The Hook: Domnall and the Borrowed Child by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

November 11, 2015

Domnall Cover

The Hook:

For centuries–more than that, millennia!–since the beginning of time itself, the fae had celebrated the Spring by finding the bluebells and creating a faerie ring. And now, apparently, that was all over. Too dangerous, squeaked the Council. Times have changed. Tradition simply tossed to the wind like dandelion seeds.

Domnall stabbed his walking stick into the muddy earth to navigate the bog as carefully as possible. Dirty snow still crusted the north side of the hills. He spat and trudged through the mud as the afternoon sun sunk low. Maybe he should head out, leave this place and plead for safe passage from the sluagh–they still ruled their lands, at least. A chortle escaped him at the thought of his short round self jogging behind a pack of high-flying sluagh, terrorising the local villages. Maybe not.

A scrabbling sound ahead broke into his thoughts and he froze, scanning the scrubby land for movement. When nothing else stirred, he crept carefully towards the protection of the woods.

Sylvia Spruck Wrigley writes:

Domnall and the Borrowed Child is a traditional fantasy story set in Scotland and follows the tribulations of an old and cranky scout named Domnall. When a Seelie child falls deathly ill, Domnall has to trick a human family into giving it Mother’s milk, an old ploy of the good folk but one that they haven’t had to resort to in a century or more. Domnall faces cunning humans, hungry wolves, and uncooperative sheep in his attempt to save the child.

I had two challenges to tackle in the first few paragraphs of the book. The first was to quickly make it clear that it was not a fairy tale and definitely not a children’s story. Domnall is lovable (well, I like to think so) but very much for adults. The second challenge was to make it clear that these were not Disney fairies who loved humans but instead a separate culture with their own politics and viewpoint.

Originally the story started in front of the Sithein, with Domnall speaking to his friend when Maeve comes out to tell him that they need his services. The opening scene was completely serviceable but it was a bad place to try to feed in the backstory.

Usually, I try to drip-feed information later in the story but in this case, I backed up instead. In that initial scene, Maeve is interrupting Domnall’s evening because she has an emergency, so I had to think about what she was interrupting. His peace and quiet, of course, but why did he feel he deserved it? The answer could only be because he’d spent all day on a thankless task. This gave me a great new scene and an opportunity to introduce Domnall properly, not just as the Sithein’s scout and all-around friendly guy. His internal frustration at the politics of the Sithein and the changing world was allowed full reign. Of course, his thoughts needed to be interspersed with action, so I took the chance to show his interactions to his environment and, a few paragraphs in, his reaction to a human child wandering through the forest.

This is interesting because usually I would attempt to drop the reader into the action in the first few paragraphs. This time, instead of setting up the plotline with Maeve, I slowed things down and offered an introduction to the narrator, the world and (most importantly) the type of book to expect. Domnall’s story is more of a fun romp than high action and adventure, so this hook sets the mood.

It’s not general advice that I would give for working out where the story starts but in this case, it was right for the story.

Buy Domnall and the Borrowed Child on Amazon.

About the author:

Sylvia Spruck Wrigley was born in Germany and spent her childhood in Los Angeles. She emigrated to Scotland in 1990, guiding German tourists around the Trossachs while she searched for the supernatural. She now splits her time between South Wales and Andalucia where she writes about plane crashes and faeries, which have more in common than most people might imagine. Her short stories have been translated into over a dozen languages. Domnall and the Borrowed Child was released this week by as a part of their new novella imprint. You can find out more about it at


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The Hook: King of Shards by Matthew Kressel

October 13, 2015


The Hook:

Daniel was getting married today, but all he could think about was work. In the musty Hebrew school classroom of Temple Beth Tiferet he pulled the black suit jacket over his shoulders and remembered the storm, how he had laid warm blankets over weary shoulders. He tightened the knot of his wine-dark tie and remembered wrapping gauze around swollen legs. Those folks didn’t have homes — hadn’t for years, and yet here he was, about to venture off to an island for two weeks of luxury and indulgence. And what about Gram, who would remain home, alone, with no one to call if she needed help? He wanted to keep Rebekah happy, but the truth was he longed to stay in New York and continue working for the Shulman Fund, where he fought for the city’s homeless. He wanted to stay close to Gram, the one who had raised him. But Rebekah, as sympathetic and understanding as she could be, had said their honeymoon was non-negotiable. They would be leaving first thing in the morning.

Fully dressed now in his itchy black wedding suit, Daniel gazed out the window. Last week’s hurricane — unusual for New York — had swept out the late-summer warmth, and outside the afternoon air was crisp and biting. The sun descended over a copse of tall Westchester oaks, and the light pierced the blinds, sending ladders of orange across Christopher’s smiling face. Christopher managed the Rising Path shelter that Daniel had helped build, and as he turned, the sun illuminated the tattoo on the dark skin of his neck: a crucified Jesus, blood spilling down his face from his crown of thorns, gazing up at God, awaiting redemption.  

“I’ve never been to a Jewish wedding,” Christopher said. “You told me about some of your customs, but I’m excited to see them for myself.”

Christopher turned, and the shadow of his neck darkened the sky above Jesus, as if storm clouds were rolling in. “The rituals are beautiful,” Daniel said, “but sometimes I feel as if it’s more about the performance than the meaning behind them.”

“All rituals are performances,” Christopher said. “That’s the whole point, isn’t it?”

Above the chalkboard a paper Hebrew alphabet had been stapled to a long cork strip. In the orange sunlight, the letters seemed to burn. The letter Ayin was missing. Ayin, the divine nothing. Ayin, the good or evil eye, depending. At least, that’s what Gram had said. Daniel shook his head. Now wasn’t the time for her silly superstitions. Outside, the branches of dead trees shivered in the wind.

Matthew Kressel writes:

King of Shards is an epic fantasy novel based partly on ancient Jewish mythology and folklore. One myth that has always fascinated me is the legend of the Lamed Vav, or the thirty-six anonymous saints who uphold the world. No one knows who these Lamed Vav are, and the myth says that even you or I could be one. If any one of these saints ceases to be righteous, the world would be destroyed. In King of Shards, Daniel Fisher discovers he is a Lamed Vavnik and that demons have been searching for his kind for millennia, trying to kill them.

Another myth I find fascinating is the so-called Shattered Vessels of Creation, a theory, elaborated by the 16th century Kabbalist Isaac Luria, that our universe wasn’t the first to be created. There were others that came before ours. But they displeased God — they had too many imperfections — and so God smashed them. In King of Shards, these primordial worlds were not empty, but populated with sentient beings — demons. A few survived this cosmic Shattering and live on fragment husks — the Shards — where they cling miserably to life.

And they’re pissed.

In the cosmology of King of Shards, the Earth serves as a kind of fountain that waters the many universal fragments of the Shards with its life force. Without Earth’s water of life, the Shards would wither and die. Earth is relatively abundant and prosperous, but the Shards are brutal hell worlds. Nothing lives on the Shards for long, and the demons that dwell there endlessly struggle for meager scraps.

So when it comes to pass that a few demons discover the names of the hidden Lamed Vav, they hatch a plan to kill them all. They hope that if they kill the Lamed Vav and destroy the Earth, the waters of life will spill in a great torrent upon them, bringing them life and abundance that has been denied them for so long.

It’s a crazy plan, and none other than Ashmedai, king of demons, recognizes the insanity of it. But Ashmedai has little power to stop them. He’s been dethroned and cast out of Sheol, the most ancient of Shards. Weak, alone, and vulnerable, Ashmedai needs Daniel’s help to stop the demons before they destroy all of existence with their foolish plan.

And so Daniel and Ashmedai, saint and demon, must join forces to save the world. But Ashmedai is not everything he appears to be. He is demon, after all.

I have always been fascinated with the apocryphal tales of Judaism, stories that began as folktales after the canonical Hebrew bible was set down. These tales were passed from generation to generation, evolving over time, until we hear engrossing tales of dybukks, lost souls who possess brides-to-be; golems, mounds of clay animated with the Holy Name of God; and shedim, demons who leave bird-like footprints by the beds of sleepers. There are literally thousands of these stories, and it would take a lifetime to explore them all. I’ve been outlining a few of these myths over on my blog.

Not all of these myths found their way into King of Shards, of course. I began with a few lesser-known myths as jumping-off points, but I never let them interfere with my creativity. Ultimately, I wanted to tell an exciting adventure fantasy. So while King of Shards is based on mythology, it’s not constrained by it, and many of the creations in the book are my own. I hope this inspires you to check out King of Shards and try to guess which ones are which.

King of Shards debuts October 13th in print, audio, and ebook.

Buy King of Shards on Amazon

About the author:

Matthew Kressel is a multiple Nebula Award-nominated writer and World Fantasy Award-nominated editor. His short stories have or will appear in such publications as Lightspeed, Nightmare, Clarkesworld,, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Interzone, Electric Velocipede, Apex Magazine, and the anthologies Naked City, After,The People of the Book, and The Mammoth Book of Steampunk, as well as other markets.


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The Hook: Windswept by Adam Rakunas

September 1, 2015
The Hook:
I was sitting at my usual stool at Big Lily’s, talking with Odd Dupree about his troubles down at the plant, when something big and stupid came crashing through the front door. Vytai Bloombeck’s head swiveled like a pumpkin mounted on a sack of compost as he scanned the faces of the regulars. I tried to duck beneath the ironpalm bar, but it was too late — he had zeroed in on me. “Padma!” he shouted, moving toward me like a runaway cargo can, “I got something, make us both righteously wealthy, like Jesus would want.” He shoved Odd to the side as he plopped into two chairs. Odd’s eyes rolled back into his head from the smell. Bloombeck’s job was to fish blockages out of the city’s sewer mains, a Contract slot he’d kept since Time Immemorial because no one was stupid or desperate enough to take it from him.

“Not even Jesus wants you, Bloomie,” I said, wincing at the stabbing pain in my right eye. My pai was supposed to float text warning me that Bloombeck was within one hundred meters, but, thanks to the vagaries of my brain chemistry and the implant’s firmware, the damn thing always gave me an electric jab in the retina after he’d shown up. I’d complained to every tech I know, and they all shrugged their shoulders and gave me the Santee Anchorage Song-And-Dance about how We Don’t Have The Proper Tech, We Don’t Make Enough To Care About Your Problem, Just Wait For The Next Bloody Update. The Oh-God-It’s-Bloomie warning squatted between a migraine and my period on the pain scale, and the only treatment that worked was avoiding him. “You want to talk to me, you make an appointment.”

Adam Rakunas writes:

I started writing this book in a bar, so it made sense to start the book *in* a bar. Bars are places for forgetting, for resting, for *waiting*, and Padma Mehta, the heroine of Windswept, is waiting for a lot of things: to retire, to cinch the deal of her life, to get out of the rat race. In the meantime, she is sitting at her favorite spot in Big Lily’s, watching out the lanai as the city rolls away toward the ocean. This spot is important to her because it offers a mixture of security and respite; the instant she sits down in that stool, she has a little bit of control over the chaos that surrounds her.

Of course, it’s not perfect, or else someone like Vytai Bloombeck, the neighborhood con artist, wouldn’t be able to enter the bar and try his pitch on Padma. On Santee Anchorage, everyone has to hustle, and Padma’s no different. Her hustle is on a much grander scale than Bloombeck’s, but it still means she has to bribe, lie, and fight to get what she wants: an early pension and a sweet bonus if she recruits five hundred people to the Union. She won’t listen to Bloombeck now, but, when her plans collapse, she’ll have no choice.

Buy Windswept on Amazon.

About the author:

Adam Rakunas is the author of Windswept and its forthcoming sequel. He’s a stay-at-home dad, an amateur cellist, and a small-time political rabble-rouser. You can find him at or on Twitter @rakdaddy. He also wants you to know that Jessica Smith did the amazing cover art, and you can find her work at


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The Hook: The Left-Hand Way by Tom Doyle

August 11, 2015


The Hook:

The Court of the Red Death

And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

Edgar Allan Poe

In Pripyat, the first snow of the year fell early on the deserted city and on the steel arch that hung over the Sarcophagus covering the ruined Chernobyl power plant. The windless cold was appropriate for this urban tomb, but unseasonable for early autumn, and the below-freezing temperature and snow were confined to this small, desolate pocket of Ukraine.

Seven Russian soldiers, five men and two women, arrived singly at the exclusion zone that enclosed the town, having entered the country in civilian dress by car, train, plane, bus, and boat. They were spetsnaz magispecial forces mages. One of them had been in Kiev for over a year; the Kremlin had kept him in place and ready for such occasions. Two had crossed through Belarus, whose Moscow-dominated craft authority had raised no fuss.

Tom Doyle writes:

To set my hook, I had an extra problem to consider besides the usual ones. The Left-Hand Way is a sequel to American Craftsmen, a contemporary fantasy of magic and military intrigue but with a backstory in which Poe and Hawthorne were writers of thinly veiled nonfiction. I needed a beginning that promised as much action as the special ops opening of the previous book, yet would welcome new readers.

I decided to establish the villain first, as the Devil often gets the best music. At the end of the otherwise self-contained first book, one of the antagonists, Roderick Morton, escapes to Ukraine, but his horrible condition seems more pathetic than menacing. Part of choosing to begin with Roderick was personal–I was anxious to write about him so that I too could find out what he had become.

In his earlier life, Roderick was known as the Red Death both for his numerous killings and for the corpse-like mask and grave garments he wore for his bloody rituals. I titled the opening “The Court of the Red Death” in a nod to “The Court of the Crimson King” by the prog-rock band King Crimson. That and the Poe quote regarding the Red Death’s dominion set the scene for a Roderick who is no longer nearly helpless and on the run, but is in full possession of his powers, old and new.

So that was how I made the choice of whom to begin with, though he is still offstage in this hook. The next question was where to start. Ukraine has two places sufficiently notorious and ghastly for the murderous Roderick. The first, Chernobyl and its ghost town, Pripyat, is where I have the hook. But I also use the second location, though later in the opening: Babi Yar, the ravine (now a park) in Kiev where the Germans massacred Jews and others, with over 100,000 killed there.

Finally, I introduce the opposition to Roderick for an opening fight scene: seven Russian soldiers who’ve been ordered to kill the American. Like most of my magician soldiers, the leader of the Russians has a ancestry with historical significance, as his great-grandfather died holding the line outside of Moscow during World War II after months of helping to delay the Germans until winter could descend on them.

In my magical world as in the real one, seven to one should be absurdly lopsided odds, but of course the villain will find a way to survive, establishing just how powerful he’s become in the interlude between books. Thus, when my protagonists come on the stage in the next section, readers will know better than they do how perilous their situation is, creating a tension that only grows throughout the story.

Buy The Left-Hand Way on Amazon.

About the author:

Tom Doyle is the author of the American Craft fantasy series from Tor Books. In the first book, American Craftsmen, two modern magician soldiers fight their way through the legacies of Poe and Hawthorne as they attempt to destroy an undying evil–and not kill each other first. In the sequel, The Left-Hand Way, the craftsmen are hunters and hunted in a global race to save humanity from a new occult threat out of America’s past. Tom’s collection of short fiction, The Wizard of Macatawa and Other Stories, includes his WSFA Small Press Award and Writers of the Future Award winners. He writes science fiction and fantasy in a spooky turret in Washington, DC. You can find the text and audio of many of his stories on his website,


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The Hook: The Floating City by Craig Cormick

July 8, 2015


The Hook:

The story starts with a murder.

It is a warm autumn night in the Floating City, and the waterways are still between the turning of the tides, and a little fetid. A dark gondola moves across the grand canal with a tall man and woman seated together in the boat. They wear ornate masks of birds, beset with tawny orange feathers and jewelry, and hold hands gently. Were there not such a large blood moon this evening it would be possible to see a soft glow emanating from where they touch.

The gondolier also wears a mask – but his is a plain white face, as if all the features have been erased from it, except an enigmatic smile. Ahead of them is a large golden palace, that seems to float on top of the water. It is ablaze with light as if there were a party for a hundred guests going on inside. But in fact it is empty except for servants. The master and mistress of the house are on their way back from a troubling meeting of the city’s Seers.

They will have need to discuss it with each other until late into the night, but for now they sit in silence, the only sound the soft splash, splash, splash of the gondolier’s oar, moving them forward.

Craig Cormick writes:

And the murder happens just a few paragraphs later. Two murders in fact, as a fearsome monster rises out of the canal, fights with the two Seers and slays them. And as they die their splendid palace sinks beneath the waters – letting you know it was only their magic that kept it afloat.

The Floating City is the second novel in my Shadow Master series, set in a world very much like Renaissance Italy, and this city is very much like Venice, but where magic and demons abound.

There are four pairs of magic Seers, protecting the city – one pair for each season, and they are slowly being killed off. As are the City’s Council of Ten. Monster and masked assassins and spies everywhere, all battling for control of the city. And just when things get desperate – the mysterious Shadow Master appears. He is armed with lightning fast swords, advanced gadgets and a sarcasticwit. He also has a scribe follow him around the city, while he dispatches his form of justice, and has him write the city’s history anew.

But that’s only half the story. The other half revolves around three very strong female characters, the Montecchi sisters: Giuliette, Disdemona and Isabella, who are each struggling to write their own destinies.

You might have picked them as being similar in name to Shakespeare’s characters: Juliet, Desdemona and Isabella from Romeo and Juliet, Othello and the Merchant of Venice – which is only half right. For I’ve gone back to the original Italian stories that Shakespeare adapted his plays from, and used those “origin” characters and plot structures within the novel. The original stories are worth checking out if you’re interested in seeing the way that Shakespeare built upon them and changed them: Luigi da Porto’s Giulietta e Romeo of 1530, Ser Giovanni’s Il Pecorone (the Dunce) of 1558, and Giraldi Cinthio’s Hecatommithi of 1565.

As for the starting point, or hook, I wanted to start the story at a major plot point, and then fill in the back story afterwards as we romp along – much as Shakespeare did in plays such as Hamlet. I think action is a great driver of plot and characterisation.

I also think the Shadow Master books are a fast-pace and fun read. And what I enjoy about them as the author, is when readers ask me, ‘So when are you going to explain a bit more about just who that Shadow Master character actually is?’ – I keep saying, ‘Well – maybe in the next book.’

After all, where is the fun in giving away all the mystery?

Buy The Floating City on Amazon.

About the author:

Craig Cormick is an award-winning Australian author and science communicator. He has published over 20 works of fiction and non-fiction, ranging over several genres. He has also published over 100 short stories.

The Shadow Master was published to widespread critical acclaim by his wife and mother in 2014, and they have great expectations for the Floating City!

You can find Craig online at his website


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The Hook: Letters to Zell by Camille Griep

July 1, 2015


The Hook:

We were all waiting for you at the Swinging Vine so we could start our book club, when poor DJ dropped your note off with the first round of wine. You won’t be surprised to learn Bianca went off like a confetti cannon, pelting him with accusations of cowardice and collusion.

All this drama to let us know you left to manage a unicorn preserve? I thought that sort of rural charity work was only for indulgent royalty out West. You said in your note, “I’ve always dreamed of making a difference.” Since when? I know you love animals, but this is a bit more involved than leaving a saucer of milk out for stray kittens.

Camille Griep writes:

Letters to Zell is the story of what happens when CeCi (Cinderella), Bianca (Snow White), and Rory (Sleeping Beauty) begin to compare their dreams with the expectations of adulthood and womanhood.

This examination – and the adventure that follows – does not come without a catalyst. Not only is Rapunzel (Zell) the recipient of the letters within, her own self-examination and subsequent departure sets things in motion, as her friends react to the news she’s decided to chase her dream of opening a unicorn preserve.

As was told to me so often as I wrote this, fairy tale retellings are a dime a dozen these days. In order to use these Grimm princesses as a mirror for reality, I chose not to retell their tales, but to work in the blank space of their unwritten Happily Ever Afters.

I began Letters to Zell at the wine bar after the info bomb for three reasons:

1. Because the novel is quite satire-heavy, I wanted to take the clichés of female friendship, wine bars and book clubs, trashy novels and secrets, and smash them into a sit-com ready tableau. Here we meet three friends waiting around for a fourth, who not only isn’t going to show, but has cleared out entirely.

2. We’re immediately immersed in the three voices we’ll hear for the rest of the narrative – though we begin with their personalities turned up to eleven, as any good satire does.

The first letter belongs to the wry and practical CeCi, who explains the reactions of the foul-mouthed loose cannon, Bianca, and the correspondingly prim and proper Rory. CeCi herself puzzles over Zell’s motives for wanting something more, for leaving, and for not saying goodbye – incidentally proving Zell’s fears of a messy farewell would have been more than founded.

3. Starting the book here also gave me the ability to immediately introduce the internal conflict and central theme of the book. While CeCi is hurt and indignant, she’s also profoundly curious, even jealous. Her ensuing realization that her love of cooking could become something more permanent blossoms into her excursions in Los Angeles, enrollment in cooking school, and the close examination of the future she is supposed to want.

Settling in with CeCi, the most reliable of the three narrators, puts the reader on a path toward appreciating the arcs of the more extreme of their number. As the satire softens and the clichés fall away, CeCi will continue to guide the reader via utilizing her stature as Zell’s very best friend. I hope fairy tale and epistolary aficionados alike will find joy in this intimate tale of contemporary friendship and the pursuit of happiness.

Buy Letters to Zell on Amazon.

About the Author:

Camille Griep lives and writes just north of Seattle, Washington. She is the managing editor of Easy Street and a senior editor at The Lascaux Review. Letters to Zell, is her first novel. You can read more at or chat with her on Twitter @camillethegriep.


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The Hook: Cities and Thrones by Carrie Patel

June 28, 2015


The Hook:

Jane Lin and Fredrick Anders had been on the run for two weeks when they reached Meyerston. They fled not only the revolt in Recoletta, but also the news that would surely follow it. It was a vague and amorphous thing, but Jane had seen well enough how it sowed panic, suspicion, and violence in its wake. She was not certain what form it would take in the communes, but she knew they would do well to stay ahead of it.

As difficult as it was to gauge the progress of an invisible and impersonal antagonist, in their journey between the communes, they’d encountered nothing more than courteous – if deliberate – remoteness. Footpaths and farmers guided them from one commune to the next, where they were received and dispatched with polite disinterest.

Until they reached Meyerston.

Carrie Patel writes:

One of the challenges of beginning a sequel is picking up from a previous story without slowing down in the new story. You want to bring new readers into the action without giving them whiplash, and you want to serve up your stakes with a side of context.

What better way to kick things off than to have your characters start the new book by running for their lives from the ending of the last book?

Cities and Thrones is about a revolution that starts in the city of Recoletta and spreads. It’s about the characters that alternately flee, fight, and adapt to that revolution. It follows the aftershocks of all of the turmoil and upheaval from The Buried Life and traces the fault lines that split across a region and the people who live in it.

In the opening paragraphs, Jane and Fredrick are escaping Recoletta, the only home they’ve ever known, to shelter in strange new lands. They’re fleeing the grim certainty of violent change for the uncertainty of the unknown.

And all the while, they’re being chased by something that’s little more than a whisper on the wind—the unrest that’s riding in the wake of the revolution and the mention of their names as conspirators and fugitives.

So they scramble and sneak, navigating new territory and the guarded people who inhabit it. All goes as planned until they reach the quiet farming commune of Meyerston, where once again, everything changes.

Buy Cities and Thrones on Amazon.

About the author:

Carrie Patel is an expatriate Texan living in Southern California. Her first novel, The Buried Life, met with critical acclaim, including a starred review in Publishers Weekly. Cities and Thrones comes out July 7. She also works as a narrative designer for Obsidian Entertainment, and she wrote most recently for the RPG Pillars of Eternity. Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Exchange virtual fist-bumps with her on Twitter at @Carrie_Patel, or visit her website.


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The Hook: The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath by Ishbelle Bee

June 1, 2015


The Hook:

In the summer of 1887, my grandfather stole a clock. He trundled it out in a wheelbarrow and loaded it into a pony and trap, and off he went with a click-ity clop. A big smile stretched across his face like a chalk line drawn by a child on a blackboard, wonky and unsure.

Click-ity clop

The clock was six feet high

Click-ity clop

and the shape of a coffin.

Ishbelle Bee says:

The beginning of my book neatly sums up its entire premise – an object of great power: a sinister clock which is obsessively pursued by a variety of individuals because of what it contains. As the grandfather clock is the shape of a coffin, it is suggestive of  acting as a vessel in which to place a dead body. In this case, the object inside the clock is a little girl called Mirror, locked inside by her insane grandfather. She is rescued by a policeman who becomes her supernatural guardian but they are pursued by the Lord of the Underworld assassin, John Loveheart, because he wants to eat her and absorb her powers.

The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath is a Victorian horror fairytale set during the Jack the Ripper killings in London, Egypt and the Underworld and reveals a variety of unusual and colourful characters, including fraudulent psychics, secret cults, a photographer of the dead, a death mask collector, Jack the Ripper and bewildered Scotland Yard detectives.

It is a book about a magic, sinister clock. It is a book about the nature of time and the possibilities of manipulating and consuming it.

Buy The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath on Amazon.

About the author:

Ishbelle Bee writes horror and loves fairy-tales, the Victorian period (especially top hats!) and cake tents at village fêtes (she believes serial killers usually opt for the Victoria Sponge). She currently lives in Edinburgh. She doesn’t own a rescue cat, but if she did his name would be Mr Pickles.


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The Hook: Enter the Janitor by Josh Vogt

May 25, 2015

Enter the Janitor - Cover

The Hook:

Ben shuffled into the college library, tugging his squeaky janitorial cart along like a coffin-on-wheels. The moment he entered the place, his right arm started aching, adding a small, but significant voice to the chorus of twinges, knotted muscles, and scars that composed his aging body.

Ignoring this as best he could, he took a big whiff of the place. He snorted and shook his head, gray ponytail flapping.

At the noise, heads popped up from textbooks and tablets as students stared his way. Ben gave them his best grumpy grandpa look until they turned back to their books.

Resisting the urge to massage his arm, he made eye contact with the young man behind the main desk. Jason, the work-study for the evening, flashed a relieved smile as he lurched out of his chair and headed the janitor’s way.

Ben tugged at his blue jumpsuit so his name, threaded in red on the left breast, displayed prominently. The spray bottle hanging on his belt quivered as the water sloshed within. Ben scowled and slapped it.

“Shaddup,” he whispered. “I can handle this.”

Josh Vogt says:

Enter the Janitor is the first in my humorous urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, which reveals the inner workings of the supernatural sanitation company that secretly keeps our world clean and safe. In it, Ben, the janitor in question, must discover the source of an imbalance between Purity and Corruption before it wipes out whole cities—while also keeping his new (and germaphobic) apprentice alive.

The opening of the novel intentionally mirrors the title, immediately bringing in the titular janitor as he strolls (or trudges, actually) onto the scene. With it being a bit of an oddball urban fantasy, I aimed for the beginning to accomplish several things at once. First off, I wanted readers to go, “Enter the Janitor? Really?” and then open to the first page and go, “Oh, well, that certainly delivers. I wonder if the rest of it does.” I also wanted to establish Ben’s character as quickly as possible, conveying his attitude and voice right off to indicate he’s far from your typical fantasy hero.

Alongside all that, the opening is meant to hint at a few elements out of the ordinary, suggesting at things lurking behind-the-scenes and tugging the reader to read on and find out what happens next. On the surface, you get what could be interpreted as an everyday event—a janitor on the job. But there are some clues in these first lines that this isn’t your average sanitation situation.

So, the hook gives readers what the title has them expecting…but then twists it slightly to get them questioning precisely what Ben is there to “handle” and how he intends to do so.

And everything just gets messier from there.

Buy Enter the Janitor on Amazon

About the author:

Josh Vogt has been published in dozens of genre markets with work ranging from flash fiction to short stories to doorstopper novels that cover fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. His debut fantasy novel, Forge of Ashes, adds to the RPG Pathfinder Tales tie-in line. WordFire Press is also launching his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor (2015) and The Maids of Wrath (2016). You can find him at or on Twitter @JRVogt. He’s a member of SFWA as well as the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.


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The Hook: Seriously Wicked by Tina Connolly

May 5, 2015


The Hook

I was mucking out the dragon’s garage when the witch’s text popped up on my phone.


“Ugh,” I said to Moonfire. “Here we go again.”

Tina Connolly writes:

Seriously Wicked is a lighthearted YA novel about a girl who lives with a “seriously wicked” witch. Cam’s voice just popped into my head one day and the whole novel spilled out.

Now, there was lots of rewriting, of course! I wrote the first draft of this book before Ironskin. Seriously Wicked was my fifth completed novel, and the first what I thought of as a “really-truly” novel, a full-length novel I believed in and loved. Still, Seriously Wicked was my fifth novel, and Silverblind (my most recently-written novel, that came out Oct 2014) was my tenth. So, I like to think I’ve learned a little bit.

And one thing that happened with Seriously Wicked is that I rewrote the beginning. Again and again. Oh, right, and did I say again? Yes. Again. I kept coming back to this book between later novels and rewriting the whole novel, but particularly the beginning, because as we all know, your opening has to work very very hard to set the stage and tone and characters and hook the reader and everything else.

For fun, I thought I’d show you how much better the beginning got over time:


Chapter One: Introduction To Me, aka CASH

Look. Say you’re a girl. And say someday you grow up and decide to be preggers. When you’re carrying around an innocent little baby with blue eyes and a kinda smooshed nose that everyone says someday she’ll grow into, then for the love of pete, do not under any circumstances say you just gotta have pickles dipped in chocolate.

Note: This is a terrible opening. I have no idea who CASH is. Also, as a reader, I don’t want to be accused of being A) a girl, B) preggers, and C) liking pickles and chocolate. The only thing good I can say about this opening is that putting these words down on the page made all the other words follow in a flood.



Chapter One: Hot Seat

If you think your life stinks because you have to take out the recycling or vacuum your room or something normal like that, then listen up.

Every morning before school I got to start by collecting the dragon’s milk and mucking out her living quarters. There aren’t many dragons left, if any, but there’s one for sure living out back in the detached RV garage, big and warm and smelling of regret. The witch says one girl dragon doesn’t make any more noise than a chicken, and those are legal in the city, so so far she’s gotten away with it.

Note: Significantly better, but the opening sentence is still a bit aggressive (READER LET ME MAKE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT YOU), and then we talk about dragons for awhile and I’m starting to wonder how long this is going on. (Note: It goes on for PAGES. Cam tells you about EVERY SINGLE ONE OF HER MORNING CHORES.)


Draft 78 (approximately). Book title: SERIOUSLY WICKED

Chapter One: Girl on Fire

If you think your life stinks because your musical mom makes you practice violin three hours a day even though you’re tone deaf, or your athletic dad makes you stay on the high school diving team even though your best dive is a bellyflop, then listen up.

Here’s what it’s like to live with a witch.

Every morning at 4:55 AM I drag my weary butt out of bed and head straight for the choreboard. The choreboard is a shiny list of magical tasks the witch wants me to do to “understand true witchery” or something, and if I haven’t done every one by the time I leave for school, it magically slices my thumbs with papercuts.

Note: Not really better. Going backwards, I think. Ever heard the advice not to start with your character waking up? Okay then.


Draft 233 (approximately). Book title: SERIOUSLY WICKED

Chapter One: Girl on Fire

4:55 in the horrible, horrible A.M., and once again I was staring at a whiteboard framed in gilded wood carved with toothy serpents. A peeling office label on the bottom proclaimed: Chores by Which One Must Understand True Witchery.

The toothbrush dangled from my mouth while I pressed the label back down, picked up the dry-erase marker, and marked off, “Werewolf pup—feed and take outside” with a big red X.

Then yelped as the choreboard gave me a papercut on my thumb.

Note: I rather like this setting, but it brings up weird questions (how does a choreboard give you a papercut? It’s magical, okay? GO WITH IT) and you don’t want the reader having weird papercut-related questions on the first page. Also, she’s still basically just waking up and going through her chores. I do like the juxtaposition between the whiteboard/office labels and witchy things.


And then finally (FINALLY!) we get to the real one. The final one.



I was mucking out the dragon’s garage when the witch’s text popped up on my phone.


“Ugh,” I said to Moonfire. “Here we go again.”

Note: I kept the most important chore (mucking out the dragon’s RV garage) and then we jump RIGHT TO THE CONFLICT WITH THE WITCH. No detailed explanation of every single one of Cam’s magical chores. No weird musings about papercuts or pickles. It still establishes the humor in the story, which partly comes from the juxtaposition of magic and mundanity: dragons living in garages, a wicked witch who sends her demands by text (the witch is a big texter.) It still establishes that Cam has to work. A lot. And then: Cam brings the witch a bird and the witch tells her she’s planning to take over the world. Just a normal Tuesday.

Buy Seriously Wicked on Amazon

About the author:

Tina Connolly is the Nebula-nominated author of the Ironskin trilogy from Tor Books. Her next book, Seriously Wicked, comes out May 5th from Tor Teen. Her stories have appeared in Women Destroy SF, Lightspeed,, Strange Horizons, UFO 3, and many more. Her narrations have appeared in podcasts including Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and she recently recorded the audiobook for Alex Shvartsman’s Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma, which is available on Amazon. She runs the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake.


If you’re an author with a book coming out soon and you wish to participate on The Hook, please read this.