The Hardest Part: Alexandra Duncan on Sound, ahead of her appearance this Sunday at Flyleaf Books

Asheville author Alexandra Duncan’s new novel Sound is the stand-alone companion to her award-winning novel Salvage, a debut that internationally bestselling author Stephanie Perkins called “kick-ass, brilliant, feminist science fiction.” But I believe my interest was piqued when it was being described as perfect “for fans of Beth Revis, Firefly, and Battlestar Galactica.” In Salvage, the action focused on Ava, “a teenage girl living aboard the male-dominated, conservative deep space merchant ship Parastrata, faces betrayal, banishment, and death. Taking her fate into her own hands, she flees to the Gyre, a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean.” In her adventures (which The Exploding Spaceship reviewed here) she meets Miyole, the young daughter of the ship’s captain who helps her get to earth. In Sound, the perspective shifts to more directly tell Miyole’s story: “As a child, Ava’s adopted sister Miyole watched her mother take to the stars, piloting her own ship from Earth to space making deliveries. Now a teen herself, Miyole is finally living her dream as a research assistant on her very first space voyage. If she plays her cards right, she could even be given permission to conduct her own research and experiments in her own habitat lab on the flight home. But when her ship saves a rover that has been viciously attacked by looters and kidnappers, Miyole—along with a rescued rover girl named Cassia—embarks on a mission to rescue Cassia’s abducted brother, and that changes the course of Miyole’s life forever.”

When Duncan wrote about the hardest part of writing Salvage back in 2014, ahead of her appearance in a YA panel at Flyleaf Books shortly after the book’s release, she described her struggles with her own neurochemical balances. For book two, she’s also coming to town as part of a fantastic YA author panel at Flyleaf Books, which includes Amy Reed and Jaye Robin Brown and is this coming Sunday (October 11) from 4 to 5 pm. But this time around, it was the “curse of the second book” that Duncan struggled against. In another fantastic essay for “The Hardest Part” guest column, she writes about having to learn how to write all over again. Enjoy!


— By Alexandra Duncan —

Among writers, there is an urban legend — the curse of the second book. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Your first book may have been magical and transporting, a critical darling. But your second book? It’s going to be terrible. And it’s going to bomb. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hardest Part: Karissa Laurel on Midnight Burning

Triangle author Karissa Laurel rides motorcycles and reads slush for Strange Horizons; clearly, she is not risk-averse. However, there’s a difference between, on the one hand, putting body and mind on the line either on a quiet road or in the privacy of one’s own office, and on the other hand, in her work as a the debut author of Midnight Burning from Garner-based Red Adept Publishing, putting her words forward for all to see, along with the other marketing and publicity that the “public persona” side of the modern author’s duties require. (Such as, oh, I don’t know, appearing on Carolina Book Beat this July for a radio interview, about which she wrote that “I would much rather hide in my writing cave.”) Writing can be a solitary act, but publication isn’t. The characters, stories, and words you’ve painstakingly wrought from mind through body and fingers to keyboard and onto the page now exist, unchanging, on the printed page. Absolutely anyone could be reading it: your friend, your sister, your parents, your future grandkids, a stranger in Alaska with detailed geographic knowledge and many nits to pick, an expert on Norse mythology with several shelves of translations and plenty of time to cross-reference where you’ve fudged things up, a book blogger who was looking for something else from your book. As it turns out, even if writing the book is a joy, and you find your publisher through a chance meeting at a local convention, and! your relationship with your editor is great, too! there’s still the final hard part of letting go.

Midnight Burning - Large.jpg

By Karissa Laurel:

In thinking about the hardest part of writing Midnight Burning, I couldn’t pick out one specific anecdote. And it wasn’t because of an overabundance of choices. In truth, it was the opposite.

Creating Midnight Burning took a lot of work, and it was tedious at times, but I loved every step. From dreaming up the idea (Why are all the stories about Odin and Thor? Weren’t they supposed to have died in some apocalyptic battle eons ago? Why not create a story about the gods who survived that battle? What would they be like in the modern world?) to the research, the daily grind of putting words on the page, the submission process, and the final editing and finishing stages— I had a blast. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hardest Part: Alex J. Cavanaugh on Dragon of the Stars

North Carolina author Alex J. Cavanaugh already has three Amazon bestsellers under his belt with his first trilogy, as well as a sizzling review from Library Journal which praised the series as one which “calls to mind the youthful focus of Robert Heinlein’s early military sf, as well as the excitement of space opera epitomized by the many Star Wars novels.” After the publication of CassaStorm in late 2013, I’d been on the lookout for his next book, but it wasn’t until I e-stumbled onto it in late December last year on a popular Goodreads list (Most Anticipated Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Novels of 2015) at #3 that I started to get an idea just how much of a following Cavanaugh has grown over first years of his young writing career. As I wrote him, “Dude, That’s one way to let a guy know that you have a new book coming in April!” (Now he’s at #15 on the list, which is still pretty impressive, above such heavyweights as John Scalzi and Stephen King, and this fellow named Neil Gaiman. You may have heard of him.) Here, Cavanaugh writes about finding a new voice and a new world for Dragon of the Stars.

Dragon of the Stars - Alex J Cavanaugh

Starting a New Story After Finishing a Series
By Alex J. Cavanaugh

When I wrote my first book, I never envisioned a series. When it expanded to three books, I found certain aspects of the sequels were easier since the world and characters were already established. It provided a starting point on which I could continue to build.

Once I finished the series, I wasn’t sure I would write another book. I knew I wouldn’t continue with the Cassa universe. I’d taken the main character on his journey and there wasn’t much farther I could go with the story.

And then an idea hit me for a standalone story. Dragon of the Stars would not take place in the same universe though. That meant starting from scratch. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hardest Part: David Afsharirad on The Year’s Best Military Science Fiction and Space Opera

I think that I first met David Afsharirad at an NCSU MFA get together a year years ago now, ahead of fall classes getting started one late summer. With his trademark thick-black-rimmed glasses and friendly, casual air, I looked forward to seeing him around at readings and other events, catching up on what he was reading, how his writing and teaching were going. I was beyond thrilled when he joined Baen Books as a consulting editor and copywriter, and still, my eyes opened pretty widely when Baen announced Afsharirad as the editor for a new annual anthology series for The Year’s Best Military Science Fiction and Space Opera — as the press release put it, he was certainly a “newcomer” to that level. Still, Afsharirad had his life-long interest in short sf to lean on, his (by then) two years copy editing for Baen, his work with John Kessel at NCSU, as well as the support of rest of the Baen brain-trust in this area of short sf literature. (No shortage to be had, there, as he notes in his acknowledgements.) You can get a further sense of Afsharirad’s passion for short sf in his preface, which along with David Drake’s excellent introduction (offering a brief survey of both space opera and military sf) is available in the sample chapters at Baen’s website, and you might get a sense as to the book’s success by a short snippet from Publishers Weekly‘s starred review: “Every story takes the reader on a fascinating, thought-provoking, enjoyable journey into the militarized future.”

Here, Afsharirad writes about the hardest part of putting this first annual edition of the anthology together, work that included scouring the hundreds (thousands) of stories under his remit, resulting in an anthology which draws from online magazines (Clarkesworld, Galaxy’s Edge, Lightspeed, and, print magazines (with “the big three” of F&SF, Analog, and Asimov’s all represented), and themed anthologies (War Stories, Extreme Planets, and Monstrous Affections) alike. But how to pick the best from the good? That’s the question at hand.

The slush pile, that quagmire of stories that clutters every editor’s desk. It’s full of dreck, of course, but it must be read. Because occasionally one finds among the detritus a truly worthy piece of writing. Editors complain about reading slush all the time, and it is true that working your way through all those manuscripts can be a slog. But really, it’s not that tough. You can usually tell within a page or two (or less, let’s be honest) if a story has what it takes to make the cut. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hardest Part: Ian J. Malone on Red Sky Dawning

Durham author Ian J. Malone‘s 2013 science fiction debut Mako introduced a team of five “thirty-something” friends who become the first-ever group to beat the (fictional, at least for now!) video game “Mako Assault”. Flown to meet the game’s mysterious designer, they learn that the game’s intent was far more than entertainment: the game was designed to train and identify just such a group of human players, desperately needed in an interstellar war. (If you’re thinking of The Last Starfighter you may be on to something.) Two years later Malone returns with Red Sky Dawning, a sequel set five years after the climactic battle of his debut, and here writes about the hardest part in expanding the adventure-scoped story from Mako into a star-spanning web of politics, worlds, and characters. Sort of. You’ll see. Read on!

RSD 800 Promotional

By Ian J. Malone:

Hola gang! Greetings from the Bull City!

On the whole, I’d dare say Red Sky Dawning was a harder book to write than its predecessor, Mako, in nearly every way. Whereas Mako was, at its core, the story of five college friends fleeing their thirty-somethings lives for one last grand adventure, Red Sky Dawning is a true coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of an interstellar civil war. There was political intrigue to write, plus tons of new characters, ships, tech, and worlds to introduce — all of which had to be explained and fleshed out while advancing the stories of everything and everyone that came before it in the series’ book one. That’s A LOT of juggling, people. We’re talking Barnum & Bailey, here. So was any of it the “hardest part?”

Nope. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hardest Part: Piper Kessler on Frequency

On Thursday, April 23, 2015, Motorco will screen three seasons of the immensely popular lesbian sci-fi original series Frequency, which features cast, crew, and settings from the Triangle area. Fans will be treated to scenes and storylines from the first three seasons, including unreleased episodes from the current season (three) and exclusive content from the upcoming fourth season. The event will be emceed by Tracey and Matthew Coppedge of The Lowdown Show. Produced by KV Works, Frequency boasts over four and a half million views on YouTube worldwide and was an Official Selection at the Los Angeles Web Series Festival and Miami Web Fest. The series is written by Durham’s Piper Kessler, produced by Monique Velasquez, and stars Meredith Sause (“Foodie”) and Lisa Gagnon (“Disengaged”), along with Tony Hughes, Kat Froelich, and Jenn Evans.

The (free, $5 suggested donation) screening begins at 6:42, although doors open at 6. Q&A, series trivia, and general good times are expected. Cast and crew will be on hand to meet and greet, including Kessler, who here writes about “The Hardest Part” of putting this all together.


By Piper Kessler:

When folks tell you the hardest thing they’ve ever done rarely does it fall under what is truly difficult. I’m sure people would think producing an original sci-fi series with lesbian main characters in a state not known for it’s love of “the gays” is a hard undertaking. Nah. I’ve lived in North Carolina all my life. I’ve heard, well, they’re the good kind of Lesbian, Gay, Black, Mexican Yep, fill in the blank with an other of your choosing. Hard times are given to strangers, not the odd uncle, sister and beer drinking buddy. Cause my buddy? Well, he’s different. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hardest Part: Robert Creekmore on Afiri

North Carolina author Robert Creekmore‘s initially self-published his first novel Afiri through last year, but quickly withdrew it from commercial publication when he discovered that he could not make it continually available for free. After considering his options, in late February he elected to simply make the novel available as a PDF download from his website. With readers from North Carolina to Saudi Arabia, the move has paid off in more ways than one. Creekmore describes the novel as “polemical, narrative driven, mid-twentieth century science fiction” and it is written in a style “specifically geared toward young adults with Aspergers and High Functioning Autism”. The author is a veteran special needs teacher, who himself has Aspergers, and along with themes of social relationships and autism/neurotypical interaction the book presents a story of oppressive theocracies and segregation. After short introductory chapters dealing with death and hospital bills, young and soon-to-be-homeless Aksel Lauht sets off for the Linville Gorge Wilderness to make it on his own. Before long, however, he stumbles into a star-spanning narrative of genetic engineering and artificial intelligence. Here, Creekmore writes about developing the greater science fictional allegory for his thoughts on our own peculiar species.


Afiri by Robert Creekmore; cover design by Juliana Creekmore


By Robert Creekmore:

“The hardest part” wasn’t writing, rather, it is being “me” in a tidal pool of “yous”. First off, there is certainly nothing wrong with being a “you”, rather I’d deem it desirable. The “yous” have an amazing ability: they can read the minds of other “yous”. Then there is “I”. “I” am abnormal, a closed looped mind in a world of clairvoyants. “I” am autistic and you’re probably not. My front row ticket to the Homo-Sapien show has taught me a great many things about the “yous”. The problem is, I have a tendency to be rather intense and talk at people about my ideas, which can give one an air of lunacy. Read the rest of this entry »


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