Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Confessions of a Self-Published Author by Christine Porter

Today I hand over my blog to author Christine Porter, a fellow South African author. Welcome, Christine, and take it away!


I’m Christine Porter, and I’m a self-published author.

Four years ago, I would rather have lived on in unpublished obscurity than type those words. Self-publish? Heck no! That’s for people who are kidding themselves. People who lack the talent and skill to land a publisher.

Like many authors, I needed that pat on the back from a professional – someone whose job it is to recognise good writing – to know that my work was worth publishing. Writers tend to be solitary creatures riddled with self-doubt, and I believe many of us shy away from self-publishing because of it. If a publisher doesn’t want us, we must not be good enough.

My distaste for self-publishing is still shared by many, but with self-published books such as The Martian and The Hunger Games trilogy going as far as film adaptations, it’s certainly no longer a form of publishing that can be poo-pooed. Those titles – and many others – are well-written, well-edited and well-produced. They are a far cry from the vanity presses of a decade ago.

My own decision to self-publish came only after Peril Beyond the Waterfall was published electronically in 2011. I was suddenly shackled, not even free to market as I wished. The fact that there was no print version rankled a fair amount too.

I’m not slamming the publisher at all – they did everything that could be expected of a big publisher dealing with a completely unknown author in a completely unknown medium. The book actually sold. I was featured in a couple of publications and scraped in a review or two, but I’ve never been happy at the bottom of the priority list, so when I finally finished my second book, I knew the route I had to take.

I regained my rights from the publisher with very little fuss, and have reproduced and re-released the Peril Beyond the Waterfall that I wanted, with the cover I wanted, and the illustrations I wanted in print. I love this version of Peril. I resented the former.

The decision to self-publish spelled freedom. It’s been an absolute joy working on the project, and meeting like-minded writer types who have walked the same path. It’s far from easy. Every aspect of the book has to be considered, and you don’t have a publisher to think about things for you. You have to take ownership of the entire project and ensure that the quality is high, otherwise you really are no better than vanity-published.

I’m not sure I’m entirely past my distaste for self-publishing. I still feel it’s necessary that people know that I had a publisher, and chose self-publishing despite this. To me, it lends legitimacy. It must also be said that I would not have been able to self-publish four years ago. It takes a significant up-front financial investment, and back then I simply would not have been able to carry the costs. That is why publishers exist. That is where their value lies. In my case, though? I’m enjoying this independent ride much too much to stick my wrists back into the shackles any time soon.

My next title, Night of the Cologoro, is the first that I will be producing entirely independently. The experience I’ve gained and connections I’ve made help immensely. There’s a whole support structure that I didn’t have four years ago. It’s hard work. It really is. But I love it, and I’m excited, and I am going to make it work. Watch me.

Buy your copy of Peril Beyond the Waterfall at Ereads, Amazon, or in print.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Don't Film Yourself Having Sex by Emma Sadleir and Tamsyn de Beer #review

Title: Don’t Film Yourself Having Sex
Authors: Emma Sadleir and Tamsyn de Beer
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2014

As the title of this book suggests, it’s full of very useful advice, and as authors Emma Sadleir and Tamsyn de Beer say, please never, ever, ever film yourself having sex. Just don’t do it. Don’t even let your partner tempt you as a way to spice up your kinky time.

To give a little background, Sadleir and De Beer are attorneys and their areas of expertise cover print and electronic media law – so basically, they really know their ins and outs with regard to the use of the internet and social media, and they’ve written this book to give Joe Public the low-down on how to survive the many pitfalls presented by the internet.

While many of us would hesitate to say or do nasty things to people to their face, social media and our many electronic devices, be they smartphones, tablets or computers, offer us the illusion of immunity.

Ask yourself this: how many times have you jumped on a self-righteous bandwagon when there’s been some sort of social justice issue becoming the flavour of the week? Have you stopped and thought about whether anything you’ve said or posted could possibly create serious backlash? You might lose your job or, even worse, tarnish your reputation. Once an event has gone viral on social media, it sticks. There’s no way to truly dislodge it, and its effects can ripple out and affect you for years afterwards.

Essentially, Sadleir and De Beer talk about how we communicate, and how our methods have changed so rapidly over the past few years. (They’ll even share some of those pesky abbreviations in a way that isn’t tl;dr.) Much of what they discuss is pretty darn serious, but they keep the tone of their cautionary tales light, and set out the sharing of the information in an often funny, tongue-in-cheek way that often had me laughing out loud. This is the sort of book you can buy your aged father or get your teenage daughter to read. And, in fact, I suggest you do. And omfg, please don’t ever joke on Twitter about planting a bomb at an airport. Just don’t go there.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Through the lens of Santu Mofokeng #photography

Santu Mofokeng’s series of photographs of black South Africans, Black Photo Album: Look at Me: 1890-1950 (1997) should be viewed within context in its role as the consolidation of an archive. As Mofokeng states: “These are images that urban black working- and middle-class families had commissioned, requested, or tacitly sanctioned. They are left behind by dead relatives, where they sometimes hang on obscure parlor walls in the townships. In some families they are coveted as treasures, displacing totems in discursive narratives about identity, lineage, and personality” (Cargo Collective). These images are drawn from a period which gave rise to apartheid and the disenfranchisement of black people in the country, as well as an erasure of their identity beyond the official, state-sanctioned information (Furstenberg 2002:60).

The images themselves are clearly posed, themselves creating an illusion through their careful poise and attention to detail, down to the choice in clothing and props selected, as expression of the subjects’ whims and, as Mofokeng states: “We see these images in the terms determined by the subjects themselves, for they have made them their own. They belong and circulate in the domain of the private. That is the position they occupied in the realm of the visual in the nineteenth century. It was never their intention to be hung in galleries as works of art” (Cargo Collective).

The people depicted in the photographs are ordinary, everyday people whose stories would have otherwise gone untold had the images not been preserved. The importance of these images is also worthwhile bearing into consideration, for as Mofokeng says, “Officially, black people were frequently depicted in the same visual language as the flora and fauna, represented as if in their natural habitat for the collector of natural history” (Cargo Collective). Compare these to photographs taken by William Roe (of which a selection is housed at the Graaff-Reinet Museum, Graaff-Reinet), and it becomes apparent that Mofokeng’s work fills a large gap in the photographic record that depicts black Africans in a similar fashion – snapshots of people’s lives that exist as a sort of time capsule that remembers where official history-makers of the time were apt to erase.

Something else that one must consider, specifically within the context of the time that this work was put together (1997) that a large body of the photography documenting black lives would have focused on events such as the violence in the townships. To bring out a body of work such as this, Mofokeng is showing a very different side to the public compared to what would, at the time, have been presented in the public eye, as stated by Furstenberg (2002:61): “Mofokeng positions his practice as an alternative to the collectivizing and dehumanizing operations of the archive and to the totalizing notions of identity constructed by the concepts of ‘Soweto’ and ‘townships’”.

The images themselves therefore offer viewers a degree of visual ambiguity precisely because they are taken out of context of the homes in which they initially hung. Their meaning, collected, changes, becoming rather a narrative discourse about a population segment, rather than purely portraits of family. Together, they establish a collective identity for those who were historically disenfranchised and disempowered due to apartheid. The images stand together to preserve memories that would have otherwise been swept under the rug or otherwise ignored, and also speak of a people who have made the trappings of European culture their own. By not being overtly political these images regrouped during recent years nonetheless communicate the effects of an oppressive regime without resorting to blatant imagery. Look at Me does exactly what the title suggests, offering the viewer the command to look, and not deny the past, and to remember and not be swept under the carpet.


Bibliography:
Furstenberg, L. 2002. Representing the Body Archivally in South African Photography. Art Journal 61(1), Spring:58-67.

Santu Mofokeng. Cargo Collective. September 12, 2015. <http://cargocollective.com/santumofokeng/black-photo-album>

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The photographic activism of Zanele Muholi #southafrica

South Africa’s liberal constitution dates back to 1996 when “South Africa became the first and only country in the world to explicitly incorporate the rights of lesbians and gay men into its constitution by prohibiting, among other things, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation” (Gunkel 2009:3) and, while on paper, these words appear progressive when compared to other parts of the world where lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people suffer persecution, South Africa nonetheless remains a dangerous place for the LGBTI in an overwhelmingly hetero-normative society. This is borne out by the many violent crimes that have been perpetrated against those who are LGBTI, and perhaps especially the homophobic rape of black lesbians (Gunkel 2009:5).

Furthermore, when Arts and Culture Minister Lulu Xingwana (Cape Times, 2010) walked out of an exhibition where Zanele Muholi’s work, which illustrates black lesbians within an intimate setting, was being displayed, saying: “Our mandate is to promote social cohesion and nation-building. I left the exhibition because it expressed the very opposite of this. It was immoral, offensive and going against nation-building”, she sent a public message that echoed the nation’s entrenched homophobia among more conservative elements. Xingwana’s personal opinion stands in direct contradiction with the values laid down within the South African Constitution. That an individual, such as she, who maintains a socially influential position, could perpetuate such sentiments, illustrates the dichotomy between that which is prescribed and what is, ultimately, practised. It is within this context that photographer and visual activist Muholi’s artwork emerges, further explained when Makhubu writes: “The targeting of gay and lesbian individuals in townships is reflective of the aggressive denial of female power. Curative rape that is meant to ‘set [lesbians] straight’ shows that in society, lesbian women, gay men and transgender individuals are a threat to generally accepted yet iniquitous social constitutions (Makhubu 2012:521).

A selection of Muholi’s work on her page at Artsy, reveals a majority of black-and-white portraits of mostly black lesbians and individuals whose gender identity can be viewed as ambiguous, openly blending male and female attributes (Artsy 2015). Some, like the triptych Caitlin and I, Boston, USA, 2009 are in full colour. In most cases, focus is on the individual, with a simple or even abstract background. Where the subjects’ faces are visible, they are often staring directly, boldly towards the viewer, as if suggesting that they are present, undeniable, and very much part of society. Muholi herself states: “...it struck me that our struggle was in a way operating within a void, if people don’t see you, and by this I mean if they don’t connect to your personhood, they can easily violate you or look the other way if they are witnesses to violence against you” (Dlungwana 2015) and in that very manner, Muholi’s work aims to make visible that which has until quite recently, been considered taboo. Laws notwithstanding, a visual activist such as Muholi is a contributor in the on-going struggle to destigmatise and normalise the relationships and states of being of LGBTI people, to establish a shared narrative. In her work, as visual activist, Muholi stresses the importance of community, of collaboration: “Obviously, in telling any story you can’t just be the star of the tale, other people feature and their contribution and their own stories become part of the whole narrative, and so capturing images of lesbian and transgender men and women in South Africa as well as other parts of the continent and the Diaspora was an organic and practical development. You never act alone, not with things this important, you need community” (Dlungwana 2015).

Functions of photographs, for instance Caitlin and I, Boston, USA, 2009, serve to normalise LGBTI relationships within the public eye, especially within the context of a fine art gallery. We are faced with an image of two women who are intimately involved or who are, at least, at ease enough in each other’s presence to be naked, exposed. Commentary is not only delivered within the framework of gender, but also of race, of the coming together of black and white in a community post-apartheid and recovering from its restrictions on the mingling of different races. These women are free to love as they desire, and by their confidence jointly challenge anyone who would suggest otherwise. Their poses are relaxed, their expressions watchful, as if suggesting that they are comfortable being who they are and, as Muholi states, “people are seeing us, they are acknowledging that we exist, that we have a voice and will not be silenced and erased without a care” (Dlungwana 2015).

There is a frankness about Muholi’s work when viewing not only the postures of her subjects, but also in the way that she titles her photographs. Often, names are given and, as stated by Makhubu, “this provision of personal details asserts fearlessness, as if to declare: we are here, we are your neighbours, friends, your sons and daughters, your mentors and we will not budge – a sentiment that seems to permeate Muholi’s body of work” (Makhubu 2012:516). This removal of stigma, places the LGBTI individuals back in society, makes them an undeniable part of a community and family. Though atrocities have been committed against Muholi’s subjects, her work returns their dignity and works towards establishing a new legacy, a body of work that infiltrates the hetero-normative media that stands in contrast the assumption that “the stigmatising of queer sexuality is entwined with the assumption that people who are lesbian or gay are actually anatomically distinct” (Baderoon 2011, p. 391).

Muzi Khumalo IV, 2010, depicts a black youth who unashamedly makes eye contact with the viewer, staring directly at the lens. Careful grooming of his hair and the subtle use of make-up suggest the assimilation of traditionally feminine style. This blurring of the edges of traditional gender roles also suggests a fluidity of expression, and forces the viewer to ask, “Just what makes someone male/female?” Is it the clothes we wear? How we groom ourselves? By setting these blended expressions of presentations, we are no longer bound to tradition.

How viewers interpret Muholi’s work says much about their stances, as can be deduced from Xingwana’s response; however even such statements can open the door for further dialogue related to the subject. If a person feels discomforted by an image; if a person is forced to examine self to unpack why it is that an image causes a strong response, then Muholi has succeeded in her intention of initiating this discussion between the subject, who has allowed the photograph to be taken, and the viewer, who has entered the environment where the photograph has been displayed. In a sense, the photograph creates an unthreatening space in which this discussion can take place by this degree of separation. The photograph itself should also be viewed in a sense as a time capsule, a snapshot of a particular moment; and by equal measure its socio-historic context should be borne in mind while it is being viewed. Understandably, as time passes, and a larger body of works grows – and perhaps even references the work Muholi has accumulated – we may still see a shift in perception where LGBTI relationships have been normalised, where being presented with an interracial relationship in unabashed and honest nakedness will no longer result in a defamiliarisation for the viewer. Yet this can only occur if pioneering individuals such as Muholi create a visual foundation upon which others can build.

Bibliography:
Baderoon, G. 2011. “Gender within gender”: Zanele Muholi’s images of trans being and becoming. Feminist studies 37(2), Summer:390-416

Cape Times. Arts minister in lesbian art photo furore. IOL. n.p. 2010. September 10, 2015. <http://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/arts-minister-in-lesbian-art-photo-furore-1.979074#.VfFjjyK0umx>

Dlungwana, P. Interview with Zanele Muholi. C&. n.p. 2015. September 10, 2015. <http://www.contemporaryand.com/blog/magazines/im-an-activist-first-being-a-photographer-allows-me-a-greater-and-more-influential-audience/>

Gunkel, H. 2009. Through the postcolonial eyes: images of gender and female sexuality in contemporary South Africa. Journal of Lesbian Studies. 13(1):77-87

Makhubu, N. 2012. Violence and the cultural logistics of pain: representations of sexuality in the work of Nicholas Hlobo and Zanele Muholi. Critical Arts: A South-North Journal of Cultural & Media Studies 25(4):504-524.

Zanele Muholi. Artsy. n.p. 2015. September 10, 2015. <https://www.artsy.net/artist/zanele-muholi/works>

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Allegiance (River of Souls 3) by Beth Bernobich #fantasy

Title: Allegiance (River of Souls #3)
Author: Beth Bernobich
Publisher: Tor Books, 2013

My only regret with this trilogy is that I allowed far too much time to elapse between books while reading it; consequently, I feel that I missed out on a fair amount of the nuances, and had to play a spot of catch-up to figure out who was who, and who did what to whom. Yet it’s a sweet thing to encounter an author of Beth Bernobich’s calibre, whose ability to render tactile, authentic fantasy worlds leaves me breathless.

Not only am I drawn to her writing because of her solid worldbuilding, but also because she has created a society where there is less division between the roles played by men and women, and also a fluidity of sexuality. Women are soldiers, they can take on positions of power, and it doesn’t matter who you love. What else I adored was the fact that Bernobich breaks away from the Eurocentricism still prevalent in contemporary fantasy, to gift us with a saga that is distinctly Eastern in flavour without being heavy handed.

Allegiance is chockfull of political intrigue; it is, after all, a story that involves the derring do of masters in spycraft. There is a constant press of urgency, of being hunted down, which keeps up a relentless pace, and yet there are moments of tenderness, of subtle magic. Bernobich feeds in small details so that one can gain a vivid picture of the environment in but a few brushstrokes.

Central to the trilogy is the love between Ilse and Raul, as they fight hard to save their nation from impending war – and theirs is a particularly poignant romance, because their love is threatened at every turn. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried a little for them at the end. Each has an important role to play in the winding down of events that were set up in books one and two, and Ilse proves herself to be a canny heroine, constantly one step ahead of her enemies as she fights to save the man she loves.

For those who are looking for fantasy trilogy that features strong women, who know their minds, and aren’t afraid to go to the ends of the earth to save their world, this may well be the story for you. Bernobich’s writing is lush and textured, harking back to the measured pace of classic fantasy that begs you to hold onto the books so you can read them again to see what you missed the first time round.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Keeper by Marguerite Poland #review

Title: The Keeper
Author: Marguerite Poland
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2014

Every once in a while there’s a South African author whose name should be on everyone’s lips – and Marguerite Poland deserves a spot in that sphere. Where to begin … Her writing is pure magic, pure and simple, and in The Keeper, she nests story within story, drawing readers into the claustrophobic, wind- and wave-swept world that is the island where the bulk of the tale plays out.

We begin with Hannes Harker, the lighthouse keeper, who has fallen and is severely injured while automating the last lighthouse on the South African coast that requires this. The era of lighthouse keepers is over, and Hannes has his own painful memories with regard to this ending.

While recovering in hospital, he begins to unburden himself to nursing sister Rika, who takes on the role of focaliser trying to make sense of the mystery. We plunge deep into the past, to the tragedy of why Hannes’s mother drowned herself in a well, and also into the near-past where we meet Aletta, Hannes’s estranged wife. The lighthouse presides over everything, both lightgiver and beacon, and brooding mistress.

People cope with the isolated existence on the island in different ways. Their motivations for living there differ wildly. For some it’s an all-consuming vocation, as it is for Hannes and his father before him. For others it’s a prison sentence, to be endured. Others make the best of it, and find their coping mechanisms. All are twisted in some way by this encapsulated environment, trapped even.

Symbols abound, from the macabre badge of office represented by the great rusty shark hook to the delicate lighthouse sculpture made from shells painstakingly collected by gentle hands. Make of these images what you will – they are enduring.

But it’s not so much the setting and the tragedies of the players strutting the dismal stage Poland has set up, but also her exquisite use of language. Birds abound, and for those of you who’ve read Taken Captive By Birds, you’ll understand those moments when she adds this typical signature throughout The Keeper. But then there’s also her understanding of environment, of the ocean’s mercurial moods, that paint in broad brush strokes the essence of the setting. I was instantly transported and enthralled.

Poland paints a story told not so much by what is shared, but also that which is left unsaid. The ending, much like real life, leaves pieces unfinished, conclusions untold, that hurt, give hope and also leave a delicious ambiguity.

The fact that The Keeper won the 2015 Nielsen Booksellers’ Choice award comes as no surprise. The tale haunts me, and has made its way to my Top Reads for 2015 shelf.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Guns & Romances author Ackley Lewis #interview

If you're yet to pick up a copy of Guns & Romances, an anthology featuring an eclectic selection of stories fuelled by gunpowder and lust, don't delay. You can pick up a copy at Amazon, Kobo or Smashwords, but for now, I welcome Guns & Romances author Ackley Lewis to my blog for a little Q&A.

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

'Gloria, A Love Story' is about a guy who is trying for 'normal' and buying into all the trappings that he thinks go with it: settling down, marriage, job, home, without really looking at the deeper reasons why he's doing it. He's so bound and determined to do the right thing and be the good guy, that he doesn't see 'wrong' when it's directly in front of him. Or rather that he does see it, and chooses to ignore it at his own peril.

I think the most enjoyable part of this story was writing the dialogue. There are only three characters in the story and two of them are pretty mouthy, so it's always fun to write a mouthy person's words. I'm fairly reserved in person so it can be quite freeing to write that way. I think it helps to balance out all those things I've personally wanted to say out loud but had to clamp down on. Repercussions are only fun to write about, not to experience.  

Why do you think short fiction is important? 

I think short fiction is a great way to 'nab' a reader. You have a relatively small window to not only map your story out, but to make it interesting as well. Novels are wonderful, of course, in that you have more time to build a story and establish characters, but short fiction is more 'wham bam', for lack of a better phrase (I'm really flexing my writing muscles here). With short fiction, you're saying 'I'm only here for a little while, but I'm going to make you listen.' It's challenging. I'm very new to all of this, but that's the first thing that struck me when writing short fiction. 


What is your favourite short story? 

So hard to narrow it down. It could be anything from Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (which is a series of short stories interwoven into one story with connected characters, so I don't know if that counts), Richard Matheson's F--- (aka The Foodlegger) or 'Next of Kin' by David Sedaris, which is quite possibly one of the funniest stories I've ever read. My choices aren't all that obscure, but we love what we love, right? Anything that makes me laugh or throws a twist at me will win me over every time.  

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

I'm in the process of writing (and rewriting) a novella. It's tentatively titled The Monroes and it's about a family coming apart due to a supernatural occurrence from many decades before. Although if I keep reworking it, it might end up about a band of travelling aromatherapists who fight crime. The important thing is knowing when to stop.  

Follow Ackley on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison #fantasy #review

Title: The Goblin Emperor
Author: Katherine Addison
Publisher: Tor Books, 2014

Every once in a while, a fantasy novel comes around that doesn’t follow the trends that one almost comes to expect of the genre. If you’re the type who’s looking for sword and sorcery, flaming dragons and epic quests involving objects of power, this is not your novel. If, however, you’re looking for a slow-moving, gradually unfolding tale about an uncomplicated young man who finds himself quite suddenly thrust into the predicament of becoming an emperor, Maia’s story might just well be what you’re looking for.

Maia is the unwanted result of the marriage between the the Goblin princess Chenelo and the emperor of the Elflands. What was supposed to be a political marriage was never intended to produce an heir, let alone a halfbreed, and Maia has spent most of his childhood growing up in an isolate estate with only a relative to care for him (and not very well at that). When the emperor and his heirs die in freak airship accident, Maia is thrust from anonymity onto the emperor’s throne, as he is eldest heir.

Court politics, as he soon discovers, can be deadly, and not everyone is pleased that a half-Goblin is seated on the throne. What also counts against him is his complete naïveté when it comes to intrigue and yet, this very same weakness also proves to be his greatest strength while he establishes his rule. What is clear from the outset is that Maia is a good person. His honesty, his almost-painful lack of guile, elicited a need for me to see him succeed in the snake pit of the imperial court.

There are moments when his social ineptitude made me cringe, but by equal measure watching him grow into his role was ultimately rewarding, even if most of the action – this is partly a murder mystery – takes place offscreen, so to speak. Such action, as it occurs, is brief, and focus is rather placed on the subtle, interpersonal relations between the characters.

This is not a fast-moving novel by any measure. Katherine Addison’s prose is detailed and textured, and at times the array of names for people and places is bewildering (and possibly intentionally so, to create a sense of disorientation that Maia might feel at his situation). Yet the story is compelling, down to the last chapter, to be savoured for the rich world building and the slow weave of power play. The Goblin Emperor’s awarding of the 2015 Locus Award for “Best Fantasy Novel” is well deserved.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Thoughts on Prison Hacks/Prison Sentence by Willem Boshoff #art

For what it's worth, here's what I've written for my visual literacy module at varsity with regard to South African artist Willem Boshoff's Prison Hacks/Prison Sentence...

Picture: http://www.willemboshoff.com/documents/artworks/prison_sentences.htm
As a conceptual artist, Willem Boshoff challenges his viewers to consider the interplay of words, textures and visual elements, and in the case of Prison Hacks/Prison Sentences (2006, installation of black Zimbabwe granite slabs; Constitutional Court, Johannesburg) it’s important to take into consideration not only the name of the work and its execution, but the materials used and the location in which the work is installed, as all have bearing on the ultimate meaning and, consequently, the choice of name. It can also be argued that the decision to change the name of the work is also part of the overall presentation of the installation and the understanding that one can gain from discussion of this discourse.

In considering Prison Hacks/Prison Sentences, attention should be paid to the materials used in the installation. Boshoff’s choice of black granite – a type of material used often for headstones in cemeteries – is not arbitrary, when he says: “I chose the black granite as it is the material of a graveyard. It is also the material used to build memorials.” (Boshoff 2012) Stone lends permanence; it is a lasting reminder that endures after brick has crumbled and wood has rotted. The use of granite and the reference to headstones draws viewers’ thoughts to other associations, such as death, and the memorialisation of lives that have passed. The location of the installation also has significance, in that it is situated on the premises of the Constitutional Court, the work therefore suggestive as memorial to the injustices of the past.

The granite slabs themselves have been polished to a high sheen and engraved with the kinds of marks used by prisoners to denote the passing of time – especially in an environment where an inmate has limited or no contact with the outside world. Boshoff states: “Each prisoner counts the days of his or her sentence already served by scoring a vertical hack through each day. After six days a diagonal is scored across the verticals to close a week of days. This is done on a wall, in a private place, perhaps in a cell or toilet.” (Boshoff 2012) This bears a direct correlation to the original title, Prison Hacks. To hack something suggests a crude movement, to cut, to carve, but connotations of the word also suggests the activity of someone who isn’t doing a particular good job of something (for instance, a bad writer is sometimes referred to as a hack). Perhaps at a stretch, the word “hack” can also relate to an activity of someone accessing information off a computer system without permission. According to Boshoff (Boshoff 2012) he preferred Prison Hacks “because a hack is a term for a person hired to do dull routine work, but also means a line that you draw through something”, with each ‘hack’ representing a day of the prisoner’s sentence.

Wordplay is an important element of Boshoff’s art, with many of his works featuring typographical elements: “Boshoff often refers to the etymological link between the words ‘text’, ‘texture’ and ‘textile’, which can all be traced to the Latin texere … textured surfaces often suggest that they can be read, with the eye or the hand.” (Vladislavic 2015, p. 28) which encourage a sense of engagement between the viewer and work that transcends a passive audience. Initially, Boshoff created three slabs covered in hacks, denoting the time served by Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada, however he was later commissioned to create the full complement of panels, and during that time Boshoff fell upon on a name change for the work. The wordplay associated with “sentences” can be read in two ways. The most obvious connection would be to the time periods indicated in the work, the actual prison sentence served by each of the men. The secondary meaning refers to the spirit of Boshoff’s work, that results in a dialogue between artist, work, and viewer – a dialogue, a conversation – a sentence. (Vladislavic 2015, p. 28)

This fluidity of meaning elicited by Boshoff’s work engages the senses. The work is tactile, and as the name change suggests, the work has been open to dialogue during the process of its creation. The name change can be viewed as a refinement, of taking the rough, unfinished work and completing it to initiate a conversation as opposed to the initial marks that were put down, suggestive of a finality, resignation. A sentence invites discussion, takes the “hacks” further and leads the viewer to make conclusions.

Bibliography:

Vladislavic, I. 2015. Willem Boshoff. Johannesburg: David Krut Publishing. Pages 26-32)

Willem Boshoff Artist 2012, Prison Sentences, Boshoff, W. Available from: < http://www.willemboshoff.com/documents/artworks/prison_sentences.htm>. [16 August 2015].

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Butcher Boys

Here's an idea of what I've been studying this year. This is one of the questions from my Visual Literacy module at varsity. (Also, my lecturer for some bizarre reason did NOT like me comparing these chaps to Frankenstein's monster, but I'll stand by my opinion on the matter.)

Picture: Wiki Commons
Upon first sight, the ominous figures of Jane Alexander’s The Butcher Boys (c. 1985/86. Mixed media, size unknown. Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town) strikes casual viewers with the vision of diabolical monsters lurking upon an ordinary wooden bench; however a closer view of the trio suggests that these so-called perpetrators of apartheid may also be considered victims of the very system they are proposed to uphold.

Alexander’s The Butcher Boys presents viewers with an undeniable, arresting focal point, especially considering where they have been placed in the Iziko Museums National Gallery – on their bench prominently positioned in the entrance hall, which makes them one of the first works that confronts visitors. A close examination of the sculpture reveals the figures’ lifelike poses and great attention to realism that has imbued the figures with physical menace. They are life sized and present an ominous blend of human and animal that immediately draws the eye and elicits a visceral response, much in the same way that bystanders feel compelled to stare at the scene of an accident. As passive bystanders, viewers are placed in a situation where they are confronted by a work that elicits a range of responses that are open to interpretation.

If anything, a viewer’s possible initial response of revulsion and macabre fascination, may lead to the sense that these entities pose a very real threat thanks to their powerful, well-defined musculature and positioning that give semblance to the potential of sudden movement made frightening by the unholy addition of horns. Their eyes, too, set them apart – dark and liquid, like that of an animal, possibly unthinking, fearful and feral. Their sickly, clay-like complexion suggests a skin tone that is neither black nor white, but is neutral and possibly diseased, even. Darker blemishes on their necks and by their damaged spines are suggestive of weeping wounds that have not healed. The figures represent an anomaly – constructs that should not be, like Frankenstein’s monster, composite beings made up of the discarded parts of others. Through a process of dehumanisation, these once well-proportioned human individuals have become perverted effigies; their physical bodies have been twisted into a parody of mankind by their taking on of bestial qualities. This is summed up by John Peffer, who writes, “Through the graphic distortion of the body and its metamorphosis into a beast, artists posed trenchant questions about the relation of corporeal experience to ideas about animality, community, and the sacred.” (Peffer 2009, p. 71) Alexander’s The Butcher Boys, through the addition of animal horns, bestial eyes, removal of ears, emasculation of the genitalia, and muting of the mouths, in addition to mutilation of the spine and throat, are a discomforting blend of human and animal that cannot simply be ignored. The choice of incorporating animal horns into the sculpture not only suggests the bestial metamorphosis akin to the Minotaur in its ancient Cretan Labyrinth – the product of a transgression against nature and the gods – but considered in a largely Western (and Christian) context, is also suggestive of the diabolical.

Context is important when viewing The Butcher Boys, especially considering the circumstances in which it was initially released. As Peffer writes, “During 1985 a state of emergency was declared in South Africa in response to renewed outbreaks of violent resistance, and was renewed yearly until 1990. The police were again given wide-ranging powers for the forceful suppression of popular protest, including the detention and interrogation of suspects without trial. Over thirty thousand people were detained between 1986 and 1987. During this period, Jane Alexander produced a sculptural group, The Butcher Boys (1985-86).” (Peffer 2009, p. 75) This climate of fear meant that South Africans could not be outspoken about or stand against conditions within the country. The Boys are mute – Alexander has created them without functioning mouths; it was not possible for South Africans to speak out against the oppressive government at the time, without fear of reprisal. With their ears removed, The Butcher Boys are incapable of hearing, suggesting that they’d be unable to hear pleas for mercy. The fact that their throats have been tampered with indicates that their vocal chords may be affected, on top of them not having functioning mouths. Exposed, damaged spines may also suggest a “spinelessness” or cowardice – further indication of either an inability or incapacity to resist, to act. Much can be read into the choice of their poses as well. The figure on the left seems relaxed, indifferent almost, as if he is waiting, resigned to his state of being. The figure in the middle, and the one on the far right, both give the appearance of paying attention to events the one on the far left hasn’t noticed (or won’t) yet. The Boy in the centre is alert, watchful, yet it is the one on the far right that suggests that he is about to move. Whether this reaction will result in a fight-or-flight response, is not made explicit, and it can be suggested that this conclusion can be left to the discretion of the viewer. The figures’ realism adds to the suggestion that each Boy is poised on the cusp of movement.

Friedrich Nietzsche's aphorism 146, from Beyond Good and Evil, resonates strongly a possible conception of Jane Alexander's The Butcher Boys: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into the abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” (Nietzsche 1990, p. 102) The process of creating a monster goes two ways; through becoming the perpetrator of a broken, repressive system, of people who are shaped into tools for a greater evil, whose worldview is narrowed to the point where the “truth” that they are fed is limited (as illustrated by the Boys’ limited senses) the Boys themselves are victims, damaged and lashing out in much the same way as the Greek Minotaur or Frankenstein’s monster – unable to feel empathy and enslaved to their bestial natures that are enforced on them by authority figures.

Primarily, the Boys evoke horror. As Bick states, “Alexander’s work activates the space of viewership with the psychic and visceral experience of horror that continues to haunt us as we turn away, but more importantly, her work is itself haunted by experiences of untold, traumatic, and often irretrievable histories, which on the one hand seem outside the ethics and even capacity of representation … and on the other, without reflective and critical attention, are in danger of becoming lost to the past.” (Bick 2010, p. 32) We confront the Boys in a public space, in a gallery, where they lurk as a visible reminder of our inconvenient, unspoken past. Now, thirty years after their creation, they “confront the public secret of apartheid head on, not only by ‘giving evidence’ which could not be admitted in public or by the (white) public to itself. (Peffer 2009, p. 77) The Butcher Boys offers viewers a solid reminder, one that is presented, and based on the perception of the manner in which they are seated, of an unhurried watchfulness; their physicality suggests that they’re not just going to go away; they’re here, waiting, immovable, implacable. They evoke a primal reaction, of fear, very human yet reduced to instinctual responses. They have come into being through the action of a repressive system, to induce terror at a primal level, not only to be scorned but to be viewed with pity, for having been damaged so that they are no longer equipped to function within society nor adapt to changing circumstances.

Cognisance must also be taken of how socio-cultural context changes through the passage of time. Over the years, the possible meanings and interpretations of The Butcher Boys may shift thanks to the cultural biases of viewers; those who were born after 1994 may perhaps not draw upon the same sense of outrage as those who were present during the 1980s, when apartheid’s stranglehold experienced its last, reflexive gasps. There are those who are adult now, for whom the realities of detention without trial and enforced national service are relegated to a few lines in reference books. We are no longer faced with a visceral sucker punch of the intense horror, and though The Butcher Boys are mute, they linger as sentinels to this past – lest we forget.

As to whether The Butcher Boys were either victims or perpetrators of the apartheid system this question cannot, therefore, be considered as an either/or kind of situation. The Butcher Boys are both. As individuals they have been stunted by the system that has used them as enforcers of violence. Therein, ultimately, lies the tragedy, that through their dehumanisation they have been turned into the very monster that one should fear. Their contorted, physical forms are a reflection of the underlying social trauma that South Africans have faced under the yoke of an oppressive regime. The Butcher Boys are a reminder of the bestial actions perpetrated against thousands of South Africans, that have turned the perpetrators into monsters; yet at the same time we cannot forget that these so-called monsters were once human too, twisted into objects to fear and pity as a result of their actions.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bick, T. 2010. Horror histories: apartheid and the abject body in the work of Jane Alexander. African Arts. Winter: 30-41.

Nietzsche. F. 1990. Beyond Good and Evil. Penguin Group: London. Page 102

Peffer, J. C2009. Art and the end of apartheid. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. (Chapter 2: Becoming Animal. Pages 41-72).

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Elfish Gene by Mark Barrowcliffe #review #memoirs

Title: The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange
Author: Mark Barrowcliffe
Publisher: Soho Press, 2009

Warning: If you’re hoping this is a book extolling the virtues of fantasy roleplaying as a positive outlet for socially marginalised teens then WRONG. This is not the book you’re looking for. Step away while you still can and go read some fanfiction. What The Elfish Gene is, however, is Mark Barrowcliffe’s memoirs of growing up in Coventry during the 1970s, and how as a completely gauche, socially maladjusted teen he fled into the world of fantasy RPGs because he simply couldn’t cope with reality.

This is a tragic book. And it made me incredibly sad. Mark comes across as bitter about his past, possibly bitter about the fact that he was so lost in the games that he wasn’t functioning in society. These are not the types of memory I have of my own gaming days, and after finishing this book, I almost feel tainted. I ask myself, is this how I am with regard to the books, games and films I get excited about? To the exclusion of participating in the world at large?

Then again, I don’t recall the sheer, blithering nastiness of my fellow gamers that Mark does. Possibly, one can say that boys will be boys, but I’m an anomaly in that regard – a girl who likes her fantasy RPGs a little too much. Sure, I met a few like Mark at the few events that we had in Cape Town during the 1990s, but I avoided them. The rest of the folks were just incredibly fun to be around, all student types, and we had really good times.

What I got from The Elfish Gene is mostly Mark’s bitterness, suggestive of deep-rooted self-loathing, that he had to dig deep and bring up all that was ugly. And, yes, it’s easy to see how games like D&D can create festering little dick-measuring contests among folks, but FFS, there’s more it than what he states.

Yes, there are bits that are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, like Mark’s Ninja escapades, but most of the time I felt I was laughing *at* him for being such a sad puppy, and I was really glad to be done with the book. Yes, also to the fact that Mark pokes sticks at valid issues with the social interaction with *some* gamers, but yikes… I needed to read something uplifting and joy-making after this. As a snapshot into a particular era, however, and the mentality of the people at the time, this book is fascinating, in the same way as one is sometimes compelled to rubberneck at the scene of a gruesome motor vehicle accident involving a drunk pedestrian, errant livestock and a lorry transporting manure.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Author profile: Elizabeth Myrddin

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

Who are you?

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

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

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

Why do you think short fiction is important?  

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

What is your favourite short story?

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

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


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

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Kingdom by Robyn Young #reviews #historical

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 24, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rock Steady by Joanne Macgregor #review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Guns & Romances author Kim Murphy

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

Welcome! Tell us a little about yourself.

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

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

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

Why do you think short fiction is important? 

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

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

What is your favourite short story? 


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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Guns & Romances: Five minutes with Alyssa Breck

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

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

Who are you?


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

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

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

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

Why do you think short fiction is important? 

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

What is your favourite short story? 

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Demon Stones by Michael Drakich #review

Title: Demon Stones
Author: Michael Drakich
Publisher: Traanu Enterprises, 2014

So far as the premise goes, Demon Stones certainly tempted me to pick it up out of my slush pile of review books. So far as small press/indie-published books go, this one *looks* good. The cover illustration featuring what I assume is the malignant imp Hiss is masterfully done and perfectly suits the tone for what follows.

Essentially, this is the story of the farmboy Garlin – or Gar, as we get to know him – who discovers that he has the ability to hear and affect the demons trapped in the monolithic demon stones scattered throughout the land. As we can surmise from the get go, releasing ancient demons from stones in which they were imprisoned *for good reason* is never a good idea. Gar reaps the harvest of his folly for the rest of the novel when he gets tangled up in a war made worse through his actions.

Gar himself is not a nice boy, and it’s the nasty, petty side of his personality that helps make things worse. So far as protagonists go, I’d peg him rather as the inadvertent antagonist throughout the novel, as he blunders his way along, freeing more and more catastrophic demons and making one bad decision after the other. Even near the end, there is very little that is redeemable about him, and I plant him firmly in the TSTL category.

Darlee, Gar’s sister, and their grandfather, Pap, do their best to fix Gar’s mistakes. Their efforts, though in the end largely fruitless, are commendable. Darlee suffers a great injustice stoically, and though part of me wished she would have gone on to give her brother a swift kick up the rear, I feel she’s the true hero of this story for all that she goes through. Secondary characters, like Captain Brusk and Lieutenant Devron, play pivotal roles as well, as they attempt to save their little kingdom from being completely overwhelmed.

My feelings about this novel are conflicted. On one hand, I feel about Demon Stones pretty much the same way that I feel about Magician by Raymond E Feist, to which I’ll make a near-direct comparison with regard to writing style and dogged by similar issues. This is not a bad book. I was able to finish reading it, which says something because I’ve reached the point in my book reviewing career where life is too short. I am not shy to relegate a book to the DNF pile.

I finished Demon Stones.

Did I enjoy it? Kinda. The premise entertained me. I was sufficiently invested to see what would happen. But…

The writing itself, like Feist’s, felt a bit flat. There’s no lacking for imagination but characters could have been better developed. Layering could have been denser, in that I didn’t *feel* immersed in the setting, which came across, like Feist, as very generic dot fantasy type setting. I wanted to taste/hear/see things. Don’t tell me it’s a house. Show me that it’s half-timbered with mullioned windows that need cleaning. Let me smell the scent of resin, hear the wind soughing in the bows of the pine trees. That sort of thing. Overall, very white-roomy. Details, like combat sequences, the training of men, the interaction between characters, could have benefited from more attention to nuance.

All that being said, I’d consider this an adequate fantasy read. The author has a strong voice and an engaging narrative that doesn’t lag, and he provided a product that is well edited and well produced. If there were any gremlins in the body of the text, they didn’t jump out and grab me by the eyeballs – so there is that. So, if you’re of a mind that considers Raymond E Feist a paragon of his genre, you’re probably going to dig Demon Stones. I’m possibly looking for a little more meat and grit with my preferred reading material.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Guns & Romances: Five Minutes with Marc Nash

Some of our Guns & Romances authors have agreed to sit in the hot seat here on my blog, and today I introduce y'all to Marc Nash. Don't forget that you can pick up your copy of Guns & Romances for your Kindle or download a copy from Smashwords

So, Marc, who are you? 
Marc Nash, literary Molotov cocktailist, bringing narrative conflagration to a book near you. I like to push the boundaries of narrative form and language to try and reflect our contemporary world and get away from dusty old Aristotle's "Poetics" of beginnings, middles and ends. Human life doesn't follow character arcs, nor is our brain linear in function.

Tell us more about your story and what you enjoyed about writing it.
I worked in the music industry for 19 years and so this project gave me the chance to bring together two of my passions, texts and tunes. I suppose it was inspired by Charles Whitman's Texas clocktower shootings, but I wanted to plot my sniper's emotional tenor through the mixtape he'd put together for ordering his mind for the shooting spree ahead. It seemed like a curious juxtaposition worth exploring. I had to keep the songs fairly mainstream in case readers hadn't heard of the more obscure titles I have taken to my heart.

Why do you think short fiction is important? 
Because it's much easier to mess with expectations of story, narrative, language over a short form than trying to sustain any of these across a novel. I write flash fiction (stories of 1 000 words or less) and it allows me to be way way more radical than anything in my novels. Stories without characters, stories composed entirely of endings, stories made up of 100 single word sentences, etc.

What is your favourite short story? 
Kafka's "Metamorphosis". so rich in imagery and expertly plots the family dynamics. Ben Marcus' "First Love" is pretty neat, what he does with language is extraordinary, like stripping down a car and rebuilding it to be an entirely different vehicle.

Have you got upcoming projects you'd like to talk about?
My 5th collection of flash fiction "Extra-Curricular" - tales told out of school is published September 18. I'm also really excited to be working with a video designer to turn one of my flash stories into a kinetic typography video. I've had one done, but this one is going to a whole new level.

Follow Marc on Twitter.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Viral by Toby Bennett and Benjamin Knox – cover reveal

One of the projects that I've not so secretly been labouring over is the Viral novella serial by two of my nastiest, most evil authors, Toby Bennett and Benjamin Knox. Those of you who've been following the doings with Bloody Parchment will know that they regularly make the finals. Now they've teamed up to provide us with Viral, which releases in the weeks running up to Halloween.

Once again, a big thanks to Carmen Begley (who designed The Sea's cover) and as always, a big thank you to David and The Other David over at Crossroad Press for allowing us to get away with... ahem... Not quite murder but I'm sure you know what I mean.

So, without further ado, here's a teaser of what's to come...

More herbs and spices than it’s got feet.
Only Bug Burger has got real meat...

We interrupt your regular broadcast to bring you this GMO exclusive:
It’s been two years since the Western Sector of New Manau was sealed behind the wall and for some of us it might feel like the outbreak never happened. We’ve all seen the aerial photos and heard stories about the creatures that haunt the graveyard of the old city—shamblers and stalkers and now even monstrous dumplings—but what’s really happening in the there, right in our midst?

GMO is offering you the chance to follow Vivian Liu as she joins Doctor Brooker’s group for her exclusive coverage of the first expedition beyond the wall since the Western Sector was abandoned. Will the doctor’s humanitarian mission be a success? Can we bring a cure to the thousands still caught in a living nightmare? What does a dumpling look like up close? What of those who maintain that the good doctor is not all his followers claim?

Find out now!

200 square km

9 million infected

No chance

We now return you to your regular programming—

If you want to keep up to speed with us, follow me on Twitter @nerinedorman or, even better, stalk Benjamin @Pulpocalypse (because we're still trying to convince Toby to join Twitter).

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Stray anthology

A while back one of my favourite people, Diane Awerbuck, got hold of me and invited me to be part of an anthology she and another of my favourite people, Helen Moffett, were putting together. Stray (Hands-on Books) has now come into being, and I've been told that the royalties are being donated to one of my favourite animal charities, TEARS. This is a cause I can get behind. Not only that, but I've got a story in here too and am absolutely thrilled to be part of this magnificent selection.

Oh, and the cover illustration is by none other than the amazing Joey Hi-Fi.

So, keep a lookout for the release, and if you can make it to open book, do join us for the readings.

A deadbeat printer wakes up to discover a most unusual pet – a sphinx – in his home; a hijacked taxi full of sleeping baboons leads to a riot in a shopping mall; a python handler engages in a war of wits with Soweto police; a fire on Chapman’s Peak reveals an impossibly rare creature; a very feisty cat gets mixed up with a drug-smuggling ring; a trickster trains his dog to masquerade as a service animal – and more.

Suitable for animal-lovers of all ages, there’s something here for every reader – funny, quirky, fantastic, sad, reflective and exciting, these stories, extracts and poems will leave you purring.

Praise:
This book ripples and shines with scales and fur and feathers: a fascinating, gloriously various read – Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk

Description of the book:
A collection of stories and poems by mostly well-known South African writers. Some of the pieces have been previously published, and others are new. Each story and poem explores different ways in which animals and humans live together, co-exist and change each other.

List of writers includes:
Arthur Attwell, Diane Awerbuck, Gabeba Baderoon, Robert Berold, Sarah Lotz, Margaret Clough, Michael Cope, Colleen Crawford Cousins, Gail Dendy, Richard de Nooy, Finuala Dowling, Isobel Dixon, Nerine Dorman, Tom Eaton, Justin Fox, Damon Galgut, Robyn Goss, Michiel Heyns, Colleen Higgs, Jenny Hobbs, Liesl Jobson, Rustum Kozain, Jenna Mervis, Jacqui L’Ange, Sindiwe Magona, Siphiwo Mahala, Niq Mhlongo, Helen Moffett, Julia Martin, Joan Metelerkamp, Thando Mgqolozana, Mmatshilo Motsei, Paige Nick, Yewande Omotoso, S.A. Partridge, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Beverly Rycroft, Alex Smith, Fiona Snyckers, Ivan Vladislavic, Zukiswa Wanner, James Whyle, Makhosazana Xaba

Thursday, August 20, 2015

COVER REVEAL: Guns & Romances

Finally, here's a little something Carrie Clevenger and I cooked up. We're inordinately proud to present...

GUNS AND ROMANCES—An Anthology *

Greater dangers than mere alligators lurk in the swamps near the town of Bad Moon; a tough-as-nails bartender finds herself wondering whether she’ll make it past midnight on New Year’s Eve; and a vampire and hunter share a last dance with a gun named Felina. Guns & Romances collects eleven tales of lust, love and violence that cross genres and plunge you into a world of gunfights and action, where the shadows have teeth and love can mean forever – if you survive.

Featured stories:
“Into the Wilderness” – Sara Taylor Woods
“Harris County Corpse Killers” – Michael Collins
“Gloria, a Love Story” – Ackley Lewis
“Homicide” – Alyssa Breck
“Gods, Guns, and Serpent Tongues” – Mav Skye
“Heavy Things” – K Murphy Wilbanks
“Felina” – Sonya Clark
“Not Just Another Daddy’s Girl” – Elizabeth Myrddin
“Bad Moon Rising” – Amy Lee Burgess
“Caged” – David Jón Fuller
“Syncopation” – Marc Nash
“The Dance” – Matt R Jones

Many thanks to our awesome authors for being so amazing to work with on this project. A special thanks also to Mike Wolmarans of Tenebrae Studios for our guns, and for Lucas Clevenger for the cover design. Thank you also to David and The Other David over at Crossroad Press for their continued support of our projects.

And lastly, a huge-ass thank you to Carrie for always being there for me and sometimes talking me down from some high places.

* Release date to be announced.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen #review

Title: The Queen of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
Publisher: Transworld Publishers, 2014
Reviewer: Nerine Dorman

The Queen of the Tearling did not turn out quite how I expected it to. The premise seems almost fairytale: Kelsea Glynn has been raised in isolation by her guardians, educated but with vital gaps in her knowledge. She’s always known that she is to queen of the Tearling realm, but is woefully unprepared for the realities when soldiers fetch her so she can take her inheritance.

The Tearling kingdom is far from ideal. Her uncle, who’s been ruling in her stead until now, is corrupt, as are many of the officials. An annual tithe to the neighbouring kingdom of Demesne and its Red Queen means that hundreds of Tearlings are essentially sold into slavery to keep the Red Queen at bay.

When Kelsea’s first act as queen puts a stop to this barbaric practice, she sets in motion consequences that will see her overturning years of custom. Supported her cabal of loyal guards, Kelsea has pretty much only a week to find her feet in a hostile environment.

Even once I was done with The Queen of Tearling, I couldn’t quite figure out whether this was straight-up fantasy, or SF bleeding fantasy at its edges, which resulted in a pleasant ambiguity. There is mention of ships in a perilous crossing, but whether this was an actual ocean in a post-apocalyptic setting or reference to a distant past where space travel took place – we don’t know.

Certainly, there are some magical elements that hint towards fantasy, but what we do know is that the setting is very much post-technological, similar to Mark Lawrence’s The Broken Empire. Much like Lawrence, Erika Johansen also does not shy away from darker, grittier occurrences, and Kelsea Glynn’s honesty and earnest need to do the right thing, no matter how challenging, makes for a fascinating journey as she overcomes ever-increasing odds that pile up against her survival.

This is not an easy read, and for those in need of a breakneck pace, The Queen of Tearling might not be for you. What we do have, is a slowly unfurling saga of epic proportions, as a young queen grows into her powers. Kelsea often has to often make difficult decisions that bear surprising results, and I’m watching her career with great interest.