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BurningDownHouseA somber sky looks down upon the fires of Grianach as the conflict intensifies. Voltan and Olivia overlook what was once their home, and feel lost in a world now totally alien to them. In this illustration, Jeff Doten has done a beautiful job of capturing the ominous atmosphere of what lay ahead for the children. They will have to carve their own paths, find their own ways of coping and moving forward after so much has been lost. The wind can blow these sparrows in many directions, and their quest for the right one will test the fabric of their souls.

Join in on Voltan and Olivia’s journey in Shepherds of Sparrows – now available on amazon.com.

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voltancaddy_DHAIn this illustration by Debbie Ha, we see the wonder of discovery through the eyes of Voltan, who has finally found a way to put his hyperactive mind to good use. He explores and manipulates protein structure using interactive goggles and gloves—which he masters immediately. Although Prokhor, his mentor, showed Voltan the door, it’s almost as if the mentor is clutching on, trying not to be left behind.

The curse of Voltan’s genetics turns into an asset as he makes leaps and bounds in the research to end the war. It provides a little bit of calm for him, distracting him from all the tragedy long enough to begin the process of healing. And although he gazes intently at projected proteins, his thoughts and purpose remain to save his siblings and everyone else in the Grianach district.

Join in on Voltan’s discoveries in Shepherds of Sparrows – now available on amazon.com.

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Art by Jeff Doten.

Art by Jeff Doten.

The genetically-enhanced citizens of Monitum don’t get to enjoy the benefits of their special blood. They are hunted and ostracized, and flee to the farmhouse where Nestor’s wife Remei takes them in. She’s overwhelmed and the house is full of starving, wounded refugees. The foster children, Olivia and Pleo, are neglected and the fragile strands holding the family together threaten to snap.

It’s only when the murderous mob surrounds the house that everyone comes together, and it might be too late. In this illustration by Jeff Doten we see Nestor and Remei defending the farmhouse from the hatred and prejudice that has already spiraled out of control. It is a moment when all could be lost, and this scene determines the fate of every character in the book.

Check out Shepherds of Sparrows – now available on amazon.com — to find out what happens next!

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Originally posted on Reality Skimming, another glimpse of the multi-vision promo.

oliviavoltan_reading_col1

Art by Debbie Ha

Olivia and Voltan, brother and sister, bonded through the stories they read together growing up. Since their parents spent so much time running the spaceport that left Olivia as a surrogate mother for her youngest brother. In this illustration by Debbie Ha, we catch a glimpse of the possibility, the explorative nature of reading that allows two siblings to grow closer together. This is a scene before the events of the novel—before their world is turned upside down.

Voltan longs for these forms of escape with his sister as the situation in Grianach spirals out of control. He tries, on multiple occasions, to get her to sit down and read with him, but she’s too consumed by the need to find their other brother, Pleo. Eventually Voltan seeks refuge elsewhere, to try and find another world, another place he can come to terms with. Olivia maintains her leadership role as a shepherd of other refugees.

In the end, the foundation provided by their childhood reading serves as a bedrock to help each other through the healing process. Never underestimate the power of reading.

Check out Shepherds of Sparrows, now available on amazon.com

Book launches coming to Vancouver and Edmonton in spring 2014.

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Sarah Trick interviewed me for Shepherds of Sparrows! The transcript first appeared on Reality Skimming.

Nestor Tark is a recurring character in your Legacies stories. Can you fill people who might be new to the series in on where you got the idea for the character and his story so far? What do you see as his place in the larger Okal Rel Universe, and where do you see him going?

I dreamed up Nestor after reading Righteous Anger. He started out as the middle-man between the conflicting ideologies of the Nesaks and the Nersallians. I wanted to exaggerate the tension between the two cultures, and Nestor became someone who could see the good and bad in both, and was torn between them. He began his journey as someone struggling to choose sides as he fights a war he doesn’t believe in. At first he’s forced to admit to himself where his loyalties and preferences lie (Opus3:Nestor’s Gap), then as the stories continue he’s put in situations where he has to make those loyalties public, broadcast them (Opus4:Nestor’s Blood). He becomes more satisfied with himself but pays the price for being an outcast when his son is kidnapped in Opus5:The Caddy, and Nestor is targeted because of his radical nature. In Shepherds of Sparrows Nestor plays the role of someone who accepts other outcasts, helps them and welcomes them. This is the role I see him playing in the larger Okal Rel Universe – a shining example that the status quo can be perturbed without destroying it. That people don’t have to accept A or B, and that they can choose their own path. Nestor helps the children in Shepherds and becomes a champion for those who have none – and to me that’s a hugely important and interesting role that the Okal Rel Universe needs. I believe Nestor’s example of “outside the box” behaviour plays a role in the final book of the series, in fact – but I’m not allowed to spoil it here.

As a scientist yourself, how did you deal with the theme of mistrust of science that figured so prominently in Shepherds of Sparrows and throughout the Okal Rel Universe? Do you, like some of the characters, ever think science can go too far?

As a scientist, I’ve really tried to be honest about what science can or cannot do in my work. I think there’s a polarization of science in media, a tendency to look at it as either all good or all bad. This frustrates me a lot, and as a result I tend to write situations where the science is blurry – it’s both good and bad. I think that’s the nature of progress, and what I try to get across is that as we increase our knowledge and understanding of the universe we also have an increased burden of responsibility to put that knowledge to good use. In Shepherds I tried to keep the focus on the actions of the people involved, and whether they were being good or evil – not the science itself. There are examples on both sides – the children use the gifts of their genetic modification to the betterment of Grianach, while The Caddy (in Opus 5) fabricates the Takoshi for bloody gambling rings. I could give more but don’t want to spoil anything!

You write several scenes from the point of view of Di Mon in your book. Is it difficult for you to write an established character as opposed to ones you’ve made up yourself?

At first writing from Di Mon’s point of view was a challenge, but Lynda helped me out a lot. He’s one of my favourite characters and including him in my work was something that really intrigued and fascinated me. I think as I’ve read more of the series and worked with him, I’ve gotten better at capturing his personality, but it’s been a cool experience – I feel like I know him really intimately and yet there isn’t that connection to his creation (like I would have with my own characters). He’s like a good friend I’ve known for years.

What made you come up with the idea for genetically-modified highborns as your protagonists? Okal Rel distrusts science in general, so what made you decide you wanted to concentrate on the genetic side of things?

I really liked the honour code of Okal Rel, and felt that one of the main obstacles every character in the series faces is dealing with his/her blood type or genetic legacy. So much of someone’s life in the Gelack Empire is determined by these traits over which they have no control. It seemed natural to me that people would get frustrated enough – and distanced enough from the atrocities of science – that they’d be tempted to take control. I see the ORU in a sense as a big thought experiment evaluating the ethics of science, honor, loyalty, greed, and a ton of other issues all at once. The genetic temptation seemed like a natural and interesting experiment, and I thought it’d be really fun to take a look at what people would choose – their honour or a better life for their family.

What’s the difference in your creative process between writing your original characters and ones you’ve gotten to know, like Di Mon? What is the most challenging part of integrating into a shared universe?

My characters: I have the freedom to shape in almost any way I like, and I usually come up with them as I read Lynda’s work – basically whoever I think would make a cool addition or have an interesting take on an ORU situation. For the existing characters I’ve gotten to know, I’m more constrained but at the same time I have a lot of material that I can draw from if I get stuck. In the initial stories I wrote Lynda had to rein me in quite a bit, because Di Mon was doing/saying things he would never do/say. I’d say the most challenging part of integrating into a shared universe is finding a way to patch the gaps in your understanding of it. With any created universe there are always a few details missing – sometimes to allow readers to fill it in for themselves and keep their imaginations active, or just because it’s not good writing to spend all your time world-building. When you’re trying to integrate into a shared universe, however, these gaps can be major stumbling blocks if a key plot element depends on person X doing or having something that you’re not really sure would happen. At first it was really intimidating, because I felt like I had to understand everything about Lynda’s universe to do a good job or even to suggest events. I think I’ve slowly learned how to walk the line and do interesting things in her universe without totally breaking it. Although, to be honest the first draft of Shepherds did break her universe, so I’m grateful that Lynda’s so patient and helpful with her feedback and guidance; she was able to take my story and keep enough of it intact. An unexpected outcome of the process has been that I really enjoy the main series novels a lot more now – I can really dig and get into the details and the characters, because I’ve invested so much time thinking about them. It’s going to be bittersweet to see the series wrap up.

Could you elaborate a little more on how the collaboration process works? How did you go from ‘breaking’ Lynda’s universe to not?

Usually I start with an idea and run it by Lynda – she gives me more of a box or framework to work within, and usually there’s a bit more back and forth to clarify details before I start writing the story.

For Shepherds it was a larger work and I ran with an idea that I had roughly ran by her (genetic modification of a liege leads to conflict). I took a fair bit of license after that, coming up with the weaving stories of the children, and I hadn’t clarified some of the details with her. For example, in the original version there were many Takoshi (lizard-like creatures) that could rip through hullsteel. That is too powerful and contrary to the engineering Lynda’s spent a lot of time developing, so that had to go. The scale of the conflict also had to be toned down to make it more plausible within the overall timeline. That was a change I was grateful for, because it added more realism to the clash since it was no longer “Hollywood scale” exaggerated. Another big change was the overall public perception of the genetic temptation and Di Mon’s awareness of corruption. Lynda managed to keep the story almost as is while putting in checks and balances that made the events flow and remain plausible within the ORU. I can’t imagine what it’s like to do that, and she did a great job.

There was one caveat about the whole story that determined how it ended, and I struggled with that constraint a lot as I was writing it. It wasn’t the first ending I would have chosen, but I completely understand the reasons for it. In the end it forced me to do some ethical and moral searching, and I’m happy with the way things turned out. I hope readers are too.

Where do you see your new characters going after this? Do you have any more adventures planned for them? Any non-ORU future projects in the works?

I think Nestor is making an appearance in the final main series book Unholy Science, and I’ll have to read it to see where I think he’ll go. Lynda’s mentioned doing some stories on the foundation/formation of Monitum (planet where the novel is set) which could be cool too, but wouldn’t involve Nestor. Voltan has grown on me a lot, and it’d be fun to do something with him. We’ll see where Reality Skimming takes us.

I’m editing my novel “Connecting Will” which is about the realities and possibilities of signal transmission through time. It’s very much a story about the impact of science on regular humans, and is the most ambitious and time-consuming project I’ve written. Fingers crossed that I can finish it and submit it to TOR soon! I just finished a few short stories for various contests, about religion and SF, post-apocalyptic Canada and text messaging.

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