Interview: “Blazing Blunderbuss” by Nix Whittaker

Dragons have changed history forever.

Gideon is the top of the food chain but when he is kidnapped he is trapped in his human form until Hara rescues him. Hara isn’t looking for trouble but she seems to attract it when they accidentally steal a pirate airship and are thrust into a conspiracy that could bring war to the Empire.

Hara is running from her past when she stumbles across Gideon, an academic in need of rescuing. Only he is a dragon and he wants to collect her into his treasure. She isn’t about to let anyone tell her what to do ever again.

Blazing Blunderbuss is available for a limited time in The Young Adult Charity MegaBundle.

Whether you’re looking for a pulse-pounding action in space, a witchy urban fantasy mystery, or a sweeter tale of unicorns and magic, this MegaBundle delivers! This bundle includes 28 books, including award-winning books from NYTimes and USA Today bestselling authors. Since money is tight for a lot of people right now, the floor of this bundle at a mere dollar, but if you’re in a position to spend a little more for this great collection, please do.

Half the MegaBundle profits will go to Mighty Writers, a non-profit organization benefiting children’s literacy.

Excerpt

Light cracked into the wooden box Gideon was trapped in. He didn’t find himself locked into a wooden box very often, so he watched the crack widen with curiosity. There was a loud snap and the lid of the box was removed completely.

Gideon looked up at the men who stared down at him. He didn’t jump up and try to escape, as success wasn’t likely with the bands around his wrists. The bands seemed innocuous, but they made sure he hadn’t escaped from the moment he woke up in the small, coffin-like box. He had already tried to shift his form, but when he couldn’t, he had studied his very small surroundings. That was when he had discovered the bands around his wrists. He hadn’t been able to see them in the dark, but he had guessed what they were when he couldn’t shift his shape.

Whoever had organised to kidnap him had known well their task. The bands were made out of the elements which had first drawn him to this world, and it made things a little sticky when it came to his ability to change into his true form.

He didn’t think he was in his home city anymore either. He had been knocked out and he had woken up in this box, and that had been hours before, or possibly even days.

A man growled and all the men looking down at Gideon stepped away. Gideon eased into a sitting position and studied the room around him. The seedy room had no windows. It looked like a rundown tavern room set aside for private guests, complete with peeling wallpaper which had once been lovely, but was now faded and stained. The furniture was sparse and also faded. The flower pattern on the fabric now looked like children’s finger painting.

He had been placed in the middle of the room. The box was uncomfortably shaped like a coffin. The room itself was mostly filled with men. About half a dozen of them glared at Gideon, though he wasn’t sure what he had done to deserve the dark looks. The men all wore tall black boots wrapped with leather straps. They had an abundance of fur on the rest of their clothes. They sure did look warm, and Gideon wished he had some of their fur, as it was cold in the room.

Gideon grinned and said, “Is it possible for one of you to turn up the heat just a tad? My bones are quite brittle at my age.” Everyone ignored his comment as Gideon looked around to find which one of the men was in charge.

The man who had growled at the others earlier said, “Are you Gideon, the mathematician?”

Gideon studied the men. He wasn’t used to being referred to as merely a mathematician. Usually there was an epithet in front of it, like “annoying” or “moron”. He rather liked “moron mathematician” as it was an alliteration and there was some symmetry to the insult. He had worked at the university in the capital for the last four decades as a professor, and even they did not call him merely a mathematician.

Gideon turned to look at the man before he said, “I’m a mathematician, but I’m not sure I’m the one you want. I know this mathematician who looks just like me, we have the same tailor. I’m sure he would be happy to help you out, but I’m afraid my plants are going to miss me. I’m sure they’re already wilting.”

The man shrugged. Older than most of the others in the room and had a white peppered beard. His fur hat covered oily hair. He stepped forward. “I am Nikolai. And if you are a mathematician, then you are the one we want. The men who procured you for us would not have made a mistake lightly.”

Gideon had been studying the other men in the room and the room itself when Nikolai’s last sentence grabbed his attention. “Someone procured me for you?”

—from Blazing Blunderbuss by Nix Whittaker

The Interview

What inspired you to write Blazing Blunderbuss?

I was watching one of those documentaries that are really fake but a kind of what if situation about dragons. And I started thinking what if dragons were real. Except you don’t get many creatures on earth with wings and four legs and a tail. So if dragons couldn’t really evolve on our planet where would they come from. And that started me on my story. I have dragons from another planet who use science so advanced it looks like magic to come to earth. They are fleeing the total destruction of their planet but only the men took the risk to travel across the void to Earth.

It allows me to play with another culture that gets misunderstood and people trying to figure out their place in the world.

What are some of your favorite YA books as a reader, and what makes them stand out for you?

Tamora Pierce and her Alanna series is one of my top favourites. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. As you can see I love female protagonists who don’t quite fit in but through determination and strength of character they carve a place for themselves. They don’t apologise for being different and instead surround themselves with people who accept them for who they are.

Why do you think so many people, of all ages, love reading YA?

I think it is because they want to rewrite history. The great thing about books is being able to escape. To live out scenarios where we are brave and resourceful. Where we beat the evil in our lives and live happily ever after. We can relive our younger years and tell ourselves that is how we would have faced our problems when we were younger.

Why do you love writing about dragons?

What isn’t there to love about dragons? My dragons come from another world so I love writing about their culture. And usually how humans misunderstand their culture. I’m a white girl and so I find it hard to write the Other. But I also desperately want to write the Other. So instead I made my own culture up where I don’t have to worry about stepping on people’s toes but still get to explore how we react to a culture we don’t understand or don’t know. And how we also have a lot in common if we are only willing to get to know the other. What better way than to use dragons. Some cultures revere them while others consider them maiden eating monsters.

If you could be a fantasy creature for a day, which would you choose, and why?

I wanted to say unicorn as that would be pretty cool but that is so generic. Selkie is therefore my choice. I couldn’t think of anything better than being able to swim to the depths of the ocean and then when I wanted to strip off my skin and walk on the shore. No need to sell your voice to get those legs and I’d just be careful to keep an eye on my skin.

Which steampunk tropes did you use in your book, and how did you change them to fit your story?

I have an airship and inventors. My airship is the home for the Found Family in my story. I liked that idea of a home that is forever moving. I moved from South Africa to New Zealand when I was a young girl. Many thought we were traitors to move countries and I wanted a story where nationalism and that sense of home is different. So I have a moving home. I combined my inventor with a hidden or secret identity so she doesn’t do much inventing on screen. Her skills are linked to a troubled past so it is more of a device to show that she is a smart cookie.

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

At the moment I’m working on the last book in my Wyvern Mysteries series. Though set in Scotland it has a bit of a western feel as I have train robbery in the middle. That was fun to write. My dad always liked westerns so we would watch them late at night when they were on TV. He passed away last year so I was feeling nostalgic and thought I would do something in my latest book that he would have found fun.

About Nix

Nix Whittaker is an English teacher in the heart of the North Island of New Zealand. She lives with her cats and her dog in the shadow of an active volcano where she writes in her spare time.

Nix started as a reader to help improve her spelling as she is dyslexic, but was hooked by the marvelous worlds of Mercedes Lackey and Terry Pratchett. As time passed and she read out the library, she was forced to write to feed her ferocious need to read. Now her books are influenced by Patricia Briggs and Anne Bishop as she is still very much a reader and so writes books she would like to read herself.

Find Nix

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Interview: “Hadrian’s Flight” by J. Daniel Sawyer

Hadrian Jin. Skyguard. Refugee.

Twelve times a day, this sixteen-year-old proprietor of Luna City’s best orn-suit shop fits the wings, and jumps out into the open air to soar with the grace of an eagle. For forty dollars an hour, he can teach any groundhog how to fly bird-fashion in the moon’s low gravity.

But when the tramp of military boots on the road to his home forces him to flee, he finds himself adrift between planets, on the run from government agents, without hope of home. Out of his depth and thrust into danger for which he’s ill-prepared, Hadrian must learn the true reason for his exile, and finally spread his own wings…

…before war comes crashing down around him.

Hadrian’s Flight is available for a limited time in The Young Adult Charity MegaBundle.

Whether you’re looking for a pulse-pounding action in space, a witchy urban fantasy mystery, or a sweeter tale of unicorns and magic, this MegaBundle delivers! This bundle includes 28 books, including award-winning books from NYTimes and USA Today bestselling authors. Since money is tight for a lot of people right now, the floor of this bundle at a mere dollar, but if you’re in a position to spend a little more for this great collection, please do.

Half the MegaBundle profits will go to Mighty Writers, a non-profit organization benefiting children’s literacy.

Excerpt

Haddy descended lazily, barely paying attention to what was going on around him, moving slowly, finding a groove in the tourist-clogged descent lane as if he were negotiating rush hour at the tram station.

Then, without knowing why, he dipped his left wing. An automatic reflex.

A soft gecko boot blasted just over the dipped wingtip, missing him by only a few centimeters. He barely had time to feel a blast of lemon-scented air on his face before his wings surged, pushed him up, and stalled hard.

Haddy swore as he found himself in a sideways tumble. Falling slowly, then more quickly, as one level, then two, then four tumbled by him in an endless handful of seconds. He reflexively pulled his wings in, which increased his spin speed. He pulled his toes in toward his body and bent double into a jack-knife, canting his faux tail feathers down flat against his hamstrings, then straightened out again pointed straight down.

He speared down like a peregrine falcon, spinning corkscrew-fashion with the angular tumble he’d picked up from the stumblebum tourist’s wake. Then, once he was in a more-or-less stable dive, he pulled his toes in again, but this time he didn’t bend at the waist. Instead, he pushed his wings out, crooked at the elbows, and curled his fists in.

The wing-tips and tail-feathers bit the air, steadying his spin and pulling him into a swoop.

An instant later he was climbing again, pushing straight up with his momentum, scanning every-which-way for the creep that had bum-rushed him.

There. Almost at the top, flapping hard, zipping in and out of the lanes, trying to push up through the ceiling into the ag dome. He blinked twice, zoomed in, got a bead on the wings and the flyer. They were solid blue wings, with no fledger stripes. Whoever was doing that had been out at least once before, and should have known better.

They were strapped to a girl, maybe sixteen or seventeen years old, who didn’t seem to give a good goddamn who she knocked out of the sky.

Well, she would soon. Nobody pulled that kind of stunt and got away with it. Not in his sky. Haddy burned with the righteous rage of his office. Oh, he was gonna get to throw the book at her. In five minutes, he’d make good and sure she was a lot poorer, and maybe grounded for a few weeks.

But he had to get her before she busted the ceiling, or he’d get it right in the neck for letting her get up where she could interfere with the city’s food supply. If she crashed in the triticale, or god-forbid the corn, she’d cause enough damage that the farmers would start agitating to get the fliers banned from the Gallery. It had happened before, and they’d always lost, but that didn’t mean they’d lose next time—and if they did win, his whole family would be screwed.

The thermal was clear for most of the way up. Haddy flapped hard, goosing his speed, banking into the thermal, using the rising column of air to help push him faster.

He dodged out into dead air as he caught up to the soaring fledgers, then back into the thermal before he stalled out.

“Hey!” he shouted. “You in the blue! Stop!”

She kept right on soaring up like she hadn’t even heard him. She was crossing into the skyguard’s nest now. Another twenty meters, and she’d bust that ceiling like it wasn’t even there.

—from Hadrian’s Flight by J. Daniel Sawyer

The Interview

What inspired you to write Hadrian’s Flight?

I have always loved the pulp adventure books written for children in the middle of the 20th century (I grew up on them and still read them to this day) and had always wanted to tackle them myself. The inspiration came re-reading a favorite old YA story, “The Menace From Earth,” which centers on a girl who instructs Lunar Tourists in the art of bird-flying in Luna’s low gravity. I played the idea forward, starting with a character who works in a similar job who is forced to flee a war zone and make his way on a new colony, which he does by setting up a business of his own manufacturing the wing suits—until, that is, fate intervenes and he must face the realities of the war he was fleeing.

What are some of your favorite YA books as a reader, and what makes them stand out for you?

Of all the great ones to pick from (the Narnia stories, A Wrinkle in Time, the Harry Potter Books, the Ender’s series) the ones I return to time and again are the 12 Heinlein Juveniles. The airtight plots, the solid (and uncommonly realistic) worldbuilding, and the great characterization all keep me coming back—but that’s not what’s special about them. These books are almost unique in the way that the protagonists are constantly out of their depth, and their heroic triumph comes from accepting the responsibilities of adulthood, rather than saving the world (though that sometimes happens) or becoming a hero in their hometown (which never happens). They all end with the *beginning* of the next adventure, leaving with the reader with the sense that the road of life goes on to larger and more difficult challenges, but that those challenges will be worth it because the characters have proved themselves capable of growth and maturity. Even though it sounds like it could be boring, it never is—it sets these books apart and makes them infinitely re-readable.

Why do you think so many people, of all ages, love reading YA?

I think that adults return to YA to remember the feeling of becoming, discovery, and coming into their own. It’s a way to remind themselves of how hard it is to grow up, and why it was all worth it (because, let’s face it, the adult world can be fairly humdrum). It also, maybe, gives a sense of hope that if they could face down the impossible challenges of growing up, maybe they can face down the even more difficult challenges of coping with the day-to-day in an unsympathetic universe.

Young readers, on the other hand, gravitate toward YA because it reassures them that other people have gone through the journey before, and that there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel of self-doubt that characterizes adolescence. And because, let’s face it, a great YA adventure is a terrific amount of fun.

Did you make up any of the science used in your book, and if so, what and why?

I didn’t, no. Though I’m not a scientist, I find that the hard constraints of realistic physics make for a more solid and grounded world, so I do my best to stick to science as best I can, and to only invent technologies that are possible (and even likely) given the current state of knowledge. The contemplation of probable futures, for me, offers more fertile creative ground than flights of fancy.

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

I’m currently finishing up my next YA book, The Wolf of Venus, and it’s turned out to be the most challenging book in my career. Set seven hundred years in the future in a failed society on a half-terraformed Venus, it’s a story that follows the adventures of a boy caught in the teeth of a monumental shift in the nature of his society. Inspired by the Czechoslovakian Bloodless Revolution, it’s a high adventure tale winding its way between a repressive government and culture on one side, and an insurgency modeled on Vaclav Havel’s ideas on the other, with Ern, the main character, caught between at the nexus of personal morality and political idealism in a world where he’s had precious little understanding of either. Telling a story this complex, full of stakes this high and betrayal this startling (and with thematic material this chewy) through the eyes of a young man in a way that’s relatable and suitable for young readers has proved a grand challenge, but the payoff (according to early readers) has been well worth the trouble. I can’t wait to release it out into the world!

About Dan

While Star Wars and Star Trek seeded J. Daniel Sawyer’s passion for the unknown, his childhood in academia gave him a deep love of history and an obsession with how the future emerges from the past.

This obsession led him through adventures in the film industry, the music industry, venture capital firms in the startup culture of Silicon Valley, and a career creating novels and audiobooks exploring the worlds that assemble themselves in his head.

His travels with bohemians, burners, historians, theologians, and inventors led him eventually to a rural exile where he uses the quiet to write, walk on the beach, and manage a production company that brings innovative stories to the ears of audiences across the world.

Find Dan

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This bundle is available for a limited time at StoryBundle.com/YA.

Half the MegaBundle profits will go to Mighty Writers, a non-profit organization benefiting children’s literacy.

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Interview: “Faery Unexpected” by Deb Logan

The most important week of Claire’s life has arrived—the first day of high school, followed closely by her uber-important fifteenth birthday—and where are her parents? Sunning in the south of France, that’s where! As if dereliction of duty wasn’t enough, they left Claire in the care of her more-than-slightly-dotty grandmother, a woman who believes in fairies and dragons. Gag.

What’s an aspiring teen diva to do when her grandmother insists she wear a toy dragon perched on her shoulder on the first day of school? Ditch the annoying lizard, that’s what. But it seems Gran has unholy powers: the dragon is immovable unless a teacher takes note and orders Claire to remove it. Claire’s dream of making a splash in high school didn’t include being the butt of a standing joke. Can life get any more devastating?

You bet it can! Just wait until Claire discovers the birthday present that will change her life…forever!

Faery Unexpected is available for a limited time in The Young Adult Charity MegaBundle.

Whether you’re looking for a pulse-pounding action in space, a witchy urban fantasy mystery, or a sweeter tale of unicorns and magic, this MegaBundle delivers! This bundle includes 28 books, including award-winning books from NYTimes and USA Today bestselling authors. Since money is tight for a lot of people right now, the floor of this bundle at a mere dollar, but if you’re in a position to spend a little more for this great collection, please do.

Half the MegaBundle profits will go to Mighty Writers, a non-profit organization benefiting children’s literacy.

Excerpt

Families are great, but there are times when they stink. I mean, I love my mom and dad, but wouldn’t you think they’d at least have asked me if I wanted to spend a month on the French Riviera with them? Honestly! I could’ve made arrangements to go, even studied while sunning in the south of France. The first few weeks of high school aren’t that important. But the parents refused to listen to reason. Instead, they arranged for Gran — Mom’s decidedly weird mother who never went anywhere without her even weirder toy dragon—to stay with me while Mom and Dad defected to Europe to laze in the sun. I figured by the time I survived the first week, I’d have earned a vacation of my own.

What a rip. I’d been searching for a solution to my high school dilemma, and they’d handed me the answer and then snatched it away, all in the space of a two-minute conversation. Man! My first day at Jefferson High was racing down on me and I still didn’t have a concrete plan for leaving the middle school nerd behind. I didn’t need to be the most popular girl at school, but I definitely wanted to improve my social standing.

In middle school I’d been a dork, and Danielle, the cheerleader-from-hell, teased me mercilessly about my good grades, happy family, and that stupid book report on fairies I’d done in seventh grade. Hello, I’d done my Shakespearean research, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, anyone? But that didn’t matter. She called me ‘Fairy Clairey’ for the rest of middle school. Even got her friends in on it. Made me sound like a complete idiot.

For a whole, shining minute I’d had my answer—before my parents ripped it away by uninviting me on their little European jaunt, but if I closed my eyes I could still picture the beautiful vision: me swaggering through the front doors of Jefferson High three weeks into the first term; my usually pallid skin crisp from a month of sun and sea; my unruly mop of short, curly black hair fashionably styled in the latest Paris do; my outfit straight off a tres chic fashion runway. Danielle would have a cow, and I’d be the reigning queen of the class. I might even have a chance at getting a boyfriend.

But no. Instead I got stuck with crazy Gran and her bizarre stories of dragons and centaurs and the magical adventures of her childhood. Gag!

So here I sat on a beautiful late-August day at Portland International Airport with my parents, waiting for Gran to show up. I stared out the window, watching her jet unload. I leaned my forehead against the glass and listened to my parents’ quiet conversation.

“Relax, Emily,” said Dad, a tall square man sporting thick glasses and a warm smile. “She can’t get lost. Everyone from the concourse channels past this waiting area. We won’t miss her.”

I glanced at my parents, but kept my forehead against the cool glass. Mom was dressed in creased gray wool slacks, ice blue blouse and a gray cardigan embroidered with small birds and vining leaves. She smiled and tucked a strand of dark brown hair behind her ear. “I know, but it’s hard not to worry. I just can’t get over feeling like I should’ve gone to get her. She’s so helpless without Daddy. He did everything for her when he was alive. She never even had to fill the car with gas.”

“Yes, he was old-school to the core,” Dad agreed. “But I think he underestimated your mother. Don’t make the same mistake, Em. Deirdre is tougher than you give her credit for.”

A flash of golden light out of the corner of my eye made me glance back at Gran’s jet. For a moment, I swear I saw something hovering over the plane. More than simple heat haze rising from the tarmac, something shimmered in the air above the airplane, like a window into another world. I blinked, and it disappeared. But the green-blue after image burned behind my eyelids…a castle in the sky.

—from Faery Unexpected by Deb Logan

The Interview

What inspired you to write Faery Unexpected?

My very first published short story, Deirdre’s Dragon, was a children’s story about a little girl who inherits a dragon from her grandmother. It’s only about 800 words, but the idea stuck with me and I knew there was a lot more story to tell. Faery Unexpected and later, Faery Collectible, grew out of Deirdre’s Dragon. I wrote them to answer the questions I had about Deirdre and her dragon: Why do the women in Deirdre’s family need a dragon guardian? and Why that dragon? Who is Roddy, really?

Why do you love writing about dragons?

I adore dragons. Not the mean, snarly, I’d-like-to-eat-you kind of dragons, but the intelligent, loyal, compassionate kind that Anne McCaffrey wrote about in her Dragonriders of Pern series.

My alter-ego, Debbie Mumford, has written a series of four novels and a prequel novella that follows the lives and loves of a family of dragon shifters, so I’ve written a lot of words about dragons… and the people who love them.

In Faery Unexpected, Roddy is a dragon who is cursed to wear the shape of a toy when there’s anyone around other than the young woman he’s assigned to protect. How mortifying for such a majestic creature! But Roddy is also a dragon with a long history of secrets, many of which his young charge discovers during the course of the novel.

What do you enjoy about weaving elements from mythology, legends, and folklore in your own writing?

I’ve been reading fairy tales and myths since I was a child. I love their sense of wonder and magic, as well as the cautionary lessons they teach. With all of those legends so deeply ingrained in my psyche, I’m never surprised when one of them surfaces in my writing.

Science does a great job of explaining the world, even the universe, but there are still niches where science doesn’t have the answers… and magic plays in those spaces! I’ve always appreciated Arthur C. Clarke’s third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Myths and fairy tales are filled with magic. Does that mean that fairies and other creatures of legend are simply more technologically advanced than we are? Are they really aliens? Have they been watching us for centuries, waiting for us to evolve sufficiently to be able to deal with them intelligently? Those thoughts certainly give me a lot of room to play!

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

Right now I’m working on White Buffalo, my third Prentiss Twins novel. Along with Thunderbird and Coyote, White Buffalo is a contemporary fantasy adventure for middle-grade readers… with a Native American theme.

Here’s the premise:
The Prentiss Twins, Justin and Janine, are powerful Native American shamans … and they’re barely even teenagers!

When their grandfather mentions that a pregnant buffalo cow has disappeared from the National Bison Range in their home state of Montana, they immediately suspect that Unktehi, the Spirit of Chaos, is up to mischief again.

But is the warrior demigod to blame for this unexpected buffalo-napping?

Janine and Justin, along with their spirit animals Thunderbird and Coyote, investigate the mysterious disappearance and discover more than they bargained for when the cow’s baby turns out to be a legendary White Buffalo.

White Buffalo is especially fun because it’s a special request from my grandkids. They’ve read Thunderbird and Coyote several times and have been pestering me about “what happens next?” I’m thrilled to be able to tell them a new story!

About Deb

Deb Logan specializes in tales for the young—and the young at heart! Author of the popular Dani Erickson series, Deb loves the unknown, whether it’s the lure of space or earthbound mythology. She writes about demon hunters, thunderbirds, and everyday life on a space station for children, teens, and anyone who enjoys young adult fiction. Her work has been published in multiple volumes of Fiction River, as well as in the 2017 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide, Feyland Tales, and other popular anthologies.

Find Deb

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Find The Young Adult Charity MegaBundle!

This bundle is available for a limited time at StoryBundle.com/YA.

Half the MegaBundle profits will go to Mighty Writers, a non-profit organization benefiting children’s literacy.

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Interview: “Starstruck” by Brenda Hiatt

Nerdy astronomy geek Marsha, M to her few friends, has never been anybody special. Orphaned as an infant and reluctantly raised by an overly-strict “aunt,” she’s not even sure who she is. M’s dream of someday escaping tiny Jewel, Indiana and making her mark in the world seems impossibly distant until hot new quarterback Rigel inexplicably befriends her. As Rigel turns his back on fawning cheerleaders to spend time with M, strange things start to happen: her acne clears up, her eyesight improves to the point she can ditch her thick glasses, and when they touch, sparks fly—literally! When M digs for a reason, she discovers deep secrets that will change her formerly mundane life forever…and expose her to perils she never dreamed of.

Starstruck is available for a limited time in The Young Adult Charity MegaBundle.

Whether you’re looking for a pulse-pounding action in space, a witchy urban fantasy mystery, or a sweeter tale of unicorns and magic, this MegaBundle delivers! This bundle includes 28 books, including award-winning books from NYTimes and USA Today bestselling authors. Since money is tight for a lot of people right now, the floor of this bundle at a mere dollar, but if you’re in a position to spend a little more for this great collection, please do.

Half the MegaBundle profits will go to Mighty Writers, a non-profit organization benefiting children’s literacy.

Excerpt

I boarded the bus on the first day of school with a weird sense of anticipation. Even after nine years as the class dork, I couldn’t quite squelch a fizzy little hope that this year would be different.

Maybe this year Jimmy Franklin would finally notice I existed. I was fifteen now and marginally less awkward than I’d been last year as a freshman. Maybe I’d do something wild and daring, like, oh, run for treasurer of the French Club. I might even get elected, since last year they’d had to arm-twist someone into doing it.

The familiar sour-stale school bus smell—like old french fries that had been baking in the Indiana sun all summer, with maybe a whiff of vomit—took some of the fizz out of my mood. It was the smell of a dozen past humiliations. Still, I clung to what I hoped was a confident half-smile as I headed for an empty seat two-thirds of the way back.

“Wow, Marsha, nice blouse.”

It was Trina Squires, of course—my nemesis. Trina was everything I wasn’t: pretty, rich, popular, athletic. And we’d more or less hated each other ever since that bracelet incident back in third grade.

“Get dressed in the dark again?” she continued.

My best friend Bri, who had about fifty times more fashion sense than me, had picked out my outfit—a cute white cap-sleeve blouse dotted with tiny blue stars, and denim capris. I totally trusted Bri’s taste. Not wanting Trina to think I cared what she said, I passed her before glancing down at myself.

Oh. Crap. Nice blouse, yeah—buttoned one button off. How did I not notice that before I left the house? Hitching my tattered green backpack a little higher, I tried to cover the neckline, where it was most obvious.

And tripped over Bobby Jeeter’s foot, which he’d stuck out just for me. I caught myself—barely—before I went sprawling, but that didn’t keep half the bus from laughing.

“You know, most guys gave that up back in fifth grade,” I informed Bobby, grabbing my glasses before they slipped off my nose.

“What can I say?” Bobby shrugged, not the least bit apologetic. “It’s still funny.”

More laughter.

Trying to ignore them all, I pushed my glasses back up, sat down in the empty seat and started rebuttoning my blouse as inconspicuously as possible.

Nope, it didn’t look like this year was going to be any different.

—from Starstruck by Brenda Hiatt

The Interview

What inspired you to write Starstruck?

When I was in third or fourth grade, a girl in my class claimed she was really a Martian princess. In fact, she was ADAMANT about it. No matter how we made fun of her or tried to trick her into admitting she was making it up, she stuck to her story—for weeks at least, though I remember it as much longer. Many years later, after I became a writer, I suddenly wondered, “What if she was telling the truth? What if she really WAS a Martian princess?” That “what if?” eventually became Starstruck.

Why do you think so many people, of all ages, love reading YA?

Probably for the same reason I love writing YA! The teen years are so full of emotional milestones, they make for fabulous stories. There’s something so fun about being transported back to that time of life, when EVERYTHING mattered SO MUCH. Not just the fate of worlds (though of course that’s fun, too!) but whether the cute new boy (or girl) will notice me—and what I’ll do if he/she does! Teen emotions can be much more believably over-the-top than in adult fiction, making YA books particularly engaging both to read and to write.

Did you make up any of the science used in your book, and if so, what and why?

Because I needed the science to be far more advanced than our own, I extrapolated known science into what I thought it might plausibly become in the future. I did my best never to depart TOO far from known science, so that all of my “advancements” would at least seem plausible, given what we know now. One of the big challenges has been staying ahead of our own scientific progress, things are changing so quickly these days! It’s definitely been a fun exercise to take currently-known science into the future without losing believability.

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

I’m nearly done with the first draft of Convergent, the next book in my Starstruck series/world. I always have a lot of fun writing these books, and this one is especially fun because I get to bring together all the main characters from the previous books and give them a group adventure!

About Brenda

Brenda Hiatt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty-five novels (so far), including sweet and spicy historical romance, time travel romance, and young adult science fiction romance. In addition to writing, Brenda is passionate about embracing life to the fullest, to include scuba diving (she has over 60 dives to her credit), Taekwondo (where she’s currently working toward her 4th degree black belt), hiking, traveling…and reading, of course!

Find Brenda

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Interview: “The Sphere of Infinity” by Day Leitao

Alana’s dream is to leave the poverty-stricken, government-controlled planet where she lives with her mother. But that’s impossible when she can barely manage enough to eat. Her big chance comes in a well-paid mission to retrieve a golden sphere. The problem: it’s in the Ghost Ship, a mysterious alien vessel abandoned for millenia. Nobody has ever set foot on it and come out alive. How will Alana manage it?

Meanwhile, Jasper has come to her planet to oversee the government. His real goal? To see the mysterious dragons—if they are still alive.

Destiny brings them together and thrusts the fate of the Samitri Planet and the Human Universe in their hands.

The Sphere of Infinity is available for a limited time in The Young Adult Charity MegaBundle.

Whether you’re looking for a pulse-pounding action in space, a witchy urban fantasy mystery, or a sweeter tale of unicorns and magic, this MegaBundle delivers! This bundle includes 28 books, including award-winning books from NYTimes and USA Today bestselling authors. Since money is tight for a lot of people right now, the floor of this bundle at a mere dollar, but if you’re in a position to spend a little more for this great collection, please do.

Half the MegaBundle profits will go to Mighty Writers, a non-profit organization benefiting children’s literacy.

Excerpt

“You’re the Black Mouse, right?”

Alana nodded.

The woman chuckled. “Afraid like a mouse. This is not a trap, boy, but an opportunity. My name’s Mara.”

Alana shook the woman’s hand, glad to be called a boy. “Black Mouse.”

“Indeed. And you can fit in tight spaces, right?”

“My specialty.”

Mara looked at Alana up and down. “For your sake, boy”, her ironic tone in that word didn’t go unnoticed, “I hope you’re as good as they say.”

“I haven’t said yes.”

“What does it matter, when I know the answer? Have you ever been in space?”

“No.”

Mara shook her head. “No issues. It’ll be quick. I need something retrieved from a spaceship, a lost spaceship that has been orbiting a planet for millennia.”

Alana felt queasy. “The Ghost Ship?” That was a legendary, humongous, non-human spaceship orbiting C-2, the nearest planet in their solar system. Search teams had been sent there, and legend said nobody had ever returned. It was also called the Death Ship.

“Why that face? It’s just a ship. Like the ones you enter to retrieve little things.”

“I’ve never been in an alien spaceship, madam.” Hopefully she was using the correct title.

“Few people have, have they? Since the treaty of mutual ignoring, we’ve just pretended they don’t exist. Contact was broken. Or at least that’s the official story. But it’s just a ship, girl, a ship with very small passages where few people fit. You’re lucky to be tiny, or else I’d need to try with a child.”

The woman still assumed Alana was going to say yes. No way she’d agree on a suicide mission, and she didn’t care what Selma thought of that. Still, Alana asked, “What’s the pay?”

Mara had a satisfied smile. “Two. Million. Samitri credits. How’s that?”

Alana made an effort not to show how excited she was. She currently made just less than a thousand credits for every standard month. Two million credits would be enough for her to live in comfort for the rest of her life, to escape Samitri, to get her mother the surgery to walk again, and to be free. Freedom!

But Alana had to negotiate. “I won’t be able to do much with Samitri credits. It’s all controlled, you see? I’d rather Universal Credits. Four million.” Her voice had been firm, the way she’d learned to negotiate her prices, even if it usually only meant one or two hundred more Samitri credits.

Mara laughed. “I think I like you. Three million Universal Credits.”

Alana was still trying to hide her excitement. “Fine. But that’s pointless if I don’t get out alive.”

The woman stared at Alana in a serious expression. “That ship has been studied. I have a diagram of its interior. It has a small passage that you can fit through. Nobody else knows about that passage; they enter through a different entrance, one with high security. That’s why they never come back. That said, I’ll come with you. You’ll go directly to the chamber I need. If you can enter, you can get out, right? Nothing to fear.”

Alana had been waiting for so long for an opportunity to break out of her cycle, to leave this planet, to be free. She couldn’t say no to it when it presented itself to her like this. Dangerous, sure—but it was everything she’d always dreamed. She extended her hand. “Deal.”

—from The Sphere of Infinity by Day Leitao

The Interview

What inspired you to write The Sphere of Infinity?

I was going to participate in an anthology with Aladdin retellings, then I had this vision of this mysterious abandoned spaceship with this object inside it. I don’t usually have influences from other works, but in this case I think the concept of an abandoned spaceship came from the Star Wars Legends novel Sith Troopers and from Halo 4.

What are some of your favorite YA books as a reader, and what makes them stand out for you?

I read Brazilian books. What I liked were genuine human interactions and how I could see myself in some of the characters.

Why do you think so many people, of all ages, love reading YA?

First of all, it usually has a cool balance between plot / character development and romance. Usually in most YA novels you have a character coming of age, a romantic plot, and a bigger plot. I find that with other genres they veer more towards romance or plot, and for some reason YA tends to strike the right balance. For me another reason is that I think nobody really grows up, and the coming-of-age themes tend to hit home.

Why do you love writing about dragons?

I love dragons. They are powerful, mysterious, beautiful. I have a Japanese dragon tattoo from my left arm to my right shoulder, so you know how much I love dragons. But I don’t usually write about dragons. I have no freaking idea why there are dragons in this story, but they play an interesting part. I’m guessing maybe I just thought that I needed spaceships and dragons for an Aladdin retelling.

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 would like to use Afro-Brazilian mythology, but sometimes I’m afraid that it won’t be genuine, since I wasn’t that close to those religions when I lived there. It’s just that the stories are beautiful.

Did you make up any of the science used in your book, and if so, what and why?

I write space fantasy, so the science in it sucks and sometimes makes no sense. That said, I’ve been reading astrophysics books for my son, and it just ruins everything. You know, if you’re around a planet, there’s still gravity. The only reason the space station has “no gravity” is because it’s in orbit, therefore always “falling.” Going faster than light is either impossible or will make you go back in time. And if I start thinking about it too much it gets tricky. But I do try to make things seem feasible and conform to known laws of physics, so that it seems realistic.

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

What are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing? I just launched a space opera set in the same universe as The Sphere of Infinity, and what I like most about it was that I decided to follow the characters and not try to write something with commercial appeal.

About Day

Born in Brazil, Day now lives in Canada, where she can enjoy snow in April. She loves to create worlds and characters.

Find Day

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Find The Young Adult Charity MegaBundle!

This bundle is available for a limited time at StoryBundle.com/YA.

Half the MegaBundle profits will go to Mighty Writers, a non-profit organization benefiting children’s literacy.

Grab the bundle today! You’re not only getting a fabulous deal, you’re also helping make the world a better place!

   
 

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Story spotlight: “The Un-American President” by Jason Dias

The president of the United States wishes for peace in “The Un-American President,” by Jason Dias. Sometimes integrity is doing the right thing because everyone is watching.

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“The Un-American President” appears in The Golden Door, a collection of stories showing the impact on people when they’re treated as “the other,” whether they’re immigrants to a country, a group of targeted within their own country, or something else besides. The title refers to Emma Lazarus’s welcoming words inscribed on the plaque on Statue of Liberty, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Tales of mistreatment of “the other” abound in historical or religious writings from around the world and through all time. But there are also plenty of examples of people helping each other, caring for one another, learning about each other. Sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small—but they all add up.

All proceeds will be donated to Doctors Without Borders and the ACLU.

Find The Golden Door

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Excerpt

Farid ducked under a branch laden with cherry blossoms, knowing it would be gone tomorrow. His aide was probably already making the call. Petals lay scattered along the path and, at the end of it, the black, tinted-out truck that would carry him to the airport. Next to the vehicle a young airman ratcheted herself to attention and saluted smartly.

Cameras. They were everywhere now. This path was supposed to be private, but there was Senator Jordan, Kentucky, cell phone in hand.

I have no integrity, Farid thought. If integrity is doing the right thing when nobody is watching, and there is never a private moment, integrity becomes impossible. What are we left with?

—from “The Un-American President” in The Golden Door by Jason Dias

About Jason

Jason Dias is a neurodivergent existential psychologist living, loving and working in Colorado Springs. He uses horror, science fiction and fantasy to reveal the inner worlds of diverse characters, and to think through hard philosophic problems. These days, he teaches psychology at a community college and keeps largely to himself.

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Story spotlight: “Dispatch from the Other Side” by Rob Vagle

~ ~ ~

In Rob Vagle’s “Dispatch from the Other Side,” a young man who was separated from his family while trying to claim asylum in America follows the instructions on a postcard sent by his long-lost mother, and discovers things about his family he’d never expected to find.

“Dispatch from the Other Side” appears in The Golden Door, a collection of stories showing the impact on people when they’re treated as “the other,” whether they’re immigrants to a country, a group of targeted within their own country, or something else besides. The title refers to Emma Lazarus’s welcoming words inscribed on the plaque on Statue of Liberty, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Tales of mistreatment of “the other” abound in historical or religious writings from around the world and through all time. But there are also plenty of examples of people helping each other, caring for one another, learning about each other. Sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small—but they all add up.

All proceeds will be donated to Doctors Without Borders and the ACLU.

Find The Golden Door

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Excerpt

“This was your mother’s last wish for you,” Aunt Maria said. “Do not disrespect that.” She pushed the postcard across the table, between her coffee cup and Antonio’s liquado in a glass tumbler.

“What that postcard talks about makes no sense, Aunt Maria,” he said. “We don’t know this postcard was sent by my mother. It’s a hoax.”

He stared at the postcard instead of picking it up. Hardly anybody used the U.S. mail anymore, and paper postcards were antiquated. The postcard had arrived sometime in 2019 when Antonio was a baby, still in a border detention center, unaware Aunt Maria was looking for him.

The postcard was plain and brown with typeface on one side, the other side blank. His aunt had pushed the card across the table typeface up where he could stare at the words: Message for Antonio Vega from Carmen Vega will be dispatched on July 22, 2036 between noon and four pm. No sooner, no later than that window of time.

—from “Dispatch from the Other Side” in The Golden Door by Rob Vagle

About Rob

A writer of the weird and fantastic, Rob’s stories have appeared in Realms Of Fantasy, Polyphony, Heliotrope, Strange New Worlds, Fiction River, and Pulphouse.

Find Rob

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Story Spotlight: “Needle in a Haystack” by Steve Carr

A woman and her young daughter escape death in their home country, only to find themselves separated at the U.S. border in Steve Carr’s “Needle in a Haystack.”

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“Needle in a Haystack” appears in The Golden Door, a collection of stories showing the impact on people when they’re treated as “the other,” whether they’re immigrants to a country, a group of targeted within their own country, or something else besides. The title refers to Emma Lazarus’s welcoming words inscribed on the plaque on Statue of Liberty, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Tales of mistreatment of “the other” abound in historical or religious writings from around the world and through all time. But there are also plenty of examples of people helping each other, caring for one another, learning about each other. Sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small—but they all add up.

All proceeds will be donated to Doctors Without Borders and the ACLU.

Find The Golden Door

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Excerpt

Cristela held Lilian tightly in her arms as she scanned the inside of the warehouse. From inside, it seemed even larger than it appeared from the outside. The floors and walls were painted the same shade of light gray, the same color of the stones in the creek near the house where she had lived. Pale light streamed through a row of closed windows that ran along the walls just beneath the ceiling. Although the building was cool and air-conditioned, it was also full of unpleasant odors. Fluorescent lighting cast its harsh glow from fixtures in the ceiling. A maze of wire cages, like the ones outside, had been set up to house the women and their children. The din of echoing voices filled the warehouse.

Barely able to hear the questions that the uniformed woman behind the table was asking her, Cristela shrugged to many of them, and watched in silence as the woman filled out a form attached to a clipboard. After the woman said, “That’s all,” Cristela turned to Yanira who was standing behind her and shook her head, bewildered. She was led to a cage where Ana sat on a cot, her sleeping baby lying next to her. Five other women, none with children, were also in the cage. A uniformed woman shut and locked the cage door.

“What about my friend, Yanira?” Cristela asked the woman through the wire.

“This cell is full,” the woman said, and walked away.

—from “Needle in a Haystack” in The Golden Door by Steve Carr

About the Author

Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Virginia, has had over 360 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals, reviews and anthologies since June, 2016. Five collections of his short stories, Sand, Rain, Heat, The Tales of Talker Knock and 50 Short Stories: The Very Best of Steve Carr, have been published. His paranormal/horror novel Redbird was released in November, 2019. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice.

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Story spotlight: “Ke’s Symphony” by Lesley L. Smith

In Lesley L. Smith’s “Ke’s Symphony,” a family of aliens, refugees who escaped a disaster on their own world, is welcomed with both friendship and fear on the planet that took them in.

~ ~ ~

“Ke’s Symphony” appears in The Golden Door, a collection of stories showing the impact on people when they’re treated as “the other,” whether they’re immigrants to a country, a group of targeted within their own country, or something else besides. The title refers to Emma Lazarus’s welcoming words inscribed on the plaque on Statue of Liberty, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Tales of mistreatment of “the other” abound in historical or religious writings from around the world and through all time. But there are also plenty of examples of people helping each other, caring for one another, learning about each other. Sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small—but they all add up.

All proceeds will be donated to Doctors Without Borders and the ACLU.

Find The Golden Door

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Excerpt

The natives were protesting when we entered the spaceport. The buzz of their voices increased to a roar as we approached. They held thin flimsy screens with words on them and yelled. A lot.

My small translator machine told me the messages said, “Go home, aliens!” “We don’t want your kind here!” “The gods only made two genders!” “The only good alien is a dead alien!” and worse. I did not understand how anyone could be so unnurturing.

We were with a group of about a hundred refugees from our planet, Kenziri. Our planet was dying. It broke my heart. It broke the hearts of all our people. But there was nothing we could do to save it. If our species was going to survive, we had to disperse to other planets like airborne seeds dancing on the wind. We had to hope we could take root somewhere new.

—from “Ke’s Symphony” in The Golden Door by Lesley L. Smith

About Lesley

Lesley L. Smith has published nine science fiction novels including The Quantum Cop, A Jack By Any Other Name, and Conservation of Luck. Her short fiction has been published in various venues including “Analog Science Fiction and Fact,” “Daily Science Fiction,” and “Fiction River.“ She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an MFA in Creative Writing.

She’s an active member of the Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW).

She is also a founder and editor of the speculative fiction ezine Electric Spec.

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Story spotlight: “Transient Pains” by Bob Sojka

An American temporarily loses his sight in an accident in Beirut in Bob Sojka’s “Transient Pains.” While recovering, he tells his nurse stories about growing up in an immigrant family in Chicago in the 1950s, where stereotyped animosities arose among people of different origins.

~ ~ ~

“Transient Pains” appears in The Golden Door, a collection of stories showing the impact on people when they’re treated as “the other,” whether they’re immigrants to a country, a group of targeted within their own country, or something else besides. The title refers to Emma Lazarus’s welcoming words inscribed on the plaque on Statue of Liberty, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Tales of mistreatment of “the other” abound in historical or religious writings from around the world and through all time. But there are also plenty of examples of people helping each other, caring for one another, learning about each other. Sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small—but they all add up.

All proceeds will be donated to Doctors Without Borders and the ACLU.

Find The Golden Door

Universal Book Link ~ Amazon ~ Apple Books ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Kobo ~ BookBub ~ Goodreads

Excerpt

Busia Karcz couldn’t understand the English her children or grandchildren spoke to her. Out of the necessity she created, we sputtered out pidgin Polish sentences, which became the linguistic bars that defined the prison cell of our relationships with her.

She was an Old World peasant. She had no schooling. She “knew what she knew” as a result of an unschooled upbringing that informed her vision of the world as much as it blinded her to the contradictions in her own beliefs. She hated Gypsies, but had memorized and lived by their fables, aphorisms and home remedies. She “treated” her grandchildren to kiszka (blood sausage) and zimne nóżki (jellied pig’s feet with vinegar)—prized offerings that we wrinkled our noses over and refused, much to her disappointment and bruised pride, as well as our parents’ anger. Her meals were often accompanied by lectures to her daughters-in-law about frugality in the kitchen, in the closet, in household furnishings, and in personal grooming. Her arrow-straight hair remained jet black to the day she died and reached her ankles, albeit she barely stood five feet tall. She wore no makeup.

I was shocked one day at the age of four to find her picture in a Disney children’s book, offering an apple to a skeptical Snow White. “Why is Busia’s hair white in this picture?” I asked my mother. I don’t remember the answer, but I remember the shocked look on her face.

—from “Transient Pains” in The Golden Door by Bob Sojka

About Bob

Bob Sojka is a retired environmental scientist and author of hundreds of research papers, book chapters and policy documents. He’s dabbled in fiction since the third grade. In recent years he’s published 16 stories at on-line zines like NewMyths.com and Perihelion, as well as in print anthologies. The most recent include “Blood Storm” in Fiction River’s collection Pulse Pounders: Adrenaline, edited by Kevin J. Anderson, “Don’t Forget”in New Myths’ “Best of” Anthology entitled “Passages,” and “A Fare Cut” in the the Bundle Rabbit anthology entitled “Stars in the Darkness”.

His novelette “Feolito’s Gift“ is available for Kindle on Amazon. Bob also writes the weekly column “Inside Politics“ for the Times News, his Idaho home-town newspaper. Bob’s stories explore the boundaries and meaning of human spirit, character and consciousness across a spectrum of story genres and styles.

Find Bob

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