Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Call for submissions: Bad-boy Rockers and Soulful Sirens

It was The Bard who said, “If music be the food of love, play on”.

And yet every grrrl loves her a tall, dark and looming bad-boy rocker. Maybe it’s the way he caresses the neck of his guitar, the scent of his leather jacket or the way he looks right at you from the stage, straight into your heart when he sings about what he wants to do to you.

Your mama told you he was trouble, but you gravitated toward him anyway.

Or maybe you’re that grrrl who’s flying in the face of conventions. You’ve got your guitar, a head full of tunes and you’re doing Patti Smith proud, singing about that love you just never seem to find.

Heartbreak, heavy riffs, love and the blues, underpinned by late nights in dusty small towns with the dry taste of whiskey on your tongue--musicians catch the eyes and steal hearts. Those who make music might show one face to their audience, but quite another to the people close to them. Here’s your chance to share their stories and the love of music that led them to follow the road to fame and fortune.

Works between 30 000 to 95 000 words will be considered, in the genres of contemporary romance to urban fantasy with strong romantic themes. See http://www.lyricalpress.com/submissions.php for submission details or email nerine@lyricalpress.com for further information.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Guest blog: Benjamin Knox

Good Things Come in Small Packages
by Benjamin Knox

Short stories are where most authors begin. The starting point in the craft of weaving a tale. For the early author it is a standard goal.

However they have been heavily marginalised by publishing trends, which I find weird, as there are thousands of magazines out there (both print and online) that publish short fiction. But such magazines are out of the public eye. Gone are the days of Weird Tales and the such pulp magazines, where Asimov, Clark and even Lovecraft cut their teeth.

Many established and famous authors talk openly about their love of short fiction. Stephen King in his foreword to his collection Just After Dark talks about the massive amount of time that went by without writing a short and how much he loved doing them once he started up again.

Similarly the late great Richard Laymon wrote many short stories (such as the fantastically creepy Dreadful Tales) and also professed to love write short fiction, yet still acknowledging the lack of a medium for them.

I think people like short stories just fine. It is publishers, back in the day, that didn’t see the potential. Even with big names like Clive Barker making a career for himself with his eight volumes of short fiction Books of Blood.

Reading habits are changing and changing quickly. I don’t just mean with the advent and popularity of ereaders, I mean in what and how we choose to read. We are quite lucky in the fact that we have such a wide selection of work available to us, and the internet and ebooks are making that easier every day.

We’re spoiled for choice.

Be it vampire-erotica to the surreal and often disturbing depths of Bizarro, chances are that no matter what you’re into, someone is writing it and it’s available. Even filth-master extraordinaire Edward Lee has a respectable publisher and a cult fan base.

It seems, to me at least, that people are reading more frequently yet in shorter bursts. In London where I live, people read whilst commuting or on a lunch break. Fewer and fewer people are settling down at night for a good couple of hours to really sink their teeth into a story.

Hence shorter, faster paced work is on the rise.

I feel it might even lead to a rise in short story reading (something that has always supposedly had a relatively minor audience). There are anthologies and collections from authors people know and trust, but it is becoming more acceptable and common place to read a single short story. A bite sized piece of easily digestible fiction.

Joe R Lansdale is re-releasing his benchmark short stories individually online. The very stories that catapulted his career into action.

There is a wonderful challenge in this for writers as well. Short stories are often harder to write than longer work. Less time to develop characters, theme and plot. Therein lies the skill; creating something shorter that still has a lingering impact. After all, that is what an author wants, to have you thinking about a story or an idea long after you’ve finished.

A peculiar form of haunting.

The same seems to be happening with novels as well. Which always struck me as odd in the first place as there are many classics that are quite short. Look at Hemmingway, Hunter S Thompson, Roald Dahl and Joe R Lansdale, as well as the truly awesome Jack Ketchum (who often included a novella or long short to make up pages). In the 1970s and 1980s there were many popular series of novels (like the McBain’s 87th Presinct police procedurals) that clocked in around the lower limit of what is considered a novel: 45 000 words, sometimes less.

This doesn’t mean that the standard length of the novel is going anywhere. Not at all. As an avid reader and author I like to get a book I can really chew on. But I also like ideas, and some ideas are just fun to share, quickly and in a manner that does them justice. Not all stories lend themselves to novel length.

I also predict a rise in novellas as well.

I certainly hope so too, as at the moment those are primarily what I write. They are a length I find very comfortable (25 to 50k words) to work with. Big enough to have substance and complex ideas, yet small enough to keep things succinct.

Such stories are like candy for me. I love them. I love reading them and I love writing them. Sure I have my longer work, purebred beasts of novels, but I prefer the fun-size package that is short fiction.

If you need any proof, just look at flash fiction! It’s taken off like crazy and the good ones stick with you, leave you thinking. You’ll be just about to fall asleep or on your way to meet friends and suddenly it’ll pop in your head.

Short doesn’t mean bad, or less adept. It just means short.

Ideas are like fairies captured in a jar, to be carefully examined and then released. Each marvellous in its own way.

What is really important, the MOST important thing in fact, is that the story, indeed that the writing, is good.

After that, size does not matter.

Just make sure your content is smoking hot.

I believe this trend in reading habits will lead to a mutation of the television style format. You’ll get a serialised tale, short stories coming out regularly that are in the same setting or have the same characters. Much like TV you’ll be able to jump in and enjoy the story on its own, but you’ll have much deeper insight if you’ve read the previous entries.

A series of episodic adventures that lead on from one another; like watching House MD: A new case each week with the slow push of the season’s main plot.

After all even Charles Dickens’s work was originally released in serial format.

Anyway, that’s what I think. Whether it happens or not, only time will tell. I’m interested in it enough to throw my own hat into the ring. Until then you can read my other short stories (such as A Keeper of Secrets which is already available), read my web-comics, pick my brain etc at my website or blog.

Thanks for reading.

(Finally, to quote Tigger)

Ta-ta for now

A Keeper of Secrets: a short story
by Benjamin Knox

she’s waiting for you...

Amidst the clutter and gloom of the attic little Anna has the strange feeling that she is not alone...

A Dark Fairy-tale for grown-ups.

* * * *

Benjamin Knox wanted to be a super-villain when he was little. Instead he grew up to warp minds with his creepy fiction.

For further strangeness visit www.benjaminknox.net or his blog benjaminknox.tumblr.com

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lucky Seven excerpt: Dawn's Bright Talons

I was tagged by Carrie Clevenger for a fun lucky seven post. Here's the rules:

1. Go to page 77 in your current manuscript
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next seven lines as they are - no cheating
4. Tag 7 other authors (Done on Facebook)

Here's my lucky seven. This is taken from Dawn's Bright Talons:

...blazing with gas lights turned to their brightest setting. It must cost the woman a fortune. Then again, she had old money, the kind grown fat on the old slave trade, and investments almost as ancient as Ysul.

No one knew the lady’s age and, as far as I knew, she outdated even Ezekiel, who’d been knocking around for six centuries at the very least. I found it unusual that she’d created progeny at all. The very old vampires tended toward solitude and the gap in years between them and their mortal companions was so vast there often rarely was any cause for common ground.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

#Review: Fallen by Lauren Kate

Title: Fallen
Author: Lauren Kate
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2009

I’ve been meaning to lay hands on this book for a long time, mostly because books two and three have landed on my desk as review copies for the newspaper publisher I write for. What more could I ask for? Pretty cover art and an angelic theme? Plus I’d seen a lot of hype in the shops. A LOT of hype. From what I can see, gallons of marketing blood, sweat and tears went into Fallen to follow successfully in the wake of Tweelight. I’d even heard some folks telling me Luce and Daniel were to Fallen what Bella and Edward were to Twilight. I suppose to those peeps were right but it still doesn’t make this a good book.

Where do I even start? I feel like I’ve wasted hours of my life I won’t get back. My first gripe occurred when I noticed that I’d gone through more than three quarters of the novel and was still waiting for the story to happen. The writing is fair to middling, therefore there were not enough pretty narrative passages to cover up the fact that NOTHING HAS HAPPENED. And a great work of literary fiction this is not.

Lucinda Price’s last squeeze dies amid mysterious circumstances when the icky black shadows come to haunt her. She gets sent to the Sword and Cross Reformatory School where she sees Daniel, whose hot/cold responses to her presence has her getting completely gaga over the lad. A typical love triangle occurs (well, of COURSE) when the scary goth kid Cam ends up being the bad boy (well, of COURSE). This push/pull situation between the two potential matches waffles on for a bit. The kids seem to get away with drinking booze and having parties after hours (at a reformatory? WTF?) Luce makes friends with the geeky nerd girl Penn and the rebel, Arianne, and has run-ins the BAD punk rocker (well, of COURSE). This type of obvious dualism in protagonists vs. antagonists is something I'd expect in Hollywood and not have the idea bashed over my head in fiction.

Then right at the end, stuff happens, people die and nothing is really explained. Oh, and there’s a Mexican stand-off of sorts, so far as I can tell. But I’m not sure. Actually, I’m not sure why a bunch of stuff happens and why the stuff that did happen waited to happen when it did. And what the hell was stopping it from happening in the first place? Confused yet? So am I. None of this was clear, and while I do like some mystery and magic, I like to understand the motivations of the different characters, even if there are no real resolutions. I’m still sitting here with a massive WTF scribbled in indelible marker all over my face.

While we’re at it, Lucinda Price makes Bella Swann look like a fascinating, three-dimensional female lead. The fact that she might have inadvertently led to the death of a young man doesn’t seem to haunt her. She obsesses about a dude who treats her like shit. She has no fire, no motivation, and is easily led by the people around her. She has no interests save for Daniel. I cannot relate to this character.

When I was a teen I remember falling in love, for sure, obsessing even about movie stars, musicians and boys, boys, boys, but for goodness sake, I had other interests too, like music, art and writing, and watching cool movies and going on holiday and one day being a famous rock star. Luce’s entire life seems to revolve around her seemingly unrequited love for Daniel. We get no sense of any personality lurking beneath the surface, other than she vaguely misses her best friend and family.

Lauren Kate’s writing is okay. It’s not spectacular and to give her credit, she doesn’t make me want to stab my eyes out with the red pen I use when I’m proofreading. She can carry a story but please oh my god please can someone help her with her plotting and building tension? Add looking beyond the obvious light/dark is good vs. evil? Yes, there are ways to get around this even if you’re writing about angels and demons, (Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is a very good example). Fallen is not a good book. I don’t recommend it and I’m shuddering at the thought that I still have to review books two and three. You have better things to do with your time than read this book, like unblocking your toilet or flossing your teeth.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Guest blog: MR. GLAMOUR, Richard Godwin.

Designer goods, beautiful women, wealthy men, a lifestyle preyed on by a serial killer.

A killer who is watching everyone, including the police.

Latest headlines?

No, an outline of my second novel, Mr. Glamour.

My debut novel Apostle Rising was published in paperback by Black Jackal Books last year. It was about a serial killer crucifying politicians, and sold extremely well, received excellent reviews, and sold foreign rights to the largest publisher in Hungary.

Now Black Jackal Books have published Mr. Glamour, and I’d like to tell you a bit about it. The settings are exotic, and the pages drip with wealth. The story’s told in my usual style, and my readers will know what that means. I have been told I write with a blend of lyricism and graphic description. I like to explore what motivates people and I certainly do so with the leading characters in Mr. Glamour.

The two central cops, DCI Jackson Flare and Inspector Steele, are unusual and strong in their own ways, as reviewers are already picking up. At the beginning of the novel Steele hates working with Flare for personal reasons. She doesn’t by the end, and the investigation takes them both on a journey which changes them and their opinions of one another.

Let me give you the setting if you are tempted to read Mr. Glamour.

Something dark is preying on the glitz of the glamour set. There is a lot about designer goods and lifestyles in Mr. Glamour. The killer knows all about design, he knows what brands mean to his victims. He is branding their skins. And he has the police stumped.

As Flare and Steele investigate the killings they enter an exclusive world with its own rules and quickly realise the man they are looking for is playing a game with them, a game they cannot interpret. The killer is targeting an exclusive group of people he seems to know a lot about.

The police investigation isn’t helped by the fact that Flare and Steele have troubled lives. Harlan White, a pimp who got on the wrong side of Flare, is planning to have him killed. And Steele has secrets. She leads a double life. She is an interesting woman who pushes her sexual boundaries in private. She travels a journey into her own past and rescues herself. And in a strange way she is helped by the killer she is looking for. And Flare has some revelations in store.

As they try to catch a predator who has climbed inside their heads, they find themselves up
against a wall of secrecy. The investigation drives Flare and Steele to acts of darkness. And the killer is watching everyone.

Then there is the sub plot.

Contrasting this lifestyle is the suburban existence of Gertrude Miller, who acts out strange rituals, trapped in a sterile marriage to husband Ben. She cleans compulsively and seems to be hiding something from him, obsessed that she is being followed. As she slips into a psychosis, characters from the glamorous set stray into Gertrude’s world, so the two plots dovetail neatly with one another.

And when Flare and Steele make an arrest they discover there is far more to this glamorous world than they realised. There is a series of shocks at the end of the novel as a set of fireworks go off. Watch out for the highly dramatic ending.

It is already picking up some great reviews.

Advance praise for Mr. Glamour:
“Richard Godwin knows how his characters dress, what they drink and what they drive. He knows how they live--and how they die. Here's hoping no one recognized themselves in Godwin's cold canvas. Combines the fun of a good story with the joy of witty, vivid writing.”
Heywood Gould, author of The Serial Killer's Daughter.

“Smart, scary, suspenseful enough for me to keep the light on until 3AM on a Sunday night, Richard Godwin once more proves to fans of crime fiction the world over with Mr. Glamour, that he is not only one of the best contemporary writers of the procedural cop thriller around today, he is a master storyteller.”
Vincent Zandri, author of Scream Catcher.

“Richard Godwin’s top-of-the-line psychological police procedural driven by its heady pace, steely dialogue, and unsparing vision transfixes the reader from page one.”
Ed Lynskey, author of Skin In The Game.

Mr. Glamour is a striking effort from one of the most daring crime writers in the business. It is the noirest of noir...and hellishly addictive.”
Mike Stafford, BookGeeks Magazine.

“This first rate detective thriller will have you gripped from the start. Richard Godwin is an author not to be missed.”
Sheila Quigley, author of Thorn In My Side.

Mr. Glamour is, in every sense of the word, the real McCoy: genuine hard boiled detective fiction. Lean, gritty, and tough, it’s a journey into the heart of darkness ... you won’t soon forget. Connoisseurs of Nouveau Noir will have to add Richard Godwin to the list of writers to watch!”
CE Lawrence, author of Silent Kills.

“Involving and compellingly sinister, Richard Godwin’s Mr. Glamour portrays cops and criminals, the mad and the driven in a novel of psychological noir. Read it while snuggling with your stuffed teddy bear for comfort.”
Gary Phillips, author of Treacherous: Grifters, Ruffians and Killers

“This is one outstanding novel written by one amazing author.”
Fran Lewis Review.

I think Mr. Glamour will appeal to mystery and crime aficionados, to readers interested in psychological profiling and designer lifestyles, to thriller and noir fans, and to anyone who enjoys a fast paced narrative with strong characters.

Mr. Glamour can be bought now at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and at all good retailers online and in stores in April. If you Google it you should see a range of options come up.

And you can find out more about me at my website and my stories here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

#Friday Flash: How Does Your Garden Grow?

It’s an open-casket funeral. I only notice once I’ve clutched at D’s suit and left creases and tear stains in the silk after I hug him.

Don’t look, says the crow.

A dozen nightmares of animated corpses eyeballing me flood to the surface but I hunch on the pew—not quite in the middle of the church but not at the back. I’m not family. I was the daughter of the next-door neighbours. No one important. Today my funerary attire is not out of place.

The people I remember from a decade ago are older, balder and fatter. The kids are all grown up, like me. I struggle to marry faces to names. The projector displays its slide show and the dearly departed is broadcast for all present and I can’t stop the tears. I’m not crying for the departed. She is gone. I cry for myself, for the fact that I’m the one who hurts. Selfish.

A nasty little voice suggests I could have gone to visit more often and reminds me of others who will shuffle off this mortal coil next, each taking another fragment of my past; my childhood cremated to ash and scattered to the four winds. But I know the truth of it. We grow up, we grow apart. We can only mourn that which has passed. We cannot force branches together that have grown perpendicular to each other.

The sermon is bland, staid words repeated a million times before by parish priests in dry whispers that wash over those gathered like a river of sand. Vague notions of guilt remind me of the faith I’ve cast aside.

It’s all lies, it’s all lies, my atheist grandfather says from his death bed while my mother prays for his salvation.

I can’t go back. I’m the acorn that’s germinated and grown into an oak with twisted boughs warped by the wind. It’s impossible for me to fold myself back into that easily contained package that will match the dozens stacked away into neatly regimented rows.

People wonder where the soul goes upon death. They would like to believe that a new body is prepared for an afterlife. It lets them feel better about the fact that we all bear the black mark on our foreheads. It’s wishful thinking. Tooth Fairies in which big people can believe.

They play Don’t Cry for me Argentina, but the music fails to move me the way it did when I was a kid. I used to dig Andrew Lloyd Webber. Now the tune seems hackneyed, worn out from overplay. It was the deceased’s husband’s favourite song. They played it at his funeral too, though he was an atheist and they held his funeral in this very same church more than a decade ago.

We get a last chance to view the deceased once the service is over. I can’t help but think she looks pinched, a dried-out husk and the placeholder of the woman who taught me to love my garden. Why is she so small? I could lift her in my arms. The coffin is heavy lacquered wood with shiny brass handles. It seems incongruous when compared to the features of the woman who taught me to plant avocado pips and steal cuttings from botanical gardens.

I want to yell at them that this is wrong. I want to scoop her up and run with her and plant her beneath a spreading ficus so that its roots can tangle with her hair and worms can dance beneath her skin. The white satin is sterile. It is death.

Afterward, I sit on a bench beneath a cypress and watch as the family carries the coffin to the waiting hearse. The funeral director is a thin, upright man with precise movements. He shakes hands mechanically after the family have slid the casket into the back of the vehicle. Faces are expressionless, thoughts blown away with the Southeaster that shakes the plantains and rips the clouds into tattered shrouds. This isn’t really happening, is it?

The leaves are turning and summer draws to a close. I wonder about the deceased’s garden, about the plants growing there that hail from Singapore, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Mauritius. They planted her husband beneath an Iceberg rose, but so far as I can remember, the plant died within months. Will she return to the earth or will her family keep her locked away in an urn so that they can keep her near? Does she even care now that she’s gone, her essence flown to star stuff?

All that matters is here and now. My husband comes to fetch me after I’ve had too-sweet mango juice and endured people telling me the last time they saw me I was a wee sprog that was so high. My husband and I talk about normal things, like what we’re going to do later, about fabric that needs to be bought for a photo shoot and pictures he needs to print out. I lose myself in his words and dream about my garden. I need to plant more trees.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: A Gentle Hell

Title: A Gentle Hell
Author: Autumn Christian

Lovers of dark, hypnotic and thoroughly surreal fiction need to sit up and take note of author Autumn Christian. A Gentle Hell is a superb collection of short fiction that she has brought out under Dark Continents Publishing’s Tales of Darkness and Dismay banner and she does not disappoint.

They Promised a Dreamless Death investigates our need to deaden our emotions and partake of a mainstream culture that results in the living dead. Or at least that’s how I saw it.

In Your Demiurge is Dead Christian plays upon themes of religious hypocrisy, as well as an investigation into the deaths of young people. The two are somehow linked in a gritty telling.

The star of the show is The Dog that Bit Her, which plays upon the theme of co-dependency in a relationship, as well as the age-old myth of the werewolf and moon madness.

The Singing Grass is perhaps the most difficult story to pin down, suggestive of an artist’s relationship with their muse and the exploration of the subconscious in order to create art.

In conclusion, I’ll state that most of these stories—in true surrealist fashion—are open to personal interpretation, and that to try define them would be to rob them of most of their beauty and mystery. Underpinning all of them is the uneasy relationship between man and woman, in an evocative and atmospheric dreamlike landscape that shifts as restlessly as the story that is being told.

Christian’s writing is pure magic and deserves all the success as a fresh voice in literary genre fiction. Her effortless prose whisks readers into a sometimes nightmarish reality that mirrors our own, with the aftertaste of a fever dream. I place her up there with greats such as William Burroughs, Philip K Dick and Ray Bradbury.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Meet John Claude Smith

Today I welcome John Claude Smith to my blog. His debut release, The Dark is Light Enough for Me, is a collection of chilling short stories. So, John, why short stories and not a novel-length work?

I thought it a good way of putting myself on the dark fiction/horror fiction reader’s radar. Kind of like opening the door and saying, “Here I am!” My agent is actively shopping around one of my two novels, so it made sense while that’s in motion not to waste time and to get this so-called writing career rolling. Saying I’m a writer of very dark stuff is one thing. Showing the reader what I do has more impact.

Which are your three favourite stories? And do tell us in brief what it is that you love about them.

Tough question. I’ll roll with:

The title story, The Dark is Light Enough for Me, because it’s got deep layers of psychological and supernatural elements that overlap, taboos are being pushed in one perverse sequence—or are they?—and the final outcome is one of psychological satisfaction, though not the obvious choice, but the appropriate one for the main character. I enjoy shining a light on those darkest places within the human psyche and scribbling down what I see. Much like

Plastic, another story that addresses the resonance of one’s soul and how we may never achieve the life we want if we do not embrace our true purpose here, even if it may lead to choices that seem to ignore the human we are for full attainment. Again, choices out of the ordinary drive the main character. Probably a result of my love of the work of JG Ballard, who made it a habit of looking at the choices in situations of peril with an eye toward the psychological necessities as opposed to the need to battle against these perils.

And Clive Barker, whose love of the monster above the human in his earliest work is a huge influence on my willingness to look at a story from all angles and chose the less obvious path.

I Wish I Was A Pretty Little Girl, the title being a mutation of a song title from the death industrial band, Brighter Death Now, this one quite simply is meant to make you very uncomfortable at the beginning, yet by the end, through, again, the psychological ramifications of why this person, a specified serial killer, is the person he is, you may feel sympathy or at least understanding.

Ask me this question an hour from now and I might replace a story or two, though.

Which story was the most difficult to write?

Probably The Perceptive One, which I will admit I would definitely tweak if published again, clean up and smooth out, give it italics for the thoughts of the old man character as the protagonist, Peg, registers them in her head or at least something more to distinguish what’s exactly going on. That said I love her "voice."

What scares you the most? Is this reflected in your writing?

The loss of a loved one via death is tops. I’ve explored it, but not in the way I am thinking here as I state it, never the loss of a child in which the overwhelming grief is explored for the purposes of the story. Only along sideways avenues, where I’ve explored many facets of the loss of loved ones. Writing this, that’s actually a fascinating realization, food for thought.

A sense of incapacitation, at the mercy of bad circumstances as they unfold, that’s a major one, too. I don’t think I’ve totally embraced that except on a psychological level, what with many a character’s need for ‘something more.’ There’s a sense of stagnation there that might relate.

Care to spill the beans on some of your upcoming projects?

I have two novels, The Corner of His Mind and The Wilderness Within, completed; the latter is being shopped around and I really cannot wait for people to read that one because I sense it will shake things up in an interesting way. Another novel is in the second draft stage right now, one which started as my attempt at a straightforward horror novel, but discovering one strange fact about cicadas—they play a huge role in this rock ’n’ roll madhouse of a piece—completely altered that thinking and, as usual, layers started taking shape. There’s even another novel in the early stages that follows that one, dealing with a famous dead poet, but in a very visceral, surrealistic way. And another collection is in the early stages of taking shape.

Advice to writers? Most of us juggle day jobs with family responsibility. How do you cope?

If you are serious, I’ll keep it basic.
1) Make the time to write.
2) Be consistent.
3) Read widely and a lot.
4) Rinse and repeat.

Do you have any particular soundtracks that help you write?

I wish. I often want to use music that would seem appropriate for certain stories or certain moods, yet most of the time, when the writing locks in, I hear nothing but the voices of the characters. Though I will say I had a really strange time writing some early chapters for the famous dead poet novel—which was put on the back burner because I need more research—in which it seemed every night before bed I would go to YouTube and watch Rush videos, which would seem totally at odds with the subject matter, yet it became a weird rhythm I may take up again when I get back to that one.

In short:
Favourite sin?
There are many rich and dark ones which shall remain fodder for your imagination. ;-)

Best comfort food?
Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and pasta, preferably not mixed. My mother used to cook up all day sauce and I always remember coming home to those smells, dipping bread in the sauce, and spaghetti galore. My girlfriend lives in Rome and I’ve spent time there, want to live there, where the pasta is otherworldly!

The one movie you watch over and over again?
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. What a madhouse of drugged out fun! That and Fight Club. Both are beautiful examples of directors letting there imagination and techniques go wild.

All-time favourite holiday destination?
Rome, which I will make more than a holiday destination at some point sooner than later.

Your plans for world domination?
I don’t need the world. Just give me Rome, the woman I love, and all the time needed to write the stories that I hope others into dark literary fiction will enjoy and I’m good with that.

* * * *

John Claude Smith is a writer of dark speculative fiction, music journalism, and poetry. Most of the short fiction veers into horror, while the novels tend to meander into a weird mix of magic realism, psychological and supernatural nuances, and, again, horror. Late 2011 saw the publication of his first book, The Dark is Light Enough for Me, a collection of short stories. He presently exists in the SF Bay Area, though soon he will be in Rome again, where he truly lives.

The novel is available via Amazon in the USA, UK, Germany and France, B&N, OmniLit, Kobo, and various other distributors. Here’s the link for Amazon.com, where you can also check out the reviews which are quite informative.

Follow John's blog here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Review: Transformation by Rab Swannock Fulton

Title: Transformation
Author: Rab Swannock Fulton
Publisher: Dubray Books – dubraygal@dubraybooks.ie

Like many young people who have left school, Donnacha takes on a menial job in order to pay bills. Elbow deep in suds at a Galway pub, he soon makes friends and begins to establish himself independently. He finds love yet at the same time comes into contact with a goat-like being that is source of intense terror.

What starts out as a love story turns into a supernatural mystery with underpinnings of horror, but it’s also more than that. Superficially, Transformation is a fairy tale but, like most fairy tales, once you peel back the layers there’s a lot more substance. In many ways, Donnacha’s goat represents the darker aspects of man’s nature—bestial, carnal and savage—that exists in counterpoint to the dreamy, sensitive lover. This is also a tale about the dangers of monomania and obsession, and how one can eventually poison oneself.

For the sake of not spoiling the story, I won’t go into further detail with regard what transpires suffice to say that love is central. What struck me the most about Fulton’s writing, however, was the sheer magical gift this man has for language. I was immediately drawn into Donnacha’s world, sharing in his triumphs and his tragedies. It felt as though I were walking next to him through the ancient streets of Galway to the point where I could even hear the beating of swans’ wings and the rush of the River Corrib.

Fulton brings the magic of the Emerald Isle to life with his lyrical prose yet always reminds one that for all the light and beauty, there are darker aspects too. He evokes the primal nature of existence in his tales beneath a veneer of the commonplace, and that is why this is an important book to read.

Yes, the print edition is a bit rough around the edges with regard to edits and layout, but these flaws are minor and are far outweighed by the pure magic of the story. Rab Swannock Fulton is a gifted storyteller of the highest order, and Transformation will not leave you unchanged.

Follow Fulton on Twitter @haveringrab

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mmm, 31 Flavors

Cari Silverwood is one of my favourite authors, and it's not just 'cos I'm her editor for her upcoming Lyrical Press release, Rough Surrender, but it's through our shared world of writing; I also consider her to be one of my closest friends.

Recently she co-authored a novel with Leia Shaw, entitled 31 Flavors, and I had the opportunity to proofread the story before it hit vendors' shelves. While BDSM erotica is not my primary choice in genre, much like any red-blooded female reader, I do appreciate a strong, narrative-driven erotica tale. 31 Flavors is one of those that totally gripped me. It's based on a true story and I found myself moved following Sid and Nick's tale of sexual awakening. This is a keeper and if you're curious about the BDSM erotica genre, this tale is a good starting point.

Recently, Silverwood told me, "Got an awesome bit of reader feedback: 'I just finished 31 Flavors and I just wanted to say that I loved it. In a way it was kind of hard for me to read because it so closely mirrors what the last year of my life has been like. I cried my eyes out when she was drunk and said she was sorry that she was so broken... I can't tell you how many times I have felt like that. The anxiety, tears, and struggle in the book was balanced with wonderful humor and such love. It was fabulous! Thank you both for writing such a great story. :)'"

Now isn't that something every author wants to hear from her readers?

But sometimes one needs a taste of the good stuff, so here's what the novel is about:

There are some things in life you have to try before you know how they will affect you.
After 5 years of awful sex, I was ready. Bondage and spanking had always featured in my fantasies, and one day, I convinced my husband to try them. That day was a turning point.
Ice cream comes in many flavors and that’s us too -- not vanilla, maybe not Rocky Road either. We can be a combination or make up our own and no one has the right to judge us.
But there will always be one question that tears at my soul: Will my husband, Nick, ever be happy with what I crave?

And here, for your reading pleasure, is an excerpt:

When he returns, he's carrying the coiled rope, the Throbbinator, and padded handcuffs.

"Remember you said something about shibari?"

"Uh-huh," I answer warily. I don't want to discourage him, but maybe I know more about it than he does? "Have you looked it up on the net?"

Nick tosses the handcuffs up the other end of the couch. "I can do knots. You know that. Just stand there. I have an idea."

Hm. This should be interesting. As the first loop goes around behind my waist, he kisses my shoulder, pulls me close using the rope and works his way up to my lips for a proper, thorough kiss – tongue shoved between my lips, my head pressed slowly backward by the force. Mmm, nice.

But, as soon as he breaks the kiss, my inquisitive, doubting nature makes me blurt, "You have to make sure the rope doesn't get too tight."

"Sid. Shh! Or do I need more cheesecake to stuff in your mouth? Let me work." He looks me over. "Maybe I should blindfold you."

"No! No blindfold. That'll make me all…" – I shudder – "squirrelly."

"Then shush."

When his attention goes back to his work, I stick out my tongue.

But then I remain quiet. I'm over the moon that he's trying. And he actually said he'd keep doing this – this BDSM stuff that he doesn't need. He's going to do it for me. I grin as he winds more rope around me. I watch him work. The top of his head is below me as he ties yet another knot then does a loop that goes beneath my breasts. I shut my eyes to appreciate the rough scrape on my skin.

A few minutes go past. I've sneaked a few peeks but managed to not interrupt, despite my curiosity.

"Hmm." The doubt in his tone makes me snap open my eyes.

"What?" There's a strange mess of rope around my middle that resembles a macram̩ session done by a shortsighted grandma who's lost her glasses. Then the rope wraps around each thigh and back around to my waist Рalmost like a harness. Are we going rappelling? "Nick!" I giggle. "What did you do?"

"Oh relax. I can get it off."

"I thought you looked up how to do this."

Still staring at the rope, he answers, "I looked at a few pictures."

"A few pictures?" I'm struggling now to get free. "You expect to be able to do a thousand year old Japanese technique after glancing at a few pictures?"

"I admit it didn't come out exactly like I planned." I laugh and he arches a brow. "Ideas, Miss Smarty Pants?"

"Anything's better than this mess." I think while Nick undoes everything far faster than he did them up. "Something simple. How about..." Having to imagine this then say it out loud is surprisingly arousing."How about you start with the halfway spot on the rope at the back of my neck, take it down between my breasts...then between my legs."

His brows shoot up. "Okay."

As I speak, he puts into practice what I suggest. Heat swirls and comes to life in my groin when the rope taps on my clit. I can't believe we're really doing this. Not fantasy, not just in my mind. My voice is whispery. "Then bring it up my back and tie my hands together there."

Odd, but as I watch the slide of his hands down my body as he guides the rope, and the way my words come true before my eyes, somehow weaves all this into something…almost magical.

Topping from the bottom? Who cares! I know each movement, each twist of the rope under his fingers, is done because he loves me. This is Nick's way. His type of poetry. Not words, not studying the art of BDSM until he knows it back-to-front...just making love to me in the way that excites me the very most.

* * * *

Like that? The entire story is filled with little incidents. Sometimes there is humor, sometimes tears. All in all, this is a thoroughly satisfying read and I can heartily recommend it.

Buy 31 Flavors at Amazon or Smashwords, or All Romance ebooks.

Useful links...
The 31 Flavors site
Leia’s site
Leia on facebook
Leia on Twitter @LeiaShaw
Cari’s site
Cari on facebook
Cari on Twitter @CariSilverwood

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Versatile Blogger...

I don't normally go for these blog award thingies, since they're a bit like a chain letter, but I read through The Versatile Blogger details and I reckon it's a good opportunity for me to highlight some of the bloggers who've provided me with some fantastic content to liven up my lunch hours when I've a chance to catch up with what everyone else is up to. Their words are a joy to me.

I don't read magazines--I simply don't have the time to pick them up--and in general the content of most make me despair. So what I like about blogs is that I can pick the content that I want to read.

Why do I blog? I believe in generating interesting content related to my interests, which are mainly concerned with fiction. I don't believe in just screaming "BUY MY BOOKS" from the highest heavens but feel as a writer it is my duty to provide entertainment and information to those who have an interest in my work. Hey, and maybe I can even share something thought-provoking that will enrich your outlook on life.

First off, I'd like to thank author AJ Brown for nominating me. He's a fellow author at Dark Continents Publishing and we recently released under the publisher's Tales of Darkness and Dismay collective. Thank you!

Then, I'm supposed to share seven things about myself.

1) I'm a born-and-bred Capetonian. I've lived in Cape Town, South Africa, my entire life, and find myself moving farther and farther south as the years progress. The Cape Peninsula is one of the most beautiful places in the world and I have to often remind myself that some people still dream about visiting "the Fairest Cape of them all".

2) Egypt is one of my great passions. I absolutely love her history and her mythology. When I was a wee lass of 11 I was very sad when I realised that the ancient Egyptian religion was no longer being practiced because the ancient Egyptians were so much cooler 'cos they venerated a cat-headed goddess, among many others.

3) Music is one of my great loves. I used to play in an assortment of grunge, goth and black metal bands when I was a young adult. I am a classically trained musician, though, and matriculated playing piano and classical guitar. I'm sensible about music nowadays because whenever I get the urge to start a band, I open a fresh manuscript on my computer instead.

4) I'm a qualified graphic designer who majored in illustration and photography--yet I work as a sub-editor at a newspaper publisher. I'm still somewhat puzzled at the strange course my career path has taken. I wanted to be an astronaut or a game ranger. Then a rock musician. An art photographer. An illustrator of graphic novels. And now, at night, I edit fiction because I prefer that to watching TV.

5) I write. A lot. My friends know this to be true. I've been known to write a 90 000-word novel in only two months.

6) I love travelling. I've been to Namibia, Ireland, Mauritius, Zambia and to some awesome places closer to home. My editorial regularly features in newspapers in South Africa. My favourite place in the whole world is a small farming hamlet in the Eastern Cape, called Nieu Bethesda, where Helen Martins's Owl House is.

7) Plants. I grow lots of strange ones. I have a baobab tree in a pot that I grew from seed. I particularly love caudiciform succulents such as pachypodiums and dioscorea. About 30-odd species of aloe grow in my garden, of which one is my ultimate favourite Aloe dichotoma x barberea "Hercules".

While I'm not going to prattle on about 15 blogs you absolutely HAVE to follow... Here are a few of my favourites...

1) First off, I have to mention Carrie Clevenger, who writes the most amazing flash fiction. She's also my co-author on a number of titles. She delivers all manner of fantastic content and often spots some pretty darn amazing fresh sounds.

2) Then, staying with Carrie, take a look at her Crooked Fang. The vampire Xan Marcelles is her brainchild and he's got a smart mouth of him, and is also the star of the show when it comes to fiction.

3) I review for You Gotta Read Reviews, whose blogging crew do the most fantastic job of reading and reviewing a vast amount of stories. As an author, I appreciate it when the reviewers look at my novels, as every good word counts for something.

4) Amy Lee Burgess is one of my close friends and also one of my Lyrical Press authors. She's been writing some amazing Friday flash and I always feel like I've learnt something when I've finished reading something she's shared.

5) Thanks must go to Arja Salafranca who is one of my colleagues, but who has also encouraged me to write and look beyond the narrow band of genre fiction. Thanks to her, I've pushed myself harder to write editorial content which has been published in numerous South African newspapers.

6) Although I don't know Scott Stenwick personally, I always enjoy reading his posts at Augoeides. His attitude is refreshingly irreverent yet he makes some pretty darn astute observations about society.

7) The late Peter Steele had a great impact on my creativity, his music seeing me through many dark nights as a wangsty young adult. I'd like to thank his family for putting together For the Love of Peter Steele in his memory. Thank you for making the circle bigger.

8) Another one of my Lyrical Press authors, Sonya Clark, puts together a diverse, fascinating blog that looks at a wide variety of topics. She also participates in Friday Flash, and is definitely worth following. Oh, and did I mention she LOVES music?

9) I first met Annette Bowman through my writers' group and spent some time with her when she visited here in Cape Town a few times. She runs a blog called The Stars are not made of Fire, which always delivers informative and diverse content of interest to authors.

10) Icy Sedgwick writes fantastic fiction, be it a short Friday Flash or her longer works. She also goes out on ghost hunts and offers a large range of content on her blog that is always lovely to read up about. You won't be sorry you followed her.

11) Synde writes about a bunch of stuff, including books and music, but her life has been so interesting, I reckon she needs to write her memoirs. She's been behind the scenes at some very interesting spots and I value her opinion about some of the latest publishing trends.

12) My good friend Cat Hellisen recently celebrated the release of her novel, When the Sea is Rising Red. Not only is she a fantastic fantasy author, but she bakes simply devilish cupcakes and I've spent many hours in her company talking shop.

So, there you go. If you're ever stuck for decent content, here are 12 blogs worth following.

And... here are the rules for The Versatile Blog Award.

* Thank the award-giver and link back to their blog in your post.

* Include a link to the original blog, The Versatile Blogger Award.

* Share seven things about yourself.

* Pass this award along to fifteen blogs you enjoy reading.

* Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award.

* There is no deadline for responding, although I would imagine that being “fairly prompt” would be the polite thing to do.