Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill #review


Title: Heart-Shaped Box
Author: Joe Hill
Publisher: William Morrow, 2008
Link

I am not going to bitch and moan about Joe Hill not being as good as his father, Stephen King. Joe is not Stephen, and nor do I expect him to live up to those expectations. Did I enjoy this novel? Yes. Was I scared? Not really, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story. Was the tale mind-blowingly original? Not really, but Joe certainly knows how to construct a story I felt compelled to finish.

Heart-Shaped Box contains all the elements I enjoy: references to rock ’n roll, somewhat jaded musicians, beautiful goth girls with pasts… and ghosts. In this case, a vengeful, malicious father hell-bent on avenging his daughter’s death.

Judas Coyne has picked himself up by his bootstraps. Though he started life as a pig farmer’s son, suffering at the hands of an abusive father, he has carved out a career for himself and has become a legend, probably comparable to the likes of Ozzy Osbourne and Mick Jagger. But he lives the life of a recluse on his farm, perfectly happy with his much-younger ex-stripper girlfriend and his two dogs. Or at least he fools himself into thinking he’s content, but from what I can gather, he’s purely going through the motions, goaded by mild regrets and a general jaded approach to his rather eventful life.

And perhaps this inability to connect emotionally with his present is Judas’s greatest sin – which he pays for once things go pear-shaped. And you might as well bring on pears by the barrow-load once Judas makes the mistake of adding a dead man’s suit to his collection of the macabre and arcane. He doesn’t expect much to happen when he buys the dead man’s suit, but ghostly happenings soon take on a murderous bent. Judas is forced from his comfort zone and embarks on a road trip, not only to try stop the ghost and clear up matters pertaining to his ex-girlfriend’s death, but also to face his own past.

While Heart-Shaped Box didn’t quite have me sleeping with the lights on, the story definitely has its moments where I was highly uncomfortable (which is great, by the way). Although it’s a bit slow-moving at times, Joe nevertheless knows how to notch up the creepiness factor while blending in the mystery pertaining to ghosts and the afterlife.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Dead Girls' Dance by Rachel Caine #review


Title: The Dead Girls' Dance (The Morganville Vampires Book #2)
Author: Rachel Caine
Link

It’s not often that I encounter a second book in a series that’s actually a mild improvement on its predecessor, but this is one of them. Book #1
introduces us to “too stupid to live” (TSTL) heroine Claire Danvers – who, at the age of 16, is intellectually gifted enough to study at a college away from home – and her motley crew of housemates, Shane, Michael (a ghost) and Eve (the token goth).

But the town of Morganville, Texas, is apparently the last place on earth any parent would want to send their child to, as it’s run by a community of vampires who consider their human townsfolk as nothing more than prey. Of course, Claire, with her knack for drawing trouble (which also keeps her firmly in TSTL category throughout the saga) finds herself smack bang in the middle of trouble. With a capital “T”.

Mercifully, the pace is fast and events quickly spiral out of control for the characters when Shane’s vengeful father and his gang of biker thugs aim to rid Morganville of its vampires. Added to this, Claire’s favourite bullying fiends – the stereotypical popular girls – have further nastiness planned for her.

My main issue with this story isn’t so much the writing, which is adequate, and a plot that is mildly entertaining, but rather that I wish Caine would find better ways to convince me of her character’s motivations. Because, once the cards are on the table, what sensible young person would want to stay in a town that features vampires (some of whom don’t have her best intentions at heart), and bullies who are not too concerned with exactly how deadly their lessons are?

All for the sake of proving that you’re big enough to get an education and be independent? I’m sorry. I’m not buying it, even for the sake of Claire not leaving behind friends. I simply didn’t gain the impression that the main character had lived in Morganville long enough to set down the kind of roots that would justify her obstinacy in risking life and limb – repeatedly, and with a blasé attitude to boot.

That being said, if you’re a fan of the Twilight and Fallen books, you’re probably not going to be bothered by Claire’s actions, and you’re most likely going to gobble down the entire series like chocolate-covered doughnuts.

Friday, April 26, 2013

In Conversation with Joe Mynhardt


Some pretty darn exciting stuff is happening here in South Africa nowadays, and today fellow countryman Joe Mynhardt has stopped by to settle in the hotseat for a bit for a Q&A. Welcome, Joe!

Tell us a little bit how your anthology, For the Night is Dark, came about (and they all have stories). Did you have any thematic considerations? Was it an open call or did you approach the authors with a specific idea in mind? Who's in the final line-up? 

I was actually watching an episode of Game of Thrones when one of the characters said that famous ‘for the night is dark …’ line. I remember telling a friend how it would be an awesome title for an anthology. The rest of that episode was quite a blur. My mind was spinning like a hamster on America’s Got Talent.
Realising I already knew most of the ins and outs of publishing, as well as a load of awesome writers, I started thinking about not just writing my own stories, but publishing anthologies.

I immediately worked out all the details, including the theme which is pretty obviously ‘darkness, fear of the dark or what waits within the dark’, and got Ben Baldwin to work on the cover.

I waited till the cover was done (and an editor signed) before I started approaching authors. Since I didn’t have the time to read a bunch of submissions, and knew exactly what I wanted, I set out to fill the TOC.
I took a lot of time to study each writer, reading as many of their stories as I could find online. Each writer in the collection has a unique style and approach to writing and horror.They really brought out the best in each other.

I approached the guys I knew would be interested first, of course, and with an awesome cover, payment and TOC to dangle before the others, I had little to no trouble getting the writers I wanted.

I was quite shocked to get emails from some of the writers I wanted before I even sent them invites.

Everyone just fell in love with the cover and idea.

The final line-up, in no particular order, is:
Shade, by Jeremy C. Shipp
A Snitch in Time, by Robert Walker
The River, by Armand Rosamilia
Father Figure, by Tracie McBride
In the Darkest Room in the Darkest House on the Darkest Part of the Street, by Gary McMahon
His own Personal Golgotha, by G. N. Braun
How the Dark Bleeds, by Jasper Bark
Eternal Darkness, by Blaze McRob
Darker with the Day, by Scott Nicholson
Room to Thrive, by Stephen Bacon
Don’t let the dark stop you shining, William Meikle
21 Brooklands: next to Old Western, opposite the burnt out Red Lion, by CaroleJohnstone
God May Pity All the Weak Hearts, by Daniel I. Russell
Hungry is the Dark, by Benedict J. Jones
This Darkness, by John Claude Smith
On a Midnight Black Chessie, by Kevin Lucia
Lost and Found, by Tonia Brown
Mr Stix, by Mark West
Where the Dark is Deepest, by Ray Cluley
Till Death, by Joe Mynhardt

Were there any surprises and/or co-incidental similarities in theme that came about (I ask because I've often encountered this when pulling together anthologies).

Surprisingly not. Each story is so unique in its approach and symbolism.

There really is a bit of everything in this collection. Some of the stories will make you think, while some will scare the crap out of you and others will give you chills for days afterwards.

Maybe I did an amazing job choosing the TOC, or I’m just DAMN lucky. Damn lucky to know such an amazing group of writers.

Cover art. I know a lot of editors who agonise over the final look/feel. Tell us a little more about your considerations.

I was first introduced to artist Ben Baldwin’s work when he did the Darker Minds cover in 2012, so I immediately got him to work on the cover for my own Lost in the Dark collection.

Ben and I quickly got along. He knows exactly what I like and what I have in mind. It’s amazing to see someone take a picture in your mind and so easily make it a reality.

The idea for the For the Night is Dark cover was my own. I wanted people who look at the cover to reminisce to the nights they sat alone in their rooms, knees pulled up to their chest, staring at the dark corners of their rooms over the bed cover and waited to see what happened next. We’re all like kids again when we get scared of the dark.

I also wanted one of those covers that’s a little more ‘busy’. I want people to continue looking at the cover and finding new things to creep them out. For some it might be the doll, others the shadow, the tree fingers, or perhaps even the uncertainty of the dark world beyond the protection of their homes (hence the rubbed out wall).

Release date? Formats? Where can people buy the anthology? Tell us a little about the publisher.

For the Night is Dark is available in print, Kindle and Kobo (which works on pretty much any eReader available). To eliminate shipping, printing and warehouse costs, For the Night is Dark will only be available on Amazon and various online eBook outlets.

I’ll be sure to order a bunch of copies for South Africans who want to buy directly from me.
Crystal Lake Publishing derives its name from Friday the 13th of course. I choose this name because it sounds professional enough to publish any genre, while still staying connected to the horror genre. Hopefully one day I will also publish Fantasy, Thrillers, Mystery and Sci-Fi.

The goal of Crystal Lake Publishing is to bring writers and readers together, as well as give writers the support they need. Writers are extremely hard working people who hardly ever write under ideal conditions. In time, I hope to pay them what they deserve – a lot.

Do you have any existing or upcoming projects you'd like to draw people's attention to?

Except for my own series and short story collection (which will probably only be completed by the end of the year or early next year), the following collections are being worked on right now:

Fear the Reaper is another horror anthology filled with an amazing TOC. It’ll be available Halloween weekend and the TOC includes Taylor Grant, Joe McKinney, Rick Hautala, Gary Fry, Ross Warren, Marty Young, Stephen Bacon, Dean M Drinkel, Richard Thomas, Sam Stone, Eric S Brown, Mark Sheldon, Steve Lockley, Robert Shane Wilson, Jeremy C Shipp, Jeff Strand, Lawrence Santoro, Feo Amante, Rena Mason, John Kenny and Gary A. Braunbeck. The introduction will be written by Gary McMahon. The editor will be myself, Joe Mynhardt.

Children of the Grave is a zombie collaboration between myself, Joe McKinney, Armand Rosamilia, Ian Woodhead and Ryan Miller. It will be one of those ‘choose your own adventure’ books where each writer follows the MC on a different path.

The Outsiders is a Lovecraftian collection by myself, Gary McMahon, Simon Bestwick, Stephen Bacon, Ray Cluley and V.H. Leslie. All the stories will take place in a small gated community where everything is not as it seems.

I’m also publishing two short story collections this year. The first is Daniel I. Russell’s Tricks, Mischief and Mayhem, and the second is Kevin Lucia’s Things Slip Through.

I’ll start filling another TOC towards June for the first of our annual Tales from the Lake anthology, so any writers interested in being a part of it should email me their biographies, with some examples of their work, to crystallakepub@gmail.com.

There is more info on some of these collections on our website’s Upcoming Titles page. There are also a few surprise ideas I’m working on. As publisher of Crystal Lake Publishing, I




aim to bring out a few new approaches to horror collections.

Thanks for having me,
Joe Mynhardt
www.joemynhardt.com






Thursday, April 25, 2013

Five minutes with Nick Wood


I've had the opportunity to read one or two of Nick's short stories, and he really has a lovely way with words, and his great love for Africa is very apparent. So, without further ado, I welcome him over to my blog today. He's going to chat about his short story which appears in the Something Wicked Volume 2 anthology. Welcome, Nick!

Tell us a little about your short story.




Of Hearts and Monkeys (OHAM) was inspired, if that's indeed the right word, by stories of 'corrective rape' in South Africa. I wondered what could I write, that might challenge the dreadful discourses around this practice and the practice itself, but within a story, and not in an obviously didactic form? The story didn't arrive at first, though - initially it was as if someone was whispering something to me - and, on one particular walk along a Silvermine Nature Reserve track in the mountains near Muizenberg in Cape Town, the voice grew stronger on the South Easter breeze and I could 'hear her’ more clearly, all of a sudden. (‘Her’ being Noluthando Ngobo Bhele, telling me stories.)

What gets you writing? Tell us a little bit more about your approach.

Passion and grit. Passion when I feel my blood stirring about something and I know I need to write it out somehow. Grit, most of the time, when I force myself to write, despite being tired and in pain - knowing I can't wait for passion, if I'm hoping to be good enough to be read a bit more widely one day.

What do you think are particular challenges associated with short stories as a form? 

Making sure each word is absolutely necessary and layering the story so themes are harmonized and integrated, *perhaps* even eventually enabling a one sentence summary of the essence of the story. That way, you have a stronger sense that the story is sharp, focused and has meaning that you wish will end up resonating with a reader, long beyond the reading. That takes a lot of redrafting and where editors are often invaluable - Vianne Venter gave me some great tightening advice at various points of OHAM.

As for longer works, do you have anything planned? 

I've written part of a YA book set on the moon, a chapter of which won the Accessible Futures Award and was published in Redstone Science Fiction. As a 3rd book option; I really want to follow MamBhele further along on her journey, above and beyond OHAM and the denuded Western Cape.

What's the one short story or novel you keep going back to (we all have them), and what makes it stand out above all the rest? 

The so-called gospels, including the apocryphal ones such as St. Thomas, which was highlighted epigrammatically in RD Laing's The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise. Jesus remains an enduringly inspirational character to me, although I am allergic to organized religion and the dogma that has ossified over hundreds of years to - in my opinion - effectively strangle him. I used to have an old hippie book around Jesus the Revolutionary, which spoke about the radical nature of his teachings, including the call to get involved in socio-political protest/change. He is Jesus the Jew too - and, as some say, perhaps likely to have been a 'black' (or at least dark) Jew, i.e. an 'Other', but who has subsequently been co-opted by conservative white Western ideologies. I think the 'gospels' stand out for me, because they are still in many ways moral, fresh and radical - that's if you can decouple the books from their organized religious trappings and aspects of its imperialistic history. Apart from the gospels, the Revelation of St. John is a fantastic source for Fantastika!

What scares you?

The fragility of the human body. I've been learning a lot about that these past 6 years and am only now slowly learning to partially live with it. I read an interesting debate between a Westerner and a Buddhist a while back, both with major chronic health problems - they argued around the use of 'hope'. The Westerner said it was what kept him going. The Eastern Buddhist said hope implies a lack of acceptance of the now and a painful yearning for something better. I realized then, much though I like to stretch the boundaries of my own cultural conditioning and experience, I remain a Westernised white English speaking South African male, who just writes in hope for an even 'better' world to come.

Links:
http://nickwood.frogwrite.co.nz/
Twitter: nick45wood

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov #review


Title: The Master and Margarita
Author: Mikhail Bulgakov
Link

I have mixed feelings about this novel. On one hand, I really enjoyed its light irreverence, but on another, I feel that I missed out on much of the meaning behind the context. This is purely due to cultures, and there is a vast difference between Soviet-era Russia and post-apartheid South Africa.

Mikhail Bulgakov never finished editing this work, so we'll never know what the final results would have been like, but from what I read it was also written by a creative who had experienced a lot of hassle at the hands of political leaders who sought to tell artists how and when to create their works.

Naturally, much of Bulgakov's frustration with the socio-political systems of his day bleeds through the story, but also the fact that he is a keen judge of human character--and this is what this book is: an exploration of human nature in a sometimes highly surreal and seemingly random setting. Bulgakov's imagination takes playful leaps, embroidering recurring symbols throughout. I also feel how we interpret these fanciful routines and playful satire within the stories is completely up to the reader.

That being said, I'll admit freely that most of what occurred went well over my head, but I'll add that I'll probably have much to think about while this story is still fresh in my mind. The scenes between Pilate and Jesus were quite poignant, and seemed more grounded in reality than the goings on in the general narrative. Margarita's mad flight on the broomstick was particularly wild, as were the actions of Behemoth. Bulgakov holds up a mirror to people's hypocrisy, and finds the sense of ridiculousness in everyday occurrence that we accept and take for granted.

This is the first time I've read the book and I can see there is definitely *something* there otherwise people wouldn't go on about the book so much. But I also suspect I'll have to read a little more Russian literature so that my cultural references are more up to scratch. Maybe with subsequent rereads I'll "get" more of what is going on. What I did appreciate was that each chapter was almost a standalone tale in itself, which made it easier for me to work through the story.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Dooom... DOOOOM I tell you


My mate Chris MacKinnon regularly torments me with new hints of sonic doom, knowing full well the internet connectivity here where I live sucks so bad I'd probably have faster DSL living in the outer reaches of the Mongolian desert. Anyhoo, I had to share the misery, so I've invited him to take possession of my blog today. Welcome, Chris! 

* * * *

Poor Nerine.

From time to time I encounter bands on bandcamp.com that I just have to share with her, and it can be weeks before she gets to listen to them. So maybe you, her readers will have that same sense of pity for her after you have the chance to listen to 5 from my collection while she has to wait patiently for her chance to actually receive the files...going so slow.....so dreary....

Good then that it's gloomy and doomy that I'm sharing. Just in time for the coming darkness in South Africa, by which time Nerine may have been able to stream one of these tracks if her neighbours can get off World of Warcraft for longer than 10 minutes.

These aren't in order of preference, just as they spring to mind. So first we have Herodias. Which is a strange project that merges somewhat minimal guitar and piano pieces with some incredible female vocals done mostly in an operatic style. Their Antevorta album contains an example in the track Una Vida Aislada of both operatic style and more traditional clean doom vocals. Throughout their work is something that speaks of beauty and a great deal of sadness, and there is great dynamic between loud and quiet,and a sense of space that makes for a very lonely atmosphere.

Next up is Abstract Spirit. Hands up if you like funeral doom but think that Funeral, the band who's name and music helped pioneer the genre perhaps sound too cheerful these days. Abstract Spirit are just awful......ly...........heavy........Moro........se.....ble.........ask and somewhat terrifying in their approach. The guitars play very slow, very low tuned riffs of dread that seem to take ages to reach their resolution before crashing back down again. There is a good use of synths, that just float in the background like some ghostly vapour in the early hours of the morning in late autumn.....and the vocals are extremely low, guttural death-doom style, like the voice of ancient warriors summoned back from the grave to give grim testimony against man.  Check out their album Horror Vacui to see what I mean.

Sandwiched in their middle I think I'll put Ambsace. If you've made it this far, you deserve a rest. Ambsace is a one man project from Toronto, Canada who I found by searching one night for "gloomy". So far Ambsace have put out a couple of EPs, most recently is the self-titled Ambsace EP.  But I still come back to the Lust EP frequently. How to describe this, there's a certain lack of appreciation of the work from its Creator, that sense of a musician who seems to be in agony when composing and then dejected by the time its done. I can empathise with some of his comments in the liner notes for the self titled EP. It's very expensive and draining for a solo, unsigned musician to get a release made to your satisfaction. I wouldn't exactly call it easy-listening, because Ambsace just make me quite sad in ways other projects don't seem to.  Whether its the vocals, the melodies or the clean and echoing guitars, or the fact that there's just about enough music between the EPs to forge an album with that may never see the light of day, I can't put my finger on it.

Cheering me up slightly, nah...only kidding....is Penuria. I am still so glad I found these guys, a lazy comparison would be to liken them to My Dying Bride. But that'd only speak of the melody, besides My Dying Bride play a fair bit faster on some of their deathier tracks. Here we have a kind of symphonic melodic doom band, who have a mixture of clean vocals and more anguished screams.  See their track "Time is Agony" for a better demonstration of why I love them than I can put into words.

I'm cheating a bit with this next one: At The Graves. For me flirt more with Anger, which of course isn't too far removed from grief. They've got a few releases on band camp, but it was their Mercurial EP that I discovered first.  Its heavy, anguished, fast and slow, clean vocals, screamed vocals are well exhibited in the first track of that EP in "Trickle".  It's like a mental breakdown, which is something we all need from time to time, along with the dour self-examination of the weaknesses that lead to such things.

Right, before I get back to my cage I'll briefly mention I'm working on the last album of my own project Be Not Idle In Preparation Of Thy Doom,  which is a horrible mess of dark ambience, electronic, and black metal. There's a few releases available including a collaboration between myself and Fistulae, who has done an excellent remix of one of my tracks, now called Beelzedub. And Houston-based EBM outfit also remixed a track from the October EP, which I repaid in kind by remixing/destroying horribly their "Fallen Angel" track. But for a better indication of what the new stuff will be like, think of a more guitar focused version of my favourite personal release, "Faileasan".

Of course you can also check out my bandcamp collection to see some of the other things I've encountered, and will in future.

Cheers for having me, Nerine.

Chris MacKinnon

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Taker by Alma Katsu #review


Title: The Taker
Author: Alma Katsu
Publisher: Random House UK, 2011
Link:

If Interview with the Vampire and Wuthering Heights were your thing, then it’s safe to say The Taker will be right up your alley. Alma Katsu gradually unfolds her saga, revealing mystery upon mystery within a lush setting that spans centuries.

We are introduced to Lanore McIlvrae, a young woman who lives in a Puritan settlement and bears an impossible love for Jonathan St Andrew, the son of their small town’s wealthy founder. Contrary to my initial expectations, the love between the two was largely a one-sided affair – an all-consuming obsession, really.

I muttered quietly to myself: “This will not end well,” and continued reading. Lanore will stop at nothing to possess Jonathan. Her entire being is so focused on him that it precludes any rational decisions. But fate conspires to take Lanore away from rural Maine to Boston, where her path crosses with that of the decadent, cruel Adair and his entourage. Here she stumbles across a dark alchemical secret – one that offers her the hope that she might have her darling Jonathan with her forever.

Katsu offers a prose style that harks back to the classics, and the narrative of this novel shifts between the present, past and remote past. Readers are voyeuristically brought in near the conclusion of a tragedy. But the anticipation of revealing the mysteries that lead up to this point make this enthralling.

A warning: None of the characters are likeable. Lanore’s motivations are purely self-centred and short-sighted. Jonathan is a self-absorbed cad. Adair is a manipulative monster, and the assorted support cast are wicked and, in the case of the secondary narrator, Luke, weak-willed.

Yet, somehow, this brokenness of the ensemble works well together in their ill-at-ease relations. Much like Heathcliff or Lestat, Lanore is a creature who is simultaneously worthy of pity and admiration, and as much as one is apt to hate Jonathan or Adair, it is all too easy to fall under their spell. Lovers of the gothic novel need to perk up and indulge in this series – Katsu’s writing will hit all the right marks.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Dark Continents Releases Book Bundles


I know I love bargains, and I've got Sylvia Shults, the Dark Continents publicity director swinging by here today to share a little about an opportunity for you to lay hands on some excellent horror and darklit that's a steal. And if you're yet to get round to reading my novel, Inkarna, then this is your chance, while getting some other fantastic reads at the same time.

* * * *

Everyone loves a bargain! The folks at Dark Continents Publishing know this, and they’ve made sure there are bargains for everyone, thanks to Drive Thru Fiction.

At Drive Thru Fiction , readers can select many of the titles Dark Continents has become known for, including dark fiction (Inkarna, by Nerine Dorman), humorous romance (Double Double Love & Trouble, by Sylvia Shults), short story collections (Phobophobia, edited by Dean Drinkel), and nonfiction (Fractured Spirits: Hauntings at the Peoria State Hospital, by Sylvia Shults). Now, there’s a special creepy treat in store for lovers of great fiction – and Halloween is still months away.


The good folks at Dark Continents have put together several bundles of fiction, for those who want to get the most bang for their reading bucks. There’s the Surreal Sisters of Horror collection, the Best of British Novels group, and the Horror Down Under stories. Fans of shambling  zombie action won’t want to miss the Snareville Twin Pack (Snareville and Snareville 2: Circles, by David M. Youngquist). Catch up on these five-star stories before the third novel in the series is released. And who could resist the Horror Novella Mega Bundle – five terrifying gems for one low price. Other collections include the Inkarna Bonus Pack, the Short Story Bonanza, and  the Best of 2012 Three-Pack. Many of these titles are part of the short fiction series Tales of Darkness and Dismay, a specialty of Dark Continents. These novellas are bite-sized bits of lovely unsettling fiction.Visit www.drivethrufiction.com for full details, low prices, and all the titles on offer from Dark Continents authors.

For more information about:
Dark Continents, contact Sylvia Shults, Publicity Director at Dark Continents Publishing, at sylvias@darkcontinents.com
Tales of Darkness and Dismay, contact Nerine Dorman, at nerinedorman@gmail.com

About Dark Continents Publishing: Dark Continents Publishing is an author-owned, author-driven corporation working to entrepreneur today’s publishing opportunities and model tomorrow’s writing business. Our intent is to provide a forum for cooperation: authors helping authors. A defining distinction of Dark Continents lies in its cooperative business structure, under which authors come together as equals to produce, publish and promote their works for mutual business gain. Visit Dark Continents on the Web at www.darkcontinents.com.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A meeting with Carlyle Labuschagne


I've been seeing a lot about Carlyle Labuschagne online, so I decided to invite her over. Oh, and she's a fellow South Africa, so it's great to see more folks from the Rainbow Nation get out and go do awesome things. Welcome, Carlyle!

I've been seeing a lot about your writing on various social networks, so please fill me in a little about your current title, the character and the setting? Are you busy with a series? Do you have other titles planned? 

My debut novel - The Broken Destiny is told thought the main character Ava. She is the first of her kind to experience human emotions. Secretly she keeps a journal of her mother's away from the keepers and council that has her questioning everything. And that's when things go horribly wrong for her.

The setting is on a planet called Poseidon, where everything there too conveniently exists because of The Council, of science. The planet however is a very old beautiful planet with purple skies, silver trees and turquoise oceans, this planet was once inhibited by the ancient Atlantians known as Minoans. This is the first in the Broken Series. Yes I have started working a supernatural series.

And rave reviews? What have your readers said about your writing?

"The Broken Destiny is a richly constructed tale, brimming with detail and narrative that draws upon classic elements of fantasy, which Carlyle has skilfully re-imagined into her own signature brand." - Dean Mayes, author

"Author Labuschagne’s writing etiquette allows it to be enjoyed by anyone. This dystopian story she has created is completely unique and refreshing." - Jean Book Nerd

"A sci-fi urban fantasy fiction that will undoubtedly capture and enthrall you upon every page." - Tania Elizabeth, author

" Carlyle Labuschagne not only writes beautifully, she has proven that she’s an author to be reckoned with; she has shown me that she is more than capable of creating a whole new world; has completely captured my heart with her imagination; weaves a story I want to keep reading; engages me in such a way that I become one not only with the story - but one with it’s characters, and has magically uprooted me from my comfortable existence to the gorgeous planet she’s created – Poseidon. For someone who isn’t (or wasn’t) a keen sci-fi fanatic, I am completely and utterly impressed. She’s managed not only to win me over, but has converted me to such an extent, I am a huge fan." - SSbook Fanatics

"The Broken Destiny (Book One) is an amazing beginning to a new Fantasy series. The reason this novel stands out, is because of the wonderful way the author weaves words and images. The world building is stunning."

Tell us a little about yourself. Where do you live? What's a day in the life of Carlyle? 

I live in South Africa, Johannesburg, in the suburb of Florida Hills, with my husband and two gorgeous boys. By day I work as a PR and marketing manager, and late night and weekends I work on my books and articles. I love food, to swim, nature, to read. I have a blessed life.

What are some of the novels that have had the greatest influence on you as a writer? What's on your reading pile at the moment?

Kristin Cashore novels - her world building is something to aspire to. Stephenie Meyer novels - her ability to write so much detail and significance into a story is astounding. Cassandra Clare has a great way with words, action and imagination. To be fair, every book I read teaches me and has an impact on my skills.

Future plans? What lies ahead for you over the next year or so? What can readers look forward to?

Book two will be coming out this year. I hope to publish a short story , and get a huge dent in the other two book series I have started. I often write guest posts, and published articles every second month with IUemagazine.


Autho Bio 
Carlyle Labuschagne is a South African debut author working her way into the hearts of international readers with her first novel The Broken Destiny. She is not only an author but works as PR and marketing manager by day. She holds a diploma in creative writing through the writing school at Collage SA. Loves to swim, fights for the trees, food lover who is driven by passion. Carlyle writes for IU e-magazine an inspirational non-profit magazine that aims at inspiring the world through words. The drive behind her author career is healing through words.

My goal as an Author is to touch people’s lives and help others love their differences and one another.

A firm believer in - YA saves!

Blurb: 
Ava knows much more, and feels much more than she is allowed to. When she starts questioning her origins and the destruction of Earth, things go horribly wrong for her. She is saved by a Minoan boy from an attempted kidnapping on her life – the perpetrators are evil Zulus and their dark ancient magic. Humans and Minoans are forbidden to interact with each other, and as she is taken back to their village she finds out why – they know of her, her kind and her destiny to save a dying race. Ava must rid them from the Council’s ruling and free the galaxy of The Shadow. Her destiny is to rise above the fall, because within her soul is the key to an archaic weapon that has been missing in the mix of a genetic code since the time of the ancients. As the prophecy unfolds she learns of her bloodline – a bloodline that makes her less human than she could ever have imagined. She alone has the power to destroy or save, but the mind-shift is a horrible thing. Ava will become what she hates to save the ones she loves. Beaten, poisoned, possessed and betrayed by her own emotions, she has no choice but to rise above it all… for that is her Destiny.

The Broken Destiny was voted #3 on the Goodreads Debut list for 2012.

Prologue
All my life, I had searched for something, something I thought I ought to be. I felt like I was living someone else’s life, waiting for the awakening of my own. I felt like an empty shell burning for life. That was, until the day I lay dying in the prince’s chambers. I could no longer feel the pain from the tear in my gut. The only sensation left was a hollowed-out feeling that I had made a huge mistake in assuming that taking my own life, would have stopped the ancestors’ spirit from raging out. I had given up. I didn’t want to see myself killing the ones I loved. I was the Chosen one, but I threw it all away for what I thought would save a life. Could you end a life to save a life? I did, and I have regretted it ever since. I realized then that things like me are not meant to exist. What had been missing my whole life? It was I. To find myself, I had to lose myself in the worst possible way. The consequences of my actions became the legend of The Broken.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller #review


Title: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2011

I’ll admit from the start that I’m a huge Mary Renault fan, so when Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles came up on my reading pile, I recalled The Persian Boy and devoured Miller’s offering from cover to cover in less than a week. Like all mythological tales, this one is a tragedy and, I felt a lump in my throat and was a bit teary-eyed at the end, even though I knew how the story of Achilles would conclude.

Miller breathes life into the legend, in an historical retelling that incorporates some of the magic of ancient times. Immortal Chiron the centaur and Thetis the sea nymph are clothed in flesh and walk among mortals.

The gods are real, easy to anger, difficult to appease, and are as bloodthirsty and manipulative as ever. The stage is set, and the tale is told by Patroclus, a disgraced prince in exile, and how he becomes the favoured companion of Achilles, who was destined for greatness. As narrator, Patroclus exists as the opposite of  golden Achilles, who oozes charisma, beauty and near-divine physical prowess on the battlefield. Utterly devoted, and despite Thetis’s hatred of him and others’ disapproval, Patroclus follows Achilles no matter where he goes.

Achilles is faced with two fates: to live a long life and die old and in obscurity or to flare, briefly and be immortalised in legends. Well, there wouldn’t have been much of a story if he’d chosen the safer option, now would there?

Miller’s prose is lush, sensual and evocative, and she captures this age of heroes perfectly to the point where you can taste ripe figs or smell the stench of blood on the battlefield. Miller’s characters spring forth into startling life from the pages of one of the greatest legends.

This review appeared in the Pretoria News on February 17, 2013

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Pirate Queen by Susan Ronald #review


Title: The Pirate Queen Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire
Author: Susan Ronald
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007

I've needed a book detailing the kind of socio-political-economic environment that would support piracy, and The Pirate Queen gave me exactly the kind of background I needed for my research. As background reading to inform my own writing, this volume provides a rough history of Elizabethan times written in such a way that one isn't too overwhelmed with an info-dump of names, places and famous battles. In other words, it's perfect for someone like me who needed a basic introduction to European history *other* than having watched a handful of historical movies.

Obviously Elizabeth I is the focus of this novel, and she's revealed as both shrewd ruler and a woman who's prone to the flattery of her gentleman adventurers. The dynamics at court, in a traditionally patriarchal society must have had quite a shake-up when she steadfastly refused to marry and give up her sovereignty as ruler. But oh, what a queen she was. Yes, she had her good and bad sides, and the situation with Ireland was definitely a bad side, but honours go to her for strengthening a nation in the face of the massive adversity thanks to Spain.

Up until now, the name Francis Drake meant very little to me, something about voyages around the globe, but Susan Ronald hammers home the conditions in which these gentleman explorers like him had to work in order to succeed in their monumental voyages. Their ships were fragile, wooden things, often at the mercy of the elements. Sickness and privation were spectres that loomed constantly, and if not that mutiny among the crew posed yet more threats.

We take our maps and GPS for granted nowadays. Back then these brave and hardy souls navigated unknown and often hostile territory. Not all the natives they encountered were friendly, and often Spanish colonists were less than welcoming. Ronald touches on the slave trade as well, and how folks like John Hawkins had a hand in this terrible aspect of life during this era. The conditions aboard the slavers must have been hellish, and the fates of those poor souls terrible once they arrived in the New World.

All in all, The Pirate Queen offers a rough sketch illustrating how early plunderers, merchant and pirates gave rise to British maritime strength and set the stage for the British Empire that was to follow. I came away with a better understanding of the murky politics in the English court and how Elizabeth I's reign shaped European history. Overall, I feel like I've had a great starting point for further reading.

Five Minutes with Cat Hellisen


Many of you will know Cat Hellisen as the author of the fantasy novel When the Sea is Rising Red. If you haven't read that book yet, then shame on you. Add it to your TBR pile NOW. But she's also got a story in the Something Wicked anthology volume #2, and is here today to trade a little banter about her craft. Welcome, Cat!

Tell us a little about your short story for Something Wicked volume 2.

Jack of Spades, Reversed is a weird little thing that happened. I was
originally writing a novel that was Edward Lear meets Lovecraft, but naturally it became its own monster with Cat-like tendencies. Two of the main characters are transmogrifying into animal-human hybrids because of the spore from alien invaders from another dimension, and everyone has gone mad. The two MCs are being used by scientists to pilot a ship into the other dimension to attack the invaders. But everyone has their own agenda. I guess it's mostly about finding salvation in insanity. Mostly.

Maybe.

And about learning what makes us human, which is a pretty huge theme in just about everything I write.


What gets you writing? Tell us a little bit more about your approach.

Dreams and images, play-acting stories in my head. Newspaper reports, books, lyrics, artworks. Everything feeds into my work. Generally I start with a visual of a character in some odd situation, and take it from there. The visual for Jack of Spades. Reversed was of Louise spitting out her teeth as her head reshapes itself.

Carrying on and finishing anything is my big problem. I can start with
all the enthusiasm in the world, but the grind of the middle of stories can get me down. Just have to tell myself to grit my teeth and keep going. And that I can fix all the crap in revisions.

What do you think are particular challenges associated with short stories as a form? As for longer works, do you have anything planned?

Short stories are hard. It might seem like they're going to be easier but short /= easy. I find them a particularly difficult medium and I tend to avoid them. Longer works give me more room to play, to stretch out character and plot and world-building (which I love.)

I'm always working on novels. I currently have one on sub, two in revision, and I'm first-drafting a fourth. They vary in their levels of odd. Some are more straightforward fantasy - like House of Sand and Secrets which is mostly a sequel to my book When the Sea is Rising Red - others are closer to the weirdness of Jack of Spades, Reversed.

What's the one short story or novel you keep going back to (we all have them), and what makes it stand out above all the rest?

Oh man, Clive Barker's Imajica. A beautiful, unfurling bomb of a book.
It's just one of those stories that hits my every kink - godhood, gender-queering, murder, and magic; strange and ugly and fantastical in equal measure. I also have a huge crush on Tanith Lee's Secret Books of Paradys which fuelled my teen-goth sense of drama. I should probably not admit I am reading them again. AGAIN.

My favourite of my own books is the one that's currently on sub. It's about falling in love after you're dead. So it might be a hard sell.

What scares you?

A world without cheese. I love cheese. But mostly I'm scared of being skinned alive and then put in a freezer. Or dying in a car crash (Thanks, J.G. Ballard...)

Links...
I am a social monster. I'm on tumblr, twitter, facebook, and my own blog (how weird).

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Music to Write By, or, An Ode to Beethoven by John A Karr


Author John A Karr takes over my blog today, and he discusses two of my favourite topics: music and writing. Thanks for stopping by, John.

* * * *

Tones sound, and roar and storm about me until I have set them down in notes.
 — Ludwig van Beethoven


It’s impossible to sum up Beethoven in a single sentence, but the above quote from the man himself comes as close as any.

That character string (pardon the day job semantics) alone invokes inspiration, but it’s Beethoven’s music that facilitates entry into alternative worlds for this particular writer. More than merely beautiful or interesting, such “tones” rise and flow throughout the writing zone, summoning the muse along with them.

Particularly with the genius of Beethoven, each note has its own purpose. Each feels right.

At least that’s the impression of one writer after years of listening to classical music. Granted, one who does not read music, plays no instrument, and prefers rock and reggae when driving, exercising, doing the chores, etc. But he does know what music aids his own creativity and what does not. Songs, for instance, are a hindrance. Discernable lyrics disrupt the production of sentences from the imagination.

Beethoven.      Picture: Wiki Commons
That Beethoven often agonized over the order of his musical notes is not evident as we experience their seemingly predestined flow. They begin working their magic of loosening the grip of the often mundane world around us. They do not break the hold completely, for doing so could invite insanity, but our psyche is no longer restrained by reality. Passageways to creativity appear. Boundaries are relaxed or removed. The imagination expands beyond daily life.

Now it is free to roam or wreak havoc.

Yes, havoc.

Like conflict in a story, imaginative mayhem is required. But we’re not talking Metallica here ... just how does a genre often branded as ‘boring’ do this?

The casual listener might regard classical music as simply a collection of peaceful sounds meant for high-brow affairs or relaxation. They’d be wrong of course, and should avail themselves of Beethoven or several other powerful composers like Grieg, Dvorak, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Holst, and some Mozart.

“Some Mozart?” the incredulous cry. “Amadeus was also a genius, and on par with Beethoven!”

Mozart’s Requiem is among the darkest and most compelling music ever encountered, and his Symphonies 40 and 41 are also masterpieces, but much of his other work is too light-hearted.

Placid, tranquil sounds are not welcome during this writer’s sessions. There must be a certain moodiness and power to facilitate the writing effort. Perhaps there’s a market for beautifully crafted prose without some sort form of conflict, but this writer has no intent of engaging such a venue.

So why Beethoven? Why not Bach, Brahms, Chopin and a host of others?

Personal preference. The same reason Vincent van Gogh’s works are preferred above all others in the art world. His works click. So much so the writer created a novel featuring van Gogh in modern times.

Beethoven’s works almost always have depth, and they are voluminous. There is much more to experience than the famed nine symphonies. As a piano aficionado  the preference is for the sonatas and concertos. There is something about the versatility of sound created when small hammers strike tight metal strings that makes the piano the ultimate instrument to aid creativity.

For the past few writing sessions, Cello Sonatas & Variations has been this writer’s companion. The richness of the cello is punctuated, even driven, by the piano. Indeed, it seems more a piano piece than a string piece, but then, the bias for the ebony and ivory keyboard has just been admitted. Weariness beset the writer tonight, and the temptation to skip the evening writing session was a strong one ... until the wizardry of the cello and piano came through the modest speaker. The muse was summoned, pulled out a chair and sat at the table.

This particular disk features the über-talented musicianship of Jacqueline du Pré on cello and Daniel Barenboim on piano. Giants in the classical music genre, with a tragic back story. The  two were lovers, and du Pré ultimately fell ill and passed away. Perhaps one can hear more than musical notes in her playing, and in his piano interactions with her.

Like so many of LVB’s works, these variations are not placid and peaceful.  

Revealing of its creator, Beethoven’s music is often dark and brooding and prone to bursts of violence. All three are found in the famous “Moonlight” piano sonata.

Even his least complicated compositions engage the mind on a level that is immediate and flowing. Surely if hooked to electrodes in a lab and the impulses relayed to a monitor, the brain stimulation center for sound would flash in neon.      

One may not have read the books on Beethoven or his music, or seen the movies, and yet experiencing that quote at the opening this piece speaks to the motivation that drove the man’s spirit.

Tones sounded, roared and stormed for him. And for much of his life, Beethoven was deaf. Deaf! Curse and genius battle ...! His imagination and drive and love of music could not be stopped by an affliction that would have ended the careers of lesser individuals. Who would not be inspired by the music created by such a composer?

And yet, one doesn’t need to know any of that.

His works showcase his brilliance.

And the writing is unleashed as the music plays.

But though this writer returns so often to Beethoven, the world of music and sound is vast and should be explored. Ambient space music has fed the laptop’s CD player of late while working on a Mars / Earth tale. It is an instant mood provider. It takes one there, to outer space ... fantastic, mind-expanding, but eventually, a bit too subtle.

Holst’s Mars symphony, on the other hand, is powerful enough to raise the dead warriors whose bones have long since turned to dust on the red planet.

The writer’s wife and kids used to play piano on an old upright. A piano tuner once came to the house and said, after tightening or loosening a variety of hammer strings: “The thing about an instrument is that you can’t worry about the world out there while playing music.”

The same holds true of writing, and music is a trusted companion as we journey into the unknown.

# # #


Author's bio: 
John A Karr believes fiction writing each day helps keep the demons at bay. His latest novel is paranormal mystery Ghostly Summons, from Dark Continents Publishing. He is also the author of a handful of other novels: Death Clause, Hippocrates Shattered (soon to be re-released as Shattered by World Castle Publishing), Rhone, and Van Gogh, Encore. Dark Continents also recently published his Weird West novella, Ujahwek. His short stories have appeared on webzines Allegory, The Absent Willow Review, and Danse Macabre. More works are in progress and in the marketing queue.

Karr is an ardent believer in the quote by Carl Van Doren (1885-1950), U.S. man of letters:

Yes, it's hard to write, but it's harder not to.

   @johnakarr

Friday, April 5, 2013

When history won’t play ball


Today I welcome Daisy Banks, author of Your Heart My Soul, who's going to be in charge for a bit. Welcome, Daisy!

* * * *

Hi Nerine, it’s great to be here and thanks for the offer of a blog spot with you.

Today, the historical romance, one of my favorite genres, is driving me to share some ideas. Primarily, I’d like to talk about the problems I’ve found with a work in progress in the historical genre, and what I think can happen when ‘history won’t play ball’.

What I mean by ‘play ball’ is the problem when attitudes and activities from a certain period in time are at odds with modern perceptions of humanity, love and relationships. As a historian, I firmly believe I shouldn’t judge the past with my 21st century morality. However, as a romance author, should I sanitize history? Is it right for me to make the era I’ve chosen to set my story in the kind of world some readers believe they know from Hollywood epics? On the other hand, should I follow my instinct and let the ripe gutter fragrance rise a little from the page to tell its truth? I have struggled with this question.
I know Nerine has a passion for Egyptian history; I too am interested in that great civilization. I also find the divergence of different cultures in the Roman period in the UK, with its clash of attitudes to women and family, changes to religion and the introduction of city dwelling, all fascinating. My other main interest is the early Georgian era and the development of industrialization. I am fascinated by the machines invented in this era, and by the minds of those who designed them. One of my favorite places to visit to enjoy a sense of this era is Soho House in Birmingham, England. This link will take you to a page where you can see the home of Matthew Boulton, a very fascinating character who made a huge impact in this era.  http://www.bmag.org.uk/soho-house

One of my books published with Lyrical Press, A Matter of Some Scandal, is set in the Georgian era, a robust time full of change and discovery on many levels. My main concern with that story was the legal system in England in the 18th century and I used the records of proceedings at the Old Bailey in London to try to gain the depth and accuracy I felt the story needed. As I am so interested in the period the level of research necessary wasn’t too trying, and it gave me the added bonus of discovering the reality of the author’s voice. As the characters in the story spend much of their time alone together, the impact on them from the attitudes of society in the era only came at the end of the story. However, some historical stories like my work in progress are more problematic, and I think the element of realism could influence the reception a story might get from both a publisher and readers.

There are some key areas where I’ve found ‘history won’t play ball’ with modern sensibilities or the lists of acceptable content in a romance.

The age of the heroine is an issue. If I want to be factually accurate in a romance set in the past it is unlikely an aristocratic girl will fit within modern age constraints. Research into the lives of wealthy women in the past generally proves they married young, sometimes very young. Arranged marriages where land and finance counted as more important than the bride’s happiness were also a common feature and could lead to both emotional and physical abuse if a woman tried to refuse. For an example of this, investigate the Paston Letters, of the 15th century. Those letters are fascinating social history but the information they offer is not something that fits neatly with most publication guidelines for romance.

The next problem is to give my heroine an occupation in life. For many periods in the past, work opportunities for women appear to be very limited, or none existent for women in the upper classes. Therefore, to have a heroine who has an occupation I either need to massage history, or I must look among the working women of the lower classes.

These women, the alewives or fishwives, the servant or seamstress, laundress or midwife, governess or nursery maid, and those who worked with their family in all manner of activities give an insight into lives lived without a woman toiling over an embroidery frame. There is also an added bonus, these girls, if they married, they didn’t marry so young. From the late Medieval through to the early Georgian era, the typical age at marriage of women from the lower classes was approximately twenty-four, as a couple needed to save for their life together. The women I’ve discovered in records of these periods offer courage, skill, wisdom, and even the nebulous quality so often described as ‘feisty’. Fantastic!

However, back to my historical story and the next problem I need to solve. How to make the world my heroine lives and loves in palatable too?

My current historical work in progress has offered me many dilemmas. The tale is set in the Georgian era, and is based on research of real events. I want to make both hero and heroine realistic characters from their time and still have readers like them. The level of characterization of lead characters in a historical story has to be very strong. The author must persuade the reader to suspend belief, and in addition, to like the kind of person who might attend a public hanging and purchase a pie to eat during the event. Heartless? Not according to the descriptions from the time, it seems pie sellers did a roaring trade at executions; they are prominent figures in some sketches from the eighteenth century.

I love the genre of the historical, and I firmly hope it never dies out, but I also know from my work on historical stories, it is a very demanding and unforgiving genre. The search to find a heroine who is true to her time but loveable to modern readers is a challenge in an extreme form.

In checking through this, I chose to read it a friend, who said in response, “But you write fiction. So, your characters don’t have to follow the accepted behaviors of their era.”

I have to say I sighed in frustration.

This thought, is, I think, why so many portrayals of historical stories especially in film and on television are so unbelievable to anyone with some knowledge of history. Our female ancestors weren’t all proud beauties taught to sword-fight by kind brothers or indulgent fathers, that doesn’t make them less brave or interesting than they were. Many women fought day-to-day battles against poverty, ignorance, brutality and fear. To me their stories are far more interesting than some events shown on screen, and I’d like to incorporate those real stories, at least in part, into the ones I write. To do that I have to allow truth to speak out from the era I chose to write in.

My recently published story Your Heart My Soul with Liquid Silver Books is a combination of the paranormal, historical and contemporary. In this tale of a love to last the ages, I tried to offer readers a brief look at the early19th using the characters of the ghosts of Will and Sally. Here is a link if you wish to find out more and I’ve included a small excerpt below to tempt you. I hope you enjoy it.

Many thanks again, Nerine, for time on your blog.

Best wishes to you and the readers.
Daisy Banks

Excerpt from Your Heart My Soul by Daisy Banks, published by Liquid Silver Books.

A prickle rose on the back of his neck, the fine hairs stood like a hound’s ruff to warn of storms to come and his certainty grew. T’was said only those who’d made it ’round the horn got the sense of predicting stormy winds. Well, he’d made it ’round the horn and home twice—and tonight, in the twilight shadows, proof of it raced icy down his back.

The fat blue-and-white painted vase. It had moved!

The thing always stood on the starboard side of the counter, had been there for so long he couldn’t recall.
He shook his head.

Tonight, the thick-bottomed vase sat on the frayed rush mat. Unknown hands had moved the vase from its usual spot and left it on the floor, where any bad-tempered little brat in hobnailed boots might kick it.
Careless.

The pawnshop didn’t change. Why, it was only yesterday evening he’d been here and things had been the same as they’d been for—well, he couldn’t give a number on the days. Wherever else he wandered along the wharf each starlit night, he always began his evening journey here, in the shop, hoping. Before dawn he returned, dragging the tatters of his dreams, for one last glimpse before the bright light came. The first streaks of dawn and he’d leave with the prayer the next night would bring a different outcome. The sun on the water, always he saw the light sparkling on the waves, until it dimmed and the next night and his hopes came again.
He stifled the confusion in his thoughts, the ache and longing inside, rose from the chaise and picked his way through the jumble of objects in the corner. Once beyond the brass umbrella stand and the dark wood whatnot with the broken shelf, he eased by the table and made sure he didn’t brush against the cluster of china flat-back ornaments on the long open bookcase.

Surprise stilled his steps. Unblinking, like when he watched a shooting star, he stared as if he’d frozen in the bitter cold of the deepest southern ocean. He gawped in wonder at the arch of a smear mark traced by three slim fingertips scraped along the mahogany counter.

Not his darlin’ Sal’s sweet touch, though. He knew it immediately, for she’d truly tiny fingers—slender like little petals, and how he wished…

One day she’d weave her small, pale fingertips through his hair again, or she might even whack him on the chin and giggle. Didn’t he know her for a lovin’ saucy wench?

By his heart and soul, she was a beauty. On three continents, he’d never met her like. He breathed deeply and closed his eyes to recall the perfection of her violet-scented mouth, coral-tinted lips made for kisses, her cheeky, inviting little smile, and the sparkle in brilliant green eyes that could smolder in passion like oriental gems or blaze like a wildfire lived inside them. And her laugh.

Ah, when his darlin’ laughed, the sound danced about a room, skipped like dawn light on the waves, glimmered like ice crystals in a winter night.

Beautiful.

Everything about his sweet, dainty Sal was beautiful, and he only lingered here awaiting the chance to haul fast beside her once again. This time when he did, he’d take her in his arms, caress her until she made those soft, welcoming little sighs and, God help him, he’d know then he’d come home.

He clenched his hand. “Christ alive, my wench, where in the wide world are ye? My girl, ye gave me yer heart, took mine in return, and ye promised we’d wed. Yer swore we would.”

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Five minutes with RWW Greene


A big welcome today to RWW Greene, who's one of the contributing authors to the Something Wicked volume #2 anthology

RWW Greene and wife Brenda Noiseux
So, tell us a little about your short story...

The idea hit me in wake of an argument about Joss Whedon’s Firefly. The opposition claimed there was no reason for latter-day humans to develop American cowboy-like speech patterns, and I set out to write something that, as a side note, proved him wrong.  Throw in some characters inspired by my students, add my worries about climate change, and -- BAM! -- story. There was much revising.

What gets you writing? Tell us a little bit more about your approach.

I keep little notebooks everywhere, and any idea I have goes in whichever one is closest. When I have time, I write the ideas into three-act outlines, and, when I have even more time, I turn them into stories. An idea can come from a name, an article, a long-wait for fried chicken, riffing, something I overhear in the coffee shop line … It all goes into the hopper, gets mashed up with all the other stuff, and sometimes the results make sense.

What do you think are particular challenges associated with short stories as a form? As for longer works, do you have anything planned? 

The shorter you try to make a complicated narrative the harder it gets. There’s plenty of time to play and wander in a novel, less in a novella, far less in short story. By the time you are squeezing a narrative down to a poem or a piece of flash, you’re really having to work. Short fiction relies so much on evocation and white space. You have to carve it right down to what is important.

I turned It Pays to Read the Safety Cards, the story in Something Wicked, Volume Two, into a 93 000-word novel called Leaving Home, and now I’m looking for someone to represent it. I’m also working on an alternative-history novella wherein the Vietnam War never happened because would-be conquerors from the planet Mercury set their sights on Earth.

What's the one short story or novel you keep going back to (we all have them), and what makes it stand out above all the rest?

I can’t pick. There are so many books and stories that I’ve read repeatedly. Probably the first book of that kind, though, was The Prince of Central Park by Evan H Rhodes.  It’s about a kid who runs away from his abusive foster mother, quits school, and goes to live in a tree. I think my takeaways from it are: You don’t have sit there and take it, and you don’t need much in the way of material things to have a good life.

What scares you?

I’m afraid that humanity will never get its act together, and we’ll waste all of our potential.

Links...

I blog about writing, teaching, and the 21st century at RWWGreene.com and live Tweet various award shows and political debates at @rwwgreene

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Anna Dressed in Bloody by Kendare Blake #review



Title:
Anna Dressed in Blood
Author: Kendare Blake
Publisher: Tor Teen, 2011

If glittery vampires and wangsty, lovestruck angels have caused you to all but give up on young adult paranormal reads, then Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake is a shot in the arm for the genre. Granted, this ghostly tale still features many of the  tropes: the lone-wolf ghost hunter and his team comprising a slightly ditzy witchy mother, complete with black cat; the nerdy psychic sidekick; the popular girl, who happens to have a brain and a heart to go with her looks; and the jock who grudgingly goes along for the ride.

Cas has inherited not only his ghost hunter father’s magical athame (a knife) but he’s trying to fill his dad’s shoes by travelling from town to town to put murderous ghosts to rest. His vocation is dangerous and he needs all his wits about him. Although he has outsider status, he keeps his cool when he starts at a new school. He has all the qualities of a hero: a mission,  courage and enough sass to give as good as he gets when the jocks start behaving as jocks are wont.

But he meets his match when he receives a tip to hunt the notorious Anna Dressed in Blood, a blood-thirsty ghost that haunts a house in Thunder Bay, Canada. She is far stronger than any Cas has encountered, and this is a job he won’t be able to complete on his own. Even though he doesn’t want to endanger others, he learns to rely on his small team of friends. Things aren’t helped when his emotions get in the way of doing the deed, and ghosts from his past return to complicate matters.

While this novel isn’t going to win prizes for originality – it plays on popular horror themes and offers quite a nod toward the TV series Supernatural – it’s nevertheless a solidly writteAnna Dressed in Blood lends itself to being adapted for film, and rumour has it that this is in the works, with Stephanie Meyer as producer. Blake, however, balances gore with horror in the first of a series that promises to give the Twilight universe a run
n tale and takes more than a few unexpected twists to challenge its likeable cast of characters.
for its money.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Five Minutes with Clint Smith


Today I welcome Clint Smith to my spot. He's one of the contributing authors published in the Something Wicked Volume 2 anthology. Tell us a little about your short story.

The story Double Back was a workshop piece I drafted for a university creative writing class in the winter of 2009. During the first few days of that course, I was sizing up my peers, trying to gauge who was going to write what that semester.  I admired (and still admire) the methodic short story writers—Tobias Wolff, Dan Chaon, Cheever, James Lasdun, Lauren Groff, Marlin Barton, to name a scant few.  But I identified more with the scholarly work of ST Joshi and the craft of scribblers like Dan Simmons, Joe Hill, Norman Partridge, Joe Lansdale, and William Browning Spencer.

After a few workshops, it took little time to register that I might end up being the only horror writer in class.  And I was.  I won’t say the pieces I produced for that class were unpopular; but I think they were a bit too strange for both the academes and my fellow campus comrades.  To put another way, it was clear I was a writer for the "pulps," not the "slicks," and that suited me just fine.

Regardless, I submitted my modest tale to a magazine in South Africa in June, 2009. Then I moved on to drafting different material, and the story faded from my radar. That’s until I got an e-mail from Joe Vaz announcing that my story Double Back would make an appearance in the new incarnation of his publication, Something Wicked, Volume 2.

Double Back is a love letter to the spirit-of-Christmas-past portions of A Christmas Carol paired with a reverent nod to Dostoevsky’s The Double, and his illustration of Ivan Karamazov’s encounter with the devil in book four of The Brothers Karamazov.

What gets you writing? Tell us a little bit more about your approach.

In part what gets me writing is the compulsion of exploration and challenge—exploration in the sense that, when I isolate an image or idea, and a challenge in assembling a premise or story “shape” that I’ve never constructed before.

The stories I’ve produced in these past few years have had a strong auto-biographic bend to them. Not unusual for many writers. But I’ve really tried to make an effort to dismantle to those composites I’ve known and those characters I’ve been. The most instinctive thing for me to do is isolate a trait that unsettles me from my past and place it on a collision course with an issue that I dwell on now—the responsibility (or lack thereof, as the case may be) of  fatherhood, substance abuse, war, fidelity, infidelity, the fragility and stamina of family. These are not special or novel notions to discuss; but more than anything, I do the best I can to create centrifugal cores my material to give it some gravity, and often that process elicits writing that is inexorably adorned with elements quiet horror. I’d like to utilize the medium and traditions of horror to not only repair the past but fortify the future.

Short stories seem to be your thing. What do you think are particular challenges associated with the form? As for longer works, do you have anything planned? 

In a word:  backstory.

Lately I’ve really tried to examine how to better weave background elements into the wider fabric of a short story.

Last year, in a column for Poets & Writers Magazine, Benjamin Percy discussed the A-B-D-C-E method for structuring stories: Action, Background, Development, Conflict, and Ending. And just like many horror films contain a “monster problem” (see Jason Zinoman’s wonderful book Shock Value for more on this), many short stories have a background problem, or at least a background placement problem.  I really admire Téa Obreht’s chilling short story The Laugh—that’s a really impressive example of well-crafted distribution of backstory.

As for longer works, I’m currently drafting a longer work that may very well emerge as a novel (if I can refrain from prematurely steering my characters toward the safe harbor of a short story’s conclusion). But a different sort of longer work is scheduled for 2014. I received word last winter that my short story collection, Ghouljaw ahd other Stories, will be released through Hippocampus Press sometime next year.

What's the one short story you keep going back to (we all have them), and what makes it stand out above all the rest? 

Funny you should ask.  I just finished the final draft of a story I first penned about four years ago. Corbin's Gore is the title I settled on, although there’d been dozens between interceding drafts. I kept returning to this one because I never felt that I’d provided enough thematic insulation to send it out. There were elements and set pieces that (to give a wink to Nabokov) I didn’t want to lose to the darlings of oblivion, but I also knew it’d take some interaction with these characters and circumstances I’d neglected.

I’m not sure that Corbin's Gore stands out from the rest of my work, but there was a I needed to take the story more seriously because of the potential that I had a lot to lose—that the characters had a lot to lose.

What scares you?

Henry James said that a writer is someone on whom nothing is lost.

And what scares me most is something bad—bad—happening to my kids.  I think what scares me more than anything is not providing a safe enough world for my kids. Clearly, there’s no defanging the world (nor should there be), but my fears habitually return to the self-conscious compulsion that I’ll miss something, that I’ll neglect my fatherly vigilance and something will be lost. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to assist my kids (or any kids for that matter) in coping with the chimera of life, and by writing about what I’ve experienced, I’d like to think that the craft provides some resistance and guidance for when the “bad” moments inevitably emerge.

When you write, that reflective radar is constantly rotating over the illuminated grid of your life. Hopefully, nothing is lost.

Links:
Clint Smith Fiction:  clintsmithfiction.com
Clint Smith’s Amazon.com Author’s Page

Monday, April 1, 2013

Mummies in Newcastle upon Tyne


Icy Sedgwick is one of my favourite people. Not only do we share a love for the written word, but we agree that ancient Egyptians, and mummies in particular, make fascinating people with whom to have tea. Of course Icy gets more time to visit with our old friends than I do, so today I'm handing over my blog to her so she can chat about her most recent expedition.

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Newcastle upon Tyne, in the cold north east of England, is perhaps one of the more unlikely places to find a mummy, but here at the Great North Museum (formerly the Hancock Museum), we have not one mummy, but two. The Egyptian Gallery in the newly refurbished museum houses a plethora of artefacts, including jewellery, scrolls, funerary ephemera, and a large statue of Sekhmet.

Our younger mummy is Irtyru; she dates to between 664-525 BC, and she was found at Qurneh on the west bank of the Nile near Thebes. Scientists believe she was between 30 and 35 when she died. She was sold at auction in 1825 and then donated to the Literary and Philosophical Society. Unfortunately, the Victorians didn't have access to modern scientific methods of investigation, and she was unwrapped in 1830. She was varnished to preserve her, which explains her skin colour, and her original wrappings and organs are long since lost. I can't help feeling sorry for her, missing as she is her internal organs and those amulets lodged within her wrappings, but she does has a habit of firing the imaginations of those youngsters who come to visit.

Our other mummy is Bakt en Hor, known as 'The Lady'. She lived between 1070 and 713 BC in Gourneh, Thebes, and CT scanning tells us she was between 21 and 35 when she died. She also had a full set of teeth, and her bones show no signs of bone disease. She was bought in Egypt in 1820, and donated to the Literary and Philosophical Society. However, Bakt en Hor was the subject of a mystery until recently. All of her documentation cited her name as being Bakt hor Nekht, translated as meaning 'Servant of Horus the Strong', even as recently as 2008 while she was temporarily on display at Segedenum, our Roman fort at the end of Hadrian’s Wall. A team of specialists decided to investigate further, although the investigation was operating under the caveat that her coffin was not to be opened, and physical samples were not to be taken. Luckily technology has moved on sufficiently that CT scans can tell researchers so much without mummies needing to be examined.

As part of her research, Egyptologist Gill Scott paid a visit to the Literary and Philosophical Society, a somewhat impressive library located near Newcastle's Central Station, and by chance discovered a volume entitled 'The Reports, Papers and Catalogues of the Literary and Philosophical Society, 1820-1821'. The handwritten volume contained newspaper articles and other items, one of which was a scrap of the original wrappings from none other than Bakt en Hor. Archaeological chemist Dr Stephen Buckley subjected the scrap to chemical analysis, and discovered that extreme heat and cheap materials had been used during the embalming process, implying a hurried or incompetent job. A CT scan allowed them to recreate her head, and the high levels of decomposition to her face confirmed this theory.

Further investigation revealed a mistake in naming her. Hieroglyphs expert Alan Fildes noticed a hurried water sign near the bottom of her cartonnage, which had been mistranslated, giving her the name of Bakt hor Nekht. Translated correctly, the name should read Bakt en Hor, and her true name has finally been restored after two hundred years of error. No one knows if her name was written so badly as part of the rush job surrounding her embalming and burial, but I'm quite glad that she's now known by her real name, rather than the wrong one. Before the museum's refurbishment, the old Egyptian gallery also featured a video in which visitors could watch as the CT scan of her skull was used to recreate her face, and the resulting image was one of a beautiful and strong woman. Sadly this video, or image, is no longer in the museum, replaced instead by the History Channel's short video about the investigation into her name.

As fascinating as the Egyptian gallery is, the mummies always take centre stage, and I’m glad that these women now have their real names as they reside in this cold city that lies over 2,600 miles from their homeland.

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Icy Sedgwick is a writer and film academic who lives and works in Newcastle upon Tyne in the United Kingdom. She’s been fascinated by ancient Egypt since she was eight, and her next book is a retelling of The Sorceror’s Apprentice, substituting brooms for mummies. She often features mummies in her Friday flash fiction, including No Flash and Sand and Snow.