Category Archives: Guest Post

Author Jamie Metzl Guest Post

Building a Better Baby
Freezing eggs opens the door to a future where every birth could be genetically engineered.

By Jamie MetzlAuthor of GENESIS CODE: A Thriller of the Near Future

Recent reports of Apple and Facebook now offering to cover the costs of their female employees extracting and freezing their eggs has touched off a national debate. Proponents have said this new perk expands options for women and helps them balance career and life goals. Others have argued it gives women the wrong message about work-life balance and binds them even more intimately to companies primarily interested in their unimpeded work product. But while the debate over egg freezing is important, it misses the bigger point. In the not-distant future, all advantaged women will freeze their eggs in their twenties, and an ever increasing number of babies will be born through a process involving both in vitro fertilization and genetic selection. This revolution will have huge implications for our societies and our species, but we are hardly talking about it.

In labs and clinics around the world, doctors are already using the preimplantation genetic diagnosis process to extract a single cell from and genetically screen each of the five day old embryos in IVF prior to implantation in the mother. Currently, the preimplantation genetic diagnosis process is used to screen for single gene abnormalities like cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs disease and sickle cell anemia and, in more limited cases, gender. Each one of the cells extracted in that process, however, carries the full genome. As our ability to understand the genome continues its exponential growth, it is inevitable that parents will be able to choose from thousands of genetic predispositions for each embryo, not just for single gene variations like eye color, but, over time, for more polygenic traits including intelligence, athleticism, robustness and more. If they have fifteen embryos to choose from in IVF, for example, they will be able to choose which of their natural offspring to implant based on their particular value system.

After that, it is extremely likely that scientists will be able to generate eggs from stem cells, making human eggs a potentially unlimited resource (as human sperm already is). At this point, instead of choosing from among ten or twenty of their own embryos, parents would be able to choose from among hundreds or thousands, whatever they can afford. Beyond that, genetic engineering to add DNA from sources other than the two parents will be our reality.

The idea of turning the most beautiful part of the human experience over to scientists will be terrifying for many and, no doubt, constituencies will emerge calling for restrictions or an outright ban. These restrictions might even work in some jurisdictions. But governments and insurance providers will certainly have a strong incentive to support genetic screening, if it proves safe, because the cost of screening will almost certainly be less than the cost of treating what will then be seen as avoidable genetic abnormalities.

Whatever people’s reservations, competition within and between societies will drive this technology and its application forward. Within societies, parents will not want their children to be disadvantaged once the science is deemed safe. Between societies, different attitudes and world views will lead to different rates of technology adoption. Even if Christian-majority countries like the United States, for example, might someday join the Vatican and others pushing for restrictions, other countries such as China and Korea (whose worldview is based less on the concept of a divine plan) may well continue to be more comfortable moving forward with human genetic selection and engineering, as some polling data has shown. And even if all countries opt out, which is unlikely based on current behavior, motivated individuals and non-state actors will have full access to this technology.

With whatever mix of catalysts and first movers, it is almost impossible to believe that our species, which has embraced every new technology – from explosives to nuclear energy to anabolic steroids to plastic surgery and beyond – promising to improve our lives but also carrying potential downsides, would forgo chasing advances in a technology that has the potential to eradicate terrible diseases, improve our health and increase our life spans.

Given the emotional charge of these issues, and the fact that heritable genetic manipulations will have the potential to spread across populations through reproduction, some people and countries will likely become hostile if others elsewhere are changing the human genetic code in a manner that will impact them. Would countries banning heritable genetic manipulations screen people for such mutations at their borders or make it a crime for their citizens to procreate with them? What might some countries do to try to stop others from altering the human genome in ways likely to drift into their own populations?

While these scenarios may seem far off to some – and there are still serious scientific hurdles to be overcome – our altered reproductive future is approaching far faster than most people think.

Because the science is moving forward more quickly than our consciousness, it is critical that we begin a national and global conversation on the ethical and national security implications of the genetics revolution and start thinking about what a preliminary global regulatory framework that both supports important research and prevents the worst abuses might look like.

Egg freezing is a first step in a process that will transform our concepts of nature, reproduction and genetic choice. We owe ourselves and our progeny, a much broader and deeper conversation about our species’ reproductive future.


Jamie Metzl is with a global investment firm and is a nonresident Senior Fellow for Technology and National Security of the Atlantic Council and author of the 2014 novel Genesis Code. He served in the National Security Council and U.S. State Department during the Clinton administration. Follow him on Twitter @jamiemetzl. This editorial is partly derived from his October 2014 Foreign Affairs article, “The Genetic Epidemic.”

Author Karen Akins Guest Post

Akins, Karen_CREDIT Jonna Nixon_Red House Photography

Music/Books/Films that inspired LOOP
by Karen Akins

First up, music.

When writing, I rely heavily on my book playlist to nail the mood that I’m trying to establish in each scene or for each character. Sometimes, in revisions, I’ll even go back and revise the playlist if I realize that I’ve gotten off track, emotion-wise.

LOOP’s playlist is on Spotify:

If I had to pick a theme song for LOOP’s main characters, Bree and Finn, it would be “I’m Going to Make You Love Me” by the Jayhawks. It’s one of the few songs that’s stayed the same from the first draft all the way through the publishing process. It contains this hopeful determination that Finn naturally has and that Bree desperately needs.


Well, I’ll tell you what didn’t inspire LOOP…any time travel novels written in the last four years. I had to stop reading any other time travel once I started writing it. There are so many similar themes that run throughout the sub-genre, and I didn’t want to be overly influenced by anyone else’s worldbuilding. And let me tell you, my time travel ban has been hard. As soon as I finish final edits on LOOP’s sequel TWIST, I am going to go on a time travel binge. J

In terms of inspiring the “specialized ability in a unique setting” of LOOP, I’m going to give huge props to Kiersten White’s PARANORMALCY series and Ally Carter’s GALLAGHER GIRLS series. As I was reading their stories, I kept thinking, this is what I want to convey in LOOP more than anything…fun!

Very astute readers will pick up on some similarities to Pride & Prejudice. I looooosely based my plot on P & P. (And I’m always happy to discuss those similarities once you pick them out.)


One comment I’ve received from several readers is that LOOP’s action gives it a movie feel. One sweet reader actually said, “I kept craving popcorn while I was reading, and I realized it was because I felt like I was watching a movie.”

I’m a huge sci-fi fan. Some of the gadgets and general sense of optimism for the future have a Star Trek background. And, not to be too spoilery, but one of the scenes in LOOP was most definitely inspired by the final one of The Matrix.

Thanks again for having me! I hope everyone enjoys LOOP. <3

Colleen Gleason Guest Post and Giveaway!

Victorians, Steampunk, and Séances
by Colleen Gleason

The second book in my young adult steampunk and adventure series, The Spiritglass Charade, has a plot that revolves around a popular Victorian pasttime: séances and spirit-talking. Gathering around a table in a pitch-black room and calling the spirits, usually via a medium, was all the craze—and not just in Victorian England, but also in the United States. In fact, two of the most famous mediums—the Fox sisters (who, by the way, later confessed to be frauds)—were American.

While the first book in this, the Stoker & Holmes series, featured another Victorian interest (Egyptology), I decided it would be utterly fitting to combine my cog-filled, mechanics-driven steampunk world with that of the spiritualism fad. It made a lot of sense, and the more I researched Victorian England, the more I realized how absolutely perfect a fit this was.

Start with the two protagonists in my series—Mina Holmes (niece of Sherlock) and Evaline Stoker (sister of Bram, descendant of vampire-hunter Victoria Gardella). They are so different, I knew they’d approach the idea of attending a séance from completely different perspectives. Mina, of course, would be filled with the need to explain the rapping sounds and ghostly writing on a slate, and Evaline (being a hunter of supernatural creatures) would have a much more open mind and be willing to take whatever comes.

As the book progresses, we shift from the perspective and opinion of one to the other—seeing Mina’s pragmatic point of view, and then understanding why Evaline argues the opposite.

And then there’s the fact that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who was great friends with Bram Stoker—how’s that for a coincidence?) had a life-long belief in spiritualism and séances. He was fascinated by the idea of the after life and other worldly life, and spent much of his time attending séances. In fact, he and Harry Houdini (who was firmly in the opposite camp, and spent his time debunking spirit-talkers) were very close friends for many years until they had a falling out over this very subject. Doyle strongly believed in the afterlife, and Houdini had spent so much of his life conducting the very tricks false mediums used during their events that he couldn’t believe in it at all—although he truly wanted to.

It made sense to me to feature séances with fraudulent mediums…and perhaps not-so-fraudulent mediums…in this story. I learned about all of the ways the (mostly women) spirit-talkers conducted false examples of spirit-talking—from learning how to crack their toe and knee joints loudly enough to sound like ghostly rapping—to sleight-of-hand tricks to do ghostly writing on slates or table-shifting, etc. Initially, I thought it would be necessary for me to use the steampunk element of fancy gadgets and amazing devices in order to create the effects of a false séance, I soon learned from my research that it wasn’t necessary: the Victorians had it covered with their own creativity and simple mechanisms.

Yet during my research I also found examples of mediums who were never debunked, even through the Society for Psychical Research (directed by Harvard professor and William James)—including Mrs. Nellie Titus and Leonora Piper. (For excellent reading on the subject, try Deborah Blum’s Ghost Hunters.)

So did I “take sides” in the debate in The Spiritglass Charade? Hmmm…no comment from me! Whether or not there are truly ghosts and spirits that talk to people is up to you to decide…


Courtesy of Chronicle Books, I have a copy of The Spiritglass Charade by Colleen Gleason for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends November 7. I’ll draw a name on November 8, and notify winner via email.


Good luck!

Continue reading Colleen Gleason Guest Post and Giveaway!

Guest Post: Jamie Schultz on Seeing the Future

Seeing the Future
By Jamie Schultz

There are a million stories about seeing the future—speculative fiction is thick with them, and with good reason, since there’s nothing more speculative than cracking open the future and having a look around in there. Arguably, that’s what the word means, at least once you couple it to a great deal of uncertainty. They come in technological versions, magical versions, oblique and direct and everything in between. I’m fascinated with these kinds of stories, in large part because the future is one area of exploration that is walled off to us, which of course makes one wonder about it that much more.

There are lots of different ways to classify “seeing the future” stories, but one of the most fundamental is by malleability. One branch, dating back to the Greeks and the story of Cassandra, is your basic “the future is fixed, and you are screwed” kind of story. These can be fantastic stories, but they lend themselves to one of two approaches: straight up horror, where everything foreseen comes to pass, and you basically sit back and watch as every terrible portent unfurls itself into an unavoidable series of events; or a sort of ironic approach, where, despite foreknowledge of some terrible event, the protagonist’s effort to prevent said terrible event ends up causing it or proving maddeningly irrelevant. The film 12 Monkeys comes to mind as an example of this kind of story. Massive amounts of effort, and in the end, it all ends up being beside the point. That doesn’t make them bad stories, but that does tend to create a kind of desperate or, at best, ironic fatalism.

In the other main branch, the future can be affected. These are the types of stories that really appeal to me, in part because of their flexibility, and in part because they tend to be less fatalistic. There’s an undercurrent of optimism in these stories that may be bleak, but at least the moral of the story is not that the optimism is fundamentally misguided. A classic example is Stephen King’s The Dead Zone, in which the protagonist sees a terrible vision of disaster befalling the world after a particularly awful politician gets elected, and sets out to stop him, permanently, heedless of the consequences for himself.

Of course, one of the sources of dramatic tension can be playing a guessing game with the audience of which kind of story they’re experiencing—is the future fixed, or not? In Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death or Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds, much of the tension comes from just this—wondering whether or not the awful thing that has been prophesied will actually come to pass.

This ties in to a crucial element of “seeing the future” stories, something so obvious that there would hardly be a story without it: The would-be prophet always sees something bad. The question is usually, then, whether the bad thing can be avoided, and if so how. One of the more interesting approaches to handling this is in Asimov’s venerable Foundation series. The fascinating thing about this is that the future is “seen” through statistical science, and the prophet, Hari Seldon, not only sees the grim future that looms over humanity, but also sees a better future and a path toward achieving it. That is, not only is the future malleable, but those with enough knowhow can look ahead and figure out how, specifically, to change it for the better. There’s a sort of optimism about the capabilities of technology for leading humanity to utopia, or at least out of the desert, that is fairly uncommon. And, of course, even Asimov and his contemporaries were less than sure that the technological predictions of the future would be universally positive—witness Minority Report and even one of Asimov’s own stories, where a block-sized supercomputer can pick out would-be criminals, a task so depressing it makes the computer attempt to kill itself.

Speaking of the suicidal supercomputer, one of the interesting things about prophecy stories is that viewing the future is almost always regarded as a bad thing for the prophet. In many cases, this is due to the burden of the gift itself—seeing things that the prophet would rather not, or afflicting the prophet with a responsibility to act, a responsibility that is itself a gigantic weight. It can come with other burdens, too. In Wendig’s Blackbirds, the protagonist, Miriam Black, can see when somebody is going to die, and she can’t do anything about it. This ends up having the effect of alienating her from humanity, leading her to a seedy existence between the cracks of society, even without burdening her with additional responsibility. All the way back to the Old Testament, prophets were regarded as having a tendency, if not an outright requirement, to go mad.

Part of the reason viewing the future is typically coupled with dire side effects is, I think, from a not-so-latent fear of the category of things we don’t know, and therefore are labeled, “Things we are not meant to know.” It’s a staple of fantasy and science fiction (and, hell, literature in general) that knowing things we are not meant to know is harmful if not outright fatal. Another reason is likely that of dramatic necessity—any character that knows the future and isn’t somehow crippled by that knowledge would be godlike, and either remove a whole lot of the drama from a story or render it pointless (or at least in any type of story where the future is malleable).

Probably due to a relatively modern suspicion of concepts like destiny, as well as a conscious attempt to avoid lapsing into fatalism (my writing can be dark enough already, thank you) I write malleable futures. In my novel Premonitions, the futures glimpsed by the main character are eminently malleable, and in fact she changes them all the time. The hard part is that, as in reading entrails or listening to the voices of gods on the wind, her visions are difficult to interpret, and in some cases extremely metaphorical. They also tend to crowd out her experience of present-tense reality, if not carefully managed—a callback to those mad Old Testament prophets, and, like those prophets, she lives perpetually in unsteady balance on a knife edge between sanity and insanity. As a result of trying to manage this, she—again, like a mad prophet—has ended up living outside regular society, though in her case, due to the need to pay copious sums for the black market concoction that controls her visions, she has become a criminal rather than a hermit.

I doubt I’ve added anything to the canon, in terms of the wealth of fantastic “seeing the future” stories we have. I do hope, though, that I’ve drawn on the rich history of these kinds of stories and managed to put my own interesting spin on them.

Author John L. Campbell Guest Post

John L. Campbell, author of Ship of the Dead, joins today to talk about the popularity of zombies…

by John L. Campbell

I was in line at a deli the other day, and the young man behind the counter made a comment about zombies. Always on the lookout for a chance to promote my work, I asked, “Do you like zombies?” He looked at me as if I was slow-witted and said, “It’s 2014, man.”

He’s right. In recent years, zombies have become such an integral part of our culture that the question isn’t, are you into zombies, but, how deep are you into zombies? They have shambled their way into mainstream advertising, video games, film and television, apparel, special edition weaponry and products, and of course, books and graphic novels. These days you can’t throw a stick in the air without it landing on a zombie, or someone who loves them. It’s gone beyond trend and into the realm of phenomena.

As a zombie and horror author, how exciting is it to be in the center of this cultural whirlwind? Zombies have been cool for a long time, and Mr. Romero has sat at the head of the table since he dragged their dead flesh in front of a camera so many decades ago, but they’ve never been as hot as they are now. Why are we seeing such a resurgence in the zombie tale? And why are fans devouring them like never before? Authors tend to be opinionated, so I’ll share some of my own thoughts on the matter.

The attraction to the genre exists on several levels, and appeals to people for different reasons. Some of it is what I call the Video Game Mentality (and that’s not a negative…I love video games, though my system has been disconnected for over a year, since no one is paying me to play Xbox, and for me, it’s a huge distraction from writing.) This attraction involves the ability to kill without consequence or moral question. Who is going to challenge you about destroying mindless predators trying to eat your family?

The next level of appeal is the Everyman Factor. A great deal of zombie fiction, my own included, involves characters who are not super soldiers or trained survivors; they’re everyday folks hurled into extreme situations, and this connects with readers. Perhaps more than any other genre, zombie apocalypse stories compel the question, “What would I do if…?” When I read a Jason Bourne story, I know he’s a highly-trained, professional killer, so when he’s put in peril, I’m confident he can handle it. But what happens when Kyle, the kid who can’t decide if he should stay in college or keep working at the gas station, is suddenly faced with the terrors of surviving ravenous hordes of the undead? Is he smart enough? Fast enough? Will he try to help others, go it alone, or simply give up? This brings a new level of suspense. Also, this is where the reader says to himself, “He was stupid, I wouldn’t have done that.” That’s true engagement.

Freedom rings a bell with readers, and by that I mean the freedom that comes with a zombie apocalypse. No more job or annoying boss, no more commute or worrying about bills, no more longing for the things you cannot have. You can simply take them…if you’re quick enough. It’s about surviving, and we all like to think we’re smart enough to pull it off. (Most of us, myself included, would be wrong, and thus the growing ranks of the undead.)

Finally, there’s the Reset Philosophy. We’re steadily growing disconnected and faceless in our society, becoming drawn into the Horde by technology that makes it no longer necessary to connect with people in person. The velocity of life in general is accelerating, and many people are finding it difficult to keep up, to remain relevant, to have a voice. Confidence in government and corporations is low, fear of foreign and domestic threats is high, and we see aspects of our lives and culture spinning out of control (random violence, hate crimes, economic instability and fears that maybe we’re not getting an honest accounting from the people we’ve elected to positions of responsibility.) An apocalypse hits the stop button, and the survivors are the reset. Will they make the world a better place this time around? Maybe. First they’ll have to avoid being eaten. The central and perhaps most attractive element here is hope, and who doesn’t want that?

No matter how you explain it, there’s no arguing that zombies are back, dominating popular culture, and show no sign of going anywhere. Will they hang in for the long run? Have vampires? Glittering and angst-ridden bloodsuckers aside, they’re still pretty popular.

But zombies are much cooler.

Caragh O’Brien Guest Post and Giveaway!

Recommended Reading by Caragh O’Brien

My tastes in reading run all over the place, from outer space to contemporary prisons, hot and cold. I tend to relish characters who invite me to see the world in a new way. For this list, I’ve limited myself to 7 Young Adult novels I have loved this year and heartily recommend.

Trail by Fire by Josephine Angelini. In an alternate universe, Salem is run by witches while scientists are persecuted. Lily from our world meets her double, Lillian, and discovers hidden powers within herself. Especially cool: the connections between chemistry and magical medicine are ingenious.

The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely. An altar boy battles with the secrecy, shame, and anger from an abusive relationship with a Catholic priest. Especially cool: the writing is heartfelt and Aidan’s character is vividly real.

Say What You Will, by Cammie McGovern. In this story about a high school senior with CP and her peer helper, a quiet guy with OCD, the two minds of the protagonists completely sucked me in. Especially cool: the play between how Amy thinks, her partly honest typed speech, and how she is perceived by Matthew, who sees her through his own insecurities, is fascinating.

Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci. This pure sci fi adventure takes place in outer space, with a deserted human girl who has to face ruthless and often putrid aliens all alone. The succinct, telling prose perfectly matches the chill and brutality of deep space. Especially cool: Plucky Tula Bane is a heroine for the ages, right up there with Princess Leia.

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu. In this contemporary story, five high school students tell their perspectives on the accident that killed the high school quarterback, and the girl who supposedly caused his death. Especially cool: the slut shaming invites outrage, and the mean girl is so mean, I’m still mad at her.

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. This intriguing, nostalgic graphic novel set in the recent past at a shoreline vacation community captures a time when Rose is stuck between the tension of her estranged parents and the charged sexuality of older teens. Especially cool: the drawings are incredibly expressive, as when the flip-flops whisper words of complicated disapproval.

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson. I hardly know where to begin. This novel is told from the points of view of an escaping princess, a prince who wants to school her, and an assassin who wants to kill her, but when the princess meets the two men, she doesn’t know how their jobs match their names, and neither does the reader. Especially cool: it’s a clever mind game for the reader.


About the Author:
Caragh M. O’Brien is the author of the BIRTHMARKED trilogy and THE VAULT OF DREAMERS, both from Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Ms. O’Brien was educated at Williams College and earned her MA from Johns Hopkins University. She recently resigned from teaching high school English in order to write young adult novels.


Courtesy of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, I have a copy of The Vault of Dreamers for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends October 3. I’ll draw a name on October 4, and notify winner via email.


Good luck!

Continue reading Caragh O’Brien Guest Post and Giveaway!

Kira Peikoff Guest Post

no time to dieauthor pic


Guest Blog: What Happens When Aging is Cured?
By Kira Peikoff

In my new book NO TIME TO DIE (Kensington, August 26th), a young woman has inexplicably stopped aging at the worst possible age—fourteen. She’s actually in her early twenties, and her stunted growth baffles and frustrates her until she finally receives a diagnosis that changes everything. Scientists believe she carries a gene mutation that has turned off her entire aging process—and if they can pinpoint this mutation, they might be able to figure out a way to cure aging in other people, too. Of course this sounds like pure sci-fi to us today, but the truth is that it’s not necessarily far off. Leading researchers into the genetics of aging say that the scientific fountain of youth will be discovered within the next century. So what does that mean for us? Here’s a list of some of the good, the bad, and the not-so-ugly (no more winkles!) of what might happen when aging is cured:

The good:

• You could stay 25 forever and so could your kids, so you and multiple generations of your family could feel and look the same age; you wouldn’t have to mourn the painful passing of your parents and grandparents.

• Nobody would retire at 65 if they weren’t aging–they could just keep working. And why not spend time learning all you can, going back to school for different fields, and having multiple careers?

• You could stop your dog or cat’s aging too so you would no longer have to outlive your best friend.

• Diseases of aging–cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s–would greatly diminish if the body’s parts remained in prime working order.

• Age discrimination would disappear–if you’re older and still in the work force, you’ll still be just as likely to keep your job and get promoted as someone younger because you’re as physically capable; economy could grow tremendously because it’s not losing workers to disease and death as often.

• You wouldn’t have to stop dressing super hip and fashionable for your age because the latest styles would always look good on your young body; no more anti-aging products in your morning beauty routine. Goodbye fine lines and crow’s feet!

The bad:

• Massive population growth that could challenge existing infrastructure, at least at first.

• Ethical dilemmas over who gets to use the aging drug: should money play a role? Should government? A possible public health battle could erupt.

• People might be forced to stop having as many kids if population got out of control.

• Resources like food, clothing, and medicine might be stretched thin to accommodate the skyrocketing demand.

So after weighing the pros and cons, what do you think? Would you want to stop aging? Leave your answer in the comments!


KIRA PEIKOFF is a journalism graduate of New York University who has written for The New York Times,,, Psychology Today, The Daily News, The Orange County Register, Newsday and New York magazine on a wide range of subjects. She published her first book, Living Proof, in 2012 and has worked in the editorial departments of New York publishing houses. She is currently at work on her third thriller, freelancing for major media outlets and attending Columbia University’s Master of Science program in Bioethics.

Tessa Gratton Guest Post and Giveaway!

The Strange MaidCreating a Story Arc for a Series
by Tessa Gratton

There are different kinds of series:
– Those that are big stories broken up into pieces of a whole, where no part stands alone and you need all of them to complete the story. Examples are traditional high fantasy trilogies like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.
– Those composed of single stories that follow after each other, each complete to itself, with reoccurring main characters. Examples are the Die Hard movies or almost any murder mystery series, like the Stephanie Plum Mysteries.
– Those with interconnected stories, where each story stands alone, but there’s an overarching narrative that builds from story to story. Examples are the current Marvel movie franchise or Kristen Cashore’s Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue series.

Each sort will be plotted very differently (aside from the fact that different writers would plot the exact same book differently).

I happen to be a reverse-plotter, in that I plot last when I plot at all. Sometimes I don’t even plot until I’m revising a seat-of-the-pants draft. I reverse-engineer my plot to suit the greater needs or character and theme and world. To me, plot is the most malleable element of a story. World and character matter more to me, and plot comes from the interaction of a character with her world. I can shift plot elements as easy as rewriting 40,000 words. It’s harder for me to entirely rewrite an element of world building or change my character’s intrinsic nature or motivations.

The United States of Asgard falls into the third of the above categories. I wrote The Lost Sun as a stand-alone novel originally. By the time I was finished, I knew I wanted to sell it as a series if possible and write more stories. The world was so big, and I was so excited by the possibilities, I had to write a few more novels set there.

In order to put together my proposal, I needed to choose the sort of series it would be. I knew three things:

1) I did not want to write another book from Soren’s POV because his character arc as a young adult was finished.
2) I DID want him to be an important player in the other books.
3) I love romance trilogies where each book has a complete romance, but you revisit the heroes of the previous novel in every new one.

The world of USAsgard really works on two main plot layers already: the plot involving the teenage protagonists and the plot involving the ancient gods who think decades and centuries in advance. It was relatively easy to break the series down onto the same levels. Each individual book would stand alone with regards to the narrator’s plot and character arc, but the series as a whole would have a meta plot revolving around the goddess Freya, who sees the future and meddles in the affairs of humanity to direct Fate as she sees fit.

Initially I pitched USAsgard as a 5 book series. I knew The Lost Sun was book 1, and I knew exactly who the narrator for book 5 would be and what her conflict was. The series was plotted very much like the Avengers movies: 4 introductory stories with new, (hopefully) compelling and sexy and fun characters, culminating in the 5th book where they all come together to save the country.

Every book was meant to be its own story, but there were elements and Easter eggs, hints and subplots that were quietly building up to the finale. Take those elements out and the story wouldn’t suffer, but with them it creates a complicated, inter-connected series.

In the end, there are only 3 novels in the series, which was my own creative decision. It wasn’t because the series was unwieldy or unsupported, it was because I realized when I began write book 3 that it was time for the character and plot I’d intended for the finale, and I wasn’t desperate to tell the stories in the original books 3 and 4. Or at least not so in love with them that I could dedicate a year of my life (minimally) to them. The things that drew me to those stories were themes and toothy ideas to explore in the series world, and those themes and ideas shifted in my imagination to other projects and other worlds. What I needed the United States of Asgard for was the book 5 story, because it’s about faith and godhood and love and fate: things The Lost Sun and The Strange Maid are also about, but the original books 3 and 4 were not.

Book 5 became book 3, and the middle book – The Strange Maid – is its own meaty, complicated middle. I’ll be publishing 3 novellas in the next year based on some of the lost stories and characters, but I’m very happy with the choices I made.

I’m not a plotter, so although I had a skeletal over-arching plot for my entire series, 80% of it was scrapped by the time I finished writing book 2. Someday when I write an honest-to-god high fantasy trilogy I will be must less laissez-faire about series plotting.

Thanks for having me, especially if you read all the way to the bottom here!



Courtesy of Random House Children’s Books, I have a copy of The Strange Maid for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US and Canadian residents only. No PO Boxes, please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends August 15. I’ll draw a name on August 16, and notify winner via email.


Good luck!

Continue reading Tessa Gratton Guest Post and Giveaway!