Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Author profile: Elizabeth Myrddin

Today's featured author is Elizabeth Myrddin, who's part of the Guns & Romances anthology which is available at Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords, among others. 

Who are you?

I live and work in San Francisco. I write for fun, with an emphasis on mysteries, suspense, horror, and dark fantasy, but I’ll try anything three times.
Tell us more about your story and what you enjoyed about writing it.

Romance and erotica stories are not my cup of tea, but I did want to challenge myself, and to stretch my writing limits. After a few halting starts (and a searing sense of frustration that nagged at me to give up), I went with the tried-and-true method of “write what you know.” Inspiration harvested from my life experiences, the various people, situations, and environments helped shape the story. The trickster demon transference idea came from a random article I read on the internet. It was a lot of fun figuring out how to incorporate that detail into the story.

I worried about relegating the guns to mere set dressing instead of as featured components in the action. I’ve gone to gun shows in the past, and loved the vintage firearms and war memorabilia booths, and the gun show setting was the first thing that popped into my mind when I began the story. I’m glad I stuck with it. Once I decided to pepper "Not Just Another Daddy’s Girl" with non-traditional or unusual elements, I was finally able to focus on the progression and accompanying uncertainties of the romance buildup between Vic and Haddie (and the strangeness that occurred later). Before I knew it, the story became a joy to write. This surprised and pleased me. The best result of this story, aside from its acceptance into the Guns and Romances anthology, was discovering that I could write a “romance-based” storyline and like it.

Why do you think short fiction is important?  

Short fiction offers a wide variety of tales, characters, voices, and scenarios for the reader to choose from and enjoy. Short fiction provides an endless array of entertainment or escapism. Apéritifs for the imagination.

What is your favourite short story?

How can I limit it to one? I’ll go with the one that affected me the deepest upon first reading it. I now have more of her work in my bookcases than any other author. The story is "Stained With Crimson" in The Book of the Damned by Tanith Lee. In that same volume are "Malice In Saffron and Empires Of Azure" – stories that also brought me to tears upon first read. For me, the impact of Tanith Lee’s writing is indelible and her works will forever be awe-inspiring.

Have you got upcoming projects you'd like to talk about?

I wrote a two-part mystery story and those books are available on Amazon. That project was a blast, and I learned that with enough focus and effort, I could actually finish something longer than a short story. Currently, I’m reading and exploring gothic suspense and working on a novella. When needing a break from the WIP, I work on short stories to submit willy nilly. Two stories are out for submission and the wait to hear a yay or nay is ongoing.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

bitter + sweet by Mietha Klaaste, Niël Stemmet #review #foodie

Title: bitter + sweet
Authors: Mietha Klaaste, Niël Stemmet
Publisher: Human & Rousseau, 2015

bitter + sweet, which also has an Afrikaans edition bitter + soet, is the kind of book that simply begs you to pick it up and take a closer look. Not only is it, exactly as it says, a cookbook filled with, as Niël Stemmet names as heritage food, but it also serves as a record of stories about Niël and Mietha Klaaste’s remembrances. Hence the “bitter” to counteract the “sweet” of many of the traditional dishes offered by South Africa’s coloured people.

Mietha was born on a farm in the Robertson district and cared for him from the day he was born until the time that his family left when he was 15. In many ways, it can be seen, she played a bigger role as nurturer in his life than his own mother, and in this book he has had the opportunity, as he says, to “put her memories into words, remember the recipes”.

We are tactile beings, and as we grow older, we also fall prey to nostalgia; therefore the tastes of our childhood become precious. For those of us who grew up during a certain era or among particular people, recipes such as baked sago pudding, dried beans with sugar and vinegar, tomato bredie, yellow rice with raisins or old-fashioned pancakes may conjure up visions of lazy Sunday lunches with relatives or even the church bazaars from childhood, with the taste of cinnamon sugar and lemon juice lingering on your lips.

Mietha takes readers on a culinary journey through the past, offering a glimpse into the historical context in which meals were served. Not only that, but we are offered a perspective of what life was like for coloured people living out in the countryside at time; and it’s important that her voice is heard, to lay down visceral memories of an era in which we experienced great social injustice.

Yet for all the sadness, there is the love – and there is no denying the special bond between Mietha and Niël, as heart-rending as some of the events were that they endured. For all the beautiful stories, there are the darker, painful ones, sustained by the meals.

Mention must also be made of Adriaan Oosthuizen’s photography and the food styling, which together present minimalistic yet lovingly vintage images of a number of the recipes – which work well with the bold, colourful layout.

Even for those who’re not great cooks but have an interest in culture, this is a must-read; for those whose passion involves cooking, you can’t go wrong – there are some timeless recipes included. bitter + sweet will linger in my mind for a long time, for the sadness and its joy.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Kingdom by Robyn Young #reviews #historical

Title: Kingdom (The Insurrection Trilogy #3)
Author: Robyn Young
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, 2014

If there’s one thing that author Robyn Young has excelled at with Kingdom, it’s the sheer attention to detail that many writers of historical fiction would do well to learn from. If ever you wish to be dropped into the muck and mire, and pure visceral experience of what life was like in years gone by, complete with sights, sounds, smells and all the attendant discomfort, Young achieves this in bucketloads.

In Kingdom, she ties together the final conflicts faced by Scotland’s King Robert Bruce, as he struggles against the English King Edward, and strives for a united, independent Scotland. Consequently, it’s easy to see where so much of the enmity between the two nations stems from, and both sides have blood on their hands and treachery staining their souls.

Edward’s hunt for Robert drives the Scottish king close to his end so many times, it’s almost impossible to believe that Robert’s tenacity resulted in his survival. That he was able to bounce back at all is a miracle. Yet so history would lead us to believe, and this epic is brought to life in Kingdom in a way that is gripping.

That being said, the very qualities of this story that deliver such a vivid tableau of a Robert’s struggles are the very things that hamper it. I found it difficult to relate to any of the large cast of characters precisely because Young was attempting to paint in such broad strokes. Her voice is very much omniscient, which kept me from immersing in the story nor feeling any particular emotional investment.

People die, horribly and often in most gruesome fashions, yet I couldn’t bring myself to care for their deaths. In Young’s intention to capture the bigger picture, she has, unfortunately had to sacrifice the engagement with narrative arcs in favour of interpretation of the greater events. That being said, this is still a thrilling read with some interesting assessments that will no doubt give history buffs much to consider. Those who’re not completely au fait with the history of the British Isles and who haven’t read the preceding two books may, however, find all the name-dropping and references to past events bewildering, though savvy readers will jump right in and be swept away by the turmoil.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Whispers of the World that Was by ES Wynn (Storm Constantine's Wraeththu Mythos) #review #fantasy

Title: Whispers of the World that Was (Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu Mythos)
Author: ES Wynn
Publisher: Immanion Press, 2015

Those who’re into the gothic beauty of Storm Constantine’s creations may well recall the world of the Wraeththu with great fondness. Constantine was initially responsible for two trilogies, The Wraeththu Chronicles and The Wraeththu Histories, which were pretty much required reading among lovers of dark fantasy. Subsequently Constantine has gone on to release other titles in the same setting, but has also breathed new life into her mythos by opening it to select authors, of which ES Wynn is one.

In my mind, the Wraeththu fall somewhere between vampire and angel – beings that inherited the Earth in Constantine’s post-apocalyptic, post-technological vision. Neither male nor female, the Wraeththu express qualities of both in addition to possessing the ability to shape reality magically. Naturally, a world in upheaval provides prime fodder for storytelling, as characters transition from the old to the new.

ES Wynn has more than done justice to the setting by telling the tale of Tyse who, when we meet him, works as a salvager aboard a vessel crewed by other Wraeththu. They sift through the debris of humanity for any useful items, which they then trade for their necessities. Things take a turn for the worse, however, when Tyse salvages a meteorite that has unusual properties. His discovery brings down the unwanted attention of a mysterious foe hellbent on destroying Wraeththu culture before it has had a chance to pick itself up out of the ashes of humankind.

Wynn’s writing is lush and detailed, and he effortlessly evokes a post-apocalyptic setting so vividly, that it’s possible to taste the dogwood berry wine, so to speak. If I dare to compare his style to another’s, I think back to the sensual textures I encountered in vintage Poppy Z Brite, and leave it at that. Readers with particular tastes will understand. Ghost and Steve. Um, Hello.

While those who’ve read the Chronicles and Histories will certainly get some of the more obscure canon references in Whispers of the World that Was, this knowledge is not a prerequisite, primarily because Tyse himself is largely ignorant of what it entails to be Wraeththu. All in all, this is a satisfying read, and a worthy addition to an established fantasy mythos that deviates from standard visions involving dragons, mages and elves.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rock Steady by Joanne Macgregor #review

Title: Rock Steady
Author: Joanne Macgregor
Publisher: Protea Book House, 2013

Even though this is book two in what appears to be a series dealing with the adventures of friends who attend an exclusive girls’ boarding school up in the Drakensberg, Rock Steady can be read as a standalone adventure. From the get go, I must add that Joanne drew me into the story, told from the point of view of Samantha, who is attending Clifford House Private School for Girls on a scholarship. It goes without saying that she’s under a fair amount of pressure to perform academically, so when they get a new – and aptly named – maths and science teacher Mr Delmonico, that things begin to become unpleasant.

Sam, Jessie and Nomusa navigate their Grade 9 year with all the usual trials and tribulations – sports events, school outings, boys, bullies and dances – and the banter between the three friends comes off incredibly refreshing and natural. It’s not often that an author manages to express the sheer energy of teenagers, but Joanne totally convinced me that she’s secretly a teenager herself.

The main narrative arc in this story isn’t so much the girls’ school year, however, but also how the three friends get tangled in the doings of a nefarious gang of thieves intent on plundering South Africa’s cultural heritage. For those who don’t know, the Drakensberg is a region in South Africa that has some of the highest concentrations of ancient rock art, which not only faces natural threats thanks to gradual (and totally natural) environmental erosion, but also suffers thanks to human agents who deface or attempt to steal it.

Joanne deftly weaves in the main plot with the secondary plots in a way that doesn’t feel forced. She drops hints throughout that savvy readers may pick up on so that when the final confrontation occurs, it’s not completely left of field. Joanne’s teens are bubbly, sensitive and are possessed of a lively curiosity and sense of fun, who worry about their schoolwork, about boys, about issues at home. They feel real. Too often I’ve read YA fiction where the teens’ world seems to vanish into a boy-induced solipsist nightmare, where everything just revolves around the boy. Um, hello, teens do have genuine interests beyond boys (even if boys do feature quite high up on the menu, so to speak).

All in all, this is a fun read that I’ll happily recommend to anyone who’s got a bookish kidlet from the age of ten and older. Yes, there is – *gasp* – a kiss, but the romance elements are slight. The story focuses on the eventual altercation with rock art thieves and also weaves in a fair deal of cultural history related to the rock art without being heavy handed about it. Joanne’s writing gets a big thumbs up from yours truly for South African youth literature.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Guns & Romances author Kim Murphy

K Murphy Wilbanks wrote a short story that we included in the Guns & Romances anthology that bit me quite hard, in all the right spots, and I'm more than pleased to welcome here here today for a little Q&A. Pick up your copy at Amazon, Kobo or Smashwords.

Welcome! Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is K Murphy Wilbanks, and I'm from Chicago. Once upon a time I was a freelance court reporter, but these days I'm a stay-at-home parent. My story "Heavy Things" from the Guns & Romances anthology is my first published piece of fiction.

Tell us more about your story and what you enjoyed about writing it.

While brainstorming a song to use for inspiration, my husband was talking about all the different musical acts he met while working as a bartender on Beale Street in Memphis. He happened to mention Phish. I have a friend who's a big fan of theirs, who was always encouraging me to check them out, but I just never got around to it. I decided what the hell, now's as good a time as any, and Googled them. The first song that came up on YouTube was "Heavy Things." I listened to the lyrics and thought the mordant, madcap irony of the whole thing would fit well with the kind of story I wanted to write. I knew I wanted to set it in Chicago, and I thought about that title and how it could possibly relate to the general idea I had of this woman bartender who was romantically involved with her boss and finds out he's got a secret. The title brought to mind a memory of a strange tragedy that was big news back when I was working in downtown Chicago back in the '90s. Bingo! I had a climax, the nature of that particular news story gave me the season, and everything else just sort of fell together after that.

Why do you think short fiction is important? 

The broader answer is that human beings like to tell stories. It's hardwired into our brains, and the earliest form, oral storytelling, was by necessity short fiction – you know, acting out around the campfire how Glargh the Unfortunate got his ass handed to him by a saber-toothed tiger while out on the tribe's big hunt.   So I think we're born with a hunger for short stories, and that whets the appetite for longer, more immersive forms, like novels.

In a more personal sense, short fiction has helped me learn how to get my point across in fewer words than is my habit. And while laboring on my first novel, each short story I've written has become a message to myself, repeated over and over, that, yes, I really can finish stuff. If you've been at it a long time, you start to wonder after a while whether you're kidding yourself, so it's good to have some kind of concrete proof, however small.

What is your favourite short story? 

"Bartleby, the Scrivener" by Herman Melville. I remember reading it my junior year in high school, and  the line "I prefer not to" just grabbed my teenage attention in a big way. The story was written sometime in the 19th century, and it still generates relevant questions about how work and individuality are looked upon in society, as well as how the poor are viewed. When I read it in the 1980s, the United States was in the midst of a recession and I was wondering what was in store for me once I got into the working world. With the prevailing economic conditions and corporate models of the world today, I think these questions are critical to ask ourselves going forward.

Have you got upcoming projects you'd like to talk about?

I'm hoping by the end of the year I'll have finished the first draft of my urban fantasy novel going by the working title of The Lesser Evil about a woman whose twin brother, thought to be dead, resurfaces after twenty years to recruit her to join a secret society of people with psionic abilities.   I'm also writing a collection of twenty short stories, each one inspired by a different letter of the Irish Ogham alphabet, set in different eras in Ireland, written in various styles and fantasy genres; and I'm currently working on the eleventh.

Twitter: @kmurphywilbanks
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kmurphywilbanks

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Guns & Romances: Five minutes with Alyssa Breck

If you've not picked up a copy of our recently released Guns & Romances anthology, you're seriously missing out. And I'm not just saying it because I was one of the editors. This collection of short fiction is a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and a whole lot of lust and action. Pick up a copy on Amazon, Kobo or Smashwords.

For today, I've got author Alyssa Breck in the hot seat. Welcome, Alyssa!

Who are you?

This is a question I often ask myself. *smirk* I’m Alyssa Breck, author of horror, paranormal, romance and erotic fiction, sometimes all at the same time.

Tell us more about your story and what you enjoyed about writing it.

"Homicide" is a dark, gritty story surrounding two detectives who discover some things about themselves and each other after one of them kills an armed suspect.

Writing "Homicide" allowed me to mix up my favorite genres being dark romance, erotica and crime fiction. I really enjoyed exploring the emotional impact triggered by taking a life and how different people deal with violence and death in unique ways.

Why do you think short fiction is important? 

I’ve always enjoyed short fiction. I think it’s important to different people for different reasons. For me, I believe that writing and reading short stories are exercises for the creative brain. As a reader, it’s like a quick roller coaster ride where you immediately start climbing the track knowing that the first fall will happen fast and hard. It’s almost like instant gratification. As a writer, there’s a particularly satisfying challenge in successfully capturing a complete story within a very limited word count. It forces the author to use a higher level of critical thinking to do more with less, in my opinion.

What is your favourite short story? 

Hmm. This is a tough one. I’d have to say it’s a tossup between "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson and "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe. Both stories are brilliant in their own right.

Have you got upcoming projects you'd like to talk about?

There is one I’d like to talk about but I don’t think I’m supposed to yet. I’ll just say it involves Vikings and some very talented authors. I’m also working on an F/F erotic romance inspired by two of my favorite female rockers, Joan Jett and Debbie Harry.

If you’re so inclined, you can learn more about Alyssa by visiting her website www.AlyssaBreck.com and by following her on Twitter @AlyssaBreck and Facebook.