News Roundup: Short story sale, audio books, and more

I’ve been pretty head-down the past few months, dividing my time between finishing writing the Nanshe Chronicles, preparing for the launch of the first book in May, and working on a big book project with a new nonfiction ghostwriting client.

Not to mention extracurriculars like spending time with my family and some local travel!

A lot of cool things have happened over the past few months, publishing-wise. I realized that although I’ve been keeping my newsletter subscribers updated on all the Cool Things, I hadn’t breathed a word to the rest of the world on my blog.

(Guess you should sign up for the newsletter if you want me to remember to tell you things. Seriously, even my mom gets most of her news about my life there. I’m a horrible daughter.)

So with no further ado, here’s a roundup of all the news that’s fit to print from Q1 of 2022.


Did you know you can now listen to the whole Bulari Saga as narrated by the phenomenal J.S. Arquin? He’s also working his way through the Nanshe Chronicles, so we’ll be able to release those audiobooks at the same time as the ebooks and print are released.

They’re available anywhere you buy quality audiobooks, but you can also get them direct from me at a discount. And right now, both Double Edged and Ghost Pirate Gambit are on sale. 🙂

New Bulari Saga short story!

I’m thrilled to announce that I sold a short story to NOIR, an anthology of sci-fi detective stories that’s coming out later this year from Zombies Need Brains.

The story features a detective many of you already know and love, Detective Timo Cho of the Bulari Police Department. It’s titled “Storm Warning,” and it features Cho doing what he does best: asking too many questions.

Even more anthologies!

I have stories in two other anthologies that you can get your hands on right now. The first is Underland Arcana Deck 1, which is a collection of all the short stories published during the first year of the Underland Arcana collections. (Which are lovely little books — I highly recommend subscribing.)

In my story, “At the Heart of the River,” a river just wants to finally have the full affections of the young man who’s loved her all these years.

The second anthology is Dispatches From Annarres, a collection of short stories written by Portland authors who were inspired by Ursula K. Le Guin. My story, “Black as Thread,” is about a brother and sister who use fashion to fight an invading force. I’m delighted and honored to say “Black as Thread” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for short fiction published by a small press!

From Big Idea to Book!

For all you writers out there, my latest book from Microcosm Publishing is finally out in the world!

Much as From Chaos to Creativity took you on a choose-your-own-adventure path to finding a productivity system that worked with your creative brain, From Big Idea to Book is designed to help you come up with a writing process that’s productive and which brings you joy.

If you’re curious, I wrote more about writing process and joy on the DIY MFA blog: “How to Recapture the Joy in Your Writing.”

I’ve also been doing podcast interviews about the book, which I’ll link to when they’re live!

And there’s plenty more to come

I think I’ve said all the things there are to say for the moment. I’m going to keep my head down and keep writing the next book — but rest assured there are plenty more exciting things on the way.

I promise I’ll try to remember to tell you about them… but if you want to make sure you don’t miss a thing, sign up for the newsletter. It’s fun!

Gifts for Readers: 2021 Edition

Oh, hello! Welcome to my gift guide for readers for 2021. Got a reader on your shopping list? Are their reading tastes weird like mine? You’re in the right place.

These aren’t the “Best books of 2021.” Nor is this a comprehensive list of books I think are worth gifting.

Rather, this is a list of books I personally read in the last year or so that I wholeheartedly recommend. Books I’ve been dying to shout about. Books that, were we standing next to each other right now, I would put directly in your hands and insist you purchase.

There are sci-fi and fantasy books, of course, along with a couple fun YA/middle grade and some suspense/thrillers to round out the mix. I’ve also included a few of my favorite non-fiction books from this year.

I thought about copying over the product descriptions so you could actually know what the books are about. Instead I opted to write my own blurbs while drinking a bottle of wine. You’re welcome.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

(Quick note: Some of these links are affiliate links — which means I get a few pennies when you make a purchase. But believe me. I’d be shouting about all of these things for free. I also chose to include for the print links, because they donate to local bookstores! You could also order through your own local bookstore if you like.)


Oh, wait! Before we dive in to the books, do you have a reader in your life, but you’re not sure what their favorite genre is, or what they have or haven’t read? Give them the gift of lots of books at their fingertips!

  • E-reader — I have both a Kobo Clara and a Kindle Paperwhite, and love them both equally. I know, I know. The smell of paper, etc., but the ability to pack all 27 books you’re certain you’ll read on vacation without taking up any more suitcase space than a poetry chapbook is pretty great. Plus, when you’re reading Fonda Lee’s doorstopping Green Bone saga way too late in bed and you nod off and the book hits you in the face, it doesn’t hurt as bad if it’s an e-reader.
  • Oh, they already have an e-reader? Do have one of these lovely e-reader covers by Fintie? I have a galaxy print for my Kobo and a marble print for my Kindle — I also got one of their hardshell cases for my laptop. Seriously, I always assume if something has fun patterns and colors it’s not as well-made — but these Fintie cases are great. (And apparently only available on Amazon, sorry.)
  • Audible subscription — One of my favorite wedding gifts was an Audible subscription. My husband and I were headed on an extended trip to Peru after our wedding, and we spent a ton of time listening to audiobooks together. (And, hey — you can get the Bulari Saga books on Audible now!
  • subscription — a new kid of the audio block, is a great option if you want to listen to audiobooks, but also support your local bookstore. Their app is super intuitive — I’ve really been loving it.

Science Fiction and Fantasy

I wish I’d had a chance to read a fraction of the amazing sci-fi and fantasy books published this year! Here were some of the faves I read this year.


Persephone Station by Stina Leicht

Thank you to my cousin Faith for recommending this book to me! She said it reminded her of my Bulari Saga, and damn if she wasn’t right. Seedy underworld alliances, found family who have each other’s back, and lots and lots of explosions. You’re gonna love it.

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Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

I don’t read a ton of fantasy these days, but I LOVE Rebecca Roanhorse (keep reading this gift guide, you’ll see). So when she released her first epic fantasy based around Pre-Columbian cultures, I picked it up — and devoured it in a few days. Lush, lovely, and a real page-turner. I cannot wait for the next book in this series!

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Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Since I’ve brought up Roanhorse, I’m just gonna go ahead and put this one here, too. Post-apocalyptic monster-hunting adventures set on the Navajo Nation after a flood cuts it off from the rest of the world and tears the fabric of the world between gods and humans once more. Love love love both this book and its sequel!

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Torn by Rowenna Miller

Did I say I didn’t read much fantasy these days? Sure, but when Rowenna Miller tweeted a 1-star review complaining that Torn had “not enough magic and too much rebellion” I one-clicked it and was not disappointed. Do you like fashion, sewing, and revolutionary politics? Like a lot of fashion, sewing, and revolutionary politics? This will be right up your alley.

Also, LOOK AT THAT COVER! I can’t get over how fantastic it is with the needles and the blood and the whole thing. I am clearly the target market. Maybe someone on your list is, too.

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Deal with the Devil by Kit Rocha

Hey, speaking of rebellion? I am loving this new series by Kit Rocha. Communist mercenary librarian badasses do crime for good with rakishly broodily handsome supersoldiers. A little steamy, but not nearly as much as Kit Rocha’s Beyond series — which I also enjoyed, but gotta say I’m digging this new series more.

Pick it up for the person on your list who you’d most like to have on your team during the apocalypse.

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Jade City by Fonda Lee

Have I raved at you about Fonda Lee’s Green Bone saga yet? No? Well let me rave at you now. Gorgeously written, full of complicated characters you love to root for, and all those tense, complicated crime family negotiations that I just eat up. The final book in the trilogy just came out a few weeks back and I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, so if you spoil it for me I’ll cut you. Don’t even try.

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Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald

Since we’re talking intensely epic crime family drama, please go read the Luna trilogy. Fashion! Dinner parties! Lavish descriptions of both intricate interpersonal politics and delicious-sounding cocktails. GORGEOUS and DEADLY and SO MUCH FUN.

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Whyborne and Griffin series by Jordan L. Hawk

I picked up Widdershins because I met Jordan at a writer’s conference and we instantly bonded over our deep appreciation of good IPAs. Bonus, his books sounded fun! A bookish wizard solves cosmic horror crimes with his dashing ex-Pinkerton detective boyfriend and best friend the headstrong lady archaeologist? Let’s check it out, I figured.

Friends — these books got me through the pandemic. Whenever I needed a good pick-me-up, I grabbed the next book in the series and sank into a world full of people I’m secretly starting to think of as friends. (Oh — heads up, there are steamy times ahead.)

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Want more recommendations? Check out my “hopeful science fiction” post for some more great reads.

Suspense and Thriller

Don’t tell anybody, but even though I write science fiction I primarily read thrillers. I binge them like candy with no regrets — and I’ve read some amazing ones this year.


Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone

I picked up Jane Doe on recommendation a month ago, and absolutely tore through it. The minute I finished, I texted this to a couple of fellow true crime podcast listening friends:

Hey murder ladies book club — I just read Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone on recommendation from a new friend and I fucking loved it. A functioning sociopath who loves her cat sets out to ruin the life of a manipulative asshole dude. I would now kill for Jane but she would probably get there for me first.

I could rave more about it, but you should probably just pick it up for your weirdo true crime podcast loving friend. (I see you girl, email me.)


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Killshot by Elmore Leonard

Not gonna lie, I’ve been wanting to read some Elmore Leonard for a while, but 100% picked this particular book because it shares a title with Bulari Saga 5. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but from the first paragraphs vividly describing the cracks in the hitman’s hotel room ceiling I was totally hooked.

(Seriously — almost a year after reading it, so many scenes of Killshot are etched in my mind. Leonard is a master of detail.)

I also gotta say I was expecting a bit more stereotypical relationship between the husband and wife, but a lot of the book is from her point of view and — guys. Leonard clearly interviewed some exasperated women as research for writing Carmen Colson. Just let Carmen take care of business, Wayne. She’s got this. Step back and don’t worry your pretty little head. Just go fishing or whatever you do, Wayne, Carmen’s got a plan.

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When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain

This one was a bit of a tough read due to subject matter (missing girls, sexual assault, the loss of a child), but it was an excellent book. I read it soon after we’d spent a weekend in Humboldt County, CA, so the setting of the book felt gorgeously familiar. And the prose was really, really lovely. Like, Tana French lovely.

It’s perfect for that true crime fanatic in your life.

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The Secret Place by Tana French

Hey, speaking of Ms. French, have I shared with you lately the good word that is the Dublin Murder Squad series? I’ve been rereading Tana French’s books this year because her prose is a masterclass in writing conversations where one level of information is being relayed in the words, and a total other level is happening in the body language. Hashtag writer goals.

It’s hard to pick a favorite of her books, but I do really love The Secret Place. Don’t be scared off that it’s book 5 in the series — you can pick them up in any order. If you’re looking for a standalone, her most recent book, The Searcher, was also really fantastic.

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Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

Also in the category of books that got me through the pandemic? At one point when I totally lost motivation for anything, I picked up Stillhouse Lake and binged it — and the next three books in the series — over the course of a week.

They’re just so page-turnery, with characters you want to root for, and some seriously cliff-hanger writing. I’ll shout out a content warning for violence against women, stalking/harassment, and on-page serial killer horribleness. Caine handles that all very skillfully and thoughtfully, in my opinion, but I don’t want to throw you in a pond you aren’t interested in swimming in.

(That’s a thing people say, isn’t it?)

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Young Adult/Middle Grade

My niblings are getting to reading age, and the eldest (she’s almost 11) takes after her auntie with her nose always buried in a book. The following suggestions are books I’ve bought for her recently, and also read (and loved) myself.


Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Quick humblebrag, but Eisner and Caldecott award winning Vera Brosgol is my neighbor! Like, “hey Vera can you grab that package off my porch we’re out of town” neighbor. Like, “hey Jessie do you want half a loaf of this sourdough I just made” neighbor (she’s an excellent baker!).

But you don’t care about that. You care that Vera is a phenomenal storyteller and illustrator, and Be Prepared is incredible. I bought it for my niece and my sister says she read it through twice the same day it showed up in the mail.

Hey, me too, kid. Highly recommend.

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Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Yes, this post has become a shameless Rebecca Roanhorse stan account. Here’s the thing, friends. I grew up on the Yakama reservation, surrounded by people like the characters in Roanhorse’s books — people I so rarely see in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. So that’s one of the reasons I love her work.

But more than that, her writing is just ridiculously fun! I bought this book for my niece for Christmas, but I read it first myself and it was fantastic! (Don’t tell my niece and spoil the surprise — I don’t think she’s old enough to have found my blog).

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Clockbreakers: Asterion’s Curse by Kate Ristau

This is another series I bought for my niece this summer. I loved mythology at her age, so I figured we’d both dig reading this series together. I was totally right — they’re really fun! Plucky BFFs learning how to fend for themselves, quirky minotaur mentors, and a truly cunning villain.

Full disclosure, Kate’s a friend — but that’s not the only reason I was able to score a signed set for my niece. Head to her website and I bet she’ll sign some for you, too.

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The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks

Bear with me on the self help recommendation here, but I have been thinking about The Big Leap constantly since I read it a few months ago. Gay Hendricks has a very “so I was talking to my buddy the CEO on the golf course the other day” vibe, but he teases out the ways that we hold ourselves back from love and happiness in a truly brilliant way. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy for yourself, and for a friend.

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Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

I debated putting this one in here. Not because it wasn’t absolutely the best book I read in 2021, but because it’s … not “gifty”? Not happy? I read this for a book club, and I kept texting the friend who recommended it “OMG this is getting so horrible” and she would text back “Oof just wait.”

It’s a true crime book about a series of murders of members of the Osage tribe in the early 20th century, and the way Grann lays out the story and surrounding history is masterful. Like, I’m still reeling in awe of his storytelling skills. (Is it too much of a spoiler to say that white colonizers weren’t a good thing for the original inhabitants of this continent?)

Killers of the Flower Moon is being made into a movie directed by Martin Scorsese, which should be coming out next year. And maybe this isn’t a classic holiday gift, but this book is Extremely Recommended Reading. You won’t regret it. Give it to a friend. Read it yourself. Then email me and let’s talk, I have a lot of Thoughts.

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In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

I can’t even remember the last time I read a memoir, but when Mark Teppo showed me this memoir about an emotionally abusive relationship where every chapter is written as a different genre — “The Dream House as Noir,” “The Dream House as Bildungsroman,” etc. — I was fascinated. It’s gorgeously written, and way more of a page-turner than I expected.

Wait — is this not a good gift guide book either? Like, if you give a memoir about an emotionally abusive relationship to a friend, what message will they be thinking you’re trying to send? I’m starting to worry I’m failing at this gift guide thing.

But read this book, it’s awesome. I couldn’t put it down even though — and I can’t stress this enough — it’s a literary memoir. Those usually bore the shit out of me.

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The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls by Mona Eltahawy

Okay we’re back on track here, I promise. Do you have a badass feminist on your holiday shopping list? Get them this book. Mona Eltahawy is a NPR correspondent and generally rad person, and I am totally loving her collection of empowering feminist essays about the traits women are generally expected to have, and what we should embrace instead.

Get angry, murder ladies! Whether you’re navigating the seedy underworld of Luna (or Jade City or Persephone Station), sewing up a rebellion, librarianing mercinarilly, taking down way more than your fair share of serial killers, or just making up for your husband Wayne’s lack of awareness (I SEE YOU CARMEN COLSON, YOU GODDESS), Mona Eltahawy outlines the seven skills you need to dismantle the patriarchy.

Learn them. Internalize them. We ride at midnight.

(Oh hey, men, you’re more than welcome to ride with us! The patriarchy sucks for you, too.)

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Photo by Lucas George Wendt on Unsplash

Dispatches From Anarres, or Don’t Disappoint Denzel Washington

I’m convinced Denzel Washington just wants you to live your best life.

In The Equalizer, he walks into the bad guy’s office with a simple offer: Take some money, make things right, and turn over a new leaf.

The offer’s too simple, though. Denzel’s character is too unassuming — and so the bad guys laugh him out of the office.

Denzel walks to the door and sighs sadly at what’s about to happen.

Then he locks the door, checks his watch, and proceeds to demolish every last bad guy with intense precision.


Don’t disappoint Denzel.

I love the trope of an underestimated badass. Maybe it’s the old man who’s secretly a martial arts master. Maybe it’s the little girl who’s actually a psychic grenade. Maybe it’s the shy kid who’s actually whip smart, or the outclassed kid with a secret talent.

Maybe it’s brother and sister shoemakers who are secretly fighting back against the conquerers who are occupying their town…

The Navu officer in his shop is admiring a pair of boots, though frowning at the underslung heel. “Doesn’t that make it difficult to walk?”

“It’s the northern style. Riders prefer them.” Desh turns on his own underslung heel, executing an abbreviated dance step in the tiny space of his shop, his back-step cut short before a display case. “Dancers, too.”

The Navu officer laughs. All the Navu seem to find Cazhitlani fashion and showmanship amusing. Jilli smiles at his back, appreciating his underestimation of her brother.

“I need them for a ball. Don’t you have anything less — ” The officer waves a hand foppishly.

“Bold?” Desh is used to this question from Navus. “For you, of course. I can make something special.”

A few weekends ago, I had the honor of sitting with a handful of other authors on a panel for the Portland Book Festival about Ursula Le Guin, and how her work had inspired our own. The panel was in celebration of a new anthology, Dispatches from Anarres: Tales in Tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin.

(The above excerpt is from my story in the anthology, “Black as Thread.”)

On the panel, we were asked what about Le Guin’s work inspired our own, and I picked the way her stories don’t center on the biggest, baddest warriors around.

Le Guin’s characters don’t always seem powerful on the outside; in fact, their power is in the way people to underestimate them.

The dart game scene in Ted Lasso is a fantastic example of this. I mean — who doesn’t love watching an arrogant bastard get taken down a notch by his own shortsightedness?

In my story, “Black as Thread,” a brother and sister who own a shoe shop begin crafting cursed shoes for the occupying forces. Their shoes grow in popularity among the upper ranks of the occupying forces, who never would guess where their string of bad luck is coming from.

You see it in the exchange I excerpted — the Navu officer finds the dancing shoemaker with his passion for color theory to be harmless. Laughable.

Le Guin has a lovely essay called “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” which you can read for free in the Anarchist Library. In it, she talks about whose work — and stories — have traditionally been considered important.

When you see traditionally feminine crafts and hobbies — like shoes and fashion — as unimportant, you’re going to judge them as harmless.

You’re not going to be curious about them. You’re not going to ask questions like:

“What signal am I sending in your culture when I wear green shoos with red buttons?”

“What are those songs your sister is singing in the corner?”

“Why does the thread she’s sewing with turn black under her fingertips?”

You won’t expect danger to come at you in a shoe store.

You can find “Black as Thread” along with an amazing collection of other stories inspired by the amazing Ursula K. Le Guin in Dispatches From Anarres.

(Oh, and I’m thrilled to tell you my short story was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for literary works published by a small press! I’ve never been nominated for a prestigious literary prize, so I’m a bit floored.)

Meet Dispatches From Anarres:


Named for the anarchist utopia in Ursula K. Le Guin’s science fiction classic The Dispossessed, Dispatches from Anarres embodies the anarchic spirit of Le Guin’s hometown of Portland, Oregon, while paying tribute to her enduring vision.

In stories that range from fantasy to sci fi to realism, some of Portland’s most vital voices have come together to celebrate Le Guin’s lasting legacy and influence on that most subversive of human faculties: the imagination.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

CROOKED V.1 Author Spotlight — Mark Niemann-Ross

This week we’re celebrating the launch of CROOKED V.1 with author interviews!

Mark Niemann-Ross is an author, educator, and chicken wrangler living in Portland, Oregon. He teaches “R” — a programming language, and “Raspberry Pi” — a small computer used for the Internet of Things. Both topics influence his writing, which fits solidly in the genre of “Hard Science Fiction.”

Mark co-authored his first story in 2005 with Richard A. Lovett in Analog, Science Fiction and Fact. Since then, he has published additional stories in Analog and Stupefying Stories, has self-published two collections, and collaborated on a children’s book. Most recently, Mark published Stupid Machine, a science fiction murder mystery solved by a refrigerator.

Mark’s website:


Tell us a bit about your story (and the story world, if applicable).
Araci Belo lives in our world, only slightly further downstream in the cosmic timeline. It’s entirely possible he’s already been born – or will be soon. Unlike you and I, he’s going to live through the Portland earthquake and see Portland rebuilt as a modernized city.

The technology he uses isn’t mind-boggling. It’s just a linear extrapolation of what we have today. You and I will recognize his world in the same way our parents recognize our world. Devices have a familiar form, but there’s always a sense of something impossible about them.

I write hard science fiction where the laws of physics still rule. In Hot Meal, I spent a lot of time researching how an oven would explode. If the FBI chooses to audit my search history, they will find incriminating questions such as “Do propane tanks explode?” … or “How much propane does it take to blow up a kitchen?” … or “air fuel mixture requirement for propane vs hydrogen”. You may see the problem I will face.

Both “Stupid Machine” and “Hot Meal” revolve around events in a kitchen. I think it’s a terrifying place: sharp knives, explosives, burning oil. Just because it’s familiar doesn’t mean it’s safe. Coupled with the emerging (emerging is a euphemism for unknown) addition of artificial intelligence to these weapons of destruction… I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

I’ve been careful to write my artificial intelligence as different than the “human in a box.” Machines have different motivations and behaviors than humans. Persistence, for one. Machines continue to do a task long after humans get bored and move on to the next shiny object. Look up “persistence hunting,” then watch “It Follows.” Now are you worried?

What was the inspiration behind this story?
I seem to be exploring chaos at the edge of technology. Quality assurance engineers are employed to find these problems – and we continue to invent new ways to keep them busy. Anywhere two technologies touch, there is potential for unexpected behavior. Like genetic mutations, most are benign. Like genetic mutations, some are deadly. Who would have guessed light bulbs would provide hackers with entry points to the internet?

I’m also fascinated by the commercialization of basic human needs. Food and water have always been a source of commerce. Health and social interaction are the current darling of capitalism. Our nature is to control these assets – I perceive this drive to control as a rich ground for misbehavior.

If you could travel to any science fictional world, where would you go and what would you do?
I’m living in it! Michael Crichton would find inspiration for “Andromeda Strain” in today’s world of COVID-19. What would I do? Get vaccinated, wear a mask, cry like a baby and try to become acidotic.

What are some of your favorite sci-fi crime books or stories?
My guilty pleasure is E.E. “Doc” Smith’s “The Lensmen.” It doesn’t age well – but it’s a roller coaster. Read it before you see Star Wars.

What authors have inspired your writing?
Daniel H. Wilson. I’m inspired by his take on robots and their motivations. I remember him discussing “Terminator” and how the robots would throw their opponents across the room. He asserted robots killer robots would instead try to get as close as possible to dismember opponents. I recommend “Robopocalypse” for insight into how true killer robots would behave.

What are you working on next?
I’m haunted by two other short stories that insist on being written. One has to do with the difficulty of maintaining a relationship when partners don’t share the same circadian rhythm. The other has to do with dissociative memory. They barged into the queue ahead of Stupid Machine Two, which is probably a science fiction murder mystery CAUSED by a refrigerator.



Get it here.

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CROOKED V.1 Author Spotlight: Benjamin Gorman

We’re celebrating the launch of CROOKED V.1 by spotlighting the authors who have contributed stories!

Benjamin Gorman is an award-winning high school English teacher, political activist, author, poet, and co-publisher at Not a Pipe Publishing. He lives in Independence, Oregon with bibliophile and guillotine aficionado Chrystal, his favorite son, Noah, and his dog, E.V. (External Validation). 

His novels are The Sum of Our Gods, Corporate High School, The Digital Storm: A Science Fiction Reimagining of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Don’t Read This Book. His first book of poetry, When She Leaves Me, was published in November of 2020, and his second, This Uneven Universe, will be released in November of 2021. He believes in his students and the future they’ll create if given the chance.


Tell us a bit about your story and the story world.
I’ve been reading some great novels about aliens and the ways alien intelligences might view our universe very differently from the way we perceive things. I wanted to play with the idea that a confession of a murder could be complicated by inter-species cross-cultural misunderstanding.

What was the inspiration behind this story?
I started a story about a character trapped on a spaceship during a pandemic, and it turned into a murder mystery. I haven’t finished that novel, but when you asked me to write a sci-fi mystery, I already had the character of my consulting detective in mind. So I skipped ahead and imagined him taking on this case later in his career.

If you could travel to any science fictional world, where would you go and what would you do?
For comfort’s sake, I’d love to live in the utopia of Star Trek. I’d see if I could get a gig traveling around with Starfleet or maybe hanging out on a space station like DS9, collecting the stories of fellow travelers and then fictionalizing them into novels that could be beamed around the galaxy and read by people looking for entertainment during their long interstellar journeys.

What are some of your favorite sci-fi crime books or stories?
I’m a big Star Wars fan (not a universe I’d want to live in, but one I love to visit), and both Solo (heist story) and much of The Mandalorian (bounty hunter in a space Western) are crime stories that fill me with joy.

What authors have inspired your writing?
This particular story was most inspired by Anne Lecke’s Imperial Radch series, specifically the character of Dlique, translator for the alien Presger in the second book, Ancillary Sword, and Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary, specifically the alien Rocky. These alien characters forced me to wrap my head around new ways aliens could comprehend our species from the outside. Liu Cixin’s The Dark Forest, the second book in his Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, made me think about the ways species that are far more or less advanced than one another might interact. And Jessi Kwak’s Bulari Saga and Durga System series showed how well a complex and enthralling crime drama could thrive in a sci-fi universe. You really should check them all out. Excellent.

What are you working on next?
I have a book of poetry coming out in November titled This Uneven Universe, and I’m still hard at work on the second book of my The Convention of Fiends paranormal trilogy that started with Don’t Read This Book. When I finish that, I’m excited about trying my hand at an epic high fantasy novel, but this story was so fun to write, maybe I’ll go back to that half-written murder-mystery-on-a-colony-ship-during-a-pandemic. Hopefully we’ll be a bit further from our own pandemic by then, and people will be interested in a story like that one without it feeling quite so close to home!



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:


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.



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

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. 🙂


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: 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.


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: 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: 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.


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.


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.


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: 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: 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.


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.


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.

[Podcast] I’m on Ink To Film talking about The Expanse

Blood’s on the wall, beratnas, we gonna rise up! In episode 117, SciFi author Jessie Kwak joins Luke and James to discuss the final episodes of season one of THE EXPANSE. Join the entire crew again next week for the second half of LEVIATHAN WAKES by James SA Corey.

I joined Luke Elliot and James Bailey on two episodes of the Ink to Film podcast to chat about my love of The Expanse series, and how it inspired so much of my own Bulari Saga books.


99c Sci-Fi Boxed Set Sale

A bunch of great space opera and sci-fi authors are offering 99c sales on their boxed sets this month, so I’ve collected as many as I could find here.

Know something else that should be included? Drop a line in the comments.


Athelon (9 books)

By Justin Bell

A routine shuttle trip gone wrong. A young girl submerged into a galactic conflict. A single chance to help win the war.

Get it here.

Beam 3d

The Beam (6 books)

By Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant

When all of humanity is connected, the network is the true power.

Get it here.


Blackbeard (7 books)

By Michael Wallace

The bestselling STARSHIP BLACKBEARD and SENTINEL series: Space battles, alien wars, and interstellar politics.

Get it here.


The Colossus Collection (4 books)

By Nicole Grotepas

Being arrested for murder isn’t so bad. At least she knows the truth.

Get it here.


The Durga System (3 books)

By Jessie Kwak

Jail breaks, heists, and hostile takeovers — they’re ready for it all.

Get it here.


Earth Space Service (9 books)

By James David Victor

Genetically engineered aliens. Hostile encounters. Just another day for the Earth Space Service Marines.

Get it here.

Freedom’s fire

Freedom’s Fire (6 books)

By Bobby Adair

It was never a question of if the aliens would come, it was only ever when.

Get it here.


Galactic Arena (5 books)

By Dan Davis

Earth’s champions must fight for humanity. Until now, our heroes have all been defeated…

Get it here.


Gateway to the Galaxy (9 books)

By Jonathan Yanez and JR Castle

The Arilion Knights have faded to legend. Famed warriors of this galactic order have not been required to fight the darkness in the universe for centuries, until now.

Get it here.


The Lost Starship (3 books)

By Joshua James

Save the cure. Kill the crew. That was the dying order of the captain of the starship Elixr. The ship followed the order. Then it lost its mind.

Get it here.


Outcasts of Earth (3 books)

By James David Victor

Criminals. Murderers. Thieves. That’s what makes the Outcast Marines special. And expendable.

Get it here.


Void Wraith (6 books)

By Chris Fox

Mankind’s outer colonies are disappearing. Without warning. Without a trace. Fleet command chalks the attacks up to pirates, but Captain Dryker of the UFC Johnston isn’t buying it.

Get it here.

Did I miss a 99c sci-fi boxed set sale this month?

Let me know in the comments!

Happy reading,