*Thank you so much to Blink for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review and for TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour!*
First of all, I am trying to spice up my blog a bit and try new things with my reviews. So, I put together a mini mood board for Wardens of Eternity! Please let me know if this is something you like or do not generally like!
I loved the Egyptian mythology. It did give me Percy Jackson vibes but for an older audience, I think. I really liked the historical, 1940s, plot. Finding the tombs of Nefertari, and other archaeological finds and learning about them was so interesting! Especially with the added plot point of the second world war.
Ziva has these powers and background that she doesn’t understand. I love that she finds her family in the Medjai people. She has this awesome lineage that makes her Egyptian royalty. How freaking cool! So, she is like, one of the most powerful of her people and retains knowledge like nobody’s business. And Sayer! Oh, sweet Sayer. I love his personality. He can kick some butt and then be the nicest guy ever. And Nasira is so sassy, I love it. I also love the side characters! I would love a book from Anubis’ POV!
I really enjoyed the plot. They are running around on this grand adventure trying to find the body parts of Queen Nefertari, to bring her back to life. All the while dodging WWII and fighting gods who don’t want Nefertari to be reborn. There are some crazy fight scenes! Plus some plot twists that I was like, WHAAAAAT?!
The only thing I didn’t really like is the fact that it was mentioned a lot that Egypt was being victimized. And how horrible they had it. Which, I understand, BUT Egypt (nor any other country) is not perfect. Egypt also enslaved and killed people. They did to other countries what the book was saying was so horrible being done to Egypt… Also when they were saying how the archaeologists were taking their artifacts, which again I completely understand, BUT their own government was letting it happen…
Okay, I really enjoyed this book and the mythology! It was so interesting! I am definitely interested in the next book! Talk about a cliff hanger!
I am very excited to feature Cast in Wisdom by Michelle Sagara! I am a little behind on the series but I’ve read some of them and LOVE these books. They’re so cool! They would make a great TV show. Check out the Excerpt and Author Q&A below! Thank you to Harper Collins for having me on the tour!
Q&A with Michelle Sagara
Q: Your Chronicles of Elantra series is 15 books deep. How do you keep up with the characters and the plot? What do your notes look like?
A: I have a wiki that is not online, and I attempt to keep it updated as I write. This is not always as easy or tidy as it sounds. The wiki (I use VoodooPad) is easily searchable, but I have to remember to search it, and sometimes I don’t.
I am not a visual person, at all. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I had known my husband for years, and it wasn’t until someone in the store asked what color his eyes were that I realized I didn’t know. Since he’s blond (Finnish on his mother’s side), I assumed that they were blue, and after some thought said, “probably blue”, which caused mild confusion. Had I not known my husband for years? I went home and this time looked and paid attention to what I was seeing: they were blue.
Because eye color had not–obviously–been of great import to me, eye color was the start of my note-keeping. I needed to try to track eye color of characters because I knew I’d forget. And… I still got it wrong between books. T_T.
But… the internals of the characters–what they want, where they’ve come from, the experiences that produced them, I viscerally know. Height? No, not really. Shape? Well, I remember which ones are human, Barrani, Dragon, Tha’alani, etc. Hates? Likes? Yes. Goals as well, if they have them. I remember their place in the hierarchies they occupy, because in some ways, that’s part of their interior makeup.
But sometimes, when in the flow of the words, I… don’t remember to go and check the wiki for the details that, in the moment of writing, aren’t important to me.
My notes, however, and all cross-linked to each other, because of the wiki format.
Q: What kind of research do you do for your books? Is it mandatory (for you) for all your books?
A: It’s very much on a book-by-book basis. At this point in the writing, most of the research is… all the previous books.
I have had books which are more research intensive, but in general I read history in bits and pieces, and file away what I’ve read. It becomes part of the mental soil from which books grow.
So, there are specific books in which I realized, as I was writing, that I didn’t know something that I needed to know, and that stopped the writing dead as I then attempted to find answers to the questions that arose from my own ignorance. I think, as I get older, I realize far more easily when I don’t know something and need to know it.
But I’m what’s generally called a pantser. I don’t have a plan when I start; I usually only have the ending. To know exactly what I don’t know and need to know is therefore not entirely predictable.
…and I admit that once I’ve started building bits and pieces of world, I become increasingly impatient because I just want to dive in and start writing. So sometimes I start, write, and then stop because something a specific character would know, I don’t know. And then I set the book aside and start to look at things.
I think it’s important to know what my characters know, or at least what my viewpoint characters know.
Q: What is it about fantasy that makes you love it above any other genre?
A: This is a harder question to answer, because it’s so specific; it’s entirely Michelle-context. Does that context overlap with other readers? Yes. But not all of it, and not simultaneously.
I’m a product of my culture, my reading culture, and my linguistic limitations; I speak only English, and can only read French with a fifty percent chance of understanding it.
So: books I read and loved when young had fantasy elements, were fantasy. I read a lot of fairy tales. Anything I could get my hands on. Portal fantasy like the Narnia books. Fantasy like McKillip’s Forgotten Beasts of Eld. Fantasy like The Hobbit, and eventually, Lord of the Rings.
I also read a lot of mythology books–at first for kids, and later, translations of plays and sagas that hadn’t been written with children in mind.
I read other books, books without fantasy elements, growing up–but the things that spoke to me most strongly were those. They were the books of my developing reader heart. As I traversed the divide between childhood and not-childhood (does anyone truly ever feel adult on the inside of their own head? I always feel like I’ve gotten better at performing adulthood, but I can’t quite feel it as my base state), I found other fantasy. I also found books like The Left Hand of Darkness.
And all of the reading overlapped with life experiences; everything on the inside of my head, like the soil out of which story grows and evolves.
I loved fantasy as a reader. I loved reading as a reader. When I made the choice to start writing, I wrote what I loved.
Q: If you didn’t write, what would you be doing?
A: I cannot actually answer that question, because I have always written. From about six years of age, on. I didn’t write for other people, and I hid all my writing because I didn’t want to open it up to judgement and criticism.
If you mean, what would I do to make money, I’m not sure. Work, yes–but I’m not sure doing what. I didn’t expect, growing up, that my work would be my life; a job was a necessity, because having a roof over one’s head and food on the table was a necessity. I didn’t therefore pursue a career about which I could be passionate until I started to write for submission.
If I worked for someone else for a living, I would still write, because I always did. Would I write as often or as consistently? Probably not. There were gap months in university in which I didn’t write at all. But I always came back to it because writing words was an act of communication.
How, if I didn’t share them?
Good question. It was an act of communication with myself. It was a way of seeing, more clearly, things I believed or things that moved me, that I had not fully processed or pragmatically understood.
It was also like an exorcism: I put these words down so that they didn’t envelop and overwhelm the rest of my thoughts.
Q: What is the most difficult thing about your writing process?
A: The answer will depend entirely on when the question is asked, sadly.
If, for instance, I’m starting a new book, the answer will be: beginnings. I start a book several times, trying to find the right tone, the right voice. The longest not right attempt at a beginning was thirty-two pages. Most peter out at between four and six.
At the moment, I’m revising, so the answer is: Revision.
Writing, once I have a beginning, is about flow. The story is like a river; I can follow it. I can swim in it. I can drown in it if I don’t remember to come up for air. But the entirety of the book flows from beginning to end. I don’t write out of order. I don’t write to an outline. Part of writing, or the joy of it, is in the discovery. I have an idea of where things are going and how they’ll get there, but the act of writing the book produces a lot – sometimes a LOT – of surprises.
What I know is the end. I understand the world. I don’t know how the characters will reach the end from the beginning, because even when I do know, I’m often wrong.
So, I now have a finished book. I revise it for submission–but I’m aware that I’m too close to it, and that my editor is going to be reading it and pointing out the parts that didn’t work for her.
Here’s the trick to editing: editors read as readers. Their editorial experience gives them the abililty to explain why they had the reader reaction they did. I’m not going to argue about the editor’s reaction to the book. Even if I disagree with it, what am I going to say? No you didn’t react that way? Clearly, they did.
What I can do is examine why the scene didn’t work for the editor. Why it wasn’t compelling enough or believeable enough. If I want to keep that scene in this book, I have work to do.
But. Revision requires–for me–an entirely different frame of mind. It’s more objective; objectivity is required for me to assess structure and structural changes. Subjectivity is required for me – and let me take this moment to stress that all writers have different processes and I’m talking about only mine – to write.
And I can get caught up between the two states, until I can’t tell what’s objective and what’s subjective.
The corollary to that is that the book is a metaphoric river, and it is very difficult to restructure a river. I can’t just cut out one part and move it to another part if the terrain and the riverbed are not substantially the same for the two parts.
Which means I frequently end up having to take a chapter which mostly works and throw the entire thing out and start it again because I can see the seams in the revision if I don’t.
Q: Finally, what do you want readers to leave with after finishing your books?
A: I write books because reading books moved me. A lot. I could get lost in a book, sink into it, follow it, think about it, daydream about it.
Parts of that were intellectual, but the drive to be intellectual about a book I’d read came from a strong emotional response to it. What I want readers to leave with is the emotional response to the story and characters I had, and built, while writing it. I want to open a window into what the book made me feel as the writer.
Writing story is, in some ways, building a vessel that is solid enough to carry the emotional weight of the ending.
“You are such a coward,” Bellusdeo said when they’d reached the relative safety of the street. The roads in and around Helen were sparsely populated at the busiest of times, which this wasn’t. They would soon join roads that were crowded at the slowest of times, but Kaylin was dressed for the office. The Hawk emblazoned on her tabard encouraged people to make space.
Had Bellusdeo hit the streets in her Draconic form, she’d have cleared far more of it—but some of that space would be created by panic, and panic could cause both accidents and the type of traffic congestion that caused the Swords to investigate. Also, it was illegal.
“It’s not cowardice,” Kaylin replied, scanning the windows of the buildings above ground level.
“What would you call it?”
“There’s no point in arguing with them now. Sedarias thinks it’ll be months before this ridiculous command performance occurs. We have months to attempt to talk her out of—”
“Out of expressing any appreciation or gratitude?”
Ugh. “You know they’re grateful. This isn’t about gratitude. It’s about rubbing that gratitude in the faces of the Barrani who attempted to brand you a—an army. An attacking army.”
“I believe the term you want is Flight.” Bellusdeo’s eyes were orange.
Hope squawked at the Dragon. Kaylin didn’t understand what he was saying. Bellusdeo did, but her eyes didn’t get any lighter.
“You know as well as I do,” Kaylin said, emboldened by Hope’s entry into the discussion, “that this is not the time to visit the High Halls. I’m not sure the Emperor has ever been a guest there.”
“We visited the Halls—more or less—when they came under attack, and the Barrani needed our help.”
“From the outside. No one invited the Dragon Court in.”
The chorus of Barrani voices that sometimes offered entirely unasked for opinions on the inside of her head maintained their silence for half a beat. The first person to break that silence was the fieflord. His words were tinged with amusement.
You cannot expect that the cohort would suddenly cease to cause any difficulty, surely?
I’m almost certain that the cohort understands why inviting a Dragon—any Dragon—to attend the High Halls would be a disaster.
For the Dragons?
I believe some of the more conservative High Lords might be surprisingly supportive of such an invitation.
Of course they would. It would be their best shot at killing Bellusdeo. If Bellusdeo died, there would be no new Dragons. No hatchlings.
There’s no way the Emperor would give her permission to attend.
Nightshade concurred. In his position, I would not. But I would be prepared, should I refuse to grant that permission, for all-out war. My brother has grown inordinately fond of her; living with you has made him reckless.
He has known Bellusdeo for even less time than you. He is willing to trust her in a fashion no one older would. And do not cite the Consort, please.
Kaylin hadn’t intended to. The Consort seems to like her.
Kaylin, the Consort “likes” me. But she does not trust me.
“Stop making that face, or it will freeze that way.” Kaylin reddened.
I understand that you are attempting to avoid the Emperor’s ire. I consider this wise on your part. It is not, however, the ire of the Emperor that will be your most significant problem; he will do nothing to harm Bellusdeo.
I know that.
It is the ire of the High Lords. Sedarias is, I believe, genuinely grateful for Bellusdeo’s intervention. She does wish to honor her. But gratitude can be expressed privately—and in most cases, it is. Only rulers feel obliged to make that expression public because the public expression elevates those to whom one feels gratitude. It makes clear to witnesses that the aid tendered—in whatever fashion—is important and significant. The Emperor has codified such significance in public ceremonies and public titles, has he not?
For Sedarias, however, genuine gratitude is not an impediment to political displays. She can be genuinely grateful and simultaneously,extremely political. She wishes to highlight Bellusdeo’s aid and import to Mellarionne. Why do you think this is?
Kaylin thought about this. After a long pause, she said, She wants to thumb her nose at the rest of the High Lords, many of whom weren’t helpful at all?
Nightshade’s silence was one of encouragement.
Bellusdeo’s a Dragon. So…her presence means that even Dragons—with whom you’ve had a war or two—
Fine, a war or three, were more helpful, or at least more of a genuine ally, than any of the Barrani.
Yes. I believe that is some part of Sedarias’s intent. That’s not going to help Mellarionne any.
Perhaps, perhaps not. She will do so as An’Mellarionne. It would be considered a very bold move—but there are those who would assume that Sedarias is confident in her own power, and they would hesitate to challenge her.
“If you are speaking about me,” Bellusdeo said, her voice almost a whisper of sound, “I must insist that you include me.”
“Well, yes, that could cause some difficulty,” the Dragon replied. “But I dislike Kaylin’s worry. She is mortal.” Squawk. “The marks of the Chosen don’t matter. She’s mortal. I may be a displaced person in these lands; I may no longer have a home or lands of my own. But I am a Dragon.”
“I’m not exactly worried about you,” Kaylin said. When one golden brow rose in response, she added, “Not about you specifically. But—there’s no way for Dragon and High Halls to combine that isn’t political. Explosively political. On your own, you can survive more than any of the rest of the cohort—or me. But you won’t be on your own. The cohort won’t abandon you.”
It was the Dragon’s turn to snort.
Kaylin reconsidered her words and chose better ones. “Most of the cohort wouldn’t abandon you. Annarion wouldn’t. Mandoran wouldn’t. I don’t believe Allaron would either, from what I’ve seen. And you know what the cohort is like. The minute one of them enters combat to save you, they’re all going to rush in. It doesn’t matter if they’re there for your sake or their friends’; they’ll be there. But this is political, and anything political is far above my pay grade.”
“You don’t seem to find this insulting.”
“I consider it one of the biggest advantages of my rank. Which is the lowest rank I could be given and still be called a Hawk.”
“One of? What’s another one?”
“I’m not in command. I don’t need to make decisions that might cost the lives of other Hawks. No matter what happens in an action, large or small, I won’t have their deaths on my hands.”
“But you don’t like being a private.”
“Well, I could be a corporal, and it would still be mostly true. And the pay is higher.”
“It’s not much higher,” a familiar voice said. It was Mandoran’s. Of course it was. Kaylin didn’t miss a step.
“I don’t suggest you try to enter the Halls of Law looking like that.”
“Like thin air.”
“Oh. That.” Mandoran caused other people some consternation as he materialized to the side of Kaylin that Bellusdeo wasn’t occupying. To be fair, most of the street didn’t notice; people always had their own problems and their own schedules. “I was going to follow Teela into the office, but Teela’s not heading there directly.”
“So you followed us?”
“Not most of the way, no. I decided to head straight here to wait, but I caught up because you’re doing the Hawk-walk.” He glanced at Bellusdeo. “For what it’s worth, I think insisting on your presence on the inside of the High Halls is suicidal.”
“Oh?” The Dragon’s voice was cool. “For who?”
Mandoran grinned. “Mostly Kaylin.”
Kaylin watched as flecks of gold appeared in Bellusdeo’s eyes. Mandoran had, once again, managed to set Bellusdeo at ease. Kaylin wondered if that was why he’d chosen to speak when he had. He never treated the Dragon with respect; had the Emperor been present for most of their spats, she wasn’t certain Mandoran wouldn’t be a pile of bleeding ash. Well, ash, because ash didn’t bleed, but still.
“You left the rest of the cohort behind?” Kaylin asked.
“We had a vote, and Helen decided it was safest to send me.”
“She was the tie-breaker?”
“Ah, no. She didn’t consider the first choice viable. But— we can all see what I see anyway, so unless there’s an attack, having more than one person here is superfluous. If Teela had been coming directly to the office, someone would have followed Teela.”
“Not you?” Bellusdeo asked.
“I had to live with Tain for a few years. Compressed into a few weeks, I might add. He’s stuffy and remarkably straightforward. Also, he hates fun.”
“He hates mess,” Kaylin said, as they approached the stairs that led into the Halls of Law.
“Define mess. No, wait, don’t. The problem with Tain—at least for me—is that Teela might actually kill us if we’re indirectly responsible for his death. He’s not like the rest of us; we can’t speak to him without shouting, and even if we can, he doesn’t listen half the time. So…it’s a lot less safe to tail Tain.”
“I imagine it’s safer to tail Tain than it is to tail Kaylin if you’re worried about Teela’s reaction,” Bellusdeo said, frowning slightly.
Michelle Sagara is an author, bookseller, and lover of literature based in Toronto. She writes fantasy novels and lives with her husband and her two children, and to her regret has no dogs. Reading is one of her life-long passions, and she is sometimes paid for her opinions about what she’s read by the venerable Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. No matter how many bookshelves she buys, there is Never Enough Shelf space. Ever.
I LOVED this book. This month was my pick for one of my book clubs and I chose this one because I’ve been dying to read it since it came out! Marissa Meyer is one of my favorite authors. If you haven’t read her The Lunar Chronicles series, you should. I love the way she retells classic themes! Including super heroes and villains!
Okay, this is going to sound crazy, but if you liked the Amazon show, The Boys, you *might* like this series. This series is just WAY cleaner. I mean, it’s target audience is teens, so, yeah.
Moving on. I loved the two main characters. Their banter and interactions are swoon worthy. Nova has been training her whole life to take down heroes. She has ninja skills as well as the ability to put people to sleep. So cool! I feel for her though. Her back story is really sad. And she was taken in by villains who are filled with some morally gray characters as well as classic manipulative villains. She’s filled with confidence and sass and I love it. It matches Adrian’s sweet disposition. He is a pretty classic hero type. He just wants to genuinely help people. He is a total cinnamon roll. But he has some awesome fighting skills too.
Random thoughts: The action is INTENSE sometimes! I couldn’t tell who was going to die or be hurt or what! I love that Nova and Adrian’s relationship is both enemies to lovers as well as forbidden romance. They don’t know each other’s secret identities which makes for some hilarious moments. I also loved the side characters on their team! Ruby is so freaking cool. She can make crystallized weapons out of her blood. Like, what?!
I love how you actually can’t tell who is all good and who is all bad. Just like in real life, every side has bad guys and good guys. It’s just weeding them out that’s hard!
That plot twist ending killed me though. WHAT?!
Let’s talk! Have you read this series? What other Super Hero books do you love?
I am so excited to feature A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen today on my blog! Plus a few extras to go along with it! Check out an excerpt and a Q&A with the author below! Thank you to Harper Collins for having me on the tour!
Q: Parent characters are a large part of A Beginning at the End. Did you know your character’s family backgrounds before you began? How do the characters take form in your writing process?
A: Somewhat. Usually the core problem comes first in my drafting process. I tend to write in layers and my initial drafts are always very light — initial scenes may only be about ¼ of their final length because I don’t know the characters too well yet. At that stage, I’m trying to find the main conflict of the scene and the voice for their characters. I typically need 5-7 passes through a book to turn it from a 45k-50k word skeleton to a reasonably polished 90-100k word draft. During that time, the characters start to form.
As an example, my current work in progress (which will be released after 2021’s upcoming WE COULD BE HEROES), I’m on my third pass through for the first act and only now am I beginning to understand each character’s unique voice as well as their physical appearances. Core conflicts (such as character X has trouble with character Y) are established during the initial outline phase as part of the initial concept, but the how and why those conflicts happen (Is it family history? Is it a traumatic event? Is it sibling rivalry?), that takes a little longer to establish.
For the characters in A BEGINNING AT THE END, I started out immediately knowing what drove Krista and Rob. Moira didn’t really become fully three-dimensional until much later, and in fact in early revisions, she was just a minor supporting character. My agent noted that she was far too interesting to push to the side, so the book was rebuilt around her to hold equal footing to Rob and Krista.
Q: Where did you take inspiration for this pandemic? Do you have any other book or film recommendations?
A: Though it wasn’t a direct inspiration for this book, there’s a scene in the second season of The Walking Dead that began the train of thought for A BEGINNING AT THE END. It was the season on Hershel’s farm, and there’s a scene where Lori is trying to go over homework with her son Carl. A lot of viewers mocked the scene at the time with comments like “Why would you do math in the zombie apocalypse?” but I thought that was a smart bit of human grounding against a fantastical backdrop. Because those characters didn’t know if and when the apocalypse would end, and I think it makes sense that 1) a mom would try to keep some form of normalcy for her son 2) they wouldn’t just assume the world was completely over.
Because a lot of apocalyptic fiction focuses on either the event itself or a grimdark survival world, that scene sparked a lot of ideas for me — what if society did crawl back from the brink, and instead of a true “end of the world” it was more like a big pause button? Then all these people would move past day-to-day survival and suddenly have a lot of trauma to unpack, and i hadn’t really seen that covered much at the time. That seemed really interesting to me, much more so than the idea of tribal factions attacking each other to survive.
Q: Which main character is your favorite? And which was the hardest to write?
A: It’s been interesting seeing early reader feedback because the “favorite character” opinion has been pretty evenly split. I think that’s a good sign that things are pretty balanced. For me personally, I always viewed Krista as the main character in this book and it was originally written with her to be the main focus (the original draft of this from 2011ish only had her POV and Rob’s POV). She has such a snappy voice that it’s just fun to write her responses and reactions to stuff, and a big challenge came from cutting out unnecessary dialogue that made it in there simply because she was so fun to write.
The hardest character to write was definitely Sunny. Simply because I needed to get into the head of a seven-year-old. Her POV was one of the last major structural changes my agent recommended before we sold this to my publisher and it was tricky my daughter was still very young at that point (she’s still only five). I ran those chapters by my friends who had survived parenting those years for accuracy: complexity of thought, vocabulary, rhythm, etc.
Q: Your characters struggle with confronting their past while their future is so uncertain. What are some important lessons you’ve learned as a writer that you previously struggled with?
A: I think the keys to success as a writer are also keys to a happy and fulfilled life: don’t give up and keep an open mind. Every writer I know that started around my time eventually broke through and got an agent by improving their craft through feedback and simply chipping away. If one book wasn’t good enough, then it got shelved as a stepping stone and they marched forward. Doing that requires a certain amount of humility because it recognizes that you’ve got room to improve, and that improvement is going to come from listening to others rather than being defensive. Those are hard lessons to learn so I try to tell new writers that right away, so they understand the value of harsh-but-true constructive criticism from critique partners — you’ll never make it without that.
Q: What is a genre you don’t think you’d ever write? A Beginning at the End and Here and Now and Then are both SF, do you think you would ever write something that’s vastly different? What draws you to SF?
A: Writing character-driven stories in sci-fi settings comes pretty naturally to me, as it takes my favorite type of story (slice of life) and my favorite genre and brings them together. I’m fortunate that the market has turned around on that now to support books like mine. If I wrote something different, I imagine it would lean further in one direction or another — either a contemporary drama or space opera. I am also a big fan of gothic horror, and I would love to try a haunted house story at some point.
As for what draws me to sci-fi, I can’t put my finger on it but it’s been really important to me my entire life. I grew up on Star Wars and Robotech as cornerstones of my media influences. At the same time, I’ve never really been too into fantasy despite them often being opposite sides of the same coin. My wife loves both sci-fi and fantasy, and there are things she loves that I just can’t get into like The Elder Scrolls.
Q: What are some of your writing goals for the future?
A: Keep writing and not run out of ideas! In a perfect world, I’d love to be able to be a full-time author — which is basically 50% writing and 50% the business of being an author. I don’t think that’s feasible since I live in Silicon Valley and need health insurance for a family situation, so I will likely always have one foot in corporate life unless the political landscape changes regarding medical care.
An obvious dream would be to have one of my books be adapted to a movie or TV series — I’m of the mindset that HERE AND NOW AND THEM would work as a movie while A BEGINNING AT THE END has a deep enough world that it would work well as a TV series. I really want to try writing a video game, something like Telltale’s games. And I would love to write for my favorite franchises: Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. I’ve been pretty vocal about Clone Wars-era story ideas, and I’m friends with several authors on the Lucasfilm roster, so fingers crossed.
Q: If there was a global disaster in the future, what would your plan of action be?
A: Well, I have a bunch of animals and family health issues, so I’d say we’d be pretty screwed. I’m pretty organized and have a diplomatic approach, so hopefully that would earn me an in with some survivalists until society stabilizes.
Q: Both of your books, Here and Now and Then & A Beginning at the End, have a strong emotional foundation. Why did you choose that route?
A: It goes back to my favorite types of stories. To me, the emotional core is always the most important part of any story; it turns it from being surface level entertainment to something that resonates deeper.
Q: How has the success of your first novel affected your writing process for your second novel? Is there anything the first time around you did, that you didn’t do the second time?
A: I am lucky that A BEGINNING AT THE END was mostly finished when we sold it because it had been a project I’d shelved years ago but revised with my agent. I had a complete and fairly polished manuscript, and my editors revisions didn’t affect much of the structure, they were mostly about tightening and adding more flashbacks, more world-building. So in that regard, that process was very similar to HERE AND NOW AND THEN.
However, having now experienced deadlines and commitments on top of a day job and parenting, the biggest change is that I draft by acts rather than the whole thing. For books 3 (WE COULD BE HEROES) and 4 (in WIP stages), I drafted a first act to get a sense of characters and world, then sent that to a few critique partners for their input before investing further energy into it. There’s just no time. Also, I have to limit myself on reading for fun or video games because that time has to be used for writing and editing. Being published is a great privilege but its time demands do create numerous sacrifices.
Q: How do you balance being a reader and being a writer?
A: I use my phone a lot! I’ve discovered audiobooks, though my preferred method right now is ebooks through Google Play. Their app has a text-to-speech feature which, while nowhere near the quality of real audiobooks, allow me to listen while I’m commuting or doing dishes or whatever, but then also allow me to switch back to reading in the app when I want to. It’s funny, I just don’t read physical books that much now because my time is so compartmentalized that having it available on my phone is the best way to go.
The great irony about this is that as I’ve gotten to know more authors, agents, and editors, I’m often offered advance review copies by authors I really love and I simply have no time for them.
Q: What does literary success look like to you and with that definition in mind, are you successful?
A: This is tricky because I think all authors at all stages are looking up at someone and mentally comparing sales and awards. I know I’m doing better than some of my peers and worse than others, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the past year is that it is totally okay to be happy for someone while also jealous of their success. In fact, that is 100% normal.
With that in mind, I think success means that I’m selling enough copies to get the next contract and a chance to audition for licensed franchise work. Aspiring for bestseller status or awards is kind of silly because so many other factors go into that, many of which (marketing budgets, publicity selections) are simply out of your control. But if you keep producing at a high level of quality, I think you’ll be able to gradually grow your readership with each book, and that’s good enough for me.
Also, it’s really cool to hear your book has touched a reader. That level of engagement is always a good measure of success.
Q: Finally, for you, what makes a book a good book?
A: I think the things that I always look for are interesting characters, emotional conflicts, and good prose. While I appreciate great action scenes or immense worldbuilding, I can often overlook those things if characters, emotions, and prose are all clicking. On the other hand, if I lose any of those main three, I’ll often have to drop a book, even if, say, the worldbuilding is amazing.
Shameless shoutout to some friends: if you want impeccable examples of ALL of those (characters, emotions, prose, action, and worldbuilding), I suggest Fonda Lee’s JADE CITY / JADE WAR and Kat Howard’s AN UNKINDNESS OF MAGICIANS.
People were too scared for music tonight. Not that MoJo cared.
Her handlers had broken the news about the low attendance nearly an hour ago with some explanation about how the recent flu epidemic and subsequent rioting and looting kept people at home. They’d served the news with high-end vodka, the good shit imported from Russia, conveniently hidden in a water bottle which she carried from the greenroom to the stage.
“The show must go on,” her father proclaimed, like she was doing humanity a service by performing. She suspected his bravado actually stemmed from the fact that her sophomore album’s second single had stalled at number thirteen—a far cry from the lead single’s number-one debut or her four straight top-five hits off her first album. Either way, the audience, filled with beaming girls a few years younger than herself and their mothers, seemed to agree. Flu or no flu, some people still wanted their songs—or maybe they just wanted normalcy—so MoJo delivered, perfect note after perfect note, each in time to choreographed dance routines. She even gave her trademark smile.
The crowd screamed and sang along, waving their arms to the beat. Halfway through the second song, a peculiar vibe grabbed the audience. Usually, a handful of parents disappeared into their phones, especially as the flu scare had heightened over the past week. This time nearly every adult in the arena was looking at their phone. In the front row, MoJo saw lines of concern on each face.
Before the song even finished, some parents grabbed their children and left, pushing through the arena’s floor seats and funneling to the exit door.
MoJo pushed on, just like she’d always promised her dad. She practically heard his voice over the backup music blasting in her in-ear monitors. There is no sophomore slump. Smile! Between the second and third songs, she gave her customary “Thank you!” and fake talk about how great it was to be wherever they were. New York City, this time, at Madison Square Garden. A girl of nineteen embarking on a tour bigger, more ambitious than she could have ever dreamed and taking the pop world by storm, and yet, she knew nothing real about New York City. She’d never left her hotel room without chaperones and handlers. Not under her dad’s watch.
One long swig of vodka later, and a warmth rushed to her face, so much so that she wondered if it melted her face paint off. She looked off at the side stage, past the elaborate video set and cadre of backup dancers. But where was the gaffer? Why wasn’t anyone at the sound board? The fourth song had a violin section, yet the contracted violinist wasn’t in her spot.
Panic raced through MoJo’s veins, mental checklists of her marks, all trailed by echoes from her dad’s lectures about accountability. Her feet were planted exactly where they should be. Her poise, straight and high. Her last few notes, on key, and her words to the audience, cheerful. It couldn’t have been something she’d done, could it?
No. Not her fault this time. Someone else is facing Dad’s wrath tonight, she thought.
The next song’s opening electronic beats kicked in. Eyes closed, head tilted back, and arms up, her voice pushed out the song’s highest note, despite the fuzziness of the vodka making the vibrato a little harder to sustain. For a few seconds, nothing existed except the sound of her voice and the music behind it— no handlers, no tour, no audience, no record company, no father telling her the next way she’d earn the family fortune—and it almost made the whole thing worth it.
Her eyes opened, body coiled for the middle-eight’s dance routine, but the brightness of the house lights threw her off the beat. The drummer and keyboard player stopped, though the prerecorded backing track continued for a few more seconds before leaving an echo chamber.
No applause. No eyes looked MoJo’s way. Only random yelling and an undecipherable buzz saw of backstage clamor from her in-ear monitors. She stood, frozen, unable to tell if this was from laced vodka or if it was actually unfolding: people—adults and children, parents and daughters— scrambling to the exits, climbing over chairs and tripping on stairs, ushers pushing back at the masses before some turned and ran as well.
Someone grabbed her shoulder and jerked back hard. “We have to go,” said the voice behind her.
“What’s going on?” she asked, allowing the hands to push her toward the stage exit. Steven, her huge forty-something bodyguard, took her by the arm and helped her down the short staircase to the backstage area.
“The flu’s spread,” he said. “A government quarantine. There’s some sort of lockdown on travel. The busing starts tonight. First come, first serve. I think everyone’s trying to get home or get there. I can’t reach your father. Cell phones are jammed up.”
They worked their way through the concrete hallways and industrial lighting of the backstage area, people crossing in a mad scramble left and right. MoJo clutched onto her bottle of vodka, both hands to her chest as Steven ushered her onward. People collapsed in front of her, crying, tripping on their own anxieties, and Steven shoved her around them, apologizing all the way. Something draped over her shoulders, and it took her a moment to realize that he’d put a thick parka around her. She chuckled at the thought of her sparkly halter top and leather pants wrapped in a down parka that smelled like BO, but Steven kept pushing her forward, forward, forward until they hit a set of double doors.
The doors flew open, but rather than the arena’s quiet loading area from a few hours ago, MoJo saw a thick wall of people: all ages and all colors in a current of movement, pushing back and forth. “I’ve got your dad on the line,” Steven yelled over the din, “His car is that way. He wants to get to the airport now. Same thing’s happening back home.” His arm stretched out over her head. “That way! Go!”
They moved as a pair, Steven yelling “excuse me” over and over until the crowd became too dense to overcome. In front of her, a woman with wisps of gray woven into black hair trembled on her knees. Even with the racket around them, MoJo heard her cry. “This is the end. This is the end.”
People had been making cracks about the End of the World since the flu changed from online rumors to this big thing that everyone talked about all the time. But she’d always figured the “end” meant a giant pit opening, Satan ushering everyone down a staircase to Hell. Not stuck outside Madison Square Garden.
“Hey,” Steven yelled, arms spread out to clear a path through the traffic jam of bodies. “This way!”
MoJo looked at the sobbing woman in front of her, then at Steven. Somewhere further down the road, her father sat in a car and waited. She could feel his pull, an invisible tether that never let her get too far away.
“The end, the end,” the sobbing woman repeated, pausing MoJo in her tracks. But where to go? Every direction just pointed at more chaos, people scrambling with a panic that had overtaken everyone in the loading dock, possibly the neighborhood, possibly all New York City, possibly even the world. And it wasn’t just about a flu.
It was everything.
But… maybe that was good?
No more tours. No more studio sessions. No more threats about financial security, no more lawyer meetings, no more searches through her luggage. No more worrying about hitting every mark. In the studio. Onstage.
All of that was done.
The very thought caused MoJo to smirk.
If this was the end, then she was going out on her own terms.
“Steven!” she yelled. He turned and met her gaze.
She twisted the cap off the water-turned-vodka bottle, then took most of it down in one long gulp. She poured the remainder on her face paint, a star around her left eye, then wiped it off with her sleeve. The empty bottle flew through the air, probably hitting some poor bloke in the head.
“Tell my dad,” she said, trying extra hard to pronounce the words with the clear British diction she was raised with, “to go fuck himself.”
For an instant, she caught Steven’s widemouthed look, a mix of fear and confusion and disappointment on his face, as though her words crushed his worldview more than the madness around them. But MoJo wouldn’t let herself revel in her first, possibly only victory over her father; she ducked and turned quickly, parka pulled over her head, crushing the product-molded spikes in her hair.
Each step pushing forward, shoulders and arms bumping into her as her eyes locked onto the ground, one step at a time. Left, right, left, then right, all as fast as she could go, screams and car horns and smashing glass building in a wave of desperation around her.
Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter
Hey y’all! I’ve got more writing opportunities this week! Today, Wednesday the 15, is when Emily P. Freeman will be going live with tips on how to start your writing career! Check out the details below. Sign up link is at the bottom! (It’s free!)
From Dreaming to Doing: Stop Waiting, Start Planning, and Finally Bring Your Writing to Life
Let this be the year you finally make progress in your writing.
Whether you want to establish a consistent writing routine, find the courage to share your words, or finally get a book published, this online workshop will help you:
Identify the primary obstacle keeping you from your best writing
Write a clear vision statement for your work in 2020
REVEAL ALERT: Calling all my fellow Lunartics and Marissa Meyer fans, check out the stepback art for the new paperback edition of SCARLET! Out from FierceReads! You can buy/ pre-order HERE.
Look at how GORGEOUS these are. Scarlet and Wolf are my favorite couple of the series!I can’t wait to buy these!Cinder’s was revealed yesterday, Scarlet today, Cress tomorrow, and Winter on Thursday! Check them all out!And check out my creative photo reveal on myInstagram!