The Stars Were Right is an entrant in #SPFBO 4!

I’m in SPFBO 4

I’m excited to announce that my first novel, The Stars Were Right, has been accepted into this year’s Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog-Off. This will be my first book award contest since I started writing and I’m excited to be a part.

Here’s how it works: each year 300 fantasy authors submit their books. Those books are then divided among ten bloggers—Stars will be reviewed this year by the good folks over at Booknest. In Phase One, the books are read, and each blogger chooses one book to advance to the next round. Then in Phase Two all the bloggers read the submitted ten, and score each of them. Out of those ten books only one will be selected as the winner! It’s fun and great for the indie fantasy community. Check out the past winners here.


300 Books. 10 Judges. 1 Winner.


Big thanks to author Mark Lawrence for championing all of this, organizing events like this can be a lot of work, and Mark has been a tireless supporter of indie authors. Be sure to check out Mark’s books, follow him on Twitter, and read his blog.)

Also, I want to thank my pal Mihir from Fantasy Book Critic for letting me know submissions were open. I’ve watched the SPFBO from the sidelines for a few years now, and for whatever reason, I never thought my books qualified. I’m happy I listened to him and took the opportunity to submit.

Win or lose, I’m excited to see how The Stars Were Right does. The contest skews heavily towards fantasy fiction, and while The Stars Were Right is very much urban fantasy, the weird world of the Territories has a lot in common with many other subgenres. As my readers know, I tend to eschew the standard fantasy trappings in exchange for something more… um, strange. So, we’ll see! Fingers crossed!

Phase One runs from August 1st – December 31st, 2018. If you want to read along, you can see the full list and bloggers participating over here. Follow along on Twitter by using the hashtag #SPFBO. Regardless of the outcome, I’m excited to join in, and I want to wish good luck to everyone who is competing. It should be a good year!

Raunch Reviews: Bas-Lag

Raunch Reviews: Bas-Lag

Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews, welcome.


Raunch Review: Bas-Lag

The Author: China Miéville
Work in Question: The Bas-Lag Cycle
The Profanity: “Jabber”/ “By Jabber”/ “Jabber &^%!”

I’m going to be honest, I really like “Jabber.” The word comes from the Bas-Lagian pietist Saint Jabber who is apparently some sort of deity within the world. That makes this term a straightforward oath and easily accessible to most English speaking populations (where blasphemous oaths like this are commonplace). Plus there’s something that rolls off the tongue with “Jabber.” It’s easy to say, doesn’t need to be shortened, and feels natural when read. Likewise, it can be coupled with other vulgarities, therefore expanding its use. One slight mark against it, however, is the lack of any worshipers. Most of the characters in Miéville’s book aren’t the church-going type, but even among the background we don’t see much in the way of a Church of St. Jabber. There’s an area of slums in the city-state of New Crobuzon named St. Jabber’s Mound but otherwise, it’s fairly quiet. So while “Jabber” is grounded within in-world history—any real offense is lost on the reader.

Score: Empty Swear (4.0)

🤬 Previous Raunch Reviews


Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.


Everything is Becoming Science Fiction

Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.”

J. G. Ballard


I remember squabbling with a friend at fourteen over video games. I told him that someday every video game would be, at its core, a role-playing game. I argued that it was the natural evolution of the platform. (We didn’t use terms like “evolution” and “platform,” but you get the idea.) He disagreed. Here we are, decades later and everything from shooters to sports games to driving sims has role-playing elements. This quote from Ballard reminds me of that argument. As humanity continues to progress, what was once science fiction is now just modern life. The lines between science fiction and today’s reality have blurred. We’re seeing that blurring within fiction as well.

A Riverboat's Demise

A Riverboat’s Demise

The lifespan of most riverboats was short. The swirling waters and strong currents in a river presented many dangers. Snags and other obstructions beneath the surface could easily punch a hole in a hull, sinking a boat. Weather could also play a factor. Fierce storms wreaked havoc and winter ice would routinely destroy steamboats.

Steamboat Accidents on the Western Rivers 1811-1851, taken from Steamboats on the Western Rivers, sourced from Cist’s Weekly Advertiser (Cincinnati), July 16, 1852

The natural world wasn’t the only danger. Packets were rarely inspected and with little governmental oversight, many became death traps. All were made of timber and powered by fire-heated boilers, deadly blazes and boiler explosions were common, and the loss of life and property could be catastrophic. Mark Twain’s younger brother Henry Clemens was killed in a boiler explosion on the steamer Pennsylvania in 1858, an event Twain details in Life on the Mississippi.


“A steamer came along, finally, and carried the unfortunates to Memphis, and there the most lavish assistance was at once forthcoming. By this time Henry was insensible. The physicians examined his injuries and saw that they were fatal, and naturally turned their main attention to patients who could be saved.”

—Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, Chapter 20, A Catastrophe


My current project, Coal Belly, is a sprawling weird-west fantasy adventure set on a planet crisscrossed by interlocking rivers. Riverboats are necessary and ubiquitous, and with their use comes the hazards of operation. A world of riverboats means a world of riverboat wrecks and having a working knowledge of their dangers went a long way toward adding a level of authenticity to my manuscript.

Those packets which survived weather, explosion, and accident rarely operated long. Most boats were worked hard and maintained poorly, and that it took its toll on their lifespan. While a well-maintained riverboat can last decades, most of the boats that operated in the late-1800s lasted between two to five years.

In the 1800s photographic equipment wasn't standard. In place of photographs, many riverboat disasters were depicted by drawings of etchings. Left to Right: Str. Robert E. Lee, 1882, Str. Benjamin Franklin, 1836, Str. Sultana, 1865.
Left to Right: Fire takes the Str. Robert E. Lee killing 21 in 1882, a boiler explosion on the Str. Benjamin Franklin, 1836, The Sultana disaster claimed 1192 lives (perhaps up to 1800) outside Memphis, Tennessee in 1865, it remains one of the worst maritime disasters in United States history.

In the 1800s photographic equipment wasn’t as commonplace as it is today, and most of it wasn’t quick enough to capture riverboat disasters as they happened. In place of photographs, many tragedies were depicted by drawings or etchings. You can see a few above. Photographers, however, did manage to capture images of wrecked boats after they had been damaged, sunk, or destroyed. I’ve assembled a gallery below, you can click on any image to view it larger.


The pictures above have been collected over the last five years, so I am unsure where they all come (usually the Library of Congress.) But, they’re all old enough to be in the public domain. In some cases, I did some minor color correction and cropping. I’m happy to answer any questions folks have about any of these images or riverboats in general. (Sometimes it gives me a good excuse to research something.) You can send me an email or leave a comment below. I love comments.

A Riverboat’s Demise is the latest in my series of posts sharing my research for Coal Belly. You can check out the other riverboat-related posts with the links below.


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Zhichao Cai

Visual Inspiration: Zhichao Cai

I’ve been ramping up my research for The Bell Forging Cycle, Book IV and while browsing through my Pinterest boards, I kept coming across the work of Chinese illustrator Zhichao Cai also known as Trylea. Since I found his work inspiring, I figured it’d be worth it to take a moment and share some of my favorite pieces with you.

When it comes to mood boards, I tend to like grimy and dank cityscapes occasionally interrupted with bright splashes of neon. So my eye is always drawn to pieces that show clusters of humanity. Trylea’s work has that, but it also differs significantly. It’s mainly due to his use of color. Even his densely packed cities are awash with a vibrancy that captures a unique and frenetic energy—it makes his work stand out, and his pieces serve as a good reminder that even in concept art we don’t need everything to be grim.

I included a small gallery of some of my favorite work below.

You can check out much more of Trylea’s work on his Zcool page, that seems to be where he shares most of his work. He also posts high-resolution versions as well as some process shots. It’s worth spending some time on his page. You can also find him on Behance, and he has some work on Art Station. If you’re not a member of any of those sites, I encourage you to join and give Trylea a follow.


If you like Zhichao Cai’s work be sure to check out some other illustrators and concept artists I’ve shared in the past:

When the Book is Better than the Movie

When the Book is Better than the Movie

This summer, PBS launched The Great American Read—a show about the best-loved books in America. You can see the top 100 list over here. Along with this series, you can also vote for your favs, which you should. (Sadly, none of my Bell Forging Cycle made it, sorry folks.)

Along with the launch, PBS Digital Studios—creators of some of the best content on YouTube—released a Great American Read-themed video on the comparison of films to the books they were based upon. It’s good. Watch it here:

The narrator is the very talented Lindsay Ellis. I’m excited to see her work with PBS and hope this is the start of more collaborations. I’ve been following her work since her Channel Awesome days, and I consider myself a fan.

For those who don’t know Ellis runs a channel where she does longer-format deep-dives into specific films or movie concepts. Her observations on storytelling are wonderful—a big reason why I am drawn to her videos. Some of my favs:

You can find Ellis on Twitter, Patreon, and of course YouTube.