Spotlight, Spotlight, & Excerpt: The Stars Within + Giveaway

The Stars Within blog announcement

Cover - The Stars Within

The Stars Within
by Lena Alison Knight
Series: The Gift of the Stars #1
Genre: Space Opera/Military Sci-Fi
Intended Age Group: Adult
Pages: 238
Published: 2021
Publisher: Self Published


Content/Trigger Warnings:

Shown on page:

Frequent, non-graphic violence
Corporate imperialism
War w/ civilian casualties

Alluded to:

Family separation
Torture


Book Blurb:

For Kerelle Evandra, her psionic powers have always meant three things: mandatory service to a multigalactic corporation, a luxurious lifestyle as a prized asset, and an electronic collar that will kill her if she steps out of line. As a powerful telekinetic, she’s spent the last ten years of her life in the corporate military, fighting anyone and anywhere the company demands. While she might resent her gilded cage – and obedience to her corporate masters’ cold directives – everyone knows that escape is impossible. And defiance risks not just her own life, but also the life of the person closest to her: Galhen Ambrel, her lover and fellow bound psionic.

But when Galhen’s service contract is suddenly sold to a distant oligarch, Kerelle learns that obedience was not the guarantee of safety she once thought – and that escape may not be as inconceivable as she was taught to believe. When a mission brings her into contact with an unexpected ally, she must decide how far she can go, and how much she’s willing to risk for freedom.

Solving Problems with Explosions • The Power of Friendship (and Guns) • Love in the Time of Corporate Dystopia

Amazon
Goodreads


Excerpt:

Even from the air, Kalnis was a teeming, derelict mess. Here and there were the shells of grand buildings, indicating that perhaps things had once been better – or at least that someone with investment money had believed they might get better. Judging by the age and condition of those buildings now, any such hopes had long since fled. They dropped down over a sea of rickety walls and broken windows to touch ground at a drab concrete field surrounded by razor wire.

They were met at the landing pad by a shifty man in a worn port authority uniform. Sandrel paid him the requested docking fee, then reached into his jacket to count out another two hundred credits. The port worker pocketed it with a nod and moved on.

Sandrel caught Kerelle’s questioning glance as he returned to the ship.

“First amount is the docking fee we pay to land here. The second one is the ‘security fee,’ which is a nice way of saying the bribe that makes sure the ship is still here when we get back.” He explained this nonchalantly without having to be asked; Kerelle’s performance with the ship’s guns had apparently elevated her in Sandrel’s opinion.

Sandrel turned to regard Kerelle and Nalea both. “Doc, are you sure you want to stay with the ship?”

The scientist gave a small nod. She’d been quiet since they got their first good look at Kalnis, and her second thoughts about the entire venture were written plainly across her face.

“All right then,” he said. “Keep everything locked up, stay out of sight and don’t answer the door. We paid our bribe to keep the ship from being stolen, but it never hurts to be extra careful, especially here. We’ll be back as soon as we have the parts we need.” Nalea only nodded again and drew back further into the ship. Kerelle felt a twist of worry at leaving her, but locked inside the ship was probably far safer than roaming the streets.

Up close, Kalnis was even worse off than it looked in the air. Garbage carpeted the claustrophobic streets, with scattered piles of pungent refuse that spoke to a lack of accessible sanitation. The uneven sidewalks were hemmed in by crumbling concrete block towers, many with plywood shanties built around them like vines beginning to choke a tree – though she hadn’t seen a tree since they broke atmosphere. Most people they passed hurried about their business, carefully not looking at anyone. Those that didn’t were the clusters of rough-looking individuals who leaned against walls here and there, watching the passerby like sharks sizing up a school of fish.

Sandrel walked with brisk purpose and no sign of fear, and Kerelle followed suit. All the same, she brushed those they passed with telepathic encouragement that there was nothing about her and Sandrel worth noticing. As the smuggler had said, it never hurt to be extra careful.

True to his word, Sandrel knew where they were going, and he led them unerringly to a battered storefront in a small cluster of merchants that passed for a shopping center. With reinforced bars over their windows and heavy chains to secure their doors, it seemed more to Kerelle that the shops were huddled for mutual defense.

She waited quietly to the side while Sandrel negotiated for what they needed. She could be of no help fixing the ship, but she didn’t intend to stand idly by. Kerelle kept her senses open for anyone in their vicinity who might be trouble. She’d done a good job on the way in though, or else Sandrel had, because she sensed no one who had taken note of them. So far so good.

Sandrel briskly shook hands with the proprietor and credits changed hands, and soon they were back in those filthy streets with several small boxes stowed in his pack. Kerelle marveled that their survival could be contained in such little things, but it was probably for the best they didn’t have to visibly carry them.

She kept up her mental shield of anonymity as they made their way back to the dock, and to her relief they passed back into the bleak little shipyard without incident. Now all they had to do was install the parts and leave this wretched world behind them. There was just one problem.

The ship was gone.


Author Interview:

1. Tell us a little about how this story first came to be.
So there were a lot of things that came together in this story, but the initial spark was work. More specifically, it was a culture of work where your entire identity is centered on your job, with this almost religious devotion. The PsiCorp sort of grew out of that, and my feelings around it.

Which feels odd to say now, because the story actually got away from the PsiCorp fairly quickly – once I sat down to write it, Kerelle escaping that situation was more interesting than living through it. But in a way the PsiCorp concept is what started the whole thing.

2. What, if anything, did you learn when writing the book?
I learned I’m a plantser! I have to meticulously plan my books, or else I can’t make any progress at all. If I just sit down and write and try to figure it out as I go, I’ll hit a wall where it’s not clear where to go next, and for me it’s very hard to get over that wall if I’m knee-deep in writing the actual draft. By outlining the whole story before I start, I always know where I’m going (and so we’ll actually get there!).

While working on this series, though, I discovered that I still have some pantser moments. I would hit a point in my outline that didn’t quite feel right on the actual page, or I would have a sudden burst of inspiration for another scene that wasn’t in the outline but would be a great fit for this part of the story. At first I tried to just stick with what I had planned, but I learned that sometimes giving into the pantser impulses could improve the overall flow of the story. Some of my favorite scenes in the series weren’t in the outline.

3. What surprised you the most in writing it?
I was surprised how much the characters took on their own voices and personalities as I went along. There were times when I would reach something I’d put in the outline and realize “no, she would never say that, actually” and have to rethink the scene. I had the broad strokes of them from the outline, but I got to really know them so much better when I was writing the actual draft.

4. If it’s not a spoiler, what does the title mean?
It’s a bit oblique, but the first book is called The Stars Within because so much of the central conflict is internal. We follow Kerelle through a number of external conflicts, of course, there’s a lot of action in this book. But the really important one is in her head, reconciling what she was raised to believe with a reality that doesn’t match up, and struggling with what she might be able to do about it.

The Stars Within is also the book where Kerelle is most withdrawn from the world around her, which contributed to the name as well. Found family is an important theme in the later books, but for most of The Stars Within she’s on her own.

5. Were any of the characters inspired by real people? If so, do they know?
Not exactly. I actually like to say that all of the characters are me – not literally, of course, but I can recognize certain aspects of myself that went into them.

6. Do you consider the book to have a lesson or moral?
I wouldn’t say it has a moral, per se. I would say more that it has ideas, particularly around corporate power in society. Kerelle and her friends live in a world where these mega-corps have accumulated enough political and social power that in some places they’re indistinguishable from the government.
When we meet Kerelle, actually, it’s in the midst of SysTech acting like an imperial power, even though they’re a private business entity. The book opens there partially to give the reader a fast and unambiguous introduction to how SysTech operates – including both why Kerelle might want out, and why she has zero doubt they’d make good on their threats to kill her if she tried. But starting on Elekar is also meant to pose one of the big questions that our protagonists need to grapple with throughout the series. How do you rein in a private entity, when society lets them get away with this?

7. What is your favorite part of the book?
I’m going to cheat a bit here. I think of the book as having two phases – a phase when Kerelle believes the PsiCorp is inevitable, and a phase when she doesn’t. I have a favorite for each.

In the first phase, my favorite part is when Galhen first joins her on Elekar. We learn a lot about both of them, and they have some fairly serious discussions, but we also get to see them relax and banter and support each other through some very difficult situations. I feel like in SFF we have a lot of stories about people forming relationships (which I like also, don’t get me wrong!), but we don’t have many stories about people who are in relationships. That’s something I’d like to see more of, because life doesn’t end once you get together, you know? So in some ways, this was me writing the story I wanted to read.

In the second phase I’m going to be a bit more vague, since this is well into spoiler territory. My favorite part here is the moment of truth for Kerelle’s ambitions of leaving the PsiCorp, and its immediate aftermath. It was quite fun to write, and also gives Kerelle the first nudge towards some important realizations about herself.

8. Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
Kerelle’s friend Mila, actually. She’s not even in the book that much, but she plays an important role both in helping Kerelle’s path move forward and in representing a more typical PsiCorp experience. By the time we meet Kerelle, she’s shaken off some of her childhood indoctrination; Mila has not. In her, we see how PsiCorp are supposed to act – and often do.

At the same time, though, I didn’t want her to be this one-note caricature. Yes, Mila reflects the values of her upbringing, but she really does care about Kerelle’s well-being. She genuinely tries to help Kerelle recover from loss, the only way she knows how. And I didn’t want it to feel like the story was criticizing her for the fact that the only way she was ever taught to provide emotional support is by taking someone shopping.

Most of the other characters actually developed pretty naturally – I had a good sense for who they were and their role in the story, and their voices were relatively clear from the beginning. Mila took me a couple of tries before she felt “right.”

9. What are your immediate future plans?
I’m working on a science fantasy project that’s been a lot of fun so far, that I’m hoping to be able to share more about soon. I’ve also got a longer-term series project going that’s more on the epic side, and I’ve been trying my hand more at short fiction.


About the Author:

Lena Alison Knight grew up reading space opera and high fantasy, and started writing her own as soon as she could hold a crayon steady. She lives with her husband in the San Francisco Bay Area, and when not writing she can be found taking brisk walks, haunting local coffee shops, or sprawled on the couch playing video games. Find her online at lenaalisonknight.com.

Author Photo - Lena Alison Knight
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Starts: August 18, 2022 at 12:00am EST
Ends: August 24, 2022 at 11:59pm EST
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Spotlight & Author Interview: Mercury’s Shadow + Giveaway

Mercury's Shadow blog announcement

Cover - Mercury's Shadow

Mercury’s Shadow
Series: The Kardashev Cycle #1
by PJ Garcin
Genre: Sci-Fi/Space Opera
Intended Age Group: 13+
Pages: 344
Published: July 5, 2020
Publisher: Rawktron Productions (Self Published)

On Page Content/Trigger Warnings: Violence, Warfare, Weapons, Death/dying, Serious injury

Alluded to Content/Trigger Warnings:  Violence, Warfare, Weapons, Death/dying, Serious injury


Blurb:

One man’s lust for power threatens the future of humanity—can a young girl from the outer system stop it all?

Imogen “Chim” Esper is thrust into the center of an interplanetary conflict when her family is torn apart by the cruel and indifferent Kardashev Corporation. Forced to run, along with her robotic best friend, Chim struggles to find her place in a society that is poised for revolutionary transformation.

The Kardashev Corporation dominates all commerce and politics in the solar system. Its megalomaniac CEO, Alton Neal, is hell-bent on transforming society by capturing the full energy output of the sun through the creation of a Dyson Swarm.

Citizens of Earth and the stations throughout the system must band together to protect access to the lifeblood of the system or risk becoming permanently enslaved to the Kardashev Corporation.

Mercury’s Shadow is a thrilling adventure that blends real science, big ideas, grand adventure and high stakes to introduce a new heroine and a deep universe that will leave readers asking for more.

A Million Little Pieces • Tech Billionaires Unchecked • Butterfly Effect

Amazon US
Universal Amazon Link
Universal Link (all stores)
Goodreads


Author Interview:

1. Tell us a little about how this story first came to be.
[PJ] I think the book idea started with the concept of what if you had one of these tech billionaires who just kept going and owned more and more of everything, what would that look like? And then the whole universe kind of flowed from that. I wanted it to be a kind of epic space adventure, but I really wanted a main character that my daughters could identify with. So, Chim, the main character is a teen girl who finds herself caught up in this interplanetary conflict pretty much against her will. And she has to navigate that while at the same time navigating a pretty traumatic personal tragedy.

2. What, if anything, did you learn when writing the book?
[PJ] I learned a lot about science and physics as I tried to ground everything based in real science. So I did lots of math to calculate travel times, and ensure that even the stuff that is a bit far out there has some basis in reality.

3. What surprised you the most in writing it?
[PJ] How much easier it was to work from an outline! This is the first time I had a really detailed outline to work from and it made things so much easier to work through.

4. If it’s not a spoiler, what does the title mean?
[PJ] Mercury’s Shadow refers to the Dyson Swarm that Alton Neal (the villain) and the Kardashev Corporation build in the novel (it’s revealed very early). Alton refers to the fact that the tiny planet Mercury “casts a long shadow upon the sun”. He’s referring to the millions of solar collectors that they constructed from the raw materials on Mercury and put into orbit around the sun to capture its energy.

5. Were any of the characters inspired by real people? If so, do they know?
[PJ] Well, Alton Neal, the villain is a kind of melting-pot of popular tech billionaires. You can see shades of Elon Musk or Richard Branson or any of these billionaires who have these grandiose plans to colonize Mars or build space hotels. And the thinking is, ok, what if these guys just kept going and nobody stopped them, where does that end up?

6. Do you consider the book to have a lesson or moral?
[PJ] I think all books have a lesson/moral just implicitly. In this book, I think there’s a big exploration around the kind of society that we want to live in and who should set the agenda for that society. If we’re not careful, it will be set by those with the most wealth, and that isn’t necessarily what’s in the best interest of everyone.

7. What is your favorite part of the book?
[PJ] Well, without spoiling anything, my favourite part of the book is in the middle when Chim discovers both some new abilities with some tech, but at the same time uncovers a new mystery about her own family and past. And this moment, while I think is really powerful, also sets up the rest of the series.

8. Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
[PJ] I think for me, it’s probably Chancellor Okeke. She is a fascinating character who has this really incredible background and personality, but also has an experience and identity that is probably the furthest from my own. That’s part of the fun and challenge of writing though, to discover and explore different viewpoints and characters and I really enjoyed writing her sections.

9. What are your immediate future plans?
[PJ] Finish editing on Book 3! I’m in the home stretch now and it will be exciting to have the conclusion of the series out there in the world so that people can experience the entire journey. After that, I have a bunch of ideas and projects that I want to explore next.


About the Author

Author Photo - PJ GarcinPJ Garcin has been writing stories, music and games for most of his life. He writes from the beautiful east coast of Canada where he has worked extensively in video games and technology for the past 20 years. Picking up a long running writing thread, he recently completed the first book in the Kardashev Cycle — Mercury’s Shadow.

The Kardashev Cycle follows the rise and expansion of the dominant Kardashev Corporation and its near universal control over the solar system. The first book in the series, Mercury’s Shadow, introduces the young Imogen Esper — a resourceful young girl from a mining station in the asteroid belt who finds herself caught up in an interplanetary conflict when her father is injured during a routine maintenance mission. The second book, Chimera’s Prism, continued the adventure in 2021. The final installment, Eternity’s Veil, is due in 2022.

PJ is a regular speaker at technology conferences on topics ranging from interactive narrative to machine learning. He has an undergrad degree in English, Rhetoric and Professional Writing as well as a Master’s degree in Communication.

He worked as Executive Producer in games on titles that sold more than 27 million units in total. He worked on large franchises such as FIFA, Madden, and Guitar Hero while helping to launch successful indie franchises like The Golf Club (now PGA Tour) and Infinite Air. He currently works as Director of Product Management for an open-source-focused SaaS company.

Author Site
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Starts: August 8, 2022 at 12:00am EST
Ends: August 14, 2022 at 11:59pm EST


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Audio Spotlight: Foundra + Author Interview

Foundra Banner

Title: Foundra

Author: Emmanuel M Arriaga

Narrator: Melissa Reizian

Length: 16 hours and 7 minutes

Series: Foundra Series, Book 1

Publisher: EA Starchilde Company

Released: Mar. 4, 2022

Genre: Science Fiction; Space Opera

15th Annual National Indie Excellence Award Finalist
2021 Reader’s Favorite Finalist for Best Sci-Fi Romance Novel

The Huzien Empire has existed for 80 millennia and a powerful invisible force known as the enesmic permeates every aspect of the Twin Galaxy.

Neven is an engineer working for the pinnacle of scientific achievement known as the MinSci on the Huzien homeworld of Thae. His genius draws the attention of one of the immortal Founders and he finds himself drafted into the military as part of an elite group of special forces known as the Founder’s Elites. Not given much time to adjust, his team is called to investigate stories of otherworldly creatures attacking fringe colony worlds.

Soahc is the most powerful wielder of the enesmic in the Twin Galaxy. He’s also incredibly cocky. That is, until he senses a powerful shifting in the enesmic that he can’t explain. Terrified that something is horribly wrong, Soahc leaves his comfortable planet and hitches a ride with Neven and the Founder’s Elites as they investigate the carnage on the fringes of the empire.

Neven, Soahc, and their allies discover something ancient from another plane of existence. Something that exposes the fragility of their galactic empire as they fight to survive annihilation from enesmic beings.

 

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Q&A with Author Emmanuel M. Arriaga
  • Tell us about the process of turning your book into an audiobook.
    • When I created Foundra, I had a mental image of how the characters looked and sounded. It was incredibly valuable to document this process during the creation of Foundra, especially the phonetic process because it helped me further flush out aspects of the universe and language that had simply been in my head before hand. When you have to explain to a narrator how to pronounce something, it makes it real, and the first time you hear it spoken by an incredible professional like the narrator for Foundra, it blew my mind. During our collaboration on this project, Melissa invested a lot of energy in getting the pronunciation just right and I appreciated that professionalism.
  • Do you believe certain types of writing translate better into audiobook format?
    • I spend most of my reading time listening to audiobooks, I think it brings the content to life in a way that is true to life for the original author and their vision of the characters. With that said, I think audiobooks with a lot of action translate very well. Combat scenes and intense moments of conflict build up that suspense in a way unique to the format.
  • Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?
    • I always planned to have Foundra made into an audiobook. When I was in the final editing stages, I actually read the novel out loud, to make sure it flowed well. It was something I did unintentionally that really brought the story alive for me and something that I was excited to work with a professional to bring to everyone.
  • How did you select your narrator?
    • I spent a lot of time with auditions for Foundra. I utilized the acx platform and invested a lot of time and energy in going out and looking for great narrators. I would reach out to them directly and ask them to audition. This was how I met Melissa. After I heard her read my book, and the care and thoughtfulness that she spent in bringing the story to life, I knew immediately that she was the right narrator. People say it all the time but honestly, once I heard her audition, I knew I found the right person. I had over 15 people who had auditioned, many of them very good, but Melissa was heads and shoulders above the rest and just treated the content like it was special, putting energy into it that I hadn’t seen from anyone else.
  • How closely did you work with your narrator before and during the recording process? Did you give them any pronunciation tips or special insight into the characters?
    • We worked very closely during the original creation process, many text messages were exchanged with audio clips and questions about how to say something. It was a learning process for me and a valuable experience for understanding the process for how an audiobook is created. It’s not as simple as most people think and involves a lot of time and effort, re-listening to clips, noting down changes, etc. It’s a time investment for the narrator and the author (and producer if the narrator doesn’t do their own production).
  • Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?
    • Some of the characters in Foundra were inspired by people I know in real life. I say inspired because they aren’t carbon copies, rather someone’s personality, style or character trait influenced a character and then that character took on a life of their own and became a unique individual. In many instances, characters are mash ups of multiple people I know and done in a way that allows for originality in the characters’ decisions and life choices.
  • How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for writing?
    • Honestly, the best way to avoid burn-out is to write every day. It sounds counter intuitive, but it’s actually surprisingly effective. I find when I take breaks from writing, or write infrequently, it actually becomes harder to write. It is less of a muscle and more of monumental effort that I have to find time for. But when I write daily, I find myself easily able to hop onto my computer, write a chapter and then head off to go do something else. The creative energies are constantly flowing, my subconscious continuously at work building out plots and sub pots and cool scenes and other things and I just have to sit down and get it into a doc to allow the creative process to continue. When I wait a long time to do that, my writing suffers and my progress slows. I also feel less fulfilled in everything else in my life and that tells me that writing is truly something that brings me joy. Something that influences every other aspect of my life. So for me, to avoid burn-out, I have to write daily.
  • Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?
    • I love audiobooks, it’s the primary method that I get through books today with two young boys and a full-time job in Tech. When I think about how I best digest information, lecturing and hearing information has always been most effective for me. So when I listen to audiobooks, I process it quickly and usually listen at a faster speed than normal. This allows me to get through books quickly in a life that would otherwise make it difficult for me to sit down and physically read a book.
  • Is there a particular part of this story that you feel is more resonating in the audiobook performance than in the book format?
    • There is this section of the story that deals with this monumental battle. It’s this pivotal section toward the middle of the story that switches between characters fighting in starships in space orbiting this planet and then characters on the ground of the same planet fighting in frontline combat. Without giving anything away, the emotions that come out across the two conflicts are raw and showcase the creative power of Melissa in bringing the story to life through the eyes of characters in this conflict, both on the side of the protagonists and the side of the antagonists in this conflict.
  • What’s next for you?
    • I’m currently working on the third book in the Foundra series, additionally, I’m in the editing phase for a new fantasy novel that I’ll share more about in the coming months. I’m also hoping to start work on the audiobook to Pride of Ashna, the sequel to Foundra, toward the second half of 2022.

Emmanuel M. Arriaga is an imaginative award winning author with an engineering background working in the Technology sector. He is best known for the Foundra Series, a sci-fi space opera and National Indie Excellence Award (NIEA) Finalist. His rich worlds introduce diverse characters and expansive worldbuilding with innovative technologies and concepts. He is a bronze winner of the Readers’ Favorite Award for Best Young Adult Action Novel and a TopShelf Book Award Finalist.

Melissa Reizian has been a full-time voice actor for 20 years. She is an Audible-Approved Producer for audiobook narration and has accreditation from the World-Voices Organization.

Over the years, Melissa’s work has been featured by popular global brands, corporations and government agencies, including: Dr. Pepper, Sam’s Club, the Humane Society of the United States, The American Heart Association, Lytx (formerly Drivecam), Verizon, Motorola, 5/3 Bank, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.

Previously, Melissa was an award-winning, Emmy-nominated television journalist. Most recently, she was a reporter/producer/anchor at WLEX-TV in Lexington, Kentucky, where in addition to daily reporting and anchoring duties, she produced the award-winning half-hour education TV show, “Rising Star.”

Melissa’s news reports from Armenia aired on CNN World Report during the early 1990s, where she reported on the blockade there and war in neighboring Nagorno-Karabagh. Melissa is a 2nd-generation Armenian-American, and was there to help train journalists in that country in the ways of “American style journalism” after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Melissa holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she minored in Theatre.


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