Saturday, June 23, 2018

Born to the Blade: An Interview with Michael R. Underwood and Marie Brennan


Please welcome Michael R. Underwood and Marie Brennan to The Qwillery to answer some questions about Born to the Blade, a Serial Box series. The first episode, Arrivals, was published on April 18, 2018. The series is written by Marie Brennan, Cassandra Khaw, Malka Older, and Michael R. Underwood.







TQWelcome to The Qwillery. How did the Born to the Blade serial come about?

Michael R. Underwood (MRU):  Born to the Blade started as a magic system I imagined over ten years ago. I wanted to have magic that felt embodied, that was the opposite of the D&D stereotype of the frail wizards that can’t lift a sword. In this world, magical talent isn’t heritable, but it is common enough that each nation has their own way of considering and utilizing people with the gift. Bladecraft, the magic of this world, uses edged metal for carving sigils to create magical effects. I first explored the world in a very pulpy sky pirate adventure (a trunk novel, never to be seen) that set up some of the political tensions we explored in Born to the Blade (Quloo’s aerstone shortage, Mertikan imperialism, Tsukisen’s isolationism).

When I found out about Serial Box, I got in touch and talked with co-founders Julian Yap and Molly Barton about what they were looking for, and developed several pitches. Born to the Blade, re-working a concept I had for an unfinished novel in the setting, was the one that most excited them, so we developed the world together toward the series order. And here we are, with the fabulous team of Malka Older, Cassandra Khaw, and myself weaving the tale for readers to enjoy.



TQWhat's Born to the Blade about? How many episodes will it be?

MRU:  Born to the Blade is an epic fantasy series of diplomacy, swordplay, and magic, focusing on duelist-diplomats from a variety of nations that work together in an analogue to the UN security council based in the neutral city of Twaa-Fei. It’s a story about people caught between personal loyalties and national loyalties, between friendship and duplicity, between ambition and compassion. Another way that I’ve been pitching it is like Avatar the Last Airbender meets The West Wing, with magic swordfights.

The first season is eleven episodes, and if we get renewed, I’d love to take the series forward with a total of three to five seasons. I have plans for a three-season version and a five-season version, so we’ll see where the winds of fate take us.



TQWhy is this story suited to the serial format?

MRU:  Born to the Blade was specifically built for the Serial Box format, drawing on drama series like Babylon 5 and Game of Thrones that unfold story bit by bit, balancing a cohesive story for each episode with the ongoing serial drama of character arcs and widescreen storytelling about war, diplomacy, and so on.



TQPlease tell us in general how the collaborative process works with each of you writing different episodes? Do each of you try to write in the same style for each episode?

MRU:  We kicked off the development process for season one with a weekend-long writers’ summit, where all four of us on the writers’ team talked about what we wanted the series to be, ideas about the world and characters, and once we had the world, characters, and their relationships more firmly established, we broke the story for season one, with character arcs, twists, mysteries, and so on. We broke the story within the episode structure, so that we already had a pretty clear sense of what major story beats went where in the season.

The actual collaboration process was not unlike a TV show, where each episode was assigned to one member of the writing team. For each episode, we developed a more detailed outline which the team discussed, then wrote the episode and shared with the team, arranged in phases (roughly act one, two, and three of the season). We all gave feedback on each episode, so while any given episode is entirely written by just one team member, every episode represents all of our ideas and creativity. We didn’t push ourselves to all write in identical prose styles, but as the team lead, I did take the lead in setting the tone and approach for the series in writing the pilot episode before any of the other episodes were written, helping us find the voice and approach for the series and characters (though as I said above, all of this represents everyone’s approach rather than just my own).



TQWhat do you like about writing a serial? Is writing episodes in a serial easier or harder than writing a novella?

MRU:  It’s been a great challenge to pack in as much story as possible to 10K word episodes (about 40 pages or an hour of audio). I’m definitely more used to novella and novel-length writing, so I have had to continually push myself to focus, to make every scene do double or triple duty, and to pack as much worldbuilding into other parts of the story as possible in order to keep the wordcount on target.
Working on Born to the Blade has definitely helped me become a stronger writer, and I have also set myself other challenges, like writing fight scenes that are exciting and easy to follow while also being emotionally resonant.



TQWhat is the easiest and hardest thing about writing a serial?

Marie Brennan (MB): It might seem counter-intuitive, but I feel like one of the easiest things was making sure every episode had something cool happening in it. An episode isn't the same thing as a chapter; if you think about a TV show and compare it to a novel, you'll generally see a different structure for how they're broken up. (Depending on the writer. Some novelists structure their books like TV shows.) Both approaches work, but once I got my brain into TV-style gear, it was pretty easy to think of each episode as having some kind of set-piece or ending punch, rather than building toward the ultimate end goal in a more gradual fashion.

The hardest thing was making we kept all the balls in the air. Most novels focus on only one or two protagonists, or if they have more, each one tends to get their own chapter. But because Serial Box's projects are structured more like TV series, we had to make sure the central characters were doing something significant in every episode, and the secondary characters weren't neglected for too long. It creates challenges for pacing both within an episode and across the whole season.



TQDo you have a favorite secondary character?

MB: Several! Our development process meant we spent a chunk of time considering each major secondary character directly, rather than focusing only on the main protagonists and positioning everyone else in relation to them. My answer changes from day to day; I wrote a piece for Mary Robinette Kowal's "My Favorite Bit" feature about Bellona Avitus, the junior warder for Mertika. But while she's one of my favorite bits of the story, I don't actually like her -- she's really not a good person.

So I'll choose Ueda no Takeshi, the Ikaran warder. I can't go into detail as to why without giving spoilers, but he's a "still waters run deep" kind of guy. And I like that he's a nerd: he studies the magical elements of his world, like the birthrights people acquire from being born on a particular island, and gets his strength from knowlege as much as his ability to hit people with a sword. (He's actually not all that great at hitting people with a sword.)



TQHave any of the characters in Born to the Blade been surprising?

MRU:  A lot, especially because I’ve had the fortune of witnessing how Malka, Marie, and Cassandra write the characters and take them in ways I didn’t expect. I think Bellona came to surprise all of us, as we dug in on what made her tick, how she tried to deal with Lavinia (her superior)’s domineering and demanding approach, as well as the ways that we showcased Bellona’s calculating but obvious social maneuvering through the baby shower and other efforts to make a grand gesture or big display.



TQWhat kinds of research have you done for Born to the Blade?

MRU:  A lot of the research that shows up in Born to the Blade was more a result of me and the other team members applying what we already knew, from martial arts (unarmed and swordplay) to the material and intangible culture of a variety of civilizations and peoples from around the world that we drew from to create the numerous nations of the sky. Marie did a bunch of extra work in developing a resource document for hairstyles and clothing notes for the different nations, condensing and clarifying the brainstorming that all four of us had done along the way.



TQAre social issues touched upon in Born to the Blade?

MRU:  The issues we touch on most directly are imperialism and colonialism, with Michiko as a subject of the Mertikan empire. But with Quloo we have a story that resonates with peak oil and/or climate change. Because it is a political and diplomatic series, social issues are never far from the surface, and I am especially happy with the ways that the team was always very conscious of the different levels that character actions and big moves in the story operated on, always boiling down to power – who has it, who uses it, for what purpose, and with what unintended effects.



TQAny hints to what is upcoming for Oda no Michiko and Kris Denn?

MRU:  Michiko, Kris, and Ojo are all in very different places at the end of the season than they were at the series’ start, with new perspectives, drastically different relationships, and new objectives emerging from the action and intrigue of the season. Born to the Blade is the most character-driven story I’ve worked on as a writer, which makes it very exciting, as I came out of the season with a clear sense of what each character wants based on the season’s events, and what they’re willing to do now to achieve those goals.

Just talking about it makes me want to dive back in and start writing season two. But that will have to wait to see how readers react and whether the series has earned enough support to get picked up (again, think TV series). So if you have already been reading and want to see more, make sure to spread the word and encourage friends to subscribe and read, too!



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery!





Born to the Blade is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, Google Play, iBooks, Kobo and Serial Box.

The Episodes:

 1.  Arrivals by Michael R. Underwood
 2.  Fault Lines by Marie Brennan
 3.  Baby Shower by Cassandra Khaw
 4.  The Gauntlet by Michael R. Underwood
 5.  Trade Deal by Malka Older
 6.  Spiraling by Marie Brennan
 7.  Dreadnought by Cassandra Khaw
 8.  Refugees by Malka Older
 9.  Assassination by Malka Older
10. Shattered Blades by Marie Brennan
11. All the Nations of the Skies by Michael R. Underwood

Look for Born to the Blade: The Complete Season One on July 27th:

For centuries the Warders' Circle on the neutral islands of Twaa-Fei has given the countries of the sky a way to avoid war, settling their disputes through formal, magical duels. But the Circle's ability to maintain peace is fading: the Mertikan Empire is preparing for conquest and the trade nation of Quloo is sinking, stripped of the aerstone that keeps both ships and island a-sky. When upstart Kris Denn tries to win their island a seat in the Warder’s Circle and colonial subject Oda no Michiko discovers that her conquered nation's past is not what she's been told, they upset the balance of power. The storm they bring will bind all the peoples of the sky together…or tear them apart.





The Authors

Marie BrennanWebsiteTwitter
Cassandra KhawFacebookTwitter
Malka OlderWebsiteTwitter
Michael R. UnderwoodWebsiteTwitter

Pix: Too Super for School Wins 2 Kids' Comics Awards


KIDS PICK PIX AT THE 2018 KIDS' COMICS AWARDS

PORTLAND, OR, 06/22/2018 — Gregg Schigiel's original graphic novel, PIX: TOO SUPER FOR SCHOOL, took home two Kids' Comics Awards at a ceremony held on Saturday, June 16th as part of the Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF). PIX won in the categories “Favorite Author” and “Be Cool, Stay in School” (for books set in school).

“These are the only comics awards exclusively about comics for younger readers and the love and appreciation for that material shows,” said Schigiel. “The categories are unique and fun, the ceremony itself is joyous and entertaining, kids vote for the winners, and the trophy is a literal toy! When I learned about these awards I dreamed of winning one. That Pix got two nominations and then won them both feels like overkill...but I'm not giving them back!”

While kids and teens vote for the KCA winners (who receive a Lego mini-figure trophy), the final nominees and categories are curated by active and retired librarians based upon online open nominations and internal review of material released in the prior year.

PIX, a superhero/fairy tale mash-up, follows the adventures of Pix, a teenage superhero who believes herself a fairy princess. TOO SUPER FOR SCHOOL, the second volume in the series, has Pix dealing with the challenges of her fairy beliefs and superhero actions at school.

The PIX books are intended for middle-grade readers, a growing category in publishing, particularly for graphic novels. Schigiel hopes the Kids' Comics Awards wins will bring some attention to the series he writes and illustrates. He added: “I love the Lego trophy, but the bigger 'prize' is the potential to raise awareness of the Pix books... I'm excited for the new eyes this can bring.”

2018 marks the sixth year for Kids' Comics Awards. Other winners at the 2018 ceremony included Hilo by Judd Winnick, Phoebe & Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson, Brobots by J. Torres and Sean Dove, Science Comics: Dogs by Andy Hirsch, and the anthology SpongeBob Comics. Past winners include kids' comics notables Raina Telgemeier, Jeff Kinney, Nathan Hale, Kazu Kibuishi and Chris Giarrusso.

For more information about PIX, please visit http://pixcomic.com. For more about Gregg Schigiel, visit http://hatterentertainment.com.


ABOUT IMAGE COMICS
Image Comics is a comic book and graphic novel publisher founded in 1992 by a collective of bestselling artists. Image has since gone on to become one of the largest comics publishers in the United States. Image currently has five partners: Robert Kirkman, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino. It consists of five major houses: Todd McFarlane Productions, Top Cow Productions, Shadowline Comics, Skybound Entertainment, and Image Central. Image publishes comics and graphic novels in nearly every genre, sub-genre, and style imaginable. It offers science fiction, fantasy, romance, horror, crime fiction, historical fiction, humor and more by the finest artists and writers working in the medium today. For more information, visit
www.imagecomics.com.

The Weatherman - Special Wraparound Cover Revealed


SPECIAL WRAPAROUND COVER OF THE WEATHERMAN REVEALED

PORTLAND, OR, 06/21/2018 — Image Comics is pleased to reveal a special, breathtaking wraparound cover for THE WEATHERMAN #2 by Jody LeHeup (SHIRTLESS BEAR-FIGHTER) and Nathan Fox (DMZ, HAUNT, Dark Reign: Zodiac). This limited cover will feature artwork by Fox and will hit select stores this July.

THE WEATHERMAN follows Nathan Bright—a man who had it all: an awesome girlfriend, a kickass dog, and a job as the number one weatherman on terraformed Mars. But when he’s accused of carrying out the worst terrorist attack in human history—an event that wiped out nearly the entire population of Earth—Nathan becomes the most wanted man alive and a target of a manhunt that spans the galaxy. But is Nathan truly responsible for such a horrific crime? And why can’t he remember?

THE WEATHERMAN #2 Cover A (Diamond Code MAY180284), THE WEATHERMAN #2 Cover B (Diamond Code MAY180285), and THE WEATHERMAN #2 Cover C (Limited, Diamond Code MAY188886) wraparound cover will be available on Wednesday, July 18th. The final order cutoff deadline for comics retailers is Monday, June 25th.

[click to embiggen]

ABOUT IMAGE COMICS
Image Comics is a comic book and graphic novel publisher founded in 1992 by a collective of bestselling artists. Image has since gone on to become one of the largest comics publishers in the United States. Image currently has five partners: Robert Kirkman, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino. It consists of five major houses: Todd McFarlane Productions, Top Cow Productions, Shadowline Comics, Skybound Entertainment, and Image Central. Image publishes comics and graphic novels in nearly every genre, sub-genre, and style imaginable. It offers science fiction, fantasy, romance, horror, crime fiction, historical fiction, humor and more by the finest artists and writers working in the medium today. For more information, visit
www.imagecomics.com.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Interview with Jonathan French, author of The Grey Bastards - And 2 Reviews


Please welcome Jonathan French to The Qwillery, as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Grey Bastards was published on June 19th by Crown.







TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

Jonathan:  Let's see...It was a fantasy story I wrote in 4th grade. I was living in England at the time and my teacher, Ms. Carlsen, was an amazing Dutch woman that read The Hobbit to her class every year as a tradition. I'd already read it, but I loved hearing her read it aloud because she had such love for the story. She encouraged me to read The Lord of the Rings, to draw scenes from the book, and to write my own fiction. I ended up writing this multi-chapter short story that was more akin to Dragonlance and the Golden Axe video game than to Tolkien. But she was still unbelievably supportive to the point that she had me read it aloud to the class, which was simultaneously awkward and exhilarating.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Jonathan:  I'm a hybrid who leans heavily to the pantsing side.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Jonathan:  Consistency. I don't defend my writing time very well. My son is 5 and the stuff he is doing is just so much more fun than staring at a screen and thumping at keys. I also hate trying to describe architecture. And physics.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Jonathan:  Living abroad as a kid was a major influence. I was this 9-year-old from Tennessee that had recently discovered Dungeons & Dragons and comic books, and the next thing I know I'm living in a place where medieval castles and cathedrals can be visited after school. And it all compounded from there. The interests spread to military history, weapons/warfare, wargaming, art history, all while beginning to absorb book after book: Middle-earth, Prydain, Discworld, Redwall, Conan. Those trends have continued almost uninterrupted as I've gotten older, but have also been supplemented by new pursuits like fatherhood and an interest in wilderness survival.



TQDescribe The Grey Bastards in 140 characters or less.

Jonathan:  #TheGreyBastards is a raucous tale of half-orcs riding huge war pigs. It’s been hailed as one of the filthiest books ever written. It’s now available!



TQTell us something about The Grey Bastards that is not found in the book description.

Jonathan:  Halflings in this world live underground, but instead of nice cozy hobbit-holes, they dwell in the ancient tomb of a fallen human god, sending out pilgrims to endlessly search the world for every last relic of the deity's time as a mortal warlord.



TQWhat inspired you to write The Grey Bastards? What appeals to you about writing Epic Fantasy?

Jonathan:  My wife was the one that insisted I write the story as a novel. Originally, the story was a half-formed idea for a Dungeons & Dragons game. I had painted a bunch of cool half-orc models that I wanted to use for my next game and I always like to provide my players with an element that firmly connects their characters out of the gate. Sons of Anarchy gave me the notion of a mounted gang, so I figured on having that gang be “half-orcs only.” My wife suggested I use hogs instead of horses, though I was concerned it was a little too obvious. She also said, “Forget the game. Write the fucking book.” That pretty much set the tone for the entire thing!

Far as Epic Fantasy goes, it’s always called to me as a reader and I write what I want to read. The possibilities are endless and, for me, it only gets better when married to elements from our own world history. Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age as an alternate version of our own past, Tolkien's use of Anglo-Saxon folklore, even the original Old World of Warhammer, I find all of that to be such a wonderful gateway into learning about real world events. I would love for The Grey Bastards to spark some young reader's interest in medieval Spain. So many people find history to be dull, but fantasy can be the sugar that helps the medicine go down.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Grey Bastards?

Jonathan:  I did a massive amount of reading about Reconquista-era Spain. S.S. Wyatt's translation of Daily Life in Portugal in the Middle Ages by A. H. de Oliveira Marques was invaluable. I also had to do a fair amount of internet research about different species of swine in order to make the riding hogs believable.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Grey Bastards.

Jonathan:  The cover was designed by artist and photographer Larry Rostant, along with Little, Brown Book Group creative director Duncan Spilling. It depicts the POV protagonist, Jackal; a young, cunning half-orc rider and member of the Grey Bastards.



TQIn The Grey Bastards who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Jonathan:  Oats was probably the easiest. Mostly because he never gave me any problems. I always knew what he was going to say and how he was going to react. Plus, he’s both overestimated and underestimated at the same time; he’s pretty vulnerable despite his size and strength, and also far from stupid despite initial appearances. My inspiration for him was a mix of Jayne Cobb (from my favorite TV show Firefly) and the late, great MMA fighter Kimbo Slice, so I had a solid foundation to work with when writing him.

The most difficult to write was definitely Starling. I knew having a female character that was seemingly helpless through most of the book would cause trouble for some readers. But I was (and still am) playing a rather long game with her, so I kept the course despite second-guessing it on many, MANY occasions.



TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Grey Bastards?

Jonathan:  It was never a conscious choice. I didn't have that moment where I thought: "I'm going to address X issue!" However, I don't see how they can be avoided in a believable world. They exist, period. Bigotry, racism, and sexism are certainly a part of real life, and I could not avoid their inclusion in a book about mixed-race characters living in a male-dominated society. As a pantser, the issues came to the page organically, so I was forced to face them down. Or rather, the characters were. I tried to keep my opinions out of it and not preach or come down on any side. The characters are flawed, but they are also products of their experiences and there were opportunities that allowed them to evolve. This shit is complicated and messy in real life, so I hope that's what came to the page.



TQWhich question about The Grey Bastards do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Jonathan:  The question would be: Do you ever dream about The Grey Bastards being adapted into a tabletop wargame? And the answer is: Yes! Everyone raves about A Song of Ice & Fire getting an HBO show, but I think GRR Martin's real victory was getting a miniatures wargame. I daydream all the time about a gorgeous line of models: half-orc hog-riders, centaur marauders, orc raiders, noble and low-born cavaleros, Unyar scouts. I write up army lists for each of the hoofs and mull over a rules set for a game focused on mounted combat.



TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Grey Bastards.

Jonathan:  Oh, these are always tricky because my memory is awful! Here goes:

1) Jackal likened religion to madness. He had heard that in the north, in the great cities of Hispartha, there were more temples than well-fed children, that a hundred faceless gods received the wealth of the nobles and the fearful pleas of the peasants. He found that difficult to imagine, but Delia, Ignacio, and others had assured him it was true. Thankfully, such belief was all but unknown in Ul-wundulas. Perhaps the badlands were gods-forsaken, but Jackal preferred to think that the Lots were home to those who had no need of invisible old men, dog-headed demons, and sour-faced crones. Here, faith was better placed in a strong mount, a loaded stockbow, and a few solid companions.

and

2) Roundth was standing in his stirrups, balanced perfectly, and windmilling his exposed cock around in one hand as he passed. The damn thing was as thick as a floppy tankard.



TQWhat's next?

Jonathan:  The sequel is next! More Bastards are coming in March 2019. Sex! Violence! Vulgarity! Half-orc! Hogs! For those that wish to return to The Lots, it'll be a fun ride!



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Jonathan:  Are you kidding? It was my pleasure. Thank you for having me!





The Grey Bastards
The Lot Lands 1
Crown, June 19, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 432 pages

“A dirty, blood-soaked gem of a novel [that reads] like Mad Max set in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. A fantasy masterwork.”Kirkus Reviews (starred)


Live in the saddle.

Die on the hog.

Call them outcasts, call them savages—they’ve been called worse, by their own mothers—but Jackal is proud to be a Grey Bastard.

He and his fellow half-orcs patrol the barren wastes of the Lot Lands, spilling their own damned blood to keep civilized folk safe. A rabble of hard-talking, hog-riding, whore-mongering brawlers they may be, but the Bastards are Jackal’s sworn brothers, fighting at his side in a land where there’s no room for softness.

And once Jackal’s in charge—as soon as he can unseat the Bastards’ tyrannical, seemingly unkillable founder—there’s a few things they’ll do different. Better.

Or at least, that’s the plan. Until the fallout from a deadly showdown makes Jackal start investigating the Lot Lands for himself. Soon, he’s wondering if his feelings have blinded him to ugly truths about this world, and the Bastards’ place in it.

In a quest for answers that takes him from decaying dungeons to the frontlines of an ancient feud, Jackal finds himself battling invading orcs, rampaging centaurs, and grubby human conspiracies alike—along with a host of dark magics so terrifying they’d give even the heartiest Bastard pause.

Finally, Jackal must ride to confront a threat that’s lain in wait for generations, even as he wonders whether the Bastards can—or should–survive.

Delivered with a generous wink to Sons of Anarchy, featuring sneaky-smart worldbuilding and gobs of fearsomely foul-mouthed charm, The Grey Bastards is a grimy, pulpy, masterpiece—and a raunchy, swaggering, cunningly clever adventure that’s like nothing you’ve read before.





About Jonathan
Photo by Casey Gardner
JONATHAN FRENCH lives in Atlanta with his wife and son. He is a devoted reader of comic books, an expert thrower of oddly shaped dice, and a serial con attendee.













Website  ~  Twitter @JFrenchAuthor  ~  Facebook







Melanie's Thoughts (during the 2016 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off)

If you take the orcs, the elves and the dwarves from Middle Earth, mix in some rampaging centaurs with a big helping of not very nice humans, quite a bit of swearing and a multi-layered plot then you have The Grey Bastards. Set in the bleak landscape of ‘the Lotlands’ The Grey Bastards, an elite group of half orc militia. protect their community from almost everyone else. The hero of this tale is not a tall dark and handsome knight on a white charger but rather, a greyish green half orc named Jackal who thunders onto the battle field on enormous multi-tusked hog. That doesn’t make him any less heroic. When Jackal discovers that elvin women are being held captive by a sludge monster, that the leader of Bastards might be involved and there are more and more incursions of full blooded orcs killing his friends and community then Jackal decides to take a stand….and one he might not survive.

I tentatively started The Grey Bastards as I wasn’t completely sure I would like it. I am not normally a fan of this type of fantasy so when I found myself staring at the cover I decided to give it a go. I loved it. This isn’t a book if you are sensitive to blood, guts and swearing so be warned but the plot is soo engaging. Despite Jackal’s penchant for prostitutes, overuse of certain misogynistic words used by some presidents and the fact he had tusks, he was very much the traditional hero – tall, handsome, fights the good fight and protects the innocent.

French has crafted an ambitious but intricate plot. I never knew what was going to happen next or whether Jackal would live to tell the tale. This is a sign of a good book in my view. I could very easily recommend this as one of the best books of SPFBO 2016 and potentially one of my favourite books of this year.



Doreen's Thoughts (now)

When I first started reading The Grey Bastards, I knew it was an homage to the television show, “Sons of Anarchy,” but when discovering the names of the main characters, Jackal (Jax), Oats (Opie), and the Claymaster (Clay), I thought they were a little too close to the real thing. Then I discovered that these half-orcs rode hogs – real, animal hogs – and I almost gave up reading what I thought might be a spoof. I kept reading, and despite my misgivings, I started to get caught up in the story.

There is some tremendous world-building here. I loved the description of the kiln, their hideout, where the walls can be heated to kill any intruders. Then there was the Hogback, which is a ramp that can be raised and lowered to let the hogs and their riders out over the walls. There are the sludges, gelatinous creatures that can envelop and suck the life out of a creature, and the Rohks, flying predators who could carry a whole hog. The magic is different, created out of smoke and sparks.

Given the nature of the show, I expected the sex and violence to be more graphic than it is; however, many of the other descriptions are just as graphic and gross as can be.

Just as in “Sons of Anarchy,” this hoof (club) is being run by a corrupt tyrant whose time has come. Jackal has discovered that the Claymaster is making deals and paying for them using elves, a violation of the treaty they have which could lead to war. As he comes closer to taking over leadership of the Bastards, he discovers that perhaps they are not the fierce proctors of the Lot lands that they think they are; perhaps they are simply the dregs of humanity left to survive on scraps. Along with his backups, Fetching and Oats, and the wizard, Crafty, Jackal will find out about the Bastards and their place in the Lot Lands, even if it kills them all.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Interview with C.L. Polk, author of Witchmark


Please welcome C.L. Polk to The Qwillery, as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Witchmark was published on June 19th by Tor.com.







TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

C.L.:  I remember a story I wrote in elementary school about a group of nine year old girls at a carnival who had to escape a haunted house ride that was honestly haunted by the family who had founded the carnival. I was nine, so I feel it was probably a good depiction of how nine-year-olds think of themselves when they're cast as heroes.


TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

C.L.:  Definitely a hybrid. I start off plotting, and then get to a point where I don't know what happens next...but instead of figuring it out, I just write until i get to the end of what I outlined and figure it out as I go.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

C.L.:  I think the biggest challenge is the battle with perfectionism. Every novelist writes through doubt, and you never really vanquish it. I think that's all right, because that doubt means you're striving beyond your comfort zone and taking a risk. That's what the process of any art is about, I believe.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

C.L.:  Everything does. What I read, what I watch, the world outside - anything that makes me interested or intrigued.



TQDescribe Witchmark in 140 characters or less.

C.L.:  While resisting his family's demands and his detective partner's charm, a doctor discovers the secret that cost his patient his life.



TQTell us something about Witchmark that is not found in the book description.

C.L.:  Miles is actually solving two mysteries at once. He's investigating a murder, but he's also deeply troubled by what his healing powers show him when he touches some of his patients at the hospital. But because he can't reveal his magic, he's trying to find a conventional way to "discover" it so he can alert his colleagues to the condition.



TQWhat inspired you to write Witchmark? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?

C.L.Witchmark was the product of about six months of simmering ideas about a character in a world rather than a bolt of inspiration. it's many small ideas braided together to make a story. I like to write fantasy because you can write about nearly anything you want and add magic, and that combination has always been irresistible to me.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for Witchmark?

C.L.:  I had to research nearly everything in the book. I started with fashion, material culture, technology, and medical advances that happened on earth in the early 20th century. I looked up the history of skyscrapers. I read about the big cities of the period, mainly London, New York, and Chicago, with some looking into Toronto and Vancouver. I read about mythology, folklore, supernatural beings, and I mashed all that together to create the Amaranthines. I studied the weather, particular advances in forensic pathology, policing in the UK, Canada, and the United States. I think every page of the book has the product of research on it somewhere.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for Witchmark.

C.L.:  The cover's amazing. It was designed by Will Staehle, and I think it captures the feel of the novel without being too revealing. It shows the most distinctive features of the city's worldbuilding - bicycles and apple trees fill the streets, and depicts the three central characters of the book.



TQIn Witchmark who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

C.L.:  The easiest was a very minor character in the story, one you don't meet until later, and only briefly. Alice sprang onto the page exactly as she was. The most difficult was probably Miles himself, because I had to do so much background writing to really understand him.



TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Witchmark?

C.L.:  I didn't sit down and think "I will write a story about social issues." I knew that my outlook and politics would soak into every word, so I let that happen as it would. I wrote about social class and the geopolitics of cities and the effect war had on those who fought it, but I didn't start there. All art is deeply political. I couldn't have written this book, or any book, without making any sort of comment or opinion on political and social issues.



TQWhat's next?

C.L.:  What's next is the sequel to Witchmark. I'm working on it right now.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

C.L.:  Thank you! I'm glad to have a chance to talk about Witchmark with you and your readers.





Witchmark
Tor.com, June 19, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 320 pages

C. L. Polk arrives on the scene with Witchmark, a stunning, addictive fantasy that combines intrigue, magic, betrayal, and romance.

One of Publishers Weekly's Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2018!

In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England in the shadow of a World War, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations, while one young man seeks only to live a life of his own.

Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family's interest or to be committed to a witches' asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn’t leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans' hospital, Miles can’t hide what he truly is.

When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient’s murder. To find the truth he’ll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.





About C.L. Polk

C. L. Polk wrote her first story in grade school and still hasn't learned any better. After spending years in strange occupations and wandering western Canada, she settled in southern Alberta with her rescue dog Otis. C. L. has had short stories published in Baen's UNIVERSE and contributes to the web serial Shadow Unit (http://shadowunit.org/), and spends too much time on twitter at @clpolk. Witchmark is her debut novel.







Website  ~  Twitter @clpolk

The Walking Dead Day - Blind Bag Editions of Milestone Issues


THE WALKING DEAD DAY WILL FEATURE COLLECTIBLE BLIND BAG EDITIONS OF MILESTONE ISSUES

J. Scott Campbell, James Harren, Emma Ríos, Declan Shalvey, and Sana Takeda Blind Bag artists revealed

PORTLAND, OR, 06/20/2018 — Image/Skybound Entertainment is pleased to announce that this year’s WALKING DEAD DAY, on October 13th, in celebration of the series’ 15th anniversary, will feature collectible blind bag editions of milestone issues from Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s THE WALKING DEAD.

Fans will experience the thrill of surprise when they purchase any of the WALKING DEAD DAY BLIND BAG editions. Each of the following issues will be available to purchase as a blind bag item, where customers have a chance of opening one of multiple trades dress variants (color, sketch, virgin, etc) of each iconic issue. Covers will feature art by J. Scott Campbell, James Harren, Emma Ríos, Declan Shalvey, and Sana Takeda, among other exciting to-be-announced artists, and will retail for $3.99 each.

  • THE WALKING DEAD #1: 15TH Anniversary Blind Bag variant, Diamond Code MAY188674 
  • THE WALKING DEAD #2: 15TH Anniversary Blind Bag variant, Diamond Code MAY188675 
  • THE WALKING DEAD #7: 15TH Anniversary Blind Bag variant, Diamond Code MAY188676 
  • THE WALKING DEAD #19: 15TH Anniversary Blind Bag variant, Diamond Code MAY188677 
  • THE WALKING DEAD #27: 15TH Anniversary Blind Bag variant, Diamond Code MAY188678 
  • THE WALKING DEAD #48: 15TH Anniversary Blind Bag variant, Diamond Code MAY188679 
  • THE WALKING DEAD #53: 15TH Anniversary Blind Bag variant, Diamond Code MAY188680 
  • THE WALKING DEAD #92: 15TH Anniversary Blind Bag variant, Diamond Code MAY188681 
  • THE WALKING DEAD #98: 15TH Anniversary Blind Bag variant, Diamond Code MAY188682 
  • THE WALKING DEAD #100: 15TH Anniversary Blind Bag variant, Diamond Code MAY188683 
  • THE WALKING DEAD #108: 15TH Anniversary Blind Bag variant, Diamond Code MAY188684 
  • THE WALKING DEAD #127: 15TH Anniversary Blind Bag variant, Diamond Code MAY188685 
  • THE WALKING DEAD #138: 15TH Anniversary Blind Bag variant, Diamond Code MAY188686 
  • THE WALKING DEAD #167: 15TH Anniversary Blind Bag variant, Diamond Code MAY188687 
  • THE WALKING DEAD #171: 15TH Anniversary Blind Bag variant, Diamond Code MAY188688


ABOUT IMAGE COMICS
Image Comics is a comic book and graphic novel publisher founded in 1992 by a collective of bestselling artists. Image has since gone on to become one of the largest comics publishers in the United States. Image currently has five partners: Robert Kirkman, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino. It consists of five major houses: Todd McFarlane Productions, Top Cow Productions, Shadowline Comics, Skybound Entertainment, and Image Central. Image publishes comics and graphic novels in nearly every genre, sub-genre, and style imaginable. It offers science fiction, fantasy, romance, horror, crime fiction, historical fiction, humor and more by the finest artists and writers working in the medium today. For more information, visit
www.imagecomics.com.
ABOUT SKYBOUND ENTERTAINMENT
Founded in 2010, Skybound Entertainment is a multiplatform entertainment company specializing in television, comics, film, digital content, interactive, gaming, and merchandise. The company is led by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and his longtime producing and business partner David Alpert.

12-Page Excerpt From The New World


EXTENDED 12-PAGE EXCERPT FROM ALES KOT AND TRADD MOORE’S FORTHCOMING THE NEW WORLD RELEASED

PORTLAND, OR, 06/19/2018 — Aleš Kot (ZERO, DAYS OF HATE), Tradd Moore (LUTHER STRODE), and Heather Moore are pleased to unleash an extended, 12-page excerpt from their forthcoming series THE NEW WORLD—set to launch this July.

THE NEW WORLD #1 is a ballistic sci-fi action romance miniseries that begins with a massive-sized debut issue and features a backup comic introducing the talents of Aaron Stewart-Ahn and Sunando C.

Set in the United States of America—after the Second Civil War—THE NEW WORLD follows two lovers. One: a straight-edge vegan hacker anarchist boy with a penchant for messing with the State. The other: a chaotic, hedonistic cop with a reality TV show and a license to kill. This really shouldn't happen—and yet, somehow, it does. And soon, the entire state of New California is after them.

THE NEW WORLD #1 hits stores on Wednesday, July 25th. The final order cutoff for retailers is Monday, July 2nd.
  • THE NEW WORLD #1 Cover A Moore & Muller (Diamond Code MAY180036)
  • THE NEW WORLD #1 Cover B Moore & Muller (Diamond Code MAY180037)
  • THE NEW WORLD #1 Cover C Bertram (Diamond Code MAY180038)
  • THE NEW WORLD #1 Cover D Muller (Diamond Code MAY180039)


[click to embiggen]

ABOUT IMAGE COMICS
Image Comics is a comic book and graphic novel publisher founded in 1992 by a collective of bestselling artists. Image has since gone on to become one of the largest comics publishers in the United States. Image currently has five partners: Robert Kirkman, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino. It consists of five major houses: Todd McFarlane Productions, Top Cow Productions, Shadowline Comics, Skybound Entertainment, and Image Central. Image publishes comics and graphic novels in nearly every genre, sub-genre, and style imaginable. It offers science fiction, fantasy, romance, horror, crime fiction, historical fiction, humor and more by the finest artists and writers working in the medium today. For more information, visit
www.imagecomics.com.

The Magic Order Is a Hit


MILLAR REVEALS ANOTHER HIT SERIES UP HIS SLEEVE IN THE MAGIC ORDER

PORTLAND, OR, 06/19/2018 — Comics titan Mark Millar and Olivier Coipel (Amazing Spider-Man, Thor) launched Netflix’s THE MAGIC ORDER #1 last week to overwhelming critical acclaim and fan enthusiasm and, as reported upon by Deadline.com, broke industry records with some of the highest pre-order numbers in two decades.

"An important note to retailers: There will be no second printing on The Magic Order #2. Just like #1, we want to create a huge excitement on the day so that people who get their copy feel extra lucky,” said Millar. “What you order this weekend is what you get, but, as always, there is no risk to retailers, as this comic is returnable."

We live in a world where we’ve never seen a monster, and The Magic Order is the reason we sleep safely in our beds. Magic meets the mob in THE MAGIC ORDER, as five families of magicians—sworn to protect our world for generations—must battle an enemy who’s picking them off one by one. By day, they live among us as our neighbors, friends, and co-workers, but by night, they are the sorcerers, magicians, and wizards that protect us from the forces of darkness… unless the darkness gets them first.

THE MAGIC ORDER #1 will remain available for purchase across all digital platforms, including the Image Comics website (imagecomics.com), the official Image Comics iOS app, Comixology’s website (comixology.com), iOS, Android, and Google Play.

THE MAGIC ORDER #2 Cover A by Coipel (Diamond Code MAY180197), THE MAGIC ORDER #2 Cover B by Coipel (Diamond Code MAY180198), THE MAGIC ORDER #2 Cover C by Grampá (Diamond Code MAY188623) will be available on Wednesday, July 18th. The final order cutoff deadline for comics retailers is Monday, June 25th.

Select praise for THE MAGIC ORDER:

“There are few creators that do big and broad as well as Mark Millar.” —Newsarama

“I’m gonna give it to you straight. This is a comic you’ll definitely want to read, no matter
what genre you’re into. I’ve heard people describe this as mobster Harry Potter but
honestly, it’s so much more than that.” —Impulse Gamer

“Excellent world-building, gorgeous art, and breakneck pacing.” —Monkeys Fighting
Robots

“If you ever wanted an R rated version of the world outside Hogwarts, you'd be hard
pressed to find a better story than this one. Every page contains details as juicy as a
Kardashian rumor mill. The writing is ripe with tantalizing new ideas and concepts. The
art is dark and wondrous.” —Black Nerd Problems

“Completely shattered my expectations and is a book you absolutely can't miss this
week. This was tremendously entertaining.” —Lyles Movie Files

“A great first issue that will definitely leave you wanting more. The Magic Order is
fantastic.” —Outright Geekery

“This is a very strong first issue and I really hope Netflix make this one into a television
series because it is definitely the sort of thing that I'd watch.” —SciFi Pulse

[click to embiggen]

ABOUT IMAGE COMICS
Image Comics is a comic book and graphic novel publisher founded in 1992 by a collective of bestselling artists. Image has since gone on to become one of the largest comics publishers in the United States. Image currently has five partners: Robert Kirkman, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino. It consists of five major houses: Todd McFarlane Productions, Top Cow Productions, Shadowline Comics, Skybound Entertainment, and Image Central. Image publishes comics and graphic novels in nearly every genre, sub-genre, and style imaginable. It offers science fiction, fantasy, romance, horror, crime fiction, historical fiction, humor and more by the finest artists and writers working in the medium today. For more information, visit
www.imagecomics.com.

Man-Eaters Coming in September


CHELSEA CAIN & KATE NIEMCZYK LAUNCH MAN-EATERS—THIS SEPTEMBER: THE CATS WANT IN

PORTLAND, OR, 06/19/2018 — Eisner-nominated and New York Times bestselling thriller writer Chelsea Cain reunites Mockingbird creative team and returns to comics. Mockingbird artist Kate Niemczyk, colorist Rachelle Rosenberg, letterer Joe Caramagna, and writer Chelsea Cain are joined by Lia Miternique and Stella Greenvoss for a new ongoing series—MAN-EATERS—from Image comics this September.

“Pop culture has a long tradition of manifesting our cultural anxieties as monsters," said Cain. "What scares us most right now? …Women.”

A mutation in Toxoplasmosis causes menstruating women to turn into ferocious killer wildcats—easily provoked and extremely dangerous. As panic spreads and paranoia takes root, the fate of the world rides on the shoulders of one twelve-year-old girl. Part Cat People, part The Handmaid’s Tale, all pro-feline agenda.

Niemczyk added: “Only Chelsea would have me draw a tampon wearing a cape.”

MAN-EATERS—Cain’s first comic since Mockingbird lit up Twitter and made international headlines—is produced for Image comics by Ministry of Trouble, a production company founded by Cain and Miternique in 2017 with the mission of making trouble.

MAN-EATERS #1 (Diamond Code JUL180103) and MAN-EATERS #1 Glitter Cover (Diamond Code JUL180104) hit stores on Wednesday, September 26th. The final order cutoff deadline for comics retailers is Monday, September 3rd.



ABOUT IMAGE COMICS
Image Comics is a comic book and graphic novel publisher founded in 1992 by a collective of bestselling artists. Image has since gone on to become one of the largest comics publishers in the United States. Image currently has five partners: Robert Kirkman, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino. It consists of five major houses: Todd McFarlane Productions, Top Cow Productions, Shadowline Comics, Skybound Entertainment, and Image Central. Image publishes comics and graphic novels in nearly every genre, sub-genre, and style imaginable. It offers science fiction, fantasy, romance, horror, crime fiction, historical fiction, humor and more by the finest artists and writers working in the medium today. For more information, visit
www.imagecomics.com.

Skyward, Vol.1: My Low-G Life Arrives This September


SKYWARD, VOL. 1: MY LOW-G LIFE TRADE PAPERBACK WILL LAND IN STORES THIS SEPTEMBER

PORTLAND, OR, 06/19/2018 — The first story arc of the critically acclaimed, gravity-defying SKYWARD—by writer Joe Henderson (showrunner of Fox’s Lucifer) and artist Lee Garbett (Lucifer, Loki: Agent of Asgard)—will be collected into trade paperback and available this September. SKYWARD, VOL. 1: MY LOW-G LIFE will include issues #1-5 of the series.

One day, gravity on Earth suddenly became a fraction of what it is now. Set 20 years later, SKYWARD introduces a humanity that has adapted to its new low-gravity reality. And to Willa Fowler, who was born just after G-day, it’s pretty awesome. You can fly through the air! I mean, sure, you can also die if you jump too high. So you just don’t jump too high. And maybe don’t get mixed up in your dad’s secret plan to bring gravity back, which could get you killed…

SKYWARD, VOL. 1 trade paperback (ISBN: 978-1534308336, Diamond Code JAN188542) will hit stores on Wednesday, September 19th and bookstores on Tuesday, September 25th. The final order cutoff for comics retailers is Monday, August 6th. It can be ordered on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, IndieBound, and Indigo.


Select praise for SKYWARD: 

"An immersive and entertaining read." —Newsarama

"Comics invite us to explore worlds where the sky's the limit, no superpower too great,
no story too small. But Skyward has given us a world where the skies are limitless and
the characters fly off the page with fresh voices and exciting possibilities." —Shawna
and Julie Benson

“This debut issue finds a way to tether readers to its high-flying story, and the issue
wraps with a bewildering cliffhanger that will leave you desperate for its next issue.” —ComicBook.com

"Henderson and Garbett have created a rich, imaginative new world anchored by a
vibrant, relatable heroine. The sky's the limit with this one." —Jay Faerber

"Compelling characters, vibrant artwork, and a super-cool world. Skyward soars."
Pamela Ribon

“A confidant debut issue that mixes strong characterization with beautiful work from
Lee Garbett and Antonio Fabela that gives the reader a strong indication of what this
new series is about.” —Multiversity Comics


ABOUT IMAGE COMICS
Image Comics is a comic book and graphic novel publisher founded in 1992 by a collective of bestselling artists. Image has since gone on to become one of the largest comics publishers in the United States. Image currently has five partners: Robert Kirkman, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino. It consists of five major houses: Todd McFarlane Productions, Top Cow Productions, Shadowline Comics, Skybound Entertainment, and Image Central. Image publishes comics and graphic novels in nearly every genre, sub-genre, and style imaginable. It offers science fiction, fantasy, romance, horror, crime fiction, historical fiction, humor and more by the finest artists and writers working in the medium today. For more information, visit
www.imagecomics.com.