Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ashley Franz Holzmann talks horror... #guest

Today I hand over my blog to yet another guest. This time it's author Ashley Franz Holzmann, author of The Laws of Nature, who's here to shed a little light on horror... Wait, can I even say that? Ah well, without further ado... Welcome, Ashley!

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Horror is always shifting to fit the times and the masses. Stephen King wrote about this in his book Dance Macabre, where he discussed how the scariest movies are often the most topical. Horror feeds into the current fears of the populace. Invasion of the Body Snatchers came out at a crucial time. Communism! Get it?!

Sorry, that's not really supposed to be sarcastic. I really love that movie.

My point is that horror evolves. There are always trends that shift this way or that. What makes horror good is risk. Taking risk and being honest. Night of The Living Dead had a black protagonist and used the ending of the film to really say something about race. That was a risk. Carrie was written by a man (our friend, Stephen) and has a scene where a girl gets her period in public. Now that is taboo; that was a risk!

These days, the genre is a little stuck in the cinema. Sequels are are big thing right now. There are some cool ideas, but the goal of a sequel is to build a franchise, so there's only so much risk involved when marketing is just as important as storytelling. The real risks are happening online.

Forums like /r/nosleep and creepypasta.com are leading the way in horror for the masses. Stories are told and voted against. If a story isn't scary enough, the comments section is open and the writer is told that the story was too generic, or has been told before, or just wasn't scary. The stories with the most votes and likes are the original ideas. Incentive is becoming a part of the game. The number of 5-star reviews on Amazon matters more than the sequel (though many writers love taking the road of forming their own book series these days), and upvotes are gold to the ego of the modern horror writer on the internet.

There's a shift in the genre that's happening underneath our noses. Sure, Hollywood is doing their thing and the big players of the horror community are still writing and filming and creating; but under the mainstream is the small horror communities that are growing and transforming the genre into a battle over originality. The more creative a story is, the more is gets praised. The more original it is, the more the internet loves the change of pace. Over-saturation has created a modern horror reader that doesn't have time for a story they've read 20 times before. They want new twists, or new ways to receive that twist. Readers want to be impressed.

Being a writer, I'm given the puzzle. It can be very fulfilling to feel like I've cracked the code on a story idea. Writing to make the reader feel a certain way, or to give them a moment in the story where I think I can really connect with them. That's the goal now. The goal is to create real emotions, real stories, to take risks and let the reader see something and think "wow." Horror can be beautiful. Horror can be depressing. Horror can be what we want it to be--because it's a raw genre, and in this era the successful writers are the writers who understand that risk and originality are the way to get people to care about what you have to say.

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Ashley Franz Holzmann was born in Okinawa, Japan and raised in a variety of countries while his parents served in the Air Force. He considered attending art school, but is instead a graduate of West Point, where he enjoyed intramural grappling and studying systems engineering and military history. He majored in sociology and is currently a captain in the Army. Ashley speaks Korean, enjoys backpacking, and is the cook in his family. He currently lives in North Carolina with his wife, two sons, and their two dogs. His first book, The Laws of Nature is available on Amazon and all other major digital platforms.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Writing action into erotic stories by Cari Silverwood

Today I hand over my blog to my wonderfully wicked author Cari Silverwood with whom I've walked a long path indeed. Welcome, Cari, and play nicely with my readers, okay?

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Writing action into erotic stories.

Or should that be, writing sex into action stories? Whichever it is, the two of them need to be essential for the story or they shouldn’t be there.

The best scenes are ones that drive the story onward, ramp up the tension, the conflict, the mystery, or whichever collection of words you like to use to describe what you do to haul the reader through the story by their eyeballs, making them frantically flip the pages so fast their fingers risk decapitation from paper cuts or strange electronic zappification, thence leaving a blood trail across the landscape of their kindle. Kindles are blood proof, aren’t they?

Gore is good.

If it’s an erotic story at heart, the sexual relationship is the main drive, and should therefore be the final part of the plot that is wrapped up in a nice neat bow. If it’s an action story when you strip it back to its core, the action plot should be resolved last. Those are rules, but I guess rules can always be broken, just know what you’re doing or your readers may feel unfulfilled.

Sex gets a bad rap from some fantasy or scifi readers and writers. Though happy to arouse voyeuristic thrills by murdering an entire kingdom of warriors, and wizards, with blood and brains spurting to the heavens or perhaps repainting the hull of Spaceforger 309 a motley purple (alien blood, see), some writers think the emotions associated with arousal are lesser in some way. It’s as if describing an axe whistling through the air and cleaving skulls is so much more technical than a cock plunging into whatever it plunges into. Keeping it clean here.

Not so, I would argue. To me, writing action scenes is very akin to writing sex scenes. If you’re reading this you possibly agree with me anyway.

If you don’t agree with me? I probably can’t convince you. It all depends on individual taste, and many people dislike gory violence in stories. Others dislike sex in books. Not I. Adding battle scenes and action to my erotic books is what keeps me writing.

Here’s an excerpt that segues from one to the other. For me, it’s best when the sex directly affects the action and, in this story, mating with their alien lover enhances the magic the women possess, and so it affects how well they can fight the enemy.

This is a practice fight scene from DEFILER, Preyfinders #3.

Her flight was a rapid parabola curving to wall and back in, with a somersault and a spin to confuse Brask’s aim. The force when she hit him surprised even her and he thunked backward with her on top of him and the sword point diving toward his neck with her full weight behind it.

At the last microsecond, Brask batted it away. The sword flew sideways and stuck into the upholstery of a chair, yards away to the side.

A second later, it was back in her hand. Gaping, still straddling Brask’s stomach, she stared at the blade. How?

Then he hauled her down and kissed her.

The impact went through her like a flight of slow-motion doves. Bliss. Everything shut down except an awareness of him beneath her and his lips on hers. His hand was at the back of her head and he threaded his fingers through her hair, gathering more in his fist to pull her even closer. To keep her still.

But she wasn’t going anywhere.

The kiss lasted forever, or it seemed so. While they kissed she lived only that moment, the press on her skin, the heat, the parting to allow his tongue inside her. When his lips left hers she was struck by the loss. She kept her eyes shut, reliving what had happened even though his breathing was still so close, inches away, warming her face.

And as he breathed, she rose and fell. Her thighs were spread. She was vulnerable, despite her position above.

She opened her eyes.

He looked up at her, smiling, with his fingers still tight in her hair, pulling on her scalp.

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To join Cari Silverwood's MAILING LIST and keep up to date with her upcoming books go to:
www.carisilverwood.net

Website: www.carisilverwood.net

Facebook: www.facebook.com/cari.silverwood

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Twitter: @CariSilverwood

Goodreads

Cari Silverwood is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling writer of kinky darkness or sometimes of dark kinkiness, depending on her moods and the amount of time she's spent staring into the night. She has an ornery nature as well as a lethal curiosity that makes her want to upend plots and see what falls out when you shake them. When others are writing bad men doing bad things, you may find her writing good men who accidentally on purpose fall into the abyss and come out with their morals twisted in knots.

This might be because she comes from the land down under, Australia, or it could be her excessive consumption of wine.

Her favorite hobby is convincing people she has a basement...though she really doesn’t. Promise. If it existed it would be a terrifying place where you would find all the dangerous things that you never knew you craved.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen #review

Title: I Heart Robot
Author: Suzanne van Rooyen
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC, 2014

I’ll be upfront and say that I’ve never really been a fan of stories where one of the viewpoint characters is some sort of artificial intelligence. My rationale has always been that the author faces incredible challenges in order to express a non-human sentience in such a way that it would feel authentic. Yet I’m happy to report that not only has Suzanne van Rooyen done a great job with her androids, but she kept me turning the pages.

I Heart Robot takes place in the distant future in the Scandinavian city of Baldur, during an era that tips its hat strongly at Philip K Dick’s universe, yet without the crushing despair one encounters in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. At its core, I Heart Robot is essentially a sweet romance meets technological thriller.

Tyri is a young, musically gifted woman who is torn between the sensible career path her mother and society expects of her, and her love for making music. Quinn is an android who has fled his abusive owners and is trying to make something of himself – by proving that he can pass for human. Playing as a solo violinist for symphony is just one of his dreams. And yes, we are presented with non-biological lifeforms that make us question where pre-programmed responses stop and individual agency takes over. Can androids even feel genuine emotion?

Though the music causes Tyri and Quinn’s paths to cross, there are greater forces at play as well. Growing social unrest results in tensions between human and robotic lifeforms, and Van Rooyen forces readers to ask: what makes a lifeform real? At the end of the day, only the building blocks differ. Whether a stew of blood, bone and hormone, or metal, cruor and synthetic skin – Van Rooyen’s characters are painted as vital and alive in their own sense of self.

While I Heart Robot may come across as a near-typical young adult SF read (yes, with an expected love triangle), Van Rooyen’s voice is lyrical and her world is populated with vibrant characters and a joyous sense of wonder. Even better, she does not shy away from adding a bit of grit to her narrative, sometimes in the most unexpected places. Bad things happen, and ordinary people are forced to act under extraordinary circumstances, resulting in a read that doesn’t quite go where you’d expect it to. Which is a good thing, if you ask me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Sol Plaatje European Union Vol IV Poetry Anthology review

Title: The Sol Plaatje European Union Vol IV Poetry Anthology
Selected by: Ingrid de Kock, Johann de Lange and Goodenough Mashego
Publisher: Jacana Media, 2014

Once again, I’m going way out of my usual comfort zone because, well, I believe in deviating from the norm from time to time so that I can get a fresh perspective on writing. Part of my BA studies (at time of writing) entails looking at other genres, which obviously includes poetry. This slim volume is the result of the annual European Union Sol Plaatje Poetry Award that, in the spirit of remembering political and social activist Sol Plaatje, anthologises the strongest entries submitted for the award.

Huge disclaimer: I have only recently started reading poetry again. The reason is that for a good while I fancied myself allergic to poetry, which possibly had a lot to do with the fact that I’d seen so much awful poetry posted online or mailed to me by well-meaning folks who say “well, you’re an author, tell me what you think of my poem” that I made a point of avoiding all poetry.

Stupid. I know.

Writing a good poem is difficult. Within the space of a few verses you must encapsulate an essence and convey an idea, emotions, a thought, in deft brushstrokes. Whether you employ free verse or iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets, your words are measured, carefully considered.

But getting back to this anthology, I’m also going to touch on why poetry matters, and especially in this day and age. Poems are snapshots, moments frozen in time that capture the essence of the poet’s perception. Poems are an act of communication, yes, but they’re also an art form, and for those very reasons, this collection is important because it expresses a cross-section of perception of African writers who have made observations, not only about themselves but their milieu. And we need these memories so we can construct a deeper image of our continent and its people. Stories matter, no matter whether they are a scrap of words or an epic saga.

It’s impossible for me to give a blow-by-blow breakdown of every poem collected here, suffice to say that each is a gem. Some resonate more with me than others. Perhaps it’s because there isn’t enough shared cultural space, but most importantly, these writers have words that have been captured and lent a little permanence and evoke often visceral images. Mostly, this is the sort of collection that you can return to, dip into the words, turn them over like small stones that catch flashes of sunlight.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan #review

Title: The Hawley Book of the Dead
Author: Chrysler Szarlan
Publisher: Century, 2014

From the glitz, glitter, and make-believe of Las Vegas, to the mysterious forests of Massachusetts, The Hawley Book of the Dead plunges readers into a world where the lines between make believe and true magic are difficult to distinguish in the lives of Revelation Dyer and her family.

Reve has always had the knack to disappear at will; in fact, all the women in her family seem to be possessed of some sort of power. Yet when her magician husband Jeremy is killed during their Las Vegas show, she is powerless to stop this tragedy from occurring.

She’s soon convinced that Jeremy’s death was no accident, and when it’s suggested that she return to her family home of Hawley Five Corners in Massachusetts for her and her daughters’ safety, Reve packs up her life and embarks on a complete change of pace – and the hope that she can untangle a skein of mysteries related to her family’s past and a mysterious, magical journal that holds many secrets.

The Hawley Book of the Dead is a tactile story that engages the senses, from the ground up to the very characters who inhabit its pages. Author Chrysler Szarlan succeeds in evoking a world that blurs at the edges, and where past and present and other realms mingle in unexpected ways.

This is a story about a woman’s overcoming grief and coming into power, as she steps across the boundaries that separate her safe reality from a wilder, deeper magic that has always been her heritage. Reve must face an ancient enemy, who seeks to control her, and she doesn’t have the luxury of time in which she can learn to harness her legacy. Yet the Hawley Book of the Dead isn’t fast-paced; it grows slowly, organically, to give readers a vivid sense of people and place. It is the special sort of novel that refuses to fit snugly in any of the existing literary niches, which makes it all the more enchanting.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Review: The Stolen Throne (Dragon Age #1) by David Gaider

Title: Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne (Dragon Age #1)
Author: David Gaider
Publisher: Titan Books, 2010

Anyone who knows me well will know that I’ve an insatiable appetite for lore. They’ll also know that I’m an incorrigible addict when it comes to fantasy that involves dragons, elves and magic. So needless to say, now that I’ve fallen into the black hole that is BioWare’s Dragon Age franchise, there is no hope for this Middle-earth veteran.

My main motivation for picking up The Stolen Throne *was* for the lore, as well as the backstory for characters and events. When you’re looking at a setting that’s so magnificently portrayed in the gaming environment, as well as an environment that has spawned so much fan-created artistic and literary content, you’re really onto something special. At least for the fans, that is.

Which is why The Stolen Throne was great. The story is simple. Prince Maric’s on the run after his mother, the queen, is murdered thanks to the treachery of her subjects. Ferelden is ruled by an usurper placed on the throne by the neighbouring empire of Orlesia, and Maric faces a bitter struggle before he can take his rightful place as ruler and gain vengeance. Helping him are his betrothed, Rowan, and his loyal and best friend Loghain, who stand by him through all his battles.

For those who played through Dragon Age: Origins, Maric is Alistair’s grandfather, so it’s a nice touch to see this little slice of history brought to life, and especially getting an idea of the socio-political setting for the magnificent world of Thedas.

But…

Yes. You knew there was going to be a but, didn’t you…

The execution of this novel didn’t blow me away. While I appreciated the content, its delivery could have been better, and this is where I am not afraid to say that a savvy content editor would have been able to poke and prod the author to give a little more. The plot itself is fine – and suitably unpredictable. I certainly did not expect a diversion down into the [spoiler] where the inevitable [spoilers] were encountered. And oh, look, cool loot! I sometimes felt that character's’ motivations could have been given a bit more voema. The dialogue could have been a bit more complex. The environment could have been gifted with more sensual experience. Lots of could haves… If the characters are in a forest, I want to smell the leaf mould, feel the coolness of the air… That sort of thing. I wanted to be struck by the sheer magnificence of the setting the way I am when I play through Dragon Age: Inquisition.

So, yeah, it fell a little flat for me.

Overall, this one hovers a little between three and four stars for me. There were times when my heart quickened (because I had my favourite characters, like Rowan and Katriel, who are both strong women with agency in a hostile environment). But there were often times when I felt the prose didn’t live up to its potential. Will I go on to reading others in the series? Yes. Because I’m a sucker for canon and I’m a total geek hoping to be able to map out details for when I’m playing the game or writing fics. So, this is one for the die-hard fans.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Deep Blue – The Waterfire Saga #1

Title: Deep Blue (The Waterfire Saga 1#)
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books, 2014

With vampires, zombies and angels having had their turn in the literary limelight, it’s pretty much a given that other magical creatures will have the opportunity to shine, and The Waterfire Saga by Jennfier Donnelly is a strong contender to fill a niche of a more oceanic nature.

We meet with the mermaid princess Serafina, heir to the throne of Miromara, as she prepares to accept her responsibilities and prove her royal worth. Not only must she prove that she is pure of bloodline, but she’s about to formalise her betrothal to a prince and offer everyone a display of her magical prowess. No pressure, eh? Only events transpire that see her and her long-time (and glow-in the dark) friend Neela drawn into a prophecy that involves them in saving the world from a great evil.

Essentially, this is Disney’s The Little Mermaid (in all its somewhat twee glory) for teen girls of around the ages of 12 and 14, though there really isn’t an age limit if you just want to escape into a watery fantasy world for a few hundred pages. That’s if you can put up with the teen chatter and the terrible puns that come quite close to rivalling even Pierce Anthony’s Xanth novels. I admit to a fair amount of eye-rolling at terms such as “currensea” (money) but the story’s playful aspects offset its grimmer side, because, yes, there is plenty of reference to violence and death. The teen mermaids have to overcome great odds to stay ahead of the ambitious Traho, aided and abetted by the sinister Abbadon, a Titan-like demonic entity. Little time remains for them to track down a bunch of talismans that will help keep their nemesis from escaping his prison and destroying their world.

The antagonists are straightforward Disney-esque villains, hell-bent on world domination. (After all, what else is there to strive for if you’re evil?) The narrative follows a typical “disparate underdogs must unite despite overwhelming challenges” approach so common in popular films and books. If you’re looking for twists to the theme, you won’t find it here. It’s a straight-up quest.

Though Deep Blue gets off to a slow start, the action does eventually trip into high speed, and at times I felt that Donnelly writes a little too fast. For instance, much is done to build the relationship between Serafina and Neela, but by the time other important secondary characters pitch up, such as Astrid, Ava, Ling and Becca (and according to the prophecy, they are pretty important), there isn’t nearly as much opportunity to develop their personalities, and hence it is difficult to relate to them.
Though there is a lot of exposition for readers to come to grips with, and that often feels as if it was wedged in purely for readers’ benefit, Deep Blue is still a fun, engaging read that will whisk invested readers away from the mundane for a while.