CROOKED V.1 Author Spotlight: Mark Teppo

This week we’re featuring spotlight interviews with authors from CROOKED V.1!

Mark Teppo divides his time between Portland and Sumner, and he tends to navigate by local bookstore positioning. He writes historical fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, and horror, and has published more than a dozen novels. If he’s writing a mystery, he’s pretending to be Harry Bryant. He also runs Underland Press, an independent publishing house.

Learn more at markteppo.com.

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Tell us about your story
I’ve been wrestling with Maisi for most of the year, actually. She started out as a secondary character in a larger ensemble, but I kept coming back to her story as being central to the narrative. Then, she decided that the role I had given her was too boring and that she wanted to be part of something more exciting. Wisely, I got out of the way . . .

What was the inspiration behind this story?
I was working on my weekly newsletter and realized that I hadn’t mentioned anything about writing in a few weeks. I decided it would be good to tell everyone that I was working on something, and so I found a cool piece of SF art and wrote part of the scene with Maisi and Nome in the car as a teaser.

The rest was a matter of figuring out why they were in the car and what was going to happen next.

If you could travel to any science fiction world, where would you go and what would you do?
When I stop and think about this, the first dozen or so that come to mind are either over-populated, thoroughly dystopian, or in the process of being devoured. That says something about what I’ve been reading.

I think I’d like to visit somewhere really weird. Something very un-earthlike. I’d like to see things that I couldn’t imagine. I remember taking my son to the Tacoma Zoo when he was very small. They had a white beluga whale, and I couldn’t get him to look at the magnificent whale. He was too busy being entranced by the pattern of light on the floor. I realized that he was seeing many things he had never seen before. It dawned on me that it had been years since I had had that sort of experience.

What are some of your favorite sci-fi crime books or stories?
Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs series are bloody, explody fun. Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun continues to astound me.

What authors have inspired your writing?
I get a lot of my inspiration these days from crime writers. John D. MacDonald and Richard Stark, to name two.

What are you working on next?
I’m working on the next part of a giant robot mega-corp future story where the only person standing against an imminent attack of the Old Ones is a spy who learned all his tradecraft from old pulp novels. It’s Moonraker meets Pacific Rim meets Out of Sight.

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CROOKED V.1

Get it here.

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CROOKED V.1 Author Spotlight — Kate Sheeran Swed

Welcome to another author interview for CROOKED V.1!

Kate Sheeran Swed loves hot chocolate, plastic dinosaurs, and airplane tickets. She has trekked along the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu, hiked on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in Iceland, and climbed the ruins of Masada to watch the sunrise over the Dead Sea. After growing up in New Hampshire, she completed degrees in music at the University of Maine and Ithaca College, then moved to New York City. She currently lives in New York’s capital region with her husband and two kids, plus a pair of cats who were named after movie dogs (Benji and Beethoven).

Her stories have appeared in publications such as Fireside Fiction, the Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide Volume 5, Electric Spec, and Daily Science Fiction. She’s the author of the League of Independent Operatives superhero series and the Toccata System sci-fi novella trilogy.

Learn more about Kate: katesheeranswed.com

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Tell us a bit about your story and the world.

The crew in my story, “Highly Irregular,” shows up in my superhero novels, though they’re about to get their own completely separate space opera series. “Highly Irregular” takes place between those two stories, and it stands on its own.

Basically, they’re a misfit crew run by a captain who was roped into the job and has no clue what she’s doing. There’s a lot of humor in it, or at least that’s the goal. An apt analogy might be that they’re the Guardians of the Galaxy to my superhero series’ Avengers types. Only no raccoons 🙂

The main character, Sloane, keeps trying to shed this responsibility and get back to her normal life. The crew pretty much wants to get rid of her, too. So this story finds her taking up her first bounty hunting gig, because she wants to try and earn enough money to start searching for her uncle, who stuck her in this situation.

If you could travel to any science fictional world, where would you go and what would you do?

Oh, I’d head straight for the world of Stargate: SG1. I love the idea of getting to travel to all those other worlds without having to ride a rocket to do it. And yeah, they land in trouble a lot, but they always end up OK. It’s the kind of optimistic, adventurous sci fi I like best, but with plenty of thoughtful ideas thrown in the mix.

Second choice: it’d be cool to live in the world of the Expanse, at least during the early part of the series (no spoilers). It’s pretty awesome to think about humanity expanding into the solar system like that.

What are some of your favorite sci-fi crime books or stories?

Lock In by John Scalzi is incredible. One of my favorites. Leviathan Wakes is the first Expanse book, and I feel like it hedges on space crime. Lindsay Buroker’s Star Kingdom series has a nice thread of criminal activity running through it, too, including an intriguing pirate/mercenary character.

Is it awkward for me to say your Bulari Saga series Jessie? Because those books had me staying up all night. And I’ve got two little kids, so that’s something I try to avoid. It was so worth it though!

Lastly, this one’s technically fantasy, but I feel like sci fi crime readers might also really like Jade War by Fonda Lee. The magic is very scientific, and the characters are fascinating. It kept me guessing for sure.

What authors have inspired your writing?

Oh gosh, so many. Mary Stewart early on, especially her Merlin trilogy. More recently, I very much admire Leigh Bardugo, N.K. Jemisin, Heidi Heilig, Emily St. John Mandel, and Marie Lu.

What are you working on next?

The League of Independent Operatives series wraps up in January 2022, so I’m actually getting started on the Parse Galaxy series, which stars Sloane and her friends from “Highly Irregular.” So that’s exciting!

I’ve also got a YA dystopian space opera story in Amazon’s new serialized fiction platform, Kindle Vella. It’s called the Interstellar Trials, and season 1 runs through the end of September 2021. The second season will probably kick off in November-ish.

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CROOKED V.1

Get it here.

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CROOKED V.1 Author Spotlight: Greg Dragon

This week we’re celebrating the launch of CROOKED V.1 by spotlighting the authors!

Greg Dragon brings a fresh perspective to fiction by telling human stories of life, love, and relationships in a science fiction setting. This unconventional author spins his celestial scenes from an imagination nurtured from being an avid reader himself. His exposure to multiple cultures, religions, martial arts, and travel lends a unique dynamic to his stories.

You can enjoy excerpts from his work by visiting his website: gregdragon.com

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Tell us a bit about your story and the story world.
In the galaxy of Anstractor, the Vestalian people are dwindling on the edge of extinction. Having fled their planet after Geralos occupation, most survivors now serve on city-sized warships in space. Not everyone is meant to be a Navy spacer or Marine, however. Maysun Sear is no Navy man, and while he’s decent with a hand cannon, his prime concern is taking care of his family. Smuggling goods out from the Nusalein Cluster has allowed him to carve out a living and gives him hope of one day moving away from the conflict. When an Alliance patrol vessel intercepts an otherwise routine smuggling run, Maysun is thrown into a world he has spent his life trying hard to escape.

What was the inspiration behind this story?
Having just published Steel-Winged Valkyrie, a book centered around the war with the Geralos, I thought it would be interesting to write about a survivor caught in the middle of this conflict. With no powered armor suit and Alliance ordnance, how would an outlaw refugee fare against these aliens combing the system, looking for Vestalian brains?

If you could travel to any science fictional world, where would you go, and what would you do?
I would love to spend a month on the planet Coruscant in Star Wars, but with enough credits to move about freely ingesting spice, blue milk, and whatever else I fancy.

What are some of your favorite sci-fi crime books or stories?
Neuromancer, A Scanner Darkly, Snow Crash, just off the top of the head.

What authors have inspired your writing?
Phillip K Dick, Stephen King, Dewey Lambdin, and Bernard Cornwell.

What are you working on next?
A story based in 2094, the future of an alternate history that has led to a world embroiled in conflict. In Case City, an isolated metropolis, an assassin loyal to his guild finds himself in deep trouble with not only his rivals but the government itself. That’s the gist of it without giving away too much. Lots of cyber augments, neon lights, speedy hover cars, and debauchery. It’s a wild ride, and I am having a blast writing it.

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CROOKED V.1

You can read Greg Dragon’s story, “The Smuggler,” in CROOKED V.1.

Get it here.

Learn more about Greg’s books and download a free novel at www.gregdragon.com.

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CROOKED V.1 Author Spotlight — Wade Peterson

Welcome to CROOKED V.1! In celebration of launch week, I’m featuring some of the authors whose stories appear in the anthology. Today, we’re chatting with Wade Peterson (who I’ve featured here before).

Wade Peterson is the author of the Badlands Born series and lives in Dallas, Texas. His stories have received honorable mentions in the Writers of the Future contest and are available online and on his website.

When not writing, he’s in the back yard trying to master the arcane mysteries of Texas barbecue while also wrangling his over-scheduled teenagers, serving the whims of two passive-aggressive cats, and agreeing with whatever wine his wife pairs with dinner.

Learn more about Wade at www.wadepeterson.com.

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Tell us a bit about your story and the story world
Full Core takes place in a small corner of space called The Confederation of Humanity, a cluster of human enclaves that splintered from the Human-AI Sodality after the AI wars. It’s the story of a pit-fighting robot, a clone mechanic and their gangster owner.

What was the inspiration behind this story?
Combat sports have always attracted whispers about mob influences, match fixing, and shady characters profiting at the fighter’s expense. I also wanted to tell a story about people finding the gumption to rise above their own expectations. Shows like BattleBots and Real Steel influenced the action sequences, and I used to program industrial robots once upon a time so I drew on that background, too. 

If you could travel to any science fictional world, where would you go and what would you do?
Iain M. Banks’ Culture, no question. I’d start by hopping on a GSV and start rubbing elbows with aliens and machine minds with an eye to departing on the Masaq’ Orbital from Look to Windward and sail down its Great River.

What are some of your favorite sci-fi crime books or stories?
The Stainless Steel Rat series by Harry Harrison was a favorite of mine growing up, a series about a criminal that catches criminals. A Game of Universe and The Quantum Magician are SF riffs on classic ensemble capers like The Sting and Ocean’s Eleven. If you like football even a little bit, Scott Siegler’s GFL series is well worth your time. It’s Any Given Sunday meets The Godfather: aliens playing football for team owners who also happen to be the heads of their own crime syndicates. 

What authors have inspired your writing?
Too many to list! I think you’ll find traces of Iain M. Banks, Neal Asher, Frank Herbert, and Steve Perry in my science fiction.

What are you working on next?
I am writing a full-length space opera series set in the Sodality. If you enjoyed this appetizer, you’ll love the main course!

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CROOKED V.1

Get it here.

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An old crone, a space witch, and a boy-child walk into a gom jabbar…

This article was originally posted on my newsletter. Subscribe here for a free Bulari Saga novella.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

“In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unbearable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul.”

I first read those words in high school, when my drama teacher, Mr. Lemieux, handed me a worn paperback and said, “I think you’ll like this one.” 

Frank Herbert’s Dune opens with mystery and promise as young Paul Atreides overhears a conversation between his mother and the visiting Reverend Mother: What’s a gom jabbar? he wonders. What will he find on Arrakis? Who is this woman who calls and dismisses his mother like a common serving wench?

“Paul fell asleep to dream of an Arrakeen cavern, silent people all around him moving in the dim light of glowglobes….”

Paul’s fear and excitement and anticipation for his family’s move to Arrakis immediately ignited my own curiosity as a teenager.

What new world was I about to explore?

I’ve re-read Dune a half-dozen times over the years since I blazed through that first paperback in highschool. It’s a familiar world now, and one I love re-immersing myself in.

I grew up in the desert. I love the desert. And it would be a lie to say that my desert planet, Bulari, wasn’t in part inspired by Arrakis.

Dune was also my first exposure to “Middle Eastern culture.”

I put that in quotes, because of course Dune is science fiction set far in the future, and the culture in question is “Fremen.” As a teen, I assumed that the elements of Middle Eastern culture in the series were simply seeds from which Herbert had grown a unique world.

(Of course, much of what I thought was unique was simply lifted wholesale from Arab culture. It was my unfamiliarity with the Middle East that made me feel like Herbert was a genius for creating Arrakis.)

With the movie coming out later this month — (I AM SO EXCITED!!) — there’s been a lot of criticism of the story that has me feeling contemplative about my love for it.

Herbert’s storytelling, characters, and vision are epic — but I can hold my unabashed love for the story alongside my desire to listen and learn. 

After all, Dune was written by a white man nearly 80 years ago. Fundamentally, the story is a white savior myth, and no matter how badly I want to see an excellent adaptation of the source material, any adaptation will be made using problematic bones.

A few years after I read Dune for the first time, terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Centers, and that curious sci-fi word, “jihad,” was all over the news.

I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about the Middle East or Arab culture despite the fact that it felt familiar after years of drinking in the lavish descriptions of Frank Herbert’s Arrakis. 

I went to college and took Middle Eastern studies classes. I sought out Arab authors and started learning from them. I tried to expose myself to art, stories, writing by Arab creators.

Earlier this month, I thought I might reread Dune in anticipation for watching the movie. Instead, I decided to spend time seeking out other voices that will help me broaden my perspective.

What I’m hearing is an overwhelming disappointment that despite being heavily influenced by Arab culture, there are no Middle Eastern or North African actors cast in main Fremen roles (like Chani and Stilgar).

“The great irony of the new adaptation is that it seeks to criticize exploitation,” write Laila Ujayli and Zaina Ujayli for Inkstick Media, “while perpetuating cultural exploitation in its casting. In a film critiquing resource exploitation from the desert, inhabited by indigenous peoples who wear Maghrebi clothes, speak in Arabic words, and are manipulated by a parody of Islamic theology, Arab actors will speak no lines denouncing imperialism or exploitation.”

(FFS, Hollywood, we’ve been over whitewashing casts a dozen times in the past few years alone!!!)

The cast looks amazing. But as a viewer, I can’t help but be disappointed myself that I won’t get a chance to experience a richer version informed by the perspective of Arab actors.

As much as I’m excited for this movie, it’s a white man’s adaptation of a 80-year-old work by a white man. I read science fiction to explore new worlds and meet people with different lived experiences than my own. 

And as comforting as it is to revisit old favorites, I always want to bring new perspectives with me on the journey.

Am I going to see the movie later this month?

I’m going to go watch the hell out of it.

(I am 100% team “Would betray my ancient order of space witches for this photo of Oscar Isaac.”)

And I’m also going to make sure I’m doing the work of listening to Arab creators who are telling their own stories, rather than letting Frank Herbert and Denis Villeneuve define the narrative.

Cover photo by Jimmy Larry on Unsplash

Space Cocaine, Vol 2: The Zoom Situation

We titled the second volume of our offbeat anthology the Zoom Situation for pandemic reasons — but by the time we actually got the reading scheduled most of us were vaccinated and able to do live events again.

The result was a strange, hybrid event where four of us read live and two of us read via Zoom — which was broadcast to both the in-person and virtual audience.

Here’s the replay. The audio’s fine, though the video’s a bit jerky. It might be the bandwidth issues, or it might be the space cocaine. It’s hard to tell.

The cast of instigators includes:

  • Mark Teppo (publisher)
  • Andrew McCollough (editor)
  • Jessie Kwak (editor)
  • Erik Grove
  • Kate Ristau
  • Jeb Sherrill

Here’s the link if you don’t see the embedded video below.

12 space opera boxed sets for only 99c each!

Whether you’re hunting for a good vacation read or searching for your next favorite series, here’s approximately one zillion pages of adventure! Get your space opera fix for days (weeks? months?) with these incredible 99c boxed set deals.

You’ll find space pirates, space marines, and space gangsters! Rogue AIs, lost fleets, and bounty hunters! Thrilling heroics, exhilarating battles, twisty plots, and dastardly subterfuge!

Every one of these boxed sets is only 99c — and also available in Kindle Unlimited, if that’s your thing.

Dig in and stock up on these incredible deals while they last!

(Note that I’m using affiliate links. 🙂

Colossus-Collection

The Colossus Collection: Books 1-7
by Nicole Grotepas

The City of Jade Spires might look utopian, but it’s certainly no paradise. Just ask Holly Drake, a schoolteacher in prison for killing her husband.

Serving an unfair sentence sucks, but at least she’s safe. That is, until someone exonerates her and she walks free. She has no idea who’d do this for her, until they reveal their hand: they have a job for Holly.

Recognizing her old life is over, she has no other choice. If only she knew how to steal a priceless jewel about to be moved off-planet. But as the screws tighten on her need for cash she remembers just who to ask.

With only days to assemble her crew, she races to stay ahead. The question is: how far across the 6 Moons system will they have to go, and how deep will they have to dig into the underbelly of their world to succeed?

More importantly, can they even pull this off before time runs out?

Buy it now.

Legacy-War

Legacy War: The Complete Series
by John Walker

Humanity has long explored mysteries of their past. From the theories of Atlantis to the fabled stories of Greek Gods, most had been dismissed as fantasy and legend. When humanity discovered ‘the Orb’, such fairy tales came a little closer to having some potential truth. Even scratching the surface of the knowledge contained within this ancient technology granted an understanding of faster than light travel and a wild number of other luxuries.

Employing this newfound knowledge, humanity built the Gnosis, a highly advanced starship capable of long range travel and self-sufficient exploration. They would visit other solar systems, departing as pioneers into the unknown. But as excitement built with the people of Earth and the journey drew near, an alien race arrived in Sol, intent on stealing the Orb.

Now, with a hostile first contact initiated, humanity is thrust into universal conflict, one where other beings vie for powerful artifacts spread throughout the galaxy. As they conduct their first interstellar battle, they find themselves drawn into an intrigue they do not understand but must engage for if they do not, they may well face an opponent they cannot defeat.

Buy it now.

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The Bulari Saga: Complete Series
by Jessie Kwak

Willem Jaantzen has everything he could ever ask for: his goddaughter is safe, his businesses are thriving, and the upper crust of Bulari seem to have finally forgotten his notorious past. Until, that is, his oldest rival turns up murdered and the blame—and champagne—begins to flow.

It turns out Thala Coeur died as she lived: sowing chaos. And when a mysterious package bearing her call sign shows up on Jaantzen’s doorstep, he and his crew are quickly swallowed up in a web of lies, betrayals, and interplanetary politics.

It’ll only take one stray spark to start another civil war in the underworld, and Jaantzen is the only man who can stop it. If, that is, he’s willing to give up everything he’s worked for.

Buy it now.

Lunara-Station

Lunara Station: Books 1-3
by Clara Woods

She used to be a wealthy business woman with the gift to control what others think. Until her father started to keep secrets. A carefully crafted plan to uncover his lies fails when smugglers almost kill Lenah in her own house.

With her gift mysteriously failing, she escapes by stealing the smuggler’s old ship. Things only get worse when a cyborg on a personal mission snatches her craft and kidnaps Lenah.

Forced to fly to a dubious planet, Lenah discovers an artifact on board that could unleash galactic catastrophe. And even worse: everyone wants it.

As a chase for the artifact’s secret begins, can Lenah and the cyborg work together and take down a powerful evil to protect humanity?

Buy it now.

Pirates-of-the-Milky-Way

Pirates of the Milky Way: Books 1-10
by Jaxon Reed

When the League moves on a golden planet deep inside Republican territory, war breaks out. Competing forms of galactic government fight to the death. AIs strategize, teleporting star fleets and space-based weapons systems across vast distances in an epic interstellar conflict.

Outgunned and desperate for more ships, the Republic turns to privateers, recruiting law-skirting companies from the fabled planet of Lute and offering huge rewards for their service.

One man, Captain Christopher Raleigh, flies the Ultima Mule with a crew of brilliant misfits. Together, they set out to teach the League a lesson or two, and collect multiple bounties along the way.

Buy it now.

Shadow-Order

The Shadow Order: Complete Series
by Michael Robertson

If there’s a problem in the galaxy no one else can fix, the Shadow Order get a call.

A team pulled together because of their individual talents, the Shadow Order have little time for rest as they embark on one dangerous mission after the next, fighting volatile creatures on hostile planets.

Although when their goals begin to clash with their morals, they start asking questions.

Who are they really working for? What’s the link between the seemingly unrelated missions? Are they the bad guys?

Do they even want to know?

Buy it now.

Hells-Rejects

Hell’s Rejects: Books 1-4
by M.R. Forbes

Lieutenant Abigail Cage never expected to find herself in Hell. There was a time when she was one of the most respected operatives in the military. Now she’s doing hard labor on the most miserable planet in the universe.

Not for long.

The Republic is looking for the most dangerous individuals it can control. The best of the worst, and Abbey is one of them. Joined by the most ragtag collection of criminals the galaxy has to offer, she sets out to recover the ships and take down the traitors who stole them.

There’s only one problem…

A new evil is rising in the galaxy. One with a power unlike anything anyone has ever seen. One that’s been waiting for this moment for a very, very long time. And it wants Abbey too.

Buy it now.

James-Young-Oblivion

Oblivion: The Complete Series
by Joshua James and Daniel Young

Two decades of bitter war between Earth and her furthest colonies is finally at an end. Captain Lee Saito’s massive new starship is sent to seal the uneasy truce.

But a series of terrorist attacks on Earth and the mysterious acts of a strange cult threaten to derail the fragile peace.

When the mission goes awry, Saito must try to salvage what he can in deep space while his estranged son must navigate a conspiracy back on Earth that could implicate the highest levels of government.

As it all spirals out of control, the future of humanity hangs in the balance.

Buy it now.

Galactic-Sentinel

Galactic Sentinel: Ultimate Edition
by Killian Carter

Jason Grimshaw has one job. Get the cadets to Colony 115. Just another day. Just another milk run.

Or so he thought.

When scanners pick up an unidentified alien vessel, it’s already too late. With his ship blown out from under him, and his crew scattered across a war-torn planet, his day just keeps getting better. The good news? One of the pilots survived. The bad news? She’s the biggest pain in his ass, and she’s stranded miles away.

When Clio Evans said she wanted to fly for Fleet, crash-landing a starship in hostile territory wasn’t what she had in mind. She may not be the most experienced pilot, but she sure as hell has a few tricks up her sleeve. With an army standing between her and the rest of her crew, she’ll have to pull out all the stops, even if it means exposing a secret that’ll see her hanged for treason.

Buy it now.

Dark-Space

Dark Space: The Complete Series
by Jasper T Scott

Freelancer and ex-convict Ethan Ortane is on the run. He owes crime lord Alec Brondi 10,000 sols, and his ship is badly damaged. When Brondi catches up with him, he makes an offer Ethan can’t refuse. Ethan must infiltrate and sabotage the Valiant, the Imperial Star Systems Fleet carrier which stands guarding the entrance of Dark Space, and then his debt will be cleared.

While Ethan is still undecided about what he will do, he realizes that the Imperium has been lying and putting all of Dark Space at risk. Now Brondi’s plan is starting to look like a necessary evil, but before Ethan can act on it, he discovers that the real plan was much more sinister than what he was told, and he will be lucky to escape the Valiant alive.

Buy it now.

Deep-Black

The Deep Black: Complete Series
James David Victor

Captain Drummond Bayne is a Navy Ranger tasked with bringing order to the lawless reaches of space. When a simple mission turns deadly, they find themselves navigating space more dangerous than they can imagine. Can they save themselves and uncover a conspiracy that could tear the galaxy apart?

The Deep Black Boxed Set contains the entire Deep Black space opera series. If you like fast paced space adventure, rogue pirates, and stories more complex than good vs. evil, you are going to love your visit to the Deep Black.

Buy it now.

Pike-Chronicles

The Pike Chronicles: Books 1-8
by G.P. Hudson

The Sol System was conquered and humans lived as slaves for 500 long years.

Now, after years of brutal warfare, humanity has been liberated. Liberation, however, comes at a cost, and the Sol System has become nothing more than a puppet state for a vast galactic empire.

For Jon Pike, a war hero who has lost everything, there is no substitute for freedom. He blames the aliens for humanity’s troubles, especially the one living inside him.

But when he is sent on a top secret mission into unexplored regions of the galaxy he discovers that humanity’s troubles are just getting started.

Can he find freedom for himself and humanity?

Buy it now.

Travel guide: Bulari

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Whether you’re here to dance the night away in an exclusive nightclub, discover a new favorite artist in one of the many museums, or sample your way through Bulari’s incredible food scene, this once-ignored city has something for everyone.

(Bulari Saga art by Dusty Crosley.)

Welcome to Bulari! These days, the capital city of New Sarjun has thoroughly transcended its reputation as a hardscrabble mining outpost to become a hotbed of culture and cuisine. You don’t have to look too hard to see the roots, however. Scraping out a city this impressive in a climate so harsh was no small feat, and the citizens of Bulari are understandably proud. 

It’s a city of many contradictions, and travelers with an adventurous spirit are sure to find a thrill in the myriad of experiences available. Whether touring the stunning natural desert landscape, shopping your way through the Tamarind, or rubbing elbows with celebrities at one of many exclusive restaurants, Bulari has plenty to offer. 

When to go and weather

Prized for its mineral-rich hills rather than its climate, the Bulari Valley varies from uncomfortably warm to soul-meltingly hot. For that reason, most tourists visit sometime between the first of the fall thunderstorms and the last of the spring desert bloom. If you have time, escape the heat with a romantic getaway to the southern New Sarjunian town of Alusina for a weekend of wine tasting, art galleries, and river cruises. 

Neighborhoods: Central Bulari

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The Tamarind
Surrounding a lush swath of park blocks just east of the downtown core, the Tamarind is a paradise for shopping, dining, and people watching. The towering eucalyptus, oak, fan palm, and tree aloe ward off the worst of Bulari’s heat, creating a pleasant place to while away the afternoon with a cup of tea or a glass of Alusinian cinsuat in one of the many parkside cafes. Most of the better hotels, such as the Blue Falcon, are located in this neighborhood, as well. 

Downtown
The business heart of Bulari, the downtown area is clean, crisp, and cutting edge. Expect a well-heeled crowd of young professionals on their way to the top of the corporate ladder, with plenty of sophisticated dining options to impress potential clients. The neighborhood quiets down in the evenings as the night life fires up in the Tamarind.  

Government District
New Sarjun’s seat of power is also home to many of Bulari’s most interesting museums. Stroll the People’s Plaza for a good example at the early colonial architecture typical to the city, and be sure to visit National Museum for an in-depth exploration of the city’s history. Visitors are also welcome inside the lobby of the capitol building, where impressive columns showcase the famed local sandstone and rose salt. The international embassies are all here, too, if you run into any issues.

University of Bulari 
This gorgeous Hypatia Educational Facilities Corporation campus is just up the bluff from downtown, and offers a beautiful view out over the city. The University’s biology programs are particularly well-known, and plant lovers will delight in a stroll through the campus’s botanical garden to explore the extensive collection of local flora. 

Neighborhoods: North Bulari

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Casino District
A trip to Bulari isn’t complete without a visit to the spectacular Casino District. Try your luck on the develier tables at the venerable Orveto’s Thousands, or sit in on a game of mystix at the newest jewel of the drag, the Lorelei. After dinner at one of the many exquisite restaurants, catch a show at Ayisha’s Palace. The gorgeous music venue’s namesake, Ayisha Amadule performs regularly and puts on an incredible show. Top off the night with a cocktail at the exclusive Devil’s Table before retiring to your high-rise hotel room at the Aterciopelado to admire the view of downtown Bulari. 

Geordi Jimenez Space Terminal
While you may be tempted to spend as little time as possible transiting the space terminal, it’s worth a second look. This busy hub is more than a transit center, it’s the lifeline of New Sarjun, and a great spot for people watching. If you find yourself with some extra time before your shuttle off-planet, catch a bite to eat on Levels A or B. The kitsch travel themed watering hole Le Comptoir Darna in particular is worth a stop. And if you need a last-minute gift (or a quick prosthetic repair), you’ll find something unique at a little repair shop called Hallelujah It’s Fixed run by the charming Hallelujah Oni. 

Travel advisory: While Levels A and B are perfectly safe, it’s best to leave the terminal’s Level C to the locals.

Jet Park
There’s not currently much of note in Jet Park, but rumors have it the space terminal’s nearest neighborhood is on its way up. There have been some significant investments lately from local business owners, including the gentech-focused Juvex Spa Center, and a brewery venture backed by the controversial owner of the Jungle, Willem Jaantzen

Neighborhoods: The Fingers

Travel advisory: It’s best not to visit the Fingers without a local guide.

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Dry Creek
This formerly working class neighborhood has been in steep decline over the last few decades as violence between local gangs made the neighborhood quite dangerous. Bottom line, avoid Dry Creek.

Altamira
Once a wealthy settlement in its own right, Altamira’s fortunes were reversed after being swallowed up by Bulari proper a little over a century ago. Now, Altamira is one of the nicest of Bulari’s Finger slums, in part due to the iron rule of a local criminal organization led by one of recent memory’s most infamous Bulari citizens, Thala Coeur. The street gang boss turned former mayor continued running the neighborhood from exile, and is rumored to have retaken her throne. Altamira is safe enough if you have an escort.

Carama Town
The smallest of Bulari’s Finger ravines spilled out long ago to create the largest of the town’s slums, spreading into the plain south of Bulari’s downtown. Carama Town is a largely working class neighborhood where new immigrants tend to cluster in regionally-influenced micro-neighborhoods that each have their own flavor. If you have time to kill and a good driver to guide you, a trip through Carama Town’s famous traffic can be a thrill. 

Of course, most tourists don’t go any farther than Anjali Lumaban Boulevard, a stunning monument to one of the city’s founders. On weekends, you’ll find a vibrant farmer’s market in the plaza, a good place to buy souvenirs and taste the local street food. And don’t miss the various culture and music festivals held throughout the year.

Where to eat

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Bulari is a city of immigrants, and they’ve all brought their most impressive recipes. No matter your favorite dish back home, you’re sure to find a restaurant in Bulari that makes it better. 

The Jungle
Topping every epicurean traveler’s must-visit list, the Jungle’s reputation is certainly fueled by the notoriety of its owner, Willem Jaantzen. However, the dining experience lives up to the hype. There are no bad tables at the Jungle! Incredible living foliage creates a private retreat at every table, and exquisite white-glove table service makes every guest feel like royalty. Only the luckiest guests can secure an invitation to the exclusive Golden Orchid room in the back of the restaurant, where Bulari’s elite conduct business over chic cocktails and appetizers. 

Be sure to make your reservation well ahead of time, or prepare to wait for hours for a seat at the bar. 

Jade’s Finest Coffee and Chicken
At first glance this hole-in-the-wall downtown diner may not look like much, but don’t be fooled. You may not see anyone sitting at the tables, but Jade’s does a brisk business in takeaway — it’s a local favorite both for residents and business people on their lunch break. Don’t miss the chicken in black bean sauce!

The Oasis
The Oasis is the best place in Bulari to try the city’s most famous local dish, korris. Any of the dishes on the menu will delight, but if you’re in a group, do yourself a favor and let the owner, Ajesh Paiman, choose a feast for you. Oh, and if you believe the rumors, the Oasis is also the place to catch a glimpse of some of the biggest players in Bulari’s seedy underbelly. Be warned that the korris here is spiced for locals, not tourists, so ask for a milder version if you’re not accustomed to New Sarjunian heat. 

The Devil’s Table
Buy-ins at the high roller’s tables here may cost as much as your shuttle ticket back into orbit, but anyone can enjoy a cocktail or dinner at the bar. Be aware that the dress code is strictly enforced, but even if you didn’t bring evening wear it’s worth a shopping spree in the Tamarind for a glimpse inside this exclusive experience and a chance to set eyes on the proprietor. One of Bulari’s rising darlings, Phaera D also owns the Lorelei Casino and has been scandalizing the press lately with rumors that she’s stepping out with the notorious Willem Jaantzen.

Lucky’s Palladium Coast
If you need to get away from the always-on energy of the Casino District, Lucky’s is the place to go. A few blocks off the main drag, patrons don’t visit Lucky’s for the food so much as the camaraderie. It’s a great place to drink with the locals! Sit at the bar and you’re just as likely to run into a great gambling legend as an off-duty dealer. Keep an eye out, and you might just spot some of the most powerful names in the casino business doing business over mediocre noodles. 


Curious to visit Bulari yourself? Pick up Double Edged — the first book of the Bulari Saga — and immerse yourself in the adventure today.

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Orchids and remembrance

(Edited July 13, 2021 to add photos of Doug’s greenhouse that I took while watering it for grandma a few days ago. He used to have two full greenhouse of orchids, but donated many of them to the orchid society a few years back as he started to downsize.)

I write stories like a male bower bird builds its nest: by picking up whatever shiny object attracts my eye, and placing it just so.

A twig of memory here, and overheard fragment of conversation there, a dash of a scent that reminds me of a favorite location, a half-remembered line from a poem.

Most times, I don’t remember where those bits and bobs came from by the time they make it into the fabric of the story. Other times, I remember exactly what inspired me.

Today I want to talk about the hobby of one of my favorite Bulari Saga characters, because I want to talk about my grandma’s husband, Doug Corpron.

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Julieta Yang, my main character’s mentor, is an avid gardener and lover of orchids. Why? Well, because in the first chapter of Double Edged, I needed her to deliver some troubling news to my main character, and I wanted her to do it in an interesting setting.

When I sat down to write that scene, I had just come from a tour of Doug’s incredible greenhouses. The experience was so vivid in my mind that I decided to give Julieta a greenhouse of her own.

It became the perfect setting for the opening scene.

Julieta could keep her hands busy pruning, while Jaantzen, a desert city creature, would feel hemmed in by the plants and uncomfortable in the humidity. It was the canvas for tiny details to put the reader subtly on edge: Julieta snipping off a jadau clipping the length of a thumb, the constant drip of the sprinkler system, the cloying perfume of the flowers.

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My grandma married Doug — a doctor, traveler, and avid orchidist — less than 10 years ago. In her eighties, she’d found someone who could keep up with her, and more. Together they travel to Germany and to China. They flew all over the US to visit scattered family members. They took road trips up and down the west coast.

Doug was always joking, and always keen to understand how other people saw the world. You never walked away from a conversation with Doug without a long reading list of fascinating books and articles.

But my favorite thing about Doug was the way he made my grandma light up whenever he walked into the room.

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Doug went home to his creator yesterday, at a ripe old age and surrounded by loved ones.

I honestly don’t know how to end this post, except to say that I’ll miss Doug, I’m glad I got a chance to know him, and some little piece of him will always live on in a greenhouse on a desert planet in a faraway star system. <3

What I Learned in my 7th Year as a Freelance Writer

Photo by Carl Cerstrand on Unsplash

Seven years ago this week, I was snowed in, stir crazy, and fighting off the certainty that I’d just made a huge mistake.

And now — sans snow — I’m struggling with that fear again.

(But more on the changes afoot here in a minute.)

That snowy January seven years ago, my husband and I had just moved to Portland, OR. I’d worked my last shift at the Elysian Brewing Company, said goodbye to all our friends, and hung my shingle as a full time freelance copywriter.

I was terrified.

One year earlier, I’d worked my way out of my full time catalog copywriting gig by freelancing on the side until I was too busy to do both.

I’d gone down to part time at the catalog company, then picked up shifts at the Elysian and a local Mexican restaurant (the excellent Fonda La Catrina in Georgetown) to bolster my shaky freelance income.

Working three jobs on top of being a freelance writer was exhausting — and, more critically, it was hindering my ability to grow my freelance business.

But letting go of that steady income?

I couldn’t do it.

Not on my own, at least — not until my husband got a job in Portland, and I had to cut my safety net loose and trust my writing business to support me.

I remember checking my dwindling business bank account, wondering if I’d made a mistake.

“If this doesn’t work, you can always go back to waiting tables,” I’d said to myself.

And I got to work cold-calling potential clients.

A new transition point for this freelance writer

“You can always go back to waiting tables” was my mantra for years.

Every time I lost a client, every time a dream gig fell through, every time I found myself checking a near-empty bank account.

And in seven years, I never did.

My hustle in those early years paid off. As I slowly gathered portfolio clips and confidence, I grew from charging $50 for a blog post to charging $500. I gathered a stable of reliable, well-paying clients I loved to work with. I said no to projects that weren’t a good fit for my goals, or a good use of my time.

In the back of my mind, I’d always known that as long as I kept relying on my waitress shifts for cash, I wouldn’t take the risks and pour enough energy into the freelancing.

And now?

Now I’m in a similar period of transition with my fiction business.

A deer standing on a mountain bike trail, captured on camera so that a perfect tiny rainbow seems to be shooting out of its forehead.
Apropos of nothing, please enjoy this photo of a magical unicorn deer that my husband took while mountain biking this summer. Photo by Robert Kittilson.

A focus on fiction

I’ve been diligently working to write and publish books while still keeping up with the freelance writer hustle, terrified that if I pull the plug on that regular income, my fiction income won’t sustain me.

It can’t — not now, anyway.

But what if I gave it the same full-time energy that nurtured my freelance writer career in those early years?

What if I trusted myself to work the fiction hustle as well as I worked the freelance one?

After all. I can always go back to copywriting.

Learning to say no

Of course, there’s a key difference between quitting waiting tables and quitting copywriting: I like copywriting. I find most of the work I do incredibly fulfilling, and love my clients.

Waiting tables, on the other hand? For all that I loved my coworkers, that job gave me stress nightmares almost every night.

In 2020, I started learning to say no to the work that no longer fit my goals, and opening space both for writing fiction, and for more of the work I do want to take on.

Going into 2021, I’ve set myself clear guidelines around the type of work I can say yes to as a freelance writer — and those guidelines are incredibly narrowly defined.

It’s terrifying to say no to money when you don’t have a big project on the horizon.

It’s terrifying to invest weeks and months into writing books on spec, rather than putting those hours under contract to a paying client.

But after seven years of watching my income ebb and flow, after watching myself build a business out of scratch, to succeed past every setback, I know I can do it again.

What I learned in my seventh year as a freelance writer

All that to say, welcome to my seventh annual reflection post. Changes are obviously afoot in Kwakland, and I’d like to talk a bit about how I got through 2020, what I learned along the way, and what I’m taking into 2021.

As always, my goal is to be transparent about my business and my struggles to help out freelancer writers who are earlier on their journeys than I am.

(And if that’s you, I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a line: jessie at jessiekwak.com).

Read about Year 6 (2019)Year 5 (2018)Year 4 (2017)Year 3 (2016)Year 2 (2015) and Year 1 (2014).

So…. 2020.

Jessie photo: white woman with short bleach-blond pixie cut shaved on the side with stripes cut into it.
2020 was the year that I let my husband cut my hair. He’s been playing a lot of Cyberpunk 2077 and FIFA on the Playstation….

2020, amirite?

This past year turned me (and many others) from a homebody into hermit. I forgot to leave the house for days. Honestly, I barely left my office.

It was a year of extremes. Some times I was so busy with freelance work I could barely breath. Other times it was crickets, and I used the lull to work on fiction. Some days I was laser focused on my work and goals — other days I could barely manage to find the energy to scroll Twitter and try not to scream.

I was used to working from home as a freelance writer, but I wasn’t used to my husband being constantly at home with me, and our forced co-captivity surfaced some issues we needed to work through. (As well as making our relationship even stronger.)

We all have our 2020 story, and I’m grateful to be in a place where I could weather last year’s storm relatively painlessly.

But, wow. I’m looking forward to the coming vaccine.

As for how COVID-19 impacted my freelance business, it’s hard to say. At the beginning of the pandemic, I took on a couple of COVID-related projects, such as an ebook about pivoting your business during the pandemic for Microsoft.

But as the uncertainty stretched out, marketing budgets froze and projects for Jessie dried up. I still had a few regular clients, but new work just didn’t seem to be coming in.

I used the time to finish the last book in the Bulari Saga and begin planning my next series, the Nanshe Chronicles — but as I watched my bank account drain, I started to worry.

Fortunately, I landed a few big projects at the end of the year that brought my income back up to par with what it had been in 2019. But October and November were probably two of the busiest months of my career, and I was perilously close to burnout by the time December rolled around.

But that’s a freelancer’s life, right?

Gif from Toy Story: Jessie the cowgirl saying "Jessie never gives up. Jessie finds a way"

Income analysis: How I made my living as a freelance writer in 2020

I had some shifts this year, but overall the makeup of my freelance income stayed on par with 2019. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, it’s a bit hard to break down by project since I sometimes do different types of writing for the same client.

The big change is that I had fewer clients overall. Whereas I did work for 16 separate clients in 2019, last year I only billed 10 clients — and two of those were for single projects that took less than a few days to complete.

I spent 2020 slowly shedding clients in an attempt to free up more time to focus on writing fiction. Going into 2021 I have only one monthly blogging client, and an ongoing relationship with one main client that feeds me regular content marketing work.

I’m still open to new work — particularly ghostwriting —  but I’m in a position where I can be very choosy about who I work with and how it fits with my goals.

Here’s my income breakdown for 2020:

  • Content marketing (ebooks and such): 60%
  • Business blogging – 18%
  • Ghostwriting – 8.5%
  • Copywriting (website copy) – 8%
  • Fiction – 5%
  • Knitting product copy – 0.5%

Content marketing and ghostwriting are my favorite types of work, so I’m glad to see them making up a good chunk of my income for 2020. I’m also excited that my fiction income held strong at 5% — especially since I had planned to do several big in-person book events that got canceled.

Growing a fiction writing business

A photo of my office wall: a grid laid out for 9 books with post-it notes for plot points and characters, etc.
Plotting out a nine-book series with post-it notes and tarot cards.

I mentioned that I’m paring down my client list to free up time to write fiction. The hope being that by pouring energy into writing and marketing that side of my business this coming year, that income will grow to a level that actually is sustainable.

Currently, my plan for that is to launch a new series (probably in fall of 2021), and re-launch the Bulari Saga with new covers (sometime next month).

My goal is to get these books in front of new fans, but also to double down on my core fans. To that end, I’ve started a Patreon, where I’m documenting my journey of writing the new series (the Nanshe Chronicles), sharing behind-the-scenes information, and posting sneak previews.

I also had a chance to go on the No Shelf Control podcast and talk about the Bulari Saga with authors Lindsey Fairleigh and Lindsey Pogue. It was an incredible amount of fun! (Listen to the interview here.)

A year of Chaos and Creativity

A selection of Instagram posts from fans of From Chaos to Creativity

As well as fiction, I’ve been growing the nonfiction book side of my business. From Chaos to Creativity came out at the end of 2019, and I spent part of the summer of 2020 writing a followup book about the writing process.

While I couldn’t travel to do events like I did in 2019, I did have a few fun virtual opportunities come up to talk with people about creativity.

The first one was in May (remember May?) when I got a chance to chat with Lydia Rogue from Microcosm Publishing about pandemic productivity, and how to be gentle with yourself. (You can watch it here.)

The second amazing opportunity was with Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn podcast. (Listen here.) I’ve been a longtime fan of Joanna’s podcast, so it was a complete thrill to get to come on the show!

Finally, I was invited to give a presentation on productivity for writers at the virtual Willamette Writer’s Conference in August. There’s no recording of the event, but it was an incredible honor to get a chance to speak with everyone there — and the organizers even managed to build in some networking time where I made some new friends. (Difficult to do over Zoom!)

What’s coming up in 2021?

2020 gave us all a bit of whiplash. And I don’t think I’m alone in my newfound reluctance to make big plans at the moment.

But my main goal is to double down on fiction, refining my process and focusing my time in order to grow this part of my business like it deserves. If you want to stay up to date on that, join my newsletter.

Enough about me now. I’d love to know — what are your plans for 2021? How did your 2020 go?

Leave me a note in the comments.

And here’s to a fresh start and an amazing new year!

–Jessie