Give me magic, gadgets, monsters, zombies, everything that seems impossible, and throw in some tough chicks with swords. That's the stuff.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Heading Into the Stars with Zenn Scarlett & Christian Schoon

UNDER NAMELESS STARS (Zenn Scarlett #2) by Christian Schoon

It's easy to see why I fell in love with Christian Schoon's Zenn Scarlett series - a young exovet living on Mars, tending alien animals, then throw in adventure, action, some mystery. In book 2, Zenn leaves home, becomes a stowaway, tries to save her father, and still help as many animals as she can along the way. She has old friends, new friends, as well as her share of enemies. She also still has this strange connection to animals that baffles her scientific mind.

Oh, and she is on a starship during a time when ships have been mysteriously vanishing....

Christian Schoon is here today to answer a few questions about Zenn and her latest adventure, UNDER NAMELESS STARS. You can also stop by Strange Chemistry and enter a GIVEAWAY for the blog tour.

KA: Thanks for joining us today! In book 1, we got to meet quite a few alien animals, and a few more sentient (shall we say) alien characters. I loved getting on the starship and meeting more. Especially Jules Vancouver. I loved So Long and Thanks for All the Fish and I liked to imagine that Jules' ancestors were among that lot. :) How much fun was it dreaming up these characters?

CS: Hi and, first of all: thanks for hosting this stop on Zenn’s “Under Nameless Stars Blog-a-thon and Adopt-a-Whalehound-Tour.” (Oh, we neglected to mention that all our book tour bloggers receive a free whalehound pup? Yes. Please be sure and have the Olympic-swimming-pool-size habitat prepped before your ‘hound arrives next week. Thank you and good luck.)

KA: Oh, thank you. I always wanted one of those...

CS: So, assembling the cast list for Zenn’s new adventure. Big fun was had, as you noted. And, as you might imagine, the most enjoyable part of this process is in doing the fiddly detail bits of each character/species/alien race. For instance, Jules’s obsession with classic “antique Earth print-on-paper adventure novels.” I've been fascinated with cetaceans in general since grade school. Dolphins in particular always seemed to me to be the hyper-active kids of the extended family: super-bright, wicked sense of humor, but short attention spans and a tendency to over-focus on whatever does manage to snare their interest. And, since both Zenn and Jules have mysteries to crack in Under Nameless Stars, Jules’s fixation on sleuthing was a fortunate coincidence. I'm just glad he came along when he did. The same thing applies to all the cast members of both books. Having each character emerge from the word-mist to give me a few telling details about their background, their affections, dislikes, societies, evolutionary paths, etc. is, for me, one of the coolest parts of being an author. And I'm pretty sure Slartibartfast would agree, at least where fjords are concerned.

KA: What inspired you?

CS: Well, your “thanks for all the fish” reference and my Slarti name-drop tell the story here. The irreplaceable Mr. Adams is my all-time fave cosmic wise-guy. His style of deadpan description about his characters/ creatures/worlds is an approach that I think I soaked up more or less unconsciously over the years. It just seems so sensible in my case to introduce readers to Zenn’s world and its inhabitants, no matter how exotic, in this straight-ahead, minimal hand-waving way. So, while Eta Cepheians are intriguing to Zenn, it’s really no big deal to her that the females of this species carry their diminutive male mates around with them in transparent, fluid-filled globes attached to the female’s shell. As Zenn recalls, this same strategy is actually used by certain abyssal-dwelling angler fish on Earth who have a similar issue with finding Mr. Right in the largely empty expanses of the deep sea floor. As for other baseline inspirations as a writer, I’d list some the usual suspects of my generation: Asimov, Heinlein, Burroughs, William Gibson and, of course, James ‘Herriot” Wight. Plus, both my mother and older sister were high school English teachers, so there’s that.

KA: Did you have book 2 mapped out when you wrote Zenn Scarlett? Did you approach anything differently when you tackled Under Nameless Stars?

CS: The thing here is that Zenn Scarlett and Under Nameless Stars started life unified as a single, longer novel. I hadn’t been overly concerned with word count as I wrote, but as I learned more about the publishing process, it became clear the book would need to be broken up. The dividing line was easy: Mars/not-Mars. Then there was the educational phase for me: making two shorter, self-contained sub-story-arcs out of the single big one and still have it all make some sorta sense. Like I say, it was a learning experience for me as a writer. Next time, I might wanna pay attention to that word count thing from the start.

KA: What did you learn while writing book 1 that helped with book 2? Also, what did you learn while writing book 2 that will help with future books?

CS: See the above passage re: chopping your beloved, carefully nurtured baby in half… Also, I never wrote up an outline for the book when I began. On the one hand, this left lots of room for exploration and discovery, ie, letting the characters lead me around by the nose. This was great in many ways, but not so cool when it came to time/effort expended to back track when something hit a dead end. So, next time, I'll devise at least a rough chapter-by-chapter outline, but try to leave myself room to roam as the characters demand.

KA: Zenn's inexperience got her into trouble in book 1, and it does again here. A big theme for me with Zenn is that she needs to connect more with others - human, Ascent, and not just focusing on work. It feels like at the end of book 2 she realizes it too. Is that something you would like to explore in future tales?

CS: You picked out a central thread in Zenn’s character and one that really drove much of the emotional “action” in both books. I'd very much like to watch Zenn grow and expand her relationships with the non-critter world and this is certainly on my radar. But I think it’s safe to say she'll always be very Zennish in her approach to others, ie, skeptical and a bit wary, occasionally even dismissive… so she'll need to work hard to move beyond her comfort-zone.

KA: You handled the romance differently than other YA reads, something I did appreciate. It felt right for the character. Was that a tough sell?

CS: You know, it was never really questioned much, and Zenn’s mix of naiveté and coolness in this regard is something that I really like about her. I think everyone involved in publishing my books and giving me feedback saw, as you did, that Zenn would have her own unique responses to emotional attachments. The fact that this sets her story apart from a lot of what’s going on in current Young Adult novels was just a bonus, far as I'm concerned.

KA: Xenophobia is a big theme, with Earth only recently opening its doors to aliens again. How would Zenn fare on Earth? Is Earth ready for Zenn? :D

CS: Good questions! Even though the Temporary Executive Authority on Earth is trying to leave its anti-alien biases in the past, any culture takes time to change a trait this deeply embedded, and Zenn would still be likely to get herself into trouble pretty quickly there. As you know, she can be less than adept when it comes to interacting socially. She tends to say what’s on her mind. OK, let’s be honest, she often just blurts out what’s on her mind. So she wouldn’t be shy about taking Earthers to task for past behavior. Especially when it comes to attitudes/treatment/mistreatment of animals who can't speak up for and defend themselves. But, of course, for an author, this is an invitation to toss your character into the gunpowder cask. So, yeah, I think we can count on Zenn paying a visit to Earth. Then, I'll just get outa the way, stand back and watch the drama-fuse ignite.

KA: Where do you see Zenn heading to next?

CS: Well, other than Earth, I foresee Zenn headed to the twin nature-preserve planets of the Leukkan Kire, where you might recall the native race builds their villages and palaces atop the broad backs of Greater Kiran Sunkillers, floating, pterodactyl-like beasts with wingspans of up to 1,500 feet. I mean, who wouldn't wanna spend some time there?

KA: What are you working on? Any new projects?

CS: Zenn’s next outing is battling it out with a number of other projects, including an animated steampunk TV series and a new novel crawling with monsters that I'm still having fun designing. We'll see which one wins and breaks the surface first.

KA: Buffy, Sherlock, Doctor Who or Firefly?

CS: Tough, but has to be Firefly. How did that ever get cancelled, anyway? Jeesh. I’m still waiting on the announcement that it’s being resurrected.

KA: Thanks so much!

CS: No, no. Thank YOU for letting me drop in and chat. Zenn appreciates! Cheers!

Be sure to checkout the GIVEAWAY

UNDER NAMELESS STARS (Zenn Scarlett #2)  Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Indiebound

ZENN SCARLETT (Zenn Scarlett #1) Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Indiebound

Christian Schoon:

Strange Chemistry:

[received a review copy]

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


HANG WIRE by Adam Christopher

In between errands I opened my copy of HANG WIRE, thinking I could get a taste of it and then read more that night. I spent the rest of the day cursing myself. This is one of those books where I wanted a pause button so I could shut off the rest of the world while I read.

This is an urban fantasy that starts in San Francisco after the infamous 1906 earthquake then goes forwards and backwards in time, collecting and changing characters, until we get to the action-packed conclusion set in modern time. While it is largely set in San Francisco, this isn't your typical first person POV, powerful character, police procedural with paranormal elements UF. There is a serial killer, but it is not the whole story, not by a longshot.

It's also one that I don't want to describe too much, because I got so much enjoyment from just immersing myself in this world.

There is a deep ancient devourer sleeping underground, and a malevolent force that crashed to earth via meteorite, gods on earth (trying to make their own life or stay somehow connected to this world), and regular people caught in this whole mess. There is also a creepy circus (yes, I am aware of the innate creepiness of all circuses, but this one has the Lord of the Dance from hell, so extra creepy).

There are quite a few characters, and some have some pretty drastic changes happen to them. This was a bit of a problem for me since I had to prematurely put the book down. When I started it again I had to backtrack to verify that a couple of characters were who I thought they were. Not a big issue, and  if I had been able to read uninterrupted it wouldn't have been a problem. However, once you are a quarter in, the players are pretty well set and I didn't have to backtrack.

The pace was quick and I found myself waiting on the edge of my seat for what happens next. Gods from different pantheons do play a role here, but there are real, terrible consequences to the gods using their powers on earth, so I didn't feel like it was an easy deus ex machina resolution.

Not everything is answered, but I was OK with that. I actually prefer it that way, to be honest.

I will be reading more from Christopher.

[received a review copy]

HANG WIRE Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Indiebound

Adam Christopher:

Angry Robot: