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Blending Magic and Technology in The Left-Hand Way.

The second book in my American Craft series, The Left-Hand Way, is a new set of adventures for the magician-soldiers and psychic spies I call “craftsmen.” These craftsmen are armed with both spells and bullets, and my books have been described as fantasy techno-thrillers. This sounds like a contradiction in terms. Fantasy is associated with magic and supernatural creatures. The techno-thriller is associated with gritty, concrete details of the latest gadgetry, weaponry, and military/intelligence practices. How did I go about combining these disparate story forms of magic and tech?

One way these elements fit together in my series is, paradoxically, through the tension and conflict between their world views. The fantasy perspective allows for a critique of our reliance on tech and may reaffirm the continued importance of personal trust and connection. For instance, the villain of The Left-Hand Way has a preternaturally augmented ability to interfere with the texts, voicemails, and other communications of the heroes. The heroes are nonetheless able to find and help each other because of their mutual knowledge and trust, yet they also have a lot of low-tech self-reliance when isolated from modern networks.

The technological perspective may in turn provide a critique of the elitist or anti-democratic elements that are inherent in many fantasy tropes. With magic in the possession of an aristocratic few, my mundane authorities have a continuous problem of keeping even loyal practitioners in check. As much as I may sympathize with the perspective of my magical heroes, it’s easy to see that their very existence could pose a threat to democratic institutions.

The conflict between these elements comes to a head with the problem of life extension. Up until now in my cryptohistory, the quest for practical immortality has been the monopoly of evil practitioners, the so-called Left Hand.  But as technology increases, so does the prospect of significantly enhanced life spans for all. Why should my characters continue to forego immortality or other magical abilities that may be available to everyone through technology within a generation or two? In our real world, should financial elites forego certain post-human technologies or alterations, at least until they are generally available? Such questions lead to the corruption of the craft secret services, and will continue to haunt my third book, War and Craft.

But of course, the merging of fantasy and technology in my series can’t be exclusively through their conflict; they must also dovetail cooperatively to fit into the same world. Part of how I keep the fantasy elements in line with a “realistic” techno-thriller tone for my novel is by excluding any nonhuman magical entities. I’m as big a fan of a good vampire, werewolf, or elf tale as the next fantasy reader, but some techno-thriller fans will tune out of a story that includes such creatures.

Another way that I keep the story tone appropriate for a techno-thriller is how I handle the magic itself. First, rather than contradicting what we know of the world, my magic system largely fits beneath the facts of science and history, and my modern characters think of magic in the language of technology. The protagonist of my first book, Dale Morton, describes his spells as skewing the probabilities of events rather than running directly contrary to natural law. Certain uncanny incidents in American history, such as how George Washington’s army was saved at Brooklyn Heights, are almost as well-explained by magic as anything else. Arthur C. Clarke wrote that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” but what my characters think is that any sufficiently advanced magic is also indistinguishable from technology.

Also, the magic in my series has limitations similar to other armaments. It has logistical issues: craftspeople find it easier to recharge their power on home ground. Magic is also like a normal physical ability. A well-rested and healthy craftsperson will have more power than one who hasn’t slept or is wounded.

For my practitioners, magic is not viewed as contradicting their religious or other beliefs and practices. Craftspeople come from the full spectrum of belief or non-belief. For my modern-day Puritan protagonist of book two, Major Michael Endicott, magic fits within his ideas of Christian prayer. In terms of ritual language, simple words in the native tongue of the practitioner often work best, so long as the mind is properly focused.

A last component of having my supernatural elements fit into a techno-thriller context is the realism of my locations. In The Left-Hand Way, my characters are scattered across the globe in cities such as London, Tokyo, and Istanbul. I can make my far-flung settings seem real to the reader because I’ve been to most of them, and I think the spells in a location seems more concrete when the sights and smells are true.

Thanks to Tympest Books for inviting me here. If you like to find out more about The Left-Hand Way and my other stories, please go to www.tomdoylewriter.com.

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Tom Doyle is the author of the American Craft fantasy series from Tor Books. In the first book, American Craftsmen, two modern magician soldiers fight their way through the legacies of Poe and Hawthorne as they attempt to destroy an undying evil–and not kill each other first. In the sequel, The Left-Hand Way, the craftsmen are hunters and hunted in a global race to save humanity from a new occult threat out of America’s past. Tom’s collection of short fiction, The Wizard of Macatawa and Other Stories, includes his WSFA Small Press Award and Writers of the Future Award winners. He writes science fiction and fantasy in a spooky turret in Washington, DC. You can find the text and audio of many of his stories on his website.

Thrones and Bones: Frostborn

Karn is a champion at the game Thrones and Bones, but not much of a farmer or trader. He wants to see the world and all it has to offer rather than be tied to his family farm for the rest of his life. Thianna is a frost giant, as able in the snow and ice as any, but an outcast because of her human mother. When they are introduced at the yearly trade meeting at the Dragon’s Dance, a friendship is born. A friendship they will soon have to rely on for their very survival.
Lou Anderson’s Thrones and Bones: Frostborn is a middle-grade fantasy novel set in a world based on, essentially, Viking lore. The main characters are fairly easy to get into, and I appreciate that Thianna is the physically more active of the two. It’s a nice turn-around from what is usually done and fits with her being half-giant. Karn’s being the smart one seems a bit more tied into the Thrones and Bones game than I would have liked, but when that’s the title of the series you kind of have to expect it to be important. The side characters weren’t as well done, but served their purpose.
The only real issues I can think of are fairly minor. There was a lot of toilet humor, while it’s not totally unexpected it might have been more effective to tone it back. Also one of the villains was meant to be tricky about their villainy but for all their behavior might as well have been named Antagonist MacEvildude. Again though, middle-grade novel it probably isn’t as obvious to the intended audience.
So what’s the verdict? While the humor was a little hit or miss and the bad guys could have been better, I really dig that cleverness won the day as often as fighting did and that the protagonists were as well rounded as they were. Thrones and Bones: Frostborn earns a four out of five.

Guest Post: R. T. Lowe

The Felix Chronicles: Freshmen
What possessed me to write it?

I drive to work. It takes me about an hour each way. Most people consider it a massive time suck, and for the most part I wouldn’t disagree, but all those hours alone with only the thoughts in my head triggered an idea. I started telling myself a story. The story took place on a college campus and the main character was a freshman. His name was Felix. In some ways this freshman (and the story) was quite ordinary. Felix made friends, went to class, studied, and partied like any eighteen-year-old away from home for the first time. Then I took that basic story and layered it with elements that interest me. After all, I was making it all up in my mind while stuck on the Merritt Parkway to entertain myself. So this is what I did:

• I made Felix suffer. I’m a firm believer in putting your protagonist through the wringer. He steps foot on the campus of Portland College already with a heavy heart (his parents recently died in a mysterious fire) . . . and then it only gets worse for him.

• I created a world in the midst of an approaching darkness, where strange creatures roam the nearby forest and a serial killer (the “Faceman”) murders teenagers who fail a “simple” test. The encounters with the unfortunate victims are chilling, violent and bloody. I made the decision ‘to spare no gore’ after a great deal of thought, fully aware that I was potentially subjecting myself to criticism. I understood that it would shock some (and most likely remove the book from the reading lists for those under sixteen), but I didn’t want to hint at the violence or rely on my readers’ imaginations. There are characters in my book who are truly bad people (or flesh eating monsters, in some cases) and I took the position that their actions should be described in such a way that the reader will understand that there is no limit to their cruelty. And although the campus of Portland College appears immune to the spreading darkness, beneath (and within) its stately lecture halls and ivy-shrouded façades, a hidden world awaits those who can unlock its secrets.

• I told the story from multiple perspectives, shifting scenes (and chronology) to keep the reader off balance. There is undoubtedly some complexity to the tale, but I believe Young Adult/New Adult readers are looking for stories that make you think. I drive the story forward through the eyes and thoughts of a dozen different characters. Some chapters seem unrelated to the “main” story (especially the prologue which takes place in the 4th century), but the pieces all connect as the plot unfolds and Felix learns that he may be ‘different’ than everyone else.

• I created characters who keep you guessing. In the real world, the “good guys” can be as flawed as the “bad guys,” and sometimes the line between good and bad is a matter of perspective. I also made sure that the “magic system” in my story allows for amazing, jaw-dropping displays of supernatural power. The way I see it, if you’re going to write in the realm of the paranormal you may as well go all the way: Let’s just say you wouldn’t want to start a fight with some of the characters in my book.

• In The Felix Chronicles, everything is at stake. I’ve always liked stories where the stakes are high, and they couldn’t be any higher than the fate of the world hinging on the outcome of a war that has raged for nearly 2,000 years.

• I included humor (Felix’s roommate, Lucas, appeared on a reality TV show and he lightens the mood at all the right times) and romance (Felix has a love interest (or two) and Lucas has several as he’s not afraid to use his celebrity to his advantage) to compliment and counterbalance the action and horror.

There’s much more to TFC: Freshmen, but those are some of the highlights. Once I had it locked down tight in my head I sat down and started to write. 500 pages later (and a year or two of very little sleep) I published the book. It may not be for everyone, but I suppose that’s to be expected when you write for an audience of one. And who said nothing good can come from a long commute?

Guest Post: Marc Turner

I’ve got a bit of a treat today with a guest post from Marc Turner, the author of When the Heavens Fall, talking about secondary character.  Enjoy!

Secondary characters

 

One of the real pleasures of writing for me is creating secondary characters. By “secondary” I mean a character who is not a point-of-view character, but who is more than just a walk-on. So what’s so enjoyable about writing them? Partly I think it’s that you have more freedom to paint them in really colourful strokes. Take, for instance, the character of Friendly in Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold. Friendly is described on the cover as a mass-murderer obsessed with numbers, and “obsessed” is certainly the word. There’s a moment in the book when he gets thrown down some steps, “and the worst of it was he couldn’t even count them”. He’s a hugely entertaining character to read about, but I’m not sure I’d want to spend a whole book inside his head. There are some traits, I think, that are interesting in moderation, but if used to excess could soon become wearisome.

Having said that you have more freedom to write secondary characters, there is one aspect to them that I think you cannot dispense with. For me, a secondary character’s main purpose is to teach the reader something about the main character. How? Sometimes just by being around them. The way the main character responds to what a secondary character does and says will tell you a lot about that main character. I always look to create a secondary character that is different from the main character in one or more significant ways, because those differences create opportunities for conflict, and conflict creates drama.

Consider Jaime and Brienne in George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones. Jaime is a decidedly unsympathetic character in the first two books, but he becomes a more interesting character in book three, A Storm Of Swords, when he journeys with Brienne to King’s Landing. Brienne is everything Jaime is not: honest, trustworthy, honourable. At the start of their journey they loathe each other, but they come to share a mutual self-respect. I would argue it is Brienne’s presence, and not just the loss of Jaime’s hand, that is the catalyst for the positive developments in Jaime’s character. Imagine if instead it had been Cersei, or Tywin, or even Tyrion who had been with him on the journey. Do you think he would have changed in the same manner? In this way, Martin’s choice of secondary character is critical to Jaime’s story.

My debut, When the Heavens Fall, has four viewpoint characters. Each has a companion without whom their story would not be the same. One of those viewpoint characters is a priestess, Romany, who serves a goddess called the Spider. Of all the sections in the book, the ones containing their conversations were among the most enjoyable to write. Romany begins the story as a hedonistic and privileged sort, and the Spider never passes up an opportunity to tease her about it. Their very first exchange sets the tone for their relationship. The goddess has called on Romany at her temple and finds the place has changed since her last visit following a raid by one of Romany’s enemies. In particular, the priestess has added a bathing pool to her personal quarters. Romany explains:

 

“Time has not stood still since you last graced us with your presence, my Lady. You are aware the temple was attacked earlier this year?”

“Someone broke in and built you a bathhouse?”

 

To the Spider, everything in life is a game, and people merely the pieces she manipulates to play it. At first Romany shares her view, but during the course of the book she gets to see the effects that her actions have on others. The Spider becomes the standard by which Romany’s growth can be measured. For whilst the goddess remains steadfastly ruthless (in a charming sort of way), by the end of the book Romany must choose whether to risk her life in order to undo some of the damage she has caused, even if that means challenging her goddess’s instructions.

Parolla is another of the viewpoint characters in When the Heavens Fall. Very little is revealed about her at the start of the book, save that she seeks a confrontation with Shroud, the Lord of the Dead, in order to settle an old debt. Parolla’s parentage gives her abilities that make her dangerous company to keep. Because of her background she is slow to trust others, and it takes a very particular sort of secondary character to get her to open up. Enter Tumbal, an earnest and inquisitive spirit.

 

“Tell me of yourself,” [Parolla said]. “You are a warrior?”

“No, my Lady. I am a scholar—an engineer by trade.”

“What did you build?”

“Cities. Well, dwellings, if truth be told. And only for a time, at that.” Tumbal looked at his feet. “Few of my constructions stood the test of time. When demand for my services diminished, I decided to become an inventor.”

“And what did you discover, sirrah?”

“Only that I was less than accomplished in that calling also.”

 

Tumbal does not take himself seriously, and his example encourages Parolla to do likewise. As the story advances, and Parolla’s inner demons begin to consume her, Tumbal becomes the person Parolla clings to as she tries to resist her darker impulses. Without him there, her story would have followed a very different path.

In the case of both Romany and Parolla, the secondary characters are essential components of their story. Yes, secondary characters need to stand on their own – they need to be interesting and compelling – but ultimately the story belongs to the viewpoint character(s), and the secondary characters need to service that story else they are not doing their job. In the worst case scenario, the reader might even end up unsure as to whose story it is. If I’m writing and I feel that one of my minor characters is becoming more interesting than a main character, that’s a sign that the main character needs more work.

So who are your favourite secondary characters, and why? I’d be interested to hear, so feel free to leave a comment below.

MarcTurnerWhen The Heavens Fall

 

Marc Turner was born in Canada, but grew up in England. His first novel, When the Heavens Fall, is an epic fantasy published by Tor in the US and Titan in the UK. You can see a video trailer for the book here and read a short story set in the world of the novel here. The short story has also been narrated by Emma Newman, and you can listen to it free here. Marc can be found on Twitter at @MarcJTurner and at his website

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I’m late posting this, but we have a winner!  Congratulations Elise Smith, you win books!

Please get back to me with a way to contact you within three days to claim your prize.

Alright, I’ve got another giveaway for you guys, Adam Christopher’s The Burning Dark and The Machine Awakes. These books both sound like awesome sci-fi goodness with humanity venturing ever further into space, terrifying machine aliens, and multilayer conspiracies set to make things so much worse.

So, standard question for entry: Tell me about the sci-fi you love. Do you prefer David Weber style military hard sci-fi or Ann Aguirre style soft sci-fi? Who’s your author of choice?

The usual rules are in effect. One winner from the US or Canada will be announced next Tuesday the 28th and will have three days to respond with a current email address. If the winner doesn’t respond after three days a new winner will be chosen. The winner will be picked using a random number generator.

I’m considering going back and rereading some of the books that I liked back in middle school and seeing how I feel about them now.  It’d be kind of like a review but full of spoilers and general talking about the thing and how I think it could have been better.

If I do this then my first book on the list would probably be Silver Ravenwolf’s Witches’ Night Out, mostly because I found it second hand a couple months ago and figured that I’d see if it stood up to nostalgia.

Cover Reveal: Saving Marilee

Author Annette K. Larsen has just revealed the cover for her new book Saving Marilee. This will be released on May 1, 2015. In conjunction with the cover reveal she is giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash.

If you are willing to post the cover reveal you can grab info off these links or use the HTML below. You can post anytime from now until next week.

Post info:
http://www.iamareader.com/2015/03/cover-reveal-giveaway-saving-marilee-by-annette-k-larsen.html
Rafflecopter grab link:
http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/share-code/MGEwMDk2ODM4YmEyM2MyMzNmNmEwNjhkYWFjNGMwOjE1MjM=/?

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Coming May 1, 2015 – Saving Marilee by Annette K. Larsen

Kindle-Cover-1

Saving Marilee by Annette K. Larsen

Marriage wasn’t bliss—not for Marilee. Instead of finding contentment with the handsome son of a sovereign duke, she found betrayal and neglect. And fear. A fear that finally lifts when her husband dies, freeing her from his domineering hand. But freedom alone can’t give her peace, and she must battle to regain her love for life, rebuild her happiness, and reclaim the ability to trust. When her charming neighbor intrudes on her quiet life, offering his friendship (and a dog, of all things), she must determine whether his interest is genuine, whether he is a friend or foe, and whether he deserves the fragile bit of trust she has managed to scrape together.

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AnnetteAuthor Annette K. Larsen
I was born in Utah, part of a crazy, fun family of nine. I grew up in Flagstaff, AZ and St. Louis, MO before striking out on my own college adventure in Virginia. I decided to try my hand at writing novels after I was married and living in Idaho. I write clean romance because it’s my favorite genre, but often difficult to find.

I have Charlotte Brontë to thank for the courage to write novels. After being bombarded with assigned reading about women who justified abandoning either their families or their principles in the name of love, I had the great fortune of reading Jane Eyre. And that was it: finally, a heroine who understood that being moral and making the right choice was hard, and sometimes it hurt, but it was still worth it. After rereading it several years later, I realized that if I wanted more books to exist with the kinds of heroines I admired, then I might as well write a few myself. My books are about women who face hard choices, who face pain and rejection and often have to face the reality of sacrificing what they want for what is right. The consequences are often difficult or unpleasant, but in the end, doing what’s right will always be worth it.

I believe there is no substitute for good writing or good chocolate. Fortunately, one often leads to the other.

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Cover Reveal Giveaway

$25 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash

Ends 4/8/15

Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Amazon.com Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

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Alright, I gave her a couple of extra days because I was late with the announcement, but I haven’t heard back from Loverofbooks. That said, Antane is the new winner!

Alright, I’m more than a little late posting this, and for that I am sorry, but we have a winner!

Loverofbooks, please email me your mailing address to receive your copy of The Exile.

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