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Character interview: Jean Vignaud

Character interview: Jean Vignaud

Interview with Jean Vignaud

At a table in a hole-in-the-wall pub with a good view of the exits

J C Steel: I like the location.

Jean Vignaud: Try not to describe it too well, I would like to come back. My partner tells me you have some questions.

JCS: I heard you like Chinese take-out. How did you come across that?

JV: Take-out is one of my favourite things of this century. When I was born one had to travel to eat differently, and the experience was not always…positive. If you are trying to put the Frenchman at his ease by asking about food, be assured: I am quite relaxed.

JCS: In fact, you’re rolling a cigarette. You only do that when you think I’m going to ask questions you don’t want to answer, but I notice you never smoke them.

JV: Science has discovered many miracles. Among them, unfortunately, that smoking is not good for you. Not something for vampires to be concerned with, but for me, yes.

JCS: So there are some things that you miss about being a vampire?

JV: Ah. The end of the small talk. As the junkie misses his high, there are things I miss, having left the night. Cristina tells me you are fortunate, and have never encountered a vampire. Do you think, once this book publishes, that that happy state will continue?

JCS: I will quote you a great British author, Terry Pratchett: ‘…no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences.’

JV: A wise man.

JCS: I think so. Not a very popular definition of freedom in this day and age, as it happens. What’s your take on consequences and personal responsibility?

JV: I believe that my actions are my own. Who else should I blame? God?

JCS: You’re religious?

JV: I was raised a good Catholic, but according to that religion, vampires have no soul. Therefore, the only judge I need to satisfy is my own conscience.

JCS: Renouncing the chance to live forever sounds like a penance.

JV: …I fear I have not had enough rum to have that talk.

JCS: The first Pirates of the Caribbean. I understand you were an actual pirate in the Caribbean for a time.

JV: Pirates is such a generic term. In this day and age I would wear an expensive suit and gamble with other peoples’ money.

JCS: So you would equate stock-brokers with piracy?

JV: Let us say…in my day, if a man stole your money, the expectation was that you would try to kill him. Today, the expectation is that you elect him.

Chapter quotes – why add them?

Chapter quotes – why add them?

Why add chapter quotes? Where do you get your chapter quotes from? Aren’t chapter quotes hell to format?

Me, personally, I enjoy chapter quotes. Dorothy Dunnett, Seanan McGuire, and of course Frank Herbert are all awesome examples. If you’ve never read any of these authors, don’t tell me because I will get very judgy.

“Facts are a commonly accepted interpretation. Truth is a commonly argued fiction.” A Planet’s Philsophy, Ankara Zaneth (From book 8…yes, I’m way ahead of myself.)

They’re an insight into the world backdrop, a good laugh, or a context-setter, depending on what the author is doing with them and with their book. I put them in because, well, I’m a pure pantser. I don’t outline. I generally have no idea what my characters are likely to do once I’ve dropped them into a scene. I find out when I write it down. As you can imagine, therefore, I usually end up writing my chapter quotes well after the fact. They’re actually help me in the editing stage, because they act as a kind of focus mechanism for me when I’m editing a chapter. I can stare at the chapter quote for a bit when I get stuck, remember the awesome thing I was trying to do in that chapter, and return to hacking and slashing motivated and refocused. (Hah.) At least, that’s how it sometimes works.

“Modesty is like arsenic: safe only in small doses.” Sayings of the Wise, Olar Fantoml (From Fighting Shadows, book II in the Cortii series.)

As I kind of gave away in the last bit, I don’t get my chapter quotes from anywhere. I make them all up. My father, who had very serious tastes in most of his reading, and considered sci-fi to be an extreme form of escapism, never actually read any of my books – but he would steal them from my mother when she was reading them, and he would read my chapter quotes. I still regret that I never really asked him why, because I think the answer would have been interesting.

“Avoidance requires continuous effort. Confrontation merely requires standing still.” Universal Truths, Jahira Suran (From Elemental Conflict, book IV in the Cortii series.)

And yes, sometimes, depending on the platform, chapter quotes can indeed be hell to format. Kobo, for example, thinks my chapter quotes are a whole separate page unless I spend hours tickling it with an ostrich feather while immersing it in chocolate. (Kidding. I had to get much kinkier than that.)

“Training is not a substitute for experience; it is merely easier to survive.” Training of a Cortiian, Nadhiri Longar (Yeah, Book 8 again…working on it.)

As to what my chapter quotes are supposed to achieve other than providing a focal point for my edits – I mostly leave that up to the reader. If they’re something that you just skip on your way to the main events, no worries. If they make you grin, or start an interesting train of thought, then I’m happy. I frankly suspect most of mine actually come from Khyria’s choices of reading matter. Most of them are downright cynical and sound like the kinds of things she’d remember.

Character Interview: Captain Jannat Slainer, FPA Exploration Arm

Character Interview: Captain Jannat Slainer, FPA Exploration Arm

Debriefing / *Classified 1Nebula*: Captain Jannat Slainer, Exploration and Development branch

Officer in Charge: Captain, state your identification and rank for the record, please.

Captain Slainer: Jannat Slainer, ID FPA-ExDev 2380567, Scout Captain second class.

OIC: You understand and accept that this briefing, due to the nature of the information, will be classified to Nebula level, and discussion of any facts concerning your latest mission would constitute a level one breach of security resulting in loss of rank and privileges?

Capt. S: I do.

OIC: You and your crew were the initial contact with the humanoid population of Intelligent Life Found, 276/5346, Satellite IV. Per your report, your crew identified widespread biological and sociological anomalies resulting in a temporary withdrawal from the planet surface. Please elaborate in your own words.

Capt. S: There were no Abilities at large on the planet. No latent telepaths, none of the usual borderline empaths working with animals, no reports of people who see the dead or start fires. Given that the incidence of mental Abilities in standard deviations of humanoid is over 30%, we were concerned.

OIC: You also noted widespread presence of personal weaponry on the planet. Your report didn’t indicate that this was a primary concern.

Capt. S: It’s extremely common, in primitive cultures. Often seen as a symbol of sexual prowess.

OIC: Indeed. In any case, you and your crew briefed the contractor hired to…

Capt. S: Get shot at, sir?

OIC: …establish initial tolerance in the population. Yes. What were your impressions of this contractor?

Capt. S: …competent, sir.

OIC: I understand, Captain, that the Cortii are a sensitive subject. However, this briefing is not optional. Your full report, please.

Capt. S: *sighs* They sent a commander. Cortiora Khyria Ilan, of Wildcat Cortia, out of Corina Base. Black hair, green eyes, some scarring visible left cheek, both hands. A palm-width taller than I am, looked as if she weighed a little less. Intelligent, excellent memory, extremely high tolerance for stimulants. A very strong Ability. I’ve never met an IESRO-reg before, but quite possibly she would qualify. They put a double-squad of Interstellar Close Combat Specialists around her, and she looked…amused. She spent most of four days taunting them when she got bored.

OIC: And her interactions with your crew?

Capt. S: Professional. Clearly had to translate some of the questions she needed answering into terms we understood, but did it politely enough. Even though getting her full attention could be…powerful.

OIC: Elaborate.

Capt. S: Every so often, it felt as if she forgot to…hide what she was. Meeting her stare or drawing her attention could freeze any of us in our tracks. I put it down to her Abilities.

OIC: You think she was exerting Ability on you without your consent?

Capt. S: No.

OIC: Very well, Captain. You also attended her debriefing at the end of her mission on the surface. Your impressions of the Cortiora at that point, please.

Capt. S: She’d been severely injured, mentally and physically. She declined medical assistance, but permitted a medical scan as part of the debriefing. Beyond that, she presented as suffering from a severe level of Ability over-exertion.

OIC: You went on record earlier as stating that you believed her to be an Ability of unusual strength. What, in your estimation, would cause that level of injury?

Capt. S: Nothing I would survive meeting, sir. I have no idea. She implied that it had been caused during a meeting with the heads of the religious organisation of the planet. As I reported, this planet apparently has an Ability-backed religion based on Elemental symbolism. They had previously declined to meet with any of our people. The Cortiora reported that she was…invited to participate in a religious ritual that included the use of drugs.

OIC: You hesitated, Captain. Please clarify.

Capt. S: *pause* Bluntly, sir, I believe that they broke her. Somehow.

OIC: And yet you failed to put this observation on-record, Captain.

Capt. S: It has no basis in verifiable fact, sir. Instinct, if you like.

OIC: So your professional opinion is that the Cortiora lied to us during her debriefing.

Capt. S: No, sir. While I don’t doubt, given our relative rankings, that she could lie to me and hide it from me, I had no impression that anything she actually said was in any way untruthful.

OIC: So you were unaware of her official recommendation that the Interspecies Extra-Sensory Regulatory Organisation should be involved in the planet’s entry negotiations at the earliest opportunity?

Capt. S: I was not aware, sir.

OIC: What are you impressions of that recommendation?

Capt. S: That the Cortiora very likely is IESRO-level, and that she believes that the Abilities she encountered are a serious threat.

OIC: Indeed. Thank you, Captain.

*Notes on file indicate follow-up/urgent, regarding the psychological stability of Captain Jannat Slainer, Interviewing officer believed that at some level he felt obligation to the Cortiian operative.

 

Independent Extra-Sensory Regulatory Organisation

Independent Extra-Sensory Regulatory Organisation

What is the Independent Extra-Sensory Regulatory Organisation?

Perception is strength. ~IESRO doctrine

The Federated planets Alliance definition says that it’s ‘an organisation of allied species focussing on the training and control of certain categories of mentally divergent sentients’.

In actual fact, the Independent Extra-Sensory Regulatory Organisation, better known in humanoid space as the IESRO, is something more like a Star Chamber for entities gifted with mental Ability.

At the highest level, it’s controlled by the Satai, the most Ability-heavy species in civilised space. Because the Satai out-gun every other known species on a purely mental level, they can’t be lied to, and they can’t be evaded. This gives the IESRO the ability to absolutely guarantee the accuracy and ethics of anyone they register. The Satai took on this role voluntarily; in human terms, they have a species aversion to a lack of order, and they see abuse of mental Abilities as a disturbance in the energies of the universe.

On the opposite side of that, the IESRO is only concerned with Abilities powerful enough to merit their attention. While humanoid populations show an average 31% incidence of individuals with some discernible trace of Ability, one of the highest for any known species, only 0.8% of that demographic falls into a range to be eligible for IESRO registration. Compared to the Artan, where an average 8% of the population carry the genes for Ability but 28% of the entities showing Ability are eligible for registry, most humanoids don’t figure on the IESRO’s scan.

At the most basic level (and the only one the Satai are concerned with) an Ability is IESRO-level if they can interact with Abilities of the other species without having a stroke. The more official wording has it that ‘to be IESRO-eligible, an entity’s Abilities must be of a strength able to survive interaction with other species’. That’s the only criteria. As humans are fond of warning signs, the Federated Planets Alliance government has come up with an elaborate testing and ranking system to help humans with Ability determine how likely IESRO registration is to be fatal to them.

Practically speaking, the IESRO is also one of the highest legal authorities. An IESRO-registered and certified Ability’s reading of a public figure or an accused criminal is guaranteed to be accurate by the IESRO – because a registered Ability whose statement is disputed can be telepathically read at any time by a Satai. Oddly enough, very few public figures or accused criminals in humanoid space actually opt to have their minds read by and IESRO-registered humanoid.

Someone’s about to ask ‘quis custodiet‘, and the answer is that indeed, no-one aside from another Satai can guarantee the honesty of a Satai. However, while as a species they’re demonstrably capable of withholding information, several millennia of evidence indicates that when they do make a statement, it’s invariably been accurate.

While the field of comparative psychology struggles to fully understand and translate what makes other species react the way that they do, study indicates that for a Satai, the only known completely telepathic species, lying as humanoids know it may not be possible for them. While a Satai can understand and explain the concept of saying something that is not factually accurate, actually doing so themselves appears to beyond them on a hard-wired level.

The IESRO show up early on in Wildcat Cortia’s career. No-one’s entirely certain what their interest in the Cortia is, aside from its (very) uncharacteristic proportion of high-level Abilities, but out of the twenty-five riders originally in the unit, eight were IESRO-eligble, and most of them were registered, including Khyria herself.

Top ten books – also known as author torture

Top ten books – also known as author torture

Name my top ten favourite books? Ten?!?

This must be some kind of bizarre mental torture.

Those were pretty much my thoughts when a well-meaning friend tagged in a #10in10days event on Facebook. (Every author has a secret drama queen. If they claim they don’t, they’re probably being contextually inaccurate.) To add to my woes, my personal library downstairs currently runs to several thousand books, and doesn’t by far cover all the books I’ve loved and left in my life.

So, after I calmed down, and checked out various other peoples’ entries, I got into it and started thinking. My top ten books of all time? What would they be, and why?

I figured I’d share below, in case anyone’s looking for something new to read.

#1 - Favourite book of all time

The Horse and His Boy. Yes, of all the books I’ve read in my life, and as you may’ve gathered, there’ve been a few, this one probably takes the top spot. I fell in love with it sometime between the ages of six and seven, tried to move to Narnia, and very probably it gave me my initial interest in learning to ride. (I lived on a boat at the time…)

I still have a lovely, Folio Society copy of it in my library, a gift from my father, and every so often I get it out and re-read it. Of all the Narnia books, it’s my favourite, and at the simplest level, I think it’s because it’s the only one entirely set in Narnia.

#2 - Because Sir Terry...

The Monstrous Regiment. More than any other author I know, Terry Pratchett can expose the nonsense that underpins society and make it hilarious, and possibly nowhere more than in this book. I made the mistake of reading it for the first time on a bus, and laughed so hard I actually had a seat to myself. Topical, unflinchingly accurate, and stand-alone, I’ve just about worn the covers off this Discworld.

#3 - I want to write like this when I grow up

The Game of Kings. I love Dorothy Dunnett’s writing. I’ve read at least a couple of versions of this series to pieces. She writes historical fiction, and the characters, plots, and settings are incredible. Crawford of Lymond is an incredibly rich and complex character; there’s nothing transparent and open-and-shut about him. In a world of YA written for the grade 6 reading level, this series is like yoga for the brain.

#4 - Dragons, ire, flame and fire

Dragonflight. Anne McCaffrey was my first brush with science-fiction, aged about ten, and I still have that copy of the book – it’s gone in the harbour, it’s got marine varnish on it, and it’s been chewed on by kittens. I don’t like all her later books, but the original Pern series may well be what hooked me on sci-fi. When it comes to epic vision in world-building, this series is a great example.

#5 - One Ring to rule them all

Lord of the Rings. I scared myself so thoroughly with this book aged seven that I wouldn’t go to the bathroom on my own for six months. J.R.R. Tolkien has the ability to write a story that drags you in to the extent that you wake up and shake your head and try to figure out why all the colours are drab, you can’t feel your feet any more, and which century is it, anyway. This is one where the book is and will forever be better than the movie (although get back to me once we have Star Trek-style holo environments…).

#6 - That was opportunity knocking

Valour’s Choice. In terms of military sci-fi, you really can’t do better. Tanya Huff’s protagonist is Torin Kerr, Confederation Marine, and along with cracking pacing and excellent writing, the one-liners and turns of phrase in this book (and the rest of the series) keep me coming back for more. If anyone’s having trauma flashbacks to the Starship Troopers movies, have no fear – there is no comparison.

#7 - Here, kitty, kitty

Magic Bites. Magic and technology rule the world in cycles over multiple millennia, and technology is beginning to lose its sway. Kate Daniels is a mercenary for hire in the USA, front and centre for awakening demi-gods, magical curses, and rogue shape-shifters, even if the non-rogue ones debatably cause her more trouble. This series is a relatively recent find, but for fun and originality, it definitely earnt a spot on my list.

#8 - Because anti-heroes...

The Eagle has Landed. Actually most of the Jack Higgins are on my read and read again list; for gritty, realistic thrillers that are much more than simply point and shoot, he’s one of my go-to authors. I started climbing my parents’ bookshelves to steal these books about age nine or ten, and one of the things I really like about his work is that the villains are often more relatable than the heroes. Jack Higgins has a unique skill for taking everything you think you know and making you think about it again.

#9 - Because (more) anti-heroes...

The Morgaine Cycle. I found this in a charity shop somewhere near school, and consequently was MIA for most of a week of classes. C.J. Cherryh has her weak points with things like consistency (see the Phoenix series), but in the Morgaine cycle, the atmosphere, the settings, and the characters combine into the perfect sci-fi / fantasy read – complex, dark as hell, and compelling.

#10 - The art of the double-cross

Tarnished Knight. Jack Campbell is one of my more recent discoveries in sci-fi, and his Lost Fleet protagonist is so damn perfect it makes my teeth hurt, but in the Lost Stars series, the characters are dark, cynical, and prone to double-crosses, and totally hit my happy place. Campbell’s books excel in plausible battle scenes, but this later series also brings strong characterisation and great plots to the table.

Ryder Author Resources – book reviews and more

Ryder Author Resources – book reviews and more

Ryder Author Resources

…well, they do pretty much exactly what it says on the tin, reliably and within the meagre range of my budget; they offer author resources and services, including outreach to book bloggers, promo images, beta reading, blog tours, Facebook and Twitter management, and they’re willing to talk to you about other things on an ad-hoc basis.

I first met RAR! through my review blog (oh, yes, I do). They struck me as professional, (extremely) patient, and someone to look up when I had some cash to throw at book reviews for my own books. Among other things, I especially appreciated that they stayed in touch on social media, and seemed to have a similar sense of humour. (I’m not sure if that last is actually a compliment, but moving on…).

The set-up

Ryder Author Resources recently (well, since July 2018) updated their website, and the services they offer out of the box are clearly outlined on their author services page, along with how to get in touch with them to discuss other things.

They offer either package quotes, or an hourly rate for longer-term things, like looking for book reviewers. For longer-term things, they send out weekly updates to you on what they’ve been up to and how it’s going. The invoices show up monthly and itemised, with online credit card payment options – it’s all very painless and simple.

The results

Awesome! Not only have they patiently and persistently hunted down sci-fi reviewers, they also put me onto Hidden Gems, and all told Through the Hostage is now well past the miraculous 15 review mark on Amazon and headed for twenty-five. That’s not even counting readers who review to private blogs and / or Goodreads, or a few fantastic folks who review everywhere they have an account.

I was nervous about going in with any kind of professional publicist, as prior to Ryder Author Resources, I’d had a string of bad experiences, including someone who absconded with a substantial amount of cash and did absolutely nothing, but RAR! has gone a long way to restoring my faith in humanity. The team behind the RAR! are also genuinely nice people, and the weekly update emails and online exchanges are always a fun experience.

I’d definitely go in with them for reviewer outreach, and based on my experience with them on gaining a few more reviews for Through the Hostage, I don’t have any qualms saying that if they say they do something, then it will be done, and you’ll have a fun team behind you on the way.

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