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Katherine Arden on Russian Fairy Tales and Finishing Her Trilogy

This article was written by Keith Rice and originally appeared on Unbound Worlds. We caught up with Katherine Arden at New York Comic Con for a quick chat about how it feels to finish up the Winternight Trilogy, Russian fairy tales, and cupcakes. Unbound Worlds: The Winter of the Witch arrives January 8th — what can you tell us about it? Katherine Arden: Well, it’s the third book in the Winternight Trilogy; it ends the story of Vasilisa Petrovna and her colleagues and relations. It takes place in medieval Russia and, as far as specific plot points, not everyone lives. But it does what I hoped this series would do and it brings Vasilisa from childhood to adulthood. Fully, I think. And that was the most important thing I wanted out of the series, to show the coming of age of this young woman in medieval Russia, and it did. And it was a huge amount of work, and I spent two weeks in a basement to finish it eating only cupcakes. And there were many somewhat angsty calls to my editor in the realm of, like, “It’s not working, it’s not working.” Then it did work and I finished it, and I am so excited to present it to you guys in January. UW: How does it feel to finish up the trilogy? KA: I have mixed feelings. It was huge focus of my life for five years, so letting it go is bittersweet, but I’m also excited to do a non-medieval Russia book. Very excited. And just to have it be over, and to have everyone be able to know what I was planning on doing from start to finish. UW: Did you intend it as a trilogy when you started? KA: I did, although the trilogy that I wrote bears no resemblance to the trilogy that I thought I was going to write however many years ago. Seven now, I think. No resemblance whatsoever. It has the same start point that I intended and the same endpoint. But, the points in between are stranger than I could’ve imagined. I always meant to have it as a trilogy from day one. And I did, so that was good. One point for planner. The only point for planning really. UW: So what peaked your interest in Russia and Russian folklore? You have your degree in Russian, correct? KA: Yeah, in Russian from Middlebury College. I spent a year in Moscow when I was 19, and I went back to Moscow my junior year of college. I’d always loved books based on folklore. I was a huge Robin McKinley fan growing up, and I always loved Russian fairy tales. When I was a kid I had a book of them, illustrated. And then when I was in Russia, one way I learned to speak Russian and to read it was to read fairy tales to myself. And so, I have this kind of background of fairy tales when I started casting about for a book idea. And I was like, oh, I love fairy tale books, I love Russian fairy tales. So a book based on Russian fairy tales just made sense. And then the rest kind of just grew in the telling. UW: Setting the Winternight trilogy in medieval Russia was an interesting choice. What led you to that? KA: Well, at first it was going to be a more fantasy-type setting influenced by Russia. But then it didn’t feel focused and real enough. So, the historical setting, I thought, would ground the fantasy elements, and make them more resonant than just having a sort of abstract fantasy world. I also felt that the medieval Russian setting is not very common in literature, and it would be interesting to show Russia before all the things that we think of as Russian existed. There was no troika or samovars, no tsars, empire, Communism — all those things hadn’t happened yet. I wanted to show the Russia that I’d experienced, free of stereotypes that we have in the West. Part of it was that, was bringing it into a place that was realistic but not weighted with preconceptions. UW: Can you recommend any books on Russian Folklore and mythology for anyone who’s interested in looking into what underpins your trilogy? KA: Absolutely. If you want the master tome, it’d be a book of fairy tales by Alexander Afanasyev. In translation, obviously — they’re written in Russian, but get them translated. It’s a tome of dozens of Russian fairy tales. I would also try Pushkin’s Fairy Tales by A.S. Pushkin. They were written by him, they’re not folklore in the old tradition. But they draw upon oral traditions and they’re very beautiful. I would say Pushkin and Afanasyev are two great go-to’s for Russian Folklore 101. I would also put in the illustrations of Ivan Bilibin, which are incredible sketchings of Russian folklore, like three different fairy tales. UW: Any new projects under way you can tell us about? KA: I’m actually working on something and I’m really excited about. But, I can’t say anything specific right now. There will be news soon, though.
Editor’s note: Want to start at the beginning of The Winternight Trilogy? Grab a copy of The Bear and the Nightingale! If you’re looking for something for a younger audience, be sure to check out Katherine’s new release, Small Spaces — a creepy ghost story for middle grade readers. Cover detail from The Winter of the Witch, courtesy of Penguin Random House

Seanan McGuire talks October Daye, and Her Creepiest Halloween Story

This interview was done at New York Comic Con 2018. We sat down for a quick chat with Seanan McGuire about her October Daye Series, Thylacine’s, and the Halloween when she formed the basis for an actual local legend.       Keith Rice:  The October Daye series is sitting at, like, 12 volumes now. Right? Seanan McGuire:  Right.  13 will come out next year. KR:  Great.  Okay. So, how would you describe it for readers who haven’t had the chance to pick it up yet? SMOctober Daye is what happens when you give a trained folklorist an urban fantasy series and no hard limits. KR:  What was your inspiration for Toby Daye, for the character? SM:  So, the very first book in the October Daye series, Rosemary and Rue, starts out with Toby being turned into a fish and left in a pond at the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco for 14 years.  And that inspiration for that was that I got stuck on top of one of the moon bridges in the Japanese Tea Gardens. They are basically direct, straight up and down circles and I climbed one like a fool and then could not get down and was just watching this one very large Calico koi swim back and forth and thinking, gosh, that fish must have a very peaceful life.  It’s not afraid it’s going to die on top of this bridge.  It can do whatever it wants.  Wouldn’t it suck if that fish used to be a person?  And the whole series kind of unspooled from that point of how miserable can I make this fish that is way too happy when I am frightened. KR:  So, October Daye, the InCryptid series, they all fall pretty broadly under urban fantasy. SM:  Really broadly, yeah. KR:  What draws you to that niche of writing fantasy? SM:  As I mentioned, I am a trained folklorist.  I went to the University of California Berkeley–Go Bears–for a folklore degree.  And fairytales, if you look at them in the context of the time when they were first being told, are the urban fantasy of their day.  When Little Red Riding Hood was a new story that people hadn’t heard before, you probably did have a grandparent or other relative who lived on the other side of a big forest.  You probably had heard of people walking into those woods alone and getting savaged by wolves or bears or something else that lived there.  It was an immediacy in the same way that Charlene Harris’s vampire books have an immediacy because there were these vampires.  They might be living next door.  There are these wolves.  They might be living in the forest between you and your grandma. So, I just really like fairytales and wanted to write today’s fairytales. KR:  So, your first novel was published in 2009 and you’ve been going at a dizzy pace ever since.  How do you juggle your long running series, your music, sleep? SM:  I don’t sleep much.  When “Hamilton” was big, literally every single person I have ever met in more than an immediate and casual sense, sent me a copy of “Nonstop” because they thought that was very funny.  And that I hadn’t heard it 90 times by that point.  It helps that when I was making choices about my life, I said I am a better aunty than I would be a mom.  I don’t want children of my own.  So, I have cats but no kids.  I also am not married at this time.  I think it’s absolutely possible to maintain my level of output with children, but you have to have a spouse that’ll be up for at least 50% of the child-rearing duties.  So, there are juggling acts I don’t have to perform.  And that’s not better or worse than anyone else’s choices.  That’s just–you don’t want to leave me alone with the baby.  I would do something silly like assume it was a cat and just leave it on the floor with a bowl of Captain Crunch while I went off to write a novel.  I don’t sleep enough.  I get yelled at a lot for not sleeping.  I don’t play enough Overwatch, but I do my best. KR:  I know you love travel. SM:  I do.  Well, love is a strong word sometimes. KR:  What’s the one place you want to visit and haven’t had the chance? SM:  I have not yet been to Tokyo which is a little silly when you consider that Tokyo contains everything I love.  It has a Disneyland that I haven’t been to.  It has Pokémon Centers and I own so many Pokémon plush that my friends joke that going into my bedroom is like stepping into the tall grass.  It has entire stores devoted to fancy dolls and I’m a fancy doll collector.  So, Tokyo is really on the big bucket list.  Second on the list is wherever in Australia I can actually finally find a live Thylacine to prove that they are still out there. KR:  Okay.  So, last question.  We’re coming up on Halloween.  What’s your all-time favorite horror story? SM:   My all-time favorite horror story?  My all-time favorite horror story is actually the one I pulled off accidentally.  I grew up very, very poor. I grew up so far below the poverty line that you couldn’t see it on a clear day.  And this meant that Halloween was serious business because for Halloween I could get candy the same as the kids whose parents could afford to buy them candy.  And this means I planned for Halloween like I was planning the siege of a small fictional nation.  I drew up maps.  I would actually and creepily – and I acknowledge as an adult that this was a creepy thing for child-me to do – I would sit in the grocery store and watch to see who bought the good candy and see if I recognize them as the parents of any of my classmates, so that I could prioritize their neighborhoods. I would generally leave the house about six p.m. and stay out until all the pumpkins were off.  And my mother was very distracted.  I had two sisters, one 6 years younger and one 7 years younger.  So, by the time I was nine my mother was not keeping a very close eye on what I did. So, the Halloween when I was 11, I got this long white, nightgown from the Goodwill.  I painted every exposed inch of my body with talcum powder and then went over that with craft glitter.  And it turns out that while I did not quite glow in the dark. I came very, very close to glowing in the dark.  This was not good enough for me, so I mixed up some fake blood and pretty much painted myself in fake blood from the knee down and from the wrist down.  And I had flip-flops on, so it looked like I was barefoot.  So, you have this glowing white, blood-dripping figure.  And that might still have been okay except for the part where to get from the last good neighborhood, which was Bel Air Heights, back to the neighborhood where I live, which was Maclear Courts, I decided it would be a really good idea to walk through the dry storm culverts because it hadn’t rained in a while.  And that would cut off four or five blocks of my trip and a good deal of traffic. So, I went under the road, walked through the storm culvert and then popped up as if from the ground on the side of the creek that faced the Court.  And the man who had been coming around the curve up the street, saw me suddenly appear with no warning whatsoever, not looking like a small child trick or treating, but looking like the dead person from the culvert.  And he crashed his car into a tree.  And it was in the papers the next day.  This man was contesting a drunk driving charge because he hadn’t been driving drunk.  He literally saw a ghost come out of the storm culvert.  And that is my favorite horror story because the kids in that neighborhood still tell it, like there’s a whole urban legend now that this one storm drain is haunted by the ghost of a girl who was killed by a car.  I’m like, no, it’s haunted by a candy hungry 11-year-old and a five dollar nightgown from Goodwill.   Check out Seanan McGuire’s Night and Silence Keith Rice is a West Virginia native and a freelance writer residing in Philadelphia with his lovely, if oft exasperated wife and three cats. Keith fosters an enthusiastic appreciation for beer and scotch, collects comics, and most importantly is an avid reader and movie lover. Oh, he’s a pretty big fan of sci-fi and fantasy as well. Drop him a line @Keith_Rice1.

Author Peter Tieryas talks Mecha Samurai Empire and Alternate History

This interview was done at New York Comic Con 2018. We sat down with Peter Tieryas to talk about Mecha Samurai Empire, alternate history, and what to eat when fighting Nazis.       Keith Rice:  So Mecha Samurai Empire just came out, what can you tell us about it? Peter Tieryas:  So, it is a book about giant Mechas fighting big Nazi monsters.  And it’s a very personal story in that it’s about being Asian-American, and sort of growing up in a place where, literally, on the other side of the continent there is a group of people who want to see their destruction solely based on their ethnicity.  Anyone who doesn’t fit the Aryan Nazi mold should be eliminated.  How do you grow up in that world, right?  Like, what is your view of the world when you’re acutely aware of your race.  And that became the central metaphor.  The best alternate history gives us a different context and a different view of our own world. There’s a lot of entertainment, there’s a lot of action, but also, hopefully there are deeper questions about identity, about ethnicity, and about diversity.  It’s also loosely inspired by Man in the High Castle. KR:  Okay, so this is set in the world of The United States of Japan? PT:  Yep. KR:  What led you to expand on that world? PT:  When I wrote The United States of Japan, I had a deep desire to sort of explore World War II from the Asian side. Growing up I heard all these stories about World War II from the Asian side.  Just really fascinating things.  And when I came to America there was nothing about this perspective, just no information available. It was always focused on more of the European side, you know?  Like what happened with the Nazis, and General Eisenhower and Hitler. I kind of challenge people, how many generals do you know on the Asian side?  Who were fighting the Chinese, who were fighting for the Philippines, right?  Even on the American side, for the average person, there’s very little actually known about World War II.  What battles do you know about? I had this desire to tell a story about that.  So when I wrote it, it was very structured.  It takes place over a couple of days it’s a roller coaster.  You just start and it keeps on going.  But when I was finished, I kind of wanted to know more about the world.  What happens after those days are, right?  What do people eat, how do people hang out, what’s day-to-day life in that alternate history like?  That reminded me – that’s what I really wanted to know about in  Man in the High Castle as well.  What is this world about? Mecha Samurai Empire initially began as an attempt to just explore the world and see what it’s about.  The very first thing I wrote was the alternate history Pledge of Allegiance, which is like, “I pledge Allegiance to the United States of Japan, and to the Empire for…”  When I first wrote that, it kind of became a guiding philosophy for me.  So, you’ll see, it’s like America, and it’ll feel very familiar, but at the last minute there’ll be a little twist and where you’re like, “Whoa, this is a completely different world.”  They completely distorted or misinterpreted, or reinterpreted what we view as certain ideas and philosophies. That, to me, was really fascinating. So, for example, one idea that came up is that they look at The Great Gatsby, which was written in the twenties, and it was an indictment of that era, right. But in normal history, after World War II there was the boom, and everything recovered and America became a behemoth.  In the alternate history of The United States of Japan, America lost, so there was never that boom.  So, they look at Fitzgerald as almost a prophet of the end of the America.  It’s stuff like that, those weird little details. KR:  Okay, so there are a lot of moving parts under the hood here.  You’ve got alternate history, there’s gaming, there’s mecha. What were your biggest influences coming into this story? PT:  There’s a bunch, but I think the biggest from a story-telling perspective was Hideo Kujima.  He did Metal Gear Solid, Zone of the Enders, but what fascinated me about Metal Gear, was that despite the title, it’s not really about metal gear.  It’s about the people involved, and how they’re going to use metal gear.  That, to me, was really  important when I was writing about the mechas.  When you watch a really good mecha movie, if it’s just about the action, the first minute is really exciting.  Then after a while you start going, “Oh, I’m used to this.”  And it almost becomes boring.  It’s like mecha porn.  Or you just become so inured to it. What really differentiates it is if you care about the characters.  And I think with Metal Gear, you go find a boss and the boss has this very strong personality and you remember their personality as you’re fighting them. In the same way I wanted these characters to be memorable.  So that’s where I spent a lot of time – just really focusing on the character interactions.  What does each battle mean? The way they fight, how does that represent who they are? I also took a little bit of inspiration from “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!” – the original game- because each of those characters had so much personality.  So, there’s a character named Honda.  He has big bushy eyebrows that he moves.  And for people who know “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!” they know when he does the his hurricane charge, he actually takes four steps.  So, they actually analyze this mecha data, and they realize, “Oh, every time he does that charge he takes four steps,” They use that to beat him.  And in a little ironic twist, the “Punch Out” referee is Mario, right, he’s Italian.  in the Axis world, Germany and Japan are at odds with each other, but Italy always plays the peacemaker.  In the mecha tournaments, there’s an Italian guy who’s the peacemaker. That’s a nod to Mario and “Punch Out”.  From a literary perspective, obviously Phillip K. Dick, that just goes without saying.  Cordwainer Smith is another one, I just love his storytelling.  Rieko Kodama is another.  She did “Phantasy Star II.” It was one of my very first exposure to science fiction, through that video game.  Where it’s actually about a Utopia that’s really cool and amazing, and then the whole Utopia starts falling apart, and then you find out at the end that humans are the bad guys. KR:  Right. PT:  That’s one of the very few instances – in a movie, book, or whatever – that I can remember, where the villains are ultimately humans. KR:  Are you planning to explore more of Mac’s story, or moving on to something else within the world of United states of Japan PT:  Yeah, so I actually turned in the first draft of the next book to my editor.  It’s a completely different story, completely new characters.  It is following the aftermath of the Berkeley massacre, and the whole battle.  It’s basically a revolution takes place within the United States of Japan. KR:  What three books would you recommend for fans of Mecha Samurai Empire?  PT:  I would say Sleeping Giants is a big one.  I really like the works by Project Itoh.  He did the adaptation of “Metal Gear Solid IV”, but also Project Harmony and Genocidal Organ. Those are just really great.  But between those three, maybe I’d say Genocidal Organ. It really stands out.  And then, while I don’t know if it is necessarily connected to the United States of Japan and Mecha Samurai Empire but, Cameron Hurley’s work. I really love her work, Apocalypse Nyx is great. And then obviously Man in the High Castle, but, you know, that goes without saying. KR: I’m going out on a limb and assuming you’re a gamer. PT:  Yep. KR:  What are you playing right now? PT:  We recently had a baby, so I’ve had to stop.  But the last game that I played was “Spec Ops: The Line.”.  That was an intense experience.  That was, just, like, wow, you know?  Just the world-building and everything. KR:  And that twist is just killer. PT:  Yeah, yeah.  I think I finished it the week before our baby came.  “Persona V” was the big one I played before that.  That just took forever but I really wanted to enjoy it. I actually played through with my wife.  I was very influenced by “Persona”.  What I love about the world-building in “Persona” is that you have to save the world and everything’s going to chaos, but you can also go find a really good ramen, or you can go on a date at a carnival. I love that.  So, in Mecha Samurai Empire, there are food excursions.  Sure, there are Nazis, but you still have to eat, right?   Check out Peter Tieryas’ Mecha Samurai Empire Keith Rice is a West Virginia native and a freelance writer residing in Philadelphia with his lovely, if oft exasperated wife and three cats. Keith fosters an enthusiastic appreciation for beer and scotch, collects comics, and most importantly is an avid reader and movie lover. Oh, he’s a pretty big fan of sci-fi and fantasy as well. Drop him a line @Keith_Rice1.

Oh Poor Horror, Misunderstood: Josh Malerman on Horror’s New Generation

This essay was written by Josh Malerman and originally appeared on Unbound Worlds. Josh Malerman defines the new generation of horror writers as only he can in this inventive essay. Unbury Carol is out now, and Inspection is coming in April 2019.

Oh, poor horror, misunderstood.

Mother says you’re made up of witches and woods, brutal bloodletting, slashers in hoods. But I know better, having eaten my share, saved some for later, stashed under stairs.

Mixed ‘em and matched ‘em and made new pairs.

Mother doesn’t like you. She says you are trite! I try to convince her night after night. I beseeched her, “Dear Mother, open thy mind. Horror is no longer a word you will find so neatly packaged with stuffing and twine.”

“Leave me, dark child, with a full foamy stein. And take your common monsters, speckled with teeth Used so often they put me to sleep. Take your old bones lying out in the rain While I read something compelling and sane.”

Oh, poor horror, misunderstood.

I continued with Mother, as well as I could. My argument expanded to include books she deemed good. “Some say Jane Eyre is as much of a fright as Tanith Lee’s Dreams of Dark and Light. And some cite Melville as a man of such tales, for what could be scarier than a giant white whale? But never mind the classics, fuddy mother of mine, horror no longer grows on the vine Here, let me show you one of mine.”

Here I showed Mother Inspection of mine.

She huffed and she hawed until halfway she knew it, she lifted the book and she almost threw it, then brought it back down to the yarn on her knees, and read the second half at her ease.

“But this isn’t horror, rotten child of mine, for it has no vampires or inverted nines.”

“But Mother, you see! The word is elastic, and all us new writers are made of new plastic! We’ll write of such things, but not cause they’re gaudy, we’re interested in both the mind and the body. We thrill but we think, we’re intellectually naughty. We’re interested in both the mind and the body.”

Dear Mother then frowned and dismissed me again. But she hadn’t yet thrown the book in her hand.

“What does your kind know of the ways of the soul? Coming of age? Quality control? Leave me, braindead child, and take with you your trolls.”

Oh poor horror, misunderstood.

I took leave as she ordered but for only so long, and returned with a stack of new songs. A tower of books, a stack of new songs.

“Horror has changed, Dear Mother it’s true, it’s not the same now as it was for you. The genre is present as the ice in your drink, it’s come up through the pipes and the sink.”

Here Mother looked to the kitchen, to the sink, and I felt I’d made progress, had got her to think.

“The genre has fled from the castles of yore and is no longer steeped in bones and gore–though we love such elements, we love them, it’s true! But did you know the color blue could be as much monster as the thing in the brew? Did you know we see monsters in even baby blue?”

“The way you talk, it’s as if you see scares everywhere.”

“That’s it! That’s right! Even over there!”

I pointed to a corner where nothing was there.

Mother shook her head and pointed, too, a long wrinkled finger and said, “You, oh you. Do you think me so vulgar to believe such a thing? That your genre might be found on a butterfly’s wing?”

“But what better place–do not make a face–for your likeness may match the pattern of lace in the curtains of this room in which we debate, or the pattern indeed of the butterfly’s mate.”

“Oh!” Mother said, shaking her head. “Leave me, gross child, and take your undead. You speak as though you’d marry Dreary and Dread.”

Oh poor horror, misunderstood.

“I’ll leave you, Dear Mother, I’ll go up to my bed. But not without repeating the things that I’ve said. For horror has risen from the graves of yore and can be found now in places never heard of before, or perhaps even the corners of this very room! A brand new monster in this very room!”

She looked to the corner and I felt I’d scored, but I’d need to describe what stood where the walls met the floor.

“Do you see it, Dear Mother? The crown of its head? Why, it’s not even a ghost, it’s not even dead. Nor is it invisible, as you’ve read of before. What stands in this room is More.”

More as a monster?” Mother laughed at me so. “But what sort of horror does More have in store?”

I crossed the room then.

“The livers are living but they still want More. The lovers are loving but they still want More. Mothers are presented with examples but they still want More. Do you see, Dear Mother, we’ve made a monster of More?”

Mother seemed to consider, but did not look resigned.

“I told you,” I said, “the body and the mind.”

She set down my book, took the yarn from her lap, rose to a standing, and clapped a lone clap.

“Bedtime for me, ugly child of mine.” And she made for the staircase of antique pine.

Her opinion, I thought, as hard as the wood.

Oh poor horror, misunderstood.

But as she took the first step, and the step did shriek, she paused without turning to speak: “The way you see it, stairs could be horror. And a person who takes them, an explorer.”

She did turn then, and gave me a wink, nodded her head as if to rethink, then climbed the stairs and called over her shoulder, “Interesting child, you simmer and smolder–do all you new writers think this way? Horror in all things, every day?”

She stopped outside her bedroom up there, perhaps pondering a brand new scare.

“Yes, Dear Mother,” Dear Mother, I swore.

And she whispered, “Not bad,” before closing the door.


Photo by W A T A R I on Unsplash

Penguin Random House Joins Leading Renewable Energy Alliance

We are excited to announce that Penguin Random House has become the first book publisher to sign onto the Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles, part of the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA), which informs utilities and other suppliers what industry-leading, multinational companies are looking for when buying renewable energy from the grid. The program, which is supported by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), launched in July of 2014 with just 12 signatories. Penguin Random House is now the 78th company to sign. Through our paper certification process, LED lighting program, and energy offset programs, among other programs, Penguin Random House continues to improve and implement “green” practices across our operations. Since 2014, we have already reduced our carbon emissions by 10%, and we remain committed to reducing carbon emissions by 10% by 2020 and 20% by 2025 through improvements to our company’s infrastructure and energy-saving capacity.

How to Deal with Plotter’s Block (Which Is Worse Than Writer’s Block)

This article was written by Francesca Hornak and originally appeared on Signature Reads.

This year, with the deadline for my second novel in sight, plotter’s block descended. Plotter’s block is different from writer’s block. Writer’s block, as I see it, is when you have a story but the words aren’t flowing or behaving. Plotter’s block is when you’re itching to write, perhaps you’re already writing — except you have no story. Nothing to reel your readers in. All you have is a jumble of settings, characters, conflicts, scenes. Nothing, in short, that is actually going to hold that blurb. The tricky thing is that actively searching for ideas can feel contrived, and paralyzing. So there’s definitely a case for putting everything on hold, while your subconscious chews things over. But if you’re as impatient as I am, you’ll want to help your subconscious out in the meantime. These, then, are the three places I look for stories (without telling myself I’m looking).

Read the local news Unlike the global or national news, local papers are mines of small-scale human-interest stories. And these stories, the family feuds, the individual tragedies, the community uprisings and the everyday heroes, are exactly the material a novelist needs. It worked for me, anyway. The plot I’ve ended up with for my second novel is based on a story in my local rag about ‘Patient X’ — a mysterious man who had been lying unconscious and unidentified in hospital, for thirty days. The paper’s focus was on the man: Who was he, and how could someone go un-missed ‘in one of the most connected cities in the world’? My focus is going to be on the patient’s neighbors, who find him, call him an ambulance, and are then brought together by the puzzle he presents. Conversations with strangers Everyone has something for your novel, if you let them talk. Case in point: after I’d found Patient X, I met someone at a wedding who told me about a strange man in her very bourgeois street in West London. His house, which he has apparently lived in since birth, looks derelict with boarded up windows. He barely speaks to anyone (although you can faintly hear him playing the violin through those window boards). But every morning he goes to the local tube station, collects a load of free papers, and delivers one to every house on the street. Immediately I thought of Patient X, and what great details these would be for the local ‘loner’ — possibly even details the plot could twist or hinge on. Then there was the man I sat beside on a plane who told me how his mother, sick of making packed lunches every morning, hit on batch-freezing industrial quantities of sandwiches every few months instead. He and his siblings would then get these frozen sandwiches — usually only half defrosted — in their lunchboxes. Admittedly it didn’t spark a whole novel, but something in its muted, suburban madness really appealed to me. And unlike a friend or relative, a stranger is unlikely to find out you plundered their life. If they do, you’ve obviously written a bestseller. Existing stories If you’re really stuck, it’s worth considering any myths, parables, or fairy tales that caught your imagination as a child. I’ve always loved the story of The Prodigal Son — I like the way its themes of sibling rivalry and unconditional parental love are so enduring, and the fact that everyone behaves badly or rashly at some point. I used it to structure my first novel Seven Days of Us, because I knew I wanted to write a family story about one rebellious sister and one who was very attached to her parents. The key to making this method feel fresh and inspiring, I think, is to reverse one aspect of the existing story. In my case, the ‘errant’ sibling was off doing good deeds, rather than squandering her inheritance, while the stay-at-home sibling was very frivolous. I don’t see any shame in this tactic — apparently there are only about seven stories in the world anyway, so it’s no wonder we all get plotter’s block from time to time. Good luck. Plotter’s Block / Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The Authors of Dungeons and Dragons and Art and Arcana talk Research, Art, and D&D History

This interview was done at New York Comic Con 2018. We caught up with Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, and Jon Peterson to discuss their upcoming book Dungeons and Dragons and Art and Arcana, the process behind the book, and of course, the history of D&D.   Keith Rice:  Okay, so you guys are promoting Dungeons and Dragons and Art and Arcana.  What can you tell us about it?  Michael? Michael Witwer:  So, Art and Arcana is a complete, comprehensive visual history of the Dungeons and Dragons brand.  Not just art, but also advertising, ephemera, and all kinds of other imagery that really tells the visual history of the story from beginning to end. KR:  How’d the idea come about? Kyle Newman:  The idea came about because I was back in Dungeons and Dragons, started playing 5th edition, and was ravenous for more material.  I said where is the book?   What have I been missing for the past 10 or 12 years.  Where’s the art book?  Where’s the history book?  And there wasn’t one.  So, I was like, I’ll make the book.  How am I going to make the book?  And I reached out to Michael, I was a fan of Empire of imagination.  And I knew his brother Sam [Witwer] and Michael and I had known each other peripherally on Facebook. I said, would you be interested in doing this?  And he was like, “Absolutely and my friend Jon would be great too, Jon’s a D&D historian.”  So, we started to assemble this group, and Sam was like, “You’re making a book with my brother and I’m not involved?  And I fricking love Dungeons and Dragons, too.”  And I was like, “Well of course, man if you have time, let’s all do this together.”  He was so passionate, so resourceful. We just formed like, a super-team, and all brought different expertise to it.  I saw the idea of the book, but didn’t know exactly what it was going to be.  Is it going to be more history, more art?  What’s the balance between image and word?  Are we going to use native art, are we going to show product covers?  We had to strike that happy medium and curate something special.  So, it wasn’t just the most beautiful-looking art, but it was the most important art.  Not only what came out of our discussion organically and figuring out what the book was going to be.  So, I would say that’s how it came about and then from there once we solidified our idea, we met in Los Angeles, we put a lot of images up on a screen, we went through them, we discussed the merits of each thing, and we stared to formulate the spine of what it would be.  And then there was the archaeological stuff, which I think Jon can speak to, like, the actually the hunting down of things. KR:  Well, actually my next question goes into that.  So, you guys had unprecedented access to the archives at Wizards of the Coast, right?  What was that like? Jon Peterson:  I mean, it was fantastic.  I can’t say enough about how generous the Wizards team was to us with their time.  So, there’s this original company TSR that was bought by Wizards of the Coast.  Unfortunately before that acquisition, though, things ended up scattered to the nine winds, because nobody really knew that they would turn out to be collectible.  Now in a few cases, things that got, like, lost in a warehouse for decades eventually turned up.  The cover of the original basic set, for instance, which is something that Wizards did still have, because somebody found it basically behind a box on some loading deck and fortunately some of their people recognized what it was.  But, for a lot for that stuff from the early days, the 70’s, nobody knew this would be important.  Fortunately, I’ve worked with a collecting community, I’m a collector of D&D memorabilia.  We knew a lot of the right people to go to to find both pristine product, but also the people who owned a lot of the original art.  And for some of it, it’s just a process. It just goes on and on, you turn over rocks and you hear a rumor that this exists, and maybe this person has it, and you do outreach and at the last minute it all just came together. KR:  Jon, what was the oddest thing you found pulling this all together? JP:  The oddest thing that we found pulling this together, hmm? KR:  If you had to pick one. MW:  That’s a good question. KN:  Artistically or informationally? KR:  Either/or. JP:  So probably the one that we have to single out for this is the original Tomb of Horrors, this 1975 adventure.  Now, everyone knows this famous module, this deathtrap module that came out in 1978 that’s called The Tomb of Horrors.  It’s the place you go for characters that you want to die.  You know, you don’t want to play them anymore. It’s full of arbitrary traps, poison gas, pits, spikes, monsters that come in droves, you stick your hand in the devil’s mouth and it gets disintegrated. It’s a terrible thing.  But one of the fascinating things about Tomb of Horrors is that it started as a tournament. And the reason it was so lethal is because they were trying to find a winner, right? And back in 1975, at Origins One, they ran this tournament called The Tomb of Horrors.  What we found, and what we have actually reproduced in full facsimile, for this special edition of Art and Arcana is that tournament version from 1975, with a hand drawn map by Gary Gygax with all the original descriptions, that’s something that would really blow peoples’ minds. KR:  Anyone want to add anything? MW:  Yeah, I’ve got one for you.  So, when it comes to some of the original art, again, as Jon kind of intimated, a lot of this early stuff is homebrew stuff.  They didn’t realize they were making history when they were developing it, right?  A lot of times if you would draft material that you rejected for the original box set of Dungeons and Dragons, you’d probably throw it out.  So, it’s a miracle that some of this stuff survived.  And we were actually lucky enough to gather a few draft pieces that never made the final cut.  We had a witch made by Cookie Corre which didn’t make the final cut, and we have this really peculiar piece called the Big Eye.  Kyle had mentioned the idea of rumored pieces that may or may not have existed.  Well, Jon and I had both heard independently that there was once a something akin to a ground beholder, as it was described to us, that Greg Bell had done. Greg Bell, being one of the original artists, he was just a teenager when this was all happening.  He was asked by Gary [Gygax] to do something that was similar to what we would define as a ground beholder, a beholder connected to the ground.  Well we had looked up and down and sideways and we had never come across anything that looked like this.  Well sure enough at the eleventh hour we found an art collector that had a tremendous trove of art and within this trove – and by the way, John and I had both interviewed Greg Bell individually and he didn’t have any recollection of such a thing – and yet, at the eleventh hour we get this piece that is in fact a ground beholder by Greg Bell with Gary’s handwritten annotation that says “don’t use”, and “no”.  We were able to reproduce that for the book.  So, to say that’s peculiar?  Absolutely.  Unique?  Absolutely. KR: Kyle, do you have anything? KN:  I honestly think the seeing the five probably most important pieces – the Monster Manual, the Dungeon Master Guide, the Fiend Folio, etc.  Seeing all those books in their native form, that art, and being able to put them in this was great. I love seeing that all together.  I think it’s really important. I think fans are going to get a kick out of seeing it without all the logos and everything in its native artist form. KR:  All right one last question to wrap things up.  Favorite class? MW:  Bard. JP:  Magic User. KR:  Kyle? KN: I got to go with Wizard, but I’m loving Clerics, too.   Check out Dungeons and Dragons and Art and Arcana Keith Rice is a West Virginia native and a freelance writer residing in Philadelphia with his lovely, if oft exasperated wife and three cats. Keith fosters an enthusiastic appreciation for beer and scotch, collects comics, and most importantly is an avid reader and movie lover. Oh, he’s a pretty big fan of sci-fi and fantasy as well. Drop him a line @Keith_Rice1.

Mur Lafferty Chats about the Not-So-Complicated-Motivations of Han Solo, Her Favorite Recent Star Wars Characters, and Podcasting

This interview was done at New York Comic Con 2018 and has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. We sat down with Mur Lafferty for a quick chat about Solo: A Star Wars Story, what it was like writing a film novelization, and the not-so-complex motivations of Han Solo.     Keith Rice: Okay, so Solo: A Star Wars Story, was that your first novelization of a film? Mur Lafferty:  Yes, yes it was. KR: What was the process like? ML:  Well I was flown out to San Francisco to Lucasfilm, I had basically the day with the script and then I went home and started writing.  I came up with a couple of additional scene ideas, and those had to be cleared through Lucasfilm. There was a delay on the deadline of the book which was great for me because I got to see the movie and was able to then tweak whatever I had gotten maybe a little wrong, which helped, because there were a couple of things I’d read in the script that I couldn’t quite picture. It was pretty amazing. KR: Can you talk a little bit about some of the new content you explored? ML:  (SPOILER ALERT – Skip this section if you haven’t seen “Solo”) The movie starts out with Han Solo running away from a deal gone bad.  So, I decided I wanted to write that deal.  Backup, say, fifteen minutes, and that’s when the story starts.  We see Han Solo trying to cheat the people he’s selling the coaxium to so he can steal some of it for himself.  Of course that goes very poorly and then he steals the speeder. I also expanded the scene of him at the academy, working with the Navy.  And probably my favorite scene that I added was L3 merging with the Millennium Falcon from her point of view.  Finally, I threw in this crazy idea to put an epilogue in there about what happened to all the coaxium they stole, where Enfys Nest took it, and Lucasfilm actually approved it, which shocked me to my core! I’m like, okay.  I asked for all of this, all the toys in the world, and they delivered. KR: So, you added canon, basically. That’s amazing. ML:  Yeah, so I got to write the epilogue with Saw Gerrera and Jyn and Enfys Nest. KR: What I does it feel like taking on an iconic characters like Hans Solo? ML:  It was intimidating, but he’s –  I mean, let’s be honest, he’s not a complicated character as an adult, and so he’s not a complicated character as a young man.  He’s, you know… “I’m gonna try to ride my bike down this hill, okay the brakes failed, so lets make the best of it, and turn when we need to turn and okay, we’re going faster now, I just want to try not to crash.”  I mean, that’s pretty much how he approached everything in his life.  And so, just making that a little more naive and a little bit more willing—and removing some of the bitterness of his adult life—that’s how I wrote it. KR: How do you find a balance between your podcasting and your writing? ML:  I usually do not podcast as much as I intend to. So, writing is the priority.  And luckily because the shows are about writing, my listeners understand.  Because when I tell them I actually have a book due and podcasts aren’t going to be coming as often, they understand because they’re writers, or they want to be.  Honestly, podcasting doesn’t take that much time.  It’s all the other things, procrastination, or the things that demand you time from home, or deciding that ten minor emails are more important that your daily writing or something. That’s what I struggle with.  It’s not a time thing, it’s a priorities thing. If I can dedicate an hour or two hours a week to podcasting I’d be fine. It’s just finding those two hours among the maelstrom of procrastination and stuff that is my constant struggle. KR: If you could take on another Star Wars character, who would you want to write? ML:  Completely different from Solo?  Gosh, so many. KR: Who’s your top three? ML:  I really want to write some young Finn stories.  I want to know, I mean, something had to happen in his youth that gave that spark of, “I got to get out of here,” kind of thing.  Gosh, I don’t know.  Everyone I think of has already been done by very good authors, and, you know, Leia’s one of my favorite characters of all time but there’s been a lot of stuff told about her. KR: Yeah. ML:  I guess I’m just going towards the newer ones.  I have to say, Enfys Nest, I love her. I think that there are so many stories you can tell about her.  And I think are a lot of stories you could tell about Qi’ra, after she went to take on the Crimson Dawn.  I think a lot of people – I’m going on a tangent here – I think a lot of people were very confused by Qi’ra’s actions. I heard somebody say she was betraying Han.  And I didn’t see that at all. She never ever, ever, said she would go with him.  She never promised anything.  He just assumed and went off on his own little fantasy world. But I would love to follow her and see a little bit more of her reasoning behind things. I guess my top three would be Enfys Nest, Qi’ra and Finn. KR:  What’s your current favorite podcast? ML:  I’m not listening to podcasts right now. I feel awful, I feel awful. KR:  No, don’t. ML:  There’s so many amazing podcasts I hear about now, but I usually use my audio time to listen to books. KR:  How about this.  If you had to pick a podcast to introduce someone to podcasts, what would you recommend?  ML:  Let’s see.  A friend of mine, Rob Walsh, who now works at Libsyn, Liberated Syndication, one of the first podcast hosts, he did a podcasts called podCast 411, where he’d talk about all the news in podcasting.  And that was pretty cool to watch.  For children’s podcasting one of the first people who did that was Grant Baciocco, was Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd.  He took, just, a very small scripted radio show-type format and made it for kids.  It was very funny and really clever.  Gosh, and you know for fiction, Scott Sigler I believe is still doing a lot of fiction and a lot of keeping up with everything.  He’s putting out a lot of content as well as his books. Check out Mur Lafferty’s Solo Keith Rice is a West Virginia native and a freelance writer residing in Philadelphia with his lovely, if oft exasperated wife and three cats. Keith fosters an enthusiastic appreciation for beer and scotch, collects comics, and most importantly is an avid reader and movie lover. Oh, he’s a pretty big fan of sci-fi and fantasy as well. Drop him a line @Keith_Rice1.

5 Pieces of Writing Advice No One Tells You

This article was written by Abbi Waxman and originally appeared on Signature Reads.

In my opinion, most writing advice focuses on totally the wrong thing: The wordy bit. Thinking about what you’re going to write and how to say it — sure, yeah, that’s important. Characters, motivations, yes, yes, yes. But there are other challenges bedeviling today’s writer, and several of them are misleadingly trivial and oft overlooked. I’ll tackle those instead, because “misleadingly trivial” is an excellent band name. Here are five pieces of writing advice no one tells you.

1. Wear Layers You’d be surprised how much body temperature affects your work. Think of yourself as a racehorse; too cold and you’ll pull a muscle, too hot and you’ll get all lathery and need a really short guy to take you outside and walk you around in circles. Consider your environment, dress accordingly, then add two layers. Coffee shops are often overly air conditioned, presumably to stop writers from moving in permanently. It hasn’t stopped me, but then, I’m a highly trained professional. 2. Dress Loose I don’t know about you, but when I’m working I either type like a dervish, caressed by the muse and happily pounding away, or curled up in the chair like a pinched worm, wondering whether it’s too late to train as a veterinary nurse. For this reason — and also the general reason that life is too short for non-elasticated waistbands — wear comfortable clothing with plenty of room. You may need to assume one of the classic writer’s positions: The Hunch, The Self-Hug, The Horrified Stare, or The Forehead-Desk Pose, and non-stretch fabrics will restrict your creative flow. 3. Bring Snacks I personally like small snacks I can pop in my mouth while making vital author-type choices (is he frowning? glaring? frowning? glaring?). I favor nuts, because they’re high in some better thing whilst being low in some other, worse thing, and I particularly favor pistachios, because I can shell a load of them at once while making tougher choices (is the character dead? is he alive? dead? alive? both??) and then eat the resultant pile of little green nuggets during the lesser decisions (see original parentheses). Popcorn is okay, although sometimes I lose concentration because I’m fishing those little translucent kernel covers out of my aging teeth. I’ve flirted with M&Ms and other small chocolate items, but it turns out I have this weird allergy wherein if I eat pounds and pounds of chocolate my body gains weight. I think it’s just me; you’re probably fine. 4. Your Butt is your Achilles heel. Writing isn’t a particularly dangerous job, let’s be honest. Over-caffeination is an ever-present threat, but when was the last time a writer got harpooned or ripped asunder by a giant threshing machine … while writing? Not recently. However, the literary career does take a physical toll. Non-ergonomic seating can lead to painful Gluteus Numbeous, or Neckus Stiffus, not to mention more poetically named afflictions such as Creaky Scapula, Notetaker’s Neck or, worst of all, Mangle Wrists.  This is not a modern problem: Charles Dickens had a shocking case of Peripheral Plume Disease and Henry David Thoreau took all those walks around Walden Pond in order to stop his ankles from seizing up.* Take frequent rests, lie down as much as possible, and keep a bag of frozen peas at the ready. That’s my advice. 5. The Final and Most Important Piece of Writing Advice: When in Doubt, Nap. Writing is hard. Often you can’t think of what to say, or who should say it, or what the other guy should say back to the first guy, and you end up with your hands in your pockets watching YouTube videos about dog rescues rather than getting anything done. You know what’s a better use of your time? Sleeping. Lie down, cover yourself with your softest blanket in your favorite color, and gently lower those eyelids to a count of three. When you wake up you’ll either have a solution to your problem, or just be closer to bedtime, and that’s a win in anyone’s book. In a nutshell, that’s the best advice I can give: Wear layers, dress comfortably, maintain appropriate snack levels, watch your posture, and nap whenever possible. Keep all that in mind and the actual writing-down-the-words part will be no problem at all. *Neither of these things is true, but wouldn’t it be great if they were? Writer typing article © Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock
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