Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Interview with MCA Hogarth

The Worth of a ShellMy novel, The Five Elements, is part of StoryBundle’s current Fantasy Bundle. Much like the fantasy genre itself, the bundle features a wonderfully diverse group of authors and books. One of those authors is M.C.A. Hogarth, author of The Worth of a Shell. The bundle’s curator, Blair MacGregor, had this to say about M.C.A and her novel:

I became acquainted with Maggie through her strong and well-thought-out advocacy of indie writers and diverse publishing options, and soon discovered her fabulous talent as a writer and an artist. The first novel of hers I read pulled me into a non-human world alive with distinct cultures, sensory depth, and the harsh consequences of daring to want life outside society's limitations. That novel, The Worth of A Shell, is in this bundle so you can make that the same discovery I did. – Blair MacGregor

I had the opportunity to interview M.C.A. Here are her thoughts.

1. Tell us a little about The Worth of a Shell. What was the motivation behind the story and characters?

I've always liked stories about aliens, and am forever making them; they're an eternal lens into questions about the human condition, and give people a way to look at those questions without bringing along the baggage of society and culture that we all drag around everywhere. If I try to write about gender with human characters, I engage all the reader's history with gender in their own life. If I give them a horse-tailed, dinosaur-browed, jack-legged neuter creature, they can leave all that at home. Or at least, that's the hope. When I'm writing about things that are especially fraught for us, I often turn to aliens to explore repercussions that would hit too close to home if written about humans.

The Jokka of the Shell universe are a lens to examine multiple issues--not just gender, which is the obvious one, but also questions about dementia and loss.

Also, I write aliens because it's fun.

2. Your body of work has a definite anthropomorphic quality. Where does that come from?

I think the anthropomorphic quality is literal. I find human qualities in things that are not human, so that we can look at what being human means. My interest is catholic: I like robots, talking spaceships, sentient tree people, were-creatures, aliens, the whole kit and caboodle. If you put it forth believably, I will be entertained! I am fascinated by diversity in experience and outlook. Science fiction/fantasy is a fantastic place to roll around in all that. As a genre, we have a long history of loving our anthropomorphic characters, from Anne McCaffrey's dragons to Asimov's robots to the million talking cat stories (from Niven's Kzinti to Diane Duane's feline wizards to Cherryh's kif from the Chanur novels). We love our non-humanoids!

3. It looks like you waited almost a decade to write Book 2 and 3 of this trilogy. What happened there?

Wow, well, all right--so I set up this big problem in Shell, knowing that I would have to resolve it somehow. And according to the rules of epic fantasy, huge societal problems can't be resolved quietly or slowly. It's gotta be nuclear, usually in the form of enormous wars. You have an unjust society, it needs to be overthrown and replaced with something more fair, right? That's how it works, how I grew up thinking it should work, and how, once I started writing, I thought I would have to make it work if I didn't want my readers to feel cheated. There should be banners and cavalry and carpets of armies facing off beneath a cloudy sky, with cold winds blowing everyone's mane heroically from their brows! There should be bloodshed and sacrifice and monuments at the end!
And... I couldn't do that with this universe. My first problem being that I'm writing a marginal society: it has so few people surviving in it that a war on the scale of something out of epic fantasy would wipe away the unjust society by rendering the species extinct. Talk about babies thrown out with bathwater! You begin to think of war as a luxury of societies with a lot of either manpower or technology, neither situation of which obtains to the Jokka.

My second problem was that I got fixated on having to follow the Chosen One through the entire narrative. It took me a long time to figure out that there was no chosen one, not really... and that the story had to be carried through other people's voices in the subsequent books, because that's where the action was. I'd been wanting to cling to Thenet all the way to the end of the trilogy, but it's not Thenet who gets us through the next important events.

Once I let go of those two things, I was shocked how quickly Books 2 and 3 came together. But I'm also glad I waited, because I think the resulting story is a lot stronger--and more unexpected--than the one I would have written had I been bludgeoning myself into writing to the imaginary rules of epic fantasy.

4. What's next? Any current projects or upcoming releases you'd like to share?

I just released a high fantasy romance novel, Thief of Songs, which is getting enough good feedback that I think I'll write a second book in that universe. It shares some commonalities with Shell, in that there are multiple genders (in this case, human ones: hermaphrodite and neuter as well as male and female), but it's a much more pastoral setting. In addition, I'm finishing up an epic fantasy trilogy wherein I once again fail to follow the epic fantasy rules--unavoidably, maybe, since I've made a cluster of philosophy students the main characters, and now they want to talk, research, and discuss their way into solutions of problems rather than do the epic stirring battle thing.

I hope I eventually do get to write an epic stirring battle! But that year is apparently not this year!

Make sure to check out the full selection of StoryBundle Fantasy Author Interviews!

Are Printed Books Dead?

With the rise of tablets and other e-readers, some are starting to pronounce the traditional hard back book as dead. As new versions of e-readers like the Kindle become more advanced, the noise about the death of books becomes louder.

Are we really part of the last generation to be able to purchase, own and consume paper books at will? Here are a few reasons why many think we are:

Book shops dwindling

In a world where we can buy things at the click of a button, many high street and independent retailers suffer as a result. In 2011 American book retailing giant Borders closed its doors for good, despite being the prime retailer of books in both the UK and USA (alongside its parent group Barnes & Noble). A lot of this was attributed to the fact that as well as there being fewer people actually reading hard back books, those who did want to read solid printed books usually bought their desired books online. Retailers like Amazon, who are a one stop shop for almost any need you have, took the custom from shops as consumers could buy books here at the same time as making any other purchase. The convenience factor plays a big role here, especially at peak retail times like Christmas. Not only that, retailers like Amazon are able to offer books both used and new at a much lower price than book shops as there are no store overheads, not to mention free delivery on orders of a certain cost, meaning the consumer isn’t put out by ordering this way so it becomes less of an issue that they may not get to open their book for a couple of days.

And so with less book shops comes less need to print as many books overall. However Amazon has contributed to the death of print in a much bigger way.

The rise of e-readers

The first Kindle launched in November 2007 and in the last 7 or so years the device by Amazon has gone from strength to strength with each new model which has been released. The small sleek design, roughly the same size as a paperback but far lighter, proved appealing for those who love to read at any opportunity. Both a popular space saver in your handbag, suitcase and in your home, the Kindle breathed a whole new lease of life into the hobby that is reading. Soon many different brands of e-reader cropped up, offering all the same benefits as a Kindle.

As a result, e-readers and in turn e-books then became popular, fashionable and affordable. As e-books don’t have to be printed and delivered to a store, the cost to produce and sell them then becomes much less than an average paperback or hardback. This means that e-books can sell for much less, and in quite a lot of instances you’ll find e-books for free available in most e-reader libraries. Therefore although you pay an initial expense with an e-reader, it becomes more cost-effective in the long run to enjoy reading this way, which then drives down the need for as many printed books.

The digital world

Although e-readers make up a large part of the digital world, our whole attitude and adoption of the digital technology available to us is another contributing factor to the death of printed books. For example, with an e-reader you can buy a book directly from the library and have it added to your device in seconds. You could have an account linked to your bank details or you may opt to use a payment method like PayPal, but either way, the transaction is almost instant and you can enjoy your books in minutes.

But it’s not just books we can consume in the digital world or even on our Kindles any more. Now you can pay your bills, play games, gamble and so much more too.

With all these factors considered, it’s easy to see why it looks like the death of printed books is near.

Some thoughts on The Goddard Affair

This first appeared in the From the Author section on Amazon’s product page for The Goddard Affair.

Unlike the previous installment in the series, Night of Zealotry, where the title character's prowess as an assassin is on full display, The Goddard Affair allowed me to showcase his charm and ability to blend into almost any situation. In this case, it's a high society gala event, put on by the Society for the Progression of Science & Technology. The Progressive Society was loosely modeled after the famed Royal Society of London. The governing bodies and other nuances are different, but the goal of furthering science and the general understanding of it are the same.

The Goddard Affair finds our witty assassin in the thick of things once more, but this time amidst more pleasant company a la Gwendolyn Morgan, a society member who's gotten herself into a bit of a predicament. Needless to say, the Assassin Without a Name lends her his particular skills. Readers of mine know my female characters are anything but damsels in distress, though I won't say anything more lest I introduce spoilers.

I will, however, say this: The Goddard Affair is the longest story in the series to date and it was, without a doubt, the most fun. It brings in a lot of different elements: action, intrigue, mystery, murder, technology, and, of course, mayhem. I gave a lot of thought to many of the characters because you're definitely going to see more of some of them as the larger story continues to come to light.

It's a fun series to write, so as long as readers continue to enjoy the stories, I'll keep writing them.

Thief’s Gambit, the fifth Assassin Without a Name story, is now available as a pre-order at Amazon!

Some thoughts on Killing the Dead (Assassin Without a Name #2)

This first appeared in the From the Author section on Amazon’s product page for Killing the Dead.

I like necromancy. Not personally, but as an author. The myriad kinds of undead have always fascinated me, which is probably why I'm such a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth. Killing the Dead, however, is not horror, so even though it deals with necromancy, the story explores it from a fantasy perspective. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say (without spoilers) that the story remains firmly grounded, something which I think made for a much more satisfying story.

Much like Fine Wine, Killing the Dead was a lot of fun to write. It's longer than the first one in the series (each story so far gets a little bit longer) and has a more developed plot. You get a bit of a glimpse into our main character's psyche, as he wonders about redemption, and a broader view of Alchester, the city where the series takes place. Also like the first story in the series, Killing the Dead mostly serves as an introduction to the title character, while telling a fun story along the way.

If you enjoy a fun read about assassins, graveyards, and necromancers that you can easily finish in a sitting, then I think you'll like Killing the Dead.

Thief’s Gambit, the fifth Assassin Without a Name story, is now available as a pre-order at Amazon!

The Quiet Between

I’m in that odd space between projects. My latest effort is off to my editor, so there’s nothing left for me to do right now other than wait. Also, while I have started planning two new stories, I’m not ready to start writing either of them. In fact, I’m not even sure which one to jump into first, so I’m going back and forth with outlining each of them while I try to figure out that next step.

The space between is kind of strange (I already called it ‘odd,’ didn’t I?). It’s a lull between furious bouts of activity, which is really what writing a novel becomes when you’re working a day job while trying to push the needle of progress forward enough each day to make you feel as if you’re making progress and so you can feel like, yes, you might just finish this thing someday.

Of course, at this point in my career, I’ve finished three novels, two short stories (plus some others from a bygone era long ago when I first started writing around age 20), and three novellas, so there shouldn’t be any doubt that I can’t or won’t finish something I start. For me, it’s more a question of am I going to at least make back my investment in this thing? Some people think because I’ve been doing this going on four years now that I must be rolling in the dough, right? Ha. Not exactly. I’m positive on one of my novels, and that’s about it. I spent far too much on advertising early on that didn’t give me a good ROI, so it’s partially my fault (or maybe it’s all my fault, since I am the business owner here). But I have yet to see a good sell rate on anything, and since this writing stuff costs money to produce, you have to sell to make back that initial investment. Selling is a problem I have yet to solve.

Which brings me back to the question of which project to tackle next.

On one hand, I have my Assassin Without a Name series. With Thief’s Gambit now available via pre-order (only 99 cents during the pre-order period!), I’d like to keep the momentum going by having another story ready to go shortly after March 10, which is the official release date for the novella. So, there’s that.

On the other hand, I have my Alchemancer series. I’m not ready to devote the time to a third novel just yet, mostly because I have some other ideas I want to explore within the context of the series, namely a handful of short stories which will constitute side-stories about certain characters. The first one I have in mind is a story about the witch, Ursool. She wasn’t always disfigured, so there’s a story to tell there. The story I have in mind is a bit of a romance with doses of reflection and sadness. It takes place many years before The Five Elements, when Aaron was still a young child following his dad around in Taloo, watching him repair mills and other broken things. Ensel Rhe wasn’t exiled yet. Serena…she was in Brighton, trying to figure out how to tell her mother that she was intent on pursuing a life of sorcery, not marriage and tea parties. Actually, both Aaron and Serena (and Shanna, too) might not even have been born yet when this story takes place. In any case, Ursool is really the great tragedy of the Alchemancer series. I want to tell her story.

But, I also want to tell the next story in my assassin series. Thief’s Gambit has a lot going for it, not least of which is Elizabeth West (who claims honors on the title this time; it’s her gambit, in other words), who I’m seriously considering spinning off into her own series.

Image copyright Milica Jevtic

If you’ve read anything at all by me, you know my female characters are often more capable than the male ones, which means Liz, as my favorite witty assassin calls her, is about as fulfilling a character as any author could hope for. She’s smart, sexy, knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go after it. She’d make a great lead character for her own series.

But, I was talking about the next assassin story, wasn’t I, not the first of a new series about an enterprising thief. Back to that…

The series is getting to the point where I need to start answering some questions. The next story does that, namely addressing the presence of a certain black crow which keeps harrying our hero at the most inopportune times (this will make more sense if you’ve read The Goddard Affair and certainly once you’ve read Thief’s Gambit). Plus, it introduces another major character into the fold. Another woman, but this one a…hmm, no spoilers. The story is in planning now, so best I keep a lid on the particulars.

So what else happens in the space between?

I work on other things, that’s what.

Like, re-enabling comments on this blog. Go ahead, scroll down and leave one. I dare you. (Also, I hope it works)

Also, I listen to lots and lots of podcasts. Actually, I do that normally anyway. What do I listen to? How about the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Marketing Podcast? Also, the Self-Publishing Podcast, Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast (starting to see a theme here?), NPR’s Planet Money, the Sell More Books Show, .NET Rocks (software engineer by day, remember?), Windows Weekly, and some others.

I also try to figure out how to sell more books (haven’t made any progress here yet), how to engage readers more, how to get more reviews (not much working here, either), and other stuff.

Speaking of reviews… I’ve had this thing going on where if you sign-up to my mailing list I’ll send you the next Assassin Without a Name story. I’m stopping that deal for new subscribers (existing subscribers will continue to receive each story when it’s released). Mostly because, hey, giving stuff away doesn’t get me my investment back, nor does it allow me to someday quit my day job and write full-time. I was hoping people would reciprocate with a review. But, that has most definitely not happened. So, I’ll keep up the commitment for existing subscribers, but no such deal for new ones.

Actually, I’m considering offering a “starter pack” of books to new subscribers. More on that in the near future if I decide to go ahead with it.

Back to the what to work on next… Leave a comment if you have any thoughts for me. I’ve actually got another idea for a new series of novels. It’s a cross-genre thing which I think could work out really well. Or I could continue with one of the ideas above. I’m open.

Thief’s Gambit, the fifth Assassin Without a Name story, is now available as a pre-order at Amazon!