Debut Author Interview: Dan Stout

Obviously, I’m not the only new SFF writer of the year.

Today I’m bringing you the first in a series of interviews with Science Fiction and Fantasy authors also debuting in 2019.  Today we have Dan Stout, author of Titanshade, out March 12th from DAW books.

Dan, what’s the book about?
Titanshade is a fantasy noir thriller set in a world where magic is real and technology is at 1970s level.

Can you give us a teaser? 
Titanshade interviewOur little car hugged the corners as I slalomed us through the early morning traffic. The nice thing about cop cars in Titanshade is that the boys in the shop keep them tuned nice and tight. I glided up to a stoplight and paused, waiting for the light to turn green.

Our destination lay straight ahead. But while I stared at the red light the thought of Talena’s photo and that small sticker remnant on the Do Not Disturb sign whirled in my mind.

When I took a sudden right turn, Ajax looked up from fiddling with the radio. “We taking the scenic route?”

“Just a quick stop before we talk to the candies.”

“Yeah? Where’s that?”

A heavily filtered bass line bounced from the Hasam’s speakers, followed by a trumpet’s trill. I slapped Ajax’s hand off the dial.

“No disco,” I said. “They can make us work together, but I am not listening to disco.”

What’s the story behind the title?
Titanshade is an oil boomtown, where a mix of greed and hard labor has allowed the residents to claw out a living in the midst of an arctic perma-freeze. So much of the story ties into the character of the streets and the citizens that there was never any doubt the book needed to be named after the city.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?
Drafting.  I love brainstorming, and I love fixing the story once it’s built. But writing down the initial draft is like chewing glass.

What’s your writing routine? 
I work in chunks of time, usually two blocks of 2 – 3 hours. I start early, so I’m usually done with writing by noon, and move to admin and marketing after that.

Do you have any writing quirks? 
Oh man, so many! Maybe the strangest is that my first-draft characters almost always have names that start with the same letter (Steve and Sara and Sammie, etc.). I created the Mollenkampi naming convention in Titanshade as a private joke at my own expense.

What are you working on right now?
The sequel! It’s been tough but rewarding, as building a follow-up that can also stand on its own has meant learning a whole new set of skills. But it’s paying off, and I’m very excited to share the next chapter in the story.

What’s your favourite writing advice?
The struggle belongs to you, the finished product belongs to the reader.


Stout Head Shot for interviewDan Stout lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he writes about fever dreams and half-glimpsed shapes in the shadows. His prize-winning fiction draws on travels throughout Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Rim as well as an employment history spanning everything from subpoena server to assistant well driller. Dan’s stories have appeared in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post, Nature, and Mad Scientist Journal. His debut novel Titanshade is a noir fantasy thriller, available from DAW Books. To say hello, visit him at www.DanStout.com.

Find Dan on:  Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

10 Books I’m Looking Forward To in 2019

As we’re 33 days out from my own book’s debut, I thought I’d mention 10 other books I’m looking forward to this year. Some are debuts, some aren’t, but all of them are exciting to me. All the links in this in-no-particular-order list go to the Goodreads page; from there you can go to your retailer-of-choice.

  1. The Perfect Assassin, K.A. Doore.

Divine justice is written in blood.

Or so Amastan has been taught. As a new assassin in the Basbowen family, he’s already having second thoughts about taking a life. A scarcity of contracts ends up being just what he needs.

Until, unexpectedly, Amastan finds the body of a very important drum chief. Until, impossibly, Basbowen’s finest start showing up dead, with their murderous jaan running wild in the dusty streets of Ghadid. Until, inevitably, Amastan is ordered to solve these murders, before the family gets blamed.

Every life has its price, but when the tables are turned, Amastan must find this perfect assassin or be their next target.

2. The Burning White, Brent Weeks

Stripped of both magical and political power, the people he once ruled told he’s dead, and now imprisoned in his own magical dungeon, former Emperor Gavin Guile has no prospect of escape. But the world faces a calamity greater than the Seven Satrapies has ever seen… and only he can save it.

As the armies of the White King defeat the Chromeria and old gods are born anew, the fate of worlds will come down to one question: Who is the Lightbringer? 

3. A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident–or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion–all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret–one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life–or rescue it from annihilation.

4. Ancestral Night, Elizabeth Bear

Halmey Dz and her partner Connla Kurucz are salvage operators, living just on the inside of the law…usually. Theirs is the perilous and marginal existence—with barely enough chance of striking it fantastically big—just once—to keep them coming back for more. They pilot their tiny ship into the scars left by unsuccessful White Transitions, searching for the relics of lost human and alien vessels. But when they make a shocking discovery about an alien species that has been long thought dead, it may be the thing that could tip the perilous peace mankind has found into full-out war.

5. Famous Men Who Never Lived, K. Chess

Wherever Hel looks, New York City is both reassuringly familiar and terribly wrong. As one of the thousands who fled the outbreak of nuclear war in an alternate United States—an alternate timeline—she finds herself living as a refugee in our own not-so-parallel New York. The slang and technology are foreign to her, the politics and art unrecognizable. While others, like her partner Vikram, attempt to assimilate, Hel refuses to reclaim her former career or create a new life. Instead, she obsessively rereads Vikram’s copy of The Pyronauts—a science fiction masterwork in her world that now only exists as a single flimsy paperback—and becomes determined to create a museum dedicated to preserving the remaining artifacts and memories of her vanished culture.

But the refugees are unwelcome and Hel’s efforts are met with either indifference or hostility. And when the only copy of The Pyronauts goes missing, Hel must decide how far she is willing to go to recover it and finally face her own anger, guilt, and grief over what she has truly lost.

6. Titanshade, Dan Stout

Carter’s a homicide cop in Titanshade, an oil boomtown where 8-tracks are state of the art, disco rules the radio, and all the best sorcerers wear designer labels. It’s also a metropolis teetering on the edge of disaster. As its oil reserves run dry, the city’s future hangs on a possible investment from the reclusive amphibians known as Squibs.

But now negotiations have been derailed by the horrific murder of a Squib diplomat. The pressure’s never been higher to make a quick arrest, even as Carter’s investigation leads him into conflict with the city’s elite. Undermined by corrupt coworkers and falsified evidence, and with a suspect list that includes power-hungry politicians, oil magnates, and mad scientists, Carter must find the killer before the investigation turns into a witch-hunt and those closest to him pay the ultimate price on the filthy streets of Titanshade.

7. The Currency of War, Melinda M. Snodgrass

The fourth book in the acclaimed space opera romance series Imperials. A new alien race has attacked the human Solar League bringing war and death. Tracy returns to active duty as Mercedes and Boho lead their troops in a desperate attempt to save the empire. All three bring their bravery and brilliance to bear, but Boho is angered by Tracy’s emerging fame. Then at the height of the conflict they are betrayed by a former classmate, Jasper Talion who has his own ambitions. While Mercedes and Boho are engaged in the final, desperate battle with the alien menace Tracy races to protect the Imperial prince from Talion… And discovers the boy is actually his son and not Boho’s. Will Tracy also become a rebel?

8. The Luminous Dead, Caitlin Starling

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.

Instead, she got Em.

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .

As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head.

But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?

9. Lord of Secrets, Breanna Teintze

Outlaw wizard Corcoran Gray has enough problems. He’s friendless, penniless and on the run from the tyrannical Mages’ Guild – and with the search for his imprisoned grandfather looking hopeless, his situation can’t get much worse.

So when a fugitive drops into his lap – literally – and gets them both arrested, it’s the last straw – until Gray realises that runaway slave Brix could be the key to his grandfather’s release. All he has to do is break out of prison, break into an ancient underground temple and avoid killing himself with his own magic in the process.

In theory, it’s simple enough. But as secrets unfold and loyalties shift, Gray discovers something with the power to change the nature of life and death itself.

Now Gray must find a way to protect the people he loves, but it could cost him everything, even his soul . . .

10. This Is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

And thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more.

Except discovery of their bond would be death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

Debut Diary, Part 6: ARCs

I am, even as I write this, looking at an Advance Reader Copy, or ARC, of my book.

The whole point of this Debut Diary series is to show debut writers not yet at this stage what it really feels like to publish your first book. So how does this moment feel?

Well, at risk of annoying my aunt, it feels fucking amazing.

I mean, how could it not? I am holding a book I wrote. It has my name on the front, and my picture on the back. And best of all, inside, there are actual words I wrote, in the order in which I wrote them.

I won’t lie–I’ve opened it randomly several times and read the pages. I’ve read the dedication and the acknowledgements, I’ve even read the bibliographic information in the front matter.

I’ve also addressed envelopes and put the ARCs in them. I’ve sent review queries (and gotten requests for the book from some of them). I’ve made lists of local bookstores to drop by and give a copy.

But right now? Right now I can’t stop looking at it.

50 days ’til release day! Order now wherever you like to buy books!


Debut Diary, Part 5: Page Proofs

I received the book design document last week.  This is a PDF that shows the book as it will appear in print.  My job was to read it through, note any issues, and get them back to the editor.  These are also called “page proofs” sometimes.

I did find some errors, but they were mine–continuity errors the team and I missed the last time through.  I sent back corrections, they were made, and I got a new version of the design with the changes.  It’s as perfect as it can be, so now I gather it goes to printing for ARCs.

ARC stands for “Advanced Reader Copy,” and those get sent out to various reviewers, book bloggers, and I think some stores.  The purpose is to generate “blurbs” and reviews to generate buzz and, hopefully, preorders.  Because let’s face it, the preorders from my friends and family won’t be enough to make the book a success.

Reading the proofs was fraught for me.  On the one hand, it was awesome to see the book as it will appear in the final form.  On the other hand, I’ve read the book so often over the last couple of years that I have lost all objectivity.

This is normal, I’m told.  Which is good to know, and which is why I’m writing this series.  Hopefully, some writer someday will read all this, and know that they’re not alone.  We’ve all been there.

Here’s to you, newbie.

Debut Diary, Part 4: Edits

I’ve been going through the edits on The Widening Gyre, and there is one thing that is true of both teaching and writing: You never stop learning.

I’ve learned that I have a bad habit of creating clusters of sentences with the construction “Someone does something AS something else happens.”  As my editor said, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that construction, but if you cluster them up as I’ve done, it calls attention to it and yanks the reader out of the story.

I’ve also learned that despite my having gone through the MS several times, I had a few leftover remnants of earlier drafts that had to be dealt with:

  • Events mentioned when, in the current draft, they haven’t happened yet
  • Characters names that have long since been changed
  • Ship names that are wrong

I also have a habit of using the gerund verb form to write sentences where characters do several things in sequence.  This is a problem, because that form really makes it seem like they are doing all the actions at once, which is, most of the time, completely impossible.

I also had a lot of “echoes”–words that are fine once, but when they happen three or more times on a page, it will yank the reader out of the story.

And there was, to be honest, a frankly inordinate amount of “snorting” going on.  Most, if not all, occasions of snorting got changed to other things.

Aside from these problems, the editor and copy-editor called my attention to several places where things weren’t clear, where a word I’d used might lead to misunderstanding, where things could be tightened.  And I found a fair few places on my own that seemed to work okay, but could be fixed with a small change to the sentence structure or a different word.

Going forward, I have some tics I’ll know to watch out for, because I’d hate to force my editor to deal with so many of the same issues in the next MS.

All in all, my first experience going through a manuscript edit for publication was really nice.  We’ll see how the next iteration goes!

 

The Importance of Local Bookstores for Authors–and the Reading Public

Long ago, in the dark days of my early-to-mid-twenties, I was a bookseller at Books, Inc. in Sacramento.  It was an odd job; very “Empire Records”-like in the way the staff interacted.  I kind of miss it sometimes, even though I rarely worked more than 20 hours in a week and I had to eventually leave it for a better-paying job.

But what I loved was helping people find books they would love.  I eventually ended up in charge of the Science Fiction/Fantasy section, because people knew that I was the guy who knew the genre well.  So anyone looking for SFF was quickly pointed my way.

Even in these days of Amazon and other websites that let you buy books, physical bookstores are important.  For one thing, Amazon is good for getting the book you already know you want, but it’s utter crap for browsing.  It’s much easier to walk the shelves in a real store, perusing the titles and author names, looking for something to catch your eye.

In addition, bookstores pay attention to what sells, and they log requests.  If people make the time to come in and special order a book, there is a better-than-zero chance the store will order a second copy for the shelves.

If enough people request or order the book, the bookseller is more likely to read and then handsell the book to people who want something new, but don’t know exactly what. This is what I did all the time, and if the bookseller liked the book, they’re going to push it.  This is why my store sold completely out of Ian MacDonald’s Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone.  We had ten copies, and not one sold until I got intrigued by the cover, read it, and then hand sold it to nine other people who came in looking for good SF.

A book on the shelf has a greater chance of being picked up on an impulse buy than a picture online, thus widening the audience.

Finally, if you shop at a local, independent store, you’re adding money to the local economy and helping a local business stay open.

Support your local independent bookstore. 

On Reviews of My Work, and How I’ll Handle Them.

Sometime in the very near future, reviews of my book will be appearing in the wild.  I’ve gotten a lot of well-meaning advice from friends to the effect of “don’t read them.”  But let’s be honest, here.  I wrote this book.  I sent it out for three rounds of Beta.  I rewrote parts of it extensively.  I sent it into the world and signed the contract to get it out to readers. How could I not read reviews?

I am totally going to read them.

Some of them will be positive.  Those I’m going to love.  Some of them I’m going to quote, either on Facebook, or on this site.

Some of them won’t be nice.  Those, I’ll do my best to shake off and move on.  I think I can.  One thing about being raised by a woman who beat me down nearly every day–I’m very good about hiding my hurt.

And yeah, they will hurt.  How could they not?  When one has poured oneself into a project for as long as it takes to write a book, and then a reader says it stinks, how could that not hurt?  But that doesn’t mean they meant to hurt me.

The bottom line is, no story works for everyone.  I happen to really like William Trevor’s Fools of Fortune, but others find it dreary and depressing.  I love space opera, others find it silly.  No big deal.  The world is big enough for all sorts of things to coexist, even things that are oppositional.

Accordingly, I will never respond to any negative reviews.  And I ask you, readers who like my stuff, to follow my lead.  Don’t engage.  Don’t comment and tell them they’re wrong, don’t say anything, and for the love of all you hold dear, please do not send me links.

Send me links to positive reviews, by all means.  But leave the negative ones alone.  Either I’ve already seen them or I will eventually.

I try to live by a philosophy I call “Let people like things.”  Even things I don’t like.  The opposite side of that is “Let people dislike things.”  I love the Ant-Man movies.  My wife doesn’t.  That’s okay.  More than okay, it’s how the world works.

Grief: It Never Really Ends

My daughter got us to watch a teen romantic comedy, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.  It was much better than I’d expected, and I actually recommend it if you like such things. 
There’s a really touching scene where the female lead talks about what it’s like to have lost her mom years ago, and it was pretty much perfectly accurate.
 
You go on like normal, and then when you’re doing something pretty routine, you start to think about your family, and then you realize you’ve almost forgotten there was ever a different way. And then you feel horrible for moving on, or you get a rush of grief that is every bit as powerful as it was before.
 
For a few years now, I’ve been visiting my mom’s grave in Clearlake at least twice a year. Sometimes it’s a few moments of sadness, but some visits, it’s dissolving into tears and missing her all over again, and also feeling awful because I can’t remember what her voice sounded like.
It’s the same with my father, my grandparents, and an old friend who died in my twenties. I go on with my life, and every once in a while, I remember there used to be a person where now there’s only a memory.  It get easier with time, but it never quite goes away.

Fountain Pens

Through several of my friends and classmates from Viable Paradise 17, I’ve gotten back into fountain pens recently.  And I keep asking myself why I ever left them.

I’ve always loved fountain pens, since I was 15 and I took a summer school course in Calligraphy (what can I say; I lived in Napa and it was the 80s–we had classes like that).  But while I’ve always kept my calligraphy pens, and used them from time to time, I drifted away from using fountain pens–they tended to leak, and there would inevitably be a day when something would get ruined.

Well, it took years for me to realize that that happened because I was buying cheap pieces of crap.  I don’t blame myself; I was poorer then and got what I could afford.  But now that I’m a working professional, I thought it was time to try some new pens.  I got turned on to The Goulet Pen Company, who sell pens from 1.50 to many thousands of dollars.

I started out with a relatively cheap pen, the Monteverde Monza. It was a decent pen, enough to get me interested again.  And then I saw it.

In Lightsaber collecting, a Unicorn Saber is the lightsaber that you simply must have, the perfect saber that will complete your collection.  Well, on the Goulet site, I found the Unicorn Pen.  It was far more than I could justify spending, but I told myself I would get it someday.

And then I sold my novel. As my wife and I had agreed, my first advance was mine to spend however I wished.  For the family, I bought a PS4 so we could play some games that aren’t on Xbox. But then I got my pen: the Platinum 3776 Century Chartres Blue & Rhodium.

If ever a pen was designed for me, it’s this one.  Cobalt/Chartres blue is my favorite color.  I prefer silver to gold.  It’s translucent, which I love.  And when writing, it feels like heaven.

I currently keep the pen filled with Platinum’s Blue Pigmented Ink.  It’s wonderful.

At school, I use another pen for correcting papers starting today: The TWSBI Eco demonstrator, currently filled with Noodler’s British Empire Red ink.

I have a few other pens, all very cheap, which I’ve all but stopped using.  The Platinum and the TWSBI are my go-to pens for now, with the Monza as backup at work.

But I doubt they’re the last pens I buy.

The Widening Gyre Now Available For Pre-Order!

Exciting news!  The Widening Gyre, my debut novel coming in March from Flame Tree Press, is now available for pre-order (in some formats)!

NB: Only the hardcover, paperback, and non-Kindle ebook are currently available to order.  If you want it as a Kindle book or an audiobook, you’ll have to wait a bit longer to pre-order.

Hardcover, Paperback, and Ebook can be ordered directly from the publisher.

Paperback can also be ordered from Amazon in the US.  All other formats WILL be on Amazon US eventually, but of course you can also order them direct from the publisher.

Amazon UK has both the hardcover and paperback available.

You should be able to preorder from book stores, as well, but I’m not sure if it’s percolated that far yet.  The ISBN for the paperback is 978-1787581432. That might help. If anyone does successfully preorder from a brick & mortar, please let me know!

So far the book isn’t on B&N.com, Kobo, or iBooks, but as soon as it is I’ll post that information.