Category: Guest Post
by April 23rd, 2013-
When I first started writing urban fantasy I knew I wanted to bring in as many facts as I could into my series. As a reader, I loved it when I authors wove “fact” into fiction. I say “fact” loosely, as some of our facts are myths and can be disputed, but nonetheless the information I’ve gathered for my series is documented in our culture, whether it’s fact, folklore or legend.
In FULL BLOODED, the first book in the Jessica McClain series, I crafted two characters based on research. The first one was the goddess who shows up and quickly becomes Jessica’s archrival. Selene, the Lunar Goddess, was a perfect fit for the part. Greek Mythology states that Selene is the Goddess of the Moon and known for her countless love affairs. What better deity to go up against a werewolf than a Lunar Goddess? Plus I loved her name. It fit the character I had in my mind perfectly and after compiling a list of good characteristics, Selene the Lunar Goddess was born.
“I’m not a witch, you filthy bloodsucker, I’m a Goddess.” She glared, her irises a pure, fiery red now. “Goddess of the Moon, to be exact. Or if you prefer, a powerful Sorceress of Enchantment. Take your pick. But I am most certainly not a witch.”
The next is the Vampire Queen, Eudoxia. I really wanted my vampires to have Russian lineage, and preferably for her father to be Ivan the Terrible. The timing was perfect for that reign, roughly 450 years ago, and by doing research I found that Ivan had a daughter by the name of Eudoxia. He had several, but Eudoxia fit perfectly.
“You are not nearly as impressive as I had presumed you to be, little wolf girl.” The voice was attached to a vision of flawlessly etched skin. A face so perfectly defined it cast its own shadows. She boasted high, prominent cheekbones and a pair of wide hazel eyes, rimmed in heavy kohl. Her pallor was a true white, making her red lips look garish.
One of the fun parts of doing research is crafting characters and creating details with the information, some of which may never be used in the books. My werewolves are Scottish and when coming up with their full names, I incorporated Scottish Gaelic names into the mix. Jessica’s father, Callum Sèitheach (SHAY-uch, wolf) McClain, and her twin brother, Tyler Faoláin (FWAY-lun, little wolf) McClain. It’s one of those nuances that make the characters come alive, which I love so much. Creating real histories mixed with facts make the characters a little more real to me.
In HOT BLOODED, which just released this week, there are a number of researched elements in the book—but, unfortunately, telling you which ones
right now would be a bit too spoliery! (Hint: when you see the beasties, think mythical origins.) I will continue to weave fact and myth into my series, because I love it when the two worlds come together so perfectly.
To all my current and future readers, hope you enjoy the series!
Amanda Carlson’s latest novel HOT BLOODED (US | UK | AUS) is available online and in stores now. To read the first three chapters, become a fan of Amanda on Facebook or start from the beginning of the series with FULL BLOODED (US | UK | AUS).
New and current fans of Amanda’s novels can sign-up for the Jessica McClain book club to discuss the series with fellow fans and participate in exclusive chats with the author.
by April 22nd, 2013-
The legends of King Arthur sparked my imagination as a young boy. The majesty of his court, the magic, the intrigue, politics, civil war, and immense battles. It was all so interesting and incredible, and I was a very disappointed ten year old when I learned that he wasn’t, in fact, real. As I grew older, I came to learn about historical figures that were just as fascinating as King Arthur, and far more real.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Julius Caesar had a tumultuous life. He was an orator, a politician, and a military man. He survived political purges, being captured by pirates, and was at one point a high priest of Jupiter. He conquered Gaul and invaded Britain. Plutarch claimed that Caesar’s armies killed a million men and enslaved that many again during that campaign—though the number is likely propaganda.
He ignited a civil war in Rome, eventually emerging victorious, and went on to implement much-needed reforms with the goal of strengthening Rome’s central government and reducing corruption. He instituted the new Julian Calendar, which was the basis for the calendar we still use today.
Arthur Wellesley entered the British army as an ensign at the age of eighteen. Twenty-six years later he was a field marshal and was soon after granted a dukedom, becoming the 1st Duke of Wellington. He fought in wars all around the world, and served as a Prime Minister in Great Britain, earning the nickname of the “Iron Duke” for his political resolve.
He was Napoleon Bonaparte’s greatest enemy in the Peninsular Campaign and led the troops that defeated Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo.
It says interesting things about a man that he could have lost not one but two wars hundreds of years ago and still be known as one of the greatest military commanders of all time. A Corsican, he rose through the ranks of the French army and eventually staged a coup, installing himself as the First Consul and later emperor of France. He was known for his military prowess and often defeated numerically superior armies.
He initiated civil reforms that included advancement by merit and religious freedom, as well as laws written and accessible to the average man—reforms that stayed in place after his ultimate defeat. He had a keen mind for politics and popularity that pandered to the people rather than the established aristocracy.
Most of us live our lives knowing that we won’t have much influence on the grand scheme of things. That’s normal. With so many billions of people on this planet, how could we? Yet there are some people who change everything. These are the movers and the shakers, the great generals and statesmen. Looking back on some of these men and seeing their imprint on history one might believe they were forces of nature.
Field Marshal Tamas, the protagonist of PROMISE OF BLOOD, came about because I wanted to write someone like that. He’s a flawed man who does bad things for good reasons—and he does them on a monumental scale. In most stories, he would be the villain. Tamas is not the villain of this story, but he’s no saint. He doesn’t pretend to be. There’s enough blood on his hands to drown a city and there’ll be more before he’s done.
There is a little bit of each of those three men in Tamas. Like Caesar, he’s loved by his troops and by the people. Like Wellesley, he is a hard-headed man known for his resolve. Like Napoleon, he staged a coup, and both his friends and enemies respect his military prowess. As with all three of them, he shapes the world around him.
by April 2nd, 2013-
Fans of Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Assassini trilogy can’t have failed to notice the numerous quotes from Shakespeare that preface each act. With the release of THE EXILED BLADE [UK | US | ANZ] – the final novel in this wonderfully dark historical fantasy – we thought it was the perfect opportunity to ask Jon to explain this Shakespearan link.
The quotations at the start of novels exist to…
Do what exactly? Provide a fig leaf of respectability? Prove the writer’s heard of Camus or Kierkegaard? Flatter the reader that this is a worthwhile book? I think (I hope), that if used properly they exist like clues in a noir and raise a wry smile from the reader when she puts down the books, and thinks, ‘Ahh. So that’s how it fitted…’ In the course of Tycho’s story I used the following quotes in the following order. There are two per book, for parts one and two. All from Shakespeare and all (but the first) from the plays referenced* in the story…
‘…What a hell of witchcraft lies
In the small orb of one particular tear…’
A Lover’s Complaint
‘May the winds blow till they have waken’d death!’
‘These violent delights have violent ends…’ Romeo & Juliet
‘Now could I drink hot blood, and do such bitter business, as the day would quake to look on it…’
‘There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now ’tis not to come , if it be not to come, it will be now…’
‘This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine…’
Individually they echo what is about to happen in that section, Together they mirror the story arc within The Fallen Blade, The Outcast Blade and The Exiled Blade, as Tycho learns what it means to be human, and those around him discover what it’s like to let a dazzling darkness into their midst. His is a story of redemption, because everything I writes is, in some sense, a story of redemption. It’s also a story about responsibility, and prices we pay to become or remain human.
Shakespeare stole Othello’s story from Giovanni Cinthio, just as he stole Hamlet from Saxo Grammaticus, and Romeo and Juliet from Arthur Brooke or William Painter, who both used it before him. He also happily pillaged much of Boccaccio’s back catalogue. So I have no regret in stealing in my turn. In The Fallen Blade and The Outcast Blade, Lord Atilo is Othello, the Moor of Venice, and Desdaio is the ill-fated Desdemona. And while I agree with the occasional reviewer who felt Desdaio got a raw deal . . . Precedent rather fixed her fate.
Lady Giulietta, who spans all three books, is obviously Juliet from Romeo and . . . While Tycho, mistaken for a Romaioi (Byzantine) noble is her star-crossed lover. Duchess Alexa combines elements of The Tempest’s Prospero; the island (Venice) is hers and A’rial (Arial) is her pet witch. She’s also Queen Gertrude from Hamlet, with steelier nerves and a straighter spine; which casts Prince Alonzo as Hamlet’s step father, and means poor mad Duke Marco is Hamlet himself.
The three tragedies are divided over the three novels; with Romeo and Juliet being the big arc; and Othello and Hamlet being smaller spans sitting inside and swapping half way through the second book. At some point, I hope, the three will be bound as one (as happened with the Arabesks), and the whole arc with its progression from dark into light will be clear. Although stealing from the master has a certain joy. The less joyful part is that his characters fates are predetermined (pace poor Desdaio). And though a writer can afford to play fast and loose with the occasional outcome it has to be occasional.
Obviously enough, the Assassini novels form a love story in which half the characters are insane and their love is unwise (which sounds like life to me). The emotional template is the tragedies and the sensibility broodingly Jacobean – at least I hope so! But I’ve allowed myself and the characters hope. As Prospero says at the end of the Tempest, ‘The rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance.’
Tycho is allowed a choice.
* Referenced: fancy word for wholesale stealing of characters, plots, and motifs.
by March 21st, 2013-
The second book in a trilogy is always tricky to write. Unless the author is very careful it can be the weakest of the three books, because it’s neither the beginning of the beginning nor the end of the end.
The way I solve this critical problem is to give each book its own driving storyline, with a powerful beginning and an even stronger ending, both of which dovetail neatly into the overarching story of the trilogy. It’s easy to say that, of course, but not so easy to do, and it takes a lot of planning and rewriting to get right.
What’s Rebellion about?
REBELLION (US | UK | AUS), book 2 of my epic fantasy trilogy The Tainted Realm, is set in an isolated island nation, once Cython but now called Hightspall, which is forever tainted by the brutal way it was colonised two thousand years ago. But now the conquered land is fighting back with one natural disaster after another, the Cythonians’ long-dead alchymist-king Lyf is rising again, and they know it’s time to take back their country.
Only one person can prevent Hightspall from running with blood – Tali, a slave in Cython who, as an eight-year-old girl, saw her mother murdered for the magical ebony pearl secretly cultured inside her head. Tali, now 18, is determined to bring the killers to justice, but discovers that she too bears an ebony pearl – the master pearl, in fact. And every villain in the land wants to hack it out of her head, including the killers.
In Book 1, VENGEANCE, Tali pursued the killers, and was hunted by them, through a land at war. To avenge her murdered mother she, a timid slave, had to take on the wizard-king, Lyf, who first died two thousand years ago.
by February 22nd, 2013-
I don’t know about other authors, but for me the process of writing a book has always included music. Music provides so much inspiration for me, can really help in capturing the tone or feel of a scene – or an entire book! There are songs that have come to be so associated with one of my stories that I can’t listen to them without thinking of the characters the lyrics have come to represent.
I came into my teens in the 80s – I do not feel that old! – the decade of the music video. I remember seeing ‘Thriller’ for the first time, and staring slack-jawed at the TV as this amazing story played out in front of me. Aha’s ‘Take On Me’ is still one of my all-time favorite videos. The merging of music and story took hold of me and refused to let go.
The first book I ever wrote (I was 12 so be kind!) was about a rock band. OK, it was about Duran Duran, but I changed the names. Over 300 pages of angst and music – I even wrote lyrics, which were awful. To this day, if a song grabs my attention I’m going to think of a story to go along with it – my own little music video playing inside my head. It doesn’t matter if it’s Nine Inch Nails, Bon Jovi or Alice Cooper, if it catches my attention, I’m going to find the plot and play it out in my head.
So, it shouldn’t surprise you that the Immortal Empire has a soundtrack behind it. As I plotted and planned, and then began to write, I actually embarked upon a quest to find the the perfect music. I wanted something that was modern, but would make me think of the Victorian Era as well. Then, I discovered Emilie Autumn and I knew I’d found my soundtrack. Not just my soundtrack, but a target audience. At this point I wasn’t certain my weird little book would be of interest to anyone, but then I visited Emilie’s fan boards and realized that there were people out there who would like this sort of book.
I could ramble on and on about music and how it inspires me, and how I’m making a jacket to wear to Emilie’s next concert in New York with all the glee of a 14 year-old dying her bangs to match John Taylor’s, but I think I’ll share some of my playlists with you instead. Here are just a few songs (in no particular order) that I listened to while writing these books. Will they make you think of various scenes or characters in the Immortal Empire? Oh, I’m not going to list songs from LONG LIVE THE QUEEN – I don’t want to give anything away! Read the rest of this entry »
by February 22nd, 2013-
During our recent conversation about his Laundry novels, Charlie Stross mentioned he’d started out seeking to revitalize the horror behind Lovecraftiana by drawing a connection between unknowable dangers and the very familiar terror of the Cold War arms race. I found that particularly interesting. After all, the Laundry series and the Milkweed books share a subgenre that pits agents of the secret state against super- or paranormal entities. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that we’ve both recast the thermonuclear deterrence of Mutually Assured Destruction as something even more precarious: the threat of a mystical and far more absolute annihilation.
(We even followed parallel lines of thought when it came to titles. Charlie called his story of the Shoggoth Gap “A Colder War,” while I went with THE COLDEST WAR for my tale of mystical brinksmanship.)
I was a child when the Reagan-era arms race began. But I had an early interest in science, so I’d already scoured the school library to read everything I could find about those wondrous things called atoms. Which unfortunately meant I had a vague notion of these things called atomic weapons. (Who in their right mind thought it was a good idea to let me read this stuff? Way to go, mom and dad.)
Thanks to classroom discussions of current events at the time, I also knew we were building them as fast as we could. Halfway around the world, so was another monolithic power. And we were aiming them at each other, like lions circling and snapping their teeth. But at that age I didn’t understand why this was happening, or why our enemies were so terrible that global annihilation was preferable to their triumph in some abstract and incomprehensible conflict. All I knew was the world teetered on a razor’s edge, and that my fate rested in the hands of people who knew nothing of me, my parents, or my cat (good old Gadzooks).
That’ll mess with your head when you’re 10 years old.
And so I spent the early 1980s filled with an almost paralyzing dread. Read the rest of this entry »
by February 20th, 2013-
Yes, it was supposed to be five but . . .
I love an anti-hero. I think they appeal to my non-conformist nature – they tend to do what they want, as far as possible, even if it gets them into trouble. Plus there’s that whole bad-boy vibe and, very often, a darkly cynical sense of humour, which I am a sucker for.
So, that said, here’s a few of my favourites.
6. Snake Plissken (from Escape from New York). I mean, what’s not to like? Under a totalitarian government, he thumbs his nose at them and does what he wants for the most part, at least until he’s forced to do what “they” want. Weirdly – and perhaps essentially – he appears sometimes to have more morals than the “good” guys. It does not hurt that Kurt Russell looks good in leather.
5. Conan the Barbarian. Your classic anti-hero. He’s out for himself, always. He’s dark, he’s brooding, he’s itching for a fight. But if you’ve got a bad guy you want rid of, he’s your guy. Just don’t expect him not to ravish your girlfriend while he’s saving you.
4. Sandman Slim. You don’t get much downer and dirtier than the Sandman. His saving grace is, apart from his black humour, no matter how bad he gets, pretty much everyone else is worse. He’s on your side for the right price, but if he hates the guys you want dead, maybe you’ll get a freebie. Plus he has a nice little redeeming feature of falling hopelessly in love. Even men from hell just want a bit of lovin’.
3. Jack Sparrow. He lies and cheats and steals, but he doesn’t hide it, he flaunts it. But of course he’s a pirate, and who hasn’t wanted to throw off the yoke and just sail about doing whatever you felt like, especially if it involves a bit of swashbuckling and derring do? Again, crucially, he has morals. They just aren’t quite the same as everyone else’s. Read the rest of this entry »
by February 15th, 2013-
While world-building a city is an exercise in imagination, it’s always preferable, I think, to make sure you’re grounded in at least the basics of reality.
It’s possible to make buildings that can support many, many levels, so why not a city that can do the same? It takes a little extra forethought and planning perhaps. In the case of Mahala, it didn’t start off meaning to grow up, that’s just the way it happened. They ran out of room sideways, so they began building up. While this is fine to start with, just building as and when, at some point things are going to start to collapse under their own weight. Not to mention other considerations, such as “what do you do with all the waste?”.
So at some point in the past, well before the story of Fade to Black starts, a bright mage-king decided it was time to sort it all out. A superstructure was grafted on to what already existed and gave a backbone for more and bigger buildings. As Mahalians are well known for their inventiveness and ingenuity, it wasn’t just any old superstructure – the steel was strengthened to withstand almost anything. Archive details are hazy, but it seems likely that magic was involved in this – in those days magic was involved in everything. The only thing the superstructure couldn’t withstand, so it turned out, was mages. But never mind, the resulting Slump made a handy dumping ground for bodies, especially when space for crypts was at a premium.
A second problem was light – once you go up far enough, light is at a premium at the bottom. That same thoughtful mage-king made sure that even the poor sods far below his sun drenched palace got at least a minute of daylight a day by the cunning installation of lightwells and mirrors to bounce all that light around, and I’m sure everyone was jolly well grateful.
by February 5th, 2013-
THE QUEEN IS DEAD (US | UK | AUS) releases officially today and if you thought GOD SAVE THE QUEEN (US | UK | AUS) was good, wait until you read this next installment of The Immortal Empire series. If you’re new to these, get ready for a modern day London unlike our own in so many fun and mysterious ways. But you might be wondering how it got that way. To fill in the gaps, Kate Locke has written up an alternate timeline of notable events in the world of the Immortal Empire. So get ready. Get set. This is not your average history lesson, boys and girls.
February 5 2010 – Vex MacLaughlin spies a grown Xandra Vardan for the first time at a society function. Sources claim to have overheard Churchill telling the Scottish wolf to stay away from his ‘dear girl.’
March 27 1937 – The corpse of Human League activist and German painter Adolf Hitler was found in his home almost completely drained of blood. The killer was never found.
April 4 1968 – Popular British TV show ‘Coronation Street’ introduces it’s first Half-blood character, Nancy. The daughter of a working class couple who had no idea that both of them carried the plague from long-dead ancestors. Nancy’s look was based on model Jean Shrimpton, and her iconic violet hair was said to be inspired by an Andy Warhol painting of Marilyn Monroe.
April 16 2012 – Sid Vicious released his Frank Sinatra tribute album and dedicated it to his wife Nancy.
May 24 1819 – Her Ensanguined Majesty Queen Victoria was born. Her parents knew she was a vampire the moment she bit her nurse.
June 3 2001 – Bertie, Prince of Wales is named one of the world’s ‘sexiest men’ by People Magazine. His mother, Queen Victoria is not amused. Werewolf Alpha Vex MacLaughlin is also mentioned. He was decidedly amused.
June 3 1990 – Courtesan Juliet Claire is attacked and bitten by a were while pregnant with the Duke of Vardan’s eldest daughter.
July 13 1971 – A pink-haired half-blood named Locke was mistakenly admitted to Bedlam Asylum for the Insane when she began to rant about the voices in her head. The poor soul wasn’t mad, she was just an author. Though, some would say the two are synonymous.
August 21, 1765 – The Duke of Clarence born the first goblin of the Royal Family. His mother, a strong woman by all accounts, fainted at the sight of him.
September 17 1982 – Miranda Windsor crowned the first aristocrat Miss America. She was also Miss Congeniality.
September 30st 1972 - American toy company Mattel introduces it’s ‘Vampire Barbie’. A half-blood Skipper and Werewolf Ken follow.
October 12 1905 – Exotic dancer Mata Hari becomes mistress to Bertie, the Prince of Wales.
November 8 1847 – Birthday of Bram Stoker, who would be exiled from the UK because of his scandalous depiction of vampires in his novel Dracula.
December 18 1990 — Alexandra Vardan born. Long may she reign.
Want to know more? Kate Locke elaborates in this article on RT Book Reviews.
by January 23rd, 2013-
Festivities for the launch of THE RED KNIGHT kicked off in Toronto over the weekend at Bakka-Phoenix Books. Cake was served and readers got the chance to to check out some incredible armor that would have been worn by the Red Knight himself! But for all of you that couldn’t attend, we saved a special treat for you too. Below is a deleted scene from THE RED KNIGHT – a fantastic epic some fans are already saying would be perfect for the big screen.
This piece was written to introduce the company that the Red Knight commands, and represents the moments before the Captain enters the house where the nun has been killed–and the whole adventure begins. I wanted to try my hand at a sort of ‘cinematic present’ in writing. Later, in the editing process, we decided that it would be better to open the book with Ser John Crayford’s POV on the Red Knight and the company. Let me just note that the sounds of a troop of heavy cavalry moving in deep fog are both as melodic and chilling as any monster.
The silence of a misty spring morn.
The silence that follows the scream.
The desperate silence after the hopeless sound of utter loss.
Two men clad in green, on ponies, gallop up the road. They appear frightened, and their heads turn, their eyes are everywhere. Left and right. Up, and down.
They stop short of a farm enclosure, with stone walls as tall as a man’s shoulder, and a steeply peaked roof in dark–gray slate. On the other side of the road, a river, as broad as a good field, flowing fast, swollen with recent rain, as gray as the slate.
Something about the farm makes them hesitate, and both ponies rear and back, heads tossing.
The shorter man snaps his fingers, makes a half circle motion with his right hand, and points back down the road. His lanky partner turns his mount and gallops back down the road. His pony’s hooves throw up muddy spray.
The man left behind loosens his falchion in its sheath. Twice. He licks his lips, and his horse backs again, like a cat backing from a dog, because something – perhaps a smell – is spooking her. The man on her back looks to the left and right, up and down. He is alone, in dense mist, and no birds are singing. The rising sun is cold and distant. Night still holds sway.
For him, time is mutable. Because for him, the silence goes on for a long, long time.