Thursday, September 27, 2012

JK Rowling, The Casual Vacancy -- on my desk!

I'm very excited. Very, very excited. What I've always loved about JK Rowling's writing is her characterisation, and she tells a damn fine story. And I can't wait to get started.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Transformation by Rab Swannock Fulton #release

I was supposed to meet Rab Swannock Fulton last year while I was visiting Ireland. But we passed each other like ships in the night, and I wasn't in Galway long enough to make a new plan. He did, however, get a limited-run printed copy of his novel, Transformation, into my hands. When I read the novella, I was totally blown away by his lyrical style. What at first seemed like a sweet love story went so horribly wrong, in the nicest, wrongest possible ways. I just knew I wanted to sink my red pen into this story--and now, a year later, this has come to pass. I am, however, going to let Rab speak for himself, and he's graciously stopped by my blog for a little Q&A. Welcome, Rab!

You're a professional storyteller based in Ireland. Tell us how that came about, and also what the average day in the life of a storyteller is. 

Well I’ve aye been surrounded by stories, from the moment I was born I was surrounded by people either telling tales or reading tales.  This has been going on in my family for generations in one for or tother. At the moment I’m telling stories and my sister is writing plays, whilst one nephew is acting. So we’re all into words in some form. As for why I turned professional. Well I’d been through a terrible few years of grieving when a friend of mine Clare Murphy – a wonderful Irish storyteller – asked me to come tell some stories with her. This was in 2006. And things just developed from there.

My average day, at the moment, is spent juggling between editing and trying to get the Folk Tales book written. I’m lucky in that I start my week days walking my son to his school. It’s a walk that can last anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour, depending on what distractions we come across – flowers, squashed foxes, ufo landing sites, that kinda thing. All the time of course there are stories running through the back of my head as I prepare for my weekly show in The Cottage Bar. The shows take place every Thursday night and I’m usually wiped out on Friday – its been a gey busy summer, shows packed to capacity. And then there’s always other shows going on. This weekend I was entertaining a private group of travel writers and journalists from Quebec, so its all go.

Transformation starts out as a love story, but things go horribly wrong. Can you tell us a little more about the background of the tale?

Rab doing what he does best! Telling stories.
Well you know how it is as a writer, yir aye processing things. Whatever yi see goes in to your brain and begins turning into stuff. But what I wanted to capture with this tale was a sense of wonder, the wonder of soul, sex, terror. All that.

Goats. These wonderful creatures are entrenched in Ireland's history. When I toured Ireland last year I saw a bunch of statues of goats here and there. Tell me more.

 Goats go way back into Irish culture and identity and I use a little of that history in Transformation. They are definetly part of pre-Christian forms of engagement with life and the world. Funnily enough my Chinese star sign is the goat. And when I worked up in a farm in Leitrim there was a heap of goats there. The most delightful weird inquisitive creatures, with an old crabbit granny goat in charge of them all.  So I guess I’ve aye had an affinity wae goats. I have another goat story, well a goat skin story, that I perform called Toby’s Wish, a lovely grotesque funny tale

What are some of your favourite stories that you tell to audiences? 

It depends on the audience. But what I particularly love is listening to the stories that people bring into the audience. I have learnt so much about Galway just from older audience members telling me their family tales. And of course some of those tales touch on the stranger parts of Galway. I have met people, for example who have seen Hy Brazil.

Where can folks track you down for your sessions? 

I’m lucky that locally and internationally word of mouth has served me very well. But the best way to keep up on my Celtic Tales show is keep an aye on the Celtic Tales page in my Marcus Marcus blog

Marcus Marcus & the Hurting Heart




Monday, September 24, 2012

Call for submissions: Bloody Parchment

One of the projects that have successfully kept me out of much mischief over the past few years has been Bloody Parchment, an event and short story competition/anthology brought out under the auspices of the South African HorrorFest.

This year we're once again being hosted by the Book Lounge, on October 26, and the brief that has gone out to the writers is "drabbles". If you don't know what a drabble is, then go read this... The evening looks to be fun, and I have some of South Africa's top genre fiction authors participating, including the likes of Sarah Lotz, Cat Hellisen and Louis Greenberg, among others. If you're a local author and would like to participate, mail me at

But the real reason I'm putting up this blog post is that I'd like to offer all aspiring and existing dark fantasy and horror authors a chance to be part of the Bloody Parchment short story competition. We're busy with the third one, and now have the backing of eKhaya, the digital imprint of Random House Struik. So yes, this is a big deal if you're looking to garner a publishing cred.

Our judges are all publishing professionals, either authors or editors, who have a love for dark fantasy and horror fiction, and if your story makes it into the list of finalists, it will be considered for the next anthology. But wait, there's more. The winner of the short story competition also receives a detailed assessment and round of content edits for a novella- or novel-length work.

What do you need to know? We're accepting short stories in the dark fantasy and horror genre of up to 3 500 words in length. The closing date is October 31, and if you need to know more, go check out the page on the Bloody Parchment blog or email me at 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Freeze Frame Reality, excerpt #FridayFlash

This is an excerpt from a work in progress entitled Freeze Frame Reality. It's not done yet, and it's [shock, gasp, horror] contemporary fiction with not one whiff of supernatural elements. I thought I'd share this today, as it's still a project I'll finish at some point. 

* * * *

I don’t want to be here. I’ve parked beneath the willows outside the house where I grew up and the attrition is glaring—the way the once-cheerful blue paint on the shutters now sloughs off in uneven strips; how the banksia threatens to completely engulf the veranda; and the choking Paterson’s curse with its purple blooms and prickly grey-green foliage has swarmed what should have been my aunt’s rose bed. The place looks as if no one has lived here for ages, the inhabitants fled. In a sense they have. First my brother—off to college and now building houses he can’t afford to live in himself. And me, the prodigal niece, the failed photo-journalist, who’s spent the past ten years of her life photographing bereaved parents, old people evicted from homes and angry residents dissatisfied with substandard government housing. Always wading thigh deep through others’ grief. This is not how I imagined to come full circle.

If I tabulate what my life has amounted to up until this point, I have not achieved the things I set out to do and, like a kicked dog, I’ve whimpered back to the kennel. Only now I must be the strong one. And I don’t want this. The truth remains that there is no one for me, to enfold me in a motherly embrace and whisper that it’s all going to be okay. It’s not going to be okay. What’s worse is the knowledge that if I stop kicking, I’ll sink beneath the surface and the waves will cover me. I’ll be forgotten. No one will speak my name.

I don’t have anyone else to blame but myself.

The bleakness of my situation makes my eyes prickle and I suck in a deep breath. I can do this thing. Tim and I knew it was coming; knew one of us would end up returning. I just didn’t think it would be me. Aunt Emma’s old. There’s nothing for it. For almost six years I haven’t visited the woman who raised us. That particular brand of guilt bites hard but my limbs are leaden. Instead of getting out of the car to knock on the door, I breathe in and out. Deep, steadying breaths. I should have a cigarette but my mouth tastes grungy and my lungs have a disturbing gurgle when I cough. I smoke too much.

It’s only ten in the morning but it’s hot, and the cicadas scream in the stand of gum trees at end of the street. The sound is a shimmering curtain reminding me of long summer afternoons wanting to go play outside. It’s not the wisest of ideas to be out of doors here mid-summer but it’s early October now and already the morning sun has a nasty sting once I summon the courage to get out of the car.

The aluminium gate slams shut behind me—yet another memory, of the times I came home from school, happy to be here. Only now the clash of metal on metal has a ring of finality to it. There’s no turning back.

The black wrought-iron knocker is heavy in my grasp and the hollow thuds ring deep into the house. I try to imagine the place as it once was: cool dark passages with quarry tiles worn smooth after the passage of many feet; sepia portraits of long-deceased relatives keeping watch beneath hooded eyes. The old people in those photos used to fascinate and scare me to death by equal measure. Aunt Emma used to pick me up so I could see them better. She knew all their names and who was related to whom; what they did, where they lived and when they died. Their stories are mostly forgotten now, as faded as their prints. Their names are reduced to carved granite markers in cemeteries.

I’m ready to knock again when the door opens and I look down into the face of a middle-aged coloured woman almost two heads shorter than me, but at least four times as broad. Her powder blue tunic is embroidered with the Williams Trust logo.

“Hi, you must be Sara Veldman.” I hold out my hand.

She squints up at me then smiles, revealing teeth that are far too white or even to be anything but falsies. “Miss Owens! You look nothing like in the photos. Come in! Come in!” The photos...that no doubt depict me in various awkward adolescent poses. The only ones of me as an adult are scattered around assorted social networking sites. Thank God I look nothing like in those childhood photos. I used to have a penchant for cut-off denim shorts cut off a little too high. The horror.

Sara ushers me into the sitting room where I sink into the couch. The floral print upholstery looks far more frayed than the last time I was here. The scent of mothballs makes me wrinkle my nose.

The woman remains standing. “Can I get you anything, some lemonade, perhaps? We’ve got ice.”

“That would be lovely, thanks.”

I shouldn’t delay the inevitable but now that I’m down, I have no desire to go through to the master bedroom to greet Aunt Emma. I want to remember her as she was the last time I saw her—a somewhat dotty yet bubbly old lady. My dear brother hasn’t failed to rub my absence in my face.

“She’s deteriorating fast,” he likes to tell me. “You’d better go see her before she dies. She’s not going to be around forever, you know.”

We don’t talk about our mother, Aunt Emma’s sister, who left us on her doorstep when we were very small. We don’t discuss the father we can barely remember. Aunt Emma, as far as we know, is our only blood relative. The rest are either dead or live overseas—cousins we’ve never met and, in all likelihood never will.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Griffin's Flight by KJ Taylor #review

Title: The Griffin’s Flight (The Fallen Moon, Book 2)
Author: KJ Taylor
Publisher: Ace, 2011
Buy link

Book two of the series has its ups and downs. I must admit I’m reading this series mainly because I ended up emotionally invested in the main characters, so kudos for KJ Taylor for engaging me in that sense. That being said, The Griffin’s Flight is not a smooth ride. Taylor compresses a fair amount of time in the first half of the novel, which tends to feel as though it drags.

We pick up with Arren on his flight north as he discovers the mysterious woman Skade. Like Arren, there’s more to Skade than meets the eye, which lends an interesting departure from the norm that might squick out some readers. Arren, as always, falls prey to his passions, which leads to all manner of ill fortune, and I can’t help but wonder how things would go if he were more honest. As a character he is infuriating, especially in the sense that he continues to lie to himself—and others. And it is these lies that create more issues than anything else.

Arren is a man at war with others’ perceptions of himself, and the fact that he appears to have found himself as an integral part of an ages-old curse. Much of what annoyed me about him in book one is still in evidence—he is a victim trapped by deeply entrenched prejudices. It’s how he deals with his predicament that I hope will improve by book three.

Erian, who should be the antagonist, becomes far more likeable in book two once we get to know him. Taylor pulls a very typically George RR Martin trick of getting us to relate to a character who *should* be the antagonist, then swinging the story around to show us the very same character from the point of view of *their* opponent. Nice tension building here, and I can see this story is going to head toward an almighty meltdown, as Taylor subverts reader loyalties.

I very much still have that love-hate relationship with KJ Taylor’s writing. There is one issue of a fact that was *very* important that the character knew. So important that I felt it should have been something that would have preyed on his mind from book one, but it only gets a passing mention in book two. I won’t mention what it is, but I howled in frustration when Taylor dropped that bomb. I’m certain this is a plot development that only cropped up in book two. The nature of the fact was such that it is a crux point in a character’s make-up, and to avoid all mention until now is a major WTF moment for me as a reader. My inner editor is crying out for her red pen.

But never mind. I still wanted to know what happened next, and as always Taylor produces a story that does not follow conventional paths. There’s the satisfying sense of anti-hero who’s going to have to fight really hard to escape his wyrd. Whether he succeeds is another matter, and I sense Taylor is an author who isn’t scared of letting her hero fail.

Book three should be interesting. And of course I’m compelled to read the next one in the series. I can’t help myself. For all the rough edges, KJ Taylor tells a mean story.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Icy Sedgwick on Characters. #guest

Today I welcome one of my good writing buddies, Icy Sedgwick. Some of you might already be familiar with her fiction from Friday Flash (and if you aren't, shame on you) but she's also got a Western novel out, entitled The Guns of Retribution. Thanks for stopping by, lady, and over to you...

* * * *

One of the questions I'm often asked is "How do you come up with your characters?" It's a tricky question because every character is different, and I don't follow a set formula to generating characters for various roles within a story. Having said that, having strong characters is a crucial part of a story's success, since these creations need to be able to carry your story - especially if you've chosen a first person viewpoint, and the character is essentially telling the story themselves.

I first had an idea to write a gunslinger several years ago. I never got any further than the opening lines of a story, but I knew I wanted to use him in some way. He got mothballed while other, more concrete, projects came along, and I didn't think about my gunslinger any more until the closing weeks of 2010.

I got an email asking if I'd like to write a story of revenge for submission to an independent press. I had several genres to choose from, and remembering my gunslinger, I chose the Western. Coming up with the basic plot was easy enough - Grey O'Donnell comes back to his hometown of Retribution, Arizona, after six years away, and has to confront an old bully, Jasper Roberts, who has risen to the position of sheriff. In the version of The Guns of Retribution that got published in September 2011, Grey is a bounty hunter. What a lot of people don't realise is he started out life as an outlaw.

Grey O'Donnell was originally a train robber, but in the mould of Robin Hood. He'd never steal from anyone who didn't have enough they could afford to lose, and despite his illegal activities, he was a gentleman to everyone he encountered. His companions, the young and enthusiastic Billy Cole, and the stalwart Apache Mahko, were still there, but this time they comprised his 'gang'. About a third of the way into the story, Grey took me aside for a quiet word. He told me that three men weren't really enough to rob trains, and really, he wasn't cut out to be an outlaw. Couldn't he do something else instead?

I sat back and looked at his actions so far. He was very keen on a sense of "right" and "wrong", but he was no lawman, especially not going up against a crooked sheriff. Grey smirked and suggested the role of 'bounty hunter'. Thus his profession was changed, along with his reasons for being back in the vicinity of Retribution. After all, it never sat right that an outlaw would leave his hometown, and travel across the country, only to come back to his old stamping ground to continue his life of crime. A bounty hunter in pursuit of his next pay cheque wouldn't have as many misgivings.

Grey's occupation wasn't the only thing that changed. I started out writing in the first person, but in present tense, as Grey told the story as if it were happening now. Around the time his occupation changed, I switched the entire story into third person, past tense. It gave me more room to be more flamboyant with language. Grey still wasn't happy. This was his story, and he wanted to tell it switched back to first person, albeit now in past tense. That's the version you can read now.

If I can take anything from this process, it's that a story will always evolve - indeed, it needs to, in order to function as a solid narrative. Your characters have valid opinions as to what needs to happen, and when, and if you listen to them, you can end up with something more organic than if you stuck rigidly to a plot outline generated on postcards and Post-It notes. Remember that what you start out with isn't always what you finish with - but that's a good thing.

* * * *

About the author:
Icy Sedgwick was born in the North East of England, and is based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She has been writing with a view to doing so professionally for over ten years, and has had several stories included in anthologies, including Short Stack and Eighty-Nine. She teaches graphic design and spends her non-writing time working on a PhD in Film Studies. Icy had her first book, a Western named The Guns of Retribution, published through Pulp Press in September 2011.

Icy's blog –
Find her on Twitter @icypop
Facebook –
Goodreads –
Buy The Guns of Retribution

Friday, September 14, 2012

SAPS to investigate the paranormal? #guest

For every step South Africa takes forward, we sometimes seem to shuffle a few steps backward, and this latest bit of news that I can share, courtesy of my friends in the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, makes my hair stand on end. Many thanks to Damon Leff, for providing me with this information to share here. My feeling on the matter? Our police force should invest its time in fighting crime, not hunting ghosts. This is not an episode of Supernatural. While I might not consider myself pagan, these hardy folks are very dear to me, and whatever happens to them, can quite easily spill over to other minority religious and esoteric movements. 

* * * *

The South African Police Service is launching new regional occult crime units. According to a leaked memorandum, Provincial Commissioners were recently instructed to appoint two detectives in every province tasked with investigating alleged harmful occult-related crimes.

Those already familiar with the work of the old ORC unit then led by Kobus Jonker, will recall that between 1992 and 2001 the unit is alleged to have investigated 300 cases of muti-related crimes (murders committed for the express purpose of harvesting human body parts for sale to traditional healers).

The ORC’s previous mandate included: a) investigating occult-related crime, b) in conjunction with the South African Police Service Crime Intelligence, promoting the prevention of occult-related crime, c) managing the use and dissemination of information on occult-related crime, and d) rendering services to victims of occult-related crime.

In addition to investigating muti murders, newly appointed detectives will be required to also investigate spectral evidence including spiritual intimidation and astral coercion, curses intended to cause harm, allegations of rape by tokoloshe spirits, and poltergeist and paranormal phenomena.

The units will also be responsible for investigating alleged offences relating to Witchcraft (identified as “black magic” by the SAPS), Voodoo, vampirism, harmful cult behavior, suicide where evidence of occult involvement is present, animal mutilation and sacrifice where evidence of occult involvement is believed to be indicated, human sacrifice, and the interpretation of alleged occult signatures, vandalism and graffiti at crime scenes.

This newly envisioned scope of investigation must be viewed with suspicion and be of concern to anyone engaged in the practice of Witchcraft, Traditional African religion, and other Occult spiritualities (including Satanism). Given the already evident bias expressed by ex-members of ORC and new members of provincial Religious Crimes Units against Witchcraft, the new mandate potentially threatens religious minorities who may be scapegoated on the basis of belief alone.

It is the informed opinion of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) that the given investigative mandate for the establishment of new provincial Occult Crime Units, in particular, certain 'categories of crime' as mentioned in said memorandum, contravene internationally recognized policing ethics and conduct related to a) jurisprudence in the identification and verification of evidence, and b) respect for religious diversity and belief.

Law of Evidence

The SAPS memorandum states “For a crime to be considered a harmful occult-related crime, the elements of legality, conduct and unlawfulness and culpability have to be present and the motive must be rooted in the supernatural.”

The term ‘supernatural’ is generally defined as something above or beyond the laws of Nature. In a strictly scientific context, the belief in the supernatural agency of a non-corporeal entity (spirit, fairy, demon, God) cannot be proven using the law of evidence in any Court of Law, and therefore cannot be submitted as evidence of anything other than faith in the unknown. Since the courts will not accept evidence of the supernatural on principle, the ORC detectives will be wasting valuable time and effort investigating para-psychological phenomena.

SAPS special unit detectives should not be considering the role of alleged supernatural occurrences in the commission or investigation of crimes. A belief in the existence of the supernatural is not, and cannot be viewed as proof of the supernatural. The SAPS must deal in matters of verifiable fact, not religious or cultural belief. The SAPS should not be fulfilling what should remain the role of religious or psychology specialists.

Religious bias, prejudice and propaganda against the Occult

In the SAPS memorandum under objection, newly appointed detectives of regional occult crime units are encouraged to consult with “trained individuals in their respective provinces… with the investigation of an alleged harmful occult-related crime”.

It must be noted that former occult unit detectives, many of whom now independently pursue careers in Christian ministry and in particular, ministry against the Occult, Witchcraft, Satanism, and ‘Spiritual-warfare’ ministries targeted specifically at Witches and Satanists, will be consulted by detectives assigned to regional occult crime units. SAPRA is of the opinion that consultations with such persons will introduce highly subjective religious bias and prejudicial reasoning into investigations which should remain rationally objective. SAPRA has submitted formal objection to the scope of the new SAPS mandate and will be closely monitoring the activities of all new ORC units to ensure that innocent civilians are not targeted by un-provable allegations of criminal or harmful activities.

For more information contact SAPRA at

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Clive by Don Silver #review

Title: Clive
Author: Don Silver
Publisher: Holloway Press, 2013

Don Silver offers a fascinating glimpse into the music industry of the early 1980s, which really drives home exactly how soulless the commercial offerings are. For posterity’s sake, it’s great to see how the business operated way back when, especially in the light of the technological advances that the industry as a whole has undergone.

But this memoir is more than just airing a bit of dirty laundry in a behind-the-scenes kind of way. This is also the story of Silver’s perhaps misplaced need to seek a mentor figure. It’s a tale of disillusionment too, and a sort of coming of age. While the music business side was informative, I saw this more as a work Silver engaged in to excise some of his own, personal demons related to his failure to thrive within the environment and time of his telling.

As much as Silver’s love for music underpins every waking moment of his life, it’s also clear that he never did quite “make it” in terms of being a commercial success. Underpinning all this is his exploration of the dysfunctional relationships around him—that of his parents, and later also how Silver relates to his wife and his somewhat egotistical boss, Clive Davis.

At the end I’m left with a sense of bitterness as Silver moves on to fresh opportunities. Overall, this is not a bad autobiographical account. The story is left open-ended, and I’m not quite certain what Silver’s purpose was: to recount a specific era and its events, or to revisit and work through past issues. Perhaps, even, this is a bit of both. All things considered, Silver’s tone is conversational, and the way he carries his recollections across makes it feel like an old mate has dropped by for a visit.

This work makes me wonder how commercial music has changed over the years and exactly how predetermined some of the “hits” are. If this account is anything to go by, true music aficionados are right to mistrust mainstream media. Silver has had time to sit back and reflect, and his tale is certainly an interesting one to hear out.

Monday, September 10, 2012

No kids, thank you

Recently I was interviewed by Esther Lewis of the Cape Argus about my decision not to breed. For those of you who've asked, I've reproduced the piece here. If you're in the same boat as me, I'd love for you to leave a comment on my blog. 

* * * *

GIVING birth to a child is something most women will do in their lifetime. But one Cape Town woman says it’s just not for her. Nerine Dorman, 34, married Thomas Dorman when she was 22. At the time, she thought she would wait until she was 28 to have children.

When the time came, she thought perhaps she’d be ready at 30. Thirty rolled around and still, she wasn’t ready. At this point, neither she nor her husband wanted children.

One of three children, Dorman was a “total surprise” when her mother discovered she was pregnant with her at 42. Her brother and sister have children, so there’s no pressure on Dorman to produce grandchildren.
“My mother kept telling me not to have children. She encouraged me to explore my music, writing and to travel,” she says.

Dorman works in the advertising industry, and writes and edits books. She also assists her husband who is a filmmaker and photographer. On weekends, the couple often leave at the crack of dawn for film shoots or other projects in remote locations, and return in the early hours of the next day.

She describes their lives as very chaotic, and adding a child into the mix would not work. Many parents argue that people who choose not to have children are “missing out”. “We sometimes discuss it. I do sometimes worry that I’m missing out. But people with children are also missing out,” says Dorman.
Watching her friends who have children, she sees what they go through. And it’s not for her. Many of her friends do not have time to do what they love any more, they don’t have time for themselves. After a hard day’s work, she loves being able to go home and enjoy down-time, writing or editing books.

While the sight of newborn, cuddly babies may be enough to rouse maternal instincts, it leaves Dorman feeling “weird”. Many friends her age are raising children, but the fact that she has no interest in doing so herself, has not had any effect on her friendships.

Her friends’ children adore her. She also has a three-year-old godson. “If anything happens to his mom, I’m fully prepared to take him in.”

One of the motivators for her not having children is the fact that she’s not in the financial position to provide that which she was given by her parents. She is adamant her choice is the right one. “It’s a difficult one, but I stand by my opinion that I’m not missing out.” – ESTHER LEWIS

Friday, September 7, 2012

Beware of the Editor, she bites

I keep swearing to myself I’m not going to post any more “how to” or “editor” posts on this blog, but occasionally I’m moved to have a bit of a rant about pet peeves, or shit I’ve seen authors catch during the past year. Sometimes I wish I could reach through the computer screen and physically shake some sense into an author whose manuscript I’m editing but jawellnofine. That isn’t possible.

I do, however, feel like carping on about some of the shit just so I can feel like I’ve gotten it off my chest. Because I can’t afford therapy.

I’ve been editing other people’s shit for almost a decade now and, while my knowledge base is still growing, I’ve been around the block enough times to see people pull the same shit over and over again. Different authors/writers. Same shit. Some things never change.

The writers I adore sort their shit out and I don’t see them repeating past mistakes. These hardy souls show a marked improvement in their writing and make me feel as though I’ve contributed to improving the written word. But there are others, a disproportionate amount, who have the attitude that it’s the editor’s job to somehow wave a magic red pen and make it all better. That after a document has been edited, it’s somehow ready to go off into the wild and woolly world of publishing. This is bullshit, of course.

But allow me to bitch just a little bit about the most common gripes I have. This is easy shit you can use as a check list that will already make it so that an editor will not be reaching for her magic red pen so that she can stab you repeatedly in both eyeballs until you bleed out on the floor.

1) Attack of the “killer He/She”. Watch out for starting all your sentences with pronouns. If almost every sentence in your paragraph starts with He/She/His/Her … I’m sure you catch my drift. Related to this is finding pet words/phrases that reoccur either within the same paragraph or on the same page. If a word jumps out of the page and grabs you by the eyeballs, and looks awfully familiar of a sudden, it’s usually because it’s already appeared very recently.

2) One of my all-time favourite instances of that result in my already infamous tabbed comment of KILL THIS WORD is the word “suddenly”. My rule of thumb is that if a novel has more than three instances of this word appearing in it, it’s three instances too many. This is a lazy word and if you find yourself writing it, please, for the love of all that is dear to the heart of a Grammar Nazi, look deep within yourself to figure out if there isn’t a better way to express the suddenness of whatever action is taking place. Ten to one, the use of a stronger verb will sort this shit out.

3) Listing of clothing. I don’t care if Laurell K Hamilton sells millions of books and she does it, but please, please, please, with tears in my eyes, don’t give us a hair-to-shoes description of EVERYTHING each newly introduced character is wearing every time they walk into a scene. Just don’t. Go look at how Stephen King or George RR Martin or JK Rowling show what their characters look like. Then think about how you can apply it to your own writing.

4) Head-hopping drives me bugfuck. I know for a fact it drives most of the other editors I know completely bugfuck. Yes. Bugfuck is a word because I say it is. Terry Pratchett and Frank Herbert write very good third-person omniscient viewpoints. Unless you are confident that you understand the mechanics of writing third-person omniscient, rather don’t do it. Current commercial fiction trends show a preference for deep third-person viewpoints, with one viewpoint per scene. My rule of thumb: *resist the urge* to tell your readers absolutely fucking everything. Keep ’em guessing. Limit the number of viewpoint characters you use, don’t give away all the secrets, and you’ll have a tighter story with much stronger tension.

5) Something else that can be lumped with the *resist the urge* sub-heading is exposition. I have this alarming habit of taking my red pen and slashing big red lines through pages and pages of back-story and exposition. I make authors cry. For good reason. Because ninety percent of the time when an author starts chapter one with the prehistory of his character’s childhood, and who they dated in high school, and what their favourite food is, and why, my eyes have glazed over after the first sentence and I start twitching. Yes, there are authors who’re awfully good at delivering lush, delicious exposition that suck me in. But they’re in a minority. If you’re still learning the ropes, rather don’t do it. Find creative ways to share information. They exist.

6) Motivation. Believe it or not, I like to know what your character is thinking when he abruptly veers off the road and drives his car into a tree. This goes hand in hand with layering. Show your readers what your character is seeing, thinking and feeling. I want to know why Bob kicked the dog or decided to take that twenty dollar bill lying on his colleague’s desk.

7) Starting your sentence with a present participle is generally not a good idea. [smiles] It’s not wrong, but it often results in repetitive sentence structure or even that dreaded dangling participle. If you don’t know what a present participle is, don’t worry. Just try not to start a sentence with a word ending in “ing” and you’re on the right track and you won’t make your editor cry.

8) Watch your “it”. It’s not wrong to start a sentence with “it”, but it’s easy to fall into a habit, so take a long, hard look at that sentence and ask yourself if “it” is really necessary. Ten to one, stronger sentence construction exists.

9) “There was” or “there were” constructions aren’t wrong either, but they’re also dirty little habits. Filler words, as such. Stop being lazy as fuck and search deep into your twisted little black heart and ask yourself if it’s truly necessary to use that construction. Most times, it isn’t. Now brand that into your brain.

10) While there are plenty more nasty, dirty, evil little quirks that make me bitey, like overreliance on the word “that”, or incorrect punctuation of dialogue, the last one I’m going to bitch about here is filter words. “I saw”, “Polly heard”, “Winston thought”. I’m sure you can think of a bunch of other ones. Get into the habit of when you see yourself writing along those lines, to pinch yourself hard and work to avoid that type of sentence construction.

There you go. There’s plenty more where these came from, and authors are well known for finding new and unusual ways to mangle the English language. These little points are the most common I’ve had to try to beat out of folks of late. Catch me next year and other issues will be trending. No go out and read books outside of your genre, and read widely. And for the love of all that’s unholy, try to absorb what your editor teaches you so that you don’t make her all stabbity and twitchy.

Yes, I am a red pen for hire, and if I haven’t scared you off, or you feel you can benefit from having me leave tabbed comments saying KILL THAT WORD all over your darling, you’re welcome to query me at to find out what my rates are.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Spud--Exit, Pursued by a Bear by John van de Ruit #review

Title: Spud – Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Author: John van de Ruit
Publisher: Penguin SA, 2012
Buy link.

While schoolboy antics might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the doings of John “Spud” Milton, or Spud, as he’s affectionately become known, have found a way to creep into many readers’ hearts. Mine included. Book four brings the series to a close, and rightfully so, on a high note.

John van de Ruit’s writing offered numerous quiet sniggers and sometimes even downrightnasty giggles – and I’m a notoriously tough nut to crack when it comes to humour in the written word. But the weird looks from fellow commuters were worth it. Van de Ruit has created a world that seems as though it must be real, but with a twist of the absurd. Perhaps it’s because he manages to hold on to that sense of reality that had me gobbling up the pages.

He has triumphed in much the same way that I feel authors such as JK Rowling have successfully engaged readers, by creating a vast cast of three-dimensional characters. Everyone has their favourite, be it cheering for the demented Vern, or the Guv’s comicallymorose statements or even Garlic’s eternal obsession about Lake Malawi. And, while some of us who grew up reading the Adrian Mole books can draw parallels
between Sue Townsend and Van de Ruit, Spud as a character comes off more optimistic in his naiveté than the somewhat depressing Adrian Mole.

Writing in journal format also poses a challenge, especially with standard expectations of narrative structure, but Van de Ruit balances the various aspects of his protagonist’s life well. Each story arc, be it Spud’s cricket and academic careers, his love life or themisadventures of the Crazy Eight, is balanced. While satirical elements are present, the outcomes never feel contrived. Cricket matches get rained out. There are no miraculous turnarounds for bad maths marks. The ephemeral nature of young romantic entanglementsrings true, and the Crazy Eight behave much like boys we remember from our teenage years.

While the temptation to beg the author to write another Spud book is strong, I agree with Van de Ruit’s decision that this is the last in the series. The ending made me smile and recall the last weeks of my own matric and that sense of an infinitely pliable universe,almost two decades ago.

To push for more would kill Spud’s spirit. And here’s the catch. You cannot go back to those mad, wild times of standing on the cusp of adulthood, but you can relive them vicariously through the experiences of others. Thank you, Spud, you’re forever young.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The woman behind Blood Fare, JA Steel

If ever there's a woman who deserves honours for making a go of it in a industry that's traditionally male-dominated, it's JA Steel. For the last while I've been watching the progress on this amazing woman's work on the horror film Blood Fare, which I'm totally looking forward to seeing. Steel took a break in her busy schedule to stop by my blog today for a little Q&A. Welcome, lady!

Where did you strike the initial spark for Blood Fare? Is there a bit of a story behind it?

JAS: I wanted to do a movie that covered some of the local folklore of Utah. I came across the “Legend of Jean Baptiste” who was real-life grave robber who was imprisoned on the “unescapable” Antelope Island in the middle of the Salt Lake. But he did escape – and his body was never found. Unfortunately, at the same time the LDS church came up with a similar “redemption” type story. So, we changed ours – and like all my movies – I had a dream that I was visited by my dead cousin who was killed during the Civil War. Christian Koch, who’s been working with me since 2002, helped me flesh out the story. I then sat down and wrote the screenplay in about a week.

Can you sum up the film in sixteen words or less?

JAS: A story of family and honoring your history, not a ghost story like you would expect.

I've been following the production for Blood Fare via Twitter. This is quite a long and involved process. How does the final product measure up to your initial vision? Did the film evolve along the way?

JAS: The film evolved every step of the way. There’s the initial script that took a week to write and all the rewrites. Then, we had the shooting script and that changed. One of my key actors (literally) got trapped hunting in the mountains and couldn’t make it to set to film, so the story changed. There are only about 10 people that have seen the final script, which became the final film.

I’m proud of the final product. In some ways it meets and exceeds my expectations. In others, we had some technical challenges that were unfortunate. Filming in High Definition is a little less forgiving than shooting on film. Every detail has to be exact. Some details were missed, but catching every little aspect is difficult in an independent feature. Choices had to be made on the basis of the technical proficiency of a shot rather than performance in some cases.

Tell us a little more about how you went about choosing the locations.Were there any unique challenges there that you faced and overcame?

JAS: The hardest part was finding locations in Utah that actually looked like Northern Virginia/Pennsylvania.  I was intrigued by a Civil War group that does re-enactments locally. So, we went and saw them at a State Park called “This is the Place”.  We then shot a bunch of stock footage.

Finding fresh water for the rivers/lake that wasn’t surrounded by scrub brush was also hard. Utah is the second-driest state in the United States. Derek Mellus at the Utah Film Commission helped us out with a list of names of location where we could film. We got lucky and found Fort Buenaventura in the middle of Ogden.

And your choices in cast?

JAS: We had the hardest time casting the lead role of Tyler. We had approached three other actresses, but they all turned the role down. They were uncomfortable with some of the thematic elements of the story. I was like “this is ACTING people. That’s why it’s called ACTING.” Frustrated, I opened the casting call up for an “open” call for Tyler. We were so lucky when Brandi Lynn Anderson walked in the door. Tyler was originally supposed to be a brunette – but Brandi had just dyed her hair blonde – and it worked.

We had a really successful Kickstarter/Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign and managed to attract some more investors so I sat down and did the “who have I always wanted to work with?” list. Gil’s name was at the top. It was one of those “why not” moments. I took a chance and I sent the script off to his manager.  The rest they say, is history.

Are there any anecdotes and/or bloopers that you care to share?

JAS: It was the film of “oh we forgot to tell you”. We had permits (that we paid for) for filming at our various locations but consistently we had LOUD events that were right next door. School pep rallies and wedding receptions are typically very loud and not conducive to clean production sound. Needless to say, we are still in the process of some ADR.

I can’t really remember any. I was more serious on set with this film than I was with my first three features. On The Third Society, Salvation and Denizen we were prone to more bouts of laughter after a take. On the blooper reel for Salvation they have me laughing for a solid five minutes and to this day I have no clue what I was laughing at.

What's the future for Blood Fare after its Dragon*Con premiere?

JAS: I still want to go back and do a lot of sound work. We are getting there slowly but surely. I’m also toying with redoing some of the Charon effects. There were some compositing issues in post between some of the green screen and the plates. A lot of it will depend on the distributor – which we’re hoping that we will be able to find after Dragon*con.

You're a woman who wears many hats in the film industry. Tell us a little bit about a day in your life.

JAS: The day depends on what stage the film is in, but on a typical editing day:

I always start off with coffee – no matter what. Then it’s online catching up with Chris Koch on the overnight events.  He’s in Germany so there’s the eight hours to catch up on when either of us is sleeping.  Then there is the ever-dreaded “day job” as a systems analyst that takes about eight to ten hours of the day.

At the end of the day I catch up with Fred Mercer, who’s acted as an executive on all four features, plus all the shorts and documentaries since The Third Society. Then dinner. Then editing 'til midnight. Then up at 5am.

If I’m between clients for the “day job” or it’s the weekend. Straight to editing and only taking breaks for lunch and emailing potential “day job” clients.

Now that post is pretty much over, it’s doing press and publicity and working out.

My “vacations” are either filming or going to conventions.

See the Blood Fare trailer here.