Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cross-interview: Dystopias and Hope for the Future with Karina Sumner-Smith and Jason M. Hough - December 18, 2014

Cross-interview: Dystopias and Hope for the Future
Karina Sumner-Smith and Jason M. Hough

(I recently pulled fellow author Karina Sumner-Smith into a chat about dystopias, and whether or not we should be writing more hopeful futures. Transcript follows…- Jason)

Jason Hough: I guess we should begin at the beginning. How do you define a Dystopia? The dictionary says "the opposite of a Utopia" and I feel like that's a matter of perspective, from the characters POV’s.

Karina Sumner-Smith: Dystopias are, I think, very much about character perspective. A dystopia is an undesirable society or community, but “undesirable” means different things to different people – just as your vision of utopia could be very different from mine.

But given the popularity of dystopian YA fiction in recent years, I think that the word “dystopia” makes readers think of certain things. Totalitarian governments. Rebellion against the system. A rigid system that controls personal choice. I’d say these things are a reflection of our times – a sign of what our society thinks of as frightening. Probably, in no small part because those are things that we can see or imagine happening in our own lives. They’re the patterns of society taken to extremes.

Jason Hough: Maybe it's, at least in many cases, simply the antagonist's utopia. Or at least, on that trajectory.

Karina Sumner-Smith: That's a good point, the antagonist's utopia creating the main character's dystopia. Do you think that a dystopia needs to be paired with a utopian society to be successful? I note that we've both done something similar in our works.

Jason Hough: I'm not sure it needs to be, though it seems realistic that there's at least someone living the good life when everyone else is suffering. Otherwise it probably becomes a post-apocalyptic tale. You can see this with North Korea, where most everyone lives in terrible conditions, except those in power - they probably think it's a pretty good setup.

I've seen a lot of chatter lately that SF/F and YA are too focused on Dystopias, that it's depressing, that we have some kind of duty to write about happy futures. What's your reaction to that?

Karina Sumner-Smith: On a base level, I don't think writers have a duty to write about *anything*. There are no mandatory subjects! Of course, we are influenced by the dictates of the market – or, more importantly, what audiences are interested in reading.

But this idea that people are required to have happy stories to feel positive about the future is, frankly, frustrating. Not because I'm against positive or hopeful tales – anything but! – but because it implies something about the nature of story, and what those stories are supposed to do. Stories are to entertain. Stories need to connect with an audience, and to do that, we often reflect things that are concerning to us as authors and as citizens. Literature is a reflection of our times, focused through each author's unique lens.

Jason Hough: I agree. And I think if it's a trend recently it's for a complex set of reasons. Some highly successful books made it a market the publishers want to tap into, for starters. Real-world events, and not just Snowden's revelations about surveillance, pile in there, too. It makes sense to me that our fiction would reflect such things. The "hopeful" SF mostly came out of the space-race era, when everyone thought we'd be all over the solar system by now. Besides, these things are cyclical.

Karina Sumner-Smith: Personally, I find that darker stories create great opportunity for contrast. Characters finding hope and light in the most challenging situations is, for me, more rewarding.

Jason Hough: Yes, yes! That's very important. Drama is conflict, and a setting that starts out at rock bottom is definitely cued up for a lot of that.

Karina Sumner-Smith: Is that what drew you towards writing post-apocalyptic/dystopian stories, the potential for conflict?

Jason Hough: Exactly that. I had been thinking about a space elevator, and how, unlike launching rockets which can happen from just about anywhere, the elevator has a very specific geographic location. A spot that would be controlled, managed, and fought over. I loved the idea of having an apocalyptic event on the ground, leaving things wretched below and still very utopian up above, but everyone still reliant on one another. The funny thing is I never really saw it as dystopian until after it came out and people started saying it. My goal was to have characters act like complex human beings, instead of all banding together. Even in a desperate situation, there are still people who are power hungry, greedy, and petty.

Karina Sumner-Smith: I know that one of the things I love in such stories is seeing what's left behind – infrastructure, environment, and people. An apocalyptic or other drastic scenario is an interesting way to pry into both human nature and the workings of our society. Who are we when everything else has fallen into ruin?

Jason Hough: Yeah, it definitely strips us down to our core. I love apocalypse stories for that reason to. "All the power goes out" type settings are always fascinating, especially because they make us examine our own situation. As an aside, I think it’s funny that people do thought-experiments about how to deal with the apocalypse, but not a dystopia. I guess it's easier to wrap our minds around a single, horrible event rather than a slow crawl into some oppressive governance situation?

Karina Sumner-Smith: Easier, for sure. One is a sudden wrenching change from "normal", while the other lets normal life continue, with little incremental changes. Societal change towards a dystopia would, I think, be very much like the frog in boiling water.

I have to laugh because the book beside me is a non-fiction title, THE DISASTER DIARIES: ONE MAN'S QUEST TO LEARN EVERYTHING NECESSARY TO SURVIVE THE APOCALYPSE.

Jason Hough: That sounds interesting. Useful for research! I keep the SAS SURVIVAL GUIDE on the shelf near my desk for the same reason.

Karina Sumner-Smith: What about other works in the genre? If you say "dystopian," people think of HUNGER GAMES or DIVERGENT, but post-apocalyptic and dystopian literature have been part of SFF for years. Do you have any favorites on your shelf?

Jason Hough: 1984 is the classic, to me. What are your favorites?

Karina Sumner-Smith: I have piles. I’ve definitely drawn inspiration from one of my favorite authors, Sean Stewart, in that. He has a few novels about what happens after a magical apocalypse, GALVESTON and THE NIGHT WATCH being my favorites. There's also some excellent short fiction – Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” is a quintessential utopian/dystopian tale for me. For anthologies, Datlow/Windling’s AFTER and John Joseph Adams' WASTELANDS are two great ones that come to mind.

Jason Hough: Nice! In the apocalypse realm I'd have to go with Robert R. McCammon's SWAN SONG, and for post-apoc I really love Stephen King's DARK TOWER series.

Karina Sumner-Smith: Where do you think the dividing line is between those two sub-genres, dystopian and post-apocalyptic? Or is there one? Does any apocalypse story, with enough time/distance, necessarily become a dystopia?

Jason Hough: I'm not sure they're mutually exclusive. Post-apocalypse is about survival after an apocalyptic event. Dystopia, to me, really just describes a current state of living for the protagonist(s) as being a very undesirable situation – from the reader's perspective, not necessarily the character. The frog in boiling water analogy you mentioned is great, because in a post-apocalyptic story set well after whatever calamity brought us to that point, the people living in that time might not see it as necessarily terrible. It's what they're used to.

Karina Sumner-Smith: I think there's also something to be said about the scope of the story. One woman living out in the edge of nowhere, twenty years after the end of the world, would likely still have a post-apocalyptic style and tone, whereas a story about a community or attempts to rebuild 6 months after a disaster would likely trend towards dystopian.

Jason Hough: Definitely.

Karina Sumner-Smith: But lots of folks in a dystopian society also see their situation as normal. That sense of hopelessness or inevitability often weighs down many, whereas the main character might see things a little differently.

Jason Hough: What about hopeful SF? Any favorites? I'm kind of chuckling here because most of the ones I can think of are all about settling other worlds, which is sort of a cop-out in the hope department, really. Yeah, it's hopeful, but only because we left all of Earth's crap behind and are starting over!

Karina Sumner-Smith: I think that some of the most hopeful SF stories are, to me, not about the process of settling new worlds or making new discoveries, but those in which humanity is already spread across the stars and keeps expanding. I love a good space adventure, like Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan novels. I've also been eying James A. Corey's LEVIATHAN WAKES, which is sitting near the top of my to-read pile. I've heard great things ... though I can't say how hopeful it is.

Jason Hough: Ah, well Corey's is quite epic and has lots of different settings and situations. I'm on the second book of a planned nine, so I haven't reached the part yet where there's much hope.

Karina Sumner-Smith: I think that the challenge in writing really interesting hopeful fiction, is finding a conflict that feels true and real on a wide scale within that sort of society. Of course, SF doesn't always have to have such a huge scope – there are lots of smaller, interesting character stories that could be set against that background.

Jason Hough: Absolutely agree. Look at Andy Weir's THE MARTIAN. One guy on Mars, struggling to survive. It's both hopeful and intensely small in scope.

Karina Sumner-Smith: I want to read that one! So, Jason, what’s next for you? Are you staying in the realm of post-apocalyptic and dystopian SF?

Jason Hough: My next book has more of a Cold War vibe. So I suppose it's neither, but on the cusp of becoming one or both. How about you?

Karina Sumner-Smith: After finishing the Towers Trilogy, I'm hoping to write a very different kind of fantasy disaster novel, something quieter and more personal (though, of course, I love big explosions). SFF is so broad, there are lots of ideas and stories I'd like to explore – but I think there's something compelling in dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction that will keep me coming back for more, even if it's just a short story or two.

Jason Hough: It is compelling. I'm not tired of it at all, despite the supposed saturation in the genre lately.

Karina Sumner-Smith: Like you said, everything is cyclical.

Jason Hough: Maybe the really scary future is when the Universe stops being so.

The Authors

Photo by Lindy Sumner-Smith
Karina Sumner-Smith is a fantasy author and freelance writer. Her debut novel, Radiant, was published by Talos/Skyhorse in September 2014, with the second and third books in the trilogy to follow in 2015. Prior to focusing on novel-length work, Karina published a range of fantasy, science fiction and horror short stories, including Nebula Award nominated story “An End to All Things,” and ultra-short story “When the Zombies Win,” which appeared in two Best of the Year anthologies. Visit her at

Website  ~  Twitter @ksumnersmith  ~  Goodreads  ~  Pinterest

Photo by Nathan Hough
Jason M. Hough is the New York Times bestselling author of The Darwin Elevator (Del Rey, 2013), and two more books in the Dire Earth Cycle. Before becoming a full-time writer he designed video games, did 3D modeling and animation, and worked on machine learning software that optimizes battery life for mobile phones. His latest release is The Dire Earth, a novella prequel to The Darwin Elevator. Visit him at

Website  ~  Twitter @JasonMHough  ~  Facebook  ~  G+  ~  Blog

The Books

Towers Trilogy 1
Talos, September 30, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.

When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body—any body—so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless—until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.

With two extremely strong female protagonists, Radiant is a story of fighting for what you believe in and finding strength that you never thought you had.

The Dire Earth Cycle

The Darwin Elevator
The Dire Earth Cycle 1
Del Rey, July 30, 2013
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 496 pages

Jason M. Hough’s pulse-pounding debut combines the drama, swagger, and vivid characters of Joss Whedon’s Firefly with the talent of sci-fi author John Scalzi.

In the mid-23rd century, Darwin, Australia, stands as the last human city on Earth. The world has succumbed to an alien plague, with most of the population transformed into mindless, savage creatures. The planet’s refugees flock to Darwin, where a space elevator—created by the architects of this apocalypse, the Builders—emits a plague-suppressing aura.

Skyler Luiken has a rare immunity to the plague. Backed by an international crew of fellow “immunes,” he leads missions into the dangerous wasteland beyond the aura’s edge to find the resources Darwin needs to stave off collapse. But when the Elevator starts to malfunction, Skyler is tapped—along with the brilliant scientist, Dr. Tania Sharma—to solve the mystery of the failing alien technology and save the ragged remnants of humanity.

The Exodus Towers
The Dire Earth Cycle 2
Del Rey, August 27, 2013
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 544 pages

The Exodus Towers features all the high-octane action and richly imagined characters of The Darwin Elevator—only the stakes have never been higher.

The sudden appearance of a second space elevator in Brazil only deepens the mystery about the aliens who provided it: the Builders. Scavenger crew captain Skyler Luiken and brilliant scientist Dr. Tania Sharma have formed a colony around the new Elevator’s base, utilizing mobile towers to protect humans from the Builders’ plague. But they are soon under attack from a roving band of plague-immune soldiers. Cut off from the colony, Skyler must wage a one-man war against the new threat as well as murderous subhumans and thugs from Darwin—all while trying to solve the puzzle of the Builders’ master plan . . . before it’s too late for the last vestiges of humanity.

The Plague Forge
The Dire Earth Cycle 3
Del Rey, September 24, 2013
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 448 pages

The Plague Forge delivers an unbeatable combination of knockout action and kick-ass characters as the secrets to the ultimate alien mystery from The Darwin Elevator and The Exodus Towers are about to be unraveled.

The hunt is on for the mysterious keys left by the alien Builders. While Skyler’s team of immune scavengers scatters around the disease-ravaged globe in search of the artifacts, Skyler himself finds much more than he expected in the African desert, where he stumbles upon surprising Builder relics—and thousands of bloodthirsty subhumans. From the slums and fortresses of Darwin to the jungles of Brazil and beyond, Skyler and company are in for a wild ride, jam-packed with daunting challenges, run-and-gun adventure, and unexpected betrayals—all in a race against time to finally answer the great questions that have plagued humanity for decades: Who are the Builders, and what do they want with Earth?

The Dire Earth
The Dire Earth Novella
Del Rey, November 18, 2014
eNovella, 124 pages

Jason M. Hough goes back to the beginning with this eBook exclusive novella, the prequel to the New York Times bestseller The Darwin Elevator. An indispensable introduction to a trilogy wrought with action, imagination, and mystery, The Dire Earth is sure to thrill new readers and diehard fans alike.

In the middle of the twenty-third century, an inexplicable disease engulfs the globe, leaving a trail of madness and savagery in its wake. Dutch air force pilot Skyler Luiken discovers he is immune to the disease when he returns from a mission to find the world in chaos, but he soon realizes that he’s not the only one to have endured the apocalypse. Elsewhere, the roguish Skadz, the cunning Nigel, and the tough-as-nails Samantha each make their way toward the last remaining bastion of sanity: Darwin, Australia, home to a mysterious alien artifact that may hold the key to the survival of the human race.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Interview with Jack Heckel, author of The Charming Tales - December 16, 2014

Please welcome to The Qwillery Harry Heckel and John Peck collectively known as Jack Heckel, the author(s) of the The Charming Tales.

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. How did you decide to collaborate on a series?

H:  John and I have been friends since our university days. We had been part of a pen and paper roleplaying group and stayed in contact over the years.

J:  We were best men at each other’s weddings.

H:  John was always someone who I enjoyed sharing my ideas with and his feedback has inspired me on numerous occasions in the past. One day in 2008, John was visiting the East Coast and we were talking about novel ideas. The idea for The Charming Tales was his, but he wasn’t sure that he could write it.

J:  He is being generous. I was CERTAIN I couldn’t write it by myself.

H:  The concept stuck with me for weeks, and I couldn’t put it away. Finally, I called him a few months later and said something like, “It’s time to write this.” Fortunately, he agreed and we’ve had a blast reconnecting and creating worlds together. One of the best decisions ever.

J:  And, mine. It was Harry that really drove the project forward and kept it going when while I struggled to figure out how to write. Having an experienced writer like Harry as a partner, and to complete your sentences for you is a luxury I think all writers could benefit from.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about co-writing?

H:  This one is easy for me – time zones. John is in California, and I’m in Virginia. When we need to talk, the main problem is finding a good time. Email and texts are wonderful, but they don’t replace time spent talking. Since we both have busy day jobs and often events in the evening, I usually have to call him after midnight during the week to have a long talk.

J: I don’t think of it as a challenge at all. Co-writing to me is an advantage. If either of us gets stuck, we have a co-author who can help us write through it. If day jobs attack, we can pass the baton and keep making progress on our novel. Our real secret is that we don’t worry about who has written what or how many words. We’ve both written the entire book.

H & J  : As far as the actual collaboration, we have a good system. We create an outline, assign chapters to one another and write them chronologically. When one of us finishes a chapter, they send it to the other to rewrite. Finally, it goes back to the original author for a review and touch up. We’ve found that gives the book a single voice.

TQ:  What appealed to you about writing twisted fairy tales?

H:  The Charming Tales really came from the question of “Who is this mysterious Prince Charming who shows up to rescue the princess in all the fairy tales?” When the series was originally conceived, we wanted to explore who this person would be if he didn’t get to rescue the princess. It was going to be sad and dark, like the tragic fall of star athletes who turn out to be busts or child actors who can’t or don’t want to continue their careers into adulthood. What happens to a man who has been told all his life he was going to be a hero and then never becomes that hero?

After talking, we decided that the series would be better with a comedic take. Once we did that, we decided to write something like The Princess Bride, Piers Anthony’s Xanth series or a Terry Pratchett book but with fairy tales. Once we got into the fairy tales, there was so much source material for us to explore that it’s been incredible fun ever since. I think one of the real joys is that our readers already know the stories behind our novel, so we can play off the original fairy tales and the numerous modern versions.

J:  First, let me second everything Harry said, but add that for me all of fairytale was a draw. I have been a voracious reader of fairytales and fairytale commentary for years. I’m one of those weird people that love to read the annotated versions of fairytales, Maria Tatar is my favorite, and to try and understand why these stories keep drawing readers back to them hundreds of years after their original publication. Then there is the fact that they are so elegant and spare, that they provide the perfect canvas from which to launch new stories. And, where else can you find source material that is so widely and universally known. The teaser trailer for Disney’s upcoming adaptation of Cinderella is just an image of a crystal slipper. Even Star Wars can’t get away with that level of abstraction.

TQ:  Tell us something about Once Upon a Rhyme and Happily Never After that we won't find in the book descriptions.

H:  Although it may seem from the descriptions that Will Pickett is the hero of the The Charming Tales, Liz Pickett is probably the true protagonist of the tale. Liz has to struggle to save her brother, and she is the only one who knows about Princess Gwendolyn’s madness. She’s Will’s practical older sister, and after a lifetime of disappointment, she needs to find the courage to believe that she can find her own happy ending and perhaps fall in love.

J:  That’s a good one, but for me it is that the villainess, Princess Gwendolyn, may be my favorite character. She was certainly the hardest to write, but more than that she provides a voice for all those distressed damsels whose rescues don’t go quite as planned.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Once Upon a Rhyme and Happily Never After?

H:  We read a lot of fairy tales. John sent me a copy of The Annotated Brothers Grimm edited by Maria Tatar, and we’ve both used that as a point of reference. We watched several Disney and Dreamworks movies (as well as The Princess Bride, as we love the tone of it) as well as read scholarly articles and analyses of the fairy tales.

J:  The research for The Charming Tales really began in my nursery. One of my favorite stories as a child was Jack and the Beanstalk. I loved the idea of a castle in the clouds. I could lie back in the grass in my backyard and watch all those mysterious lands filled with treasures and giants and magic drift by right over my head. Over the years I’ve taken that love for fairytales and read everything I could get my hands on, Perrault’s Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals, Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books (I particularly love The Green Fairy, which introduces to the world for the first time the character of Prince Charming in a story called The Blue Bird), and of course Children’s and Household Tales by the Brothers Grimm.

TQ:  Do you have a favorite fairy tale?

H:  As far as classic fairy tales, I would have to choose Sleeping Beauty, but it’s a difficult decision. As far as modern stories, I have to say that Frozen was amazing, especially since I was able to see it with my young daughter.

J:  That’s easy for me. There is a rather obscure but beautiful little story in the Brothers Grimm collection called The Seven Ravens I have a particular fondness for. It is about a young girl who finds out that her seven brothers have been cursed to live as ravens. To break the curse she undertakes a quest to the sun and to the moon and to the stars before she finally sets them free. I am drawn to it because the female protagonist is so strikingly different from many of the more passive heroines in the better-known fairytales. Also, she undertakes the quest not for personal gain, either material or romantic, but because that is what a sister would do for her brothers.

TQ:  Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Happily Never After.

H:  Here’s one of my favorites –
“Not just ‘seven players’—The Seven Players,” Grady bristled. “Capitalize it when you say it. I won’t be insulted by a common foot soldier.”

J:  I had a tough time with this, mostly with trying to decide if something is “spoilery” or “non-spoilery”, but ultimately I picked this one –
He bowed and spread his hands wide in a gesture of surrender. “Forgive me. I am being pushy, and nobody likes a pushy frog.”

TQ:  What's next?

H:  We are working diligently on Book 3 of The Charming Tales, Pitchfork of Destiny. It’s currently scheduled for release in mid-July of 2015. We also have a series in the works that should fracture epic fantasy in a similar fashion to the carnage we’ve wrought on fairy tales. There are a plethora of unpublished novels in our backlog and hopefully, many more ideas to come.

J:  One more word, superheroes, or should I say, superheroine!

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Once Upon a Rhyme
The Charming Tales 1
Harper Voyager Impulse, August 26, 2014

The dragon is dead. The princess has been saved. There is but one problem: Prince Charming had nothing to do with it.

In order to save his royal reputation, Prince Charming must begrudgingly enlist the help of accidental hero William Pickett. The two set out on an adventure that has them fighting trolls, outwitting a scoundrel, and drinking the foulest ale ever, collecting bruises to both body and pride along the way. Meanwhile, the rescued princess, Gwendolyn, turns out to be one dangerously distressed damsel, and an evil presence takes over Castle White in Charming's absence …

Enter this rollicking world and discover just what happens when a fairytale leaves the well-trodden path of "once upon a time."

Happily Never After
The Charming Tales 2
Harper Voyager Impulse, November 25, 2014

Once upon, once again …

The dragon has been slain, but the problems have just begun for Prince Charming.

Disowned by his father, the King, and abandoned by his only friend, William Pickett, Charming must find a new path in life—but he's going to need a lot of help. His love, Liz, barely survived an assassination attempt; his former fling, Rapunzel, is in danger; and William is under an evil spell cast by Princess Gwendolyn.

The fate of Castle White hangs in the balance as Charming tries to find himself, while finding new allies along the way—including an odd number of dwarfs (or is it dwarves?) and a reformed beast. But he's running out of time to stop royally ruinous wedding bells from ringing …

About Jack

Jack Heckel’s life is an open book, actually, it’s the book you are in all hope holding right now (and if you are not holding it, he would like to tell you it can be purchased from any of your finest purveyors of the written word). Beyond that, Jack aspires to be either a witty, urbane, world-traveler who lives on his vintage yacht, The Clever Double Entendre, or a geographically illiterate professor of literature who spends his non-writing time restoring an 18th century lighthouse off a remote part of the Vermont coastline. More than anything, Jack lives for his readers.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @jackheckel  ~  Goodreads

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Excerpt from The Alliance by Shannon Stoker - December 16, 2014

Please welcome Shannon Stoker to The Qwillery with an excerpt from The Alliance, which was published on September 2nd by William Morrow Paperbacks.

Chapter 1: The Alliance

Our enemy has been defeated and I am eager to return home. It has been three months since I have heard from Wallace and I hope he still wants to marry me when I arrive. I know he was scared about his fiancée heading to war, but once he sees my face I am certain all the old feelings will come flooding back.

—The diary of Megan Jean

Lightning crashed and Mia slid along the floor of the boat, clawing at the floorboards, hoping to stop herself from slamming into the opposite side of the hull. Her efforts did little good and she braced for impact. Pain exploded through her right arm, but immediately the ship straightened itself out again and Mia landed on her left side with a thud.

They had told her to stay down here for her safety, but she wasn’t doing a very good job of protecting herself from the effects of the storm. Another boom sounded from above and Mia couldn’t take her feelings of helplessness any longer.

She forced herself off the ground and headed toward the small set of stairs that led up to the deck. The boat continued to wobble, but she made her way to the railing and gripped it tight. Filled with resolve, Mia did the only thing she’d been instructed not to: she climbed the stairs and reached for the handle, determined to offer her help in saving the ship and the rest of the crew from the storm.

Little effort was needed to open the door. The wind pulled it and it started to drag Mia out of the cabin. She saw a wave crash against the deck and water rush at her feet. Not that the excess water would make much of a difference; the rain was coming down fast and Mia’s face felt like it was being pelted with pebbles instead of drops.

She saw several people trying to reinforce tarps over the center of the deck. Mia forced the door closed behind her and went toward them. She recognized Andrew. He was bent over, holding the tarp in place. She leaned down next to him.

“I want to help,” she yelled over the roaring storm.

He moved his head toward her and even in the dark she could recognize the anger on his face.

“What are you doing out here?” he yelled. “Go back under.”

He pointed toward the door Mia had just come through. She shook her head.

“I can help,” she said.

She reached down and grabbed the tarp from his hand. Another loud clap of thunder went off and Mia looked up just in time to see a wall of water ready to drop onto the deck. She raised her hands to protect her head and felt Andrew grab a hold of her wrist. The water hit and Mia fell back onto the wood. It felt like she was underwater and her body was being dragged away. Andrew tightened his grip and Mia was certain they were going overboard with the wave as it pulled back.

Suddenly they stopped moving. She wasn’t sure which direction was up but if Andrew let go Mia thought she’d never see the surface again. The water rushed away and Mia felt its pull on her weaken. She opened her eyes and gasped for air. The boat was upright again and Mia was dangling off the side, hanging from Andrew’s arms.

Mia tried to keep her grip on Andrew’s forearm, but he completely let go of her. Her skin was too wet, she was sliding down. She raised her eyes and tried to get Andrew to give her his free hand. She continued to grab at Andrew with her other hand, but he didn’t return her gesture. He looked down at her. His face wasn’t the bundle of nerves she expected. Instead his brown eyes held a vacant stare. In her confusion Mia let herself slip down. Her arms flailed in the air, but it was no use. She braced herself for the impact of the ice-cold water.

The cold water never came. Mia’s eyes flashed open as she sucked in a large breath. She started to cough since her inhalation of air came as too much of a shock to her system. Mia felt a hand patting her back, trying to help her with the coughs. She turned, expecting to see Andrew, but instead Zack was behind her, handing over a bottle of water.

“Where’s Andrew?” Mia asked.

She appreciated Zack’s presence. The tall, blond man had proved himself a worthy ally during Mia’s time with Affinity. She remembered when she first arrived in Guatemala at one of Affinity’s bases. It had looked so quaint and rustic, but appearances were deceiving and Mia quickly realized the group had an arsenal of electronics and people behind it. Before becoming acquainted with Affinity Mia never would have thought stopping the Registry possible, but that was the group’s core mission. Mia was proud to call herself a member and work toward that very goal.

She looked out the window at the small airstrip. She was three hours from Affinity’s base but knew she would soon be farther than that when she arrived in France.

“He’s loading the plane,” Zack said. “I convinced him to let you sleep some more.”

“I can’t believe I fell asleep,” Mia said.

The group had left the Affinity base at three a.m. They’d traveled south to the nearest airport, about three hours away. Even though that had interrupted Mia’s normal sleep schedule she’d thought her nerves were too rattled to rest.

“I was hoping we’d have some time to talk before we left,” Zack said.

Mia nodded. Zack had been born and raised in Affinity, while Mia had only been a member for a few weeks. Her time with the rebel group had been spent preparing for this mission, the only mission that mattered to Mia: infiltrating America and stopping the Registry and mandatory service.

The Alliance
Registry 3
William Morrow Paperbacks, September 2, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 448 pages

To overthrow a brutal dictator and free her country, a brave young woman will risk her life and liberty to spark a revolution in this explosive final installment in Shannon Stoker’s electrifying Registry trilogy.

Mia Morrissey fled to Mexico to escape the government marrying her to someone she did not love. Now, she’s going risk everything so that the rest of America can be free.

Going undercover as part of a diplomatic mission, Mia returns to America. But life there is more dangerous than ever as the walls grow ever taller, and the forgotten country faces its most ruthless leader yet, Grant Marsden . . . a shadow from Mia’s past. With the help of Andrew, Carter, and other members of the subversive group Affinity, she embarks on a perilous journey to defeat Grant, bring down the government, and destroy the Registry once and for all.

When a terrible betrayal exposes the operation, Mia discovers that her enemies have used her—and so have her friends. Alone and frightened, she’s uncertain who to trust—or whether the mission is worth what she’s sacrificing.

With the fate of her friends and the future of her country on the line, Mia knows that her next step may be the last for her . . . and America.

About Shannon

Photo by Natasha Maczko
Shannon Stoker lives in DeKalb, IL. She received her undergraduate and law degree from Northern Illinois University where she now works as the Research Integrity Coordinator. It's not a stretch to say she's a die-hard Huskie fan!

When she's not working or writing Shannon spends the majority of her time playing with her terrier mix Nucky or her husband.

She loves watching horror movies, including those straight to DVD classics most people never heard of. If she wasn't an attorney or an author she would have been a beautician and is constantly bugging her friends to come over and let Shannon play with their hair.

Website  ~  Twitter @ShannonRStoker  ~  Facebook  ~  Goodreads

Monday, December 15, 2014

Review: Rise Again Below Zero by Ben Tripp

Rise Again Below Zero
Author:  Ben Tripp
Series:  Rise Again 2
Publisher:  Gallery Books, December 17, 2013
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 352 pages
List Price:  $16.00 (print)
ISBN:  9781451668322 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

The sequel to Rise Again, from an author who “balances kinetically choreographed scenes of zombie carnage with studies of well-drawn characters and enough political intrigue to give his tale more gravity and grounding than most zombie gorefests” (Publishers Weekly).

Billions died and rose again, hungry for human flesh. When the nightmare reached Sheriff Danielle Adelman’s small mountain community of Forest Peak, California, it was too late for warnings . . . forcing her to lead a small group of survivors out of hell, all the while seeking her estranged runaway sister at any cost.

Two years later, the undead have evolved. Now, besides the shambling, mindless cannibals are the hunters—cunning and fast, like wolves—and the thinkers, whose shocking intel­ligence and single-minded predatory obsession may mean the downfall of what’s left of humanity. As Danny leads a ragtag band of the living through the remnants of the American Midwest, rumors arise of a safe place somewhere east. But the closer they get to it, the more certain Danny becomes that something evil waits for them at the end of the line. With an unspeakable secret riding beside her and an unbreakable promise made to a small, silent boy, Danny must stake everything she has—her leadership, her sanity, and her life— in order to defeat the ultimate horror in a terrifying and dying world.
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Doreen’s Thoughts

I was initially surprised to see the prologue to Rise Again Below Zero written in a semi-literate, phonetic manner, but knowing that it was a post-apocalyptic story, I should not have been. I am always impressed when someone tries to imitate how the written word might evolve over time, and as the novel progressed, I felt that this was rather true to the story and the character involved. However, after about the first 15 pages, I realized that this was a sequel and was initially disappointed before becoming so immersed in the story that I could not put it down – I read long into the early morning hours. I actually lost sleep over this book!

The Walking Dead television series has made zombies popular again, although for those of us who read fantasy, they really have never gone out of style. Ben Tripp has reinvented the zombie story, at least in this sequel. His zombies are actually evolving – some of them are physically changing in appearance as well as others becoming more human in their thinking as time progresses after the “end of the world.” He has developed “zombie hunters” – zombies that work together in packs to bring down their prey – and “zombie thinkers” – zombies who use their complex thinking to further their feeding efforts. These zombies are even more dangerous than the typical zombies – who are pretty dangerous in their own right.

Tripp continues Sheriff Danielle Adelman’s story in this sequel. Apparently, when the world ended in the first novel, Danny had led a small group of survivors out of a Californian city while seeking her sister. This story starts after Danny has found that sister, Kelley. Danny is still leading the group, now known as the Tribe, foraging off the remains of the land and moving steadily east, where there are rumors of a safe place. Life for the Tribe is difficult, but not as difficult as going alone might be. Unfortunately Kelley has secrets of her own that may endanger the Tribe, and Danny is walking a tightrope, trying to do right by her sister and still lead the group.

Danny’s motorcycle scouts find a young mute boy and his dog alone in the midst of the wilderness. No one knows how he has survived alone at such a young age, and Danny takes him under her wing, promising to keep him safe. Unfortunately, circumstances occur which could make her break that promise, and she is absolutely unwilling to do so. The story centers on whether she can protect Kelley, the Tribe, and the boy in a world which is dissolving further every day.

I enjoyed the focus on Danny and her relationships with those for whom she cares. She is a strong individual who has been put into an untenable situation, yet she continues to struggle and remain human when everything around her is breaking. The zombie hunters and thinkers add a complexity to this thriller – if these monsters actually begin to think and work together, would humanity even have a chance? How does one retain their humanity when humanity itself is destroyed? These are some of the questions that Tripp attempts to answer in his novel, but the action is absolutely non-stop and the philosophy is more of an afterthought.

Now that I have read this one, I have to go out and get Tripp’s first book, Rise Again. I will expect to lose some sleep when I pick it up, because I could not put down Rise Again Below Zero. It is probably one of the best thrillers I have read this whole year.