Thursday, January 31, 2013

Take a moment to appreciate the beautiful scenery

The trouble started when we reached Wellington, and the Dear Husband (DH) handed over his iPhone to show me the supposed map of Bainskloof where our final destination lay. He’d told me we were driving to Bainskloof for almost a week. Bainskloof had already worn a rut in my brain. Instead the squiggly hand-drawn map gave directions to Du Toitskloof. (Cue a massive facepalm moment right there.)

Thank goodness Bainskloof is kind of adjacent to Du Toitskloof. All we needed to do was take the turn-off and follow the not-so-scenic route through to Paarl and back to the N1. Right. Deep breath.

Our lives were made more entertaining by the fact that this day happened to be January 1, with festive hangovers in full swing in soaring maximum temperatures on the wrong side of 35ºC.

And, of course, another small detail: we needed to buy ice. On New Year’s Day. Shortly past lunchtime. In Paarl.

According to the DH, our continued existence as we knew it depended on finding ice. For the martinis. And don’t forget the olives.

At this point, after several hours trapped in a car set at slow broil, I didn’t feel it was worth my health to argue. And the “D” in DH was rapidly standing for “Dreadful” and not “Dear”.

Especially not after considering how he had the car’s steering-wheel in a white-knuckled death grip. Ice it was. And olives. Oh, and don’t forget the eggs. And Styrofoam cups.

With each fruitless halt at assorted Paarl retail outlets, the shopping list grew longer, and the DH’s temper shorter. Believe me when I say you do not want to see what Paarl’s Shoprite looks like on New Year’s Day. An overturned ant nest is an apt description which doesn’t quite do it justice.

This is the part where it’s better for wifey to start laughing. A lot. And quietly on the inside without allowing the crazy smile to creep onto her lips. Because, really, that was the only way I could keep myself from somehow finding a way to cheerfully sedate my DH. (Throttling would have done in a pinch, but I exercised self-restraint that day.) Do you think Pick n Pay would be open? Think again. We missed the closing by a mere 10 minutes.

And thank goodness for Spar, and random corner cafés that are open on public holidays. That is all. We couldn’t leave Paarl fast enough.

As for Du Toitskloof… I forget how lovely it is. So often we drive South Africa’s big roads without sparing a thought for our beautiful country’s less obvious pleasures, such as small farms just off the beaten track. Our final destination was one such, offering no luxury lodge or tented camp, but rather a humble cabin sans electricity or cellphone signal.

Suffice to say, the DH’s disposition improved after he sipped his first ice-cold martini (shaken, not stirred), and his mates were terribly impressed, so maybe the effort to find ice and olives hadn’t gone to waste after all. For them, at least.

Maybe I could find it in my heart to call him “Dear” or “Darling” again.


I retreated to a pleasant shady spot with my mineral water and book, and dabbled my feet in the ice-cold river. The barest shiver of a breeze stirred the wild almonds and sunlight flashed off the blue gums’ leaves. Deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. The constant saw of cicadas told me exactly how hot it was beyond the shelter of shade, but that was okay. Rather focus on the sound of the rushing stream babbling over rocks.

It took me all of half an hour to forget about the shimmering heat mirage on the N1 tarmac, the sullen cashiers at the stores and the pointless, frantic scurrying after stupid olives and ice, for crying out loud.

Above us on the mountain slope, cars, trucks and motorcycles roared along, their drivers completely oblivious to the small wonder world tucked away in this hidden river valley. And I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them ever give pause to wonder what lies at the end of those little windy dirt roads they thunder past on their mad hunt after the things we only think we need.

This Shooting the Breeze column appeared in the Sunday Independent Life supplement on January 27, 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Beautiful Mess (Bailey’s Boys #1) #review

Title: Beautiful Mess (Bailey’s Boys #1)
Author: Lucy V Morgan

I’m not normally in the market for contemporary erotica, but Lucy V Morgan snagged me on this one with her fresh voice. It’s a free read on Amazon. Go download it now. You’ll devour it in less than a day.

Bailey Frost and her male flatmates and their buddy Linc have a good thing going. Essentially, they treat her as one of the guys and that suits her fine. That’s until her boyfriend Craig dumps her and a cheer-up night of Jagermeister and pizza leads her to confess that she’s never had an orgasm during sex before. As if it’s not enough, Bailey works in a wedding cake shop so is faced daily with others’ relationship bliss when she’s struggling to come to terms with the reasons why Craig left her.

Without offering spoilers, the rest of the story is all about how a very determined friend goes out of his way to prove that Bailey can indeed let go during a sexual encounter. What’s even better is watching the relationship unfold. Yes. Morgan writes great sex scenes, but that’s not what kept me reading. Morgan’s dialogue is just fantastic, and it feels like I’m playing fly on the wall watching a bunch of young people interact to great hilarity. And they all *feel* like real people, down to Bailey and her pet rats.

Morgan manages to capture a ring of authenticity with her characters, which is a rare quality in this genre. For a short, hot read, I can’t recommend Beautiful Mess more, and I’m keen to give Morgan’s other titles a spin too.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

In conversation with Heidi and Violetta

Recently I've been going through a bit of a phase of reading historical settings. Not quite sure what prompted this but I've been getting total kicks from ancient Rome and Greece. When Mark of the Gladiator (Riptide Publishing) by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane landed on my virtual desk, I totally gobbled it up.

Naturally, I had to have the ladies over for a little Q&A... So a big welcome to Heidi and Violetta!

Ancient Rome... How much research did you conduct to give your tale a ring of authenticity?

Violetta: This was a very research-heavy book. We didn’t mind that at all; in fact, that’s one of the great bonuses of writing this kind of fiction. It’s like being in a perpetual classroom... for free. I already have a bit of a background in terms of ancient literature from when I was in academia. I own some books on related subjects, such as Spectacle Entertainments of Early Imperial Rome and The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans. We used a lot of great online sources, as well, and list some of them in the back of the book.

Anazar has been a slave for so long that he's lost a lot of his spirit. When you looked at his development as a character, what were some of the obstacles he had to overcome?

Violetta: Oh, nothing much. Just leaving behind his wife and most of his family, traveling across the known world to fight in a war not of his choosing, seeing most of his friends, male relatives and fellow tribesman dying in battle or executed after defeat... and that’s just the beginning. Like most people in that situation he went into survival mode, with very little space for much else. But the fact that he survived and is still capable of making moral choices means he has the capacity to rebuild his identity. I’ve read a lot about slavery in the ancient world and in the Americas, and one thing that’s clear is that many people were determined to survive and make moral choices. A lot of slaves in the ancient world did actually kill themselves, which is also a choice, in a terribly sad way.

So far when I've encountered writing duos (and trios even) the divisions have been quite clear-cut, in most cases with each author taking turns with a character each. This is not the case with Mark of the Gladiator, as the entire novel is told only from Anazar's point of view. How did this work out within your writing partnership?

Heidi: Well actually, even with novels where we do utilize multiple points of view, we both share all writing duties. We’ve never traded off in any organized way, although sometimes one person will take charge of a certain scene with minimal input from the other. So for example, had Mark of the Gladiator had both Anazar and, say, Felix as a POV character, we’d have both written both, versus Violetta writing Anazar and me writing Felix. We share chapters, pages, scenes, even sentences. On our blog tour for our co-authored novel Hawaiian Gothic, I actually broke down our process. (And it’s colour coded!)

You mention Mary Renault as one of your influences (okay, I admit that totally sold me), so tell us more about how you perceive the dynamics between your main characters within a historical context. I picked up a fair amount of power play between the characters. What are some of the considerations to bear in mind when writing historical settings?

Violetta: In terms of the kind of relationship you see in The Persian Boy, the central relationship in Mark of the Gladiator is nothing like that. There’s a Greek and then similar Roman model of approved relationships between older dominant penetrative men and submissive youths, the erastes/eromenos dyad—our hero doesn’t really fit this model, and he’s aware of that, and confused by it as well. He has to come to terms with his sexuality and the fact that his lover definitely falls into several wrong categories.

Heidi: Well, I think if you’re doing a story in Rome, especially one that heavily features the interactions of people from different classes, and between freedmen and slaves, you really have to deal with that power imbalance head on. One thing that was really important to us was not to just play the “power play” aspect purely for titillation. Not to say we don’t like power play as a sexual kink (especially in a consensual BDSM context--more on that later!), but with Mark of the Gladiator I really believe we needed to do oh-so-much more. Especially since this is a historical, we had to find that right balance between the sexuality of the romantic/erotic scenes and the grim reality of slavery.

In that regard, I’m really proud of the development of Anazar’s relationship with his master Marianus Lucius. (Spoilers!) At the beginning of the book, there’s this balance between desire and performance and coercion, where Anazar basically must service his master but also enjoys it, in a way . . . then as the book progresses and Anazar’s opinion of Marianus changes, the performance becomes difficult and the coercion becomes a new and terrifying thing, which flips that titillation dynamic into something sinister. Which is the reality of consent in that dynamic: it’s ultimately an illusion. If you can’t really refuse consent (as is the case with a master and slave), can you ever truly give it?

And this is the absolutely annoying question I know authors get asked endlessly... But in this case I was dying to know. Can we expect more in a historical setting from you?

Heidi: Hmm, not in the near future I don’t think! Right now we’re both working on solo projects, and we’re doing a joint project that’s a mixed-orientation contemporary BDSM series with a lot of comedy and a lot of unconventional sex. We’re hoping that even without the historical intrigue, our readers will still enjoy this series for its complex character dynamics and twisty subplots!

Then, in short:
Where's your current favourite holiday destination, and what draws you there?

Heidi: Probably Ireland. My husband is from there, so we go every couple years to visit his parents, and I always have a wonderful time. Surprise, surprise, I’m a history geek, and Ireland has locales and items of historical interest in spades.

Violetta: The Pacific Coast of Mexico. It’s one of the most bold and beautiful landscapes I can imagine, the people are wonderful and the food is to die for.

What book are you constantly recommending to people?

Heidi: That depends on the person! For M/M readers, I love The Island by Lisa Henry. For non-romance readers, basically anything by Sherman Alexie, who writes stunning and powerful short stories.

Violetta: The Flat Earth series by Tanith Lee.

And the film you save for rainy days?

Heidi: Moulin Rouge!

Violetta: El Topo.

Twitter @HeidiBelleau

Twitter @ViolettaVane

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Say what you mean, don't say it mean -- writing reviews

When the rumblings went round about Amazon removing authors’ reviews from the website, I considered whether this move on their part was warranted. While this is not going to be a rant about why I think Amazon’s decision sucks, I am going to stick by my guns and say that authors (and editors) should be willing and able to share their opinion in reviews. After all, don’t scientists submit themselves to peer review? The same goes for authors.

But what goes into a review? And how should one approach writing a review?

One of my favourite pastimes is to look at the one-star reviews some of my favourite authors received. Here’s a good example for JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit quoted from Goodreads:

They weren't really movies, they were more like protracted masturbatory fantasies for stoner geeks and people who would otherwise be making b-horror film remakes. The Hobbit wasn't a part of the trilogy, and I can only assume that it got left it out because it wasn't as good as the other 3 books. Or 10. How many are written now? I can't keep track. My generation's contempt for franchises apparently only extends to Steven Segal movies.

While our friend Nathan is obviously enamoured with his own cleverness, he’s clearly only trolling. As a reader, I’m not being told anything useful other than the reviewer’s own opinion, which he’s clearly entitled to have, but I don’t necessarily agree with him. Yes, reviews like this make for amusing, if not somewhat unfortunate reading, but our friend’s missing the point.

Clarice (also on Goodreads) gives The Hobbit a 3-star rating, and actual reasons for her decision:

The Hobbit is thus the perfect book to read to your children before bedtime or even one of the first novels they might read themselves.
When evaluating the Hobbit as a prelude to Lord of the Rings, things look a little bit different. Currently reading Lord of the Rings, I am thankful to have followed the chronological path, as the Hobbit prepares the setting for Lord of the Rings, in which Tolkien has adapted his very scholarly writing style to an audience of grown ups.

She goes on to say that the plot does drag somewhat, but offers a detailed discussion of her likes and dislikes. In fact, I can quite imagine her sitting in a room, face to face with Tolkien himself.

And that’s the crux point. When I write reviews, I write them as if I’m sitting in the room *with* the author. My own work as an editor, where I’ve often written the dreaded “dear author” letter for a request for revisions, has given me a feel for how to word my opinion with regard to which aspects of a novel require strengthening. As an author, I also know that sinking sensation when a reviewer can’t get past their own personal prejudices. Complaining bitterly because a character is gay/uses drugs/isn’t faithful because *you* don’t agree with these things doesn’t necessarily make the book bad.

Hell, I sure as hell don’t have a taste for human flesh, but I still cheered for Hannibal Lecter. A good reviewer is able to set aside her personal preferences in order to judge whether a book is good.

So, what *do* you look at?

Can the author write? Seems like a self-evident question but ask yourself, is the writing clunky, uncomfortable to read? Are you picking up oodles of typos? Incorrect punctuation? Over-reliance on clichés? Lack of description? Too much description? Purple prose?

Are the characters three-dimensional? You don’t need to *like* them, but do they have depth? Are their actions supported by enough motivation? I mean, really, if a character is about to commit suicide, I need to be convinced he or she’s going to drink that poison cup. And oh hell no for the appearance of Mary Sues and Marty Stus. (if you don’t know what those are, go look ’em up. Google is your friend.)

While I’m no fan of plodding literary novels (and I’ll try to avoid them), I at least like to see a novel that has more than just a coat-hanger to the plot. Is it a murder mystery? A quest? Horror? A romance? Fantasy with a military theme? All these types of novels will set out to satisfy different aims. A quest novel where the characters spend the first half of the book packing their bags is not going to go down well with seasoned fans of that genre. Likewise, a romance novel where the happy couple don’t get their plans for True Lub™ thwarted at some point, won’t hit the mark with the romance market segment.

That being said, you can’t hold your copy of John Fowles’ The Magus next to Anne McCaffrey’s The White Dragon and say one is better than the other. They’re both excellent books, *within* their genre. Their purpose is primarily to entertain. It can be said that Fowles probably had an agenda, but WHO CARES? People read different books for different reasons. There are days when I want something challenging. Then The Magus is perfect. Other days I want to go play with dragons. So long as you remember that when you write your review, you’re gonna do okay.

Look at the book you’re reading. Is it derivative of another, more popular work? You think so? Go read up on release dates and point it out in your review. You're allowed to do that. You hated a book? Maybe you weren’t the target market. Consider that when you write your review. It’s perfectly okay to admit you weren’t the target market. Then say who you think might enjoy the book.

In closing, my suggestion is to try to balance the good with the bad when it comes to a book. Remember that someone (the author) thought there was a reason to write the story. Try to see what it was that got them all excited in the first place. And hey, when you sit down at your computer, flex your fingers and draw your breath before you start writing, pretend the author is sitting next to you. If you can’t say it to his or her face, you probably shouldn’t be saying it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Blood, Smoke and Mirrors by Robyn Bachar #review

Title: Blood, Smoke and Mirrors
Author: Robyn Bachar
Publisher: Samhain Publishing, 2010

While some reviewers bitched about our protagonist, Cat, being too stupid to live, I’ll disagree because I felt Cat made some honest mistakes. Yes, she’s somewhat self-centred, but hell, I know a couple of crazy cat ladies who’re somewhat similar. They’re not bad people, and I feel part of the story’s charm is seeing how Cat’s bad choices dump her in hot water. Whether she’ll learn from her bad choices, now that’s going to be worth finding out. If anything, author Robyn Bachar could have worked a little more on Cat’s motivations, but other than that, it was a case of sitting back to watch her muddle through her problems.

Because for all her self-centredness and bad choices, Cat’s an incredibly loyal, caring person for those close to her, even if it’s to her detriment. She’s a down-to-earth, everywoman kind of lass who’s found herself in a situation where she has a position of power thrust upon her.

Cat found herself in a bad situation in the past when she fried some guy who attacked her—only it goes against her path to harm others, hence the business of her being outcast. The double whammy came in when her boyfriend, Lex, who’s some sort of a hotshot enforcer among the supernaturals, a guardian, was the one who turned her in.

Basically, Lex is the honourable Southern gentleman sort, whose hang-ups for doing things right can make him a bit of a pain in the hoo-ha, if you get my drift. Which is exactly why Lex and Cat’s relationship went south in the first place—because he so stubbornly clings to his role as guardian to the detriment of personal happiness. And yes, this is a major stumbling block in their relationship. Put two stubborn people convinced of their own point of view together and you’re bound to get misunderstandings. We’ve all been there.

We pick up with Lex coming back into Cat’s life as well as the fact that she’s been nominated to take on the role of ambassador between earth and the realm of Faerie. And from there things get a wee bit more complicated when some of the demons from Cat’s past get resurrected. The lady’s got major beef with her past issues. So much so that it can and does cloud her judgment.

Then when Cat reckons she’s got a handle on the whole vibe about taking on the role of Titania, there’s trouble with the vampires. I won’t say what sort of trouble, but as always, Cat goes into a situation without taking full cognisance of the full ramifications of her choices. And yes, it’s a rather lovely mess.

Overall, I really, really enjoyed this book and I hope there’s more where this came from. Bachar offers a very good balance of romance and narrative, with just enough of both elements. The world-building is imaginative and well realised, and makes me want to spend more time in her setting. Her characters come across as real people, with doubts and faults. The writing is solid and, while the actual story arcs could have used a bit of tightening, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride and would definitely pick up another by this author.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

In Conversation with Mark Rice

Recently I read through the extremely epic Metallic Dreams by Mark Rice. I say epic because everything about this novel is big, including the fact that it cranks up the volume and does other stuff not entirely in polite company. Seriously. This is not the book you're going to give your grandma to read (go check out my review here). But by the time I finished the story, I knew I had to have Mark over, because I don't think I've encountered anyone yet who's as passionate about metal as he is... So welcome to my blog for a little, Q&A, Mark.

Metallic Dreams comes across almost semi-autobiographical when considering the bands that you make mention of. When did you have your metal epiphany, as it were?

Music was always a force in my life. My introduction to metal was tiered. As a toddler, I soaked up classical music from my father’s records and live performances. (The roots of true metal are in epic classical compositions, not in the simplistic blues stylings that gave birth to rock ‘n’ roll.) A few years later, my elder brother was part of the punk movement. I enjoyed the raw energy and aggressiveness of his music. Punk’s angst resonated with me, but I couldn’t have imagined the life-changing impact that was about to come in the form of heavy metal. At age ten, when I heard the riff of Saxon’s Princess of the Night carving through cold night air on the west coast of Scotland, my horizon blew open. Vivid images appeared in my mind, stirred up by the lyrics, “She used to be an iron horse twenty years ago, used to bring the mail to me through the ice and snow. I sat alone and watched her steaming through the night, ninety tons of thunder lighting up the skies. She was the princess of the night.” The hair on my arms and neck pricked up. Shivers trickled down my spine. Inside, my soul went berserk. The experience was at once visceral, cerebral, sensual, spiritual and celestial. I realised that this music had changed me: I had become a metal child. By the time I left primary school at age twelve, I’d amassed a huge amount of vinyl and cassettes, and had started going to live metal gigs at the Glasgow Apollo. First metal album bought: AC/DC – If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It). First metal gig: Iron Maiden, Glasgow Apollo, ‘Beast on the Road’ tour, 1982.

The novel is definitely not for the faint-hearted, and I suspect you deliberately went about finding as many ways as possible to be controversial. Knowing that this might alienate some readers, what were your motivations for this?

I set out with only one goal: to create the definitive work of heavy metal fiction. Certain elements of the story were bound to offend some people, but I didn’t worry about that. My job was to craft the story in its true form, not to dilute it. Controversy that followed – such as a castration threat from a Viking woman – was a side effect, but not something I had aimed for. Open-minded readers were always going to appreciate having their minds expanded, while those with delicate sensibilities were bound to be stunned by certain situations in Metallic Dreams. Shocking people into a higher state of awareness is more effective than preaching to them.  A writer can’t push the envelope if (s)he stays in a comfort zone, afraid of offending readers. To create original art, it is necessary to have an unflinching belief in one’s vision. Fearlessness is the key.

What are the top five songs that you'd compile into a set list of required listening for your Metallic Dreams readers? Why are these the "go to" songs in metal for you?

AC/DC – Whole Lotta Rosie, the live version from If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It). This is my favourite version of my favourite track by my favourite lineup of my favourite band. As such, it has to be on the list. I walked through a snowstorm for an hour to buy this, the first metal album I ever had on vinyl. I wandered home oblivious to the cold, spellbound as I held the record in my hands, gazing in awe at the cover. The album was recorded live at the legendary Glasgow Apollo (RIP), the venue of my earliest metal gigs. The crowd’s energy is more palpable than on any other live album I’ve heard. Part of that energy must derive from the audience’s excitement over AC/DC returning to Scotland as conquering heroes. (Angus and Malcolm Young were born in Glasgow, Scotland – as was I - while Bon Scott was born in Kirriemuir, farther north in a Scottish burgh called, amazingly, Angus.)

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – Last of the Teenage Idols. Since SAHB burst onto the music scene in the 1970s, Scottish legend Alex Harvey has influenced every Glasgow band worth their salt. Metallic Dreams contains many tips o’ the hat to Alex. I placed some in clear sight and hid others as ‘Easter eggs’ for diehard fans to discover, as I did with myriad other musical references throughout the book. The title Last of the Teenage Idols was inspired by a ‘teenage idol’ competition run by a Glasgow newspaper, and won by Alex. In the early chapters of Metallic Dreams, Spark MacDubh and four of his friends start a band in their teens, partly motivated by a desire to be teenage idols.  At various points in the story, they discuss Alex Harvey and his contribution to Scottish culture.

Amorphis – I of Crimson Blood. While writing Metallic Dreams, Amorphis’s Silent Waters was one of my most listened-to albums. Not only is I of Crimson Blood a perfect example of metal virtuosity, its lyrical themes reflect some of the novel’s ideals: transcendence; loss; heritage; blood.

Wintersun – Land of Snow and Sorrow. This track hadn’t been released when Metallic Dreams was published, but it has a strange and serendipitous link to the book. A huge fan of Wintersun’s debut album, I bought one of their T-shirts several years ago. It featured the words ‘Far Away There’s a Land of Snow and Sorrow’ on the back. I liked the alliterative impact of ‘snow and sorrow’ and realised that the imagery it evoked was in line with events in the opening chapters of my novel. As a mark of respect to Wintersun, I revised my story’s third chapter (which describes the main character’s resurrection) to include the sentences, ‘Moments ago I was killed by snow and sorrow. Now I’m buzzing with life.’ This is another example of an ‘Easter egg’ for eagle-eyed metallists to discover. A couple of months ago Wintersun released their long-awaited second album, which contains the track Land of Snow and Sorrow, written after Wintersun’s frontman had discovered Metallic Dreams. I gazed in amazement at the words of the first verse. They perfectly described Spark MacDubh’s death, resurrection and re-rentry into the world. So a band in Finland created a T-shirt featuring three words that inspired a Scottish writer to revise his book and include those three words, after which – by chance or serendipity – the main man in the Finnish band read the book in question and then expressed one of its story arcs through the lyrics to the song named after the T-shirt that inspired the writer who wrote the novel that inspired the musician who created the T-shirt featuring the words…  Makes the head spin, eh?  I’ve often come across mutual respect in metal, but never more serendipitously than in this example. How does the song sound?  Listen for yourself. There’s no band more original, innovative, musically accomplished or groundbreaking than Wintersun.  Flawless!

Saxon – Princess of the Night. My first experience of metal, this track sounds as fresh and relevant now as it did when it was recorded three decades ago. Early last year Saxon requested signed copies of Metallic Dreams – one for each member of the band, one for their manager and four for the road crew. Happy to oblige, I personalised each copy then posted them to the band’s manager in Germany. A few months later, I was put on the guest list for Saxon’s gig in Glasgow. After the show, when I was hanging out with the band and their manager, Leo, they signed my paperback copy of Metallic Dreams. So each member of Saxon has a copy signed by me, and my copy is signed by all five of them (and Leo). One of my most surreal experiences was listening to Saxon’s Biff Byford discussing his reactions to my book, which he had been reading on his tour bus as it crossed Europe.  Life-affirming.

You've got exactly 16 words to describe Spark MacDubh to someone who's never heard of Metallic Dreams before. Go!

A hairy philosophical savage with music in his soul and love in his heart. Scottish. Relentless.

Here's your chance to share snippets of what at least three reviewers have said about Metallic Dreams... 

“Halfway through the first reading, I started thinking I couldn't wait to finish it so that I could start reading it all over again.”  – Princess Ducky

“Mindwarpishness isn't the book's only style. At times it felt like an Irvine Welsh novel, not just because of the dialects used, but because of the humour and slightly askew views of normal life. Obviously it’s Welsh off heroin and on heavy metal instead. It's certainly a rollercoaster of a book that takes you on a tale of redemption and discovery, anchored around a very genuine set of relationships which, if you can't relate to them, highlight that you have no real friends and a very drab childhood to look back on.”  – Godzilla

“I read this book at lightning pace over the past two days: on the bus, in my bed, at the breakfast table, in the factory canteen.  It is a slice of fried gold as ever there was. A brilliant read, Scottish Heavy Metal!  Hah!” – Jimmy McCarthy, haggischorizo metal blog

“He loves the written word, and has such a precision of language and ease with his prose that many other writers would be well advised to read this just to understand what it means to strive for excellence in one's manuscript. All that aside, it is a fun read and a great rock and roll ride.”  – Anne-Marie Klein, author of Behind Blue Eyes

“The first surprise was how poetic I found the writing; it certainly wasn't what I expected of a book full of heavy metal. It sucked me in and forced me to keep reading.”  – Helle SØe Gade

“Metallic Dreams doesn't just tread on your average person's sensibilities, this novel turns the volume up full blast and goes in with a raging boner.”  – Nerine Dorman

“The text inside is pure genius but he should have taken my advice and put a pair of tits on the cover.”  – DT

“Mark Rice should be kicked in the gonads for writing Metallic Dreams.”  – James Pettigrew, Scottish poet

Lastly, what lies ahead for Mark Rice? Can you tell us more about future projects?

A few projects are in the works. (1) A follow up to Metallic Dreams is underway. The title is out of this world, but I’m keeping it under my hat until release day. (2) I’m mid-way through a dark mystery novel set on the Scottish island of Lewis. It’s social commentary run amok. (3) While carrying out research for a story, I gained access to the University of Edinburgh’s Survey of Scottish Witchcraft (the most thorough record of the witch trials in Scotland between 1590 and 1727). I discovered that four members of my family – all on my mother’s side – had been tried for witchcraft. Despite the pre-trial records being thorough, with dates, alleged crimes, accusers, places and judges listed in detail, there are no records of what happened after the trials. There’s only one conclusion to be drawn from that, and it’s one I felt – and still feel - to my core. As a child, I was terrified of witches. It wasn’t a learned fear, but an innate one: My instincts bristled at the mention of the word ‘witch’ or the sight of any witch-related paraphernalia. I faced my fear and overcame it but didn’t understand its source until I found out that members of my family had suffered torture, injustice and execution in the name of witchcraft. Then I understood why witch-related things had terrified me as a child.  On some level I had been aware of the horrors inflicted on my family members: I had felt their despair. I decided to go on a shamanic journey into the past, in order to right some old wrongs using literature as my weapon. I felt four folk invoking me to tell their stories to the world, to shine the light of truth on the darkest part of my country’s history. Since then I’ve taken several shamanic journeys. These weren’t trips of imagination, but descents into the experiences of my kin in centuries past. I’ve been warned against doing this. Some people who embark on such journeys end up in a catatonic state, unable to find their way back. (4) I may publish a collection of my poems in 2013.  Of the hundreds I’ve written, some have been published in anthologies.  I like the idea of having my more polished poetry available in one volume.

Amazon UK Page
Amazon US page
Lulu Storefront 
Goodreads Author Page 
Metallic Dreams Facebook Page 


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dr-Benway on food #guest

I'm pleased as all hell to have my husband, Thomas Dorman AKA the infamous Dr-Benway, as a guest on my blog today. Not only is he an absolutely fabulous creative director, but he's also directed award-winning indie art/horror films and his photography has appeared in various magazines. Recently I accompanied him on a shoot where he collaborated with a chef... But I'll hand over to him now so he can continue...

* * * *

The inspiration for the three images came from an old 1960s cookbook (the same one used in a scene of Rosemary’s Baby). Some of the images of meat in this book are both delicious and disgusting at the same time. The colours are especially interesting as they have been coloured afterwards by hand.

In addition, This also gave me the opportunity to work with the amazing food stylist and chef Kayleigh Snyman. She played a massive part in making the concept come to life.

I’ve been interested in the similarities of viewing and consuming for quite some time now; the similarities between finding something beautiful and delicious.

These images deal with these similarities. They also deal with the mixed feelings I have for the snobbery that can be found in the culinary industry; as with all snobbery related to culture. I’m both in love with culture and repulsed by the insincerity of most so-called food/cultural elitists. So it’s natural for me to cheekily create an image showing the barbarity of cannibalism dressed up.

I’m also fascinated by how an photographic image objectifies a subject. This is something with which I wanted to experiment.

These images are in essence still-life memento mori, an artistic theme dating back to antiquity. Often food would be shown alongside a skull or the food would be shown rotting or a fly would be places to remind one of the fact that everything fades. The watch references this stopping of time.

The Japanese have a very similar concept in what they call mono no aware and is a concept relating to the awareness of the impermanence of life and a gentle sadness in its passing. The relating to this idea with the cherry blossom dates back to 18th-century scholar Motoori Norinaga. The transience of the blossoms, the extreme beauty and quick death, has often been associated with mortality.

One of the joys of creating these images was working with the model Jane Scott. I’ve been wanting to do another shoot with her for quite some time now and was extremely happy to have had the opportunity to do so. As with most of my shoots, the model plays a big role in the creative process and Jane most certainly played a big part in this.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Zoe Whitten in conversation with Gabriel #guest

I welcome Zoe Whitten back today; she's interviewing Gabriel, one of the lead characters from her recently released YA novel, Saving Gabriel. Welcome back, Zoe... And a big welcome to Gabriel...

Zoe Whitten

My guest today is someone I know well, and I know he doesn’t like interviews. But that’s a pity for Gabriel, because I’m going to prod him into a chair and poke him with a pointy stick until he talks. So, fine readers, without further introduction, I give you the fallen angel, Gabriel.

Me: Hello, Gabriel.

Gabriel: (taking a seat) Hello. Are we ready to talk about the sequel yet? Because I’ve been eavesdropping on your muse, and I don’t like the way she talks about me sometimes.

Me: No, we’re not ready to talk about the sequel yet. You and Rosalinda will need to earn your keep before I decide to keep you around for a series.

Gabriel: All right, that sounds fair. So why am I here? And why is there a pointy stick on your desk?

Me: It’s a MacGuffin, is all. So, I offered readers an excerpt showing you and Rosalinda. Your scene was a little embarrassing, wasn’t it?

Gabriel: (Blushing) It was uncomfortable, yes.

Me: But you’re her guardian angel. Surely you must have seen her nude in the shower many times.

Gabriel: No, I give my ward personal space and privacy. I can’ wouldn’t be right for me to watch her then.

Me: So she could have slipped and cracked her head in the tub while you were looking away.

Gabriel: (Puckers mouth) Well, it never happened, but yes, I suppose it could have.

Me: So how often does something happen while you have your back turned?

Gabriel: Once...twice.

Me: Twice?

Gabriel: I didn’t protect her from a young man who was courting her, though I knew his affections for her weren’t genuine. He hurt her feelings, and I regret that, but it isn’t my job to tell her how to live, only to protect her from harm.

Me: But the other time you turned your back, she was almost killed.

Gabriel: (Frowns deeply) Yes. If I had not, Rosalinda might never have been attacked at all. At the same time, if I watched her every moment, I might not have uncovered this plot. (Shakes head) Which means I’ll be closer to Rosalinda, but I’ll also be seeing Michael more often. I’d rather go a century or two without talking to him.

Me: So now you’re going on a stakeout with your ward. That’s going to be a bit weird.

Gabriel: How do you mean?

Me: You’ve known Rosalinda all your life, but to her, you’re a complete stranger.

Gabriel: Yes, that’s true, and I have to build a false identity by the omission of facts rather than outright lies.

Me: Because you’re forbidden by the archangel council from lying.

Gabriel: As all angels and fallen angels are, yes.

Me: That’s a tall order for just one angel, fallen or not.

Gabriel: It will be very difficult, but I’m not working alone. I’ve got help from Muriel, a fallen archangel. After heaven cast me out, Muriel took me under his wings. He’s been a part of my life so long that I can call him my father and it’s not a lie.

Me: That’s very unusual, how you’re thousands of years old, but you still need a father figure in your life.

Gabriel: (Shifts uncomfortably) It’s part of my nature as a guardian angel, my eternal youthfulness. I lost some of my innocence by fighting and killing other angels, but for whatever reason, my soul never evolved to the point that I could be promoted to full angel status.

Me: That’s rough, being stuck two steps above the cherubim your whole life.

Gabriel: The last millennia hasn’t exactly been easier as a fallen guardian angel. Aside from Muriel, most of the other fallen angels won’t associate with me.

Me: Why is that?

Gabriel: Because after they fell, they rejected their roles and became abusers of humanity. I was cast out of heaven, but I never gave up my job acting as a protector. I wander until I find a ward, and I maintain my role as their guardian angel. The other fallen angels select humans to invisibly torment them and send them to hell.

Me: But Muriel is different?

Gabriel: Muriel is complicated. He runs casinos to generate his wealth, so in this way, he is exploiting the greedy weaknesses of humans. But what he does doesn’t taint their souls, at least not by itself. In place of an altar to lay their tithing upon, the humans who come to Muriel place their faith and funds in the promise of an earthly financial reward. I could not do that myself, but as Muriel is one of the few souls I can be myself around, I try to overlook his vices.

Me: So there’s only the casinos as his vices? He’s just a mixed up innocent angel like you?

Gabriel: (Squirms) No, he’s far from innocent. Muriel has been known lay down with women, but so far as I know, he has no contact with any of his children. Also, he drinks quite a bit of wine. He says it reminds him of home, but in my opinion, earthly wine is nothing at all like the varieties found in heaven. To me, drinking earth wine is like drinking decaffeinated coffee. It sort of tastes the same, but you know something is missing.

Me: Aside from Muriel, you don’t talk to anybody else?

Gabriel: He’s the only one I speak to fondly, yes. When the fallen angels and I cross paths, they don’t have any kind words for me, and I have no love lost for them. But it’s even worse when I’m harassed by the archangels, Michael most of all.

Me: So what is the deal between you and Michael? Was it just you falling out because he cast you out of heaven?

Gabriel: (Stays silent a long time) No, Michael and I never quite got along. I...I didn’t mind that he acted as my father, and I loved him as a human might love their father. But I didn’t agree with many of his decisions when it came to applying angelic law. In Michael’s view, the law is black and white, and once he’s cast a value on an action, he won’t change his mind or be convinced that the issues are morally grey, at best.

Me: Then the two of you have been arguing for a few thousand years before you fell?

Gabriel: More or less, yes, that’s the case.

Me: Have you ever won an argument with him?

Gabriel: (Sighs) Not a one.

Me: Did you ever agree with him, at least?

Gabriel: Yes, we agreed on many things. Before I fell, I never disagreed with the cases I was assigned, and I did my job with a near perfect success rate.

Me: Near perfect? So that last case went badly, huh?

Gabriel: Very badly. I lied to my ward, and that turned her toward a life of evil. If you don’t mind, I think I’d rather talk about something less distressing.

Me: Well I think we can stop here. If readers want to know more about your past or your stakeout with Rosalinda, they’ll just have to try the book at Amazon, Kobo, or my blog bookstore. Gabriel, thanks for being a good sport.

Gabriel: I am still trying to suck up for a sequel.

Me: Yeah, and good luck with that. Just one more thing?

Gabriel: I guess—OW! Hey, you said the stick was a MacGuffin!

Me: And so it was, Gabriel. And so it was.

Glass Houses by Rachel Caine #review

Title: Glass Houses (The Morganville Vampires #1)
Author: Rachel Caine
Publisher: Signet, 2006

This is another one of those novels I decided to read to see what all the fuss was about, and I finished Glass Houses with mixed feelings. If I have to compare it to its more famous cousin, the Twilight saga, I feel that Rachel Caine is the better author. But…

I just couldn’t find it within myself to get worked up into a frothy to read the rest of this series. I didn’t engage with the characters and the author’s writing, though the premise was certainly worth a second look.

Glass Houses is the story of child prodigy Claire Danvers, whose overprotective parents won’t allow her to study at one of the top universities she’s been accepted at, thereby forcing her to go to the one closest to home, at Morganville, ostensibly so they can keep an eye on her.

And here’s why I don’t think I liked Claire: her character feels too contrived—the nerdy girl who LOVES physics, is super intelligent but totally dorky. It’s *almost* screaming Mary Sue. I didn’t quite buy the fact that she’d had made no friends. Hell, I was the total epitome of dorkness at school, but I still managed to make *some* connections with others. I find it hard to believe that Claire seemed to exist in a bubble of isolation. Characters only seem to wash in and out of Claire’s almost solipsistic point of reference when it’s convenient for the author.

Her behaviour also annoyed me no end, and the whole time I felt she suffered from the “too stupid to live” syndrome. What sane person, when faced with extreme bullying, would muddle along and keep on going into dangerous situations without asking for help? A sheltered sixteen-year-old, away from home… Who *doesn’t* call her parents at the first whiff of trouble? I’m sorry, I’m not buying it. I needed more motivation from her to try on her own and I didn’t see it. All the time Claire bangs on about not being a kid, yet her behaviour in many of the situations didn’t strike me as anything but the behaviour of a juvenile.

All this being said, the interaction between the support cast was a patch of brightness. Shane, Michael and Eve offer a small diversion from Claire’s insistence on going out and doing stupid things. In the end, I don’t feel they’re enough to save the floundering plot, because when the action really starts heating up there are a lot of characters running around and not getting much achieved. So many times I kept asking myself, “Why is so-and-so doing this?” or “What did that achieve?” or “What just happened?” At crucial times I almost felt as if the writing was too fast, and some of the leaps of logic a bit too stretched (like the part which led Claire to finding a major McGuffin in the story).

I suppose if teen dramas are your thing, and you liked Twilight, you’ll probably like this. Unfortunately I kept wanting the story to deliver more complexity than it did in the end, and what I perceived as issues with characterisation and story arcs kept jerking me out of the narrative. I’m going to give the rest of this series a miss, and admit freely that the fault lies largely with me and my personal tastes.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Influence by Eli Wilde #guest

Today I welcome Eli Wilde, author of Cruel (go check it out) discussing the influence Raymond Carver has had on him. Welcome, Eli, and over to you...

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Stories ought to leave the reader with a great sense of strangeness and mystery, but never a feeling of frustration.’ 
                                                                                          Raymond Carver

As a writer, many different things influence me. When I talk about influence, I mean the things that affect or inspire my writing. Those things that shape how and what I write. Music and alcohol affect the way I write the most. I never edit my work when I am under the influence of alcohol, or listen to music. Their affect is sought when I am searching for the next psychotic action my character is going to take, a shift in plot that moves my story into strange and mysterious territory or the description of a new kind of creature on planet Z.

I don’t always drink or listen to music when I am writing and searching for inspiration. Sometimes I get my best ideas when I am least inclined to write. When I am stone cold sober - wanting to do anything other than write (even if it means washing up the dishes or emptying the garbage), at these times I really have to push myself and in doing so, I once found a girl who synchronised death.

Other writers have had a major influence on my writing. Thinking about that right now, the writer who comes to mind is Raymond Carver. My first encounter with Carver came when I attended a scriptwriting course at Darlington Arts Centre. I was given five different short stories to read by five different authors and asked to choose one of them to adapt into a script. As soon as I finished reading Carver’s short story – Neighbors, I felt a connection with the writing.

Bill and Arlene Miller are asked by their neighbors - the Stones, to look after their apartment while they go away for a ten day break. As the story develops, we see this regular couple progressively invade the Stone’s privacy as they delve further into their apartment and morph into psychosexual activity. I knew the Millers weren’t going to be a regular couple when I reached page 2 and read this passage:

Leaving the cat to pick at her food, he headed for the bathroom. He looked at himself in the mirror and then closed his eyes and then looked again. He opened the medicine chest. He found a container of pills and read the label – Harriet Stone. One each day as directed - and slipped it into his pocket.

The more I read of Carver, the more I discovered he wasn’t a regular writer. One of the things I liked about his writing was that he liked to leave gaps. He trusted his readers to use their imagination to fill in these gaps. I guess he thought - who can write like the imagination, if it was ever given a pen?

His lack of free time dictated his writing direction which was made up mainly of poems and short stories rather than novels. He was concerned with stripping down fiction to the least amount of words. Some called it minimalist writing, but Carver didn’t like this tag. Carver’s writing may be minimalist in style and structure, but in meaning and the affect it has on the reader, it is often profound and unsettling. At least to this reader.

His characters are usually ordinary middleclass workers, alcoholics, down and outs, the unemployed. Those ground down by life.

I write stories about the people who don't succeed. These lives are as valid as those of the go-getters. I take unemployment, money problems, and marital problems as givens in life. People worry about their rent, their children, their home life. That's basic. That's how 80-90 percent of people live. I write stories about a submerged population, people who don't always have someone to speak for them. I'm sort of a witness, and, besides, that's the life I myself lived for a long time. I don't see myself as a spokesman but as a witness to these lives. I'm a writer.
 Raymond Carver

I look around at the characters I see each day. Work colleagues, friends, family and strangers. Some of them are like Carver’s submerged population, but most can speak for themselves. A lot of them are in my stories, everyday people who walk amongst ghosts, psychopaths or Tau Nutrino’s. Everyday kind of people placed in these situations, help to make strange and mysterious stories appear credible.

When Carver talked about dialogue in writing, he said the usual - it ought to advance the plot or illuminate character. When he revealed that he really liked dialogue - between two people who aren’t listening to each other, that really got me thinking differently about dialogue and what I wanted my characters to say to each other, or not. His influence on me is like whiskey over ice, it burns along neuron pathways, triggering a different kind of perception, where footsteps in the rain lead to more than beautiful lament.

Writers don't need tricks or gimmicks or even necessarily need to be the smartest fellows on the block. At the risk of appearing foolish, a writer sometimes needs to be able to just stand and gape at this or that thing- a sunset or an old shoe - in absolute and simple amazement.
Raymond Carver

It’s a relief not having to be the smartest kid on the block, I never would have picked up pen and paper if that was the case. And that old shoe he mentioned, I know absolutely what he means about gaping at it that way. His writing has left me gaping in admiration on may occasions.                                                                

Describing his work Carver once said, ‘I began as a poet. My first publication was a poem. So I suppose on my tombstone I'd be very pleased if they put 'Poet and short-story writer - and occasional essayist', in that order.’

Raymond Carver's died in 1988 at the age of fifty. Although his death cut short his writing career, his influence still lives on today. If I could add something to his tombstone I think it would be this: His stories always filled me with a sense of mystery and strangeness, but they never once left me feeling frustrated. After reading his stories, it changed the way I write.

This poem by Carver is what is actually inscribed on his tombstone:

Late Fragment
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth

Raymond Carver ‘Principles of a story’ Essay,
Hemmingson ‘The Dirty Realism Duo’ Literary study,
Marshall Bruce Gentry ‘Conversations with Raymond Carver’
William L. Stull ‘Two Interviews with Raymond Carver’

Introducing Eye of Solitude

Today I welcome Daniel of Eye of Solitude, a UK-based doom band that has recently given me the wicked thrills with their album Sui Caedere. This has got to be one of my best finds for the past year, and I'm a huge fan. Their music is perfect for me when I'm writing and need sounds that are atmospheric and bone-crunchingly dark and heavy at the same time.

Daniel, you've got exactly 16 words to tell someone who's never heard of Eye of Solitude before, let alone doom metal: go!

Doom death with inhuman vocals, heavy fucking riffs and soul crushing melodies.

Textured, layered... Your music suggests a sonic landscape laden with despair. How has your sound evolved since you first laid down tracks?

We have evolved enormously since The Ghost, our debut full length.The music has taken on higher levels of composition,firstly, and with that, elements like atmosphere, both on record and live, riffage, approach towards the public etc, have been increased, exploited and analyzed carefully for a good interpretation on both sides, the band and the public.

Where would we be without the public and vice-versa? Haha! We try to create a good atmosphere, even though the textures and layers on the album are very hard to reproduce live, but so far everything went extremely well, we are very happy with the live sound, we are happy with the record sound, so I guess I couldn't wish for more than just to expand our horizons even more.

I have to ask about the Sui Caedere cover art, which makes me think of a Max Ernst painting. Can you elaborate a little more on your choices of visuals? And perhaps also share a little about the album's particular underlying themes.

The artwork has been created by Giannis Nakos of Mortal Torment from Greece. He's a very close friend and a fantastic artist, he actually made the first half of the front cover in just one night! That was amazing,coming to work in the morning and finding out a whole bunch of artwork files in my inbox.

Right, the cover is a bit tricky to explain, it resembles a hung angel, in a desolated kind-of background.

I would call it a typical sort of artwork for a band that plays what we play without falling into a stereotypical asset specific to bands.

It represents the highest form of divinity close to a deity. And just like all divinities,they should be pure and free of negativity and such, and yet it commits the deadliest sin in history. Sui Caedere is Latin for killing oneself. Suicide is one of the worst sins,but suicide can be interpreted in oh so many ways.

We would like to leave the listener to decide what they understand by suicide.

And the question that most musicians hate to answer... What's your musical background? Who got you excited about music before you knew you had to create your own? Who're you listening to now?

Haha, no worries. My background varies from classical music to brutal death metal, to shoegaze and cascadian black metal, post metal, post rock and so on.

The other boys in the band have their own influences, but we do have quite a few in common,which makes us understand the music better and feel it with the same intensity. In my opinion, this is the best things that can happen to a band. having more in common means a better collaboration, a better perspective and a better congruence when it comes to writing the music.

For my readers based here in South Africa, what's the metal scene up to in the UK? Which bands do you share the stage with?

There are quite some things happening in the UK right now. Recently we participated at Doom Over London, where we have supported Ahab, Officium Triste, Faal, Indesinence and others, that was truly amazing!

In the past we have shared the stage with the likes of Saturnus, Esoteric, Decemberance and so things are going well for the UK (doom) metal scene.

In the future we hope to share the stage with other great bands worldwide,there are sooooooo many of them out there!

Go check out Eye of Solitude on ReverbNation, Facebook, or on the Kaotoxin Records site.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Jess Harris, Author and New Publisher #guest

Today I hand over my blog to an old writing buddy of mine, Jess Harris. But he explains everything below, so I'll shurrup now...

Nerine and I have been friends since 2007, when we started critiquing each other’s work on (a very rewarding experience for me.) She published one of my early stories on “Toad’s Corner,” which was my first international publication. I have long been fascinated with her artistic vision, and am delighted to watch her career develop. So, right up front I want to say thank you, Nerine, for giving me a few lines of your blog today to talk about something very dear to me.

For some, thirteen is a lucky number, but lucky or not, 2013 will be a transitional year for me. I was profoundly saddened when SNIPLITS closed. Not only did SNIPLITS provide me with my first pro sale, it was a wonderful place for new writers to have their work listed alongside established and celebrated professionals. Many SNIPLITS stories went on to win major awards, and some excellent authors got their start there. SNIPLITS’ tragic closing was the goad I needed to do something I’d been thinking about for some time: start a new publication for the express purpose of giving voice and exposure to under-appreciated writers.

To that end, I am opening Mustang’s Monster Corral (MMC) to original fiction. Duotrope has just listed us as a new paying market, and by this time next year, we expect to be a qualifying market for both Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and Horror Writers of America (HWA.)

Initially, we are paying one cent (US) per word, but according to our business plan, we expect to increase to pro rates (5 cents per word) in about six months. We are publishing flash-length stories (1 000 words or less) almost exclusively, and will probably stay with that model for some time. MMC’s fiction theme is the antagonist. Good monsters go a long way toward making good stories. (All you fans of Nerine’s work surely appreciate the importance of a good monster!) We talk about other things as well, but “monsters” (broadly defined) interest us the most.

Personally, I love the flash-length story, which happens to be the fastest growing format in fiction. I expect this is due in part to the microscopic attention span of the average television-saturated persons of our age, but it is also because a reader with a smart phone or tablet can fit in a flash story anytime, anywhere. For me, the attraction comes from my admiration for writers who can be simultaneously succinct and poignant. There is the famous if somewhat apocryphal account of Hemmingway winning a bet by writing a story in under 10 words - “Classified: Baby Goods: For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” Whether or not he really wrote that particular example, it is a fine reminder of how few words we truly need to offer a tale. Writing with extreme economy is its own skill. I also think short-shorts are a great fit for an anthology. Like many people, I like to read before I turn out the light. I can read flash fiction for two minutes or twenty without ever leaving a story unfinished. I intend to end each year by publishing an anthology of MMC’s 52 weekly stories, perhaps with a few more thrown in for good measure.

My vision is to see MMC putting the names of at least 52 writers a year into the hands of readers. I am also terribly excited about the prospect of helping writers get into organizations like SFWA and HWA, which can be an important milestone in starting a professional writing career.

I do not harbor any illusion that this will be a money-making venture for me, but there is a great difference between “money-making” and “profitable.” MMC is truly a labor of love: my love for short fiction (especially dark fiction) and my deep affection for all those who put dreams to paper. Upon the labors of such as these are built the foundations of civilizations, and make those civilizations worthy of survival. Writers and dreamers have also been the downfall of many tyrants. Indeed, the profits of a venture such as this are immeasurable, in every sense of the word.

If you, dear reader of this blog, have a short-short story with an intriguing monster (no matter how you define the word) please stop by Mustang’s Monster Corral at and click on “SUBMIT TO MONSTER CORRAL.” I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks again, Nerine, for propping up my soap-box for a moment.

* * * *

In addition to corralling monsters, Jess Harris is a published author of short stories, with two novels nearing completion. He sometimes suffers from SOS (Shiny Object Syndrome.) He is a reasonably well travelled military officer, and is insatiably interested in nearly everything, past, present and future.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Not all Gloom and Doom… A Moment with Tunes of Dawn

My mate Carrie Clevenger has a habit of turning me onto new music. This is one of the many reasons why I absolutely adore her. One of the bands she introduced me to last year was a German outfit called Tunes of Dawn, and I am once again forever grateful for this new musical adventure. Then again, any band that covers the immortal Gloomy Sunday gets a serious kick-ass badge from me. So, naturally, I had to track frontman and bassist Hagen Schneevoigt down so we could shoot the breeze a bit. And at the end of this interview there will be a question you can answer by commenting on this blog (leave your name and email address so we can pick a winner). One lucky sod will win Tunes of Dawn goodies.

Now, over to Hagen…

I had to know what prompted the band to cover Gloomy Sunday. After all, there’s a bit of an urban legend attached to the song that suggests folks commit suicide after listening to it. The band plays on this theme in the music video.

Hagen responds: “Well, we always liked that song. And the legend is true. Gloomy Sunday was written by Hungarian musician Rezs Seress in 1933. It’s about how he lost his big love. It was said that many people attempted suicide after listening to it. We liked that story very much, even if it’s a sad one. But the song fit perfectly into the world of Tunes of Dawn, and so we did the cover.”

Watching that Gloomy Sunday video, and listening to the band’s music in general, it’s clear there’s quite a bit of a homage to Type O Negative, and perhaps even hints at Rammstein in more lyrical moments, even.

Hagen says: “Well, of course Typo O Negative is an influence. We always loved this band. But, in general, we have so many influences, like old Black Sabbath, Elvis and all the classic rock stuff. It goes from classic, jazz to pop and, of course metal. We all have different tastes, so in every song is a bit from everyone’s personal taste. But the main inspiration is life and all its up and downs. We prefer the sad and melancholic things. But always with a glint in the eyes.”

So, to poke at those wonderfully "sad and melancholic things" I had to ask Hagen one of my favourite questions: What songs from your past, do you look to for inspiration?

He responds: “It’s very hard to say ’cause there are so many beautiful songs we would like to do. Just to mention a few... two would be definitely Type O Negative: Love you to Death and Anesthesia.”

Then, the question I throw at all my vic— erm, interviewees… Now, you’re in a situation where you need to explain to someone who’s never heard of your music and who you are, and you have EXACTLY 16 words to do so...

Hagen says: “We are painting tragic but hopeful light with music, where others only paint shadows and darkness.”

Nice! Now, if Hagen had to pick one Tunes of Dawn song that really encapsulates what he thinks the band is all about… the lyrics, the choice of arrangements for the instruments. Why must listeners care about this song?

Hagen says, “If I must pick one, I would pick A Warm Sigh at 6°. The lyrics range between past, present and future. From sadness, hope and romance. From life, death and to dreams. Musically it is one of the more heavy songs, even it is not that fast. The melodic line and heavy guitars combined makes the song powerful, I think. We are better creating songs like that, than faster ones.”

Bands’ first-ever live shows often result in unintended hilarity. Whether this is due to Random Acts of Chaos or the wicked sense of humour belonging to the Heavy Music gods, we’ll never know. Hagen relates his own experiences with Tunes of Dawn: “Our first live show ever took place in June 1994. We were so excited, we did not dare to drink a single beer. Instead we drank lots of energy drinks by mistake. But at least everything went good. We still have some video footage of that show. Mostly we are laughing our asses off, because we look like teenagers playing death metal.”

Tunes of Dawn back in 1994
LOL, so they must have been like a bunch of Energizer bunnies on stage… But beyond musicians behaving themselves well, like musicians… The audience is also capable of behaving strangely. Hagen elaborates: “Well, strange things happen almost every time, more or less. But I remember one very funny thing back in 2008 when we had our record release show in Berlin. Some people made a huge banner out of underwear, about 10x4 metres. They took everything off that banner and threw it on stage. So the whole stage was covered with bras and panties and so on. It must have been about a 100 items.”

Undergarments aside, but staying with the clothing industry, as for what lies ahead, Hagen concludes: “At the moment we are doing a song for the Berlin-based designer Kilian Kerner for his new collection 2013. We will also perform the song at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week this month. Furthermore we are currently writing new songs for our next album. The release is planned for fall this year.”

Now, be awesome little minions and go check out the Tunes of Dawn website here where you’ll find all their social networking links and more (go check out that music video already, will you?).

As for the question, name one Type O Negative song you’d love to see covered. (Answer by leaving a comment with your name and email address where we can contact you.) Entries will be open until January 17, 2013.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Metallic Dreams by Mark Rice #review

Title: Metallic Dreams
Author: Mark Rice
Publisher: Horned Helmet Publications, 2010

Metallic Dreams doesn’t just tread on your average person’s sensibilities. This novel turns the volume up full blast and goes in with a raging boner. You have been warned. Mark Rice taught me some incredibly colourful language, and I will *never* quite be able to look at Polyfilla in the same way. “Not for the faint-hearted” is possibly the understatement of the year, and I consider myself fairly open-minded but there were even a few scenes that sent my eyebrows shooting way up my forehead.

But, since I hang around with musicians and have in the past played in an assortment of metal and goth bands, I thoroughly enjoyed this music-themed romp, despite the (very) offensive content and excessive vulgarity. So, well done there, Mr Rice. You’ve succeeded in giving me the nasty giggles of horror.

Then, for anyone who’s ever loved metal or for those who don’t know much but would like a bunch of awesome suggestions, Metallic Dreams lives up to its title, and takes music-lovers on a journey of remembering the greats. Rice’s appreciation of the genre is abundantly apparent, and from the perspective of a fellow fan, I enjoyed his observations. So another huge-ass disclaimer: if you don’t like metal then for the love of all that’s unholy DON’T read this book.

Most of all, Metallic Dreams does not take itself too seriously, which saves it at the end of the day. Yes, the humour is crude and often outrageous, but it marries up well to the latter-day Faustian theme as we follow the doings of Spark and his Blood Brothers.

The only thing that detracted from the overall effect was the actual length of the book. It’s way too long, and loses some of the impact due to its drawn-out nature. By the time I reached the halfway mark, I was quite exhausted, and found that I could only handle a chapter at a time with each sitting. That being said, what ameliorated the pacing issues were the characterisations and the seemingly unrelated routines. The plot is convoluted, and gives the sense of a journal rather than what one would expect climax-wise in standard fantasy. So, yeah, it’s not great, but if you’re reading this in episodes, like I did, it doesn’t bother as much.

Overall, this is an incredible, playful orgy of bloke-geared humour. Sex, drugs, metal and violence is all wrapped up with an infernal ribbon. And I’ll say it again. You’ve been warned.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Saving Gabriel by Zoe E Whitten #excerpt

Recently I beta-read Saving Gabriel by Zoe E Whitten, and when she let me know that the title was released, I was more than happy to have her over here. Today she's sharing an excerpt, and if angels and YA fiction are your thing, then you're probably going to dig this. 

* * * *

Gabriel is a fallen guardian angel who assigns himself to hard luck cases despite being banned from heaven. When his current ward, Rosalinda Fernandez, is targeted for a soul harvest by another fallen angel, Gabriel is tasked by the archangels to investigate the real purpose behind the plot. All he has to do is keep his ward safe without falling in love with her. There's just one small problem: after years of watching Rosalinda grow into a proud young woman, Gabriel is already deeply in love. Even if he can expose the plot surrounding Rosalinda, will Gabriel's growing relationship with her lead to damnation for both of them?

As I crossed the lot, I wished I could call my mother to get a ride. But she was busy at work, being a card dealer at Caesar’s Palace. She couldn’t leave work for any reason, and even if she could, she’d have to ride a bus to find me. I’d catch pneumonia before she showed up, so it made sense to find a bus and make it home before she did.

Once I got to the dark entrance, I dug in my bag and took out my phone. It was about the nicest thing I owned, a touch screen Android phone that let me listen to my music and snap pictures whenever the mood struck me. We couldn’t afford a good plan, so I couldn’t use it to chat online like some of my friends at school did with theirs. But nobody teased me when I took out this phone, something that couldn’t be said with the monochrome hand-me-down brick that Mom “gifted” me in my freshmen year of high school.

When I opened my email app, the white background lit up with added light, and I turned the screen out toward the door to search for the address. I found the faded lettering that confirmed this had been a Circuit City, and the address below it. But I didn’t read the address before I noticed the pair of bare feet at the fading edges of my phone’s meager light output.

I raised my head and tilted the phone up, the light barely strong enough for me to make out a pair of legs clad in dark jeans. The man inside those skintight jeans took a step forward, making it easier to see his rippled bare stomach. His skin was dark brown, almost black in the inky darkness surrounding him. The light from my phone bounced off of his skin as if he were oiled down.

He took another slow step toward me as my gaze met his, and I gasped when his mouth split in a wide, lewd grin. I realized I’d just gotten away from a potential date rape with a boneheaded boyfriend and walked into another rape from a homeless guy.

I fumbled with my bag with one hand, the other still keeping the phone on the smiling man. I had to admit, he didn’t look homeless. His skin was clean, though perhaps a little slick with sweat. Given how cold it was, I guessed this oily sheen meant he was on drugs. Which explained why his pupils were so dilated, I couldn’t find his irises.

He was taller than me, and despite my bulky frame, he was also heavier. Worse, all his bulk was made of muscle. No muffin top or beer gut on him, just taut abs wound tight like steel springs. If this guy was homeless, he had to be using all his daily spare change collections on a gym membership and protein shakes.

My probing fingers found my wallet and I took it out. “I don’t have much money, but you can have it.” I didn’t want to sound scared, but my voice wavered all over the place.

The man chuckled. “I don’t want your money, Rosalinda.”

How did you know my name? I thought, but my mouth wouldn’t work to form the words. I was so scared, I couldn’t move. Then it occurred to me that I’d heard him though the glass door, but his voice wasn’t muffled. It was so illogical, like something that might happen in a dream.

The man reached out to push the door, and it swung open with a quiet hiss from the pneumatic pump. The door was locked. It must have been locked for years, but it just opened for him. At the back of my mind, I heard a voice yelling that this had to be a nightmare and I needed to wake up now.

The grinning man laughed again, a low and wicked rumble that sent ripples of fear down my back and wet my skin in a cold sweat. “I have no interest in your body for any reason either, so you don’t need to worry. I’m just here for your soul.”

Okay, that’s a line I’ve never heard before. My panicked thought made the man laugh, and I gasped, terrified that he could somehow read my mind.

I thought to run, but as I stepped back, the grinning man snapped a hand out to grab the front of my shirt. He yanked, and even knowing what was coming and resisting him, I was slung to the ground so fast I hit the pavement and rolled over twice. My panicked mind insisted that I was way too big to be tossed around this easily.

My phone slipped out of my hand, and I guess it landed screen down because everything got real dark real fast.

I came up on my feet, ignoring my pain and taking off at a full run. Behind me, I expected to hear slapping footfalls catch up to me. But there was no sound made before two hands connected with my shoulder blades and shoved me to the ground again.

I whimpered and rolled over, looking up at my smiling attacker. I could only see his brilliant white teeth, and even the whites of his eyes were impossible to find under his flared brow ridge.

In the shadow-pitched darkness, I barely recognized the outline of another man behind my attacker when a blade sprung out of his chest and his grin vanished.

The shining blade rose, seeming to reflect more light than I could find in the surrounding area. Black blood exploded from the growing wound, spraying me in a gruesome misty shower.

A thick drop splattered on my cheek, and I hit my limit for shocks. I drew in a breath and screamed, and then I got up and ran for my life.

At first, I thought the whooshing sounds were from my blood rushing too fast through my veins. My panicked panting had taken on a loud wheeze, and my stomach clenched with every step, threatening to revolt the moment I stopped to catch my breath. I’m not opposed to lifting weights or doing a few laps in the pool to keep my not-so-dainty butt from getting any bigger, but my body is not made for running, and just then it was punishing me for making a sudden unplanned effort at a marathon sprint.

I’d taken off back across the lot, crossed the road, and poured on extra speed to cross the vast expanse on unused land. Far off in the distance, the porch lights of a residential block twinkled like stars. They were my haven, my sanctuary to escape whatever crazed killer was hot on my heels.

I was no closer to safety when the whooshing noise got much louder. Horror filled my veins with ice once I recognized the sound wasn’t coming from me.

A chill wind struck my back, and I looked over my shoulder. My voice croaked in a dry-throated shout when I saw the outline of a man with giant wings swooping down on me.

I tripped on my own legs, and I was dropping to the ground when strong arms closed around my waist. I doubled over in this unbreakable embrace, crying out again when my feet left the ground and we rose into the sky. My eyes bulged as the twinkling porch lights grew smaller rapidly, and my stomach finally gave up on threats and sent a hot stream of bile to burn my too dry throat.

I’d barely emptied my stomach when I heard a voice command Sleep.

Panic and terror slid off of my mind like discarded clothing, and my eyes closed. Even though my mind was shutting down, I had a few seconds to ponder why the voice in my head was so familiar.


Trying to look everywhere else but my work, I managed to clean Rosalinda and dress her in clean underwear and pajamas before I settled her back on her bed. I’d still seen more than I was supposed to, and my cheeks were bright red when I slipped the sheet over my ward.

She made a quiet whimper and snuggled her pillow, evoking a smile from me. Then, despite her almost adult size, to me she once again looked like the little girl I knew the first time I’d saved her from herself.

She’d grown so much from the first time I’d met her, looking more like one of our people than her tiny-framed mother. She’d added a bit of padding over her muscles thanks to a steady diet of junk food, but she was just as pretty to me then as she’d been when I first caught her. I leaned over and brushed her black hair out of her face, and my touch made her sigh in her sleep.

Healing her minor bruises took less than a minute, but my hand lingered on her cheek as I stared at her. Her light brown skin was flawless, and her round face trapped my gaze and made my chest hurt. If I had a human heart, it would beat faster at the sight of my ward.

Perhaps to some humans, Rosalinda seemed too plain, but I thought her wide nose and strong chin made her look unique in a world obsessed with lean cheeks, thin noses, and pointy chins. I liked her thick eyebrows, unplucked and allowed to grow into their own natural curved shape. I liked her plump lips, never adorned with more than some waxy balm to keep them from chapping. To the human boys who courted her, she was just okay, but to me, she was a flawless work of art, a real gift from God who no one else seemed to appreciate.

As I sat there watching her sleep, a soft glow of color raised on her cheeks, giving her the appearance of a cherubim indulging in a happy daydream. She was so pretty to me that I wanted nothing more than to lean over and lay kisses on her cheeks and lips.

But the law was the law, and Rosalinda was as forbidden to me as the gates of heaven were. Acknowledging this hurt, and my smile melted into a frown as I stood up.

Covering Rosalinda with a blanket, I took her stained clothing and the now stained washcloth into the bathroom to clean everything in the tub. While I worked, my mind whirled at what I’d done. It was true that Israfel had broken the law, and had I not killed him, an avenging angel would have arrived shortly to dispatch him to hell. But that angel would have let Rosalinda die, and I could not let that happen.

I sensed the arrival of the angel before I saw him. My kind feel instant revulsion at the presence of angels. Their connection to heaven fills them with a positive energy that we had long ago been denied, and it hurts to feel that loving radiation and not be able to contain it within ourselves.

However, I did not feel any negative reaction. Because of my continuing acts of rebellion, I’d been hounded by angels so long, I’d overcome my aversion to them. So I continued working at scrubbing blood from Rosalinda’s shirt as if I were still alone, waiting for the angel to speak.

“It’s not like you to attack one of the fallen, Gabriel,” Michael said, condescending as ever. “You normally prefer policing human criminals.”

“I’ve committed no crime to require your presence,” I said, keeping my voice even.

“That’s not entirely true. You know how we feel about your interest in the child.”

“I’m simply doing my job,” I said.

“Your were fired from your job.”

My face tightened in an annoyed wince at the flat tone of Michael’s voice, but I covered it up with a slack expression quickly. “You dismissed me from my post. I chose to remain self-employed.”

“Still, killing Israfel in front of—”

“She’ll wake up tomorrow and think it was a dream,” I insisted. “I’ll leave no evidence to convince her it was real.” Michael said nothing. “It’s not like I could wait for you to save her. The archangel council stopped respecting her kind long before I fell from your favor.”

“I suppose that’s fair.” A long pause followed, but Michael hadn’t left yet. I refused to look at him, to acknowledge his presence or my anger at him, still fresh from his betrayal despite all the centuries that had passed since that dark time.

Michael drew a long breath, an affectation that irritated me because angels don’t need to breathe. “Still, it does seem odd, doesn’t it?”

“Doesn’t what?”

“Israfel said he’d come for the child’s soul. I understand your decision to jump in and play the hero for your ward once again, but had you not interfered, we could have learned why Israfel needed her as a sacrifice. We might have learned what his motivation was and planned our affairs around him. But you killed him without seeking a confession, and now we have a mystery.”

“What mystery?” I snapped, unable to bite my tongue.

“The mystery of whether Israfel was acting alone. If he wasn’t, it seems probable that the child’s life is still in danger.”

* * * *

If you’re curious to see more of Rosalinda and Gabriel, the ebook Saving Gabriel is available on Amazon for mobi users, and Kobo and my blog bookstore through Gumroad for epub readers.