Monday, April 13, 2015

Showcase: The Jack of Souls (The Unseen Moon #1) by Stephen C. Merlino


Harric, an outcast rogue, must break a curse put on his fate, or die on his next birthday. As the day approaches, nightmares from the spirit world stalk him and tear at his sanity; sorcery eats at his soul. 

To survive, he’ll need more than his usual tricks. He’ll need help—and a lot of it—but on the kingdom’s lawless frontier, his only allies are other outcasts. One of these outcasts is Caris, a mysterious, horse-whispering runaway, intent upon becoming the Queen’s first female knight. The other is Sir Willard—ex-immortal, ex-champion, now addicted to pain-killing herbs and banished from the court.

With their help, Harric might keep his curse at bay. But for how long? 

23964063And both companions bring perils and secrets of their own: Caris bears the scars of a troubled past that still hunts her; Willard is at war with the Old Ones, an order of insane immortal knights who once enslaved the kingdom. The Old Ones have returned to murder Willard and seize the throne from his queen. Willard is both on the run from them, and on one final, desperate quest to save her. 

Together, Harric and his companions must overcome fanatical armies, murderous sorcerers, and powerful supernatural foes.

Alone, Harric must face the temptation of a forbidden magic that could break his curse, but cost him the only woman he’s ever loved.

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In 2014, The Jack of Souls won the prestigious Pacific Northwest Writers Association award for fantasy.

In 2014, The Jack of Souls also won the Southwest Writers annual award for fantasy.
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"Of all the books I've read in the past couple of years, The Jack of Souls is by far my favorite. Merlino's remarkable imagination and storytelling skills had me on the edge of my seat the whole way through. I want to read the next book NOW!"
—Karen Duvall, author of Darkest Knight, and Demon Fare.

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"An epic ride, a magical world, and fantastic characters that grab your imagination and won't let go... The Jack of Souls has it all."
—Corinne O’Flynn, author of The Expatriates.

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"A rich and rewarding new fantasy mythos!"
—Rob May, author of Dragon Killer and Roll the Bones.

Stephen C. MerlinoStephen Merlino lives in Seattle, WA, where he writes, plays and teaches English to teens. He lives with the world's most desirable woman and two fabulous children, one cat, and three chickens.

Growing up in Seattle in constant rain drove Stephen indoors as a child, so he ended up reading a lot. At the age of eleven discovered J.R.R. Tolkein, Terry Brooks, and others, and for eight months of rain, he read.

Beautiful northwestern summers he spent on the beaches of Puget Sound, building worlds in the sand, fighting orcs and wizards with driftwood swords, and dreaming up fantasies with friends.

About the time a fifth reading of the Lord of the Rings ceased delivering the old magic, he attended the University of Washington and fell in love with Chaucer and Shakespeare and all things English. Sadly, the closest he got to England then was The Unicorn Pub on University Way, & that was run by a Scot named Angus. Nevertheless, he sampled Angus's weird ales, and devoured Angus's steak & kidney pie (with real offal!).

Stephen later backpacked Britain, where he discovered a magnificent retrospective of Henry VIII's body development--from childhood to old age--captured in a dozen suits of armor. Each suit was a 3D snapshot in steel of his exact body shape in a specific moment in time. Stephen observed His Majesty was glorious when young, but as an old man the king corpulent and developed what was either elephantiasis or an unhealthy infatuation with his codpiece.

Stratford-upon-Avon inspired Stephen to return the following year to study Shakespeare at the U of Reading. He now teaches Shakespeare, and, by following The Bard's example of plot thievery, built one of the subplots of A Midsummer Night's Dream into The Jack of Souls. It's one of his favorite parts of the story.

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Q: What inspires your writing?
A:  The question, “What if…”
“What if there was a world where…”
“What if there was a girl who…”
“And what if something horrible happened to her and she had to…”
Those questions summon visions of people and places and troubles and the story starts to coalesce around them. As I write, more “what ifs” emerge and add to the story, and it takes on a life of its own.
Q: What is your favorite thing about being a writer?
A: I love reaching a state of deep concentration and immersion as I write. It feels like dreaming, and I suppose it is coming from the same part of the brain, somewhere on the right hemisphere. It feels like meditation. Time sort of stops, or passes without notice. Eventually, II surface, and then I let the left brain have a look at it, and that’s when revision starts. I love revision, too, but it’s less pure channeling and more the nuts-and-bolts of craft.
Q: What is the toughest part about being a writer?
A: The paparazzi. Just kidding. Making time to write is the struggle. For me it seems my daily life has four major spheres: my family, my teaching position, my writing, and staying fit. I love them all, but only have time for three. Recently, since I’m under deadline for the sequel to The Jack of Souls, fitness is falling by the wayside.  
Q: If you could not be a writer, what would you do?
A: I’d be a high school English teacher. (Oh, wait, I’m one of those already! Dang, I’m lucky.)
Q: What would the story of your life be entitled?
A: What if…?
Q: What is your favorite book of all time?
A: Can it be a play? More than any other novel or play, I’ve read and reread Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One. I’ve read that even more times than I read The Lord of the Rings, which would come in second place. Henry IV, Part One is the perfect balance of comedy and drama, and it features Shakespeare’s greatest character creation: Sir John Falstaff--Santa Claus’s witty, carousing, hedonistic and amoral twin. After Henry, probably As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (I know, these are old fashioned, but I’m a nerd, so I can’t help it. Plus, in some ways reading Shakespeare is like reading a good secondary world fantasy—set in a world full of expressions and beliefs and references and superstitions alien to us today.)
Q: Which character from ANY book are you most like?
A: Frodo, before the ring sucks all the joy out of him. Like him, I’m quiet, appreciate friends and family, love travel or a good tale of faraway places, a peaceful walk in the wild, and in a pinch, like Frodo, I rely upon stealth before brawn.
Q: Which character from YOUR books are you most like?
A: That’s a question no one’s asked me before! Interesting. After some thought, I realize I’m most like Brolli, the Kwendi ambassador. Okay, Brolli’s not human, but he and I still share many character traits: both of us are keen observers of others; both are skeptical of authority and a tad irreverent of tradition; we both love solitude in wilderness; and when faced with danger, both of us rely on stealth and deception rather than frontal assault.
Q: Which book would you love to take a weekend vacation inside of?
Wow, what a great question! If we’re talking about my books, I’d say I’d like to have a weekend vacation on the Arkendian frontier of The Jack of Soul. I’d want to see the Scablands. I’d want to cross the mighty Arkend River where it pitches and foams along the foot of the Godswall; I’d want to climb the Hanging Road above the river to the frontier outpost of Gallows Ferry; and there I’d take a meal and a pot of wine and drink on the porch above the market, where I could watch the settlers trudging by on their way to the Free Lands. Thanks for asking that!
Q: What’s your favorite season?
A: Fall fits my temperament best. Bright leaves in a chasing wind. High, dark clouds, undercut with bright slants of sunlight. Good walking weather.
Q: What inspired your cover for The Jack of Souls?
A: Jakub Rozalski is the artist. (He is amazing. You should check out his stuff on Art Station.) I described for him a scene from the book that would show the main characters and imply the peril of their quest. Of course, Harric and Caris—the male and female leads—are front and center, while their mentor, Sir Willard, rides in the lower right corner. They travel a treacherous mountain pass through wilderness, swords drawn to imply imminent danger. In the far distance, a high bright tower shines like a beacon of hope and safety. Between them and that safety, however, squats a stony bulk of a mountain fortress. On the back cover of the paper and hardback, you can just see a company of ominous-looking knights riding hard after our characters. (I left ambassador Brolli out, to let readers imagine his inhuman form, and to limit the amount of clutter.)
Q: Are you working on something new?
A: Yes! I’ll release two sequels to The Jack of Souls: first, The Knave of Souls, to be released in August; next, The Prince of Souls, to be released in December.  

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