Interview: Debbie Mumford on “The Solitary Sorceress”

The Solitary Sorceress” by Debbie Mumford

It’s been ten years since the Firestone turned Kaitlyn into a sorceress to be reckoned with. Since that fateful day, she’s been in seclusion, mastering herself as well as the artifact. But now her mentor and friend, Aelfric, has died and King Lorien has called her to court to take her place as the King’s Magician. Is she ready? Can she maintain control of the Firestone while surrounded by courtiers?

The Solitary Sorceress” is one of the 15 tales in the Magicks & Enchantments anthology, which is available for a limited time in the Wild Magic bundle.

There’s the real world…
…and then there are our worlds, secret, wild, and free.

The Wild Magic bundle holds ten volumes of the magic. Ten books about what we find after we have passed through the illusion that we can live without wonder in the world, and come out the other side.

Pack your bags, put on your good walking shoes, and make sure you bring plenty of water. We’re going out into the wilderness, and who knows when we’ll be back?

The Wild Magic bundle is available through July 14th, 2021.

Excerpt

King Lorien had hailed her a hero, but the common folk had the right of it—they named her the Solitary Sorceress.

For that was the price the Firestone had demanded of Kaitlyn, that headstrong fourteen-year-old witchling. She had dared to summon the powerful talisman from its resting place and it had come to her in its quiescent state, a simple gold ring. But when she had claimed its power to defeat Darius, when she had placed the ring upon her finger, it had bonded with her flesh, sending tendrils into her very bones, wrapping her hand and wrist in a golden sheath that had extended to her forearm before the battle ended.

The Firestone made her invincible.

It also made her untouchable. Literally.

For once she was bonded to the talisman, no other human could lay so much as a finger on her, nor she on them.

—from “The Solitary Sorceress” by Debbie Mumford

The Interview

Kaitlyn, the protagonist in “The Solitary Sorceress,” controls the Firestone, a magical talisman she used to defeat an evil wizard and end a war. With this talisman she is invincible…but she can never touch another human being again. How did you come up with the idea for the Firestone, and what did you enjoy about using it in this story?

It’s interesting, the way story ideas appear and then blossom. The Firestone came about because I wanted to play with the idea of an untrained sorcerer’s apprentice discovering the existence of an ancient magical talisman and then deciding to call it forth… without fully understanding the object’s purpose or power and with no consideration of the cost of magic. Kaitlyn is a young teen in the first story, and acts impulsively, as teens so often do, even in our modern world.

I was pleased with Kaitlyn’s first tale, “Witchling,” but wasn’t really finished with the idea. What if the young sorceress was a little older? What if the war wasn’t against a wizard, but dragons? So I started over and wrote “Sorcha’s Heart,” which became the prequel to a series of epic fantasy novels that I call “Sorcha’s Children.”

It’s great fun to see where ideas take me. Kaitlyn’s ‘Firestone’ morphed into Sorcha’s ‘Heart of Fire.’ Both are powerful magical talismans that neither young sorceress was prepared to deal with, but they possessed totally different powers and demanded completely different costs. Fun stuff!

“The Solitary Sorceress” is one of three short stories you’ve written about Kaitlyn and the world she lives in. Do you plan to write more?

I’ve really enjoyed checking back in with Kaitlyn over the years. She and the Firestone were created in “Witchling.” Later, I was curious to see what had become of her as she dealt with the price of the magic she’d used so impulsively, so I wrote “The Solitary Sorceress.” Later still I wondered what kind of tasks she’d be called upon to perform in her new role, and “To Protect a Princess” was born. Each story amplifies Kaitlyn’s relationship with the Firestone and when I have time, I’ll probably write more stories. I’m still curious about what Kaitlyn and the Firestone are becoming!

Is there something from a legend, fairy or folk tale, or myth that you haven’t yet used in your writing, but would like to?

There are some fascinating legends from the Appalachians, and one line of my family hails from that region so I feel a connection. I don’t have a specific story in mind, but one of these days a character will tap me on the shoulder and demand to have their story told. I can’t wait to meet him or her.

You recently completed a Kickstarter campaign for your Kristi Lundrigan Mysteries, which are quilt-themed cozies with cats! Tell us about this fun series!

I love to read cozy mysteries and have thought about writing one for a long time, but I’m a fantasy writer with the occasional science fiction tale in my list. What did I know about writing mysteries? Not to mention the fact that the entire genre intimidated me. Finally, I took a class on writing mysteries which included a section on cozies, and decided I might as well give it a try. And boy, am I glad I did! Kristi’s first novel, “Delectable Mountain Quilting” is outselling all of my other books combined. Color me amazed.

As to the quilt theme, one of the assignments in that mystery class asked me to identify skills and interests that I might use to ground my character. Quilting was a natural for me. I taught quilting for many years, designed quilt patterns, and even had one of my quilts hung in the Colorado Lt. Governor’s office.

As for cats, well, what’s a cozy mystery without a cat?

Why did you decide to create a Kickstarter campaign, and how did you feel when you realized there were enough pledges to exceed the goal you’d set?

I’ve been curious about Kickstarter for a couple of years. Watching other campaigns and taking the occasional workshop on best practices. The first campaign I attempted failed to fund. I created it during a class and the teachers were very hands on, demanding to have editorial control and insisting that we follow their template to the letter. Of the twelve or so students in that group, only two or three had successful campaigns.

While mine failed, I learned a lot, and the next class I signed up for emphasized best practices rather than forcing its students into a mold. My first campaign under their guidance not only funded, but made it past the 150% mark! Kristi’s campaign also funded well above its goal, and I was delighted.

When I started this process, I felt a little squicky about it. I mean, in some respects, it felt like I was begging. But my current mentors encourage their students to look at Kickstarter as simply another market; another place readers can find your work. I’m a lot more comfortable with that concept and I’ve discovered it’s true. Kickstarter provides a lot of data on campaigns, which has allowed me to see that a sizable percentage of my backers in each campaign have been new to me, and in this business discoverability is everything!

What are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing??

I currently have several works in process. Novels, serials, short stories. You name it, and I’m writing it *lol*

I’m working on my second Kristi Lundrigan mystery right now. This one takes place during the Garnet County Fair and features a Pickle Dish quilt as well as a contest for the county’s best dill pickles. The working title is “In a Pickle.” Appropriate, don’t you think?

My alter-ego Deb Logan is also working on a few projects. Deb writes middle grade and young adult fantasy and science fiction. As Deb I’m venturing into Amazon’s new serial site, KDP Vella, which is due to launch in the very new future. Deb has two serials that will eventually be published in novel format: “Confessions of a Teenage Tree Sprite” for the young adult set, and “Prentiss Twins: White Buffalo” for middle grade readers. I’m really excited to see how KDP Vella functions once Amazon gets it off the ground!

About Debbie

Debbie Mumford specializes in speculative fiction—fantasy, paranormal romance, and science fiction. Author of the popular Sorcha’s Children series, Debbie loves the unknown, whether it’s the lure of space or earthbound mythology. Her work has been published in multiple volumes of Fiction River, as well as in Heart’s Kiss Magazine, Spinetingler Magazine, and other popular markets. She writes about dragon-shifters, time-traveling lovers, and ghostly detectives for adults as Debbie Mumford, and science fiction and fantasy tales for children and young adults as Deb Logan.

Find Debbie

Website | Facebook | Goodreads

Find the Wild Magic bundle!

The Wild Magic bundle is available for a limited time at StoryBundle.com/Fantasy.

Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of the purchase price to the charities Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.

   
 

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Interview: Leah R. Cutter on “Dreams of Saffron and Lace”

Dreams of Saffron and Lace” by Leah R. Cutter

Regina Victoria Edmondson rules as Queen over the nursery she shares with her twin brother Tobias.

Except when she allows him to direct their play as Raj.

However, on the rambling country estate where they live, neither of them control the gardens, where time moves in an unorderly, disquieting fashion.

Secrets hide there.

Deadly secrets.

Dreams of Saffron and Lace” is one of the 15 tales in the Magicks & Enchantments anthology, which is available for a limited time in the Wild Magic bundle.

There’s the real world…
…and then there are our worlds, secret, wild, and free.

The Wild Magic bundle holds ten volumes of the magic. Ten books about what we find after we have passed through the illusion that we can live without wonder in the world, and come out the other side.

Pack your bags, put on your good walking shoes, and make sure you bring plenty of water. We’re going out into the wilderness, and who knows when we’ll be back?

The Wild Magic bundle is available through July 14th, 2021.

Excerpt

Tobias crossed his arms stubbornly over his chest. “I want to play something else.”

“Like what?” Regina asked. As Queen, she could afford to be magnanimous. That was a word she’d only just learned the week before. On the day before the funeral. When the Vicar had been talking about Mum and what a kind, giving person she’d been.

He’d been right. Their mum had been the best. When she’d been around, of course, and not off working on one of her charities or lunching with Someone Important.

“We could pretend we live at Misselthwaite Manor,” Tobias suggested. “Go searching for the secret garden.”

Regina couldn’t hide her shudder. “The gardens have their own secrets,” she whispered, afraid to speak out loud about the strange things she’d seen.

Particularly the back garden. The one far behind the house, at the edge of the estate property.

A fountain that never had any water in it, filled with a green-bronze statue of turtles, sat at the back of that garden. Old fieldstone walls separated it from the other gardens. Sharp white rocks made up the pathways. They gleamed like bones in the dim winter daylight. Nothing grew there, though maybe that was just the season and they’d see green shoots poking above the earth soon.

Time moved there, but not in an orderly fashion. Instead, it flowed against the current, then seemed to turn and overflow the banks, pushing both backwards and forwards.
An icy silence passed between Regina and Tobias.

Tobias liked that garden, giggled at the things he saw.

Regina…didn’t. And knew she never would.

—from “Dreams of Saffron and Lace” by Leah R. Cutter

The Interview

“Dreams of Saffron and Lace” takes place at an estate in England, after World War II. Where did you get the idea to set the story in this time and place?

The inspiration for the garden came from “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which I had re-read bits of the week before I wrote the story. Something about that haunted, hidden place, with the sick boy, spoke to my writer brain. It all got twisted around, though, and I came up with a very different story as a result.

Regina, the protagonist in “Dreams of Saffron and Lace,” is a complicated character. We want to root for her, even though she’s often cruel to her twin brother. What did you enjoy about creating her, and about writing the story from her point of view?

She was inspired by the main character in “The Secret Garden,” Mary Lennox. Mary was a sour and spoiled child at the start of the book. Eventually, the garden and the estate taught her to be a better person.

In this story, Regina doesn’t have a chance to learn. The potential is there. But fate works against her. So she’s left with trying to figure it all out on her own, without her brother. And failing.

Why do you think so many people are drawn to reading stories about magic?

Magic gives you an edge, to help set the world aright. Fantasy stories tend not to be noir. Things get set to right eventually. And magic helps you do that.

In addition, there’s frequently a sense of wonder with the magic. It isn’t mundane or everyday. There are always things to learn about the magic, how it works, what the limits are.

In addition, in the good stories, the magic always has limits. It’s nice to see balance that way.

Tell us about Mystery, Crime, and Mayhem!

Mystery, Crime, and Mayhem (MCM) is a quarterly mystery magazine that I publish. I have a syndicate of writers who submit stories based on the chosen theme for that quarter. It’s a year and a half old, and going splendidly! You can pick up copies at all reputable, and some not so reputable vendors.

Each new project you work on has to pass “the giggle test.” What does this mean, and why is this important to you.

Like many writers, I have *so many* ideas, so many things that I can write about. As I tend to write quickly, I get to chose projects frequently.

However, I don’t let marketing decisions drive the decision about what I get to write next. I am a full time writer. I need to enjoy what I’m writing. If I didn’t, that would be the quickest way to burnout that you can imagine.

So when I’m about to choose a new project, I think about whether or not writing it would delight me. Will writing this story about a serial killer makes giggle while I’m writing it (or even cackle maniacally?) Or instead, do I need to write this story about how a cute cat saves the world? Whichever project is guaranteed to make me giggle while I’m writing is the one that I choose.

What are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing??

I just finished a writing marathon, where I wrote a novel in a week. I’m actually taking tomorrow off from writing fiction and writing some non-fiction. Then, I have two “short” stories that I need to write. They are both Rabbit mysteries, that is, mysteries written from the point of view of Rabbit, a law clerk in a small town in China. The stories are set during the Tang Dynasty. I have a collection of these stories (The Rabbit Mysteries) already published, and am working on the stories for the second collection.

The second of the two “short” stories that I’m currently writing is for MCM. The theme is “The Contract.” What better to write about than Rabbit’s wedding contract?

These stories make me giggle so hard. Rabbit is a silly, light character with a tremendous amount of voice.

The only problem is that they really aren’t short. A short story tends to be less than 10,000 words. Rabbit stories tend to be between 15-18,000 words. So they’re long stories. And I need to finish both of them before the end of the month. Ack! Good thing I like writing.

About Leah

Leah Cutter writes page-turning fiction in exotic locations, such as a magical New Orleans, the ancient Orient, Hungary, the Oregon coast, rural Kentucky, Seattle, Minneapolis, and many others.

She writes literary, fantasy, mystery, science fiction, and horror fiction. Her short fiction has been published in magazines like Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Talebones, anthologies like Fiction River, and on the web. Her long fiction has been published both by New York publishers as well as small presses.

Find Leah

Website ~ Facebook ~ BookBub ~ Amazon ~ Goodreads

Find the Wild Magic bundle!

The Wild Magic bundle is available for a limited time at StoryBundle.com/Fantasy.

Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of the purchase price to the charities Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.

   
 

Sign up for the Blackbird Publishing newsletter!

Interview: Dayle A. Dermatis on “Telling the Bees”

Telling the Bees” by Dayle A. Dermatis

Some kind of weird Sleeping Beauty curse has hit a Portland, Oregon, suburb—the entire town has fallen asleep. Hedgewitch sisters Holly and Willow, and Holly’s fae familiar, Cam, head out to help. But “weird” doesn’t begin to describe what’s really happening…

Telling the Bees” is one of the 15 tales in the Magicks & Enchantments anthology, which is available for a limited time in the Wild Magic bundle.

There’s the real world…
…and then there are our worlds, secret, wild, and free.

The Wild Magic bundle holds ten volumes of the magic. Ten books about what we find after we have passed through the illusion that we can live without wonder in the world, and come out the other side.

Pack your bags, put on your good walking shoes, and make sure you bring plenty of water. We’re going out into the wilderness, and who knows when we’ll be back?

The Wild Magic bundle is available through July 14th, 2021.

Excerpt

I pulled into the parking lot of the Market of Choice, an Oregon-based grocery chain that wasn’t quite as hoity-toity as New Seasons or Whole Foods, but significantly above Safeway and the like.

I’d been here once before, seeking out Jayden. It had been in the middle of an unusually heavy snow season, but even then, there had been shoppers around. The market was behind a row of businesses, from a backyard bird shop to a Vietnamese pho place to a martial arts dojo. A Starbucks, of course. Can’t have a business area without a Starbucks. The local library and Post Office were nearby, too. The whole area was surrounded by tall trees, making it feel less strip-mall-y.

There were a few cars in the parking lot and along the street, but no pedestrians.

On a beautiful spring day like this, the area should have been teeming with soccer moms in yoga pants.

We opened our car doors, and as one, froze.

The sound…was wrong.

No cars, obviously, except the faint ones on the freeway bridge crossing the river, less than a mile away. No voices.

Only…humming.

Like a thousand—no, a million voices humming together, a wordless tune. Barely a tune, because each note lasted so long, and eased into the next without a pause or break.

—from “Telling the Bees” by Dayle A. Dermatis

The Interview

What aspects of folklore and mythology did you incorporate in “Telling the Bees,” and why?

The concept of telling the bees is a real thing. In Europe, beekeepers’ bees would be informed of important events in their keepers’ lives, such as marriages, births, and of course deaths. To not tell the bees about their keeper’s death, to not let them mourn and, perhaps, bridge the gap between life and death, could cause misfortune. The bees might leave, stop producing honey, or die. I find the idea that bees and their keepers have such a close bond fascinating.

You’ve written a couple of stories about Holly and Willow, the hedgewitches in “Telling the Bees.” What do you most enjoy about these characters, and do you plan to write more stories about them?

Holly and Willow, sister hedgewitches, started when I came up with the idea that witches’ familiars are actually the fae folk. The fae can shapeshift, which explains why familiars have been described in multiple forms (black cats, goats, whatever). My premise is that the fae are pure magic, which allow witches to channel/use magic. It’s kind of a symbiotic relationship.

The sisters have very different personalities. Holly is prickly (she fits her name). Willow is more floaty and gentle. They accept each other and get along well, but Willow generally is the face of their magic store, given her patience with customers.

Of course, Holly always manages to be behind the counter when a problem customer comes in…

I do want to write more stories, and hopefully novels, about them. Willow’s fae familiar has gone missing. I want to find out why (as I’m sure she does, too)!

Why do you think so many people are drawn to reading stories about magic?

I believe there is magic in the world, and fiction is one of ways people find it. When you get sucked into a book or movie or whatever, and you look up and hours have passed, and you feel like you were in a different world, isn’t that magical?

There’s magic in the glint of sunlight on flowing water, autumn leaves crunching beneath your feet, the scent of freshly mown grass. The curious carvings high up on city buildings and the mysterious alleys between those buildings. Laughter, and that deep bonding between friends.

And most of all, when you do something kind for someone. They feel good, and you feel good.

Readers seek magic in stories, and I hope that inspires them to experience the magic in their own lives.

Researching History for Fantasy Writers is a non-fiction book you wrote on how writers can make their fantasy worlds rich and compelling. Why did you write this book, and what did you yourself learn from the experience?

I loved loved loved high fantasy when I was younger. Then in my twenties, I joined the Society of Creative Anachronism, an international nonprofit group devoted to re-creating the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. Unlike Renaissance Faires, we do it for fun and to learn the martial aspect as well as the arts and crafts.

And I found I couldn’t read high fantasy anymore, because it was so…detail-less.

A woman would be described as wearing a blue gown, but I had no idea what that gown looked like. The Middle Ages spanned a thousand years, and styles changed dramatically. So that finally compelled me to rant about it in a constructive way, which because Researching History for Fantasy Writers.

I asked friends for resources and information, and learned a lot from their research and knowledge. The book is part “think about this” and “this is almost always wrong” along with resources and how to use them (books, movies, websites, etc.).

You’re a founding member of the Uncollected Anthology, a group of writers who publish three urban and contemporary fantasy anthologies each year. What do you most enjoy about being a part of this collective?

I’m called the mastermind behind UA, because it was all my fault. I wanted to read more urban fantasy stories from my favorite author-friends. At the time, there was no way to “bundle” stories, and I didn’t want to be an accountant, so we agreed to publish our stories individually with a clear series cover and cross-promote each other.

I love the challenge of writing to a theme, but most of all I love reading the other authors’ stories.

You’ve written one novel and a number of short stories about Nikki Ashburne, a former party girl who accidentally overdoses, briefly dies, then wakes up able to see ghosts. Ghosted is Book 1…can you give us a sneak peek at what’s in store in book 2?

I set book 2, Shaded, aside during the pandemic because I just couldn’t access Nikki’s snarky voice. She’s back in my head now, I’m more than halfway through the book, and I’m going to be finishing it soon.

In Ghosted, Nikki had to strip herself down and learn to be alone—to be comfortable and solid with being alone. In Shaded, she makes tentative steps towards connecting with people she hopes she can trust, after the multiple betrayals she faced in Ghosted.

Shaded also brings more threats to the ghosts she calls friends. Power-hungry Wiccan wannabees—ugh! They’re the worst.

I’ll be following up that book with Spectered to round out the trilogy. I already know the shit I’m going to be throwing at Nikki, but not how she solves things and survives.

What are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing??

Right now I’m finishing up a commissioned nonfiction book about being a groupie, because the publisher knows my devotion to the group Styx. I prefer to call myself an über-fan. I’ve seen them about 150 times, they know who I am…but more importantly, I’ve made incredible friendships along the way: dear friends whom I spend time with even when there are no concerts to attend.

I “interviewed” those friends during 2020, and it was a delight to connect with them when the world was otherwise a dumpster fire.

When I was asked to write the book, I couldn’t stop giggling. How can this not be fun?

About Dayle

Dayle A. Dermatis is the author or coauthor of many novels (including snarky urban fantasies GhostedShaded, and Spectered) and more than a hundred short stories in multiple genres, appearing in such venues as Fiction River, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and DAW Books.

Called the mastermind behind the Uncollected Anthology project, she also guest edits anthologies for Fiction River, and her own short fiction has been lauded in many year’s best anthologies in erotica, mystery, and horror. 

She lives in a book- and cat-filled historic English-style cottage in the wild greenscapes of the Pacific Northwest. In her spare time she follows Styx around the country and travels the world, which inspires her writing.

Find Dayle

Website ~ Facebook ~ Twitter ~ BookBub ~ Amazon ~ Goodreads

Find the Wild Magic bundle!

The Wild Magic bundle is available for a limited time at StoryBundle.com/Fantasy.

Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of the purchase price to the charities Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.

   
 

Sign up for the Blackbird Publishing newsletter!

Interview: Leslie Claire Walker on “Angel Hunts”

When a cold-blooded magical assassin finds her heart, she’ll battle the forces of Heaven and Hell to protect her found family.

Night Sanchez braces for a fight when the Order of Assassins she betrayed finally tracks her down. But she could never expect a threat more dangerous than the Order to strike…

Until the Angel of Death threatens all she holds dear. To have any hope of defeating him, she must own her blood-drenched past and face the memory hidden deep within her mind. Can she unlock the secrets of her magic in time?

Angel Hunts is available for a limited time in the Wild Magic bundle.

There’s the real world…
…and then there are our worlds, secret, wild, and free.

The Wild Magic bundle holds ten volumes of the magic. Ten books about what we find after we have passed through the illusion that we can live without wonder in the world, and come out the other side.

Pack your bags, put on your good walking shoes, and make sure you bring plenty of water. We’re going out into the wilderness, and who knows when we’ll be back?

The Wild Magic bundle is available through July 14th, 2021.

Excerpt

The air felt thick—almost too thick to breathe.

The woman who’d walked through the door stopped ten feet from me, a signal she intended to talk rather than attack. Really, it was unnecessary. If she’d meant to harm me, I’d never have seen or heard her coming.

She pushed back the hood of her black rain slicker. Her blond curls had grown all the way to her shoulders since the last time I’d run my fingers through them. The only makeup she wore on her porcelain face was a pale pink flush of lipstick; her dark blue eyes were sharp on me.

Sunday Sloan. Once upon a time, my salvation.

The halo around her body held a tint of rose red, life force flavored with a strong, blinding passion that she harnessed in everything she did, including her kills.

One look in the eyes of her victims, and she could literally blind them if she chose. She had a touch of the traditional psychic as well, not enough to actually see the future, but enough to guess what might happen that would affect her most and allow her to act accordingly.

The same magical gifts infiltrated her personal relationships. Her faults became hard to see. And once she made up her mind about a cause or a person, she gave them her unconditional, undying—blind—loyalty. I’d been on the receiving end of that loyalty. I’d thrown it away when I’d left the Order without saying goodbye.

Sunday Sloan was the Order’s MVP. Or MVO—most valuable operative.

If she was here, I was in deep trouble.

—from Angel Burns by Leslie Claire Walker

The Interview

Night Sanchez, the protagonist in Angel Hunts, left her blood-drenched past as part of the Order of Assassins, and adopted the young girl she’d been sent to kill. Night is complex and fascinating. How did you come up with her character?

Night was created during a workshop assignment on the Oregon Coast and honed during a year-long role playing game set in the universe of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After I finished writing the third book in the Soul Forge’s sister series, the Faery Chronicles, I realized I wanted to write Night’s books. And so the workshop/RPG character became a richer, more well-rounded, more complicated human being through her adventures on the page.

Angel Hunts is the first book in your Soul Forge series, which includes assassins, angels, and elder gods. What was your favorite part about writing this series?

More than anything, I love bringing together characters who need each other into a single family of choice. Found family is an important theme in all my books and stories. While the representations of found family in TV, movies, books, and stories I’ve read have had an indelible influence on me, I’ve personally been in situations where bonding with family of choice has kept me housed, safe, and loved—and where I’ve been able to do the same for other people.

Night needs a family, and she needs to be family for others. Her love for her family of choice empowers her to embrace her humanity and reach for redemption while grounded in community.

The Soul Forge series is set in the same world as The Faery Chronicles. How do the two intertwine?

The first of the Faery Chronicles characters to appear in the Soul Forge show up in Book 3, Angel Falls—the witch, Stacy, and her friend Beth, apprentice to the Garden of Eden’s serpent. They surprised and delighted me when they insisted on a place in the story!

But it made sense. The events that take place in the Soul Forge series are world-altering for all beings. So naturally Night and crew draw the attention of the Faery King, Who happens in this universe to be a very important character in the Faery Chronicles.

All of the Soul Forge books from Angel Falls onward contain characters from the Faery Chronicles. The Faery Chronicles characters become an integral part of the team. And, eventually, family.

Why do you think so many people are drawn to reading stories about magic?

Anything that can’t be sufficiently explained by science is magic—I know I’m paraphrasing, but isn’t that how the saying goes?

There’s so much in this world that we can’t understand through science or even experience, so many things that happen that seem to be woven from serendipity, dreams, wishes, and mystery. Stories about magic allow us to inhabit worlds where those things are not only possible, but necessary to the fabric of life.

The magic in those stories becomes a part of us, and we bring some of that feeling back with us into our everyday lives. And that’s a gift.

“Fight or Flight,” which appears in the Magicks & Enchantments anthology, is set in the same world as Angel Hunts. Each time Charlie, the protagonist in this story, hovers between life and death, he not only sees the future, he enters it. Have you written more stories about Charlie? If not, do you plan to?

I haven’t yet written other stories about Charlie, but he appears in Book 4 of the Soul Forge, Angel Strikes. It was fun to reunite Charlie with his mysterious friend Sunday Sloan.

Is there something from a legend, fairy or folk tale, or myth that you haven’t yet used in your writing, but would like to?

I’d love to explore the folkloric Crossroads in my writing. When I imagine it, I can see it out there—like catching a glance at something shiny from the corner of my eye. (The one thing I’m not interested in doing with it is exploring the Crossroads in terms of its use in living spiritual traditions. Those are not my tales to tell.)

What are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

I’m currently working on the first book of a paranormal romance series that I can best describe as James Bond meets Outlander meets Supernatural.

The hero is a former fae assassin pulled back into the fold for one last job, and the heroine is a human writer who desperately wishes for magic to be real. Both of them get far more than what they bargain for.

The most fun thing about this series so far is the freedom to go as bonkers as my muse wants. The first book is lighter in tone than the Soul Forge books, but with just as much magic and action, plus more romance!

About Leslie

Since the age of seven, Leslie Claire Walker has wanted to be Princess Leia — wise, brave, and filled with heart, even in the face of impossible odds. She is the author of the Awakened Magic Saga, which includes two complete series of interconnected urban fantasy novels and stories filled with magical assassins, fallen angels, faeries, and found family. Leslie currently lives in the rain-drenched Pacific Northwest with a cast of spectacular characters, including cats, harps, and too many fantasy and romance novels to count.

Find Leslie

Website ~ Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Goodreads ~ BookBub

Find the Wild Magic bundle!

The Wild Magic bundle is available for a limited time at StoryBundle.com/Fantasy.

Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of the purchase price to the charities Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.

   
 

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Interview: Rei Rosenquist on “A Worthwhile Sacrifice”

A Worthwhile Sacrifice” by Rei Rosenquist

Cedar had a simple task: get water from the northern well and bring it back to their town before dark, when all doors are sealed with magical locks to keep everyone safe inside.

Instead of completing the task on time, Cedar got distracted and dawdled.

But the wolves come every night, and tonight is no different.

A Worthwhile Sacrifice” is one of the 15 tales in the Magicks & Enchantments anthology, which is available for a limited time in the Wild Magic bundle.

There’s the real world…
…and then there are our worlds, secret, wild, and free.

The Wild Magic bundle holds ten volumes of the magic. Ten books about what we find after we have passed through the illusion that we can live without wonder in the world, and come out the other side.

Pack your bags, put on your good walking shoes, and make sure you bring plenty of water. We’re going out into the wilderness, and who knows when we’ll be back?

The Wild Magic bundle is available through July 14th, 2021.

Excerpt

The wolves come every night. Right after dusk. As the sky becomes deep purple-gray and the air fills with the heavy scent of damp grass, we wait with piqued ears for the horn blasts that signal the beasts’ approach. Sealed up in our huts, with our magical locks drawn on every door in time, we watch their ferocity slam useless against meager wooden structures their strong bodies should—by all rights—break. But the magic protects our flesh and blood. A complex set of simple sigils drawn in charcoal on the back of the main door is all it takes to keep the monsters away. But, should any of us fail this one simple task, we are guaranteed a gruesome death.

At the first signs of the sun growing low, the entire town gathers together. Master Lock Maker and five skilled assistants draw the necessary locks on the main doors. The doors click shut just as the sun flashes and disappears. The whole town harbors all together in the sitting rooms of the most central homes. We sit beside the fire, eat and drink, knit or weave, read old scrolls, and talk story. We do everything but delay in our coming to this mandatory nightly gathering.

Today, foolishly, I’ve delayed.

—from “A Worthwhile Sacrifice” by Rei Rosenquist

The Interview

“A Worthwhile Sacrifice” is set in a town where magical locks are drawn anew each evening to keep the inhabitants safe from the wolves who come every night. What inspired you to write this fascinating story?

It all began as a recurring nightmare. The nightmares started out where I was inside a rather antique-style wooden house and someone I cared about was outside. The wolves were coming, and I had to try to get them inside with enough time to “lock” the door. As the dreams progressed, I would be outside while the wolves started coming, and I would have to gather people and try to help get us all to safety. Once I started writing this story, the nightmares slowly stopped coming. But, there were plenty of them! So, this story is actually the first in an upcoming series of short stories which I will later be collecting into a full-length novel.

Love and connection are common themes in your writing, and are key elements in “A Worthwhile Sacrifice.” Why do you so regularly focus on these themes?

The genre of romance is really where I fell in love with reading. I had always been drawn to stories in different forms, but as a child, I struggled with reading. I started learning to read & write in a German public school in the mountains outside of Frankfurt. Then, at age 9, my family returned to the USA, and without any extra tutoring, I was abruptly switched to an all-English education. It wasn’t until I picked up a Harlequin romance book from the local library bookshop that the struggle with words finally melted away. The reason I believe it was the romance genre that drew me in was because connection is another area where I have struggled in life. As a queer, nonbinary individual with undiagnosed neuro-divergency and c-PTSD from childhood trauma, I’ve always found human relationships extremely challenging. Writing about them allows me to explore relationships while at the same time gives me the space to express through my characters how important I truly think they are.

Why do you think so many people are drawn to reading stories about magic?

I think magic reminds us of how big the world is, how there’s so much we don’t know, and also how powerful we are. Magic gives us hope that there are still mysteries out there we haven’t solved, still beauty we haven’t seen, deep truths we haven’t touched. And stories about people discovering magic in themselves and in their world helps us believe that there is something bigger and deeper inside ourselves. It’s a very empowering kind of story, to discover and wrestle with a great powerful force and to overcome by sheer will and determination. Magic reminds us that even when we feel small, we are so much greater than we believe we are. We matter somehow, somewhere, to someone. Even if we feel we can’t answer the how, where, or to whom we matter, magical tales remind us that we each matter in a big way. And that gives us hope to carry on.

You call yourself a semi-nomad. Where haven’t you been yet, but would love to go to—and why?

I have yet to go anywhere on the African continent due to the complicated and negative nature of being a western white tourist there. However, I do hope to be able to travel to several places on the African continent at some point in my life once I am working in wildlife conservation. It would be a privilege to work with the many different cultures there and lend a helping hand to their massive conservation efforts working with elephants and big cats in particular. But, I have a lot of work to do both professionally in the animal field and personally in educating myself more about different African cultures and white privilege before I am prepared to make that journey.

Is there something from a legend, fairy or folk tale, or myth that you haven’t yet used in your writing, but would like to?

Yes! I have just started retelling several of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, and the more research I do into the origins of these stories, the more I have uncovered lore that I would love to write about. I am drawn to the darker tellings of “children’s stories,” as these were always the narratives I resonated with as a child. There are only a handful of the Grimm stories that have reached pop culture, and I am excited to retell some of the darker, grittier ones that deal with difficult themes such as cannabalism and child abuse.

You rescue birds! How has this impacted your life?

One really interesting impact that rescuing birds has had was that it made me turn an eye inward to my own childhood damage. As I did so, I began examining the kinds of stories I was telling. I read through several unpublished stories I’d written long ago and examined how I expressed relationships in them. What I was surprised to see was how similar the main character’s narrative was to the story of my rescue birds. Terrified of others, turning to aggression out of a need to protect oneself, and this resulting in an isolated, lonely, and powerless existence. To bring this back to your previous question, I think a big part of being able to start telling stories about love and connection instead of isolation and despair has been largely because of my work in learning to rescue birds.

What are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing??

One of the projects I’m really excited about right now is a series of short fantasy stories that I will be releasing over the next several months. What’s fun about these stories is that while they’re not connected by main characters or even worlds, they are connected in the theme of coming of age and identity. Each one deals with a nonbinary character who sees their identity in a unique way. Each face a unique struggle and find their identity to be key in their success as individuals in the bigger world. It’s an exploration that I feel very deeply, and it’s great fun to experiment with different ways of being in wildly different worlds from our own!

About Rei

Rei Rosenquist is a queer agender (they/them) speculative fiction and romance writer who depicts a wide variety of identities struggling to find a place in a wide variety of worlds. They are also a barista, baker, musician, and lifelong semi-nomad.

Rei first remembers life as seen out the high window of a hotel balcony. Down below is a courtyard, swarms of brightly dressed tourists, and the beach. The memory is nothing but a blue-green washed image. Warmth and sunlight. Here, they are three years old, and this is the beginning of a storyteller’s life. Over the years, Rei has  traveled to many countries, engaged many peoples, picked up new habits, and learned new languages. Across lands, they find constant inspiration in the stories we tell each other, the food we share with one another, the music we make together, and the world we can build when we allow ourselves to dream.

Find Rei

Website ~ Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Goodreads

Find the Wild Magic bundle!

The Wild Magic bundle is available for a limited time at StoryBundle.com/Fantasy.

Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of the purchase price to the charities Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.

   
 

Sign up for the Blackbird Publishing newsletter!

Interview: Annie Reed on “The Fixer”

“The Fixer” by Annie Reed

When Amelia botched her first spell as a kid, her parents enrolled her in an after-school program that taught her how to fix her screw-ups. She loved doing this so much that as an adult she opened her own business to help people who couldn’t get their spells to work quite right.

Now the best spell reclamation wizard in the business, she’s never run into a spell she couldn’t fix…until now. And to make matters worse, the spell in question is one of her own, pirated by a shady online wizarding school out to bilk unsuspecting wannabe wizards—and ruin Amelia in the process.

The Fixer” is one of the 15 tales in the Magicks & Enchantments anthology, which is available for a limited time in the Wild Magic bundle.

There’s the real world…
…and then there are our worlds, secret, wild, and free.

The Wild Magic bundle holds ten volumes of the magic. Ten books about what we find after we have passed through the illusion that we can live without wonder in the world, and come out the other side.

Pack your bags, put on your good walking shoes, and make sure you bring plenty of water. We’re going out into the wilderness, and who knows when we’ll be back?

The Wild Magic bundle is available through July 14th, 2021.

Excerpt

A blast of arctic air along with the smell of something not quite right assaulted Amelia when she stepped off the elevator into the lobby of her apartment building.

“Holy crap,” she muttered to herself, pulling her sweater tightly around her shoulders and wrinkling her nose.

Moretown Bay in June wasn’t the warmest place on the planet—the days were overcast and the offshore breezes blew in chilly, humid air from the bay—but usually a light coat or windbreaker was sufficient. The city wasn’t Juneau, Alaska, for goodness sake.

Amelia didn’t even own a down jacket. In all her years living in Moretown Bay, she’d never needed one. Raincoat? Oh my, yes. She had three, but no down jackets.

Today had dawned sunny and warm—for once—and she thought she’d be fine with a light sweater. The weather shouldn’t have changed that much during the short elevator ride from her apartment on the ninth floor to the lobby. Strictly speaking, it shouldn’t have changed at all.

Although her apartment building wasn’t in the ritziest part of town, the lobby wasn’t an open-air affair. The last time she’d checked, the building’s heating system had been working just fine. The lobby shouldn’t make her feel like she’d stepped into a walk-in freezer.

And the smell? Moretown Bay usually smelled like any other big coastal city—exhaust fumes from cars and busses, cooking smells from restaurants and those little hibachi things people used on their apartment balconies, and the smell of people (washed, unwashed, or perfumed and body-sprayed within an inch of their lives)—overlaid with the musty odor of the bay.

None of those odors quite described the smell in the lobby. More like an undercurrent of something horrible, like a combination of overripe skunk and fermented garbage pit dialed down to a level that barely registered.

Even trolls and goblins didn’t smell quite like that.

Magic. It had to be.

—from “The Fixer” by Annie Reed

The Interview

Amelia, the protagonist in “The Fixer,” has a knack for reversing spells, which she describes as “like figuring out a giant puzzle made entirely of magic.” Do you plan to write more stories about this character?

I might. Amelia’s a really interesting character. She started life as a side character in a never-to-be-published Diz & Dee novel I wrote for myself to work out the characters and their world and most importantly how magic works and is regulated in that world. She really grew into her own in “The Fixer.” I’d like to introduce her into a Diz & Dee story someday, if not write an entirely new project focusing on her.

You’ve set “The Fixer” in the fictional town Moretown Bay, which is the setting for a number of your stories. Tell us about the town and the world you’ve created, and why you enjoy writing in it.

I adore the Pacific Northwest, which is why I live in the desert. (Not really.) But seriously, the Seattle, Washington, area is one of my favorite places in the world. I created a fictional version of Seattle called Moretown Bay, which lets me play in my version of the area, not to mention change a few things up to suit the stories. And since I really like writing stories where magic and everyday life intersect, I made the world in which Moretown Bay exists a place where magic intersects with contemporary life.

Since Moretown Bay is a big city, I can write a pretty wide variety of stories, from the more lighthearted Diz & Dee mysteries (Diz is an elf; Dee is a human with precognitive abilities) to the darker Tales From the Shadows stories to something like “Deadbeats,” which is the story of a police officer on her first undercover assignment to catch a warlock. I’ve even written what I plan is the first of many standalone Moretown Bay novels – IRIS & IVY, the story of a woman’s quest to track down the killer who murdered her twin.

If you’ve ever been to Seattle, you might even catch fictionalized versions of some iconic Seattle neighborhoods and attractions in my Moretown Bay stories.

Why do you think so many people are drawn to reading stories about magic?”

That’s a hard one. I can only answer for myself. I like to imagine there’s more to the world than meets the eye. I write mysteries to impose some sort of order on the chaos that is real life. Incorporating magic into the mix sometimes is the only way to realistically impose order on chaos. (I know, that’s a weird way of putting it, but in real life the bad guys don’t always get caught.) I especially like writing about magic—and reading stories about magic—when the real world seems totally out of control. Writing and reading stories about magic is my literary comfort food.

You’re a founding member of the Uncollected Anthology, a group of writers who publish three urban and contemporary fantasy anthologies each year. What do you most enjoy about being a part of this collective?

I get to write themed stories with my friends. That’s first and foremost. It’s a group effort, and whenever groups of writers come together, like in a workshop, the creative energy is off the charts. That’s how the Uncollected Anthology started—as a way to keep that creative energy flowing beyond the workshop setting, with the added goal of introducing the fans of each writer to other writers in the group they might enjoy. I get so many new stories ideas, especially for the Moretown Bay stories, just because of my involvement in this group.

Plus, some of the themes have really made me stretch my writing chops. I mean, take Magical Motorcycles, which was our first issue. I never would have thought up that theme on my own, but the story I wrote for that issue—”The Magic of Home”—gave birth to Twig, a decidedly opinionated and tough-as-nails elf who’s since gone on to star in her own novella “Unbroken Familiar” and the novelette “Murder’s Revenge,” which is part of THE WILD HUNT anthology. All of Twig’s stories are also set in Moretown Bay.

The Diz & Dee Mysteries is a series of short stories you’ve written that combines mystery and fantasy. In August 2021, the Conjuring Crimes issue of the Uncollected Anthology will contain a brand-new story set in this world. Can we have a sneak peek?

Sure! Here’s an excerpt from the opening to “Maggie’s Missing Mojo” which will be available on August 1st:

Diz and I were in the middle of a conversation about the sorry state of our finances when the masseuse from across the street swept into our office. She gave me a wild-eyed look and said, “I need your help.”

My name is Dee. I’m a private investigator. My partner Diz and I run D & D Investigations out of a storefront that used to house a bakery. On a damp day—and it’s always damp in Moretown Bay—our office is haunted by the aroma of donuts past.

Magdalena the masseuse has been a fixture in the neighborhood for years. She opened her massage parlor long before Diz and I stopped investigating magic-related crimes for the Police Department to go private. She was one of the first to welcome us to the neighborhood with a batch of brownies that had a little extra added ingredient. I only had a few nibbles to be polite. Diz ate the rest. He’s an elf. The extra ingredient didn’t phase him.

She’s a genial woman who’s about my age, as unique as her hand-embroidered hip-hugger jeans, wide-brimmed hats, and silky blouses that billow around her like those poet shirts men used to wear a couple of centuries ago. She always makes me think of fresh spring days and fields of wildflowers and soft breezes through tall pines. Although that could just be the aromatherapy oils she uses in her business.

If I could read auras (which I can’t), most days hers would be tinged a serene rose pink.
Not today though. Today serene was out the window.

That’s not all that unusual. People who need our services aren’t calm and collected. Diz and I specialize in looking for missing people. By the time someone comes to us, they’ve already gone to the police and the police haven’t been able to help. Our clients are frustrated and upset and frequently angry, and it’s my job to calm them down enough to have a conversation about whoever’s missing.

“What’s wrong?” I asked in my most calm, professional, you can tell me anything tone.
Diz always lets me take the lead when we interview new clients. Especially the ones who are visibly upset. He’s not exactly a calming influence.

When most people think “elf,” they envision Legolas from those movies. Or maybe Santa’s elves, the short ones who dress in red-and-green tunics and candy-cane striped leggings. That’s definitely not Diz. If Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) ever starred in a movie as an elf, Diz could be his stunt double.

Except for the hair. Diz has marvelous hair.

He’s also tall, broad shouldered, strong jawed, and has drop-dead gorgeous blue eyes. Not to mention gloriously pointy ears. I’m not ashamed to admit I have a thing for Diz’s ears—not that I’d ever tell him that.

He also has resting glower face.

When we worked as detectives for the police department, I was the good cop. Diz was the rip your arm off and beat you senseless with it cop. More times than not suspects would confess just because Diz glowered at them from the other side of the interrogation table. He didn’t even have to move a muscle. We had an amazing closure record. The department was sorry to see Diz go.

Me? Not so much. I don’t blame them. I’m a plain old human who’s pushing thirty, and my only superpower is an unreliable ability to see things that might happen. At some unknown time in the future. Maybe.

Magdalena is used to Diz and his glower. She gives him massages every now and then. He even treated me to one of her specials—a two-for-one Valentine’s Day deal. (He was the two to my one.) Although I’d been mildly disappointed that we hadn’t been in the same massage room, I’d managed to catch a glimpse of his towel-clad derriere. I’d had extremely pleasant dreams for weeks afterwards.

Diz usually excuses himself whenever a new client comes in the office so that his glower doesn’t intimidate someone who doesn’t know him. Since our new client was Magdalena, he sat down in his favorite place in our front office, a little loveseat we keep in the front office to make it look less like a police interrogation room and more like your best friend’s home office.

Instead of launching into what was wrong, Magdalena looked around herself uncertainly. She’d never been in our office before as a client, and I guess she wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do next. Kind of like how I felt walking into her massage parlor for the first time and wondering when I should start taking my clothes off and exactly how naked I was supposed to get.

What are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

I’m always working on more than one thing. Besides putting the finishing touches on “Maggie’s Missing Mojo” (the Diz & Dee stories are always a lot of fun), I’m finishing up a crime novel while I’m noodling around with a mystery story that’s due in a few weeks for the winter issue of MCM (Mystery, Crime & Mayhem). I’ll also be working shortly on a story for SILENCE IN THE CITY, a really cool anthology project recently funded through Kickstarter and edited by Shaun Kilgore.

I have such a blast working in multiple genres. That’s what makes writing fun for me. I tell people I have butterfly brain, flitting from one genre to the next, but I really think it’s just because I love reading all sorts of stories in all sorts of genres. Same with movies and TV shows. My viewing habits are all over the place. Writing in a lot of different genres keeps me—and I hope my readers—entertained.

About Annie

A prolific and versatile writer, Annie’s a frequent contributor to both Fiction River and Pulphouse Fiction Magazine. Her recent work includes the near-future science fiction short novel In Dreams, the gritty urban fantasy novel Iris & Ivy, and the superhero novel Faster. Annie’s stories appear regularly on Tangent Online’s recommended reading lists, and “The Color of Guilt,” originally published in Fiction River: Hidden in Crime, was selected as one of The Best Crime and Mystery Stories 2016. She’s even had a story selected for inclusion in study materials for Japanese college entrance exams.

Annie also writes sweet romance under the name Liz McKnight, and is a founding member and contributor to the innovative Uncollected Anthology series of themed urban and contemporary fantasy anthologies.

Find Annie

Website ~ BookBub ~ Amazon ~ Goodreads

Find the Wild Magic bundle!

The Wild Magic bundle is available for a limited time at StoryBundle.com/Fantasy.

Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of the purchase price to the charities Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.

   
 

Sign up for the Blackbird Publishing newsletter!

Interview: DeAnna Knippling on “A Shrewdness of Swindlers”

Dames, detectives, and deception…magic meets the decadence of the Roaring Twenties in ten tales of glitter and jazz.

The year is 1929. It’s two months after the financial collapse on Wall Street, and the world is bating its breath, unsure of what will happen next. Is it the end of an era?

At the Honeybee’s Sting, a speakeasy in the basement of a laundry, a group of unusual figures meets to discuss the past—and perhaps some possible futures: the Detective turned writer, the Dame who’s older than she looks, the Vampire who’s been riding the financial markets for generations, the Spy from across the ocean, the Actress who’s only just learned the truth about Hollywood, and more.

But one of their number is missing, a man connected to the mob, a man who holds the prize for a mysterious storytelling contest—a prize that can give you your heart’s desire.

Ten stories, woven together in the style of The Canterbury Tales, follow the contest along a long, dark night where nothing is what it seems and the best way to tell the truth is to lie.

Pour yourself a cocktail and join us at the liar’s table for the divine, the slapstick, the tragic, the transcendant 1920s today!

A Shrewdness of Swindlers is available for a limited time in the Wild Magic bundle.

There’s the real world…
…and then there are our worlds, secret, wild, and free.

The Wild Magic bundle holds ten volumes of the magic. Ten books about what we find after we have passed through the illusion that we can live without wonder in the world, and come out the other side.

Pack your bags, put on your good walking shoes, and make sure you bring plenty of water. We’re going out into the wilderness, and who knows when we’ll be back?

The Wild Magic bundle is available through July 14th, 2021.

Excerpt

Ala patiently explained to me what would happen when the witch arrived. In great detail.

First, the witch would arrive in a traveling house or hut. It could be on walking chicken legs, or it could appear down the street, hidden amongst the other houses. I would know the witch’s house by the bones, Ala said. Either the house would be made out of bones, or it would be decorated with bones. Sometimes the bones would be disguised, and sometimes they would be made up with strings, sticks, and hollowed-out, painted eggs into a kind of windchime that witches used for casting spells.

Second, she would have bony legs. All witches, Ala asserted, had bony legs. If someone accused of being a witch had fat legs, well, that person wasn’t a witch. They could have a fat middle, even a fat face and fat arms, but their legs would be like sticks.

Third, a witch will always give you the chance, if you ask, to do three tasks for her. If you are asking her a favor, three tasks. If you are trying to escape her wrath, three tasks. The tasks are always impossible. The only way to win is not to play. Or you can cheat. In fact, the only times that Ala and Elias had heard of someone getting anything out of a witch was by tricking her somehow. Say a witch asked someone to bring her the moon. You would cup your hands full of water dyed with ink, so that the ink would shine like a mirror. And then you would stand under the moon and say, “I brought you the moon, now you only have to take it.”

I immediately thought about hiring a lawyer. This witch stuff sounded like lawyer-talk to me. But they said no, a lawyer wasn’t going to help.

If you complete the three tasks, they said, then the witch has to do whatever you asked of her. You can’t make her a slave or anything. But you could ask her to kill someone, or give you a magical trinket that would make your fortune, or turn you beautiful, or let you go, or whatever you wanted. If you didn’t, though, she would eat you.

Eat me, that was, if I dared helped Ala and Elias get out of their servitude.

—from A Shrewdness of Swindlers by DeAnna Knippling

The Interview

A Shrewdness of Swindlers takes us back to 1929, where a group of liars, cheats, and thieves meet to compete for a stolen treasure by telling tales. Each of these tales is a separate story in the book. What inspired you to create this collection?

I was inspired by a specific book, The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man, by David W. Mauer. The author, a professor of linguistics, interviewed a ton of con artists about the slang they used, and ended up with so many good stories that he wrote a book spelling out how cons worked. Not that that stopped anyone from getting conned, of course.

My favorite part was the author noting that cons actually get conned a lot (although not by the same trick they use) and end up rarely keeping hold of their conned money. It’s almost like the insight into who makes a good victim comes from being exactly the same kind of person.

The book is set in the 1940s, though. What inspired me to move it earlier was that I really just like the 1920s better! I’ve definitely done more research on the 1920s. I decided after reading The Big Con that I could probably get at least a half-dozen stories out of the idea of conning or fooling people in the 1920s, and mentally bookmarked those stories for a future collection as I wrote them. I was trying not to write stories in the same subgenres, but they ended up mostly tinged with fantasy elements.

What folklore did you incorporate in the Dame’s tale, “Myrna and the Thirteen-Year Witch,” and how did you modify it to fit the setting of Hollywood in the 1920s?

Oh, that’s the Baba Yaga story! She comes from Slavic traditions. Whenever someone asks Baba Yaga for a favor, she gives them a deliberately impossible task, like finding a blue rose. She also has a hut that has chicken feet; I put the house in there as a Spanish mansion.

A friend made a suggestion about turning some of the supernatural creatures into things they normally wouldn’t have been—I think he mentioned turning dragons into trains—and I liked that idea, too. In Slavic fairy tales, characters are always getting transformed into something else. Why not change them into machines? It’s a cruel form of slavery, which made me think Baba Yaga would be in favor.

In the Actress’ tale, “The Page-Turners,” the book the protagonist accidentally ends up used to be a person. How did you come up with the idea, and what did you most enjoy about writing this story?

Er, well. At the time I was working my way through a list of horror novels and read The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric. The book ended abruptly and my imagination just kind of carried on trying to sort out the story and how I felt about it. In the end I went, “Murder is like killing someone so you can overwrite their story.”

About the same time, I ran into a trailer for the movie Europa (also called Zentropa) by Lars von Trier. I’d seen the movie years before but it had stuck with me—it’s a second-person point of view movie, with Max von Sydow hypnotically narrating the tale. So I decided to write a second-person point of view story. I’ve written them before and I like writing them.

But my favorite part was researching Anna May Wong, a Chinese-American actress who was one of the first to adopt the “flapper” look and who almost broke into top-tier Hollywood stardom. When things fell through for her due to racism, she toured China for a year. Eventually she starred as a detective in her own show, but the episodes weren’t preserved and are lost now, sadly. The idea of an artist who was held back, not because of her own lack of talent but because of outside forces, who then pivots to something with more depth, that resonated with me.

Why do you think so many people are drawn to reading stories about magic?

On the one hand, I think we all have some unhealthy coping mechanisms. Stories about magic generally tell us that, at least for a little while, there’s a workaround for reality. The dead are brought back to life, injustices are overturned, the impossible becomes reality, mostly because you wish it so. I feel like the stories that are most heavily anchored in magic systems are really invested in this concept. Like, “If you follow the rules of magic, you don’t have to follow the regular rules.” People say that if you’re going to write a magic system, you have to put a price to the magic; otherwise, it’s getting something for nothing, but if you pay a price, then you get the “right” to change reality.

I mean, I’m gonna criticize that sort of story, but I love that sort of story, too. It’s like these stories are complex con jobs. “If I could just fool reality for five minutes…”

On the other hand, I feel like stories about magic are also good ways to create stories about our values and beliefs. There are things we each deeply believe in that have no basis in fact, but that we believe in order to cope with reality and with being human. Sir Terry wrote about those things a lot, and I’ve always admired him as a writer. I like those stories a lot, too. I think they speak to our craving for meaning. Why do bad things happen? Why is there death? What will the world be like, after I am gone? What was this all for? Not so much myths about the universe as answering questions like, “Was the important thing all the pain in the ass paperwork I filled out for my job? Or what I felt like when I looked out over the ocean? Or…both?”

Writing Craft Volume 1 is your first book on writing and publishing fiction; you’re working on the next book now. Why did you create this series, and what have you learned from it yourself?

I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts on how to write for years on my blog. I finally got to a point where I saw this meme going around Facebook that said something like carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man on the same day that some mediocre white man was going off about his book about writing and how great it was, etc., etc., and how he’d written over a dozen books. I’d written over seventy by that point.

Another meme that I find inspiring is I do all things through spite, which strengthens me.

The Magicks & Enchantments anthology includes your short story “The Coffee Shop Ghost.” Why did you decide to have the main character be able to smell spirits?

I went to the coffee shop where the story happens and it smelled weird that day, like an electrical fire. I was journaling, and wrote down that the building must be possessed of a ghost made out of smells. Then I went, “You know what would be funny? Is if there was a name for the talent of being to smell out ghosts. Smell-o-mancy.” One Google search later, I had an idea for a story.

I wrote the first half of the story or so at the coffee shop. I’d been to the bar next door before that, too, but didn’t write there.

What are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

I just finished a short story set in the same world as one of the stories in A Shrewdness of Swindlers. The story in the collection is “All the Retros at the New Cotton Club,” and it’s about a future version of the 1920s where what’s being bootlegged aren’t alcoholic spirits, but AIs based on the dead, called “retros.” The new story is called “Be Careful What You Steal” and it’s set in the same world but different characters and gets into the backstory behind the technology that created the retros.

I’m also working on a space opera novel called The House of Masks that’s a combination of all my favorite melodramatic opera things, from Moulin Rouge to Repo: The Genetic Opera to The Phantom of the Opera, with some Dickens and Aliens movies thrown in. It’s the longest project I’ve ever worked on, though, so sometimes I take breaks 🙂

About DeAnna

DeAnna Knippling has written over 70 novels across multiple genres for herself and her ghostwriting clients. But what she writes for herself are historical gothic fantasy and horror novels about characters who free themselves from monsters—somehow. Haunted houses, mysterious bumps in the night, twisted family dramas, hidden passions, and secret hopes populate her works.

Find DeAnna

Website ~ Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Instagram ~ Pinterest ~ Goodreads ~ BookBub ~ Patreon

Find the Wild Magic bundle!

The Wild Magic bundle is available for a limited time at StoryBundle.com/Fantasy.

Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of the purchase price to the charities Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.

   
 

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Interview: Alicia Cay on “Campbell County Cook-Off”

In Alicia Cay’s “Campbell County Cook-Off,” the oldest of three elderly witch sisters always wins the County Fair’s chili cook-off…but this year, things are going to be different!

Rebecca and Leah steal their sister’s prize-winning recipe, whip up their own batch of chili, and head off to the competition ready to surprise their sister—and win the contest. But they didn’t follow the recipe correctly…or did they?

Campbell County Cook-Off” is one of the 15 tales in the Magicks & Enchantments anthology, which is available for a limited time in the Wild Magic bundle.

There’s the real world…
…and then there are our worlds, secret, wild, and free.

The Wild Magic bundle holds ten volumes of the magic. Ten books about what we find after we have passed through the illusion that we can live without wonder in the world, and come out the other side.

Pack your bags, put on your good walking shoes, and make sure you bring plenty of water. We’re going out into the wilderness, and who knows when we’ll be back?

The Wild Magic bundle is available through July 14th, 2021.

Excerpt

A tower of flame erupted from the stock pot, instantly tarnishing the stainless steel into a burnt black. The volcanic eruption pushed Rebecca, Leah, and the three judges off their feet. The Mayor was knocked onto his butt and slid across the floor into the opposite wall. His eyes were circles of surprise, and the bottom of his beard was singed and smoking. He smacked at the sparks in his beard to put them out. “What in the hell was that?”

The answer unfurled its wings from the burnt stock pot that teetered on the edge of the table. The wings, brown and red and webbed, were followed by a gnarled creature covered in scales. It slowly pulled itself from the pot’s narrow confines. The thing looked like a mix between a baby dragon, a newborn kitten, and the daemon Leah had accidentally summoned from the Unders in the 12th Century.

Its body was the color of campfire chili, and its kidney bean scales clinked against the pot as the chili-daemon stepped onto the table. Red chili pepper flakes dotted its flesh and clumped into its slitted eyes—red, tan, and full of heat. It grabbed the stock pot with a beak formed of ground beef and launched the pot across the room. The chili-daemon screeched out a roar, another plume of flame spewing from its mouth. The pink and yellow flowered drapes on the community center windows burst into flames.

The silent shock in the room erupted into chaos. Suddenly, everyone was screaming, but the towers of fire surrounding each window made escape through them impossible. This sent everyone in the same direction:toward the double doors. A walker flew through the air, and old Ms. Emerson was pushed to the floor in the kerfuffle. In the rush, several pots of chili were bumped or pulled off their tables. Pots clattered, and beef and beans pooled onto the floor. Folks slipped and slid their way away from the rapidly growing chili-daemon, their Sunday-best clothing covered in stains that no amount of club soda would ever render wearable again.

—from “Campbell County Cook-Off” by Alicia Cay

The Interview

How on earth did you come up with the concept of a daemon made out of chili for your short story “Campbell County Cook-Off?”

Chili cook-offs were popular things when I was growing up in the South. I knew I wanted to write a story that puts witches in an environment where they aren’t often thought to be, e.g. the deep south/Texas. From there it was: what if my witches mixed up a cookbook and a grimoire when making their chili recipe—what would that create? Well, a summoned daemon made of kidney beans and chili flakes, of course! 🙂

Do you plan to write more stories about the three witch sisters from this story?

The sisters in my story were a nod to Shakespeare’s three witches (the Wyrd Sisters), and I can’t say they won’t ever pop up again in a future story, but I don’t have current ideas to feature them.

Why do you think so many people are drawn to reading stories about magic?

I think it’s because stories about magic show us that things beyond what we can see and hear are possible and do exist, that dragons can be slayed, and that everyone, even a simple hobbit from the Shire, is capable of great things.

You received an Honorable Mention from the Writers of the Future Contest for the very first short story you ever wrote! Wow! You’ve now won 10 Honorable Mentions, 4 Silver Honorable Mentions, have been a Semi-Finalist once and a Finalist once. Why do you keep submitting to this contest, and why is the Writers of the Future important to you?

My mom knew I was meant to be a writer long before I did, and years ago she bought me a copy of the Writers of the Future anthology (Vol. 27) to encourage me to start writing by reading the stories and entering the contest. Sadly, it took me a couple of years after she passed away to get the message. I entered this contest as a connection to my mom, but I continued because it gave me a place to send my stories as a new writer, a deadline to meet (you can enter every three months), and encouragement to keep going in the form of a beautiful certificate when your story places. I’ve also made many writing friends through this contest, built a writer’s group, and I was awarded a scholarship to Superstars Writing Seminars that was sponsored by Writers of the Future (one of only two awarded in 2020). I have a deep admiration for how this contest helps up-and-coming writers, and for how much it helped me get started and continue to develop as a writer.

You suffer from wanderlust. 🙂 Tell us about your travels—and where would you most like to go in the future?

Yes, I so do love to travel! My best friend and I like to select a new city every year to explore. We soak in the art scene, enjoy the food, see the sights, the history, and museums, etc.

I also try to get in one trip abroad. The last couple of international trips have been to Aruba to sit on the beaches, Mexico, we visited Chichen Itza and swam in a cenote, and Iceland, where we watched the aurora borealis dance, walked around inside a glacier, visited the volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, and ate Hakarl, which is fermented Greenland shark (it tasted, umm … interesting).

Our next U.S. trip will be to explore Austin, TX (to keep it weird), and then Scotland as soon as we can, where the fairy lore and folk tales abound!

Traveling is a balm for my soul, and helps me keep my well refilled. ♥

Is there something from a legend, fairy or folk tale, or myth that you haven’t yet used in your writing, but would like to?

Lately, I’ve been fascinated with the idea of Nephilim, the (giant) offspring of fallen angels and humans, and after a recent trip to the San Luis Valley in Colorado, I got the spark of a story idea to put them out there beneath the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I get a kick out of using Colorado places and mixing them with legends or myths. My last Silver Honorable Mention story was the Pied Piper in the old west, in Gunnison, Colorado. I have fun mixing up things like this.

You’re working on a novel! Tell us about it!

I’m currently outlining a novel that falls into the Mystery/Thriller genre and plays with people’s preconceived ideas of who society views as villains. Should be fun!

What are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing??

I’m currently working on a short story that combines Spiritualism (think Mediums and the Victorian era) and Science Fiction. I tend to do a lot of research for my writing, and this one has sent me down many fascinating and fun rabbit holes! 🙂

About Alicia

Alicia Cay is a writer of Speculative and Mystery stories. Her short fiction has been published in several anthologies including “Hold Your Fire” from WordFire Press, and “The Wild Hunt” by Air and Nothingness Press. In 2020 she was awarded a scholarship to attend SuperStars Writing Seminars, and later that same year made Finalist in the Writers of the Future contest.

She grew up on her Dad’s hand-me-down collection of classic Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror, which now influences most of her writing. She has a B.F.A. in Interior Architecture, but worked as a 9-1-1 dispatcher and Evidence Technician for over a decade before retiring to pursue the things that bring her to life.

Alicia suffers from wanderlust, fears her to-be-read stack will one day topple over and crush her, crochets, collects quotes, and currently lives beneath the shadows of the Rocky Mountains with a corgi, a kitty, and a lot of fur.

Find Alicia

Website ~ Twitter ~ Instagram ~ Pinterest ~ Goodreads

Find the Wild Magic bundle!

The Wild Magic bundle is available for a limited time at StoryBundle.com/Fantasy.

Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of the purchase price to the charities Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.

   
 

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Interview: James Pyles on “No Place Like Home”

What would have happened if Dorothy hadn’t wanted to leave Oz and return to Kansas? What if the “good witch” Glinda had craved the ruby slippers for her own? What would the transformed Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and Cowardly Lion really have been like with their new attributes?

You’ll never think of Dorothy and her friends the same way again…

No Place Like Home” is one of the 15 tales in the Magicks & Enchantments anthology, which is available for a limited time in the Wild Magic bundle.

There’s the real world…
…and then there are our worlds, secret, wild, and free.

The Wild Magic bundle holds ten volumes of the magic. Ten books about what we find after we have passed through the illusion that we can live without wonder in the world, and come out the other side.

Pack your bags, put on your good walking shoes, and make sure you bring plenty of water. We’re going out into the wilderness, and who knows when we’ll be back?

The Wild Magic bundle is available through July 14th, 2021.

Excerpt

After all their adventures, the dangers, the terrors…after the Yellow Brick Road, the poppy field, the witch’s castle—and most importantly, confronting the wizard—Dorothy regarded her closest friends, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Woodsman, and her dearest friend, the Scarecrow. Each had received their heart’s desire (though no one was sure co-ruling Oz was part of that). Now, in the throne room of the Wizard of Oz in the palace at the center of the Emerald City, it was her turn—she was supposed to finally get her wish and return home.

But…how?

The Wizard would have taken her home in the same hot air balloon that had brought him to Oz. But just as they were about to climb aboard Toto had wriggled out of her arms, and when she ran after him the balloon took off with the Wizard—and without the two of them.

The large, chamber they all stood within was green, the citizens of Oz were dressed in green, and even the munchkins wore green little hats and jackets. Everything was green in keeping with the city’s name except for Dorothy, her friends, and her ruby slippers. Then a soft, shimmering crimson glow warmed the room, and as it vanished, Glinda the Good Witch of the North appeared.

How like an angel she appeared, albeit one with a very long wand and very tall crown. All the subjects present bowed toward her. Glinda gently ascended the platform where Dorothy and her companions had stood and watched the Wizard ascend heavenward.

Dorothy, though trembling, gave a polite curtsey, and then wailed, “The Wizard’s gone, Glinda, flown off in his balloon! How am I supposed to get back home?” The witch was powerful, but even she couldn’t conjure up another big balloon and make it sail to Kansas.

Dorothy expected to cry, but the tears didn’t come—which frankly, was quite a surprise. She stood shivering in the center of the jade throne room, her tiny black terrier held tightly in her arms, along with Wicked’s captured golden cap. Her three friends no longer seemed outlandish, or even foolish.

“You’ve had the power to return to your cherished aunt and uncle all this while, Dorothy.” Glinda, the good witch, dressed in an overbearingly fluffy white-and-pink dress made out of clouds, smiled kindly down at Dorothy. The tall, cotton candy crown on her head, magically held in place, didn’t even wiggle. She spoke precisely, as if her every word was part of a prepared speech to be presented before royalty.

“I have?”

“Then why didn’t you tell her about it?” the Scarecrow asked, a hint of suspicion in his voice.

Dorothy saw a twinkle in Glinda’s eyes, just for an instant, an unpleasant glint she had never seen before. The Wizard said he needed Wicked’s broomstick, but it turned out he didn’t really want it at all—it was just an excuse to get Dorothy and her friends to kill the witch. Except for her three friends, Dorothy wondered if she could trust anyone in Oz.

—from “No Place Like Home” by James Pyles

The Interview

“No Place Like Home” is an interesting twist based on the world and characters of Wizard of Oz. What inspired you to write this story?

Originally, I wrote a version of the short story for an anthology submission call involving phobias. I chose koinophobia which is the irrational fear of being normal. I imagined that after all of her fantastic adventures in Oz, Dorothy might regret or even dread going back to being a 1930s farm girl. After that, it was just a matter of leveraging the endings of both the film version of the Wizard of Oz and the novel by L. Frank Baum to create an alternate outcome for Dorothy.

Do you plan to write other stories in this version of Oz?

No plans for a sequel or other version. My whole point was describing how not only Dorothy, but her friends the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and Lion as well as the White Witch were never really what they seemed. If Dorothy never returned to Kansas, all of those concealed traits would come tumbling out. Dorothy changes most of all, filling the only open niche (besides the Wizard) in Oz. In her case, she really did end up becoming what she had fought hardest against.

You regularly post book and film reviews. What do you enjoy most about this?

I like being able to put my own, unique thumbprint on these reviews. Many book and film reviews get pretty repetitive or focus on the same elements of the work. I like to think that I possess an alternate perspective and can bring a more refreshing angle in how to regard even classic movies and novels.

Your first science fiction novella, Time’s Abyss, will come out in October, and is up for pre-order now! Tell us about it!

The official blurb is: It starts in the present with eccentric billionaire Theodore Falkon commissioning and using what he thought was a timespace projector. He wanted to bring extinct life and ancient treasures from the distant past to his personal island for the amusement of his internationally famous guests. It starts with a 3,000 year old alien starship being discovered by the Soviet military under the Siberian wastes in 1965. It starts with the projector’s inventor, brilliant physicist Carson Everett leading a covert military and scientific team aboard a submarine to Falkon’s island chain to shut down the most dangerous experiment in the history of humanity. Where it ends will depend on which versions of reality take over the Earth, if it’s possible to end it at all.

It was written for a series with the theme “Underground.” A much shorter version of “Abyss” was one of my first SciFi stories, written for a submission to an Australian military-scifi action periodical. They didn’t accept it, but a significant portion of the action happens underground. I leveraged that for this story (I was tempted to call it “The Time Tunnel,” but that was already taken). I had to extend the adventure quite a bit, actually resolving the cliffhanger I’d originally created. It’s also something of a homage piece (at least the ancient alien spaceship part) to one of my favorite authors Andre Norton (Alice Norton). When I was in junior high, I read her novel “The Time Traders” and became hooked on the series and the underlying concept of modern people attempting to retrieve ancient technology to achieve space travel.

Imagine if a time experiment went wrong and began temporally fracturing parts of the Earth into different points of actual and alternate history. Too many fractures and time itself might end. Then imagine that it wasn’t really an accident and there’s some intelligence behind these occurrences, manipulating them for an unknown purpose. Are Dr. Carson Everett and his team of time lost specialists merely pawns, or can they seize control of a world being thrown into chaos, saving the planet and all of history? The conclusion is nothing that anyone, including Everett or Falkon could have imagined.

Is there something from a legend, fairy or folk tale, or myth that you haven’t yet used in your writing, but would like to?

I’m always interested in ancient gods, legends and such, but not the ones we tend to think of in western culture. How many tales are there of mermaids from different cultures across history? What if you wrote a story based on a mermaid fable almost none of your readers had ever heard of before? That’s just an example, but I like taking human lore that is all but unknown to readers in North America and Europe, and making something new.

What are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

A publisher I’ve worked with before extended a personal invitation to work on a “secret” project. A number of authors are crafting a series of short stories and novellas based on a shared world. Without giving too much away, for centuries a series of extraterrestrial events have been shaping people and objects, altering the nature of their existence and their effect on the world around them. For that same amount of time, a secret organization has been suppressing all knowledge of these events. In the present, the hidden truth is explosively released in a global event. With their presence exposed, these “agents” are in a race to find and conceal a growing group of extraordinary people and artifacts before governments, wealthy magnates, and others use them to take power over nations or even the world.

I’m working on my second story for the anthology right now and I’m having a blast. Although I use some of the “pre-created” characters, I’ve been given the opportunity to expand their histories, introduce new characters, and even to change the past.

About James

James Pyles is a science fiction and fantasy writer. He is also an Information Technology textbook author and editor, and technical writer for the IT department of a multi-state corporation located in the U.S. northwest. He currently has over 30 short stories published in various anthologies and periodicals and has just sold his first novella. He won the 2021 Helicon Short Story Award for his science fiction tale “The Three Billion Year Love,” which appears in the Tuscany Bay Books Planetary Anthology Mars.

Find James

Website ~ Twitter ~ Goodreads ~ BookBub

Find the Wild Magic bundle!

The Wild Magic bundle is available for a limited time at StoryBundle.com/Fantasy.

Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of the purchase price to the charities Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.

   
 

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Interview: Melissa McShane on “The Smoke-Scented Girl”

Evon Lorantis, magician-inventor of spells for his country’s defense against the power-mad Despot, is stumped by the mystery the government brings him: a rash of spontaneously occurring fires, hotter than any natural force can produce, melting stone and vaporizing flesh wherever they strike. The government believes it is a weapon that will finally defeat the Despot. And they want Evon to harness it.

In investigating the problem, Evon discovers these fires are no accident. He sets off on a journey across Dalanine to track down the rogue magician behind the fires, hoping to persuade her to turn aside from her vigilante crusade to serve her country. But the woman he finds is nothing like he expected.

As Evon attempts to untangle fact from myth, what began as an assignment becomes a challenge that will require every ounce of magical ability he has—and will irrevocably change the course of his life.

The Smoke-Scented Girl is available for a limited time in the Wild Magic bundle.

There’s the real world…
…and then there are our worlds, secret, wild, and free.

The Wild Magic bundle holds ten volumes of the magic. Ten books about what we find after we have passed through the illusion that we can live without wonder in the world, and come out the other side.

Pack your bags, put on your good walking shoes, and make sure you bring plenty of water. We’re going out into the wilderness, and who knows when we’ll be back?

The Wild Magic bundle is available through July 14th, 2021.

Excerpt

He breathed shallowly, inhaling the scent of char and snow and, distantly, someone’s dinner. He had no idea if this next part would work. He’d worked it out by candlelight the last two nights while Piercy muttered in his sleep, scribbling notes and crossing them out and sketching the shape of a spell he wasn’t sure was even possible. Tracking someone when you had a piece of them, a hair or a drop of blood, that was a commonplace. His quarry hadn’t left anything like that behind. But she had left something else, if Evon could manage to find it. If it even remained here. If the spell worked.

He chalked a rune on the back of his left hand, then closed his eyes and let his mind wander. The bitter brown scent of burned earth. The clear crystal smell of snow melting. Mutton boiling over a fire, cold damp stone like ancient caverns. He pinched his nostrils shut with his left hand, pressed down on his eyelids with his right, and whispered, “Olficio.”

Even with his fingers clamped over his nose, the raucous clamoring of a thousand odors made him stagger. There was a river—he remembered their coach passing over it—a quarter of a mile away, and he could smell the water rushing past its banks, throwing up the rougher scent of the rocks it wore away at. The nearer smell of mutton drilled into his lips and tongue, warring with the bitter coffee flavor of olficio and making him want to vomit. He swallowed hard and kept his eyes shut. Trees with green sap flowing through their veins waiting patiently for spring. The sharp musk of a fox in its den. And somewhere, in all of this olfactory noise, a scent that didn’t belong.

He became gradually aware of a more human smell, the noxious odor of a body infrequently bathed and the warm, slippery scent of greasy hair. It permeated the stones, but faintly, as if the air was tugging it free and blending it with the wind that blew through the wrecked cottage. Fullanter. Then, even more faintly, the scent of smoke. Not the smoke of a campfire or even of a burning building, but a darker, thicker smell, slightly sour, as if someone had smeared grease on a hunk of ancient cheese and then set it alight. Evon let it seep into his closed nostrils and into his lungs. It wasn’t exactly an unpleasant smell, but it made him uneasy, as though he’d invited something to take residence in his body that might not be the most gracious of guests. But nothing happened. He let the scent fill him to the core, then said, “Desini,” and the smells vanished so completely that even after he lowered both his hands, he felt as if his sense of smell had been surgically excised. Only the thick, sour smell of smoke remained, trailing away out of the cottage and down the road south toward Chaneston.

—from The Smoke-Scented Girl by Melissa McShane

The Interview

Where did the idea for The Smoke-Scented Girl come from?

I don’t actually come by ideas easily. I have to fight for every one. In this case, I had actually run out of things I wanted to write, and I decided to try a brainstorming technique where I came up with dozens of potential book titles and chose one that appealed to me. The Smoke-Scented Girl felt like it had a lot of potential. It wasn’t until much later, after the book was written and published, that I discovered I’d seen that phrase before—in the opening scenes of Andrea K. Höst’s book Hunting! I’m not sure how much I was influenced by that glimpse, but I’d like to think I was subconsciously inspired.

Both The Smoke-Scented Girl and The God-Touched Man are set in the world of Dalanine. What did you most enjoy about creating this world?

I wanted a world that would feel familiar to readers and yet be its own place. The original idea had Dalanine as a Victorian-inspired alternate reality, with magic as a utilitarian force replacing technology. That meant magic had to be something anyone could learn, not something they were born to. The magic system was probably the most fun part of this world creation, because I drew on a lot of common elements—magic words, gestures, symbolic material components—and tried to reach beyond the way they’re often used. For example, the spell words Evon uses are based on Latin words, but I used ones that aren’t instantly recognizable as roots for English words. Looking for alternatives was a lot of fun, not least because I discovered Latin words I’d never heard of.

What magical elements in The Smoke-Scented Girl are not based on folklore and legends, but instead are completely made up—and why?

The magical elements that come closest to being entirely made up are the places of power that exist here and there throughout Dalanine. They are places saturated with magic from the wizard wars that happened hundreds of years ago, and their basic natures have been altered by that magic. Some of them are offset in time, while others are summer or winter year-round, and there’s one that is permanently on fire. I liked the idea of magical fallout, so to speak, and magic as a contaminant. They started out as background detail that explained why the magicians of Dalanine’s present don’t do magic the way magicians used to, and about halfway in, they became a major part of the plot.

Why do you think so many people are drawn to reading stories about magic?

I know for me, stories about magic make me feel in touch with something greater than I am. The world is a big place, and so much of it is still strange and unknown, and I think that appeals to a lot of people. Magic is an extension of that. Stories about magic promise to expand our horizons by inviting us to step outside the mundane world. And, like any good story, they offer us the chance to experience things outside our own lives.

You moved quite a bit growing up. How has this influenced your writing?

I never put down roots anywhere because I was always conscious of how my family would eventually leave. Among other things, this kept me from feeling tied to one place and therefore falling into the trap that sometimes happens of believing that the way things are done in my hometown are the way they are done everywhere. I think that shows up in my writing as the wide variety of fantasy subgenres and tropes I’ve tackled over the years; I want to explore different ways of thinking and different personal expectations. The constants in my life were family and family traditions, and I like to write about the ways people build connections that aren’t based on place.

Set in England in the early 1800s, your series The Extraordinaries focuses on women who use their magical talents not only to fight a war, but also challenge the expectations and prejudices of society. What inspired you to create this series?

The Extraordinaries started as a dare by my husband after I said how much I like Regency fiction but didn’t think I could ever write one. I had a magic system I liked (really superpowers like the X-Men) and the idea of combining what is a more modern take on magic with the sensibility of the early 19th century captured my imagination. From there, the intersection of magical talent with society and culture inspired each woman’s story as each of my heroines mastered her talent as well as discovering where she fit into society.

Is there something from a legend, fairy or folk tale, or myth that you haven’t yet used in your writing, but would like to?

I want to write about elves—not friendly, wise Tolkien elves, but the powerful, alien creatures who have no compassion for humanity (kind of like what Terry Pratchett did in his book Lords and Ladies). I’d like to tell a story about how elves were locked out of our world for centuries and are only just finding a way back in, and what happens when they do. I think I have a plan for that, but it’s some distance in the future.

What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

I started working on a series about werewolves in northern Italy in the late Renaissance—or, more specifically, a fantasy analog of that time and place. I started writing it because my daughter loves werewolves and I thought it would be fun to write a series she would want to read, but it soon became something I’m passionate about for its own sake. Part of what makes it fun is that it’s a procedural series, with the two main characters investigating mysteries or solving problems, which means I can go on writing about them indefinitely. Since my other series to date have all had arcs that eventually came to an end, this is an exciting change.

About Melissa

Melissa McShane is the author of more than forty fantasy novels, including Burning Bright, first in The Extraordinaries series; The Book of Secrets, first book of The Last Oracle; and the Crown of Tremontane fantasy series, beginning with Pretender to the Crown. She lives in the shadow of the mountains of the West with her husband, children, three very needy cats, and a library that has finally overflowed its bounds, which means she needs more bookcases.

Find Melissa

Website ~ Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Goodreads ~ BookBub

Find the Wild Magic bundle!

The Wild Magic bundle is available for a limited time at StoryBundle.com/Fantasy.

Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of the purchase price to the charities Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.

   
 

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