Category Archives: Book Updates

Idea Playgrounds and Twisty Journeys (A Tale of Two Series)

Since publishing the first book in the Catalyst series, I’ve noticed some interesting comparisons between this book and my previous series. Some people think this series already a lot better than the Internal Defense series. Some people, on the other hand, feel like the Internal Defense series had something that this book lacks. And some people don’t have a preference, but talk about how different the two series are—which confused me at first, because they both came out of my head, so how different could they be? But after thinking about it, I realized there are some pretty major differences between the two, not in style but in structure—and it makes perfect sense that some people would prefer one and some the other.

(If it spoils the magic for you to know what an author was thinking when they wrote a book, you may want to skip this post. The post also contains mild spoilers for the Internal Defense series.)

In the Internal Defense series, I was playing with ideas. That doesn’t mean I was trying to teach a lesson or get a point across; I was playing with ideas, which is different. It’s not about making the reader believe something; it’s about experimenting and having fun. Primarily, I was playing with the concept of how the same person (or place or group) can have contradictory identities that can coexist while also contradicting each other. Becca was an ordinary teenager and the leader of the resistance. Her mother was a loving mother and a ruthless torturer. The world itself was the ordinary world we live in, while also being thoroughly dystopian. I was also playing with the concept of other-ness and dehumanization, and the dissonance of how someone who is very human to you (Becca’s mother, or her first love) can also be other and someone who, because of their role (torturer, dissident), she would ordinarily see as less than human.

All the concrete details in those books are there purely in service to the ideas. Most of what the supporting characters do is meant to highlight one aspect or another of their conflicting identities, or to make Becca confront her own roles and how they interact with each other. (Micah and Kara were exceptions, being fully realized characters in their own right, and I’m still not sure whether that was the right way to go.) Almost every detail of the world is there to express dissonance between its two aspects: to evoke a familiar detail from the real world, or a familiar totalitarian trope, or—preferably—both at once. It isn’t meant to be a real place; it’s meant to be an idea-playground.

The Catalyst series is different. Like the Internal Defense series, it began with the central premise (Internal Defense: a mother-daughter relationship where the mother is a torturer for a totalitarian regime; Catalyst: people making far-reaching small changes to the world in service of a divine plan they don’t fully understand). But where it led ended up being very different. The Catalyst concept, if done right, is inseparable from how the Catalysts affect the world. The concrete effects have to be important, not just the abstract concepts behind those effects. The premise has plenty of interesting ideas to play with—although that’s mostly going to happen in the second half of the series—but this world isn’t just an idea-playground, because for this series, with this premise, it can’t be. It’s a place in its own right. (Writing a world that just exists sounds like it should be easier than making every detail mean something, but it’s surprisingly a lot more difficult. I’m not a concrete thinker; figuring out, “What would express such-and-such concept?” is much easier for me than figuring out, “Given these circumstances, what would this place be?”)

In this series, I’m playing with other things. Things like: What does it mean to change the world in big and meaningful ways when you can only do so through small actions? What does it mean to devote your life to a cause you can’t fully understand? What does it cost? Where does it lead? It’s not about contrasts, like the Internal Defense series is. It’s about the journey. The people going through it, and how it breaks and rebuilds them. The places they pass through, and how those places change. Most fundamentally, it’s about change. And when you write about change, the meaty details of character and plot become the interesting and compelling parts of the story—because if they weren’t, the ways they changed wouldn’t matter.

I’m a better writer now than I was when I was writing the Internal Defense series, because a writer’s skill grows with every book they write. But it’s also true that in some ways the Internal Defense series is a better series, if your idea of “better” involves rich and complex idea-playgrounds. (And I miss that! But back when I was writing Necessary Sacrifices, I was wistfully planning the Catalyst series and its twisty journey. The grass is always greener.) On the other hand, if you prefer the concrete to the abstract, or find cause-and-effect more compelling than contrast, this series will probably look like the one where I finally got the writing thing figured out. it depends heavily on what each individual reader is looking for—which is as it should be. I’m strongly in favor of reading based on your preferences. Whether I’m a better writer now than when I wrote The Torturer’s Daughter shouldn’t matter as much as whether The Torturer’s Daughter is more your kind of book.

And if, like me, you like both… then a new series just means something new to play with, just like it does for me.

Summer Update

Now that 2015 is more than half over, just a quick update to let you know what I’ve been up to writing-wise:

With the Internal Defense series completed, I’ve been working on the start to my new YA series. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it on the blog before, but you may have seen me talking about it on social media from time to time. I can’t say much about it yet – talking about a writing project before I’ve finished it is the quickest way for me to kill the project – but this is what I wrote about it on the Infinite Ink blog last year:

The new series will be longer than Internal Defense (think Harry Potter), and its futuristic world will be very different from the scarily-familiar bureaucracy of Becca’s dystopia. But it will involve a lot of the same core themes – tough moral choices, survival in a grim and dangerous world, finding hope in hopeless situations, and a heroine learning her own kind of strength.

(Oh, and parents who kill people. That too.)

I’m intentionally going slow with this project – the Internal Defense series brought me to the edge of burnout, and I want to make sure I stay mentally fresh while throwing myself into a project as big as this one. But I’ve been working steadily on it, and although I can’t give details, I can confirm that it’s going well.

If you’re interested in learning more about the new project as I work on it, I post periodic updates on my Facebook page… or if you just want to find out when the first book is ready, join my mailing list to get a notification when it’s available for pre-order.

No Return is now available!

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No Return
The conclusion to the Internal Defense series

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Every dissident knows about Becca Dalcourt.

They know about the lives she’s saved. About the prison break she carried out against impossible odds. They know she turned a dying resistance into the first real threat Internal Defense has faced in a long time.

And even now, with the resistance under attack from the inside, they know Becca can save them.

They’re wrong.

The conclusion to the story that began with The Torturer’s Daughter and Necessary Sacrifices, No Return explores what happens when an ordinary person becomes a legend – and how to choose between who you are and who the world needs you to be.

Book Release: Through a Tangled Wood

My short story “Flight,” a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, is now available in the anthology Through a Tangled WoodThrough a Tangled Wood is an anthology of unconventional fairy tale retellings, from a post-apocalyptic Hansel and Gretel to a look at Snow White from her stepmother’s point of view. The anthology is free on all the major ebook stores, so go grab a copy! Or if you’re not convinced, scroll down to read descriptions of all the stories.
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Through a Tangled Wood

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A variety of writers come together to twist traditional fairy tales into unusual and mysterious stories. From Beauty and the Beast, to Hansel and Gretel, to the Ugly Duckling, these stories will be sure to pull you into a fantastical world of princes, romance, and maybe a little science fiction.

“Plan B” by Katie French. When Nolan is selected as one of the few candidates to work in the Breeders’ hospital, he thinks all his troubles are over. Now he can afford precious medicine to save his ailing father. He’s heard of the Breeders’ cruelty, of their inhuman experiments, but he’s sure they’re fabrications. Then he stumbles into the Plan B room and learns how truly awful the Breeders can be.

“Tailless” by Ariele Sieling. A retelling of the Ugly Duckling, set on a far away planet in an unknown galaxy. While fighting a war with her people’s biggest enemy, young Bode struggles to understand why she feels out of place in her community, and why she, unlike her comrades, was born without a tail.

“I Am the Maid” by Sarah Dalton. A hostile zombie killing Maid Marian meets an ill-behaved ex-soldier Robin in this post-apocalyptic retelling of Robin Hood. When a young girl falls deathly sick, the two are forced to join forces in order to outwit the Sheriff, and the mysterious Guy Gisbon.

“Three Wishes” by Marijon Braden. When Aladdin rubbed the magic lamp, things went pretty well for him. But a few thousand years later, the world has changed and the genie is old, cranky, and doesn’t play fair. Young Alison thinks she’s found the answer to all her prayers, but instead finds that having wishes come true isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

“Killing Snow White” by Jamie Campbell. A magical retelling of the story of Snow White, told entirely by the Evil Queen who supposedly tried to poison her. Think Snow White is innocent? Think again.

“A House in the Woods” by H.S. Stone. At the conclusion of a scavenger hunt for Old World artifacts, Hansel and Gretel find themselves lost on the outskirts of the city after dark. They stumble upon a house in the nearby woods, hoping that they will find help inside, but the house’s inhabitant has other ideas.

“Flight” by Zoe Cannon. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Dragged to the palace at swordpoint, commanded to cure the cursed prince with a kiss, Lucia wants nothing more than to return to her solitary world of books and magical study. But she soon discovers that she and the prince share more in common than she could have imagined… and that the truth behind his curse could destroy—or save—them both.

New Release: Darkest Worlds

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Darkest Worlds, an anthology of young adult and new adult dystopian stories, is available now! The anthology contains six novellas, including stories from bestselling and award-winning authors. All proceeds from the anthology will go to Girls Write Now, a charity providing writing instruction and mentorship to underprivileged girls.

My contribution is The First Unforgivable Thing, a story of defiance and doomed love set in the world of the Internal Defense series. The novella takes place between Necessary Sacrifices and the upcoming No Return (and introduces a character you’ll meet in No Return!), but can also be read as a stand-alone story.

Here’s the full list of stories in the anthology:

Nessa: A Breeders Story by Katie French, author of The Breeders: Eighteen-year-old Nessa knows what it’s like to be an endangered species. Growing up in a dying world where nine out of ten babies are born male, she survives by trusting no one. When Marlin, the nineteen-year-old gunslinger, kills the man who has been keeping her enslaved, Nessa decides he might be her meal ticket. What she doesn’t realize is love is still possible, even in their decimated world.

MOON by S.K. Falls, author of World of Shell and Bone: Loyalty. Obedience. Patriotism. Moon Stewart has no doubt that the New Amanian way of life is the right way. The only way. But was there ever a time when she felt differently? In this companion novella to the dystopian bestseller World of Shell and Bone, the secrets of Moon’s past are revealed, giving readers a glimpse into the mind of their favorite antagonist.

The First Unforgivable Thing by Zoe Cannon, author of The Torturer’s Daughter: When a dissident working undercover as an interrogator is ordered to torture a confession from the only girl he’s ever loved, he chooses to defy both the totalitarian regime and the resistance by helping her escape–but she has an agenda of her own…

The Keeper by A.G. Henley, author of The Scourge, a finalist for the Next Generation Indie Book Award: Peree knows his duty as the new Keeper of the Water Bearer, Fennel, is to make sure his people get every drop of their share of the water she collects when the flesh-eating Scourge roam the forest. He will motivate her, distract her, do anything he can to keep her working. He knows his duty is to his people and his people alone. What he doesn’t know is that he’s falling in love with her.

Survival Lessons by Kate Avery Ellison, author of Frost: A young Farther prisoner named Eva escapes into the monster-filled wilderness of the Frost with a band of fellow inmates, all of whom are harboring secrets…but little do they know that Eva has secrets of her own. Set in the world of The Frost Chronicles.

clean slate complex by Megan Thomason, author of the daynight series: Homeless Alexa Knight agrees to help the do-gooder non-profit The Second Chance Institute in return for medical care for her sick mother. The SCI is wooing the poor and downtrodden into their Clean Slate Complexes–where “everything is provided” from jobs to food, shelter, clothing, and education. Unfortunately, as with all things that sound too good to be true, there’s a catch…

Get the ebook:

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Cover Reveal: Darkest Worlds (A Dystopian Anthology)

For the past few months I’ve been working on a project with a few other dystopian authors, and now we’re ready to announce it to the world. Darkest Worlds, an anthology of dystopian stories, will be available on September 13th (yep, Friday the 13th), a little less than a month from now. The anthology will include a story set in the world of The Torturer’s Daughter, as well as five other stories from some fantastic authors. All proceeds from the anthology will go to Girls Write Now, a charity devoted to teaching writing skills to at-risk and underprivileged girls.

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Darkest Worlds: A Dystopian Anthology

An anthology that explores what humans are made of when society falls to its knees. Darkest Worlds includes six original novellas by award-winning authors and best sellers of Young Adult and New Adult Dystopia.

All proceeds go to Girls Write Now, a charity that promotes literacy of inner-city girls.

Nessa: A Breeders Story by Katie French, author of The Breeders: Eighteen-year-old Nessa knows what it’s like to be an endangered species. Growing up in a dying world where nine out of ten babies are born male, she survives by trusting no one. When Marlin, the nineteen-year-old gunslinger, kills the man who has been keeping her enslaved, Nessa decides he might be her meal ticket. What she doesn’t realize is love is still possible, even in their decimated world.

MOON by S.K. Falls, author of World of Shell and Bone: Loyalty. Obedience. Patriotism. Moon Stewart has no doubt that the New Amanian way of life is the right way. The only way. But was there ever a time when she felt differently? In this companion novella to the dystopian bestseller World of Shell and Bone, the secrets of Moon’s past are revealed, giving readers a glimpse into the mind of their favorite antagonist.

The First Unforgivable Thing by Zoe Cannon, author of The Torturer’s Daughter: When a dissident working undercover as an interrogator is ordered to torture a confession from the only girl he’s ever loved, he chooses to defy both the totalitarian regime and the resistance by helping her escape—but she has an agenda of her own…

The Keeper by A.G. Henley, author of The Scourge, a finalist for the Next Generation Indie Book Award: Peree knows his duty as the new Keeper of the Water Bearer, Fennel, is to make sure his people get every drop of their share of the water she collects when the flesh-eating Scourge roam the forest. He will motivate her, distract her, do anything he can to keep her working. He knows his duty is to his people and his people alone. What he doesn’t know is that he’s falling in love with her.

Survival Lessons by Kate Avery Ellison, author of Frost: A young Farther prisoner named Eva escapes into the monster-filled wilderness of the Frost with a band of fellow inmates, all of whom are harboring secrets…but little do they know that Eva has secrets of her own. Set in the world of The Frost Chronicles.

clean slate complex by Megan Thomason, author of the daynight series: Homeless Alexa Knight agrees to help the do-gooder non-profit The Second Chance Institute in return for medical care for her sick mother. The SCI is wooing the poor and downtrodden into their Clean Slate Complexes–where “everything is provided” from jobs to food, shelter, clothing, and education. Unfortunately, as with all things that sound too good to be true, there’s a catch…

Darkest Worlds will be available on September 13, 2013!

After the Fire

When I first heard about the short-story contest and anthology that the moderators of Holly Lisle’s writing community were putting together, I almost decided not to submit anything. The theme just didn’t speak to me. “The Adventure of Creation” – it sounded much too light and fluffy for me, like I should be writing about somebody frolicking with the Muse. I have nothing against light and fluffy, but I can’t write it to save my life. The last time I tried to write, I ended up with a short story about some poor girl who was barred from the afterlife and didn’t know why. I shudder to think what Muse-frolicking would have turned into.

But it kept niggling at my mind. So I thought about it in the background, and tried to find some way to make it work, even though I knew it probably wasn’t going to happen.

And then I remembered something. I couldn’t remember the exact quote, or who had said it, but it was something along the lines of, “An adventure is someone a safe distance away from you having a miserable time.”

That was more like it. Yes. Maybe I could do this.

So I started thinking about creation. What was the opposite of creation? Destruction, obviously. So… what made the two different?

The answer to that made me realize that, just as with “adventure,” “creation” wasn’t so light and fluffy after all.

It also got me my story.

And that story not only made it into the anthology, it was a semifinalist in Holly Lisle’s contest. 😀

“After the Fire” is available now as part of the anthology The Adventure of Creation. It’s neither light nor fluffy, and there is no frolicking to be found, but it does explain what creation means to me – and adventure too.

Necessary Sacrifices is out!

Necessary Sacrifices – the newest book in the Internal Defense series and the sequel to The Torturer’s Daughter – is up for sale!

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A year and a half ago, Becca Dalcourt joined the resistance. Three months ago, she started working undercover inside Internal Defense. A year from now, she’ll probably be dead. She knows the odds. She’s seen how the life of a double agent ends.

All she wants is a chance to do something with what little time she has left. Something big. Something meaningful. But the resistance doesn’t trust her, and her job transcribing torture sessions hasn’t given her anything but the names of dissidents whose lives, according to her resistance contact, aren’t worth saving.

So when she discovers a secret government program designed to brainwash dissidents into loyal citizens, she resolves to shut it down, no matter the cost. Even if her plan puts everyone she loves in danger. Even if the most experienced resistance fighters say it can’t be done. Even if it means betraying the only person who sees past the mask she wears every day.

Even if she has to do it alone.

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See the Beginning of The Torturer’s Daughter Through Raleigh Dalcourt’s Eyes

A quick link for you: If you want to get a peek inside Raleigh Dalcourt’s head, you can read a scene  I wrote from her perspective here. It’s from the first chapter of The Torturer’s Daughter, where you meet Raleigh for the first time and Becca confronts her about what happened to Heather’s parents. (Don’t worry, there’s no actual torture in this scene!)

The Adventure of Creation

Five years ago, I was one of the first students to join Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways course when it opened. Since then, Holly’s courses have had a huge influence on my writing. The Torturer’s Daughter, for instance, would never have taken its current form without the wonderfully comprehensive How to Revise Your Novel course (yes, I will continue to praise this course at every opportunity, because it’s just that good), and techniques from How to Think Sideways keep showing up in my writing process before I even remember where I got them from.

Back in February, I found out that the moderators of Holly’s forum were organizing an anthology with the theme “The Adventure of Creation.” I submitted a story (by the skin of my teeth – I found out about the anthology a month before the submission deadline, and was revising a novel and planning the project I’ve been dropping hints about on Facebook at the time), and found out a few weeks ago that it was accepted! “After the Fire,” a post-apocalyptic urban fantasy short, will be available in the anthology The Adventure of Creation at the end of July.

Here’s what the moderators have to say about the anthology:

In January, the moderators of Holly’s Forum (that’s us), approached her with the idea of an anthology. With the 5th anniversary of “How to Think Sideways” drawing nearer, it seemed a good idea to match the release date with the anniversary. Holly agreed to the idea and even added a monetary prize for the top stories. After a very, very difficult selection process, we settled on thirty-five stories. It’s a pity that we couldn’t take them all. The scores were so close, we had lengthy discussions and finally went five stories over the 30 story limit we had planned.

With the stories selected and in Holly’s hands to pick a winner, we are proudly presenting to you: 

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The Adventure of Creation

35 marvelous short stories by gifted new writers

Follow a girl to the Below-World to slay the Sharkshadow, or help a timid girl to overcome the destructive criticism of her art teacher. Witness a solitary drone on Mars or a naive homunculus struggle to become human. Sew with a mother who lost her daughter in a quilt, defeat super-villains in a bank robbery with an unlikely superhero, or join a great mage in the fire.

In thirty-five imaginative stories, emerging authors present the diversity of their creativity. Each author found a different angle for the unifying theme: The Adventure of Creation. Witness the talent nurtured by writing teacher, Holly Lisle. For the 5th anniversary of her first big writing course, How to Think Sideways, this anthology features the best of her talented students in a great variety of genres.

The anthology will be available in ebook and print on July 24th. If it does well, there might be another one in the works for next year, so spread the word!