Episode 171: Samantha Mills – The Wings Upon Her Back

A chat with Locus, Sturgeon, and Nebula Award-winning author Samantha Mills about her debut novel, The Wings Upon Her Back.

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About the Book

In this gripping debut novel from acclaimed Nebula, Sturgeon, and Locus Award-winning author Samantha Mills, a disgraced soldier fights to make sense of her world and the gods who abandoned it.

The Wings Upon Her Back is an action-packed, devastating exploration of the brutal costs of zealous loyalty.

Zenya was a teenager when she ran away to join the mechanically-modified warrior sect. She was determined to earn mechanized wings and protect the people of Radezhda, the city she loved. Under the strict tutelage of a mercurial, charismatic leader, Vodaya, Zenya finally became Winged Zemolai.

But after twenty-six years of service, Zemolai is disillusioned with her role as an enforcer in an increasingly fascist state. After one tragic act of mercy, she is brutally cast out and loses everything she worked for. As Zemolai struggles for her life, she must question her sect, their leader, and even the gods themselves.

Praise for The Wings Upon Her Back

[STARRED REVIEW] “In the city-state of Radezha—a towering metropolis constructed vertically to reach the five slumbering gods in the heavens—discontent is stirring. Devoted to the mecha god, patron of the city’s warriors and keeper of the law, Zemolai has spent 26 years rising in the ranks of her sect until she receives the ultimate sign of devotion: mechanized wings attached to ports along her back. One fateful evening, returning home from a brutal, month-long mission patrolling Radezha’s borders, Winged Zemolai performs a single act of mercy that results in the destruction of everything she has ever known. Zemolai is shunned by her god, and the wings are ripped from her back, leaving her permanently disfigured. With no one to turn to but the rebels that she unknowingly saved, the Once-Winged Zemolai’s disillusionment continues to grow as her eyes are opened to the increasingly fascist state she has spent her life defending. The Wings upon Her Back is a triumphant debut novel. The complex narrative examines the intricacies of blind devotion, self-image, and the hidden motivations behind martial control. For fans of C. L. Clark’s The Unbroken looking for a timely perspective on the human cost of destructive nationalism.” —Booklist

[STARRED REVIEW] “Mills debuts with an intricate and intriguing science fantasy set in the divided city of Radezhda. Five sects each serve one of five gods who sleep behind portals floating high above the land. After a brutal civil war, the mecha sect, a group of human warriors with their nerves wired into mechanical wings that allow them to fly, reigns supreme, led by power-hungry Winged Vodaya. After Vodaya’s closest confidant, Winged Zemolai, returns home tired and aching from a month of border patrol, she makes what is perhaps the worst mistake of her life: letting a spy go free. Cast out of the sect and left to die on the streets of Radezhda, Zemolai is miraculously saved by another sect, forcing her to decide whether to beg Vodaya’s forgiveness or betray her people. Toggling between two timelines, Mills juxtaposes Zemolai’s adult regrets and childhood hopes to devastating effect. Much like the winged warriors it follows, the story begins on the ground and takes flight as the characters attempt higher stakes battles and plans, eventually achieving a complete aerial view of Zemolai’s life and the full history of Radezhda. This cathartic adventure will stay with readers long after the final page.” Publishers Weekly

[STARRED REVIEW] “Mills’s debut novel is complex and haunting, filled with beautiful prose and timely themes of political and religious upheaval and personal journeys.” — Library Journal

[STARRED REVIEW] “An absolute must-read—to paraphrase a line from the novel, fantasy fans will find themselves in literary heaven.”Kirkus

About Samantha Mills

Samantha Mills

Samantha Mills is a multiple award-winning author living in Southern California. She has published a dozen short stories, appearing in Uncanny Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, Escape Pod and others. In addition to winning the Nebula, Locus, and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial awards for her short story “Rabbit Test” in 2023, Sam has also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, made the Locus Recommended Reading List and the BSFA long list multiple times, and was included in the best-of anthologies The New Voices of Science Fiction and The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2023.

She grew up in Southern California, where she still lives with her family and cats. She graduated from the University of Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Pre- and Early Modern Literature, and received a Master’s in Information and Library Science from San Jose State University. In the other half of her life, she is a trained archivist specializing in primary documents, with a particular focus on helping local historical societies and research libraries preserve and manage their collections.

When Sam isn’t working, writing, or taking care of children, she’s watching B-movies, binding books, and crocheting stuffed animals.

Episode 167: E.C. Hibbs – The Shade Between Shadows

A chat with author, artist, and storyteller E.C. Hibbs about the first book in her new Nightland Quartet, The Shade Between Shadows.

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Amazon Links for The Shade Between Shadows
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About the Book

I didn’t think myself truly silent. I possessed a voice, as sure as any other. It was simply not the same as any other I had met.

The year is 1838. Queen Victoria has ascended the throne. And within the United Kingdom lies Nightland: a sprawling forest filled with darkness and danger.

Beatrice has always been different. She has not spoken since childhood, communicates through drawings, and hates to be touched. And she is a grey: half-English and half-Nightlander.

When she is forced into servitude across the border, she hatches a plan to escape with siblings Anselm and Gretchen. But gaining her freedom will be no simple task, for first, she must unravel the secrets of her master, Prince Edward. A man rumoured to have murdered his wife — and who shares Beatrice’s ability to see people’s souls.

About E.C. Hibbs

E.C. Hibbs

E.C. Hibbs was born by the sea in Cheshire, northwest England, which she describes at “a quaint little corner of the world that folks might know thanks to a certain grinning cat.” Her village was only a street long, filled with Victorian cottages and encased in woodland. She was brought up around a log fire, on a steady diet of fairy tales and a huge collection of books.

​When she was twelve, she completed my first novel. She says, “It sucked. A lot. But it sowed the seeds of a distant dream. In a childhood which was both beautiful and dark, words were an anchor.  needed to make sense of the tangle of thoughts in my head; breathe life into the fantasies I saw. Writing was a way for me to both escape the world and make sense of it.”

Emma attended the University of Chester, studying animal behaviour, specializing in marine and polar ethology and ecology, working with more than eighty species of animals—everything from rabbits to rhinos—and eventually gaining a master’s degree in Wildlife Conservation. But all the while, she was writing stories.

The same week she graduated with her BSc (Hons), her debut novel, Blindsighted Wanderer was published. Then she jumped on a plane and headed to Finland. It marked the beginning of her  winters inside the Arctic Circle, once again surrounded by woods and huddled around a log fire, in another village barely a street long. It became her second home: a place which seemed to be woven from magic and myth. She spent the next few years between there and England, always writing, always creating. 

Now, she says, “my life is a wonderful balance of all the things I love the most. I spin novels and short stories, write calligraphy for heritage books, and give talks on the history of fairy tales. Thanks to a photographic memory, I’m also a traditional storyteller, with over 1000 performances under my belt, in front of such names as Ed Byrne, Colleen Rooney, and James McAvoy. On top of that, I’m a 2nd Dan black belt in Shotokan karate, and I helped to break a Guinness World Record on the world’s biggest catwalk.”

She concludes, “My path has certainly been interesting so far, with its share of both light and dark. But it’s my path, and I choose to own it. It’s not always made it easy to fit in, but that’s never bothered me. I still see the world with a sense of childlike wonder and hope I never lose that. So I’ll carry on creating, exploring reality through a lens of fantasy, expressing myself in the silent language of words and stories. 

​“And now, I can share that vision with you: with everyone who doesn’t fit the mould, who finds magic and adventure in every question they ask.”

Episode 166: Jennifer Anne Gordon – The Japanese Box and Other Stories

A chat with award-winning horror author Jennifer Anne Gordon about her new short story collection, The Japanese Box and Other Stories.

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jenniferannegordon.com

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Amazon Links for The Japanese Box and Other Stories
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About the Book

A collection of short stories contemplating horror, grief, and trauma.

Simulacrum: A dark comedic tale about college life, and love. It is the story of what happens when two sociopaths attend art exhibits, drink lemon vodka, and spar over everything and anything.

Periods.

Coloring books.

Art.

This is the story of our unnamed narrator . . . an origin story of a would-be, hopes to be, serial killer.

The Japanese Box: Story that blends memoir, creative nonfiction, and the horror of a coming-of-age story, and a coming of middle-aged story.

Imagine growing up with a reflection that is often absent, and a Japanese box that is filled with things that should never have been there.

Memories.

Violence.

“The Japanese Box” is a love letter to anxiety, trauma, grief, and longing. It is a story of a child becoming an adult, and all the ghosts and misfortunes that happen in order to survive.

The Lithium Moon: Simone is an artist by day, and an emotionally abused wife at night. She is a successful artist with a long history of schizoid effective disorder with bipolar tendencies.

When her marriage goes from good to bad, she suffers her first miscarriage. The tragedy coincides with a wolf moon-Trauma and magic converge seem to converge in Simone’s head.

This story explores sadness, illness, hallucinations, full moons, and the creative process.

What Stage of Grief is not a poem, or a song, but a dirge.

Fantasy and facts, this poem walks a fine line between nightmares and memories. Grief stories and love stories. Dogs, and drama. Nightmares, and nevermore.

Praise for The Japanese Box and Other Stories

“The precision of observation here speaks not only to the honesty of the writer, but to the respect granted in all phases of life; Jennifer Anne Gordon is on full display. Smart, full of character, vibrant. You will feel, you will feel big, and you will return, too, to the richest moments of your own history, landmarks that bring you to both smile and weep.”Josh Malerman, New York Times best-selling author of Bird Box and Daphne

“I compulsively read anything Jennifer Anne Gordon writes. Like the best contemporary filmmakers stitching together grief and horror, her storytelling is a sharp needle that both pierces and tugs us close. Compulsive and genre-slashing, with exquisite, rhythmic prose, THE JAPANESE BOX is an extraordinary exploration of alone-ness that beats and breathes: grief is horror, grief is love. We as readers are drawn ever closer to this beautifully haunted narrator until we’re face-down in the box with her. Does she feel us? She thinks she is alone. We all think we are alone. By the end we’ve become the ghosts in her black room, reaching out to gently touch her hair and whisper we’re here.”Diane Zinna, author of The All-Night Sun

About Jennifer Anne Gordon

Jennifer Anne Gordon

Jennifer Anne Gordon is an award-winning author and popular host of the Vox Vomitus podcast. Her novel Beautiful, Frightening and Silent won the Kindle Award for Best Horror/Suspense for 2020 and Best Horror 2020 from Authors on the Air, and was a finalist for American Book Fest’s Best Book Award- Horror, 2020. It also received the Platinum 5-Star Review from Reader’s Choice as well as the Gold Seal from Book View.

Her latest novel Pretty/Ugly, won the Helicon Award for Best Horror for 2022, as well as the Gold Medal from Literary Titan.

Jennifer is a member of Mystery Writers of America, the Horror Writers Association (where she served on the jury for the Stoker Awards), and is an A&E chair of the New England Crime Bake Committee. 

Episode 150: Richard Sparks

An hour-long chat with Richard Sparks, English-born comedy writer, lyricist, librettist, author and director, author of the new gaming-meets-epic fantasy novel New Rock, New Role.

Website
richardsparks.com

Richard Sparks’s Amazon Page

The Introduction

Richard Sparks is an English-born comedy writer, lyricist, librettist, author and director now living in Los Angeles. His writing credentials span the gamut of the entertainment world, from film and TV and books through lyrics for operas.

His TV writing includes iconic shows like Not the Nine O’clock News (BBC TV) and The Secret Policeman’s Ball (BBC TV, performed by Rowen Atkinson and directed by John Cleese).

He has written several books, including the biography of the music producer Milt Okun, Along the Cherry Lane. (Oku discovered and launched John Denver and mentored him throughout his career. He created arrangements for Peter, Paul and Mary that the trio performed for half a century. He brought Placido Domingo a crossover career that made him an international star beyond the world of opera.)

Richard’s latest book, New Rock, New Role blends the gaming world and epic fantasy.

Episode 149: Aurora Ascher

An hour-long chat with paranormal and fantasy romance writer Aurora Ascher, author of the new novel Sanctuary of the Shadow, Book 1 of the Elemental Races series.

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auroraascher.com

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The Introduction

Photo by Sergio Veranes

Paranormal and fantasy romance author Aurora Ascher loves misunderstood mythical monsters, redeemable anti-heroes, and epic happily-ever-afters.

A woman of many creative pursuits, Aurora is also a professional musician and visual artist. She currently resides in Montreal with her trusty espresso machine and her endlessly patient husband, whom she sometimes doesn’t see for hours until she emerges from her writing cave like a bear in springtime.

Episode 148: Christopher Rowe

An hour-long chat with Christopher Rowe, Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy (and others) shortlisted author of the critically acclaimed novellas The Navigating Fox and These Prisoning Hills, as well as the story collection Telling the Map.

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christopherrowe.net

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The Introduction

Christopher Rowe is the author of the critically acclaimed novellas The Navigating Fox and These Prisoning Hills, as well as a story collection regarded as one of best of recent years, Telling the Map. He has been a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Neukom, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards, as well as others. He lives in Kentucky.

Episode 147: Kerstin Stanford

An hour-long chat with Kerstin Stanford, author of the middle-grade fantasy novel Escape from Portaliege: A Sam Harte Adventure.

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kerstinstanford.com

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@kerstin.stanforddorren

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The Introduction

Kerstin Stanford is a California-based author, marketing professional, and event construction enthusiast. Her debut novel, Escape From Portaliege: A Sam Harte Adventure, follows 12-year-old Sam Harte as she navigates a summer camp filled with strange creatures and peculiar counsellors.

Before Kerstin became an author, she worked in promotions and marketing for twenty years, with experience in writing blogs, newsletters, brochures, website, social media content, and more.

Kerstin currently lives with her family in Huntington Beach, where she is working on the second book in the Sam Harte Adventure series.

Episode 146: L. Jagi Lamplighter

An hour-long chat with L. Jagi Lamplighter, author of the YA fantasy series The Books of Unexpected Enlightenment and the Prospero’s Children series.

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ljagilamplighter.com

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Fantastic Schools and Where to Find Them

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The Introduction

L. Jagi Lamplighter is the author of the young-adult fantasy series The Books of Unexpected Enlightenment, the third book of which was nominated for the YA Dragon Award in 2017, the fourth book of which won the first YA Ribbit Award, and the fifth book of which also won two small literary awards. She is also the author of the Prospero’s Children series: Prospero LostProspero In Hell, and Prospero Regained, and has published numerous articles and short stories as well as an anthology of her own works, In the Lamplight. She also edits for Superversive Press and teaches The Art and Craft of Writing.

When not writing, she switches to her secret identity as wife and stay-home mom in Centreville, VA, where she lives with her dashing husband, author John C. Wright, and their four children, Orville, Ping-Ping Eve, Roland Wilbur, and Justinian Oberon.

Episode 145: Omari Richards

An hour-long chat with Omari Richards, “lifetime blerd” and author of the new The Kimoni Legacy fantasy series, as well as the Tales of Nahawalla short stories.

Website
omari-richards.com

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@omari_a_richards

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Omari Richards was born to Dominican immigrants in America and grew up in a household filled with laughter, music, fellowship, and tales of the homeland. From shape-shifting witches to monsters hatched from chicken eggs, these stories enriched and invigorated his imagination. This was strengthened once he found the written word in the adventures of Jim Hawkins, King Arthur, Ivanhoe, and Robin Hood, to name a few.

Omari hopes to capture and enrich the imagination of his readers in a similar way with his new series, The Kimoni Legacy and Tales of Nahwalla short stories.

You can find Omari, a lifetime “blerd” and West African history/ folklore buff, lost in a book, immersed in the nearest bookstore, or catching up on One Piece and My Hero Academia in his Northern Virginia home.

Episode 144: Nick Stitle

A 45-minute chat with Nick Stitle, the 17-year-old author of the epic fantasy Stormless.

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nickstitle.com

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@nickstitleauthor

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@nickstitle_author

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The Introduction

Injuries forced Nicklas Stitle to stop playing tennis after his freshman year of high school, and he realized that was an opportunity to begin working on the story he had been carefully putting together in his head. Stitle began writing Stormless at the age of fifteen and woke up early every day to work on the story before school, creating a new fantasy world and crafting characters he could relate to. Incorporating valuable advice from industry experts wanting to help a young author, Stitle completed Stormless at the age of seventeen. 

Stitle has nearly finished The Fire King, book two in what he intends to be a four-book series, and is currently planning books three and four. He hopes to inspire other young writers to chase after their dreams.

Stitle lives in Indiana with his mom, dad, older brother, and two dogs.