Thursday, July 3, 2014

Coffee Chat 18.0 with S.K. Anthony and Stephen Fender

During today's Coffee Chat we'll be discussing—what is that smell? I could swear I smell blueberries . . . [Enters the kitchen to find S.K. pulling some yummy-smelling things out of the oven.] Scones? And are those . . . bannocks? What's up with the Scottish treats? I thought we were having cinnamon rolls today.

SKA: Oh, Lynda! You’re so cute. It’s okay to try different things once in a while you know—and today I felt Scottish! I’m so excited it’s my first time making bannocks; I burnt the first three sets but I think I finally got it now. By the way, you’re all out of oats.

ER: I suppose I should be grateful we're not having haggis, right?

SKA: [Looks over Lynda’s shoulder to see through the window.] Uh huh, sure. I can try to make you haggis. Sorry, I mean no. No haggis. Whatever. Umm, why don’t you let AndyAndy outside to play with Live Bacon? Go, go! Open the door. [Grins.]

ER: C'mon, AndyAndy. [Looks outside.] S.K., is it Girl Scout cookie season again already? There's a really tall Girl Scout down the street, walking our way. I mean, really tall.

SKA: No, that’s just Stephen! I told him to come over for Coffee Chat so we can discuss his new release.

ER: But why is he—is he wearing a—?

SKA: Well, because you like kilts, and he’s gullible. I told him first time guests must wear them and he agreed. It was so easy! I can’t believe we never tried that before. Never mind that I usually end up kidnapping our guests, he came willingly and look at them legs—miles and miles. Ahem, I think we should make our coffee Irish.

ER: I'm starting to think we'll have to. I hope he doesn't talk to any of our past guests, because they'll blow it about the kilt thing. Best to keep him sequestered. [Looks back out the door.] He's almost here. I hope I don't have a tough time acting casual about it. I LOVE kilts!

SKA: I know! We'll tell him it's against the rules to mingle with past guests. Oooh, here he comes. Play it cool, Lynda. [Waves casually as Stephen walks up to the door.] Hi, Stephen!

SF: Can I come in? It's a little breezy out here.

ER: Hey, Stephen! Welcome to my—and sort of S.K.'s—home. Um . . . I was actually thinking it might be a great day to have our Coffee Chat outside. Wasn't I just saying that, S.K.?

SKA: Ooh [winks at Lynda] yes! That's better than sitting inside where we had everything set up.

SF: [Pulls kilt down to cover his knees, then looks around worriedly.] Are you sure? Someone might . . . see me.

SKA: Well, if you'll let your guard down, we can stay inside.


ER: [Sighs heavily.] Yeah, come on in. So as usual, I didn't realize we were having guests [shoots a glare at S.K.] but this is pretty cool that you're here, since I was going to tell her all about the fourth Kestrel book.

And the kilt is just a bonus. [Clears throat.] What I mean to say is, I'm glad you're following the first-time guest rule about wearing one.

SF: So I can't change into pants yet?

SKA: That's neither here nor there. How does it feel to have your fourth Kestrel book out?

SF: It feels great, bordering on spectacular. It's nice to be back with my old Kestrel Saga friends.

SKA: I hope you were kind to them. The title In the Presence of My Enemies has my heart racing for Shawn and Melissa. With the crazy adventure they're on, every bit of luck they can get—courtesy of you—will be greatly appreciated by us fans. What can you tell us about this part of their journey? Give us a teaser!

SF: In the words of George Takei: "Oh myyy!"

After the battle with the Meltranians above Second Earth (at the end of the novel of the same name), our heroes find themselves nose to nose with Kafarans, their once-hated enemies, who are now presumably fighting alongside the intrepid Sector Command fleet.

The new novel takes off right from that point.

A band of high-ranking officials come on board the current Sector Command flagship, the Rhea, and inform the crew that a cease-fire agreement has been reached with the Kafarans, and they are now considered a "temporary" ally in what is assumed will be a war against their common foe, the merciless Meltranians.

However, their combined forces will still fall short of an assured victory. They need one more ally in their cause, and it's one Shawn has extreme reservations about. He, along with a small team, sets out on a diplomatic mission to recruit a band of cutthroat pirates into the upcoming campaign.

However, things go sideways rather quickly, and the team members soon find themselves in over their heads. 

ER: Normally I would think "great, bordering on spectacular" is just hype, but I really thought it was great, too. There was more action, 
more tension, more places, new characters, a serious death—all that good stuff. As an editor, it felt good for me to be back on familiar ground with characters I know; I'm betting the Kestrel Saga fans are just as eager to get back to it as well.

SF: I hope they are. I think this is the best one yet. 

SKA: Hmm, I've been observing you—no reason—

ER: Uh huh, me too—also for no reason—

SKA: —and I've come to the realization that you're a man of few words. I really hope it has nothing to do with my scones.

Anyway, how do you find inspiration to put down thousands of words into a book? Do you draw from real life? Like, did you physically have to fight against Kafarans and Meltranians? Or is it just a love for sci-fi or . . . well, what is it?

SF: It's all of those things, really. Writing is like playing a board game designed for six, but you're only playing against yourself. You have a lot of roles to fill, and everybody has to want to win for their own reasons. I have to fight against myself all the time, and the only edge I have is ultimately I know who is supposed to win.

SKA: I love that! A game of multiple players but we play only against ourselves. Very true.

ER: I guess I never thought about a writer having to "be" each character—with each one wanting to win, of course, or survive at the very least.

SF: Of course, there is a deep love of science fiction in there. Also a deep understanding of the dynamics of a good space opera. 

ER: [To S.K.] I’ve been the recipient of the “it’s a space opera, not a space infomercial” speech. Trust me, the man knows and loves his science fiction.

SKA: So tell us, is there a favorite scene, aspect, or approach you had while writing In the Presence of My Enemies? Something that might have been different from the previous three books in the Kestrel Saga?

SF: There's an aspect—well, more of a revelation—that in order to overcome the impossible, you sometimes have to let things go.

You can't climb Everest with 300 pounds of gear. You've got to keep what's important and drop the rest. That goes doubly for emotional baggage. 

ER: We can talk about your emotional baggage after we've enjoyed more of S.K.'s "special blend" coffee. But that other baggage . . . do you always know ahead of time what's important, or does the list of "keepers" morph a bit as the story unfolds? 

SF: Baggage is important to back story. You can convey a lot with just a little bitterness about something that happened "in the past." It's also a good goal for your characters to get over. It shows growth, and no reader wants to read characters over a long arc that never grow beyond the first few pages of book one.

SKA: Yes! For good character arcs, they need to have baggage, and in order to grow they need to drop it . . . like it's hot. Mount Everest isn't for the faint of heart, after all.

ER: I like when baggage is hinted at, rather than spoon-fed to the reader. One of the things I like best in the Kestrel books is that the characters aren't growing and changing so quickly that it's unrealistic. It feels a lot more natural this way—a gradual change, just like in real life.

I know you're an outline-maker, Stephen, so I guess my next question deals with wanting to know how closely you stick to it. Do your characters surprise you?

SF: I love outlines, and I love diverging from them. It's hard to begin to write without a blueprint, but I give my brain plenty of freedom to go beyond the foundation. So yes, my characters often surprise me. 

SKA: So what can we expect from you in the future? What are your current projects?

SF: Well, I've got Kestrel Saga Book 5 in the works, which I'm really excited about. I've also got something of a wacky sci-fi space comedy on the drawing boards.

ER: That makes me want to watch Spaceballs.

I'm pretty sure I'll be begging you for snippets of Book 5, probably even before we let you leave today. No matter that you haven't written them yet. I think the sign of a great writer is that you can do these things off the cuff for special friends who feed you scones and great coffee. Just start talking and we'll type it all up for you. It will actually make your job easier, if you think about it.

SF: Well, I don't know about snippets, but I can tell you that Book 5 will tie directly into events that took place in Origins: Traitor Winds.

I can also tell you that Book 5 will feature some courtroom drama, with one of our heroes taking a fall.

ER: Oooooh! If that's what you can tell me, I can't wait to hear what you can't tell me.

Oh. Wait a minute.

SF: I can't tell you what the cover is going to look like, but I can tell you the working title is World Killers.

ER: Nice title! Sigh . . . the cover . . . am I going to be on this one? I think it's pretty selfish of you to always have your own photograph on those things. 

SF: If you connect all the letter e's on page 178, it makes a picture . . . of something.

ER: I can hardly wait! I'll have to write down the page number so I don't forget.

SF: It's representative of an abstract version of a flux capacitor. Which, of course, makes time travel possible.

ER: You artists. If it's "abstract" that only means I can't argue with you that it doesn't look like what it's supposed to look like. And I’m not entirely sure what time travel has to do with my picture being on your covers.

SKA: It’s an abstract connection, Lynda. And now another Coffee Chat rule: you must absolutely share a line from the book with us. A favorite one, obviously . . . and GO!

SF: [Laughs.] How am I supposed to pick ONE line? There are thousands of them, and all are amazing.

ER: Mine was "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . ."

SKA: For me it was "It was a dark and stormy night . . ."

ER: But enough about the books we’ve written. What about yours? A favorite line, please.

SF: If I were to choose a favorite line or verse, it would have to be this one. It was written as an epigraph, and is a quote from the President of the Unified Collaboration of Systems on the eve of declaring war against their new enemies:

“The skin of evil has no one color; the voice has no one pitch. Its origins have no set date, nor was it born in any one particular place or have one ultimate destination in mind. But it has an agenda, it has an unquenchable hunger, and it lives and breathes on the sufferings of others . . . and it must be stopped, even if it’s the last thing we do. Nothing short of the continuation of our very way of life depends upon it.”
ER: Also a favorite of mine from the book! Readers can see these and a whole lot of other great passages by going to Amazon and checking out Stephen's newest book, In the Presence of My Enemies, Book 4 of the Kestrel Saga.

Head on over to Stephen's website to find out about his other books, or the latest sci-fi project he's supporting.

[An hour later, all coffee gone, waving and watching as Stephen walks back down the driveway . . .]

ER: [Puts down binoculars.] So do you think he'll fall for the "second-time guests wear swimsuits" line?

SKA: I dunno. Guess we'll have to invite him again someday.

As always:

You can find S.K. Anthony in a number of places. She's on Twitter @SKathAnthony, her website is, her Facebook page is S Katherine Anthony, and on occasional occasions, she'll be right here with me, drinking coffee and laughing it up over our latest plans and schemes. And possibly even talking about books and writing. 

You can find me here. I'm always here. 


  1. Hey kids,

    What can I say? Well I do know I like SKA music. Quite aptly, the band "Madness" did a lot of SKA music. Actually, they still do.

    Isn't great to know that haggis is making a triumphant return to the U.S of A?

    SF seems like quite the dude and this was a chat bordering on surreal or an overdose of coffee happening somewhere.

    Yep, I checked out SKA in all those places. Gosh, I'm nice. Congrats to all of you. Hell, congrats to everybody breathing.

    I shall go now. Great post! Thanks for sharing! LOL

    Gary :)

    1. I knew I should have included ska music on my blog page somehow. I hadn't heard the scuttlebutt about haggis' triumphant return, but I'm not surprised. Who would turn down a dish like that?

      Stephen is quite the dude indeed, and is amazingly willing to go along with most things we ask without much coercion on our parts, no matter what he'll tell you to the contrary.

      Great comment! Thanks for . . . commenting! And you were first! Probably because you never sleep and live on the other side o' the water, but it still counts.

    2. Overdose of coffee or not SKA appreciates you liking her music, it's quite challenging carrying off anything what comes from the band Madness. SF is a hoot! ;)

  2. Playing a board game designed for six by yourself - funny!
    So is wearing a kilt the key to success? Because I think I'm screwed...
    Congratulations, Stephen!

    1. Wearing a kilt is the key to getting into my house, with or without an invitation. I may be in the minority, but I'm willing to take my chances.

    2. I liked the board game analogy, too!
      You can take it up with Lynda about the kilt . . . or swimsuit . . .

  3. I'm glad you didn't make me wear a kilt. I like wearing undies with a skirt, and sometimes leggings.


    1. You got off easy, Janie. Oh, sure, you may have been temporarily traumatized, but all's well that ends well, right? You seem to be stable enough now.

    2. Yeah, you're somewhat stable now . . . I think that's good enough for a kidnapped guest, no?

  4. Pass the hague and send out for Chinese. As to the kilt, I'm all for 'em. They're breezy and I love knees.

    1. I'm all for the breeziness of kilts. I can't believe we ended up having that chat inside.

      Our donkey is all out of coffee beans, by the way. Do we send him back for a refill, or would he come back with sacks of Chinese food? I'm good with either.

    2. Yes to breeze & knees! *cheers*
      Oh yeah, I'm good with either one too! But, how about we send Donkey back for both the coffee beans and the Chinese food? :D

    3. They are not breezy. That is called air conditioning wool is HOT.

  5. I don't have the knees for a kilt. All white and knobby... no, not flattering. And if writing is like playing a 6 player board game by yourself, then mine is definitely Risk, because the game always takes forever and often ends in so much bloodshed.

    1. Hmm, I think we need to decide for ourselves about those knees . . .

      'Risk' or not, I think a better analogy for you is "It's like writing with a six pack of beer," . . . oh wait, that's not an analogy, but it works either way, eh?

    2. If you think about it, kilts really aren't about the knees at all . . .

      RISK . . . ugh. Our household has at least six different versions of it. If you want bloodshed—real bloodshed—just say the name of that game. One. More. Time.

      Ask to play it? You'll lose a limb.

  6. I love how everyone wants to talk kilts...LOL

    1. Well, duh.

      And I heard something about a book you've written, too. But enough about that. Back to the kilts . . .

      Or . . . second-time guest rules apply.

    2. Was there another more important topic to discuss here? I mean sure your book is a big deal, but come on now . . . give the people what they want!

      In all seriousness, though, thank you for being game. It sure was a fun chat to have. :)

  7. To start with, I own a kilt. It is the MacPherson Clan Dress Tartan. I guess I could send you guys a picture of it. I was married in it instead of a tux. Stephan good to hear about the new book and it sounds exciting. Ok, only a short time to reply today. Remember Kilts are cool.

    1. I've been to more than one wedding where the groom and groomsmen have worn kilts. It makes for a lovely wedding photo.

    2. That's cool, James!
      Stephen is probably a little traumatized by the whole kilt business, but you heard that, S.? Kilts are cool.

    3. He probably wore the wrong tartan. Besides non-scottish stock have a poor understanding of the benefits of a nice well made kilt.

  8. LOL. Yay for kilts and awkward moments. That was fun.

    1. All that's missing is the cheese, right? Glad to see you stop by, Crystal!

    2. Cheese! I knew we forgot something . . .


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