jim Butcher
Willful Child by Steven Erikson
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
The Copper Promise by Jen Williams
Under the Skin, by Michael Faber
Crimson Son by Russ Linton
Tinkermage by Kenny Soward
Facial by Jeff Strand
Dragons at Crumbling Castle (Special Edition), by Terry Pratchett


Writing “Flawed” Characters
Miles Cameron Identity Reveal
A New Door Opens (Editing Services)
Compilation of ALS Ice Bucket Challenges Completed by authors
Congratulations to the 2014 Hugo Award Winners
BLACKGUARDS: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues
Best Books of 2014

Best Books of 2014

As 2014 draws to a close, it seemed fitting to look back over the past year and share our favourite reads. There are some duplicates, and there are quite a few we didn’t review… but read on, and share your thoughts!

Meagan’s (ARamone):

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, by Randall Munroe

What if

What If? is a good read for scientifically-minded and just plain curious people alike. With often high-end science being explained in a down-to-earth, accessible way, this book is going to make you laugh while also making you think.

Dragons at Crumbling Castle, by Terry Pratchett


A collection of Pratchett’s earliest work, written and published in his teenaged years, Dragons at Crumbling Castle gives us a look into the mind of a young but already skilled author. A true delight for all Pratchett fans, and a must-have for fans of his work.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss


This book focuses on Auri, one of the most relatable characters in The Kingkiller Chronicles, and takes us through a typical week of hers. Rothfuss’ writing makes her odd logic and justifications seem perfectly normal, making this book a delightful read for any fan of the books.

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Audio Interview with Mary Robinette Kowal

Early in November, at the World Fantasy Convention, I interviewed a few authors. Below is my interview with Mary Robinette Kowal, my final one from that weekend. Mary spoke of everything from modeling naked, to impersonating Patrick Rothfuss, to zombie-Napoleon on a steam-powered wheelchair. With cannons. She also spoke of her writing, and her upcoming novel.

Take a listen, and I hope you enjoy!

Interview with Kenny Soward

Back at World Fantasy in November, I sat down with Kenny (Kennah) Soward, author of the GnomeSaga. We spoke of his upcoming projects, self-publishing, horse-sized ducks, zombies, and social media.

I highly encourage you to listen to the audio — lots of silliness and random discussions took place, but didn’t make it to the transcript below… and do ignore the fact that my voice completely changes near the very end of the audio.



[K = Kenny, and R = Rebecca (me)]

R: Alright, so, I am here with Kenny Soward, author of the GnomeSaga. Can you tell us something about yourself that we might not know?

K: Yeah, I work in IT. That’s something a lot of people don’t know. I work with Linux OS support, so I’m familiar with mechanics and different things that enabled me to write those steampunky, (or “gnomepunky” as Joe likes to call them), items in Rough Magick/the GnomeSaga series.

R: Very cool.

For the readers unfamiliar with your novels, the Gnomesaga, could you tell us a tiny bit about them?

K: What I tell people that come up to me in bars is that it’s like Harry Potter on crack. It’s magic – your typical magic and epic fantasy, drawn from the eastern-European, you know the GRRM, Lord of the Rings, type stuff. But, with the gnomes as a character that’s never been covered by anybody, I don’t think. I’ve never seen any gnome books.

R: And is that why you chose gnomes?

K: Well, I started playing gnomes in D&D. Gnomes, and dwarves, and hobbits, because I felt sorry for them. No body else would play them, and I thought my personality was always very like… rock, solid. I was always a hard worker in school. I was never flashy, so I never wanted to play the big strong ogres. I was like: I want to play the dwarves. Those guys are solid, man, they’ve got their axes, and armour and stuff. And then I sort of evolved to EverQuest. I was fairly addicted to EverQuest for a while. I lost like 10 years of my life to that game.

One day, I got tired of my dwarf that I had. I was just tired of tanking constantly. So, I started this little gnome called Nikselpik. The smart-ass in me came out, and every time I ran into a zone, I would just shout crap to my guild members and I would get everybody laughing. They knew I wrote stories, so they said, “When are we going to read some Nikselpik stories?”, which made me think “Hm.. That might be interesting.”

R: So, I guess that’s the origin story of the GnomeSaga.

K: Yeah, kind of. I actually wrote the first draft of that in 2001 or 2002. It was a completely different book. So yeah, definitely origins.

R: And it’s being rereleased by Rangarok?

K: Yes, I recently selfpublished it in 2013; Ragnarok wasn’t around at the time. It was just Joe Martin helping me edit the book. We were just doing it for fun and to see what we could do. We were encouraged by David Dalglish, who’d put out numerous titles, and then get signed with Orbit.

So yeah, that’s sort of how it started, and as Ragnarok developed, we just sort of said: “You need titles, and I need a publisher, so let’s just see how it goes.” So we put it together for that.

R: And the last book in that is actually coming out soon, Cogweaver. Do you have any plans after that? [It’s actually Tinkermage that’s coming out soon (i.e. today). Cogweaver will be out February 2015.]

K: Actually, it was an interesting conversation. I had wanted to get into some other things, some China Meiville type stuff, some sort of weird fantasy. I love China Meiville’s stuff. Another favourite of mine is Caitlín Kiernan. I love going down that weird fantasy route. I had a talk with Joe, and he said: “Why do you need to do anything different? You can fit in a lot of idea with GnomeSaga, or with your world of Sullenor. So why don’t you just be the gnome guy? Run with that.” I thought about it, and there are so many stories I want to write… and yeah, I’m going to do that.

The next series is going to be called The Order of Scorpion, and it’s going to be a GnomeSaga three-book series. I’m going to start working on that in January.

R: Cool! Will Nikselpik and Nikselbella be making appearances in that?

K: Definitely Nikselpik, but I can’t really talking about Nikselbella, because that would be giving spoilers as to what happens to her. It’s definitely more the adventures of Nikselpik and his band of wizards and odds-and-ends.

R: Fun. Also, you worked on the Dead West series with Tim Marquitz and Joe Martin.

K: Yes.

R: Which would be a better introduction to your writing? You know, if gnomes seem a bit far-out to some people, would that be a good leeway into your writing at all?

K: If you like violence, yes. They’re extremely violent. There’s not a lot of the taboo subjects like.. The women characters are strong characters, in fact, half of the people who read my books are females. Even the Dead West series. Specifically because of Nina and the other female characters.

Nina can shoot a colt navy quite well.

R: Nothing wrong with a badass female character who can shoot.

K: Absolutely. So, an introduction? Maybe, if you can handle violence.

R: Alright, and if they can handle violence, I think they might be able to handle gnomes.

K: It’s hard to tell. I’m feeling out the horror/fantasy fans to see what they like. You really get surprised sometimes. You think people will like something, then you start hearing: “Yeah… I don’t like that in my books.” You know, certain levels of sex or romance.

R: Yeah, I was at a panel last night on “How graphic is your novel?” Some people want the gore, other people they don’t want it, but they like some horror.

K: I think mixing them is what gets you into a little bit of trouble. I think if people know the book they’re getting into is a gorey book, they’re excited about it, because it’s what they want at the time. But in your epic fantasy, people don’t always want very hardcore sex scenes, or necessarily different types of violence, and certainly not a misogynist feel to the book. You have to be careful.

For my books, I just love the straight-up epic fantasy. There’s some romance, but I don’t have a lot of sex scenes or anything like that. I don’t think people want that. I think they just want to read a nice, cool adventure, with some cool battles, and some cool magic, and cool characters.

R: Yep, epic battles, epic worlds and that kind of thing.

K: Yeah, absolutely.

R: What’s your writing process like? Are you more of a discovery writing, an outliner, or..?

K: I used to be a discovery writer until I overwrote Tinkermage by 30k words. I rewrote it, and I rewrote sections of it, and I just thought “I can’t do this again. This is crazy.” So, since the summer, I started to outline and I looked around at the way people do their outlines. Just a basic three-act outline with three blocks per act. I’ve been doing that, and I actually like it a lot.

People think it holds you back from the creativity, but I don’t think so. It’s like a metronome. It keeps you on pace, but you can always play around with the time-signature, so to speak. The middle of my last book that I did for Cogweaver, the middle was only supposed to be three chapters according to my outline, but it ended up being six chapters. I stuck to the idea that it should be a build-up though.

You don’t have to follow it all the way, but definitely I’m outlining for now. I might come back in a year and tell you that I’m full of crap.

R: Yeah, “Screw outlining!” I’ve recently started outlining as well, and I’m doing a 5-act structure type thing. I’ve totally veered way off track with that.

K: Well, at least you tried. Maybe somehow you can bring it back and land on your feet, so to speak.

R: That’s the plan, assuming I finish it.

So, you mentioned that you’re a huge fan of China Meiville, but do you have any other favourite authors?

K: There are so many authors to choose from. For example, right now I’m re-reading Swan Song by Robert McCammon, The book is from the 80’s, I think, or 90’s even. His stuff is amazing. Sometimes if I’m interested, I’ll look into a Stephen King book, if it looks good. He has his fingers on the pulse of America, he gets those characters distinctions so well. I love reading his stuff, and it’s fun.

Caitlín Kiernan is probably my favourite contemporary author, and China Mieville, of course. Neil Gaiman, I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane in one sitting. I just blew through it. So, of course Neil. And Neil and Caitlin are close. I know Neil supports Caitlín a lot, so I’m kind of into all the weird fantasy stuff. I like the idea of not necessarily having roles placed on you, and on the world, like Rail Sea by China Mieville. It blows my mind.

A lot of my peers – Jeff Salyards is really good, Teresa Frohock is awesome, I kind of put Teresa and Jeff into the same level. They’re both highly skilled and imaginative. Just really solid fantasy. I can’t wait to read Moses Siregard’s next book… If he ever finishes it. Moses.

R: Yes. Finish that.

K: So, I guess, being a writer now, I do tend to read more of my peers’ stuff, so that’s kind of a thing.

R: And do you have any advice for anybody who’s looking to go into self-publishing?

K: That’s a really good question. I still want to self-publish. Even though we put the GnomeSaga series through Ragnarok, I thought that the next thing I did would be self-published… But then I saw the print edition of Rough Magick, and I don’t think I could ever have done that. I couldn’t have pulled together the resources. I couldn’t have gotten Arman Akopian to do the cover. Joe pulled that together for me.

If you find a good publisher, and they know how to get the artist, the resources to do it right… It’s hard to deny going through a publisher. What I think I’m going to do, is that I’m going to take everything I learn off of these guys and gals, and maybe self-publish stand-alone works occasionally. I was actually talking to Kirk Dougal about this last night – just do the series through the publisher, the stuff that’s going to take a lot of work and promotion… but if you want to do something weird that no one is going to want, or if you’re not sure there’s a market for it… Go ahead and get your artist, and your editor, and put it out yourself. Plus, you’re getting direct sales, which is pretty cool.

R: Definitely, and a lot of publishers now seem to be going through the self-published content on Amazon… Authors such as Anthony Ryan, Michael J. Sullivan, and Hugh Howey have all been picked up by a traditional publisher at some point in time because of their self-published work.

K: Absolutely. It gives you a chance to be a professional. Before, you didn’t even have that opportunity because you were automatically told: “You can’t join our club.” But now you can force your way in by just being good, and professional, and consistent. I think publishers are smart to do that, to look at these folks who are doing this, and picking them up.

R: Zombie apocalypse survival plan.

K: Well, probably perish quickly, is going to be mine.

We would probably do okay, I think. I kind of laugh with my girlfriend about it, because we do own guns, and we shoot occasionally. So, as far as guns and stuff, we would be okay. As far as the important stuff, like food… We would be pretty bad off. We would have to go around and offer our services of protection in exchange for beans and such.

I think that’s probably our plan, because we’re horrible preppers. We have no stocks or anything. We would probably starve in like two days.

R: Just stock up on Twinkies!

K: They last forever. And I’ll eat anything… So if it’s old or whatever, I’ll still eat it.

R: Yes.. Penicillin! That grows on moldy bread.

K: There we go! I’ll be healthy.

R: I have a really weird question. I asked it to Mark Lawrence and his answer was boring.

K: Okay, well shoot.

R: If you were a talking box of cereal, and a horse-sized duck wanted to eat you… How would you convince it not to?

K: Holy shit. Actually, it’s kind of a mathematical question in a way. I would plead merciless. I would just plead for my life. I’d be just like “Look, I have no arms or legs. I can’t defend myself. So, I’m just going to plead to your conscience and hope you allow me to live.” Then I would try to convince them that the cereal over there was much tastier. And that’s how I would do it.

R: When I originally asked this to Mark, I had it as “a horse-sized mercenary duck”. His response was along the lines of: “Well, I’m a talking box of cereal. I’m paying that thing to not eat me.”

K: Well, if he’s a good cereal I mean… It’s like publishing, you never know who’s going to like you.

R: A talking box of cereal though.

K: Yeah, you would have endorsement deals. You know, Mark is always straight to the point. He’s very quotable. I always look at his stuff, and there’s like a quote every page, and every paragraph… and my stuff is not quotable really.

R: You just need to wait until people start getting Gnome Saga tattoos!

K: I am making little promotional coins and stuff. It’s important to promote yourself… I don’t rely on publicists, they’re great and stuff, but I’m not the kind of guy that’s just going to sit and go: “Promote me! Why don’t I have 10,000 sales yet?” I like getting involved. I’m going to start doing giveaways for collectors’ sets, like the Gnome Saga collectors’ set will have a coin, which you can make into a necklace, or you can put a chain through the loop… You can also use it as an iPad charm. Mugs… Just little things. Bookmarks.

I like fridge calendars too, and magnets too. I like magnets. My favourite is kind of like JAWS but it’s a little kitten, and it’s swimming to the surface and it saws PAWS.

[We continued talking about magnets for a while. If you’re really intrigued, it’s around the 18-19 minute mark. Otherwise, I’m not including it here. We also discussed the fact that I’m secretly famous. I had a paper nameplate from a mass-signing the night before.]

K: This whole weekend has been interesting, because even sitting at the signing table yesterday – and I’ve noticed that we haven’t gotten a lot of traffic. They’ve sold some stuff, but I haven’t personally sold a lot. You get a lot of interest though, and people have come by, and they’ve taken pictures of the book. Last night, there was a lot of that. It’s interesting, and I realize that there’s a lot of competition.

It makes you humble, and it makes you understand that it’s very competitive… You just have to be as nice as you can.

R: Big thing I think here, and at other conventions, is for new authors to make the connections, go to conventions and conferences in your area. Just meet people.

K: I’m a little older now, where maybe I was more ambitious before… I’m still ambitious, but, I really do want to know what people are up to. I’ll go through Facebook if I have 15 or 20 minutes, I kind of want to know what everybody is up to, so I will go, and I’ll ‘like’ something, or comment on it. Social media is such an interesting thing, because a lot of people look at it as “It’s just me, throwing my crap out there”, but really it’s supposed to be interactive. I always reply to people who comment and post on mine. It’s more fun that way, and I think it’s great.

I would never have known half the people, or half the things going on, if I hadn’t just involved myself. So, it’s an eye-opener for sure. I’m definitely a Facebook, Google+ person. I haven’t tried Ello yet.

R: Alright. And do you have any other comments to add to your readers? Beginning writers? Horse-sized mercenary ducks? Zombies?

K: It’s a horse-sized duck, right?

R: Yeah.

K: Saddle that thing up, and ride it man. If it can fly…

R: Don’t even ask where that came from.

K: That would be my advice to writers, saddle that horse-sized duck, and ride it. Ride it as far as you can take, until you just get too old to type.

Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed our wacky, and hopefully interesting interview.

Tinkermage (Book 2 of GnomeSaga) was released TODAY. Go check it out!


Rough Magick on Amazon
Tinkermage on Amazon

If you’re not too sure about all this gnomish business, check out an excerpt from Rogue Magick here.

December Discount for Editing Services

November is over and done with, and December is arriving in a flurry.

Whether or not you participated in NaNoWriMo (and hit the 50k word mark), you’ve hopefully made some progress in your novel this past month. That, along with the approaching holiday season, is reason enough to celebrate.

To help you do so, for the month of December we are offering over 50% off of our copy editing services for the first 50,000 words of your story.

Copy-editing includes a thorough examination of the text to remove any errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and English usage. We will also look for sequential slip-ups in the text, and work to eliminate any and all inconsistencies in facts, names, and style.

Our regular rate for this service is 0.9c/word. Until January 1st, we’ll be offering a special rate of 0.4c/word, for up to 50,000 words.

If you’re interested in a professional copy edit, feel free to email us using the form below.

My interview with Robin Hobb

Two weeks ago at SFContario in Toronto, I had the chance to sit down with the lovely Robin Hobb, and to interview her.

We spoke of her previous and current novels, choosing between first and third-person for telling a story, 250 page limits for novels, the release of the next novel in The Fitz and the Fool trilogy, and more.

I hope you enjoy!


[Transcript: For convenience, R = Rebecca (me), and RH = Robin Hobb]

R: Hello, I am here with Robin Hobb!

For readers that are new to you, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?

RH: I write fantasy epics, I guess you could say. It’s really hard to classify within fantasy exactly what you’re writing because it tends to wander. Previously, I wrote for children at the beginning of my children, then broke in writing novels as Megan Lindholm. But, when I moved into a different slice of fantasy, I took on another pseudonym, which is Robin Hobb.

R: Yeah, and I think that’s what most readers know you as now.

RH: Oh yes, absolutely. The Megan Lindholm books have been out of print for years and years now. So unless you’re an avid collector and are willing to hunt them down, you’re not going to find them.

R: Alright. I believe that you wrote a short story that came out recently as Megan Lindholm…?

RH: Yes. I’ve continued to write short stories as Megan Lindholm for some time. Mostly for the magazines, usually Asimov’s, and for some anthologies. But, I haven’t done a Megan Lindholm novel for years and year. I would like to, but there simply isn’t that many hours in the day.

R: Okay, and you last wrote about Fitz and the Fool in 2003, I think it was.

RH: That sounds about right.

R: Did you know you’d be coming back all these years later, or had you planned on ending it there?

RH: When I ended it, I think a lot of very astute readers picked up on all the clues that were left, that yes, there was more to come in the story. There’s even a phrase toward the end where I speak about how the minstrel pauses to catch his breath before he sweeps into the final chorus. I got a lot of emails about that saying, “Okay, when is this going to happen exactly?”

So some readers who were really reading every detail of the book would definitely have picked up that there was more to come. Chronologically, time had to pass, rather than write it out of order. The Rain Wilds Chronicles had to come in there too, and it’s time now to write the story.

R: And do you think you’ll be writing more after this trilogy?

RH: I’m so focussed on writing this trilogy that I haven’t allowed myself to look up and say, “Well, what would be after this?” I’ve got at least another year-and-a-half to two years, if you count all the copy editing and proofreading before these two books will be done. So, right now I’m not thinking about it. The danger for me, as a writer, is that when you hit the hard part of the book. that other idea that looks like it would be such a quick and easy story to write, always comes knocking at your door.

I’ll take a moment and open up a file, write a new note, and close the file. I can’t let myself be distracted. I’m not one of those writers who can work on several projects at once. I really need to focus on just one.

R: Alright, and I think many people would agree that the Fitz and Fool friendship is one of the better written ones out there. Characterization is definitely one of your strong points. What’s your process for creating your characters, and the writing process around that?

RH: I think a lot of character creation happens in a part of my brain that I don’t necessarily have conscious access to. With Fitz especially, it was like he stepped out into the spotlight on a darkened stage and started talking. As he spoke, the spotlight enlarged and I could see more and more of the world around him.

It always begins with a character for me. Many of the characters in the book have grown and changed. They really do seem to generate in a part of my mind that I do have conscious access to.

R: Okay, and are you more of a discovery writer or an outliner? Because I know the Fool was supposed to be a one line thing.

RH: It’s a combination. This is a comparison that I’ve used before, so readers might be familiar with it. But it’s like when you’re out in the woods, and you’re on a ridge… The valley below you is full of fog, and you can see the next ridge with the rock sticking up, and you know you have to get to it. When you look down through the fog, you can see maybe the top of a very big tree, or a large rock, or a place where there’s moving water, and you know, you have to hit those points before you get to the next ridge.

But everything in-between those points in enshrouded in mist. So, all of the adventures along the way aren’t necessarily spelled out to me, but I do know the ending point. I’ve known the ending point of this trilogy probably since I first started writing Assassin’s Apprentice, so it’s been a very long arc of knowing eventually where Fitz would end up.

R: Okay, yeah… That’s quite a long journey… It’s been a couple years.

RH: Oh, about twenty.

R: So, what were some of your biggest influences when you started getting into the industry; fantasy writing in general?

RH: There’s a lot of influences that aren’t fantasy, or that we no longer think of as fantasy. I read a lot of myths and legends and fairy tales when I was small. I read a lot of [Rudyard] Kipling. A lot of adventure stories, whether it’s Kidnapped, or Treasure Island, or Mysterious Island… A lot of adventure storytelling.

When I came to The Lord of the Rings, it was at the perfect time for me to read that, and it was the perfect time for me at that age, at that time. For me, it was a watershed event, it was life-changing. I had never read a story that was that long, that intricate, that detailed, that was a fantasy. Where the characters were taken seriously, and they had names, and you cared about what happened to them.

Up until then, what I had experienced were myths and legends – fairy tales where sometimes the prince or the princess don’t even have names. They’re simple the prince or the princess. So, to encounter these characters who all obviously had previous histories and lives outside the border of the book – to realize that that could be done with fantasy, was an amazing revelation to me. I think the next one that I read after that, which resonated that strongly with me were two works by Peter S. Beagle, A Fine and Private Place, which was the first novel he ever wrote, and The Last Unicorn.

But I really had a hard time for a number of years to find fantasy that took the story as seriously. There were a lot of ones that were full of pratfalls and silliness, and humour, which is fun but it lessens the impact that you feel if the character is hurt or disappointed.

It’s like the difference between Saturday morning cartoons and a movie. Tolkien was the one that made me realize what you could do with depth and breadth in fantasy.

R: And now we’ve also seen the fantasy genre expand a lot more, especially in the last few years. There just seems to be so much out there.

RH: It’s grown hugely. One of the odd things, when I started writing paperback fantasies, is that I was told that a paperback binding would not hold more than 250 pages. I was definitely —  like the Beatles’ song — a paperback writer. And so, no matter how much I might want to expand my story, I had to be able to tell it in that number of words and pages.

When you’re writing fantasy, where you have not only a plot, and character development, but you also have setting – it’s like this third element which mainstream writers don’t really have to deal with. If they say it’s a 1970s Chevrolet, that immediately comes to you with a whole lot of impact. Whereas if I want to describe that the horse and cart that they picked up is not going to get too far, I need to put in enough detail that the reader picks that up. So, I really admire the fantasy writers of the generation who wrote to that length and told such amazing stories where every sentence is freighted with character development, and setting, and plot all-in-one.

When Robert Jordan came along, and proved that yes, you could have a much bigger binding on a paperback, that kind of loosened the bonds for the rest of us. And we finally had the space in which to paint the world as well as tell you who is in it, and what they’re doing.

R: Yeah, I would say that him writing a 750-800 page novel would kind of break the 250 page barrier.

RH: When I first saw those in the shelf, there was nothing else on the shelf that was that size. It was ‘what is that thing?’

R: Building bricks. And, do you have any advice for beginning writers, or those seeking to get published for the first time?

RH: Those are two different animals. A beginning writer is someone who is realizing that they have that creative obsession that leads us to sit down and write on paper, and believe that somebody else is going to find what you wrote to be interesting.

They’re writers from the beginning. The thing to do is to sit down and write; to write every day, and to finish what you write. That’s the hardest part for a beginning writer. I don’t know how many footlockers you could fill with my spiral notebooks of unfinished books that I wrote all the way through my teens and early twenties. I think the hardest part is recognizing that you have to have an end to the story. Which means making those final decisions, and saying: “This is really what happened.”

Now, luckily, today with word processors it’s so much easier to change your mind than when you had to go back and rewrite the last 200 pages. You can cut and paste, you can take this piece, and toss that piece out… but, you have to make the commitment to finish what you write.

For people who are attempting to get published: I’m kind of a dinosaur. I came to publishing when it was ‘make sure that your typewriter ink ribbon was fresh so that you had nice black characters of white paper, and clean your keys before you start, and make sure you include a self-addressed stamped envelope so that the editor can send your story back if they decide not to publish it, so you don’t have to retype the whole thing… and always keep a carbon-copy.’

So, most of the things that I learned as a beginning writer are laughable now. I am not extremely familiar with self-publishing. I’ve seen some people become very successful at it. It’s a different pathway, it’s not a pathway to be sneered at just because it’s not traditional publishing. I am very happy living in traditional publishing. I have no reason to want to leave it, and strike out and publish my own work.

For me to give advice to writers that are seeking to become published, I think there’s a whole array of opportunities and decisions that are open to them that I never had to face. There was only one pathway, other than vanity publishing at the time. Which, who could afford that?

R: Even still, I think there are options to do that…

RH: But print-on-demand is very different from the old form of vanity publishing. You weren’t printing copies until they were actually ready to be sold. There’s just a lot of opportunities out there. They’d probably get better advice from a website.

R: Alright, I just figured I would ask.

When you’re writing, how do you decide whether a story should be told in first or third-person?

RH: I always prefer the first-person, if it can be told that way. For me, it’s the natural story telling voice. It’s the voice we use when we talk to our families in the evening, or when your mom is telling you about what things were when she was a kid, or when something goes wrong… It’s really “I did this,” and “I saw that”. It is the most intimate voice.

It brings the reader into the story, in a way. They might come kicking and screaming, but they can’t stay outside because they’re in the heroes head. The limits are, of course, that you can only tell the reader exactly what the hero knows. But, if the hero was going to be present at all of the key scenes, that’s my preferred voice.

I switch to third-person when I’m writing a story where the action is going to be taking place in different geographical locations, where they can’t possibly communicate across the distances, or where you wouldn’t want to have somebody telling someone else what happened today over a phone call; you want it to be very immediate. So then I carefully select the characters whom are going to be at those action points, and give each of them their own point-of-view. Then, my preference is to write a very tight point-of-view, where even though I’m saying: “She did this,” and, “he thought that”, in any given scene, you will only be with one character, in their mind, looking through their eyes. You will not have a conversation where I suddenly switch from my point-of-view, to your point-of-view, and then back.

It’s a personal preference. Some people do that and they do it very well, or they do the omniscient where they’re looking down in time, and they can tell you everything, and they can tell you that “meanwhile over the hill, the armies are massing.” But, I prefer the first-person first, and then a very tight third-person point-of-view.

R: Have you ever started writing a story with one of those, and then found out after you had started, that it had to be the other way?

RH: I think the most ill-advised and ambitious thing I did was to write in first-person present-tense, and I will never do that again. It was absolutely exhausting – that would be Cloven Hooves. But, there may come a point where you look at things and say: Well, now what am I going to do? Because what’s happening in the next room is going to have a huge effect. You then have to make a choice. I’ve never had to go back and rewrite a whole book to be in third-person, but I could imagine it happening. I just hope it never happens to me.

R: Hopefully not, that would be quite a lot of work.

RH: It’s a tremendous amount of work, and the amount of rewriting that writers do – writing is invisible work. Even a painter, sometimes you can stop and watch somebody paint, and realize what goes into that one painting that goes into the cover of a book, or is hung in a hotel wall… You can watch other artists at work, sculpting and all that. But if you watch a writer, all you’re going to see is someone typing. The nuances – the retyping, the erasing, the cut and paste, all the rest of it – it’s really invisible work. Sometimes it’s really hard to justify, “It took you 5 years to write that many pages?”

Well, it took me 5 years to write the pages that I’m going to share with the world, and to find out which ones they were.

R: Especially as well – when you mentioned invisible writing, made me think, the best books are the ones that drag you into the story, where you’re no longer seeing the words, but just the story.

RH: Stephen King says you fall into the hole on the page. That’s of course, what all of us try and do to you.

R: Fall down the rabbit hole…

I don’t think any of your books have been optioned for TV or movie, have they..?

RH: There have been options. An option is simply an agreement that they can try to develop it. The options usually have a time-clause in it: “You have the right for two years to see if you can get everything you need to get this into a movie.” A couple of times, various books have been optioned. It’s always happens though, that it doesn’t come to much.

The process of a story becoming a movie is a lot more complicated than people realize. I certainly didn’t understand it until one of my children went into film. All of the people that are involved – when you sit at the end of a movie, and you watch those credits scroll past, and scroll past, and scroll past, and you realize what a huge team it takes to make a movie. The person who options it has to get all those people on board. A good director, a producer who comes up with the money, and get the locations, and the actors, and agree on the script, and figure out what has to been changed, and what to leave in, and what do you leave out.

I’m happy for my books to be books. Would I want one to be a movie? I wash back and forth on that quite a bit. I personally don’t have the skills to oversee something like that. So, for me, it would be: Take the money, then open your hand and let it go, and realize that whatever is not that screen, be it big or small, is not going to be your book. It’s going to be somebody else’s experience of having your story. So, I go back and forth on it. It’s something that would be an interesting experience, and on any given day I’d probably give a different answer.

R: Alright, cause more and more we’re seeing TV shows and movies based off of series. So, it seems to be that it’s becoming more –

RH: I think a short story translates better to a movie than a novel does, simply because of the amount of information which can be conveyed in an hour and a half through visuals and dialogue. So much had to be left out of The Lord of the Rings, and so much had to be – in many ways to explain as you went along, things that were told not in dialogue, in books. I really enjoyed those movies, they’re tremendously beautiful, but at the same time, if you give me two hours to do something and it’s a choice between picking up a book, and watching a movie… I will probably find a warm spot, and a dog, and pick up a book.

R: And also, you recently did a reread of your books. What was the most surprising thing you came across?

RH: Oh… I would hit scenes that I did not remember writing at all, and scenes where I’d go, “Why did I put this in here, and what was the outcome?” I can tell you the main plot of everything, of course, but it was the little side excursions into relationships and things; the pieces that, for me, were really important to make the readers care about the characters, but I didn’t always remember each individual scene that I wrote. I would say that there were quite a few moments where I was saying, “Why did I put this in?” And then I’d reach a point, and say, “Oh yeah! It’s because this detail, 50 pages later, was going to be important.”

R: Okay… and my next question is slightly evil, but I was told to you ask you this.

Of all your characters, which one is your favourite?

RH: Oh, that’s like asking a parent, who your favourite child is.

R: Yes.

RH: I really am fond of Fitz and the Fool. I’ve known them now for 20 years, so they’re like old friends. But every character is my favourite when I’m writing that particular character, when I’m in that character’s skin, and experiencing that scene through the character. I think if there was any character that I found unpleasant or boring, it would be very very hard to write that character. So, even when it’s a character I don’t agree with, and I don’t like what they’re doing… I find them interesting enough, and intriguing enough, that I want to write from their point-of-view and follow their thought process.

I think you have to do that. If you don’t love every character; if you don’t love your villains, and agree with them when you’re wearing their skin, it’s really hard to make them convincing.

R: Mmhm. You can’t just say: That guy is bad, and he’s just bad because he’s dark and evil.

RH: And he’s going to conquer the world, nyahahaha, because he loves evil. You know, those stories were fine when I was 8-9, 11-12, and you just wanted to have the bad guy be the bad guy, and nothing more… because that’s so understandable.

As I’ve gotten older, I want my bad guys to have motivation, and to have existed before they became bad guys, and to even have parts of their lives where they’re actually pretty nice fellows.

R: And where they don’t just stand around for a chapter or so, explaining their evil plans before they do it.

RH: Exactly, exactly.

R: Do you know, by any chance, as to when we can look forward to seeing the next book in this trilogy?

RH: I have really been struggling. This morning I woke up and wrote some more. I think – and I’ve said this so many times in the past three months – I think there’s only three chapters left. I’ve been saying that since July, and it turned out there was a lot more than three chapters left; various scenes had to have underpinnings and bridgework put in. I’m writing frantically, and my editors have been extremely patient with me. As of right now, the next publication date is still August 2015. But because I am late, and it’s taking this huge publishing mechanism and throwing a monkey-wrench in it, and saying, “Oh yes, I was supposed to give you this to edit four months ago, and now I’m giving it to you – on top of all the other books which are being correctly turned in on time – So, why don’t you just give up on sleeping for a while? Do this work now, because I was late.”

It’s really a horrible thing to do to your publishers and your editors. So, I don’t know if the August 2015 publication date will hold. If it doesn’t, it’s entirely my fault.

R: Alright, yeah, it’s typically about a year.

RH: Yeah, it’s about a year. The manuscript goes in. It gets, in my case, two editors – one in the US and one in the UK, and they both contribute ideas and thoughts and say, “Well, this scene is slow,” or, “Can you explain more what happened here?” or, “You have been redundant here. Six mentions of this fact is too many, cut it down to four and put them where you think you need it, or cut it down to two and put it where we think it’s needed.”

But there’s that whole editing process, and so, it comes back to me, and I go through the whole thing, and I send it back to them… They then look through it all again – sometimes there’s a second or a third rewrite, where there’s now a bump here, or the action doesn’t flow here, so I need to do more work. Even after they are both happy with it, it then goes to the copy editor, who catches things like, “Well, he was a redhead on page 12, and in chapter 30 you’re talking about the wind blowing through his dark curls: make up your mind.” All of those fixes that make me look like a much better writer than I actually am. All of the consistency, all of the “two days passed for this character, while five passed for that one,” I better fix that… Even down to: “Well, you said it was a full moon five days ago, and now it’s a full moon again. You have to go fix that.” It’s all of those little details that copy editors are amazing people, and they catch all of those things.

Then after the copy edits, there’s the galleys, and reading the whole thing again for the typos that slipped by, or the places where a couple of paragraphs got flip-flopped, so it really takes that full year before a manuscript is ready to be a book.

R: Yeah, and there’s also with the galleys, the time for reviews to start show up.

RH: And sending out the ARCs for people to look at. Asking people if they’ll do a blurb, getting the cover art right… So many things.

R: Well hopefully you’ll be able to get it out for some time next year.

RH: I hope so. If it’s late, I’m the only person at fault. It’s not the publisher.

R: I think your fans will be likely to forgive you though.

RH: One hopes so.

R: Well, you do seem to have a tiny bit of a following.

I think that’s pretty much all I have, unless there’s anything else you’d like to add?

RH: Nope, that covers things nicely.

R: Alright, well thank you very much for your time, and I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.

RH: I had a good time, and it was lovely to meet you yesterday evening.

In Conversation With Tom Doherty

Entering the Tor/Forge office is more exciting than being a kid in a candy shop. Bookshelves line the walls, carrying the titles of Robert Jordan, David Drake, Orson Scott Card, Steven Erikson, Ian C. Esslemont, and dozens upon dozens of other familiar names and titles. The Tor office is a place where fantastical imaginations are brought to fruition.

I still find myself slightly shell-shocked by the entire experience. Never had I anticipated that this blog would lead me to interviewing Tom Doherty. Nevertheless, it has, and the questions and answers are all in the transcribed text below. If you’re interested though, there’s more to be found in the audio.


[For convenience, R = Rebecca (me), and TD = Tom Doherty]

R: Hello, I’m here with Tom Doherty, publisher, president, and founder of Tor Books. Tom, I think it’s safe to say that most readers know who you are, or have at least heard of you. So, could you tell us something about yourself that we might not know?

TD: Well, you might not know that I started out looking for a job in publishing when I got out of the army. My dad was the vice-president of a floor covering company. I was looking for a job in editorial, and couldn’t find one, because I had majored in chemical engineering in college. In the army, I had read a lot and decided, ‘it might be fun to be in publishing’. That’s what I really loved.

My dad’s company put in a floor for a guy who was the vice-president of sales for Pocket Books. So, when I wasn’t having much success in finding a job in publishing, it happened that this guy came in to complain about his floor. My father wouldn’t normally have gone out to adjust a single floor, but he did. He adjusted it, and told Mory Solomon that he had a son that looking for a job in publishing. Mory said, “Send him around to Pocket Books.”

When I got there, Mory said, “We’re not hiring, but we just signed a deal with Select Magazines to distribute our books to magazine wholesalers around North America. They’re hiring, and I’ll send you over there with a recommendation.” So, I went over to Select Magazines, and they hired me to be a salesman out of Boston north. Just had a little piece of Massachusetts along the coast. Lynn, Salem, Gloucester, Newburyport… all had wholesalers in those days.

I worked for them for about 8-9 months. They took me out to a really nice dinner and laid me off. They had just lost a major client. They said, “Kid, we’re really sorry. You were doing a good job, but we just lost this major client and we can’t have two men in Boston anymore. We can only have one, and Bill Burks has been with us for 22 years, and you’ve been with us for 9 months.” So, I was out of a job in publishing, and I liked books better than magazines. I called up Mory Solomon, and I said, “Mory, did you like anything I did for you, representing you through Select Magazines?”, and he said “Yeah kid, but we don’t have anything comparable. But, if you’ll agree to be assistant local salesman — it’s kind of like stock boy, you fill the shelves at the airport. If you want to move yourself to Philadelphia, there’s a job there.”

Well, nobody else was offering me a job, and my wife had literally the week before, told me that she was pregnant with what would turn out to be my eldest child, my daughter Linda. So, I got a U-Haul trailer and moved to Philadelphia.

That’s how I started book publishing.

R: You’ve come a long way since then.

TD: Well, I did all the sales jobs at Simon & Schuster through their national sales manager, and I got a chance to learn a lot about science fiction and fantasy as national sales manager at S&S. Ballantine was still an independent line, and we distributed them. So, I was sales manager for Ian and Betty when they launched the first fantasy line that had ever been launched in this country.

I was their sales manager for Tolkien, which was the first huge fantasy bestseller.

They were such generous people with their time. They mentored me, and they taught me things that you wouldn’t normally learn in sales. So, when I had a chance to become a publisher, I had a background that included knowledge that you wouldn’t normally have gotten with the background that I theoretically had.

R: Yep, which is good. And it lead to a lot of this <I gestured to the plethora of books surrounding us>. You were the publisher for Ace Books, and now Tor.

TD: Sure, well actually, first I was publisher for Grosset & Dunlap, and we had a YA line called Tempo. I hired a really brilliant young woman, Harriet McDougal, to be my editor-in-chief at Tempo. We began publishing science fiction and fantasy in this young adult line. We did well enough, so that when Ace came under hard times, Grosset bought it for us to play with. So, she got to be editorial direction, and I got to be publisher of Grosset Ace for the paperbacks.

R: And then her husband went on the write the Wheel of Time series.

TD: He did. She found him because… well, what happened was that she got divorced, she had a 5-year-old and she inherited the home she grew up in, in Charleston, SC., and she thought that would be a good place to bring Will up. So she moved home to Charleston.

I didn’t want to lose her, so we began telecommuting before the word was even invented. She shopped at a bookstore when she was young, and she went back to shopping in that bookstore. Bookstore owner asked her what brought her back to Charleston, she said: “I’m opening an editorial office, and I’m going to do some of my own things, and I’m going to represent a New York publisher.” The bookstore owner said, “Well, I’ve got this great customer who’s just written a novel. Would you take a look at it?”

It was a book that we published as The Fallon Blood. Which was under the pen-name Reagan O’Neal, because Jim Rigney, who was Robert Jordan for fantasy, was Reagan O’Neal for historicals. So, we did that trilogy. Then he wanted to write a fantasy. He said his dream was to write a big epic fantasy.

R: And he did indeed.

TD: He sure did. He thought it was going to be one book. Of course, he had thought that the story of the American Revolution in the south was going to be one book too… But it turned into a trilogy.

So, we said to him, “Jim, this is never going to be just one book; what you described.” He came back with, “Well, maybe a trilogy.” So, I said, “Well, let’s make it a contract for six books.” He said, “That’s silly!”

It turned out to be fourteen.

R: Fourteen and a prequel… And had he continued on, it might have even ended up being longer.

TD: Well, it would have. He was planning a spin-off. You’ve read The Wheel of Time, right?

R: Yes.

TD: Well, he couldn’t imagine that Mat would just let his wife — you know, her mother was overthrown and assassinated, and his wife should be empress of the Seanchan. Mat couldn’t just let that go… So, Mat was going to go back with Tuon to straighten out things in Seanchan. He had planned that, and actually sold it to us. The trilogy spinoff, but he didn’t do enough work on it… And Harriet didn’t feel good about it going forward.

She was betwixt and between. She knew that he wanted to do it, and that he did sell it to us, but he hadn’t really done the kind of detailed outline like he had done for what turned out to be the last three books — which he had always been telling us was only going to be one. That was typical Jim.

We would love it if Harriett were to turn around and decide that we could do that, because it’s something that a lot of the fans want. They’d like it.

R: Yep, still I see posts about it on an almost daily basis: “So, about those outrigger novels…”

It would be great. Hint, hint.

TD: Yes. But Harriet was always a brilliant editor, and I think she had edited six of his books by the time that they got married.

R: You and she made a great choice with Brandon to continue that series.

TD: Yeah, I thought he was the perfect guy. It was Harriett’s real decision. I didn’t want to do anything that she didn’t love. It worked out perfectly.

R: I agree, and I think most other people do as well.

TD: Good.

R: And, I believe you guys have won the Locus Award every year since 1988 or so–

TD: I forget what the year was, but it’s been 27 years. 27 consecutive years. I have the plaques over there.

R: Yeah, I was noticing those. What does it feel like, knowing that you and your company have had such a great influence on this industry the years.

TD: It feels good, but it feels like… Like I said, the Ballantines really started it all off, the real emphases on fantasy in this country. There’s something maybe you can influence: I really want Betty Ballantine to get a Hugo, for all the things that she did. You know, she’s 95 year’s old. Judy-Lynn del Rey was given a Hugo, and she well deserved it. She did a brilliant job of carrying forward what Betty had started, but  remember, she got a line that had already been established, which had been called Ballantine up until that point.

She got a line that was established, and had things like Tolkien in it, and a lot of other major things. So, I would love to see Betty get some recognition.

R: Or something like the Lifetime Achievement Award.

TD: Exactly. But, I think that for editing, it would be great to give her a Hugo. One of those retroactive Hugos.

R: That would be good.

TD: I think she did get a Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award. She started the first science fiction line too.

R: I don’t quite think I’ve got the influence to make that happen.

TD: Hey, you do do things that influence people and I would just love to see her get — while she’s still with us, and able to appreciate it — get more recognition. A lot of people have forgotten her.

R: Which is a crime. We have an entire genre; hundreds upon hundreds of books to thank her for.

TD: Yep, exactly.

R: Another thing. With so many bookstores closing and the push for buying books online, are you guys at all worried about how — I know there’s still a huge market for it, but there’s not the ease of access for discovering new books.

TD: That is a worry. Discovery is the main worry. The internet is wonderful for things that you know about. If you fall in love with an author, you can get backlist that is too extensive for a bookstore to have stocked, and that would have had to been ordered anyway.

So, it’s great for finding deep backlists, and it’s great for accessibility on things that you already know you want… but it’s not good for discovery. There are too many trees in the forest.

R: Agreed, because you can just walk into a bookstore and see that one cover that catches your eye. You don’t get that on Amazon, or these other sites.

TD: And you know the mass-market system has kind of fallen apart. We used to look at surveys which would say: You’ve got bookstore readers from ‘impulse sale’. There were 100,000 retailers that had mass-market paperbacks, the person standing in a drugstore, waiting for a prescription… Buying from a wire-revolving rack; the person walking down the grocery aisle to get coffee, seeing a nice display of books and sampling one.

When they were pleased often enough, they began going to bookstores. Some people didn’t, some people just kept buying them in the impulse locations. But it also fed the bookstores, because they were happy with the entertainment and they wanted more of it. We’re losing that because the structure for that has broken down.

It’s broken down for a number of reasons. Mass-market paperback used to mainly be reprints of hardcover books a year after the hardcover book was published. It’s like anything else. If you buy a computer this year, next year it’ll be cheaper and maybe even better. If you buy women’s fashion this fall, it’ll be on a sale table next spring. People are used to waiting for the cheaper edition. With ebooks, they get instant gratification. Which, of course, in one place cuts into hardcovers, as they can get it cheaper already, but in another place, to the mass-market because they don’t have to wait for the cheap book.

So, we’ve got that problem. At the same time, we had a breakdown in the distribution system; there was a distribution system existing that had, in every town, book-truck drivers who sold only books to the retailers. They learned that you put different books in immigrant ghettos than you did in college situations, and a third kind by the military. They put the right books in the right spots.

What happened is the major chains forced an increase in discount, which caused the wholesalers to not to be able to afford two trucks running the same route: one for magazines, and one for books. So the distribution system was combined, which is a problem because books were pushed into a magazine bundle, and you don’t have book-truck drivers driving down the street with hundreds of titles, and able to put a different assortment at different stores. You have a much more limited assortment going everywhere. That’s not good. You should sell different books at different demographic areas.

We’re not getting them there anymore. So, between the instant gratification at a lower price, and the breakdown of the distribution system — I only get into this because it affects discovery. We lose huge numbers of places where people used to discover books.

R: Which is unfortunate, like Borders closing down a couple of years back, and independent bookstores seeming to close on a nearly daily basis.

TD: Yeah, well, I mean the other chains even worse than Borders for discovery were the Waldens, and Daltons, Crowns, and Lauriets… We lost several thousand mall stores.

I saw a focus study. This is an oversimplification of it, but essentially what it said: Did you miss the Walden that was in the shopping center? The answer was essentially: “Oh yeah, we’d come here to buy a sweater, or a pair of shoes, and we’d see the open and inviting display of books. We almost always had time to walk in. If we walked in, we almost always bought a book. Often we bought several.” When was the last time you bought a book? “Oh.. Yeah. We’ve got to go to a bookstore soon.”

If you don’t put books where people are… they don’t get in the car and drive 11 miles. Some of them will; they’ll drive to the Barnes & Noble now, or the big independent. So many of them won’t. They just won’t get around to making the special trip of any appreciable distance.

R: And it’s a shame, because there were a bunch of bookstores near me that I used to go to, but one by one I’ve been watching them disappear over the last 5-10 years.

TD: And you used to have chains like Waldon and Dalton, you had Classics, and Coles and Smith. All gone. How many impulse locations could have been handy, but are now gone?

R: And with that, we’re seeing the rise of ebooks more and more. Because, I guess, there is the convenience, the cheaper prices, and as you said — the instant gratification. But we’re losing something as well, because if you pick up a book, it’s got the weight to it, and there have been studies that state that you don’t retain as much when you read the ebooks.

TD: Yeah.

R: I think that’s a sad thing for the publishing industries.

TD: People will always will always want a good story.

R: Yes, definitely… and there have definitely been a lot of changes in the publishing industry over the past many years.. Besides for the ebooks, which has been the most surprising to you?

TD: Well, what I was just outlining — the breakdown of the mass-market distribution system, the physical breakdown, and it’s been the most damaging. Not being able to get the right book into the right store.

R: And… sorry, going back to ebooks, how do you think they’re going to affect the publishing industry in the long term? Do you think they’re going to plane out with physical books?

TD: I think it’ll level out, and I think that it’ll slowly gain market share. But you always do have the problem of discovery, and we haven’t worked out online how to best do that. I think, also, many people like a physical book, and I think that it’s a pretty darn efficient package.

R: It is. I will always choose a physical book.

TD: Me too.

R: Even though that means my luggage going home is overweight now…

Do you have any advice for people trying to get into the publishing industry in general, perhaps editorial? Publicity? I know a lot of jobs are also being done by freelancers now as well.

TD: Well, part of the thing about freelancers is there are an awful lot of people who want to work part-time. For example, we have a lot of people who don’t work full-time for us. Some of them were really fine editors who retired, but they would like to do a little bit. They just don’t want to work full-time; they don’t want to commute to an office. They may have one or two authors who want to work with them, and who they still want to work with. Well then, sure. If the author wants to work with them, if they want to work, and if they’re talented editors… Why wouldn’t we use them part-time? And I think, even at the very beginning we did that.

When I was starting the company, I knew a couple of editors who I thought were really fine editors. One of them had been retired, one of whom had been laid off; combination of companies coming together, mergers.. And I asked both of them if they’d like to edit for me. Both of them said yes, and neither one of them wanted to come into the office.

One of them actually became a ski instructor up in Killington; a guy by the name of Pat O’Connor. He had been the editor-and-chief of a couple companies. His number one author at the time was Andrew Greeley, who was a bestseller, and he said that he’d love to edit Andy. And Andy wanted to be edited by Pat.

Harriet McDougall, who I told you about — she didn’t want to come to a NY office. She was willing to work full-time, but she wanted to work in Charleston, SC., and we got Robert Jordan. You know, some of the things that people don’t remember about her, they just think Robert Jordan, but if you look at the acknowledgements in Ender’s Game, you’ll see the praise that Scott gives his editor, Harriet. She was responsible for many really great books in the early days.

R: She also edited the very first book you guys did, by Andre Norton.

TD: Yep, we had done Andre Norton together at Tempo. YA. I feel bad when people just remember her as Robert Jordan’s editor. She was the editor of many of our great early books. Beth Meacham had arthritis and wanted to live in Tucson, so she works out in there. I see no reason why any anyone has to come into the NY office.

R: Especially with the internet, there’s the ease of access.

TD: Well, we did it before the internet. We started telecommuting before they invented the word.

R: Yeah. Going back.. I know one of the ways for getting into publishing now is through internships and things. Do you have any other advice for people who want to get into this?

TD: Well, I think that what you need to do is look at the books in the bookstores. Become quite familiar with what a publisher does. Then, come to the publisher and say, “This is what you do, and this is what I care about. And I know what you do. I care enough to know. I didn’t come in because I wanted any old job. I came to you because I like what you do, and I want to be part of it.” And I think that impresses people. You try to learn about that particular thing that you really do want to be part of. It’s a win-win for both sides.

R: Alright, well, I know you do fantasy…

TD: <chuckles> Yes, yes we do.

R: So you guys, I imagine, get a lot of submissions pretty often. What do you guys look for when you’re trying to find the books that you’re going to publish?

TD: We have a lot of readers, and different editors like different things. If you’re an author, and you would like to be published by a publisher, you ought to look at the books from that publisher that you think are from the same market that your book is for. Then, you ought to look in the acknowledgements, because some of those books are going to acknowledge their editor. Then you ought to submit your book to that editor with a note saying why you think they might be interested. They’re much more likely to look at slush that way, than they are general slush.

If you’ve got an agent, so much the better. But, so many first-time authors can’t get an agent either. So, this is one of the ways to make your book a little more marketable.

R: Okay, thank you. And are there any books that you come across that still manage to surprise you?

TD: Sure. Always.

R: That’s good.

So, what would you say has been your proudest moment, working in the industry? After everything you’ve done through your illustrious career, has there been any one project that was just…

TD: I think it was really building this company. I think it has published a lot of things that people have loved and they continue to love. That I’ve been able to give a lot of dreams life. Things that are worth having been done.

R: As a reader, I definitely agree. You have done an amazing job.

TD: And I was lucky enough to start Tor, and I don’t know if you know, but I spun-off Baen. I’m still a partner with Baen. He wanted to do a different kind of thing, so we created a company for him to do it. He — They, it’s now Toni Weisskopf who’s running the company since Jim died. I think they do some things very well.

R: I think that’s pretty much all I’ve got, unless there’s anything else you’d like to add?

TD: Nope.

R: Alright, well, thank you very much for taking the time.

TD: You are entirely welcome.

R: It’s been an honour to meet you and talk to you. Thank you.

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