Wednesday, March 27, 2013

In Conversation with Grey Freeman

Today Grey Freeman, one of the Something Wicked volume #2 anthology authors is stopping by for a little Q&A, so without further ado...

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

Promises is a bitter-sweet story about a man who is visited at night by his dead fiancée  who died the week before their wedding. I wanted it to be about love and sex and how the latter is one of the most profound ways to express the former. But, you know, without being all sleazy and stuff. As far as I know I succeeded. I once sent around an early draft to people in my office and included the new girl to make her feel welcome. I was worried it would freak her out! Luckily it didn't (probably saving on a trip to HR). Instead we discussed the story and sometimes we still do, though it's a lot easier now, seeing as how we live together. There are few authors, I think, who can point to a story and say, that one got me the love of my life!

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

I love telling stories and you eventually have to stop letting your imagination run away with you, stop babbling things that don't make sense to anyone else and commit them to paper. I write an hour in the morning before
work and an hour after. Then I do six hours over the weekend. First draft is when I'm striking out into the wilderness with a handful of ideas and characters. Then once I've covered the ground and found out what the story was about I go back and refine everything so that it's all pointing in the right direction. Characters first and foremost are key. If the reader doesn't like your characters then they won't care about the story.

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

With short stories you need to be precise, you need to get to the point as soon as possible while still allowing some room for the reader to get into the narrative, getting to know the character and appreciate his or her dilemma. So many things are about context and you need to be very quick to the point of emotional short-hand to get that across in 5,000 words. You have a bit more luxury to take your time with a novel.

Speaking of novels, I've just swept the ashes of my last attempt from the desk. It went around agents and though it got a little interest, sadly, it didn't get enough. I'm now working on a new one that's currently called End of the Line (that will definitely change). It's a supernatural thriller and I've set myself the challenge of having it mostly set in a single room. It's shaping up well so far, I have a literary agent still interested in me from the last endeavour and I'm off for coffee with an editor who's worked on quite a best-sellers in his time to discuss it. It's scaring the pants off me!

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

The book that immediately springs to mind for me is A Big Boy Did it and Ran Away by Christopher Brookmyre. On the surface its a thriller of an everyman against terrorists but Brookmyre is happy to break the rules and spends entire chapters outlining each major character's life story but he does it with such wit and charm that you can't help but be swept along. The theme of the story essentially rails against the 'ordinary' life. Why be a family man with a wife and screaming baby when you could be a secret agent? By the finale, you're about to give up your day job and then the author deftly points out 'that's why' and you're suddenly super pleased to be a normal person. Love it.

What scares you?

Plenty of things. I'm scared of spending my whole life in an office, either never having a book published or having a book published but never earning enough to become a full-time author, it's certainly happened to plenty of current authors. I'm also terrified of becoming a full-time author and being incredibly lonely and unhappy in it. I'm a people person! And a worrier, it seems.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Single, Cool, and Fine: How to get Laid as an Ex-Teen Idol #review

Title: Single, Cool, and Fine: How to get Laid as an Ex-Teen Idol
Author: Lux Zakari
Publisher: Smashwords, 2012

While the musicians I obsessed about as a teen were certainly not as squeaky clean as James Venora, I can certainly relate to Lux Zakari’s premise. We all had celebs we fixated on, and in Single, Cool, and Fine, Zakari paints a picture of a teen idol long after the initial wave of his success has mellowed. Plainly put, James is so out of touch with not only himself, and the world around him, that when his wife Greer leaves him, taking their two kids with him, he barely knows how to make a cup of coffee, let alone sign the divorce papers to finalise the demise of his marriage.

What follows is a journey of self-discovery, as James tries to figure out where he stands with women—and the world. The result: sexy romps tempered with poignant self-reflection. Though finding another woman isn’t hard for James once he lives up to the idealised version of himself that exists in popular media, none of them quite measure up to what he really wants. But sometimes one has to lose something of value before you are aware of exactly how valuable it was, and that’s exactly what’s happened to James.

What can I say about Zukari’s writing that I haven’t already said in other reviews? She writes stunning three-dimensional characters who have authentic dilemmas. She has a keen perception of people and their behaviour. She is witty, and her characters’ dialogues feel like they’ve taken place in real life. And that’s what I love about her stories. I feel like I’m vicariously living the lives of her characters while they go about their journey.

Single, Cool, and Fine alternates between kink and out-and-out humour, where life ends up imitating art. We’ve all got friends whose kids behave lik
e Amie and Noah. Or annoying siblings and their friends, like Wade and E.Y. Okay, I’m probably going to wax lyrical ad nauseam here. If you’re into contemporary erotic romance that has a little more going for it on an intellectual level than just boy meets girl, they shack up, something gets them apart… You know what I mean. Go read this book. And if you don’t laugh out loud and get weird stares at some parts, then you’ve got absolutely no capacity for emotion. Thank you, Ms. Zakari, for yet another highly entertaining read.

Five Minutes with CS Fuqua

Today I've got Chris Fuqua, one of the Something Wicked Volume #2 anthology authors stopping by my blog for a little Q&A. Welcome, Chris, and tell us a little about your short story for the anthology.

Demons is a sequel to the story Occasional Demons that featured the phooka starring in Demons. At the end of Occasional Demons, the phooka was left to deteriorate in a cage within a bricked-in, windowless room. And that’s where he stayed for more than 15 years. Then the US invaded Iraq, and troops began returning, suffering PTSD and other mental and physical problems associated with war. I then decided to use the phooka and its situation to explore several issues, from illegitimate war to political and religious hypocrisy, while working within a fragile framework of compassion that even the most wounded and tortured can maintain for others.

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

I like to explore deeply personal issues that people face every day, issues that have wider social bearing, where ordinary persons react extraordinarily to triumph over challenges. Of course, triumph isn’t always what it seems and can even appear to be failure. Each story is a journey to find out a little more about what makes humans tick, and sometimes the best way to explore these traits is through surreal beings and settings.

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

The primary challenge for me is finding publishers who are still willing to publish short works. In technical aspects of short story writing, I find the main challenge to be the inclusion of all required information while making characters real without blowing the length out of proportion. With that said, the short story and poem are my favorite forms, always challenging and forever rewarding when the challenge is met successfully. Regarding other projects, I’m working on several now, including a collection of connected stories, a nonfiction book, and a novel, with several other projects roughly outlined.

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

It would have to be Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. It has everything: satire, comedy, tragedy, science fiction, horror, love, hate... It’s just about perfect in nailing society for what it is and probably always will be. Now...if I could only writing something even half as good...

What scares you?

Willful ignorance and stupidity -- rather, the effects. For example, once upon a not so short time ago, science was considered for what it is, science, an exercise based in empirical fact. Today, at least in the US, thanks to corporations, politicians, and conservative religious groups, science has been cast as a faith-based proposition rather than reality. And because of this at least partially successful attempt to make science something one “believes” or “disbelieves” as though it were a religious myth, we humans choose to deny threats that could ultimately wipe us out. We ignore the evidence day after day -- rising global temperature, melting icecaps, rise in sea level, increased greenhouse gases, mega-storms, and on and on. Science -- empirical facts -- warns us that we’re in danger. And yet, we deny the reality. We choose to be willfully ignorant, willfully foolish, willfully stupid. And that’s extremely scary.


CS Fuqua’s books include Rise Up, Big Daddy’s Gadgets, If I Were... (children’s poems), Alabama Musicians: Musical Heritage from the Heart of Dixie, Trust Walk, The Swing: Poems of Fatherhood, and Notes to My Becca, among others. His work has appeared in publications as diverse as The Christian Science Monitor, Naval History, Main Street Rag, and Year's Best Horror Stories. Please visit

Monday, March 25, 2013

Keep Your Hands Flat... by Sylvia Shults

Today I hand over the reins to Sylvia Shults... And she's talking about dinosaurs. And other stuff. But go check out her website here already. Then sit back and be prepared to be entertained. 

* * * *

When I was a little girl, I had lots of interests. That was just a product of being an early and voracious reader. Like many girls, I was completely horse crazy. And like even more children, I was totally, hopelessly, head over heels wild for dinosaurs.

I’ve mostly (okay, somewhat) outgrown the horse-craziness. Don’t get me wrong, I still love horses, but not with the all-consuming adoration I did when I was six. (And seven. And eight. And … okay, I’ll stop there.)

But I’m still thoroughly loony for dinosaurs.

If anything, my dino-lust is even stronger now than when I was a kid. Back in the day, you just had a few books – the How & Why Wonder Book was my fave – with the basic heavy hitters: Triceratops, Stegosaurus,  Brontosaurus (this was before brontos were declared an un-dinosaur and replaced with Apatosauruses), and of course, everybody’s favorite carnivore, Tyrannosaurus Rex. You just knew he was cool because he was the only dino that merited two names. Even though I would never admit it (you were supposed to like the plant-eaters, not the meat-eaters), T-Rex was secretly my favorite. I remember watching Land of the Lost on Saturday mornings,  and at the end of the opening credits, when the T-Rex chased the humans into the cave – anybody else remember this? – I’d leap up from the floor and turn up the volume as LOUD AS IT WOULD GO when the T-Rex roared. It drove my Grandma Ruth batshit, I’m sure.

But nowadays, heck, when it comes to dinosaurs, they’re a cast of thousands. And they’re not just pencil drawings in books or dusty old bones in museums, either. They’re living, breathing badasses who have their own TV shows. (That’s how I knew my husband and I were destined to be soulmates, by the way. He had the good sense and exquisite taste to take me to see Jurassic Park for our first movie date. True love was in the air.)

So anyway, I’m still a shamelessly unrepentant dino-dork. I’ll watch any of the Walking With Dinosaurs shows. And I loves me some Terra Nova (although that may have less to do with dinos and more to do with the hero of the show. Rowrrrrr.) And if Jurassic Park really existed, I would cheerfully knock over a liquor store to get the price of a plane ticket to Costa Rica. I can’t get over how lucky we are to live on a planet that was once home to these magnificent creatures. (And how lucky we are that they’ve all died off. Sorry guys.)

That’s why, when the Discover the Dinosaurs exhibit came to the Peoria Civic Center, with animatronic dinosaurs, I knew I had to go. Wild velociraptors couldn’t keep me away. I knew I was going to jazz on the moving dinosaurs, but I was looking forward to something else even more than groaning Triceratopses and roaring T-Rexes.

They were giving dinosaur rides.

I’m not even kidding. They said it on the radio, so I knew it was true. You could get up and ride. On a dinosaur. That moved. While you were sitting on it.

It was enough to make my inner six-year-old just curl up and DIE.

My two best friends picked me up from work, and the three of us went across the river to the Civic Center. We walked around for a while, gazing raptly at the Stegosaurus, the Triceratops, the baby Ankylosaurus (who just had the cutest face). There was an unfortunate plethora of small children in attendance too, which we did our best to ignore. Kind of hard to do when they’re reaching over the ropes to stick their hands in the moving stegosaur’s mouth, but there you have it. Kids will be kids, and brats, bless their stinky little souls, will be brats.

I stood for a while and just stared, entranced, at the animatronic T-Rex. You pushed a button on his display panel to make him move for a few minutes. Most of the time there were plenty of children around to push the button, but sometimes when there was a shortage of miniature humans, I pushed the button myself to keep him moving. (Hey, I’m not proud. It was a MOVING T-REX. Of COURSE I was going to keep pushing the button.)

Eventually we wandered out of the educational exhibit part and over to the Shameless Commerce Division of the whole operation.

That’s where we saw them.

There were two of them. A Stegosaurus, who basically just rocked back and forth, heel to toe, as though it was just incredibly bored. A baby ride, pretty much. The Cretaceous equivalent of the dumb old train at the carnival that just goes around in a big circle and doesn’t do anything fun.

But next to him, ah, next to him there was a real live fake Tyrannosaurus Rex. It was just a juvenile, but it was still eight feet tall. The saddle was a satisfyingly high distance from the exhibit room floor. And you could just tell by watching it that once you got up there and settled yourself in the saddle, and he started up, you could just TELL that you’d be able to feel the creature’s motion underneath you in the roll of your hips and the flex of your thighs.

I really really wanted to ride that T-Rex.

Each ticket was $2, and it took three tickets to ride. I couldn’t talk either of my friends into springing for tickets, although they did graciously agree to take pictures and video of my ride. Suddenly I felt six years old. (At north of … um … thirty, I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.)

I paid my six bucks and got my three tickets, and we stood in line. The sign at the gate said “Six years and older”. Hey, they made the rules, right? I watched as child after child climbed the dozen steps up to the saddle, clambered in, buckled the laughable excuse for a seatbelt, had their ride, then scrambled off and scampered down the stairs, grinning from ear to ear. We got closer and closer to the head of the line. I began to realize that when it was my turn to climb those stairs and plop my butt down on that saddle, my knees were going to be somewhere around my ears. I started to reconsider the wisdom of looking like a complete idiot in front of all those people. But fortunately, I was born without a sense of shame or moderation. Heck, that’s why I’m a horror writer.

At last – at last! – it was our … er, MY turn. Full disclosure: I already knew how this was going to end. But I was determined to make a stand for grownups’ Right to Ride. Why should kids have all the fun? Besides, I just wanted to see the look of blank panic on the ride attendant’s face when I handed him my tickets.

It was everything I thought it would be. (The look of sheer panic, I mean. Not, unfortunately, the ride.) The guy was so flustered, he actually spluttered a few incoherent syllables when I held up my tickets and gave him my most innocent smile.

“The sign DOES say ‘six years and older’,” I pointed out helpfully, in case he’d forgotten.

“Eh … but … um … you also have to be less than a hundred pounds,” he stammered.

Well. I’m a lot of things, but “under a hundred pounds” is not one of them. You’ll be pleased to know, though, that I was able to return my tickets and get my six bucks back. And even without the ride (which would have been hella fun, I don’t care what anyone says), we did enjoy the exhibit.

I still would have liked to ride that T-Rex, though.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Call for Submissions: The Sea

HP Lovecraft once wrote, “The sea can bind us to her many moods, whispering to us by the subtle token of a shadow or a gleam upon the waves, and hinting in these ways of her mournfulness or rejoicing. Always she is remembering old things, and these memories, though we may not grasp them, are imparted to us, so that we share her gaiety or remorse.”

The oceans of this world can swallow us, and sink us into the watery depths where monsters lurk and mermaids frolic. Or we can voyage far and discover new worlds. Selkies sing beneath the moonlight. The Flying Dutchman sails forever damned. Many-tentacled monstrosities drown unwary swimmers. Sunken treasures rest in wrecks shrouded in kelp and guarded by sea serpents.

Be your tales wonder- or terror-filled, Dark Continents Publishing invites you to submit your previously unpublished short fiction of between 3 000 to 9 000 words that falls within the fantasy, horror, weird and science fiction genres. Payment rate is a flat rate of $20 per story. Closing date for submissions is June 21, 2013, for publication estimated in mid-2014. Mail your submissions attached as .doc file to with “The Sea” in the subject line.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

In conversation with Dan Campbell

Dan Campbell, one of the Something Wicked volume #2 anthology authors is dropping by today. I totally recommend you get your copy on pre-order already

So, Dan, tell us a little about your short story for Something Wicked volume 2.

Redemption's Edge got sparked as I was working on character backgrounds for a novel. I needed to know the origin of Johnston's flaws, the weaknesses that fractured against his strengths. I'm reluctant to say much more, due to spoilers, but the story is a test of character.

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

Usually, I'll get gripped by a mood or an idea and then, if a plot connected to that occurs to me, I have a story (otherwise, it might end up as a poem). I tend to get material all in one go: an outline either of what could / should happen or a sense of the emotional points that must be hit. With that as a scaffold, I'll get to work on the story or the poem and flesh out the details. Writing something novel length requires me to also outline things as much as I can, but then follow one word to the next and hope I can either stay on target
or revise my course to suit things I didn't anticipate in the unfolding story.

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

The thing that strikes me most about short fiction is the amount of time you have to get story-telling done. Quite simply, you don't have enough time. The story has to immediately engage the reader, to grab and hold their attention, and then it has to continue to pull them in. The writing never gets a chance to relax the way it can in something novel length, where a reader might keep reading just because they've gotten to know a character or they want to explore the world you're creating or some similar "let's explore this together" motivation. Of course, a good novel should also immediately engage the reader, hold their attention and continue to draw them - but the pacing in the two forms is quite different. Short fiction is liking getting a glimpse that stays with you forever, whereas the novel is like studying a scene until you can re-create it.

I have two novels in progress at present: the one with Johnston as a secondary character (which is on hold), and a newer one that I'm gradually working my way through, playing the game of writing according to my outline except when I change the outline to suit the story that gets written. Both are science fiction, with a focus on character development, emotion, and the consequences of choice and action.

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

I hate to sound cliche, but: The Lord of the Rings. I read it during a formative time in my life, and absorbed a lot of the values and culture portrayed in the books. I've since gone on to study Old Norse literature in my spare time, so Tolkien's work has a lot of resonance for me, now that I understand the source material he was drawing on. Tolkien blended heroic ideals with modern sensibilities in a way that I find offers a sense of depth, of history, of being rooted in tradition while adapting to the winds of change that drive the present.

What scares you?

Losing control, especially due to illness or insanity - becoming a captive in one's own body (or mind), unable to choose how one acts.

Thanks for stopping by, Dan! All the best!

Follow Dan's blog here...

Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest

Title: Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Author: Cherie Priest
Publisher: Tor, 2005

Stories set in America’s South always have a way of gripping me viscerally. I don’t know whether it’s a combination of the history or the mystery, or it’s a bit of both. This is the first novel by Cherie Priest that I’ve read, and I’ve definitely fallen in love with her voice, and will go on to read more of her works.

Eden’s always seen ghosts, and we follow her progress as she’s raised by her aunt, and her family life is far from simple. There’s a larger mystery in the picture, but Eden’s got a fair amount of delving to do before she uncovers all the secrets, even if it means traipsing through abandoned buildings or visiting forbidding relatives, with a murderous sibling on her trail.

I don’t want to give too much away. Essentially, this is a haunted tale of dark magic and a frightening inheritance. Priest hints at secrets that are never fully explained, which I absolutely love, because she allows readers to wonder. Her descriptions are lush, and I could feel the oppressive heat and smell the oozing rot of the swamp. Characters are deliciously ambiguous, neither wholly good or bad, though I have to admit that the primary antagonist sent delicious shivers down my spine.

To a degree it can be said that the story is slow-moving, but that didn’t bother me because I have a great love of tales that take their time to make me feel as though I’ve been wholly immersed in a particular world. Priest does very well in establishing a sense of place, which my inner travel writer totally appreciates.

Also, what stood out for me was Priest’s action sequences. She makes the combat scenes jump into vivid life with a ring of authenticity. Characters stumble and fumble, and there are consequences to their actions. If you’re looking for a story with a more than healthy dollop of voodoo, and well-realised non-Caucasian characters then give this one a shot.

Monday, March 18, 2013

In conversation with Faith Bicknell-Brown

Today I've got Faith Bicknell-Brown, one of the Something Wicked Volume #2 anthology authors visiting. Welcome, Faith, pull up a hot seat for a little Q&A...

Tell us a little about your short story in the anthology.

My story is called Trashcans. It’s about a young man named Toby, who is under his older sister’s guardianship. He’s on the verge of becoming eighteen and he can’t wait to get away from her. Vanessa is controlling as well as verbally and emotionally abusive. Everything culminates one night when she forces him to take the trash out to the curb. Toby discovers “help” can manifest in unexpected ways.

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

I write nearly every day from about 8am until 3pm. Once my feet hit the floor in the mornings, the first thing to get me going is several cups of strong, black coffee and reading email. After that, I open whatever manuscript I’m working on and start writing. There’s either rock, pop or bluegrass music playing in the background. Sometimes if I find one of my favorite programs on one of the history channels, I’ll listen to the dialog as I write. I find many odd things from history to science very inspiring.

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

With short fiction, a writer must deliver the plot and characters in as short a word count as possible without skimping on plot and characterization. However, I still find readers saying, ‘I wish this story had been longer.’ That’s frustrating to read or hear, but short fiction is just that—short.

And longer works? Well, I’m currently working on a new novel. It’s paranormal with some horror and sci-fi elements woven into it.

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

One I’ve read by another author is The Truth about Unicorns by Bonnie Jones Reynolds. It’s historical horror and fantasy. The atmosphere and style of the novel, plus how the author blended magic and witchcraft, sucks me in every time I re-read it. It’s an old book that’s out of circulation, but I managed to find an autographed copy for my bookshelves.

However, when it comes to my material, my favorite would be my novel my agent has been holding on to called Moone Spell. It’s about a werewolf curse accidentally placed on a man because his wife wanted him to be home more often. The heroine has escaped from a sadistic ex-husband, so she faces him and the werewolves in an effort to protect her children and find true love.

What scares you?

If you mean typical jump-out-of-your-skin topics, it would have to be snakes. I hate 'em. I can’t even stand to watch anything about them on TV or to come across a picture of one in a book!


Five minutes with Aleksandr Voinov

I've been a fan of Aleksandr Voinov's writing from the moment I encountered one of his short stories in an anthology that I reviewed.His writing carries a dynamism I felt was often lacking in a lot of the m/m fiction I'd encountered. We fell to chatting via Goodreads and, since then, I've eagerly reviewed not only his offerings, but also the titles brought out by his publishing company, Riptide Publishing. So of course today I'm absolutely thrilled to have Aleks here today for a little Q&A. 

The first thing that struck me about your writing was the intensity of your characters' emotions. They live and love fiercely, and sex is often tangled with a degree of power play. I get an idea of how masculine love is very different compared to the love between a man and woman. Care to elaborate? 

Hah, good question. In my writing, I am interested in matters of power, hierarchy, and that delicious dance of who comes out on top, both sexually and otherwise. I think men are socialised more to be competitors, to be aware of status, and another man always presents a challenge and a question: Can I bend him to my will? Who will come out on top? In this case, we’re talking mafia characters, who are even more neurotic about status and power and influence than is normally the case. To them, it’s literally a matter of life and death.

Given how sexist our society is, women don’t usually appear as competitors on a man’s radar, in my experience and observation (since woman do compete, that can be a tragical oversight, especially since women wield power differently but no less efficiently). In story terms, hierarchy and power games absolutely increase the stakes and the emotions of characters. These people compete hard, they play hard, they party hard, and we can almost expect to see them go down in a blaze of (dark) glory, as it were.

You're a stickler for the detail, and that's part of what I feel gives your writing a ring of authenticity. I get the idea that you do *a lot* of research. Can you share a little about the process that goes into preparing to write a historical setting? What gives your stories that extra punch? 

Details are really everything. They can trigger turns and twists of the story, they deepen character, and they allow readers to relate and see things. If I write about a killer, I do need to know the brand of pistol he uses, and why he’s chosen that. That alone reveals character. Is it aesthetics? Handling? Sentimental reasons? I need to know these things, and often my characters tell me once they’ve started to come alive.

When I start anything, I get a pile of books. I’m in “accumulating” mode, I just buy everything I can get my hands on and then read a lot, make notes, put the telling pieces and the useful stuff into a folder or paper notebook and take it from there.

Setting suggests character—there are some settings that cry out for a specific character type or profession—and ingrained in that is the question of the central conflict/central experience. A nurse will have a very different experience/conflict than a soldier s/he cares for. Slowly, by understanding the world and how it’s different from ours, it becomes three-dimensional and comes to life in my head.

I even get a sense of “owning” it, as if I could move freely in it. Of course, it’s not the real place, but rather my interpretation of it. Giving an unbiased view is really the historian’s job; I just try to tell a good plausible story in a setting that comes alive for the reader. But first it has to come alive for me, and that means I need to know it like I lived there, or very nearly so. Which makes me a very slow historical novelist and slightly neurotic about details. But as much as I struggle and curse, it’s usually worth it. It just makes for a deeper experience for the reader, because by mastering the details, I essentially show them they can trust me to not lead them astray. And that trust relationship is very important.

Your body of work is already quite considerable. For those who're just embarking on dipping into your writing, where do you suggest they start, and tell us a little about those works and your mind space when you were writing them.

Considering how diverse they are, that’s a bit of a challenge, since I do hop madly from genre to genre. Maybe two of the best examples (and recent, so the writing is good) are Skybound and the Dark Soul series. They really couldn’t be more different.

Skybound is a “literary”, fairly subdued little story about a mechanic and a fighter pilot falling in love. No big deal, but these are the closing days of the Second World War, and they are Germans and hence on the losing side. To dare to love under those circumstances, that does take quite a bit of courage.

I didn’t actually want to write that story, especially since it’s first person and present tense (which I’d never done before), but it simply came over me in the middle of a pile of projects and demanded to be written. The research was pretty humungous, too—I knew nothing about German fighter planes, and even less about the guys who flew and repaired them. It’s not a story about Nazism or atrocities; it’s two guys trapped in a bad situation and finding ways to deal with it.

Dark Soul, by contrast, is more of a Quentin Tarantino movie, just with a little less ultraviolence. Much bolder, starker lines and colours than Skybound. It stars Silvio Spadaro, a young mafia killer whose sexuality (even gender expression) is pretty ambiguous. He’s hedonistic and inscrutable, sexy, deadly, and vulnerable at the same time. It’s mostly told from the view of Stefano Marino, a young mafia boss who’s married and in love with his wife Donata, a bit of a yuppie and an odd fish himself. He’s fairly educated and refined for a Mafioso, for one, and he has a bisexual streak he’s battling and eventually comes to terms with. Obviously, things go to hell when the Russian mob gets involved, leading to a spiral of events that eventually has the law stomping down on the mafia—hard. There’s plenty of sex and intense emotions, so maybe describing it as the “gay Godfather” works, although the mood is very different.

Writing Dark Soul was a bit of a trip, to be honest. Silvio came into my life about twenty years ago, and during those years I’ve tried to put him into a book, but all those attempts failed (at least they kept failing better every time). Dark Soul is me not failing at tackling that character, which makes me very proud. It was also a qualitative jump for me. Any author who’s been around for a while runs into the danger of getting complacent, and I think I was that. Then I wrote Dark Soul, and while writing it, I really had to stretch and work hard, and then I got a gifted editor with Rachel Haimowitz, who beat the remaining laziness out of me. The end result was a new level of writing, where “good enough” is no longer satisfactionary. I do want to be the best writer I can be, and with the right editor who calls me out on bad habits, that’s more likely to happen.

You're kinda crazy like me because you wear the publisher hat in addition to the author hat (okay, granted, I wear the editor hat and that's pretty much the same level of insanity). How on earth do you do it? (And I know you're employed full-time in corporate hell too.)

I don’t watch TV, really, and my social life is pretty much limited to meeting friends every now and then for coffee or lunch. What time I have, I use extremely efficiently, and being a bit of a workaholic does help. On the publisher side, I’m also fortunate in that I’m being backed up by a fantastic team. The day job is editing in financial services, so I’m quite adept at sneaking in my own edits during lulls in the workflow, when colleagues shop for stuff online or go for extended coffee breaks. But yeah, I think I can sustain this for maybe another three to five years and then something has to give. Ideally the day job. I’m quite hopeful that I might be able to get the same income from doing things I love than from editing financial analysts whose grasp of the English language or good style is not always perfect.

What annoys you the most about the chosen genres which you write and publish? What are some of the common pitfalls that you've seen over and over again? What would you like to see more of? 

Oh, it annoys me when authors don’t take pride in their work. I’ve once had a fight with an author who complained on a mailinglist about a negative review. Curious as I am, I went to the review site and read the review, which was cogent and gave lots of details about how the research of that hetero romance story was wrong. The author initially claimed her research was correct (which was a lie, considering both the reviewer and I knew a thing about what she’d been writing about), then, when it was proven to her step-by-step that even a fifteen-minute browse on Wikipedia would have caught 99% of all her mistakes, she blew up and said, “Oh come on, people. This is romance! It’s not like it’s a proper book!”

At which point, that author was dead to me. I mean, there is something like professional pride, and I think we owe our readers to do our best every time we sit down and put our fingers on the keyboard. And research is absolutely vital. Everybody makes mistakes—I know I have—but such blatant disregard for what you’re doing I find extremely hard to understand (which is my diplomatic way of saying I find it inexcusable). Why should romance be any less good, in terms of craft, research, editing, than any other genre out there? So, yeah. Attitudes like this have me spitting nails, both as a publisher and as an editor, let alone as a fellow author in a genre that is widely regarded as “trash” by the mainstream. If we don’t treat what we do with seriousness and respect, then we’ll never shed the reputation of being cheap hacks writing and publishing awful books for the id of barely-literate readers.

Now, for the less serious stuff...

What three novels do you keep recommending to folks? 

Light in August by William Faulkner, Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey, and American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis for “literary”. In our genre, I’d recommend Angels of the Deep by Kirby Crow, also The Song of the Fallen books by Rachel Haimowitz, and Santuario by GB Gordon. All three of those really pushed the bar upwards. In terms of general speculative fiction, I’d absolutely include Erekos by A M Tuomala.

And movies? Which ones do you keep returning to?

I have a soft spot for Gladiator, which I keep re-watching. Other favourites are The Lives of Others, which had me crying like a dog on a plane trip, and recently I loved Django Unchained.

Music? Do you prefer absolute silence while you write or do your stories have soundtracks?

I always work with music. Loud music helps shut down the critical voice that tells me whatever I’m typing is crap. It does help me hit the flow and just write.

Destinations? Have you gone to the places that occur in your stories, or do you have a wishlist?

I love travelling, and I’m usually writing about places I’ve been. London features prominently, since I live just outside and work in the Great Beast, and other places like Paris, Rome, Berlin feature. However, I’m always happy to expand my inner reference catalogue, so I’m trying to travel whenever possible. The wishlist right now has several places in the US (New York City, Denver, Antelope Canyon) and I’d love to see some places in the Middle East (like Damascus and some crusader castles), Egypt and then the Far East, like Hong Kong or Thailand. I just need more holidays!

What's on your desktop at the moment with regard to a WiP (or is it a state secret).

A pile of edits, mostly. Right now, I’m working on a historical novel set in Paris during the German occupation and the sequel to Scorpion, my dark gay military fantasy novel, both of which should get wrapped this year, finally, after many delays and crises of confidence.


Twitter: @aleksandrvoinov



Friday, March 15, 2013

State of Doing… Not Being, evidently.

I suppose at some point I should write about all the cool stuff I’ve been doing lately. Like that book release I had in February which I neglected to make any mention of on my blog. [slaps self through face with pap snoek]

Yes, I had a book release, and it’s called Camdeboo Nights. Yes, it’s a weird-sounding title but the Camdeboo is an actual place here in Africa. It’s very dry and it’s in a region known as the Karoo, and the Camdeboo is pretty much smack bang in the middle of South Africa, in the middle of nowhere. Desolate. Empty. Yet so very rich in mystery.

So staying with that, I've already gone visiting at a few blogs, most notably an interview with author Carrie Clevenger over at Wicked li'l Pixie's spot, a stop at Calisa Rhose's blog, and this week I'm author of the week at Kim Larocque's blog. So, if you're yet to catch any of those posts, they're all neatly rounded up for you 'cos I'm kinda nice like that.

No go get Camdeboo Nights direct from the Lyrical Press website, at Amazon or on Kobo. Hey, even Kalahari has it.

Some exciting stuff happening with my Books of Khepera series. I’m getting fantastic peeks into what my illustrator Daniël Hugo is up to for book two’s cover, and I’m in the midst of sorting out the file for Khepera Redeemed, to get it ready for layout and eventual release late-April if all goes smoothly. I’m of half a mind to get stuck into finishing book three soon, but I’m kinda letting my muse lead me where he will right now, so everything is subject to change. But if you’ve yet to dip into Jamie’s world, you can pick up book one, Khepera Rising, at Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo and in print.

Because I’m very nice that way and try to give you as many different formats as possible to keep everyone happy. Curious what other people have said about the story? There’s plenty of reviews up at Goodreads. Go check ’em out then add the book to your TBR pile if it tickles your fancy.

Dawn’s Bright Talons, that very odd fantasy novel in a pseudo-Victorian setting has been sitting on full sub now for a very long time. That is all I can say about it, apart from mentioning that I’ve chewed both my arms off at the elbow and am now using a straw to type this blog post. I pray I have good news. One day. In the meanwhile I'm going to pretend like this novel never happened and we'll all be happier for it.

Raven Kin is now almost halfway with the revises. Yes, it’s taking its sweet time and I’ve still not decided whether I’ll bother going on the submission mill with it or just do it myself, because to be quite honest, I don’t see agents or editors lining up to play with a talking griffin as the narrator. So, between you, me and all those Skandranon fans, this is a little homage to non-human protagonists. Yes, I blame you, Mercedes Lackey. I’ve always wanted to write griffins, and I hope my readers will soon get to meet Silas.

Occasionally I get a small chance to write, mostly during down-time at the office or over my lunch hours. I’ve been blessed in that I’ve finished two short stories this past month. The first is entitled Painted Wolves and it’s written in response to a call for subs related to werewolves. I’ll know muuuch later this year whether anything is happening with this. My protagonists are two African wild dog sisters who’ve been dispersed from their birth pack, as per custom. They bump into a mysterious Egyptian lone wolf, and things get a bit weird after that.

The other story I just penned was by invitation for an A-to-Z bestiary. I drew the letter P and I’ve written a story about a púca, but obviously I’ve added an African spin to this mostly Irish legend. Am not quite sure when that one’s coming out or whether it’s even been accepted yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

I’ve got other short fiction out there or on the verge of being available. You can check out a creepy spook story called All That Remains which I wrote for Chaosphere volume #4. I return to the seaside town where I grew up in this one, and draw on mystique of a house that used to belong to the little old lady who lived down the road…

Then Probatio Diabolica features a journalist who bites off more than she can chew; the story appears in the Urban Occult anthology (edited by Colin F Barnes). You can get it on pre-order now but it releases March 25.

Another anthology to be released soon, The Demonologia Biblica, features a my dear friend Jamie the black magician in action. Yes, I’ve been missing the lad, and in Old Scratch he has his hands full with a troublesome exorcism. And yes, he's in top form, so be warned.

The fact that I’m writing (and selling) short stories like hot cakes fills me with endless amounts of the lulzies. You see, I always thought I needed to write and sell short stories first before I got round to writing and selling novels. Evidently I do things backward. Now, just to secure me a literary agent AFTER I have an offer from a large publishing house. Now wouldn't THAT be a hoot?

But probably one of the contributing factors to me focusing on my short fiction instead of longer works is my editing work. I’m currently wrapping the edits for Bloody Parchment volume #3 (eKhaya, Random House Struik) and once that’s done, I’ll be giving my all to my next editing assignment with DC Petterson. I’m really looking forward to working on Lupa Bella (Dark Continents Publishing), which is a werewolf tale that draws on ancient Italian folklore. It’s suitably visceral, on many levels. I’ve also got the Dark Harvest anthology looming (Dark Continents Publishing), not to mention arranging this year’s Bloody Parchment short story competition. Yeah, and there are other ideas in the pipelines too. Which I can’t talk about right now or else I’ll have to kill you.

On a completely different front, I can now safely say I’m playing music again. Last year April I picked up my classical guitar after not playing for more than half a decade. I’m still nowhere near where I was when I was studying music and doing the whole rigmarole with exams, but I feel like I’m feeding part of my soul that I neglected for a very long time. I have memorised a few pieces, and have even performed at a small private function. Where I’m going with this I don’t know, but it’s enough right now for me to say that music keeps me from doing stupid things, and at least for an hour every day I stop caring about all the usual BS like my home loan, annoying people, job security, sadness… You pick whichever works for you.

But back to writing… I’ll give you a hint about a WiP that’s growing slowly… Shhh… It has fairies in it. ;-) But they’re not the nice kind, okay?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics by Tara Smith #review

Title: Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics—The Virtuous Egoist
Author: Tara Smith
Publisher: Cambridge University Press, 2006

Often, when mentioning Ayn Rand to my friends, I’m met with open scorn. People generally assume that Rand’s Objectivism philosophy stands for cold-hearted selfishness, as frowned upon by every “decent, moral citizen”. After all, isn’t altruism the way forward? Doesn’t selfishness ultimately lead to one’s downfall? How can selfishness be considered a virtue for a virtuous person. The question that’s often asked is: “What makes a person good?”

Surely your life must benefit others? Is it even possible that Rand’s rational egoism can result in an individual living a moral life governed by ethical decisions? It is easy to assume that people are, first and foremost selfish, a societal default setting if it were.

Often it’s insinuated that an egoist acts without a code of ethics, and without any consideration for others. It’s easy for people to write off Rand’s philosophy without taking a closer look. With this book, Tara Smith encourages readers to consider virtues as Ayn Rand defines them and promotes as beneficial to a rational egoist. Because, Rand states, a rational egoist will naturally live a virtuous life if she values flourishing.

Rationality, honesty, independence, justice, integrity, productiveness, and pride might all come across as self-evident virtues. The majority of these will be promoted by your bog-standard adherent of the Abrahamic faiths, or indeed a humanist. And, you might ask, how the hell does pride fit into the picture? Tara Smith takes each of these virtues as set down by Rand, and elaborates on them. In this process, she also shows how these virtues share a basic, undeniable interconnectedness. One needn’t rely on a world religion in order to live a moral life. And one can be a giving person, if certain conditions are met—and one’s actions do not impact negatively on one’s own wellbeing.

Smith also examines how a person with these virtues must act, and also looks at how other virtues (often taken for granted) act within this context: kindness, charity, generosity, temperance, courage, forgiveness, and humility.

Ayn Rand holds up the magnifying lens to all these virtues and how they work within the framework of rational egoism. Underlying all of this is the notion of value, and how a rational individual will not trade something of greater value for the lesser. In this regard, Rand’s Normative Ethics was recommended to me as a follow-up to Smith’s Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality, and provides supplementary reading.

Smith also discerns between popularly held conceptions of virtues, and how a rational egoist would approach them. Rationality is perhaps one of the most important, because it requires that we deal with facts—life as it is—as opposed as how we’d like to perceive it. Just because we want something to be true doesn’t make it so. She also underlines that we should seek rationality, not because we should live rational lives, but because we understand why rationality is so important in order for us to flourish.

Why flourish, you might ask? There’s more to life than simply breathing, and by flourishing we add value to our life. Life isn’t simply to exist. After all, if our entire raison d’etre was to simply breathe and live without pain we might as well live such exciting lives as a tree in a forest or fungus growing on a compost heap. Similarly, we should live moral lives, not because it is expected of us, but because a moral life will result in our continuing flourishing. Before we go further, it’s important to establish what Rand means by flourishing.

By flourishing, Rand suggests that we attain value within our lives, and actively pursue to better our quality of life—to create value. That which is valuable to us isn’t merely money, or a big house: we also value friendships, music, good health, art or the wherewithal to travel and see new destinations. In achieving these goals, we enrich ourselves, and, by extension, have a positive influence on our environment and the people around us.

After looking at how rationality is the master virtue, Smith touches on honesty, and how this applies in our factual assessment of our situations and future plans, and also in how we present ourselves to others. She looks also at the conditions of honesty—for example, it’s perfectly acceptable to lie to Nazis about whether you’re hiding a Jewish friend. After all, the Nazis are not upholding rational virtues in the bigger scheme of things. By being truthful to the Nazis, you basically state that you agree with how they go about doing things.

Independence is, according to Smith, a virtue. She goes on to underscore the differences between being able to live by the efforts of one’s own work, or being a parasite, or moocher, dependent on others. Once again, we look at the exchange of values and a system of free trade, and that values are not always tangible. For example, a woman who decides to stay home to raise children can provide value as much as her engineer husband who provides her the means with which to do so, and she should not be looked down upon.

Justice is another important factor that Smith examines within Rand’s writing. Much can be said for justice, and Smith examines it within the framework of meting out to others what they deserve. If you buy an item or a service from another person, you pay what that item or service is worth. In the same way, if someone goes out of his way to damage you, you’re within your rights to defend yourself and protect that which you value.

According to Smith, Rand ascribes a slightly different slant to integrity than the standard assumptions. At its core, integrity requires of an individual not to sacrifice his or her convictions or values to satisfy the whims or opinions of others. This is especially pertinent after one has established one’s values based on that which is rational, which will lead to your flourishing (and not at the expense of others as some are wont to accuse the rational egoist). A person of integrity displays qualities of devotion to their chosen path, and is consistent in his or her purpose.

Courage, says Rand, goes hand in hand with integrity. The true test of one’s integrity only really comes into play when an individual finds him or herself in a situation of danger, or where there is some sort of risk to the self or what one values. To have courage is not to be without fear, because it can be argued that she who doesn’t fear does not take full cognisance of the dangers involved in a potentially volatile situation. A courageous person therefore doesn’t allow her fears to get between her and her values.

Almost a no-brainer when suggested, Rand clearly encourages productiveness. Not so much that it can generally be agreed that sloth is a cardinal sin, no matter what one’s outlook, but that productiveness is essential to anyone considering the science and art of flourishing. Productiveness is more than creating objects of material value: it is also the mental alacrity required to conceive of objects, and to have the necessary ability to realise them as physical objects or actions that fill a specific purpose, to add value to one’s life, and by default, the lives of others.

Chapter 10 interested me because Smith examines the virtues charity, generosity, kindness and temperance—ones that are so often bandied about within a sacred context that they have lost meaning, or that cause individuals to fall within a set of behaviours that are congruent with altruism. Rand and Smith both agree that altruism is of no use to the rational egoist and her flourishing.

In conclusion, a rational egoist places value in herself. This does not require her to fall into a mire of solipsism. If you value yourself, you will value your relationship with others and their wellbeing, but not to the point where you trade something of greater value for that which is of a lesser value. Self-interested motivations do not detract from a person’s capacity to value others. The reason why Rand highlights rationality as the greatest virtue over all others is precisely so that we can make decisions that are in all our best interests, to benefit ourselves and, by default the people around us, in the long term.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Quid Pro Quo by LA Witt and Aleksandr Voinov #review

Title: Quid Pro Quo
Authors: LA Witt and Aleksandr Voinov
Publisher: Riptide Publishing, 2013

The more I read the Riptide offerings, the more I absolutely adore what this publisher is bringing out, and in Quid Pro Quo, LA Witt and Aleksandr Voinov are in top form, their writing bearing the hallmarks of the confluence of sex and power in a heady short story.

Lines like this:
“Help me, I’m trapped in a Harlequin novel titled The Billionaire and His Rentboys,” Jared muttered under his breath.

Well, *that* just made me laugh out loud and pretty much summed up the entire premise quite succinctly. Quid Pro Quo doesn’t pretend to be anything else. It’s raw, hot sex, with our rich boy known only as Rolex, paying *a lot* to see our two dah-lings get it off.

And if you finished reading this and did *not* squirm just a little and fan yourself, there’s no way in hell you still have a pulse. So, there’s not going to be much more to this review than a big thank you to the two authors for offering me some cheap thrills, and writing great gay erotica in a way that makes even this slightly bi woman get a bit hot and bothered.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What's her name? by Mary Abshire

Today  I hand over my blog to fellow Lyrical Press author Mary Abshire, who's here to tell us a little more about her Project Eve series and share a blurb and excerpt. Welcome, Mary!

* * * *

The first book in my Project Eve series is The Awakening. It's a bit of a mystery as a young woman wakes up at a dump with dead bodies surrounding her. She's the only one living. Strangely, she doesn't remember her name or have any memories. Two investigators, one human and one vampire, find her.

In little time, she finds a few clues. She finds two receipts in her pocket and a special dagger in her boot with the initials SB. Jonas, the human investigator, decides to call her Stephanie. Throughout the story, they search for the person responsible for the murders and try to joggle her memories. What they learn surprises all of them. She's unlike any creature in the world, which makes her valuable to some and dangerous to others.

Demons and werewolves add to the action and suspense in the book. One of my favorite scenes is when she meets Jackson. I pictured the scene in my head and he instantly became a favorite of mine. Originally, I hadn't planned on having werewolves in the story. After I finished the book, I went back to beef it up and added Jackson. I'm so glad I did because werewolves played a big role in the second book.

Getting back to SB, nobody knows who she is, where she's from or how she came to be what she is. She's one big walking mystery and everyone has an interest in her. By the end of the book, she discovers her name and the person responsible for the murders at the dump. But the end leaves the reader wanting more. I didn't give all the answers. Sorry.

I left several items out of The Awakening because I had the second book, The Quest, planned in my head already. She knows who the murderer is and the reason why over thirty people died, so now she wants justice.

The same cast return in The Quest. The mystery continues and there's more tension along with an order for her death. The person who stole her memories appears and provides shocking news. But she continues to seek retribution. She's determined and no body will stop her. Not an assassin. Not a servant to Lucifer. Not even the vampire God of the Underworld.

If you like action, mystery, suspense, and various supernatural creatures, I invite you to check out my Project Eve series.


Retribution. At any cost.

Now that she knows her name and what she is, she wants justice for everything she’s lost. Though her memories elude her, she takes a job for a half-demon Senator and, aided by werewolves from a local clan, intends to uncover evidence that will convict the Senator of more than thirty murders.

Getting to the Senator and finding the necessary evidence is more difficult than she anticipates, especially when there is a bounty for her death. If that were not enough, the vampire who stole her memories returns and reveals unexpected truths. But she’s not going to let anything stop her. Not a sadistic assassin or a servant or Lucifer. Not even her ex-lover, the vampire God of the Underworld. Nothing will stop her from claiming retribution...even if the price is her life.

An excerpt:

From the main level, I rode an elevator to the basement. As I walked through the tunnel, toward the capital, clusters of government employees passed by. Unlike the other days when I came to work, men and women wore suits and chatted with serious looks on their faces. None of them carried lunch bags in their hands. I wondered if they'd come from a meeting or were going to one.

I reached the elevator to get to the subbasement and hit the button. While I waited for my ride, I scanned the area around me. The empty hall showed no signs of trouble and the voices of those who'd passed recently faded. I breathed in a relieving breath, finding myself alone and safe.

The ding of the elevator alerted me to its presence. The doors opened and a crowd of men and women in professional attire walked out. I stepped aside, staying clear of their path.

“Good evening, Shelley,” said an evil voice from behind me.

Since I had vampire hearing and hadn't heard her approaching, the bitch must have misted to appear near me. My blood boiled with anger. I hated the charmed bracelet on my ankle, preventing me from utilizing my demon and angel abilities.

With my jaw clamped so tight my teeth could've chipped, I glanced over my shoulder. She stood alone and dressed in a red suit.

“I didn't hear you coming,” I said in a rude tone.

Her lips formed a devilish smile. “You won't.”

Heat flamed within me, causing me to perspire. My clothes, damp from my dash through the rain, began to feel even wetter. The demon in me wanted out, wanted to rip her to shreds. Fortunately for her, the angel in me held the demon back.

After a few nods from the people passing, I strode onto the empty elevator. The bitch followed me and stood at the opposite side with her arms crossed. Alone with the Senator, I picked up her demon scent mixed with some other citrus type of perfume. The two odors mixed with the sight of the Senator made my stomach churn.

Once the doors closed, we faced each other. She had a feral look in her eyes, but I felt no fear. I had zero doubt I could kill her with my bare hands. She knew I could too, given she knew I had vampire strength. Her charmed bracelet couldn't freeze all supernatural abilities.

“I'm surprised you decided to show up this evening.” Galluzzi smirked.

I clenched the strap of my purse tighter. She obviously knew about the attack on me at Boss's house. Did she think she could provoke me?

I stepped closer to her and stood a foot from her face, glaring at her. “I'm not easy to get rid of.”

Emotion drained from her face. “No, you're not, but I have my ways.” She lifted her chin, displaying her arrogance. “Setbacks are normal in life, but I always win.”

Sweat trickled down the back of my neck. What would happen if I killed her in the elevator? Every bit of me wanted to see her dead now, instead of hung out in front of the world as a criminal. She deserved far worse. She deserved death.

Buy links:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A dash of Something Wicked with Joe Vaz.

Joe Vaz and I go back a long way. I've had a short story called Last Woman Standing published in his Something Wicked magazine ages ago (issue #9 I think) but since I started with the SA HorrorFest Bloody Parchment short story competition and anthology, Joe has offered his support by judging the competition. Of course now I'm totally tickled pink that he's bringing out horror anthologies now (and is on volume two already), so I absolutely had to have him over to share a little Q&A about what he's up to. You can get volume one here.

So, Joe, while you were pulling together the anthology, did you discover (as some editors do) an underlying theme occur? 

Not during Vol One of the anthology, but probably because it was made up from the six individual issues of Something Wicked Magazine from 2011. I’d have to look at the issues themselves to see if there are any underlying themes, there usually is.

What are the hallmarks of a great story, in your opinion? 

I think believable characters that the reader can empathise with (or detest) are central to a good story everything else is bonus. Give me a character I care about, whether that’s because I like her or detest her, and you’ll have me interested in your story.

Having said that, the stuff that blows me away are stories that take me where I don’t expect to go. As I am sure you know, one of the downsides of slush reading is, over the years, you develop a sixth sense for obvious storylines, so, when a story surprises, it’s always a good thing.

If you had sixteen words to tell someone what the Something Wicked Speculative Fiction Anthology, Volume Two is all about, what would you say? (Yeah, this is a bitch of a question, I know)

Imagination. Adventure. Terror. Fear. Sorrow. Loss. Anger. Disbelief. Displacement. Revenge. Horror. Awe. Space. Gods. Empathy. Love.

I’m guessing that’s not what you wanted. :)

In sixteen words that make a sentence, I would say:
A place to let your imagination run wild; experience fantastical stories, great emotions and beautiful writing.

Your cover artist for volume one and two has walked a long way with Something Wicked. Tell us more about what makes the collaboration so outstanding.

Well for starters, Vincent Sammy is outstanding – his art is incredible and we were so blessed to be the first magazine to find him (and exploit him) because he is well on his way to becoming an international phenomenon. Just in the last year he has had art featured in a Hollywood movie (the Issue 8 cover, actually) and he has illustrated stories for Black Static and for Pandemonium’s Lost Souls anthology – (a hardcover copy of which is sitting right beside me as I type this – jealous? You should be).

The collaboration we have with Vincent is similar to the ones we have with our other cover artists, they all have an understanding of cinema language. As an actor, it’s the only way I know how to describe images when commissioning art, and it is no coincidence that four of the five primary cover artists all work within the film industry in some way (Pierre Smit is a scenic artist, Jesca Marisa is a director and animator, Hendrik Gericke is a matte painter and Vianne is a scriptwriter) in fact the only one that doesn’t work in film is Vincent.

Having said that though, Vincent has an inherent sense of mood and texture, he can deliver a pencil illustration that looks like a 19th-century photograph, complete with negative scratches and faded edges, or a holographic image or, well, anything really. Our communication is usually very sparse, I tend to describe a mood or a scene in the story, perhaps the angle of the shot, or the lighting, and Vincent adds his own touches and inspiration and then delivers a masterpiece – every time.

What does 2013 have in store for Something Wicked

2013 kicks off with a bang with Volume Two of our annual anthologies which is being co-published by eKhaya. They will be handling the digital and South African distribution of Volume Two.

Volume Two is currently available for pre-orders here.

And yes, Vincent has illustrated our cover.

Submissions? What are you looking for? When do they open for the next anthology? 

This is always such a difficult questions because my love of stories is so organic – technically we’re after science fiction and horror, but any kind of speculative fiction is good. Over the years we’ve published a couple of really dark and urban fantasies that blew me away (Freemantle Mons and Sky Painter by Michael John Grist and Jack of Spades, reversed by Cat Hellisen which is featured in volume two). I also love gothic, contemporary, humorous, supernatural and psychological horror.

Science fiction of all types, from surreal alternate reality stuff, to the mundane, from hard space-opera to political and social – I love it all.

At the end of the day it has less to do with the type of story and more to do with the story itself – if the story blows me away, I will publish it, regardless of genre.

We’ve haven’t got an official date for re-opening submissions, but it will be sometime in June. Subs will be open for a six-week period and we’ll be looking for twenty-four or so original, never-before-published stories for 2014’s Volume Three.

While we’re running our pre-order special, you can get all our books and magazines at hefty discounts, including exclusive and extremely limited hardcovers of Volume One and Two.
Special ends on March 25. See this link...

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Ward by SL Grey

Title: The Ward
Author: SL Grey
Publisher: Corvus, 2012

THE MALL didn’t scare me. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t get me with the same visceral kick to the guts The Ward did. This time round writing partners Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg (the two halves of SL Grey) hit their stride and deliver an overall tighter novel. And, as always, they make me care what happens to two unlikable characters. Granted, I admit to wanting something really bad to happen to one.

Lisa is a basket case with major self-esteem issues which has led her to attempt to commit suicide in the past. Her body dismorphic disorder means she is never satisfied with her appearance, and will go to great lengths to obtain what she considers the perfect body even if it means having surgery in the worst of the government hospitals. In that sense, she makes a perfect candidate for the Modification Ward.

Farrell shares Lisa’s obsession with outward appearance, though he projects it on to others. His chosen career as fashion photographer pretty much sums up the type of personality one can expect. Shallow and self-centred, he is also a control freak, so when he ends up severely ill, blind and at the mercy of heartless medical practitioners in the New Hope hospital (the distillation of everything that is wrong with government-funded South African health care), readers can only expect things to get worse.

What lies in wait beyond New Hope exists as a dark parody of the medical system, a world where patients are either donors or clients, and medical staff scuttle about like worker ants in a diabolical hive presided over by the scalpel-happy butchers. In a big way The Ward is about people getting their just deserts. Anyone who’s dipped into Clive Barker’s cenobite-populated Hellraiser universe will resonate with the goings on downside as Grey terms it. If you’ve ever had a horrific experience in hospital, it is echoed within the pages of The Ward, offering readers an inevitable downward spiral. Consider yourself duly warned.

This review appeared in the Pretoria News on February 18, 2013

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Persian Boy by Mary Renault #review

Title: The Persian Boy
Author: Mary Renault

Very few novels have moved me to tears in the end, but this was one of them. Mary Renault succeeds in capturing the depth and breadth of Bagoas’s abiding devotion to Alexander, and brings history to life.

Slow-moving as this story is, it nevertheless succeeded in capturing my imagination despite the fact that I knew more or less how the tale was supposed to go, and that there was no happy ending. And big-ass disclaimer: I don’t think this story is going to be to everyone’s taste. Perhaps what makes it the most for me is that we view imperfect characters (such as Alexander and his eternal love Hephaestion) through Bagoas’s no doubt more than slightly rose-tinted glasses.

Renault also gives the impression that Alexander incessantly made war because he was driven by the need to explore and dominate the world, and that conquering other nations was eventually his raison d’etre and the only thing that kept him motivated.

Yes, the writing is textured and at times flowery, but it was absolutely everything that I enjoy in a story, with slow world-building. Renault brings across sensuality without letting the story become smutty. So, yes, this is a love story. As life is sometimes brutal, in which all story arcs do not tie up neatly, I understand that the novel itself, in remaining true to history, doesn’t have an epic resolution.

Alexander, it can be said, goes out with a whisper and a sigh, rather than the roar of battle. But I am awed, and my imagination has been captured. I shall definitely be reading more of Renault’s works, and if I can capture even a part of her grace of style in my own writing, I shall consider myself fortunate.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Six Historical Tales Cover Reveal by Rayne Hall

I met Rayne Hall through one of my authors, and let me say, I'm totally impressed with the titles she's putting out. Today she's here to tell us more about her latest Six Historical Tales... and a chat with the cover artist Nadine Boskovska. Welcome, Rayne!

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Interview with the Artist Nadine Boskovska

Rayne: You have created art for many book covers. What is it you enjoy about painting book cover illustrations?

Nadine: I simply love book covers and always enjoy making them. It is time consuming, it takes a lot of effort and energy to decide how the cover is going to look like and how to make it stand out from all of those covers on the shelves in the bookstore, but it certainly pays off to see the final result.

Rayne: Describe your creative process for 13 British Horror Stories, step by step from the moment when you received the brief to the completion of the picture.

Nadine: Right after receiving the short description from you about how you would like the cover to look like, I made a quick sketch and have sent it to you for a revision. After I got the approval, the painting process started. Few more update pictures followed and after we made the necessary alterations and the book cover was finished.

Rayne: What kind of book cover would enjoy doing next? Is there a genre, theme or style you've always wanted to paint?

Nadine: I enjoy doing fantasy book covers the most. They give me the freedom to experiment with shapes and combine different colours, to make the cover visually more appealing to the reader.

Rayne: Where can we see more of your art?

Nadine: My art can be fond on my online gallery.

* * * * 

Interview with the author, Rayne Hall

The ebook Six Historical Tales has been published for a while. Why did you decide to change the cover?

The old cover was okay, but not great. When using stock photos,  it's always a compromise between what I want and what kind of picture is available. Artists can paint exactly the picture we want, so the cover is right for the book. I published Six Historical Tales with a stock photo cover, and am thrilled to replace it with beautiful art.

How did you decide what you wanted on the cover?

A book cover need to attract the viewers' attention, and tell them what kind of story they will find inside. With a collection of stories, this is challenging, because each story is different. The cover somehow needs to convey not just what one story is about, but the overall tone of the book.

The stories in the book cover different locations periods – Ancient Rome, Ancient Britain, Ancient Greece,  the Middle Ages, England in 1900 – so I picked one of the stories to represent them all. The character is Penelope who, in my story, does not want her husband Odysseus to come back. For the background, I chose olive trees and an evening sky.

A single half-body character against an uncluttered background works well because covers these days are viewed mostly online at thumbnail size. Anything complicated or cluttered just gets lost. So I wanted this cover to be simple yet detailed.

Choosing the mood was important. Most stories in the collection have a dark slant, and the cover needed to convey this somehow without giving the impression of horror. I asked the artist, Nadica,  for a warm colour scheme with a hint of ominous. I think she's conveyed this mood superbly.

How did you choose the artist?

I love working with artists, and have commissioned many book covers and illustrations. I get to know which artists are skilled and reliable, and what each of them is especially good at. Nadica has a knack for creating atmosphere and conveying mood. I can tell her what kind of mood I want. For 13 British Horror Stories, I asked for “atmospheric and creepy” and for Six Historical Tales I asked for “warm with a hint of ominous”.  Her paintings are awesome.

Where can we see the book?

Six Historical Tales is published as an ebook at Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, and other retail sites.