Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The making of a trilogy and writing of gritty fiction by Patty Jansen

Today I hand over the reins to SF and fantasy author Patty Jansen, who is a member of SFWA and winner of the second quarter of the Writers of the Future contest. As well as in volume 27 of the contest, she has published fiction in various magazines such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Aurealis, Redstone SF and the Universe Annex of the Grantville Gazette. She has also 'indie' published a number of longer works. Patty lives in Sydney, Australia.

Patty has a PhD in science, and before becoming a writer, Patty worked in agricultural research.

I like my fiction gritty. Whether I write fantasy or science fiction, I like to imagine the smells and sounds and little details that make fiction real. If you're writing about space travel, any fiction that does not cover the visceral reality of living in close quarters with others will be too vanilla and glossed-over. Those details create a sense of authenticity.

When I was little, we once witnessed an accident where a number of trucks crashed into the back of one another at a traffic light. The accident wasn't particularly serious nor was there much to see, but to this day, I remember the screams of pain from one of the drivers. That is the sort of detail I go for: in every situation, but particularly horrid ones, grab one detail and fixate the characters on it as something they will remember for the rest of their lives. Because that is what we do in reality: remember details of smell, of colour, of something unusual or chilling.

Primitive fantasy-style life isn't pretty. People get sick young in life and if they get better, carry the scars. Teeth fall out. Health problems which we consider fixable continue to fester and become visible even in young people. If you root around, you get pregnant. If you have a child, things can get messy.

Some people say "I don't want to read about that stuff". They want no one to get pregnant, no one to die in childbirth, no one to get rickets and have ugly crooked legs for the rest of his life.

That's fine, but romanticised fiction is not for me. I love Joe Abercrombie and with his type of fiction in mind, I wrote the Icefire Trilogy. The concept behind it is fantastical and absurd. Not everything is meant to pass a laws-of-physics inspection. Think The Ten Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin.

In a post-apocalyptic world, the major construction that remains from an ancient civilisation is a machine that people call the Heart which gives off a radiation, called icefire, that has had a profound effect on creatures around it. Knights ride on eagles big enough to carry the weight of a grown man, and people and animals can live without their hearts, as servitors.

People have learned to use to power. All people who live in the southern land are immune to the radiation, others can wield it like magic, but people who are not local die from its effects. A sorcerer with dubious motives revives the Heart from the slumber state in which it has lain for fifty years. He only needs an army of heart-less servitors to control the power.

Of course, all sorts of things go wrong, and the power spreads outward, to countries across the border whose population has steam technology, but cannot withstand icefire.

Gritty scenes, there are plenty, although not that much violence happens "live".

But there is one scene that still gives me nightmares. I call it "the train". I have no idea how my mind came up with that twisted piece of fiction.

Book 1 of the trilogy is currently free on major ebook retailers.

Links: Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, B&N, and Apple.

About Patty Jansen:
Patty Jansen lives in Sydney, Australia, where she spends most of her time writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. She has sold fiction to genre magazines such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Redstone SF and Aurealis. Her novels (available at ebook venues) include Shifting Reality (hard SF), The Far Horizon (middle grade SF), Charlotte’s Army (militarFire & Ice, Dust & Rain and Blood & Tears (Icefire Trilogy) (dark fantasy).
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Patty is on Twitter (@pattyjansen), Facebook, Goodreads, LibraryThing, google+ and blogs at http://pattyjansen.com/

Monday, October 28, 2013

Cat Hellisen's House of Sand and Secrets

As far as bookish folk go, I'm really blessed to know Cat Hellisen and get to work with her professionally. She's been an invaluable member of the Adamastor Writers' Guild here in Cape Town, and from time to time we also have write-ins here in my Treehaus where a few of us get together to throw words around. Her fantasy novel When the Sea is Rising Red made me cry, not once, but twice. Her world-building is tangible, and her characters are prickly and authentic. 

When she offered me the chance to throw a hairy eyeball at House of Sand and Secrets, the sequel to When the Sea is Rising Red, I just about had a palpitations. Felicita and Jannik's hesitant relationship is one of my favourites. They are delightfully awkward, and there are times when I want to shake sense into them and others where they are just so *right* together.

But I get ahead of myself. Go add the book to your TBR pile... And I have Cat here today for a little Q&A.

For the completely uninitiated, tell us a little about Felicita and her world. What has brought her to this point?

Felicita began as the poor little rich girl in my debut novel When the Sea is Rising Red. I was happy with the growth she'd made but I wanted to push her a little more and see how she developed when she had to actually live the life she ended up in. She arranged her own marriage for political purposes – to salvage what she could of her future – but she's telling herself that's all she did it for. The truth is a lot more complicated. House of Sand and Secrets begins with her trying to ignore her feelings, to sublimate them under her attempts to regain some power within the social hierarchy of her new city.

For all that she's a person who lies to herself, who has been brought up to be intolerant, racist, and classist, there's a part of Felicita I like – her refusal to give in, and her genuine attempts to break herself out of her indoctrination. She makes terrible choices sometimes, but almost always with a good reason driving them.

We've talked about your bats before, but they're central to the plot in this case. Mostly, we're looking at the uneasiness of cross-cultural relationships. Can you elaborate a little?

The vampires in my Oreyn books are not immortal, shape-shifting bloodsuckers, but they are treated like animals – their rights taken from them, forced to live in ghettos or work as little more than slaves. Felicita's marriage to Jannik is a social misstep, one that she has to fight against at every moment. She has to deal with external pressure, but also her own feelings about marrying across castes. Jannik is one of my favourite characters to write. He's intensely conflicted by his marriage – aware that it's supposed to be a marriage of convenience while still being in love with his wife and unable to express it. 

Because the vampire culture is bisexual, there is also his inclination to try and find comfort from his apparently loveless marriage with other male vampires. So things can get layered and complicated.

What I particularly love about your writing as well is that your characters show a fluidity of sexuality. How do GLBTI issues reflect in your world-building with regard to culture? 

The world of Oreyn has several major cultural norms – some cultures are openly bisexual, others are okay with it "under cover", while the third is more conservative. In general though, the world is much more comfortable with gender-queering and homosexuality than our own world. Depending on what level of society we're dealing with, even within the major cultural groups there are things that are more, or less acceptable. What would be perfectly normal in a large, middle class family might be frowned on in a High House family where the customs are patriarchal, and inheriting and carrying on the family name is key to their survival.

As a writer, I have to think about what would be acceptable in each character's case – and how that would be reflected in their behaviour and thinking, and the attitudes of those around them. It can make for some delightfully cross-purpose conversations.

What to you are some of the most important elements to telling a good story? What do you look for in a good book?

Good writing is number one. I can forgive many things for good writing, but bad writing means I drop the book. I love character more than plot, and I'm sure it shows, but I want anything that happens within the plot to be logical, to be able to see where and why things are happening. But good writing and a character that fascinates – those are my main criteria. I particularly love fantasy that plays, that takes tropes and turns them inside out, that takes risks. I'd rather read a beautiful failure than a safe and easy plod-a-long.

What is the most rewarding thing for you about returning to your "Hobverse"? What do you love the most about this setting?

I have no idea. I love the world, I love the characters I've created. Coming back to them feels like dipping into the folk-lore of another country, with all its myths and strangeness. I've designed all the Hobverse books (more accurately – The Books of Oreyn) to be stand-alone, but part of a greater story – a little like what Terry Pratchett has done with his wonderful Discworld novels.

I am fascinated by the interplay of the magical and mundane, and that's why you have things like the unis, which are giant goats bred to have only one horn so that rich women could have their coaches pulled by "unicorns", and which later became contaminated by magical fall-out and became..well...unicorns. Where the magic of the upper classes can only be accessed if they take a particular drug, and true wild magic is destroyed as soon as it is discovered. Stuff like that amuses me. 

Thanks for visiting, Cat! And here's to the success of House of Sand and Secrets!

Buy House of Sand and Secrets on Kindle or DRM-free directly from the publisher. Add it on Goodreads... And remember to leave a review. Oh, and go stalk Cat on Twitter

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Emerald Forge by Manda Benson #review

Title: The Emerald Forge
Author: Manda Benson
Publisher: Tangentrine Ltd, 2012

Once again, Manda Benson has dragged me back into her world. Having read nearly all of her SF titles by now, it's absolutely fantastic to get to see the "prehistory" of her world-building – all the stuff that gets mentioned in Dark Tempest et al.

Dana is a troubled protagonist, who suffers the brunt of bullies' attention and is socially maladjusted. And she lives a double life. On one hand she's just a kid. On another, she's the result of a scientific experiment that didn't quite go according to plan for her creator, one Ivor Pilgrennon.

This is YA with a difference. You're not going to see a love triangle. Instead you're dropped into the heart of turmoil from the perspective of one very brave girl who's caught on the cusp of young adulthood. She's old enough to reach for bigger things, but is still considered a child. A very frustrating place to be indeed.

As always, Benson's cybernetic creations are fascinating. In The Emerald Forge we encounter fantastical beasts brought to life in unexpected ways. Star of the show is the "wyvern" made up of metal and biological matter. Not so groovy is its opposite, the "griffin". The scarred Pendrick sees through the eyes of his martial eagle. Birds implanted with devices form deadly swarms. We see the first of the horses that were the highlight of Benson's novel Moonsteed.

Benson is unafraid of exploring the sociological implications of unfettered science. Though her characters are not easily likable and are often abrasive, they carry with them a kind of rough charm. Once you step into Benson's world, be prepared to be sucked into a reality as tangible and well realised as those created by the likes of Anne McCaffrey or CJ Cherryh.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bloody Parchment launch and event October 30

Okay, I'm totally happy. This is what 100 copies of Bloody Parchment looks like...

With many thanks to Fahiema and Fourie over at Random House Struik, as well as the totally fabulous Louis Greenberg. Those of you who're in Cape Town this Halloween and who're horror fans, can dig the awesomeness that is the South African HorroFest (there are tons of awesome films and events related to this happening). GO CHECK IT OUT.

The Bloody Parchment event, of course, is part of this, and it's totally a huge amount of fun. This year we'll be launching our print version on the same night as the event, which is promising to be a blast. Go read more about the event here and RSVP over at Facebook.

But in the meanwhile, allow me to gloat happily over the awesomeness that is our dead-tree version of Bloody Parchment. I never get tired of a finished product.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Dark Harvest cover reveal

Oh haaaai, here we go. Cover reveal for Dark Harvest (release date to be announced soon because I like being mysterious, okay). But it's via Dark Continents Publishing, and it was a closed call where I collected fiction by some of my favourite authors.

This is the blurby thing: 
A whisper of butterflies’ wings promises a lonely old man his heart’s desire; mages draw upon music to work magic; and a fearful symmetry threatens an alien realm. Be it in our dreams or flights of fancy that take us into uncharted territory, our hopes and desires often birth twisted imaginings. This selection of tales, some devious or whimsical, others downright eerie and unsettling, offers glimpses into other, darker realities. 

Allow Amy Lee Burgess, Anna Reith, Autumn Christian, Carrie Clevenger, DC Petterson, Don Webb, Liz Strange, Nerine Dorman, Rab Fulton, Sarah Lotz, SL Schmitz, Sonya Clark and Toby Bennett to remove you from what’s familiar – just for a short while – and bring you back changed.

Cover art is a combination of photography by the super-awesome husband of mine, Dr-Benway and my soul sister, Carmen, who's not only a fecking amazing photographer, but I think she's a fecking hot designer.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Fae by CJ Abedi

Title: Fae (Book 1)
Author: CJ Abedi
Publisher: Diversion Books, 2013

The first thing that struck me when I started with Fae was that it’s going to appeal to your Twilight fans. The premise is simple: an ordinary girl gradually discovers that there’s far more to her past than meets the eye. Enter the new boy and their decidedly tsundere situation. Of course the new boy isn’t quite human, and there are greater forces at play … you get my drift.

Caroline is likeable from the get-go. She’s that ordinary girl next door. Thank goodness for that. She isn’t the class reject either. The school’s new quarterback, however, Devilyn Reilly, falls squarely into Edward Cullen territory. He’s tall, dark and just so g
oddamned perfect. And he’s a Dark Fae who’s doing his level best not to turn out like his evil father.

The attraction between the two is instant, since they’re puppets to a prophecy that Caroline is heir to the Light and, once wed to Devilyn, they’ll unify light and dark and end ages of enmity. Of course this has been foretold to tragic consequences, and Devilyn’s determined to prevent this from taking place while still looking out for his destined mate.

Meddling in all of this is Odin, of the Norse pantheon, which left me curious by the end of the story as to what the old guy was doing getting mixed up in Fae affairs. And where were the others, like Freya or Loki. Just curiosity on my part. The authors do a solid bit of world-building and pacing is generally strong.

So that’s pretty much the plot. We’ve got Light vs. Dark (check); destined mates instaluv (check) and a whole lot of high school hijinks ensue. If this is your thing, you will probably love Fae and overlook its rough edges.

But this has to be said. There *are* rough edges, and I’d be amiss if I didn’t point them out. Apart from the obvious fondness for the word “suddenly” (sorry, this is one of my pet hates), there were some *very* strange things going on with the dialogue’s punctuation. Once or twice I might’ve overlooked, but there were consistently bizarre quirks I’d expect from newish writers. I don’t know if this was just the version of the novel I was given to review, but nowhere did I see any notification that this was an ARC e-copy. So… A note to the publisher, if this was the final, and it can be fixed, please do.

This being said, this is a fun story, filled with magic, fair folk and hints of a greater mystery, and the series is off to a promising start.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Of Mountains and vines

I’M still convinced Steenberg Vineyards exists in its own pocket of reality outside the rest of the world’s. It’s so ridiculously easy to roar past without sparing a glance for the vineyards above you on the mountainside.

But, next time you’re in the mood to slow down and take a detour, do consider the Steenberg Winery, where you’ll find Bistro Sixteen82. It’s well worth the visit, especially if you want to feel like you’re in the winelands without having to drive all the way to Stellenbosch or Paarl.

While you mission up the road to the winery, you’ll see brightly painted modern sculptures. These are by Edoardo Villa, a local artist of Italian descent, who is known for his installations in steel and bronze. The artwork seems at first to jar the senses, but in a way the smooth, almost geometric shapes and the verdant landscaping seem to complement each other.

The Steenberg Winery itself is a venue that will wow you (and you might even consider planning a special event). Even though the architecture seems larger than life, it’s nevertheless warm and inviting. The chandelier in the tasting area is one of the first design elements to grab the attention – what seems like thousands of pieces of ruby-hued, shaped glass pieces cascading from the ceiling. Large windows make you feel as though the spectacular water feature is about to invite itself into the dining area, and of course I couldn’t resist my childlike urge to take a walk along the stepping stones.

This wasn’t my first visit to Bistro Sixteen82 and, after this, I’m quite happy to say it won’t be my last, because executive chef Brad Ball has struck gold with whatever magic he’s weaving here. The mere fact that Bistro Sixteen82 has been buzzing since November 2009 says a lot, especially in Cape Town’s fickle restaurant climate.

Though the bistro serves breakfasts and lunches, we were primarily here for the tapas. Last month chef Brendan November offered an array of Mexican-inspired dishes, and we opted for tacos de pescados, which was served with a spicy tomato salsa; Valerie’s Choice – a cheese platter served with fresh fruit and – get this – candied walnuts (to die for, you absolutely must try them); and the shrimp and monkfish ceviche that was certainly colourful.

Then I made a big mistake. I shared my portion of churros with my husband. Why I did that I don’t know, and I will forever regret this decision. All I’ve done since then is bemoan the fact that I need to try those churros again. For those not in the know (like me, before I had my first churro), this is a Spanish “doughnut” – basically a length of pastry that’s been deep-fried until it’s crispy then dusted in sugar. Oh, wait, I forgot to mention that you dip it in melted chocolate. (Yes, this is one of the few cases where sharing is incredibly stupid, and I will never do it again.)

During this month Bistro Sixteen82 is keeping things fresh by changing the menu (so no more churros for Nerine) and I’ve heard that they’ll be offering a variety of Asian tapas. Of course tapas is for the sharing. There’s no crouching over your individual plates; it’s all about beating your husband’s fingers off the choice bits.

Bistro Sixteen82 is the kind of venue that encourages you to forget about the world outside – rare indeed – and, even better, the staff strike a balance between being unobtrusive and attentive. My verdict: stop putting off a visit to Bistro Sixteen82 and go already. So many of my friends say yes, they’ve heard of it but haven’t been there yet. I can guarantee one thing: you’ll go back – again and again – winter or summer.

Bistro Sixteen82 offers a breakfast and lunch menu, as well as a tapas and children’s menu. Opening hours are 9am to 11am (breakfast); lunch is served from noon to 4pm. Tapas is served in the late afternoon and at sunset, from 4.30pm to 8pm. Call 021 713 2211, e-mail reservations@bistro1682.co.za or visit www.steenberg-vineyards.co.za.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

About bloody time ... Finished season 1 of Supernatural

I am a terrible person because I only finished watching Supernatural Season 1 this month, and the darn thing came out in 2005 already. As an editor and author of chiefly fantasy and horror, and whatever other sub-genres you care to basically split these into, I guess it was about high time that I got into Supernatural, if only to catch any references to this when reading submissions.

And now I'm chiefly reminded of Anna Dressed in Blood, a recent YA paranormal novel by Kendare Blake which, now that I look at it, has all the hallmarks of an extended Supernatural episode – just sans the bromance elements we've come to know, love and expect with Sam and Dean.

There's no doubt that Supernatural has had a massive impact on urban fantasy an paranormal fiction. And perhaps there's a bit of bio-feedback happening by now, I'm sure.

But getting back to Season 1. I'll start with the uglies. The dialogue and the writing for the episodes feels very hit and miss for me. The first half of the season mostly limps along like a monster-of-the-week kind of scenario. We have everything from vengeful spirits, demon possession and bugs to such urban legend stalwarts like Bloody Mary. Don't forget ancient pagan gods that require blood sacrifice or ... yes. Vampires. This latter thread was left open and I'm curious to see whether our fanged buddies will show up again. (No! Don't tell me! I want to find out for myself!)

Character motivation to behave in certain ways tends toward sketchy. How many times when the brothers split up to do stuff and shit goes wrong... Or just weird dialogue. Or insane leaps of logic.

But yeah. This didn't bother me too much because I was looking for a fun paranormal fix for the same reason that I often love watching classic horror films.

Plainly put, Supernatural is just fun. The Sam/Dean dynamic is just that – dynamic. It's abundantly clear that the actors are having *fun*. The writers play with just about every trope in the horror genre you can imagine, so there's often instant recognition if you're up to speed with your assorted trivia.

If I have to peg a favourite episode from Season 1, it's definitely #19 "Provenance" which features the haunted painting. I think this was the only episode that had me even the tiniest bit anxious. And the writers did a really good job with their misdirection on this one.

Of course I did love the vampires in #20 "Dead Man's Blood". Luther was suitably slinky and schmexy, and I do hope we get to see Kate again. Also, I dig the concept of that magical Colt with its enchanted bullets.

So far everyone tells me things get better from Season 2, which is next up on my TBW list. I'd love to know from you what your favourite episodes from Season 1 were, however.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How the hell I do it... [with coffee, okay]

When folks find out what sort of deadline madness my life consists of, the first thing they ask is HOW THE HELL DO YOU DO IT?

No. Really.

Firstly, I have a day job. I'm a sub-editor for one of the largest newspaper publishers in South Africa. I'm just a little cog in the daily deadline wheel. While my day job might not be the most exciting after almost ten years, it's still one that I enjoy. Our deadlines are quick. Often we work under incredible pressure, not only subbing text (editing it) but laying it out too. So it's a little bit of wordsmith, and a little bit of playing designer.

But then I love writing too. Hell, since I've been a little girl, I've wanted to be a writer. This is, however, where working at the papers offers another benefit: I'm friends with editors who publish my writing. These could be op eds, book reviews or travel stories (the latter's cool 'cos I sometimes get to travel, for free).

We're not always helluva busy at work, so I can sneak the writing in between the deadlines.

As if that's not enough, I also write fiction. Unlike normal people, I don't go out during lunch (well, most lunches, that is). I stay in and write. It's the only time of the day when I don't get disturbed and you'd be amazed at how much you can get done in an hour without any interruptions.

Then there's the editing. I take on selected freelance clients across a range of genres (everything from BDSM through to horror), and I normally try get this done over weekends. But more often than not, my authors usually come to me in a state with some *interesting* deadlines, and then I see what I can do to accommodate them. I've been known to swing a 100k-word novel over a weekend. I'm kinda crazy like that but I love the pressure.

On top of all that, there's the Tales of Darkness and Dismay line that I direct for Dark Continents. This is also very much a selective process bringing out novels, anthologies and chapbooks.

Where do I find the time?

It's fairly simple: I am the boss when it comes to making "to do" lists. Excel spreadsheets are my friends. I might not sit for hours each day with the freelance stuff, but I set short-, medium- and long-term goals.

Then, most importantly, I decide *when* I'm going to do stuff that's chilled, like watching an episode of Supernatural while having dinner, going to the gym or playing guitar. Or simply just reading. I'm lucky in that I spend almost two hours a day commuting by train. This is my sanity time where I plug in music, relax and read.

I do admit I don't have much of a social life. Due to health issues in the past, I no longer go out to clubs or large events. To be honest, I prefer living quietly. The husband already has his film production company, so our lives get pretty *interesting* while they're in pre-production or shooting. Not to mention his photoshoots, which invariably turn the house upside down. Writers' meetings and book launches are the highlight of my month. Sometimes we go out on accommodation reviews or road trips to visit family.

Mostly, it helps having a home environment that's a haven. You need to create a space in which you feel comfortable to work that's yours alone. Let the rest of the family understand that when you close your door, it's closed, and you're not to be bothered. Then, set yourself goals for just that hour that you're working, be it editing 10 pages, writing 500 new words... And do just that, without any distractions. That means closing browser windows and hiding your phone in your desk drawer, if need be. Then, aim to do this every day at more or less the same time, so that it's a routine. Don't be afraid to refine your goals.

You'd be amazed at how much you can get done.

Oh, and don't forget to make time to just relax too, hey. Go walk the dog or take on a hobby that *doesn't* involve being crouched in front of a screen.

Now, go check out my books and feed some to your Kindle. (Had to put some sort of commercial thingiemajig in, mmmkay?)

Monday, October 14, 2013

Bloody Parchment: The Root Cellar in print

I interrupt your TV dinners tonight to bring you the absolutely brilliant news that Bloody Parchment: The Root Cellar is currently in print, and we'll be producing a limited run which (if all goes well) we'll launch at the Bloody Parchment event as part of the SA HorrorFest this year.

But here's the cover... And it was worth the wait to get none other than Thomas Dorman AKA the infamous Dr-Benway to weave his magic. If you're yet to read this wonderful little anthology of night terrors, it's available for Kindle and Kobo, among others.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ash, an anthology

Allow me to be suitably excited today, because it's the release of Pandemonium: Ash, an anthology of short fiction brought out by Jurassic London.

The blurb pretty much sums everything up...

When Krakatoa exploded, it shook the world. The volcano rained fire and unleashed floods, but the worst was still to follow. 1883 was a year of darkness and cold, as the global temperature dropped and the skies were wreathed in ash. It was also a year of fiery sunsets and blue moons, where the impossible could - and did - happen...

Ash explores a world where myths come to life and strange creatures wash up in the shallows - a world where survival is only the first of many struggles, and the monsters can take many forms.

Ash contains new (very) short stories by Lavie Tidhar, Charlie Human, Nerine Dorman, Timothy J. Jarvis, Dan Green and Richard de Nooy. 

The stories of Ash take place in the same shared setting as A Town Called Pandemonium and 1853, as well as the forthcoming The Streets of Pandemonium and The Rite of Spring. Ash can be read on its own or part of the shared world series.

Okay, so I'm totally stoked to see who else is included in this anthology. Even better is that you can download Ash for free. Go see more here, at the publisher's website where you'll also get a bunch of download links. Then do us a favour, go leave a review at Goodreads.

My story draws on my mother's childhood. She grew up in the (then) remote fishing village of Hout Bay in South Africa. What stuck in my mind, is a story she said her ouma told her about when Krakatoa exploded, that they remembered the unusual sunsets. Okay, it's not *quite* what I ended up concocting, but it definitely sparked my imagination, which departed on some interesting tangents. I often dream of the sea. That is all. My mother really did jump up and down on a stranded Mola mola once upon a time. I don't think they wash up anymore.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


At time of writing, we’re very much between “Those Books I Won’t Name” and “The Next Big Bandwagon”. I watch my social media with trepidation, waiting, anticipating… Because we know it will happen, and soon everyone, including your horsey sister and your mother’s next door neighbour’s aunt will be reading Those Books. They may never have read one of Those Books before, and probably never will again, but hey, you know, their excuse will be, “…my cousin’s best friend from Bible study told her about it, and I was curious…” (The rest, as they say, is ancient history.)

You’ll find yourself on the train, watching a young woman furtively trying to hide what’s on the screen of her iPad or Kindle, in case someone should see her reading one of Those Books. No. I’m not making this stuff up. Every once in a while, said young woman will squirm uncomfortably like her jeans just got too tight.

Moving swiftly onward… I don’t have a problem with Those Books. In fact, I edit authors who write books very similar to the Those Books that recently captured the throbbing clits of what feels like half the planet. I’m very happy for authors who actually make money writing tales that have mass appeal.

But, guess what? I’m not one of Those Authors, and I’m not one of Those Readers, who’ll avidly read Those Books Everyone is Talking About.

Don’t get me wrong. I do sometimes write schmexxors in my novels. I don’t shy away from a good boinking if the plot calls for it. But it’s not the overarching motivation for me when I’m telling my stories. Because, guess what? I’m one of those sad, sad authors who writes the kind of stories *she* wants to read. And my imagination of late is a very, very strange place that might not have universal appeal.

So, a word of advice, please don’t approach me with that glazed expression on your face, when you grip my arm and say those immortal words, “Have you heard about That Author, who writes Those Books?” (Or mention an article you read in the papers you assume I would have seen.)

To which I can only nod dumbly while my assailant blithely continues, “You should write books like that.”

Um. No. No. No. No.

Dear reader, you’re missing the point. Those Books are not right for me. Now, please go away and let me continue writing my devious tales of lost worlds, madness and stolen faerie princes. My vampires don’t glitter and, guess what? They have fangs. Here be dragons and all that.

If that means I’m doomed to my small but rather rabid cult following, I’ll take my teeny tiny posse of fans any day rather than rely on the fickle attentions of riding on the global Next Big Bandwagon.

Lastly, you are free to read the books you want to. Just because the whole world and his wife rages about how cool or how devious a story is doesn’t mean you have to automatically like it too. On the opposite end of the scale, not every author who’s at the helm of a universal bestseller is dreck either. I make no apologies for thinking that JK Rowling is the dog’s bollocks and I couldn’t give a damn whether you disagree with me.

The point is, you choose to read a particular story because it makes you happy and, for a while, offers you an escape from the crushing misery that is our reality. If it means you want to be a sappy teenager in love with a vampire who has a dodgy hairstyle, or be a wondrous boy wizard with a special wand, that’s your call to make, and no one else’s. I’m not sitting here in judgment. Just let me do my thing on my own terms, okay? My way’s not better; it’s different. That’s all.

PS, actually, I've come close to writing some of THOSE BOOKS.

If you like the schmexxors, then go give Hell's Music or Tainted Love a little lube.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Other Side by Hillary Rohde #review

Title: The Other Side: A Memoir 
Author: Hillary Rohde
Publisher: Jacana, 2013

When this book promised to tell about a woman’s experiences with gypsies, Mick Jagger and a knitwear empire, I stopped in my tracks and asked, “Whut?” Naturally, I had to find out what this one was all about, even though I’m normally wary of reading autobiographical accounts.

From the start what I appreciated about Hillary’s voice was her honesty. She doesn’t shy away from the salient details – warts and all. So, yes, she touches on her youthful psychedelic adventures, as well as her travels – with sometimes unintended hair-raising situations which Hillary scrapes through.

Hillary did what many of us perhaps dream of; instead of remaining on well-trodden paths, she was not afraid to explore her world, often without a back-up plan. A scary thought for most of us, yet the author goes to show that this can work, be it sheer, bloody-minded luck on her part or a charmed  existence.

There is one dark moment when Hillary says very little for very good reason, but it’s perhaps the brevity of what she imparts and what she doesn’t say that has more impact. Her words are nevertheless a gut punch at that place in time.

Hillary left South Africa when the 1960s were in full swing, and her journeys took her to an obscure island off the coast of West Africa, to travelling with gypsies around the English countryside.

For a while she lived on one of Mick Jagger’s properties before taking up with an assortment of commune-dwelling folk. During that time she met her husband, Rick, and eventually moved to an isolated peninsula in Scotland.

Not to be outdone, she discovered her passion for creating knitwear, which started with her spinning and dyeing her own yarns to an eventually lucrative business creating cashmere sweaters.

Though impulsive, Hillary rises to the challenges life throws her with boundless energy – hats off to her. Though some might consider her choices reckless, this goes hand in hand with the knowledge that things can and do work out in the end.

Sometimes you should just be inspired, let go and take that first, definitive step into the unknown. Things aren’t always safe, comfortable or convenient, but you’re bound to be in for one hell of a ride.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Looking forward to DC Petterson's Lupa Bella

Okay, I'm pleased as punch about Lupa Bella by DC Petterson. David and I've known each other for ages, and we recently worked together on his novel, A Melancholy Humour, which was published as an ebook through Lyrical Press. Seriously, if you're looking for a contemporary werewolf novel that recalls the very classic styles of masters such as Alice Borchardt and SP Somtow, *do* pick this book up. I promise you'll enjoy it if wolves are your thing. But back to Lupa Bella. It goes as follows...

For a thousand years, the de Luna family has protected the slopes of Santo Stefano from the outside world. Magic wanders through the woodlands, electricity is but a distant rumour, and werewolves are still secretly fostered to human families. It is 1962, and that’s all about to change. One young wolf struggles to understand the threats of the new age, while protecting her brother, her lover, her secret, her birthright, and the feudal lord who still knows the Old Ways.

What must she lose, and what will survive?

Lupa Bella is being released in the Tales of Darkness and Dismay line, which falls under the Dark Continents Publishing umbrella. Lupa Bella is a historical fantasy novel that DC Petterson wrote as a bit of prequel about his wolves, if you will. You don't have to read the books in order, but they are definitely complementary.

In addition, DC Petterson is the author of Still Life (Lillibridge Press) in addition to A Melancholy Humour. He says: “I wanted to tell a compelling story about the tragedy of abandoning our instinctual, sensual, animal nature in the face of technology and so-called ‘progress’. If we deny our animal selves, we lose our humanity. Passion drives us whether we acknowledge it or not, and passion repressed is a sterile psychosis. We fear and shun the beast, yet turning away from her leads always to greater sins and worse horrors. This can’t be expressed as a rational argument; it has to be told as a seductive tale.”

The cover illustration is by non other than the rather talented Milan Colovic, who's a very talented artist currently operating out of Serbia. He's an absolute dream to work with, and if you're looking for high-quality art, go find him here at eLance. I'll certainly be sending work his way again. Cover treatment and layout is by none other than the awesomely fantastic Donnie Light, who knows the ins and outs of formatting too. If you're stuck for someone to help you produce your novel for indie publishing, he's your go-to man. Drop him a mail and tell him I referred you.

Well, folks, there you have it. Lupa Bella releases on October 31 and will be available in ebook format as well as in print via Amazon. Now go stalk David on Twitter and tell him I sent you.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Horror movies that scared me to death… by AE Rought

Today I let AE Rought loose on my blog. If you don't know her she's the author of the paranormal YA Broken series published through Strange Chemistry and she's just celebrated the release of book #2, Tainted. Plus there's a Rafflecopter thingie at the bottom that's pretty neat too. (Go check the Broken series out if you're into your Frankenstein... And I'll shurrup now.)

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This post was supposed to be about the five horror movies that scared me to death. I guess I’m a hardass, because there just aren’t that many. In fact, there’s only one that gave me nightmares, and a months-long chill in my spine.

I’ll admit just about any movie can make me flinch when the atmosphere is right and the villain/demon/monster suddenly jumps out and scares the pants off of one hapless victim or another. To me, that’s more of a knee-jerk reaction, than actual fear. I think I flinched somewhere during The Blair Witch Project…before I fell asleep in the theater. My husband said I’m just jaded because of what I write. Maybe. It might explain why gore never really affects me, either.  Used right, it’s a great tool to manipulate the audience’s emotions. Used too much, gore can bore, and turn me off. Kind of like the difference between someone well-dressed, and someone with a strategically placed towel. Show too much and it leaves nothing to the imagination.

We’ve watched so many horror movies it would be impossible to list them all. I could toss out a few of my favorites, though. The Hellraiser series, especially the first two. There’s something about American Gothic that speaks to me. The Exorcist, the first is the best. Nightmare on Elm Street, I loved the humor in them. The Alien movies… Not much has come along recently that flipped my horror-watching trigger. Guillermo Del Toro’s Mama was a huge disappointment. The Paranormal Activity flicks were just boring.

The one movie that scared me? Admittedly, this was forever ago and the last time I watched it, it didn’t spook me in the least. But, when I think back to that time, I can still feel a ghost of that fear. In junior high I believe, I spent the night at a friend’s house, and we sat up late and watched The Howling. Yep, you read it right, The Howling scared me.

For me, part of the fear connection was it tapped into my nightmares about being chased. Primal fight or flight—I guess I’m a runner, at least subconsciously. So, when Karen was chased, I felt her fear. I could put myself in her place, feel breath on my neck, pressure on nerves telling me something’s there. I think what really did me in was the door with the damn smiley face sticker shaking, while a wolf tore at the other side. I can still see that scene. And the special affects? Back in the early 80s, they were awesome! (Well, except for Karen’s husband and the camp slut getting it on in mid transformation…) After watching The Howling the first time, I slept with my closet door shut tight, and the door to the hallway cracked open for an easy escape. Any creak, any rustle, and I was wide awake, looking for moving shadows, a wolfy face…
Eventually, the night fright faded. Years later, I watched horror movies with relish.

Maybe that first damned good scare opened a door to the dark inside? I’m not sure, but after getting past that fear, I embraced all things spooky. And, yes, I wrote two stories from a werewolf’s point of view, one published under a penname, and one with my agent right now.

Looking back, maybe The Howling was the first step on my path to becoming the author I am today.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Journey from Darkness by Gareth Crocker #review

Title: Journey from Darkness
Author: Gareth Crocker and Llewellyn Crocker
Publisher: Penguin, 2012

For those who have a deep, abiding love of the African bush and its denizens, father-and-son duo Gareth and Llewellyn have whisked up an evocative tale that’s sure to gain an emotional reactions from sensitive readers.

Somehow twin brothers Derek and Edward made it through the trenches of World War I. They find their way to Africa where they get involved in a pioneering conservation project. Elephant poaching is at its height, and the majestic tuskers are being butchered, and brutally so.

Existing almost as complete opposites to the twin brothers are a pair of poachers, incidentally also brothers, who are also survivors of the Great War. Only they didn’t quite transcend their personal darkness, which fuels their bloodlust as they go about the dismal business of poaching elephants. A little too conveniently, the authors paint these two out to be stereotypical storybook villains complete with tattoos and a fixation with death-dealing and sadism.

Derek and Edward soon encounter a wounded, almost mythical desert elephant, and Derek, with Edward’s support, gets it into his head to accompany the pachyderm in her overland quest, ostensibly to protect her from poachers but also, to a degree, I suspect to conquer his own sense of purposelessness in the aftermath of the war. It goes without saying that he’s going to lock horns with the poachers, who know only cruelty. But Derek’s no pushover, and he goes about exacting revenge.

The thing that marred my experience of reading the novel was that at its close I encountered serious point of view issues. I then had to go back and reread a number of sections just to figure out particulars, and even then I became quite annoyed because there would have been an easier way to get around the problem. My main gripe: characters withholding key information in order to create suspense.

Technical problems aside, however, Gareth and Llewellyn have touched upon certain topical issues – such as mankind’s impact on Africa’s wildlife, and whether the end justifies the means when it comes to resolving some of them, and just for that, Journey from Darkness is bound to elicit some thought-provoking dialogue among readers.