Guest Post by J. Kathleen Cheney + The Golden City Series Giveaway

***Our giveaway has now ended, thank you for all those who entered!***

Does the setting of an early 1900s alternate Portugal pique your interest? How about sirens and selkies? All this and more can be found in J. Kathleen Cheney’s The Golden City. Be sure to check out the BiblioSanctum review! With the sequel The Seat of Magic just released in the US, we’re so excited to have the author stop by to talk a little more about the inspiration for the people and places in her series. Sit back and enjoy the ride, and good luck to those entering our giveaway!

by J. Kathleen Cheney

The Golden CityBack in March of 2009, I opened up a file that I called “Story Idea”, the entire text of which was: Girl rescued from sinking house by seer.  He tries to get her to save other victims, but won’t do so himself.  She’s an illegal, and so can’t report him, or the killer.

Yep, that was my entire idea.  I remember deciding that she was illegal in the city because she wasn’t human–that’s how I ended up with my heroine, Oriana, being a sereia (siren). It took a few months for the rest of that idea to flesh out in my mind, and then I sat down and wrote a novella of about 15,000 words in two days.  I did put together an outline before I started, but in the very first scene, one of the characters got out of hand.  A walk-on character who didn’t even have a name was supposed to talk to Oriana, drop some backstory about a work of art in the water, and then leave.  I referred to him as the Ambergris Gentleman.

I had set the novella in Venice. After all, that seemed a likely location for underwater art.

But the Ambergris Gentleman snatched control of that scene, and I quickly realized that he must have an ulterior motive for talking to Oriana.  So I gave him a first name–Duilio. His backstory started unfolding in my mind as I typed–that he, like Oriana, had something to hide–he was half selkie.

The sudden appearance of selkies in my story was what necessitated the setting switch.  The Mediterranean has Monk Seals, but they’re small. I couldn’t imagine one of them changing into a human…not enough mass.  So I began casting about, hunting a location that would work better.

The Seat of MagicHmm…..Portugal has lots of coast line, and they do have some larger seals that come down from the north, and I wonder if the Caribbean Monk Seals ever hit Portuguese shores

Not a very sophisticated thought process, I admit.  I was typing pretty fast at that point.  But the decision was made, and what followed was months and months of research. I had started off writing a piece of short fiction (which was published in 2010), but Oriana’s story evolved into three books, meaning that I would have to research my new setting endlessly.

Despite my cavalier approach to the setting, Portugal turned out to be an excellent choice. The country has a golden history and epic literature that backed up a lot of my story choices. They even had a war between two royal brothers that threatened to divide the country in two. Although I had some difficulty researching the setting (much of their great literature has never been translated into English), I loved what I found.

And right after I turned The Golden City in to my editor, my husband and I travelled to Portugal to see it firsthand. We spent two weeks there, one of those in Porto, the very setting I usurped for my novels.

It’s a beautiful country, with a long and glorious history. Our host in Coimbra took us down into his basement and showed us that his house contained not only part of the 10th century Moorish city wall, but the 6th century Roman wall as well. In Lisbon we stayed in the Barrio Alto, which survived Lisbon’s 1755 destruction by earthquake, tsunami, and fire.

The Golden Church

And in Porto we stayed in a building that Duilio or Oriana might have walked past on a daily basis. I slogged up and down the steep Street of Flowers and took a boat ride out on the dark and deep Douro River. I stood under the steps of The Golden Church of São Francisco and determined that, yes, Oriana would have been able to overhear her father talking there. I sat at the café where she could have sketched the church’s Rose Window. (The photo is one of the Golden Church, taken from the river. The church is, if you’re confused by its plain granite exterior, literally golden on the inside. The walls and altars are completely coated with gold leaf.) My only regret is that I didn’t get to see the Titans (the giant cranes) up close, since the southern one was being refurbished and the northern one was on the far shore. (I have pictures of that, too, but it is barely visible in them.)

And yes, I discovered I needed to make small corrections to my book. Fortunately, the book was at a stage where I could still do that.  But otherwise, I was walking the same steep streets my characters had and loving it!

So even though I can’t visit every setting I’ve written about, I was ecstatic to be able to go to this one. Want a place to visit on your next vacation? Portugal is lovely, the people are very welcoming, and if you don’t speak Portuguese, they’re more than willing to take a stab at English.  And you might just end up with a lovely setting for your novel!

* * *

J. Kathleen CheneyABOUT THE AUTHOR

J. Kathleen Cheney is a former teacher and has taught mathematics ranging from 7th grade to Calculus, with a brief stint as a Gifted and Talented Specialist.  Her short fiction has been published in Jim Baen’s Universe, Writers of the Future, and Fantasy Magazine, among others, and her novella “Iron Shoes” was a 2010 Nebula Award Finalist.  Her novel, “The Golden City” is a Finalist for the 2014 Locus Awards (Best First Novel).

 The sequel, “The Seat of Magic” will be out July 1, 2014.

* * *


The Golden City  The Seat of Magic

Here’s what you’ve been waiting for! We have a print copy of The Golden City AND a print copy of The Seat of Magic up for grabs in this giveaway to one lucky winner. Open to residents of the US and Canada only. Entering is super easy, all you have to do is send an email to with your Name and valid Mailing Address using the subject line “THE GOLDEN CITY” by 11:59pm Eastern time on Monday, July 14th, 2014.

Only one entry per household, please. The winner will be randomly selected when the giveaway ends and then be notified by email. All information will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winner and sending them their books. Once the giveaway ends all entry emails will be deleted.

So what are you waiting for? Enter to win a set of these amazing books! Good luck!

16 Comments on “Guest Post by J. Kathleen Cheney + The Golden City Series Giveaway”

  1. Fabulous post! Not many authors have the ability and/or inclination to visit the unfamiliar places they write about, but when they do, I think it definitely makes a difference–it gives an authenticity that is otherwise absent. I was already interested in this book (b/c SPIES and sea creatures), so this is just one more reason to look forward to reading it 😉


  2. Thanks for the post, I’m so curious to read this series, it sounds great! And as I said it the covers are so beautiful! And you’re right the picture is really nice, the city is really pretty!


  3. Pingback: Where I am today: The Qwillery and The BiblioSanctum + Giveaway | J. Kathleen Cheney

  4. I just finished The Golden City and I loved it. Really looking forward to reading the next book. This post about the writing of the book and characters and setting makes me appreciate the book even more!


  5. That’s a pretty cool genesis story! I guess I have this image of authors meticulously choosing details before writing, but I think it’s probably more common than not to change things based on how characters develop. Personally, I’m glad that this series takes place in Portugal rather than Venice, since I know almost nothing about the former! It’s always nice when my fantasy novels come with a little bit of a history lesson.


  6. Pingback: Review: The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney - Notes from a ReaderholicNotes from a Readerholic

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