Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Magus by John Fowles #review

Title: The Magus
Author: John Fowles

This is one of those novels I recommend reading more than once ever few years. And this is my second time, and I have to laugh at how much my perception of the story has changed since the first read-through. Or perhaps I have changed.

The first occasion I was in my early 20s and very much of the assumption that Nicholas Urfe was the one done wrong by Conchis and his cohorts. Funny how my opinion has changed a decade later.

In brief, our protagonist Urfe runs away from a relationship in the UK to go teach at a school in Greece, where he meets a reclusive millionaire, Maurice Conchis, who claims to be a magician. Suitably ensorcelled, Urfe finds himself bewitched not only by the location, but by the bizarre psychodramas in which the old man immerses him. He meets the twins Lily and Rose, and becomes hopelessly fixated. All the while he is of the opinion that he has the upper hand, but Conchis is an adept storyteller, and very soon Urfe can’t tell the fabrications apart from the truth. Isolated as he is, on the island of Phraxos, he is confronted by his own shortcomings and is faced by choices that will impact him later. The question the reader has to ask: Does this man ever truly learn from his mistakes?

Urfe, as a protagonist, is an intellectual snob hamstrung by his misogynist, classist, and racist outlooks on life so mired in his solipsism he can only judge people according to how their shortcomings measure up to his perceived personal virtues. His overweening pride and belief in his intellectual superiority cripples him as he casts himself as the perpetual outsider – unable to connect with the people around him and incapable of maintaining a genuine relationship. He feels a degree of contempt for everyone around him which is perhaps a reflection of the contempt he feels for himself that he is unable to admit.

And he willingly walks into the elaborate trap set for him by Conchis. Perhaps the first hint we have of this is Conchis takes him snorkelling and makes casual mention of how an octopus will fall for the same bait again and again. Again and again, Urfe tries and fails to come to terms with the game, in the end falling prey to his narcissism that he is somehow “elect”. What is sad is that he clearly and consciously chooses to be manipulated.

By the time we reach the end of the story, Urfe is reduced to a paranoid paralysed state, isolated and unable to reach out even when he’s offered the opportunity for a fresh start. And that is where Fowles leaves us. We simply don’t know the final outcome. I’d like to think that Urfe walks away but that small, niggling voice at the back of my head whispers that the man is doomed to repeat the same set of behaviours over and over again in the vain hope that the outcome will somehow be different.

I don’t feel sorry for him; in fact I feel he deserves this personal hell he has evoked. He was given every opportunity to awaken and step outside himself but like the octopus is unable to see beyond his subjective reality.

Other than that, this is a lush novel worth reading for the crisp strokes of Fowles’s prose in which he effortlessly paints the Greek and British settings, as well as the people who populate them. The Magus is laden with esoteric imagery and half the fun is picking up the clues along the way. The novel offers much to think about and I’m glad for this second opportunity to have chewed through it.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sci Fi vet is a best seller

In which I share an interview I conducted with Christian Schoon, author of Zenn Scarlett, which ran a few weeks ago in the Pretoria News.

Christian Schoon   Picture: Sarah Neighbors

Zenn Scarlett’s alien menagerie catches fans’ imagination...
Those of us who grew up on a diet of Gerald Durrell and James Herriot, but also harbour a not-so-secret love for all things Star Wars (yes, there are people like us out there), should take note of a fresh voice in genre fiction. Zenn Scarlett (Strange Chemistry) by Christian Schoon, published in May, tells the tale of a young woman who’s learning the ropes in veterinary science – but not in the expected setting.

Firstly, Zenn lives on Mars, and secondly, her charges are often large alien life forms. On writing Zenn, Schoon says: “The character that would eventually become Zenn Scarlett arrived quite fully formed, as a youngish female, wearing oldish coveralls, perched on the snout of a huge-ish carnivore.

“It was all quite distinct. I could tell from this initial image she was there to help the animal, that she was not afraid of it, that in fact this was a routine sort of task for her. So, I realised she was a newbie exoveterinarian, studying animals so huge they had to be off-world.

“I’ve been enamoured of Mars ever since the Barsoom books, so she and her alien patients took up residence on the Red Planet.”

But all is not as bright-and-shiny on Schoon’s Mars. He adds: “Yes, all the shiny has rubbed off. A few decades back, Earth’s isolationist tendencies combined with a vicious global plague brought about a complete trade and communication embargo with the Earther colonies on Mars. From that point, when anything broke down or wore out, the colonists were forced to improvise or do without.

“So, while there are fairly intact older buildings dating to before the rift, later structures are cobbled together out of whatever can be recycled or scrounged: stray bits of metal sheeting, old shipping containers, the odd tent. Clothing is handmade and or patched.

“Tech devices have buggy software and are becoming rare. Vehicles are held together with baling wire and glue, and run on bio-fuels.”

This setting has also given Schoon the opportunity to indulge in social commentary, especially with regard to topics such as xenophobia. He elaborates: “That stems largely from the aforementioned plague. Decades back, Earth was a member of the Local Systems Accord, a loose union of the dozen inhabited planets circling stars in our neck of the galaxy. Aliens and their alien animals were seen with some frequency on Earth.

“Then a mysterious virus with unknown origins wiped out millions of humans. It was blamed on aliens. In the chaotic aftermath, a hyper-conservative world government rose to power, booted all the aliens off the planet and cut off all relations with the Accord, including the Earther colonies on Mars. Now, it must be pointed out there, was never conclusive proof the virus originated with any non-terrestrial. But humans can be a suspicious lot when threatened with extinction (I guess most life forms would be, though, huh?)”

Zenn’s alien patients are varied, though Schoon admits his fondness for mustelidae did lend a bias to his creations. He says: “Yeah, always had a weakness for the weasel clan; tiger-fierce predators in stretched-mouse packaging, or, in the case of wolverines, in a cocker-spaniel-on-steroids packet. I couldn’t resist magnifying an otterlike marine hunter into an 80-foot, eight-legged Mu Arae whalehound for Zenn to take care of. Another fave is the Kiran sunkiller.

“They’re upper-atmosphere drifters held aloft by hydrogen-methane filled bladders on the undersides of their stationary wings; two heads, baleen-equipped jaws for feeding on strato-plankton, adult wingspan reaching to 1 500 feet.

“Then there are the ‘stonehorses’, Lithohippus indra. During their several billion years of evolution, these colossal, serpentine, dark-matter-eating, vacuum-dwellers developed the ability to quantum-tunnel through the fabric of the space-time continuum.

“Their wild habitat is the interior of nickel-iron asteroids, which they carry before them when they tunnel, to protect them from the particle storms they encounter when tunnelling. A forgotten alien race learned how to harness the indra to carry a starship instead of an asteroid, and the Local Systems Accord is now knit together by fleets of massive indra-powered starliners.”

Schoon’s past experience has also helped him with the detail he’s been able to thread into his novel. “In my alternate life, I’ve been a volunteer with a number of animal welfare groups. On my farm here in Iowa, we’ve taken care of or housed or adopted out everything from horses and donkeys to black bears, mountain lions and coyotes to Burmese pythons, African rock pythons, rattlesnakes, cobras… I could go on. The amateur veterinary knowledge I picked up was all due to hanging around the vets involved with these critters.

“As for medical procedures in the book, these were conjured up in service to what was happening in a particular scene.”

As for some of the responses he’s had to the novel since its release, Schoon adds: “I’m glad to say the reactions have been almost universally appreciative and enthusiastic. It’s a real kick hearing from readers who say things like ‘this is unlike
anything I’ve ever read before’.

“On the comical side, dozens of people have written that they desperately want to have a rikkaset, a raccoon-sized, tufted-ear, big-eyed marsupial that is Zenn’s close companion. Rikkasets have the intelligence of a human two-year-old.

“I’m totally amazed to be able to say that Zenn Scarlett has risen to the number eight in Amazon’s Hot New Releases in Teen Sci Fi eBooks. Go, Zenn!”

See Schoon’s blog at or follow him on Twitter @cjschoon.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Southern Fried Ghosts with David Youngquist #horror

Today's special guest is none other than David Youngquist, who's got a taste of ghostly tales. He's in the hot-seat today so I can chat with him about a recent collection of short stories he's released entitled Southern Fried Ghosts and their Midwest Cousins. Welcome, David!

Since these are all accounts that you've collected, how did you go about sourcing all these stories? Would love to know what process you followed. And I absolutely adore real-life accounts of paranormal activity.

Depending on the story was how I sourced them. The ones that were told to me first-hand by friends, I had to take their word on, but I did follow up on the one about the pond. I drive by it all the time when I go east of here, and know people who live in the area. Asking around, I got some stories to back up my friend's claim. Most didn't have specific experiences like his, but had creepy things happen. Lights going on on their trucks. Doors locking or unlocking. That kind of thing. Other stories, when I find a specific story and want to research it more, I'll cross reference it with other sources: old news articles now on the net. Other haunting websites. If I can find a person's name, I'll contact them. Then often, when I talk to people, they won't want their names used, so if there are more than one kind of event associated with the location, I'll merge them into a story and have it happen to one person. Otherwise, I have 15 little experiences from 15 different people on a location.

Field trips? Did you have any? Did anything exciting, mysterious or downright weird happen on any of them? I've had people warn me off going on ghost story hunting missions, telling me I shouldn't mess with "that sort of stuff". Would you say you've invited the strange and unusual into your life by delving into these tales? 

My second ghost book, Ghosts of the Illinois Canal System, was all local ghost stories from my area. Those I could investigate all in person, and I did do a lot of ghost hunting with a team while I was writing that book. Sylvia Shults went with on a few occasions at that point. Most of the spirits I deal with are simply humans who have passed on to the other side. Most are harmless. I have however, dealt with a couple of non-human entities (call them demons, and you'd be right) and those are the scary ones. Most spirits can only knock things over, make some noise, that kind of thing. Footsteps are common. We've got great recordings of voices. Sylvia has a recording of one that said "Hello" to her. She's seen red, glowing eyes in a theatre just on the outside of a protective circle she had around her. I've sealed a doorway closed which some pretty nasty spirits were using to cross back and forth. We've recorded a few things on our video. Probably the strangest thing we've captured on film was at a person's house not far from here. We had set up for the night, and were doing our investigation. One of the night cameras was shooting down into the basement. It was set up on a sink, and shooting downstairs. I walked past the moniters, and realized it had fallen over. We went and set it back up, this time taping the feet in place. ten minutes later, I checked again, and again it was aiming at the floor. This time we  taped the whole camera in place, again, shooting footage into the basement down the stairs. Again, 15 minutes later, it was filming floor. We rewound the footage, and every time before the camera fell over, there was a black blur that rushed up the stairs and hit the camera. Got it on film three times.

Weird and unusual, yes, it comes with the territory. I have had spirits follow me home from investigations. Some are less obvious than others. I had a mentor teach me to say a prayer when I leave a site and ask the spirits to stay where they are. I've also learned that when an unfriendly entity is trying to do something to you, or threatening you, crossing yourself will drive it away.

If you go, simply be prepared. Be open to what you're going to find. Realize that the vast majority of spirits out there either don't want to harm you, or can't harm you. And make sure you don't drag any of them home by making them mad and challenging them to do something to you. They don't operate under out time frame or reality anymore.

For that measure, do you have ghost tales of your own? 

I've got lots of ghost stories. One that happened here in our house, happened not long after my mother-in-law passed away. We moved in with Fay's dad to take care of him, and my routine has been established as pretty much the same since then. Up early, work on book stuff, and go from there. I broke routine one night, as I had some writing to do. Everyone else was in bed asleep. All the lights were off in the house, except for the computer, and the one over the kitchen sink. I heard someone come down the steps. The door to the stairs opened, and someone walked across the kitchen to the room where I was working.

"What are you doing up, Babe?" I asked the person as she came to the doorway.

I didn't get an answer, just a swish of a blue nightgown as she turned and walked the other way. Didn't hear anything else, and after a few minutes, I started to wonder where Fay went. No other lights had come on. The door upstairs didn't open. So I went to check. No one else was downstairs. I went up and checked. The kids were in bed. Her dad was in bed. I finally stopped in our room. Fay was dead asleep in a white nightgown.

It was then I remembered her mom died wearing a blue nightgown.

Which are your three favourite tales in the book, and why?

My three favorites. That's a tough one. Kind of like asking who your favorite kid is. There were some real standouts in this collection though. One would the story of The Six Diablos. This was told and recorded as the first ghost story related to The Alamo. Soldiers sent to burn the mission and all the bodies there were driven away by six defending soldiers who rose from the dead of the battlefield. Another would be Stop the Train. This is a really cool story, and the only case of a company (in  this case, Illinois Central Railroad) conducting an investigation, and actually finding a place to be haunted, and taking further steps. All recorded in company notes and archives. Another would be The Lost Nun who haunts a mall in Des Moines, Iowa. Turns out the mall was built on the site of an old convent. One of the nuns was said to be pregnant and aborted the baby. Now she walks the halls weeping and carrying her crying child.

What sort of feedback have you had from readers?

I've had people stop me at work, and in different stores in the area and tell me how much they love my ghost books. At least once a month, I've had folks ask when the next ghost book is coming out, and where they can buy it. So, for those who have been waiting for the next installment, after five long years, here it is.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Life in the Treehaus, July 24, 2013 #update

It’s been a while since I’ve written a little update about my own doings, and it’s more than just a little overdue, I think.


I sold my most recent “heart” novel, Dawn’s Bright Talons, to Crossroad Press. Although Crossroad Press specialises in reviving the backlist titles of established authors in digital and audio, it is expanding its line of original titles (this is where I come in). Crossroad Press follows an author-first digital model, and includes international bestsellers William Bayer and Steven Savile, and award-winning authors Melissa Scott and Jo Graham.

A little bit about Dawn’s Bright Talons… It’s a full-on fantasy epic best described as what happens when a pseudo-Victorian colonial setting meets vampiric Machiavellian power struggles. Central to the plot are Michel, a vampire who’s sent to investigate the disappearance of his sire, and why a missing dancer might be at the heart of a secret that threatens his entire race.

We’re looking at a release some time next year, but more on that later when I’ve started the editing process and cover art is underway.

I’ve inadvertently found myself writing (and selling) short fiction this year. So getting this novel contracted made me very happy. I didn’t set out to write more short fiction, but it kinda sorta happened. I see myself chiefly as a novelist, and not a short story writer.

Another big wow so far was selling a short story to Pandemonium for its Ash anthology. I’ll be sharing the spotlight with Richard de Nooy, whose writing I absolutely adore. As well as Charlie Human, who's just released Apocalypse Now Now and who owes me a coffee. And yes. This is a Very Big Thing for little old me. To give you an idea, I tried for many years to write and sell short fiction to paying markets. I lived with the preconception that one needed to have a few short story sales notched on your belt before trying the dreaded debut novel.

The irony? I had to sell my first novel before I seemed to break the seal and started to write marketable short fiction. This just goes to show that there’s no template for writing success. It’s a blank canvas for each writer. Don’t beat yourself upside the head if you don’t have a meteoric rise to fame. It’s different for each of us, and that is how it should be. You are not JK Rowling. You are not George RR Martin. Nor are you Stephen King. And you shouldn’t compare yourself to them either.

And now... drumroll please, the works in progress...
My works in progress are chugging along nicely. I’ve got three short stories out on sub at the moment, which I’m waiting to hear. I’m planning on writing one more short story this year, and that will be for the Midian Unmade call for subs.

On the novel front, I’m currently giving a novella I wrote last year a complete overhaul for a publisher that’s keen to see me turn it into a novel-length work. All I’m able to say is that The Call of the Jackal (AKA Jackal when I tweet about it) is a post-apocalyptic African setting with strong GLBT themes. It’s as close to SF as I’ll get, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the writing process.

Then…during April this year, I wrote a MG fantasy novel. I loved it. My betas loved it. They also had lots of feedback. Then I heard about Strange Chemistry’s open call for subs and I’ve thought why the hell not… So once I’m done writing Jackal, I’ll be going into an intense period of revisions to convert The Guardian’s Wyrd from MG to YA. Since one of my betas already said the tone was more YA than MG, this shouldn’t be too difficult.

On the editing front, things are chugging along nicely. I’ve got two announcements about authors contracted to Dark Continents Publishing’s Tales of Darkness and Dismay line (which I direct) that I’ll be making. We’re busy finalising the contract details for The Sea anthology (so I’ll be announcing the final line-up for those too). I’ve also been inundated with entries for this year’s Bloody Parchment short story competition, and I’m wrapping edits for the Dark Harvest anthology.

The BIG editing news is that I’ll be working with Liz Strange again. I first picked her out of the slush pile when I was author-wrangling over at Lyrical Press, and she’s just had her novel, Erased, contracted by Dark Continents. I’m looking forward to sharpening my editing scalpel for her again. You can check out her Dark Kiss Trilogy in the me

Other than that, I’m working with a select few clients on a freelance basis. I’ve grown to know and love these authors dearly, and I’ve seen everything from dubcon capture fantasies with strong BDSM elements through to cosy mysteries and ass-kicking vampires. Never a dull moment. I also do believe that my rates are extremely competitive, so if you’re in the market for an editor, feel free to query me at

You can see a list of some of my recent editing milestones here

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Thin Air by Storm Constantine #review

Title: Thin Air
Author: Storm Constantine

As with all Storm Constantine’s tales, the book you start reading is not quite the one that finishes. If you expect Thin Air to remain a mystery rooted in the material world, then you’re going to have your hopes dashed. Myth, magic and other realms are never far away in Constantine’s writing.

Jay is a somewhat jaded music journalist who finds love in the most unlikeliest places – with her famous rockstar partner, Dex. And for many years she thinks she has the perfect life – him with his touring and recording of successful albums, and she with her career writing editorial for magazines.

As it turns out, this is all a sham. Dex has secrets, and when he vanishes one day without a trace, she begins to realise that he’s been holding out on her all these years. You can only imagine the sense of betrayal that must be. Yet though she is damaged, Jay is resilient, and she picks herself up, dusts herself off and moves on.

But as it turns out, there are powerful people who believe that Jay is still in contact with Dex, who has run out supposedly with his last recordings that his fabulously powerful and wealthy masters want. There is more to Dex and his music that meet the eye, and Jay finds herself inexorably drawn into a world where reality is a pliant, somewhat fickle thing.

In a way Thin Air is a fairy tale, but mostly it’s a kind of urban myth that gradually unfolds and envelops readers in otherness. Jay and Dex are but two players who, though not wholly in control of their destinies, are still important lynchpins in a power struggle between opposing forces. It’s difficult for me to find fault with Constantine’s writing, but if anything, I did feel as if Jay and Dex were almost too passive in how they attained their goals. But that really didn’t bother me because, hell, Constantine is a magician.

Her writing is dreamy and fluid, and she masterfully weaves her artistry to create a milieu laced with archetypes that is tangible – that one could easily imagine exists on the other side of a hedgerow or just beyond a copse of poplars.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Cobweb Bride (Cobweb Bride Trilogy #1) by Vera Nazarian #review

Title: Cobweb Bride (Cobweb Bride Trilogy #1)
Author: Vera Nazarian
Publisher: Norilana Books, 2013

Author Vera Nazarian once again masterfully evokes a historical setting with sheer class. What I always appreciate about her writing is her ability to make me think I’ve picked up a title written at the turn of the century, which is deeply satisfying – and I love quality fiction.

Cobweb Bride is set in a fictitious European empire during the Renaissance, and is a tale spun from numerous points of view. Death has been personified à la Pratchett and Gaiman, and presently resides in a mysterious keep situated in the northern forests. Only now he refuses to do his work until his Cobweb Bride is brought to him. In addition, there’s a not-so-small problem. Until his demand is met, and a suitable bride is found, no one’s going to die.

So, whether folks are hacked into bloody bits during combat, animals are butchered or crops are harvested, no one and nothing will die, and it doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see how the implications of this shift in reality will play out. Take a
moment, pause, and think about it. Not so nice, hey? Even if you starve to death, you’re going to be caught in a limbo state, unable to cross over.

So, while her grandmother lies in a state of a perpetual death rattle, Persephone – or Percy, as she likes to be called – sets off with a bunch of other young women to seek Death’s keep in the dead of winter. Sounds easy? Not so much when there’s an undead duke seeking to take advantage of the sad state of affairs, and the Cobweb Bride is not so easy to find as one would expect.

If there was one nitpick I’d have it’s the huge amount of love Nazarian has for the word “suddenly”. She uses it. A lot. So much so that it jumped out of the pages and grabbed me by the eyeballs and shook me around a bit. But that didn’t make me want to throw the Kindle out the window.

And I felt for her characters, and admit my favourite was Beltain Chidair, the somewhat reluctant Black Knight. Somehow know that there was a real person under that scary black armour made it for me. (Okay, I’m a not-so-secret Darth Vader fangrrrl.) A nice whiff of romance hinted at there, but I’m not going to spoil it for you if you’re yet to dip into the story. And my heart bled for the princess. I’m not going to say exactly what happens to her, but she shows surprising strength of character despite all the challenges she faces.

Yes, the story is a bit slow-moving at the start, but I think it’s necessary so that readers can ease into the semi-fantasy/historical setting and the cast of characters are introduced. This is a beautifully crafted tale by an author who knows and loves the English language. If you have a love for classical historical fiction and fairy tales, then give this one a try.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Inkarna on sale now (and hear me read an excerpt)

So, David, my wonderful publisher over at Dark Continents Publishing, has convinced me to do a reading from Inkarna and send him the file to upload on YouTube. So you get to hear my fabulous "sethfrican" accent and I even speak a little Afrikaans too.

For those of you who're yet to pick up Inkarna, it's been getting rave reviews, people adore me and want to vote me in as the world's benevolent dictator. LOL! Okay maybe not that drastic. But the book has done well, and the majority of the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive (thank you).

At time of posting (July 20, 2013) it's on special at Amazon for only $2.99, so if you're yet to pick up a copy, I won't complain too vociferously. ;-)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Philosophy: Who Needs It by Ayn Rand

Title: Philosophy: Who needs it
Author: Ayn Rand
Publisher: Signet, 1984

While I’m a big fan of Ayn Rand’s works I am, by equal measure, aware of the fact that she can and does froth a little when she hits particular topics. While my own knowledge of philosophy is still very sketchy at best, I did find this slim volume to be a somewhat useful supplement to her other titles that I’ve read, though don’t feel as if this collection of essays covered any fresh ground.

She examines why we need philosophy (of course we do) and the realisation that this is an integral part of our existence if we are to live rational, moral lives. Most importantly she stands for taking pride in one’s own labours and not settling for anything less than the best.

She makes a big deal about freedom, and personal freedom to think and trade as one wishes without feeling ashamed of one’s strengths. Also, that one should deal with truths and that which is, instead of that which one imagines something *should* be.

Mostly, Rand encourages people to think for themselves without blindly following conventions, and to encourage the development and application to reason. She advocates intellectual honesty – in admitting what one knows and what one does not know, then working from there. She advocates sticking to one’s convictions and looking at living a life that has integrity on a basic level. And not, thankfully, to proselytise.

She is harshly critical of some of the philosophic and political efforts of her day, and it’s somewhat frightening to see how some of her observations are very much apt for this day and age.

I agree that Rand is not the be-all and end-all of philosophy, but she still makes some very valid points which are still useful. That being said… I still need to broaden my reading tastes to encompass other philosophers, so I’ll hold back from the Kant-bashing the way Rand does it for now!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Going another round: Crazy editor lady still at the helm of Bloody Parchment

So yeah, basically I'm doing this SA HorrorFest Bloody Parchment short story competition thing again this year. Why? This is my way of paying it forward to genre fiction authors who're looking to make a name for themselves. And hell, it's also about having a product that we can be proud of: the annual Bloody Parchment anthology which takes its name from the winning stories.

For two years running we've been blessed to have the support of eKhaya, the electronic imprint of Random House Struik. But now with the Penguin Random House merger, eKhaya is closing its doors. But not to worry. Dark Continents Publishing has stepped forward, and they'll be taking care of the admin.

So, what's in it for the finalists? All finalists receive a flat rate of $20 plus one paperback contributor copy of the anthology. We do not charge an entry fee. Money flows to the authors, not the other way round. In addition, the winner will receive a comprehensive round of edits on a novel-length work, as well as a manuscript assessment. The two runners-up will each receive a comprehensive round of edits on a first chapter of a novel or a short story.

Each year I also gather a panel of kick-ass judges. So, though I do the initial grading through the slush pile, the panel of judges (who are all involved in the publishing industry one way or another) will be the ones to rate and make the final selection.

Am I crazy to take this project on? Perhaps. But I find this far more exciting than watching TV, and it's ultimately so satisfying to unleash yet another kick-ass anthology out in the wilds. And I love my authors. You're all adorable and squishy, even if you're a pack of little divas at times. So, if you fancy you'd like to give this writing of horror a shot, go check out the submission guidelines here.

(Yes, I now I use the word kick-ass a lot. It happens.)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Taking flight with Marguerite Poland's Birds

This interview with Marguerite Poland appeared in various local papers, and is now live on If you're looking for a perfect gift, then do consider picking up a copy of her Taken Captive By Birds. It has some of the most amazing illustrations I've seen in a long time.

Marguerite Poland is an author who’s known not only for her children’s books and adult fiction, but also her non-fiction. She co-wrote the well-received The Abundant Herds: Celebration of the Nguni Cattle of the Zulu People (Fernwood, 2003) with Professor David Hammond (illustrated by Leigh Voigt).

And last year saw the release of Taken Captive by Birds (Penguin) which offers readers a glimpse into her past, growing up in the rural Eastern Cape. Not only is the book a literary treat laced with nostalgia, but it is also lusciously illustrated by Craig Ivor.

Explaining how the book came into being, Poland relates: “I was in the middle of writing a novel but, due to family commitments, had too little time to sustain it.

“I decided to write something for my daughters – vignettes of childhood, things that meant something to me. I guess I have reached that age! Taken Captive by Birds is the result.”
 (Read rest of article here).

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Five minutes with Glen Mehn, 2012 SA HorrorFest Bloody Parchment finalist #horror

Today's visitor is none other than Glen Mehn, a finalist from the 2012 SA HorrorFest Bloody Parchment short story competition. His story, The Next Big Thing, appears in this year's anthology, The Root Cellar and Other Stories, which you can find all the buy links your little black heart desires here.

So, Glen, what planted the seed for your story?

 I'm fascinated by the changing face(s) of cities - particularly the cool, quirky districts that start out dangerous and then turn into the poshest areas of the city, chasing out what made it cool in the first place. There's a vampiristic or general blood-sucking of the life of what you look for in a city that happens, and it's terrible. I've lived through it in certain areas in New Orleans, San Francisco, and London - there was even a sniff of it in part of Kampala that I lived in, as it was close-ish to the airport and a really old Buganda area that was dirt cheap, but as all the NGOs, international companies, and embassies made rents rise to near London-levels in the traditional expat areas, lots of people started moving in, and the crazy nightclubs started shifting.

What are some of the themes you treated in your tale?

The changing face of cities. Seduction, and what it means. The transience of friendship and what it means to be a friend, mostly. I was also interested in the idea of inevitability - people talk about cities changing and an early draft of the story was set up as a statement of fate and inevitability. I question whether you can't improve an area without killing it. I hope so.

What are the hallmarks of a great horror/dark fantasy author and story?

People. Get me inside their heads and I'll be terrified along with them. Make me feel the knife, touch the scar tissue, and make my heart skip a beat. The strange but just plausible. There's a story by Kaaron Warren in Stories of the Smoke where the ubiquity of the urban pigeon is suggested in terrifying ways. Make me see the corners of my mind that I don't pay attention to.

How do you approach your creative process?

I try to think a lot, and then get down and write, mostly early in the morning or after work, and I try to get words on the page (or screen - I go back and forth between long handed chicken scratch and typing into a computer) before I can stop thinking about them. Some of my best work has been writing longhand first thing in the morning, before having a wee, toothbrush, or anything. And it's come after writing over and over things like "I have nothing in my mind I am super tired I don't know what to say but I have promised to put down at least 1000 words before coffee so there's 25 there".

I also try to think a lot, and shove ideas into my head. I help people create start-ups for my day job and I think that real innovation happens between specific disciplines, in the places where you're not supposed to play.

What are you working on now?

A short which is about the earliest days of Jazz (and this almost-forgotten cornetist who probably invented Jazz music, which means he's the grandfather of hip hop, rock, and most of th emusic of the 20th century), as well as a couple of novels - both of which I don't want to talk too much about except that one is an inside-out love story and the other one is an attack on the chosen one.

If you're one them folks who hang out on Goodreads, be sure to add The Root Cellar and Other Stories on Goodreads. And, if you're looking to be part of the next anthology, go read our submission guidelines here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

J Damask and her wolves of Singapore #wolves

J Damask is one of the authors of whom I have very fond memories of my time editing at Lyrical Press.  Miss Damask has since gone on to carve a wonder-filled career writing about her wolf shifters of Singapore. She recently celebrated the release of Heart of Fire, the third in her series of adventures of Jan Xu. But today I'm handing over to her as she talks about getting her debut title, Wolf at the Door, into print. And I'm sure you'll agree that the cover art is absolutely stunning. 

What made her writing stand out from the others in the slush pile? Beautiful story-telling and a wonderfully realised non-Western setting written in an authentic Asian voice. J Damask makes me believe in fairy tales again.

* * * *

The journey has been long, complicated and at times, frustrating. But Wolf At The Door is finally out in paperback form. At the moment, I am still marvelling at how things have turned out and damn it, I have a print book.

Nerine who edited Wolf and encouraged me a lot has given me the opportunity to talk about... well… the book. What should I talk about? That it’s about wolves in Singapore. Chinese wolves in the form of humans, mingling with the human population. It had been a personal challenge to write about Chinese wolves and I was deeply satisfied to see my dream took form and become real. I wanted to see something different from the US/white/European shifter types – I wanted to see something I could easily resonate with. I wanted to see a heroine that didn’t fit the current UF/paranormal trend: a mother with children, Chinese, and – yes – a wolf. Not a werewolf, but a four-pawed wolf.

Wolf was first released as an ebook under Lyrical Press.  Then came the decision for me to look for a print publisher. I tried looking up on local Singaporean printers and they were all expensive. I plucked up enough courage and approached Gayla Drummond, publisher of Katarr Kanticles Press. I was ecstatic when she said ‘Yes!’.

Then came the hard work of re-formatting the novel and finding a cover artist to create a new cover. Help arrived in the form of Sarah Coldheart who did the lay out and Nathalia Suellen who did the breathtakingly gorgeous cover. Insert a series of to-and-froing with page proofs and stuff… and we were good to go.

So, Wolf was a result of the concerted efforts from my heroes: Nerine (who edited and made Wolf into a lean mean story), Sarah (who did the formatting and lay out), Nathalia (who is an immensely gifted artist and who did the cover) and Gayla (who gave Wolf a home). Many grateful thank yous, my ladies!

Now, get your hands, claws and talons on the book!



Jan Xu and the Myriad have their own Facebook page
J. Damask (aka Joyce Chng) can also be found at Twitter (@jolantru) and at her blog (A Wolf’s Tale)

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Write Stuff: Interview with Lauren Beukes

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing author Lauren Beukes, and the piece was run in the Pretoria News, among others. 

So, while I'm not going to reproduce the entire article here (the link is below) here are the opening lines, and you can continue on the site this piece links to...

Lauren Beukes’s name has been on the lips of most bookish folk here in South Africa ever since she won the Arthur C Clarke Award for her novel, Zoo City, in 2011, as well as an entire host of awards and nominations.

More recently, her long-awaited, The Shining Girls, made quite a number of ripples in the literary pond. Beukes has been enjoying her success, which has had her attending various launches not only in South Africa, but abroad.

She says: “It has been a little mental lately around the launch of The Shining Girls, which has meant running between interviews and launches and events in Johannesburg, Cape Town and London and, next up, the United States.”

The Shining Girls offers quite a departure from Beukes’s usual offerings of edgy tales set in South Africa – and the novel’s creation required a lot of research. (Continue reading here)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Books of Khepera rebooted

It seems like only yesterday that I wrote my first novel, Khepera Rising, which also happened to be my debut novel with a small press operating out of the US. I remember all too well how excited I was when I signed that first contract. Hell, I was even agented for a short while. Ah, sweet memories. Needless to say, the publisher started focusing more on the romance-type stuff, and the agent and I realised we weren't a good fit for each other, and here I sit with a whole bunch of other tales sold here and there (See my new website for the whole list) ... And I've recently had the rights to my two Books of Khepera revert to me, which means I had the opportunity to shine them a little, arrange new illustrations by the rather devious Daniël Hugo and then work with my layout artist, Donnie Light, to get the whole shebang on the road.

So to cut a long story short, this whole exercise of rebooting two entire novels basically kept me out of (some) mischief for all of half a year, pretty much. Am I glad that I've done this? Hellyeah. Would I do it again. Hellyeah. I enjoy the satisfaction of being in control of my backlist; as and when other titles revert to me, I'll reboot them and ensure that they remain available to my readers. It's very satisfying to be able to do so.

Now, without further ado, if you have yet to dip into my Books of Khepera, here's the dirty...

Jamie Guillaume is the man your mother warned you about, and South Africa’s wickedest man is about to raise more than hell. Haunted by the sinister Burning One and hunted by a pack of religious extremists, Jamie’s neck-deep in trouble.

Who does a black magician turn to when it seems like his carefully constructed world’s about to disintegrate? 

All Jamie wants is to get his life back on track. After all, no self-respecting occultist needs entanglement with a pack of fanatical Christo-militants. Nor does he want blood on his hands – innocent or not. But the nightmare is far from over. Now a fresh brand of hell is stalking the shadows in dreams, and young women are dying in violent ritual killings.

Can Jamie master his uneasy symbiosis with the sinister Burning One, get to the bottom of a rash of cult activity and stay one step ahead of a nosy reporter? All too soon the hunter becomes the hunted, and trouble with the police will be the least of Jamie’s worries. 

For those of you who're hardcore Jamie fans, yes... There is a book three. I'm about half done with it and it's waiting for a bit on the backburner while I complete two or three other titles. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Five minutes with Chris Limb, 2012 SA HorrorFest Bloody Parchment runner-up

A huge-ass welcome to Chris Limb, who's one of the runners-up in last year's SA HorrorFest Bloody Parchment short story competition. You can read his tale in The Root Cellar and Other Stories. Alibi freaked me out for a variety of reasons, the most hectic probably was the sense of how utterly bereft it made me feel by the

So, Chris, what planted the seed for your story?

One of my foibles is that I always sign up with a new social media service as soon as I hear about it just to see if they grab me. I tend to stick with those that work for me, one of which was Instagram. After using it for a while I found myself wondering how it “knew” where photos were originally taken, even if you posted them from elsewhere.

I then discovered EXIF data, which was the information embedded in photos, including the GPS location of where it was taken. After reading up on it, one the most interesting things for me was that it could be edited. You could embed lies in a photograph. I then wondered why someone would want a photograph to lie on his or her behalf, and the story grew from there.

What are some of the themes you treated in your tale? 

From the source of inspiration I suppose the theme of lying is central to the story.  From this comes morality – do the ends justify the means? Should some monsters just be killed or should a truly moral person seek another way? Things are never that simple and the experience of being human is always one of compromise, no matter the set of values to which we claim to adhere. I suppose there is also a theme of consequence – once we have decided upon a drastic course of action there will always be repercussions, even if they’re not the ones we expect. And things will never be the same again.

What are the hallmarks of a great horror/dark fantasy author and story? 

I think a great horror story should disturb. It should stick with you and bother you; particular turns of phrase from it echoing around your head for weeks afterwards.
It should make you afraid. If you wake at 3.45am you should find yourself getting scared because you just remembered the story you read the other day.  Of course you know that there are no ghosts but in the dead of night a good horror story should make you doubt this rational belief. So much so that you turn the light on.
Sometimes it should make you wish you’d never read it in the first place, but deep down you’re glad you did.

How do you approach your creative process? 

Inspiration does come from dreams I have, although often ideas seem to germinate in my mind whilst I’m awake. Something I see or hear will take root and start throwing out tendrils of “what if…”
A lot of the time these ideas will wash around in my head for ages before I write them down. I recently finished a short story the first few pages of which were in a file dated 2000!

However in recent years I have been forcing myself to write on a daily basis come what may. I have found that doing this does exercise the creative nodes and the fact of sitting down to write a story means that I have to come up with something. I started this daily writing in late 2010 in order to finish off a novel, Comeback, which I had been working on for several years – and I did so within a month or so.

During 2012’s NaNoWriMo I wrote half of the next novel in the series so this head-down-and-do-it approach does seem to work. I have to stop myself obsessing over the details and just get the writing done – I tell myself I can always fix them later.

I am an archaeologist rather than an architect when writing in that a lot of the time I don’t know what is going to happen next and so write in order to find out. However this approach doesn’t really work for short stories.

What are you working on now?

I am still submitting Comeback – which has now been through five or six revisions and is in its final form – to agents and publishers and in the meantime am working on finishing the first draft of the sequel, which is nominally called Ghostdance. Both are set in the music industry although have strong fantastical elements. I’ve also written the first couple of chapters of a SF novel dealing with parallel worlds and how we ended up in the wrong one.

I am continuing to write short stories and entering them for competitions and open calls. It is all good exercise unless it gets published and then it counts as work!

Twitter: @catmachine
Holding page for Comeback:
Site for 80s pop memoir:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Shadow Woman by Linda Howard #review

Title: Shadow Woman 
Author: Linda Howard
Publisher: Piatkus, 2013

Lizzy's life is so boring and ordinary it borders on being freakishly weird because of its plainness. She has a run-of-the-mill office job, and is such a slave to routine that she appears to be more a placeholder than a person.

That’s until she looks in the mirror one morning and doesn’t recognise the face that gazes back at her. And so it begins. Slowly, Lizzy’s memories begin seeping back, and she realises that her entire life for the past two years has been a lie and that she has massive blanks in her memory. The only thing she’s sure of is that she’s had training in evasive driving and weapons, and has a suspicion that her life must have been very different from what it is now.

Bourne Identity much?

We’re introduced to Xavier, the male protagonist. He clearly knows what went on in Lizzy’s life before the amnesia. But I was frustrated whenever I dipped into his point of view, because I felt the author wrote the character in such a way to be deliberately mysterious and evasive – a bit of a cheap trick to create suspense.

Granted, there’s a hint in the prologue, but it’s not enough. Pacing for Shadow Woman was an issue. Most of the novel is spent with Lizzy involved in rather mundane acts. I understand that the author wished to show a gradual unfolding of her character’s self-discovery.

But by the time the real action started, the book was almost finished. I almost gain the impression that she rushed the ending as she was chasing a word count rather than developing a suitably fabulous climax. Which I expected. But didn’t get.

The plot tied up too conveniently, and I feel the characters did not develop their story arcs completely. I expected a showdown with a big bang and all I got was a whimper.

Another aspect that bothered me was the premise. I struggled to suspend disbelief as to why Lizzy was placed in her situation when a bullet would have provided a simpler, tidier (though less pleasing) option. But if you can look past the flawed premise, this novel is still a fun read in the romantic suspense genre.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Why the nasty editor rejected your story

I’m one of those unfortunate souls who wear both the author and the editor hats. I know what it’s like on both ends of the scale, so I reckon it’s time I dish three of the main reasons why the nasty editor rejected your story.

The story wasn’t ready for publication
I know authors. They see a call for submissions. They get all hot and bothered and quickly dash off a short story. Then *maybe* JUST MAYBE they’ll get a friend to read it over and go over one more time to see if there are any gremlins. Then they press SEND to inflict a MS that is riddled with all sorts of awfulness.

Or the author’s been writing for a short while. They still have loads of bad habits, be it head-hopping, inability to punctuate dialogue or basic, technical writing skills that need to improve. Let’s face it. Some people aren’t natural writers. To them it’s a mechanical process, yet they yearn, with every squeeze of their little black hearts, to be the next Stephanie Meyer or Dan Brown. And yes, given time, they might overcome their technical issues, but JK Rowling and George RR Martin they are not. Yet they persist in writing stories that need more than just a little bit of spit and polish to remove the rough edges—which are many and varied.

It could also be a matter of story craft, of developing characters, balancing narrative summary with action sequences. Perhaps a story has reams and reams of exposition. These are all things you learn as you gain more experience.

But with all the aforementioned issues, the plain and simple reason why the editor rejected these stories was because they simply weren’t ready for publication. It’s not always easy seeing what’s wrong with your own writing, but that’s why it’s important to learn whenever you receive critique from your fellow writers or, if you’re even luckier, have an editor write you a personalized rejection letter.

It bored me
Sometimes an editor will read a story and it just won’t hook them at all. I’m sure you’ve heard agents and editors say this before: This is a highly subjective business, and it doesn’t reflect on your personal capabilities but…

There’s always that big BUT (or a butt if you're feeling particularly nasty). Plainly put, an atheist editor won’t relate to Christian inspirational fiction, and there’s a good chance a romance fan won’t want to read hardcore military SF.

Be honest with yourself. Are your characters three-dimensional? Does the dialogue flow naturally? Are the action sequences believable? Are you certain your premise isn’t just another Twilight clone?

Everyone’s got likes and dislikes, and you need to understand that you’re not going to please all of the people all of the time, no matter what you do.

Follow submission guidelines
It’s simple. Whether you are querying an agent or submitting a short story to an anthology, READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES AND FOLLOW THEM.

You have no idea how many authors submit material that is not to spec. I’ve had 23 000-word novellas submitted to an open call with a limit of no more than 3 500 words. And I’ve had Christian inspirational fiction submitted to a horror anthology (I kid you not). Not to mention thinly veiled flash fiction based on whatever TV series or movie is popular at the time. Don’t even get me started on The Walking Dead or the Saw films… These are out-and-out rejections. Why? Because you evidently don’t read. That’s why.

Lastly, if an editor rejects your story, don’t try to get snippy with comments like “Ah well, it’s your loss” or “You don’t know quality when you see it”. (Yes, I’ve had THOSE authors too.) You’re really not doing yourself a service, and if I see your name crop up again in future calls, I’ll hit the delete button without bothering to read.

* * * *

[deep breath and tucks away the spleen]

I am currently looking after the Tales of Darkness and Dismay imprint (Dark Continents Publishing) and am open to queries of short story anthologies and novellas. From time to time I also take on select clients for developmental edits. Anthologies I edit include the SA HorrorFest Bloody Parchment (eKhaya, Random House Struik), Dark Harvest (Dark Continents) and The Sea (Dark Continents). Query me at