A Special Thank You

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The Tree of Souls launches on May 1 (4 days!), and as part of the launch festivities I want to thank my newsletter subscribers. I’ll be giving away a free ebook of your choice (either Untalented or The Tree of Souls, you pick!) to one confirmed subscriber to the KatTales newsletter. All active subscribers as of 6 PM Pacific on May 15, 2016 will be entered into the random draw, and I’ll announce the winner in the May mailing. Not a subscriber? Sign up here.

(No purchase necessary. Etc.)

The Spirit Lives On

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By the time I found out Spirit of the West would be performing their final concerts, it was too late to get tickets. I’m sad that this quintessential west coast band will no longer be performing live, but it’s totally understandable given the band’s health issues.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone whirling and stomping around a dance floor to Home For A Rest. It was a must-play at my wedding. When I’m traveling internationally and wind up at a dance venue, I like to test the DJs by requesting this song. Ninety percent of the time, they don’t have it, but if they do, that’s when the party really starts.

I’m getting old enough that it’s hard to find the leg stamina to do this song justice, but if you ever want to see someone whip around a dance floor doing a really brutal imitation of a jig (because really, what do I know about jigs?), just play this song when I’m around. It’s pretty much the most free I ever get on a dance floor.

I’ll miss you SOTW. But you’re on my Happy Music playlist, so the Spirit lives on.

(If you don’t see an embedded YouTube video above, here’s Home For A Rest)

Newsy Tidbits

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There’s lots of stuff going on leading up to The Tree of Souls launch, so here’a s quick round-up:

  • I’m running 3 (yes THREE!) LibraryThing giveaways, one each for the Kindle, ePub and paperback editions. If you’re a LibraryThing member, head on over to this link and search for “The Tree of Souls“. Make sure you pick the giveaway for the format you want. Giveaway ends April 15.
  • The Tree of Souls is still up on NetGalley if you’d like a review copy, but only until the end of this month.
  • I have a BookBub profile you can follow to stay on top of new releases and deals.
  • Thank you to everyone who made last month’s Tree of Souls Goodreads giveaway my most successful ever. Did you miss it? Not to worry, I’ve got another one running until April 18th! Click on the widget below to enter.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Tree of Souls by Katrina Archer

The Tree of Souls

by Katrina Archer

Giveaway ends April 18, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

My Murdered Darling — “The Crazy Flirty Lady” by Curtis C. Chen

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WaypointKangarooI’ve roadtripped with Curtis Chen, so can vouch for the fact that he knows all about the tensions of long voyages in small confined spaces with questionable travel companions. Here Curtis tells us who walked the plank in one of the many drafts of his debut novel, WAYPOINT KANGAROO.

One of the many things I love about writing genre fiction is playing with the tropes of a particular story type. But sometimes you have to make a tough choice: do you “lean in” to an expected trope, or do you work to subvert a cliché?

When I started writing my novel Waypoint Kangaroo, I knew I wanted to set most of the story aboard a cruise spaceship traveling from Earth to Mars. I also wanted the main threat to be the runaway ship crashing into Mars–a planet which, in this future, has close to twenty million permanent residents. (Speaking of kinetic projectiles, check out Charles Stross’ “Towards a taxonomy of cliches in Space Opera” blog post for additional trope awareness.)

There is, of course, a long tradition of adventures in which a motley group is thrown together by disaster. In this case, since we’re talking about a cruise ship, the obvious comparison is The Poseidon Adventure–in space! Except that the protagonist here is a trained operative, and there are actual bad guys, so it’s a bit more like Die Hard.

And therein lies the problem: your story can’t be both Die Hard and Poseidon Adventure. Either you focus on the hero’s journey, or you focus on the ordinary people who get swept up by extraordinary circumstances. Maybe the hero runs into a few feisty bystanders, like in Speed, but they’re still just comic relief.

(Aside: we shall never speak of Speed 2: Cruise Control. NEVER. Moving on.)

I knew my story would revolve around Kangaroo, the superpowered secret agent, but the idea of an interplanetary pleasure cruise was too much fun not to play with. I had imagined a propulsion system that could simulate close-to-Earth-normal gravity by accelerating the whole way–speeding up for the first half, then slowing down again to get into Mars orbit. And if you need to stop the engines and turn the ship around at midway, why not allow the passengers time for some fun and games in zero-gravity?

The problem was, Kangaroo wasn’t enjoying this so-called vacation–his handler had ordered him to leave Earth while their department was being audited. So Kangaroo wouldn’t choose to indulge in any of the frivolous activities offered aboard the cruise ship. I had to find ways to force him to experience those moments of wonder.

Enter Laura Ann Monroe.

The Laura Ann character was a “woman of a certain age” who pursued Kangaroo around the cruise ship, thinking he was just another young, unattached, male passenger and looking to score a quick and dirty vacation romance. This amused me because:

  1. It inverted the hoary (and problematic) “Bond girl” trope;
  2. it allowed me to show just how bad Kangaroo was at pretending to be a normal human person on vacation; and
  3. it was literally a cougar chasing a kangaroo y’all.

The problem (pointed out to me by a literary agent I was querying at the time, but that’s another story) was that Laura Ann’s prominence in the middle of the story made her absence at the end all the more conspicuous. The agent’s precise words were:

“The crazy flirty lady drops out of the story with no resolution. She’s such a presence that I thought she was part of the plot.”

That was, as the kids say, my bad.

When shit got real, there simply wasn’t anything for little ol’ Laura Ann to do. She was only a passenger, and didn’t have any particular skills that would help save the ship–certainly nothing that would cause her to continue interacting with Kangaroo. I brainstormed a number of ways to modify the character or convolute the plot to require her presence at the climax (NO PUN INTENDED), but I just couldn’t make it work to my satisfaction (AGAIN, NO PUN INTENDED, GET YOUR MIND OUT OF THE GUTTER).

Ms. Monroe had to go. And I had to find other ways to drive Kangaroo to those same story beats.

It took a lot of rewriting, but I did find ways to hit most of the thematic targets above using other characters and situations. In fact, during later rewrites, I got pretty good at hollowing out and refilling individual sequences: the plot framework was already set (and pretty finely calibrated), so each scene had to start and end in roughly the same place, but the actions and emotional beats therein often needed extensive rewiring. I did lose a great slapstick bit involving a hundred-pound concrete ball in zero-gee, but overall I believe the story works better now. It’s more Die Hard than Poseidon Adventure by design. And only a little bit like Fifth Element.

But that wasn’t even the biggest revision I made! I later rewrote the entire second half of the book based on three words my editor said to me–but explaining that would get us into serious spoiler territory. If you want to hear about that whole thing, read Waypoint Kangaroo first, then ask me in person later.

CurtisCChen800Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley, CURTIS C. CHEN now writes speculative fiction and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel WAYPOINT KANGAROO, a science fiction spy thriller, is forthcoming from Thomas Dunne Books on June 21st, 2016. Curtis’ short stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, the Baen anthology Mission: Tomorrow, and The 2016 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide. He is a graduate of the Clarion West and Viable Paradise writers’ workshops. You can find Curtis at Puzzled Pint Portland on the second Tuesday of every month. Visit him online at: http://curtiscchen.com.


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The two TV series I’ve been alternating between for my semi-binge watching are House of Cards and Call The Midwife.

They couldn’t be more diametrically opposed in tone. And as a writer, I’ve been studying my own reactions to them.

The first couple of seasons of House of Cards were attention grabbing, à la rubber-necking at the scene of an accident. But this year, I found myself more and more impatient with the characters, and less and less involved in seeing the series through.

Whereas Call the Midwife gripped me from the start, and never really let go.

The difference between the two is that I was emotionally invested in the characters of Call the Midwife, whereas I’ve basically stopped caring about the Underwoods. I can’t relate to them. Their scheming is titillating, sure, but I didn’t learn anything new about them this year. It’s like they’ve gone flat in their venality. Their behaviour is so alien to me, that it’s hard to see them as people. They don’t seem to see other people as people, either. So why should I care?

Call the Midwife, on the other hand, is quintessentially human. I care deeply about each and every character on screen. The writers treat them all with compassion. Plus I learned a little history, and had driven home to me just how much of a game changer contraception has been. Call the Midwife highlighted to me how little compassion one sees in our entertainment these days. It feels like a relief to watch this show, amid the cynicism on display elsewhere.

Or maybe I’m just getting old. ;-)

Creative Ink Festival Schedule

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It looks like my schedule for the Creative Ink Festival May 6-8 in Burnaby is firming up. Sunday is action-packed!

So far I’m confirmed for several panels and a Blue Pencil session. It’s quite possible I’ll be doing a reading and signing session, but I don’t have details on those yet.

Check out my event listings and the blog sidebar for details on:

Beta Readers: How to Find Them, How to Be a Good One
Creating Your Ideal Workspace
An Editor’s Dream
Romancing The Monster
Blue Pencil

Also check out the festival’s programming page to discover all kinds of interesting author presentations. There are lots of great authors in attendance, so there should be something for everyone!

Out of Warranty

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I heard someone recently characterize one’s forties as the period of your life when you realize your body has gone completely out of warranty.

I empathize with that because I have now had my first brush with the big C: my dermatologist found a melanoma lesion at my last checkup.

DON’T FREAK OUT. (Yeah, I freaked out. But now I’m zen. The kind of zen a good zinfandel gives you ;-)

As far as cancer diagnoses go, it’s about as best case as can be: the lesion is really shallow, with no spread. So the doctor will excise it along with a nice wide DMZ around it, I’ll get a skin graft (which will be gross and inconvenient, but I’ll take the chunk out of my leg and the scar over the alternative any day), and then I’ll get rechecked for new lesions every 6 months from now on. The 5- and 10-year survival rates are 97 and 95%.

But man, when you first hear those words. They just ran on repeat through my brain for days.


I’ve never felt so betrayed by my physiology and now want to claw at my own skin. JUST. GET. IT. OFF.

To have one’s life expectancy put starkly into numbers by a pathology report.

And, like, I really needed this while trying to launch a book, right? *shakes fist at universe*

So here’s my PSA to you all out there: if you have a family history of skin cancer, or if you have a large number of moles, ask your doctor to get you an annual referral to a dermatologist. I’ve been getting annual checkups for over 20 years because of my risk factors. A few years ago, with improvements in digital camera technology, my doctor took high-res images of all my moles, and re-images the ones of concern every so often, so we have a history of their appearance and changes over time, and can note new ones. This year my regular checkup didn’t go so well. But it’s also why my lesion was caught at Stage 1A.

Checkups work. Don’t delay.

Fuck cancer, eh.


Win A Sneak Preview of The Tree of Souls!

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My latest book, The Tree of Souls, is currently available for pre-order at your favourite online retailer, and will officially launch on May 1, 2016.

But if you just. can’t. wait. that long, you can enter to win one of two advance copies over at Goodreads, where I’m running a giveaway all month. Follow the link to enter below!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Tree of Souls by Katrina Archer

The Tree of Souls

by Katrina Archer

Giveaway ends April 30, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Check out The Tree of Souls page for information on where to pre-order.

My Murdered Darling — Daniel M. Bensen On How Dinosaurs Can Murder Your Darlings

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Groom Of The Tyrannosaur Queen

Today I’m kicking off a new and somewhat (artistically) violent KatTales feature: My Murdered Darling. Every author has some favourite thing that didn’t make it into their final story, whether that’s a character, scene, subplot, or major story idea. The act of taking those items out is known as murdering your darlings. Here’s Daniel M. Benson on how dinosaurs helped him off some cherished characters in GROOM OF THE TYRANNOSAUR QUEEN, and why that made the book better (dinosaurs always make books better).

Are everyone’s novels built upon the bones of dead characters and deleted scenes? I haven’t done any sort of survey, but mine certainly are. I’ll start with a cool little scene or idea that’s just so neat and nifty and I can’t wait to expand it into novel—oops, I squished it. And that scene I wrote about the shark fight! Man what a shark fight that was! Nope, doesn’t fit with the flow of the rest of the chapter. And that whole Pachycephalosaurus wrangling thing? No time. Had to go. Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen is a big, slimy, sprawling, epic that ended up a sleek little adventure story. But not without lots of carnage. Like the two whole Point-Of-View characters I had to kill off.

Tyrannosaur Queen is about a soldier from the 21st century who is captured by a nomad warlord from a lost time-colony. It’s also about the use of power and the corrupting influence thereof, so I wanted to have the POV characters reflect different angles on power and how you can use or misuse it. You got your warlord with a big mystical sword, you got your modern soldier stripped of her modern weapons, you got your nerdy scientist who wasn’t stripped, you got your spoiled bronze-age princess and all her daddy’s soldiers. You also got your huge tyrannosaur who chases down and eats anything that gets close enough, but it doesn’t get to narrate any scenes.

Originally, though, I was also going to have another scientist and her lover, the bronze-age priest. While the first scientist gives into the temptation to use his futuristic armor to force the natives to give him what he wants, the second one was supposed to realize that the natives were real people and try to lift them up to her level. But then I have a story about the differences between these two scientists, and what does the soldier have to do?

So I killed that scientist, I killed the native priest, and I used their deaths to drive the remaining scientist insane with paranoia. He uses his power to dig himself ever deeper into evil, while the soldier uses her relationship with her adopted tribe to achieve a deeper and more stable kind of power. Nice how that worked out.

Unfortunately for the title of this essay, I didn’t actually murder those characters with dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are just animals and they just don’t present the kind of danger that humans do. I killed the extra scientist with bronze-age soldiers, and the priest died when the other scientist freaked out, picked up the priest, and threw him through those same soldiers. Later on, there is a pissed Gallimimus and a hungry tyrannosaur—but no spoilers. If you want to see how the rest of the cast dies, you’ve got to read the book.

GROOM OF THE TYRANNOSAUR QUEEN is a time-travel romance with dinosaurs, available now as a Kindle book.

Former soldier Andrea Herrera isn’t happy with where her life’s taken her. Specifically, to Hell Creek, Montana, 65 million years before the present. As far as careers go, making sure the dinosaurs don’t eat her paleontologist clients comes in a pretty dismal second choice to serving her country. But when their time machine malfunctions, Andrea and her team are trapped in a timeline that shouldn’t exist with something a hell of a lot more dangerous than terrible lizards: other humans.