Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Woken Gods by Gwenda Bond #review

Title: The Woken Gods
Author: Gwenda Bond
Publisher: Strange Chemistry, 2013

Seventeen-year-old Kyra Locke’s world is very different from our own because five years ago the ancient gods woke, and since then things have been a bit chaotic for humans.

Washington D.C. where Kyra lives is the epicentre of all the action and is where the gods have their headquarters. Kyra’s truly in the thick of things due to the fact that her father works for the Society of the Sun, which acts as an intermediary between gods and mankind. Mostly, the Society has access to relics that help them keep the gods in line.

Kyra’s not exactly a happy camper because things between her and her parents aren’t all that great. Her father is absent most of the time and her mom – an oracle – has left the family for unknown reasons.

Things truly go south for Kyra when the trickster gods take an unhealthy interest in her, and she finds herself in a race against time to rescue her father from execution for treason.

Okay. Deep breath. I wanted to like this book a lot. From the outside, it has all the elements that I treasure, BUT, try as I might, I just couldn’t follow the storyline or understand the characters’ motivations, which seemed to shift continuously. By the time I was done, I was as confused as when I started, and I pride myself on keeping things straight. Not good when I continuously ask, BUT WHY? while I’m reading.

I get the idea that Kyra, due to her bloodline, is somehow the centre of a prophecy, and her parents are desperate (to the point of sacrificing all semblance of a normal family life) to try protect her, but their efforts don’t strike me as being all that effective. If she really was in so much danger then why not just leave the city entirely? Why allow her to grow up ignorant of the danger she’s in?

The presence of all those gods was a nice touch but I gained the impression that most of them were just waiting in the wings as set dressing for a convenient (and literal) deus ex machine at the grand finale. Anzu, Kyra’s “pet” monster is pretty neat, but I don’t get *why* Kyra is so important to deserve this special attention from a deity.

My biggest gripe with the story is the choppiness of the writing. For the most part we’re in Kyra’s first-person point of view – that is fine, perfect. The genre calls for a sassy heroine who’s doing her thing against great odds and Kyra has a lovely voice and she’s not going to take things lying down. Big thumbs up for a strong female lead.


Her storyline is somewhat diluted by the introduction of secondary viewpoint characters (in third person) that get introduced quite far in, so that the shift in point of view is jarring. I’d just gotten used to Kyra when suddenly I must get invested in someone else?

I understand *why* the author has done this because the plot calls for her to show what else is happening behind the scenes but then I feel it only serves to weaken the pacing and steals some of Kyra’s thunder. In the end she gains her outcome largely due to the efforts of others.

The romance elements feel forced – there simply isn’t enough time to develop romantic attachments but it’s there. However, I’m almost tempted to say this would have been a stronger novel if there’d been more focus on the conflict between Legba, Kyra and her grandfather, and dispensed entirely with the secondary characters (and the romance).

Then a word too on some contradictions. A fair amount of emphasis is placed on how technology doesn’t really function properly around the gods due to their innate magic, but then why does a television crew bristling with cameras and technology, go into the heart of things to cover breaking news? They end up riding in a horse-drawn carriage because cars don’t work, but their cameras are fine… I just had to point that out because it jerked me right out of the narrative at the time.

I’d have liked to have seen further development of the gods themselves as characters. There is so much potential there. Why are the tricksters banding together? Surely they themselves wouldn’t all be in agreement? What about plots within plots? I wanted to see more of their personalities, wanted to see them interact and be more active. Then we might also have gained a better idea of why Kyra was the lynch pin to the entire saga, and also sympathise more with her plight.

All this being said, this is not a bad book. If you’re looking for fast, on-the-edge-of-your-seat urban fantasy with a female lead who totally kicks ass, and that offers a nod to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods then yes, you’ll enjoy this. But, if you’re like me and you wanted a story that digs a little deeper, you might feel the same way I do.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Charred Heart by Lizzy Ford #review

Title: Charred Heart (Book 1# of The Heart of Fire series)
Author: Lizzy Ford
Publisher: Smashwords edition

Chace is a dragon shifter, and has been cursed to be so for a thousand years and unlucky in love to boot. Predictably, he’s a bit world weary and wants nothing more than to be fully human and live out his normal allotment of years, preferably  with a woman to love. But you can’t always get what you want; due to his age, as well as his powerful magic, he also finds himself cast in the role of de facto protector of a rapidly dwindling number of shifters.

Skylar is a slayer unique in her ability to track shifters and help capture them so that they can be safely rehabilitated – all this according to the organisation she works for. Skylar fully believes that shifters are a danger to humanity and need to be neutralised. Her beliefs are challenged when she meets her match in Chace, the shifter she understands is the last dragon on earth.

The sizzling connection between Chace and Skylar is undeniable – the major obstacle to their relationship the salient fact that they belong to opposing factions, each believing they have the right of things. But time is running out. Chace has made a deal with a powerful shifter in order to regain his humanity at the worst possible time when he truly needs his magic to protect his fellow shifters from extinction. Not only that, but he still has an important life lesson to learn before he can claim the woman who may possess the other half of his heart.

A quick look at the uglies: Not that much to complain about, to be honest. Lizzy Ford holds her narrative together well. There was on niggle where I had a bit of a head-scratching episode when a supposedly nocturnal shifter was seen out and about during the day (or what I pretty much assumed was the day). At times Ford writes a bit fast and misses environmental details, but not so much that I got my knickers in a twist. I felt also that the magic system was a wee bit too insta-magic at times – too effortless, but the overall pacing was strong enough to not make this too much of an issue.

The good stuff: You really can’t go wrong with Charred Heart. You’ve got two lively protagonists, both of whom are totally kickass and whose interaction entertains both verbally and between the sheets. Chace’s bad decisions come back to bite him in the posterior, and it will be interesting to see how he gets himself out of his predicament in book two. The passion between Skylar and Chace is wonderful to behold and Ford has put a lot of effort into her world-building to deliver a solid, thoroughly readable saga. This series is well worth dipping into; there’s more than enough bang for your buck.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Falling Kingdoms (Falling Kingdoms #1) by Morgan Rhodes #review

Title: Falling Kingdoms (Falling Kingdoms #1)
Author: Morgan Rhodes
Publisher: Razorbill, 2012

Touted as young adult fantasy’s answer to George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones, Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes promises all the political intrigue, warfare and whiffs of magic in Martin’s saga, but toned down for a younger readership.

Cleo is a pampered princess of the kingdom of Auranos, whose visit to a wineseller in the impoverished kingdom of Paelsia inadvertently results in an incident that acts as a catalyst for a war between the three kingdoms of the land of Mytica.

Jonas, a wineseller’s son, understandably has an axe to grind with Cleo, since she’s essentially responsible for his brother being killed. He makes sure he’s in the frontline when the kingdoms of Paelsia and Limeros become allies in order to invade prosperous Auranos and divide the kingdom between them.

Prince Magnus of Limeros has been raised in an austere, cut-throat court, and harbours a terrible secret – his infatuation with his sister Lucia. Lucia discovers she’s a prophesised sorceress, capable of wielding magic her father will want to use for nefarious ends.

This all plays out against the backdrop of eons-old enmity between two so-called goddesses who’d come to blows over the control of magical artefacts known only as the Kindred, and it’s clear the rest of the books in this series will include how these items are retrieved to return magic to Mytica.

While Rhodes certainly does a good job creating solid characters, she still left me wondering sometimes at how these characters behaved illogically – as if they were purposely ignoring obvious facts so that the author could progress a particular story arc. At times, some of the scenes felt a little rushed and the world-building on a whole a touch on the contrived side – I felt like I wanted more depth.

On the whole, I suspect the book’s comparison to A Game of Thrones might not have been for the best, because there’s a chance it might be a bit of a let-down for the die-hard GRRM fans who’re looking for their fix while we continue to wait anxiously for The Winds of Winter.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sharp Edges by S.A. Partridge #review

Title: Sharp Edges
Author: SA Partridge
Publisher: Human & Rousseau

SA Partridge has done it again – she has tapped into the spirit of youth culture and unravelled the lives of six young people. We start the novel knowing the worst has happened – Demi is dead, tragically drowned on her 17th birthday while she was attending an outdoor music festival. But then things become murky as we work our way backwards to that fatal night.

Who is guilty? What really happened that night? Have all five inadvertently contributed in some way to Demi’s demise?

These questions linger all the way through to the end. We all knew girls like Demi when we were still at school. They were the beautiful, bright ones who lived as if there were no consequences at all to their actions.

Girls like Demi draw others to them, and it’s apt to use the moths-to-a-flame analogy here, with all the damage from close contact implied.

We are introduced to Ashley, Damian, Verushka – or V as she prefers to be known – Siya and James. All are brittle with – as the title implies – sharp edges, and are as much defined by their dysfunctional relationships with those around them as they are self-absorbed.

Ashley is the odd one out, always trying and, in her mind, failing to fit in. Her crushingly low self-image means that she struggles to participate. V and James spiral around each other in a peculiar stilted relationship. It’s clear they are deeply fascinated by one another yet neither is willing to take that first step. Siya battles to live up to his father’s expectations, as much as he tries to express himself sexually. Damian is hopelessly and unutterably infatuated with Demi – so much so that he falls apart completely when she dies.

What makes this story so specifically poignant is the fact that Partridge sketches out characters that will resonate with people for different reasons. And she cuts close to the bone with her observations.

We see our younger selves in the broken facets, and the image reflected to us isn’t always nice or particularly comfortable. Dark, gritty and scratchy behind the eyes, Sharp Edges offers a glimpse into how casual cruelties can offer tragic, unintended consequences, which can ripple outward with devastating effect.

The novel will haunt you for a long time after you’re done reading, and Partridge masterfully holds you in suspense all the way to the last page.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dark Harvest: Six of the Best with Amy Lee Burgess #horror

Today I have Amy Lee Burgess over. Some of you might know her as the mastermind behind The Wolf Within series or would have recently learnt about her through her The Circle: Blood Gift novel. Well, she's also a contributor to Dark Harvest, and I'm really chuffed to have her over for a little Q&A. So, Amy, tell us about your story. Where did you pick up the story seeds? 

I was having a hell of a time coming up with an idea that incorporated the concept of Dark Harvest so I actually Googled the phrase and then hit Images. I found a gorgeous painting of a woman, her blonde hair flowing down her back as she walked across a dark meadow to join a Celtic Samhain ceremony. I decided to write her story only I made her a Wiccan in modern day New England. She was walking with her coven into a graveyard to pay respects to a dead member. She turned to her group and said, “This is a ceremony of remembrance not resurrection.” After that the story clicked into place for me and I wrote it in a white heat over the course of the next two hours.

What creeps you out?

Bugs. Things with stingers especially. Spiders (although I try not to kill them). Small Texas towns on Saturday afternoons in the Wal-Mart parking lot where the local teens gather to socialize never understanding that most of them will never get out and end up getting married after high school and living small, miserable lives where the highlight is going to Wal-Mart, drinking, and watching sports. Horrifying.

Why do you love dark/unsettling fiction? 

It exposes people.  Strips them down to their basic elements where they discover their strengths and prevail or fall victim to their weaknesses.

What are you working on now? 

Three short stories, the second novel in a vampire series, and getting a gargoyle shape shifter novel ready to shop around. Oh, and a blog tour. I should have added “writing guest posts for blogs” to the “What creeps you out” question.  t’s like taking a tour of hell barefoot sometimes trying to come up with something interesting. The woe is so very me.

What’s the most unexpected thing people discover about you?

That I have a wicked sense of humor when you get to know me. And that I’m snarky as hell. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “But I thought you were so NICE, Amy” I could probably buy a really good bottle of champagne. And I’d drink it all myself too. No sharing.

Tell us a little more about what you’re reading at present?

Right now I’m rereading G.A. Aiken’s Dragon Kin series. And laughing my ass off. Lusty, brawling Scottish dragons who can shift into

hot, arrogant, gorgeous humans. Stuck-up bastards make me laugh so hard. Romance with a sense of humor is the best.  The fight scenes are kick ass and the sex scenes are even better.  And there’s all the laughing.

Dark Harvest is available on Amazon, Kobo and Nook. Go feed your reader now!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Dark Harvest: Six of the Best with Toby Bennett #books

If you're yet to pick up a copy of Dark Harvest, get thee hither to Amazon, Kobo or Nook. Today, however, I welcome one of the contributors, Toby Bennett to my spot to chat about his story and writing in general. Welcome, Toby. Tell us about your story. Where did you pick up the story seeds?

Oh, starting with a toughie eh? Like I’m supposed to know what goes on in the bubbling recesses of this quivering sponge I keep on my shoulders! I guess I just liked the idea of a monster being born and I suppose if you looked deeper you might find something about not being everything your creator hopped you would be, but being ready to improve yourself. As usual I find myself emphasising with the freakish and bizarre… I forbid any one to read anything into that!  If I’ve managed to add a certain creepiness to the simple idea of being stitched together with a few people you’ve got to know quite well, then my work here is done.

What creeps you out?

Nothing! I’ll never tell … is one of you hiding under my bed?

I’ve always been a bit disturbed by transformations both physical and psychological, the idea that the things and people we take as certain could shift into something else. That works for everything from Norman Bates to the Wolfman. It’s like missing your step in the dark – something to get the heart fluttering… oh yes and I’m afraid of the dark!

Why do you love dark/unsettling fiction? 

I often wonder if one of the reasons we like darker stories is because it allows us to examine the strange and disturbing in a safe environment. Horror stories let us prod at the little inky thing at the back of our minds while keeping it safely in a nice literary test tube… unless, unless that wasn’t the cat coming in through the flap, what if just thinking about them brings them to you? Was that a creaking on the stairs? You really shouldn’t read so late, you’ll never sleep now. Should you even try to sleep? They might be outside now! Is the door knob moving ever so slowly?!

That’s why!

I mean after all “What is this life if full of care – we have no time to enjoy a good scare.”

What are you working on now? 

Most recently I’ve finished a collaborative novel with my most excellent colleague Mr. Benjamin Knox. If you like dystopian futures, vampires, plagues and fiendish medical conspiracies then I think it will be for you. I also threw together a few stories over the festive season for my Creepy Christmas collection and you can look forward to a story in the upcoming The Sea anthology. This year I have a number of things I should be doing and oh so many sweet and bloody songs I’d like to sing but no promises on anything particular right now.  

What’s the most unexpected thing people discover about you?

I’ve been dead for more than a thousand years? My nipples have their own chat show? My favourite colour is not blue!

Yes, I am using humour to deflect any real answer to this question… what of it?

I mean think about it, the moment I tell you what is unexpected about me… well, you’re going to expect it aren’t you! We could be here all day. No, better I remain an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, gently simmered in intrigue…

Oh alright, I’m a goat with a rubber mask and no one has noticed… are you happy now!?

Tell us a little more about what you’re reading at present?

It’s all a bit hectic on the reading front right now. I finally scraped what few pennies I have together and got myself an entry-level tablet since then I’ve been able to get back into reading of an evening. Inevitably that means I’ve been reading a fair amount of Lovecraft and steam punk. I also recently laid hands on Robbin Hobb’s Farseer series again so, yeah good times, good times.

Afraid I’m not much when it comes to author name dropping or knowing what the next big thing is – I shall certainly be downloading Dark Harvest and giving it a whirl… see you all there.

Check out Toby's website at 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Dark Harvest: Six of the Best with Rab Fulton

Rab Fulton needs very little introduction to regulars here at my spot. Recently I edited his novella, Transformation, which is a twisted kinda half-fairytale, half-romance yarn with some horror elements thrown in for good measure. I can't really come up with a pinpointed description save to say, if you love tales involving Ireland, then this one will definitely be memorable. Having been to that merry green land myself, I was was immediately transported into a serious dose of nostalgia while reading.

Anyhoo, Rab is one of the contributing authors in Dark Harvest, a collection of short stories recently released via Dark Continents Publishing. A very big welcome to him today to chat a little more about his art. 

Tell us about your story. Where did you pick up the story seeds?

This story was written during an awful bout of depression following 9/11. Like most people I was horrified by the events of 9/11 but that horror was deepened and darkened by the propaganda on all sides - whether anti-Islam or anti-American. I guess I was fortunate in that I was in a position to talk to both young Americans and Muslim refugees in the immediate aftermath. Far from either group fitting into trite and dangerous stereotypes I was surprised by the shared grief and common sense of the men and women I talked to. There was much disagreement but it was reasoned and rational. Those conversations didn't just give me another insight to the aftermath of 9/11 but they managed to lift me enough so that I could set down a response to the ugly propaganda that was polluting the planet. However I had to be very careful not to fall into propaganda myself. I am an atheist but I did not want this to perceived as an anti-religion or anti-god work. The result is one of my darkest pieces of writing but hopefully it will still strike people as beautiful.

What creeps you out?

Mirrors in dark rooms. I keep thinking I'll see the faces of dead
friends in them...

Oh aye, mirrors get me too. When I was staying in a hotel in Killarney in Ireland I was so creeped out by the mirrors in the room I had to cover them with my spare blankets. Why do you love dark/unsettling fiction?

Dark fiction can push boundaries and twist expectations in powerful and shocking ways. It makes the reader doubt the reality they exist in, makes them aware that there are other things beyond our ken - some of which are incredibly malevolent and will destroy you if they can.

Coming from Scotland and Ireland, I was very much brought up with an awareness of the dark side to stories. Irish and Scottish fairies are seldom pleasant beings - and the ways of dealing with them can also be pretty savage. Its something I've long played with, most notably in my books Transformation and Galway Bay Folk Tales. Favourite dark tales would include The Mountains of Madness by HP Lovecraft and from Robert Louis Stevenson The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde or The Beach of Falesa.

What are you working on now?

Oh I'm up to my eyes just now. I'm trying to find the time to finish the draft version of my blog novel Marcus Marcus and the Hurting Heart. The final five chapters are sketched out but finding time to write them is difficult. The draft has to be finished by the end of this month as I'm doing a reading from the book in February at the Muscailt Arts Festival, which originally commissioned the story. But I'm also having to prepare for a theatrical tour in Ireland and a storytelling tour in the UK. Oh yeah add in raising two young boys and you can imagine I'm a little bit frazzled at the moment

What’s the most unexpected thing people discover about you? 

I'm shorter than I look!

Tell us a little more about what you’re reading at present?

At the moment I am reading The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde. It is one of the darkest and most unsettling pieces ever written in the English language. It is a fictionalised account of the years Oscar Wilde spent in gaol after he was convicted of being a homosexual. The core of the story is the hanging of a murderer and the impact waiting for the killing has on the other prisoners, including Oscar Wilde. Some of the images are just so eloquent yet utterly terrifying, like the Lord of Death with his icy breath and the dance of the evil sprites the night before the hanging of the murderer. It is prison writing as important as any of the work by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn that exposed the horror of Stalin's prison state. Oscar Wilde's poem equally exposes the savagery at the heart of the British Imperial system but sadly it is a work that is little read.

Perhaps there are just too many truths in it...

Oh and i'm also reading Winnie the Pooh. There are some lovely understated moments in those stories like when on a rainy day Pooh manages to float to Christopher Robin on an empty honey pot. He tells Christopher that the pot is either a boat or an accident depending on whether he is on top of it or underneath it. My boys find that hilarious!

Rab's website, Marcus Marcus blog, Transformation, Galway Folk Tales.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Six of the Best with David Griffith #books

Today I welcome one of my fellow Bestiarum Vocabulum authors, David Griffith. And sticking with the theme of the anthology, we're talking about creatures. So, David, what's your story in the anthology called and what seeded the idea for you?

My story falls under I Is For Imp, titled Ma’s Good Boys. It features an imp named Beazo, a mischievous character I had created in the past, but never knew what to do with him. In my historical research on folklore and religion on the topic of imps, as typically found in hidden in stone carvings in European cathedrals and such, I got the sense they aren’t so much evil as they are just head strong pains in the ass. And that’s precisely what Beazo needed to be.

The next big question was what to do with this imp. Sitting in my loft staring at my bookcase, I glimpsed a book title containing “peripheral” and the opening line of the story was suddenly born: "In the periphery of his sight he caught something he knew was wrong.”

That person needed to be someone mundane and a step above stupid, a kind of a regular Joe living in the US state of New Jersey not far from the Jersey Shore and New York City. He needed to love his dearly departed Ma more than any other son could possibly ever love his own mother – he owned that title in his mind. And he needed to come from an Italian Catholic family that emigrated from Italy a century ago to tie the religious history elements and traditions into the story and clash with the gross absurdism that ensued. And, keeping family tradition alive and strong, he tended to his late mother’s beautiful garden filled with tomatoes, peppers and other magnificent produce used for home cooking.

So there were my two completely separate ideas that needed to somehow cross paths – stolen form Stephen King’s writer’s toolbox – and turn them into an ultimate showdown of man versus beast. Albeit, filled with dopey, if not comical, and horrific moments.

What got you writing in the first place? What excites you about stories?

I started writing in high school, roughly at the age of 15. I was always an artist of some sort, generally a visual one involved in painting and photography. One day the idea of writing just clicked and I started some early story attempts. nothing great, but the motivation was there. By my junior year a creative writing course became available, which I took in a heartbeat, and joined the school literary magazine.

This continued into to college where I studied fine arts. In addition to illustration and design, I was able to make creative creative writing part of my fine arts degree. Even though I won my university’s award for Creative Writing Excellence years went by where I had done little with the discipline, focusing primarily on developing my profession as designer. In later year years of my career, as communication became the central focus of my visual design, writing became an equally important part of my job. I had since enrolled in a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Creative and Professional Writing, which I will complete this coming May.

Creating characters, living out their strange lives in fictitious representations of the real world excite me. Part of it is living vicariously through my characters getting involved in situations I would never dare do in real life, part of it is simply an escape from my own reality, something I need at times to maintain my sanity. Really no different than reading another author’s story.

Ultimately, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve always considered myself an artist for as long as I have been able to speak and draw circles with crayons. I love to create and invite others into these worlds that stem from my brain. I love to affect emotion, whether the audience laughs, cries, feels fear, gratitude, excitement, anger, sadness, or greatness. That’s hat excites me. Just as long as their responses are not indifferent, that’s when I know the work has failed and must be revisited.

Have you got any real-life stories involving animals that scared you?

A few times in my childhood I have been attacked by dogs. Fortunately, no major physical injuries, though I was bitten hard. Threatened almost daily by a neighborhood dog while delivering newspapers, to the point I hightailed it away from the neighbor’s house on my bike as fast as I could go each day. It sucked. To this day I carry a permanent distrust of dogs. Nowadays, lawsuits would fly and those dogs that attacked me would have been euthanized. Back then it was the kid’s fault for getting too close to a nasty aggressive dog, never mind that the dogs could outrun a kid and knock them down with minimal effort.

As for all other animals – nothing scares me. I will approach reptiles, cats of all sizes and shapes, whatever – in terms of protecting others around me. Not to harm them, but to keep them at bay, and fight back if need be. Though I’d much prefer to befriend a wild animal.

Have you got any favourite animals stories?

I recently read an odd novella (or short story, ho knows these days) by George Saunders called Fox 8. It was an environmentalist sort of parable whose protagonist Fox #8 of his pack, managed to learn English by sitting outside a bedroom window at night and listen to parents reading stories to their child. The foxes' woodlands were being encroached upon my a mall developer. This innocent animal decided that the humans must be friendly and would welcome their presence in the mall. Things didn’t turn out so well for the fox pack sadly, and Fox 8, a lone survivor of his pack, managed to find a new pack to live with deeper in the woods.

I liked the story for its metaphoric representation of how the industrialized human world is corrupting the rest of the natural world. But I also appreciated the writing style, written entirely from Fox 8’s perspective, using odd spellings, misused words that eventually make sense based on context, and his naive perspective of the atrocities he witnesses, like his buddy being beaten to death for fun by some cruel construction workers.

Both an innovative and a sad story.

Do you have pets? Do they have any quirks?

Yes, two beagles and two American domestic short hair cats – all rescues. The beagles are kind of crazy, I’ll leave it at that. My wife is responsible for the dogs. Our older gray tabby cat is polydactyl: she has six fingers on each front paw, and five toes on each rear paw. She looks like she’s wearing boxing gloves. Very sweet cat, probably my favorite of the pets. The other cat is an outright panther, even though the term isn’t really applied to small cats. He gets into trouble a lot, but friendly with all guests.

And, as a taste, here's an excerpt from Ma's Good Boys.

It was the last thing he expected to see on earth, on this particularly warm spring day in Ma’s old garden, grooming the heirloom tomato and pepper plants whose seeds were passed down for generations by long forgotten ancestors from Newark. Something that George D. Giovanni would have to research before the sun went down, before he landed in the overstuffed recliner for the game. A devilish looking thing with a cow’s head – sort of – his mind wandered and obsessed over what it could possibly be.
A Jersey Devil? Nah, those things aren’t real. There was that story Joan from down the street heard about another neighbor’s cousin who tried to breed a raccoon with a bobcat out behind his garage last summer. Landed the idiot in the hospital, not sure any babies were born though; but this could’ve been one of ‘em. Anything’s possible, he surmised.
After another five minutes of studying the slight movements and shadows in the rose bushes he picked himself up from the soil and traipsed over to the plants to see what might be staring back at him. Hissing broke the stillness of the investigative moment, which was a highlight of his day, his week, really.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Six of the Best with Dean M Drinkel #horror

Dean M Drinkel is no stranger to those of you who're regular followers of this blog. He's the brain behind The Demonologia Biblica and The Bestarium Vocabulum, where two of my stories appear. (Go get them, they're absolutely fabulous if you're a fan of speculative fiction in a themed collection.) 

So, Dean, welcome to my world! What were some of your highlights from 2013? And a big thank you for dropping by.

2013 was quite a good year for me really; we saw the publication of The Demonologia Biblica and The Bestiarum Vocabulum anthologies (both through Western Legends Press); Cities Of Death (Static Movement); my own short collection Within A Forest Dark (Dark Continents); I contributed short stories for Joe Mynhardt’s Fear The Reaper (Crystal Lake) and to the Horror Society’s Best Of collection. I also won “Best Action Screenplay” for a short I wrote (Splinter) at the Monaco International Film Festival in December. Finally, I was interviewed by a French property magazine about my short stories as well as a MASSIVE horror magazine which will be seeing publication in early 2014 and which I have to thank the multi-talented Barbie Wilde for arranging.

What are you looking forward to in 2014?

2014 is already shaping up nicely – I have a final anthology for Western Legends; Phobophobias (Dark Continents – a sequel to the very successful 2011 Phobophobia); Demonology (Static Movement); Kneeling In The Silver Light (The Alchemy Press). I am also working on a horror / thriller screenplay with a friend of mine (Scott Richardson) as well as a couple of other projects I’d like to bring off the back-burner. They’ve been gestating for too long now.

What's the most important lesson you've learnt in the publishing business over the past few years? 

Wow. Great question. I guess that operating in the indie / small press markets what is really important is that everyone concerned has to pimp, promote, publicize the project they’re involved with otherwise it’s going to flounder. As you know, I like compiling / editing big anthos – maybe as many as 26 / 27 per book – that takes a lot of work to put together but I do find the end result very rewarding – however, to get those sales (and / or reviews) EVERYONE has to promote and not sit back resting on their laurels thinking that someone else is going to do it for them. You do sometimes have to make a right royal pain of yourself because there are so many indie / small presses fighting for sales / their place in the market.

From a personal point of view, I’ve certainly learnt to have a thick skin. Working with so many authors, I also have to deal with all their egos / eccentricities ha ha. I always say though, leave your egos at the door – mine is big enough for all of us!

What's the biggest mistake newbie writers can make? 

Writers need to remember that writing a story is only the start of it – once a story’s been accepted into an antho that’s when the hard work really starts. My anthos, whilst invite only (on the whole), I use trusted writers where I know I’m going to receive a good end product but I do try to bring in some fresh blood when I can. On the whole I’ve been lucky in that the stories that have been submitted are of a high standard. I’ve heard of other editors / compilers who have had to deal with half finished / unfinished / unformatted / unedited stories. Touch wood, I’ve been okay to date. My advice is simple – always submit high-quality work and follow whatever submission guidelines have been set down i.e. if it’s a horror antho don’t send in a romance etc. I guess also, be prepared to take criticism – it’s not said just for the fun of it – there’s always a reason – we all become better writers if we can take that on board!

What are the top three books on your TBR list for 2014, and why?

First up is the second volume of Philip Dwyer’s brilliant biography of Napoleon entitled Citizen Emperor: Napoleon In Power 1799 – 1815. This is both for pleasure but also for research as I have been working on a film script / play about Napoleon and this has proved invaluable. Next up is Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast – I’ve never been a great Hemingway fan (yeah, I know – SACRILEGE!) but am starting to warm to him – again, whilst reading this for pleasure, it is part of another Parisian project I’m currently scoping out.  I’ve just finished an excellent book about Paris by John Baxter called The Most Beautiful Walk In the World - Paris is very important to me and I base a lot of my stories there now, so would highly recommend this book! For my third choice, I’d say that anything new by Clive Barker would be on my list for 2014 – I keep hearing rumours that we’re going to see some new ‘horror’ stories from him, so I’ll leave a space free for him – Clive has been a massive influence on me so will always clear the decks for him always! I’m currently reading the French language version of The Hellbound Heart.

Which of your stories would you turn into a movie, and who would you cast in the lead role? And, for that matter, who would you have as director? And score? 

In some of the anthos / collections I’ve appeared in, I’ve written several stories which refer to a mysterious organisation set in Paris (natch!) called The Sixteenth Chapel. This itself was a misquote made by Justin Bieber when he was on the David Letterman Show. He meant to say the Sistine Chapel! As well as everything else, I’ve been sketching out a feature film which deals with this sinister cult head-on. It would be a proper down and dirty horror film – written and directed by myself (I’ve made a number of shorts – several of which have screened at Cannes and full length plays which have been staged in London and the South East of England –now it’s time to step up to the plate and direct a feature!), it would be in French and as such, for my lead, I’d have the very brilliant young actor Vincent Rottiers (Renoir, I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive, In The Beginning, The World Belongs To Us etc etc) as my main protagonist. Vincent’s starting to make a real name for himself and has been nominated for some prestigious acting awards. Yeah, if a producer was to knock at my door now with a bag full of cash then this would be the film I’d make. For a score, I really love Christopher Young’s work but perhaps I’d go down the route of using lots of European / Scandinavian musicians – I know quite a few! Also, in 2012 I also won a screenplay award in Monaco – that script was called Bright Yellow Gun which was named after a Throwing Muses song – I’ve always promised Kristin Hersh that I’d work with her so perhaps this would be that opportunity.

Thanks Nerine for posting me some interesting questions so soon after the Christmas / New Year period! A brilliant 2014 to you and your readers.
All the best

More about me can be found at:

Monday, January 6, 2014

Dark Harvest: Six of the Best with Don Webb #horror

Don Webb's been around writing wicked words for quite a number of years now, and when he submitted his story, Nailing it Down: The Doom that came to Ool Athag to Dark Harvest, I was overjoyed. Today he stops by for a good, old-fashioned Six of the Best. 

Tell us about your story. Where did you pick up the story seeds?

My story is about perception. All human horror stories are based on how we see the world – which is a consequence of our biology. We like bilateral symmetry because we have it. We think “up” is good, “down” because if where our brains are. Out art, our religion, and our ideas of government are based on the human body. So what would the Other think and feel?

What creeps you out?

I am frightened by strongly prejudiced people. People (even if I hold the same views) that can see any question ONLY ONE WAY are very dangerous. Consciousness is the most important human gift, and surrendering it to rigidity is the beginning of evil. On a more physical level people that don’t honor personal space set my teeth on edge. Back off, my friend. I’m Texan.

Why do you love dark/unsettling fiction?

The world threatens to overwhelm us with gray routine. Every day crushing waves of sameness fill our cities, our jobs, our TV sets. Every day the forces of Stupidity wage their war against consciousness. We have three weapons – wonder, beauty and terror. The best unsettling fiction uses all three with deadly precision against the great grayness. Writing horror is a sacred act. Giving another soul a momentary glimpse of its own alien beauty is a sublime act.

What are you working on now?

Hippocampus Press is preparing a 30-year retrospective of my Lovecraftian fiction that will be out in late 2014. I am working on a nonfiction book about the Tarot, and finishing up a couple of short stories that I’ve promised folks. I’ll be teaching creative writing for UCLA Extension in the spring, and I’m planning on a big road trip across Texas with my wife during bluebonnet season.

What’s the most unexpected thing people discover about you?

I’ve worked as a Christmas tree salesman and a professional fireworks operator.

Tell us a little more about what you’re reading at present?

Currently I am reading The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco, Sergeant Chip and Other Novellas by Bradley Denton – as well as several books on the history of the Tarot. I have a deep love for Eco, who is a well-known genius, and for Denton – who should be well known.

Feed Dark Harvest to your Kindle or buy the dead-tree version. Alternatively, top up your Kobo.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dark Harvest unleashed #books #horror

Might as well bounce up and down with joy: Dark Harvest is unleashed today (though we'll only be doing the official release on Tuesday and be all official-like on the DCP blog). In the meanwhile, go get this anthology I edited. (I was naughty and slipped in one of my own stories too.)

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, offer 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. 

Go buy this on Amazon, Kobo, and Nook, or add it on Goodreads.

And for those of you who want a small taste, here is an excerpt of my short story...

Lord Sithra has his back to me, and whether he hears my approach or reads a shift in Steward Harman’s stance, he turns to face me.
Warmth creeps up my cheeks and my quest to hand him the injured bee seems foolish and, as Aunt Gira suggests, the behaviour of a child.
“Your majesty.” Lord Sithra inclines his head.
“L-lord Sithra.” I draw a deep breath then summon the most imperious tone I can muster, like that of my aunt, I hope. “A bee flew into the solar. I think it might be injured.” I hold out my sleeve and release the fabric pocket.
The insect clings to the weave and crawls about. Gently, Lord Sithra places his long fingers so that the bee might crawl onto him, which the insect does. The tiny creature gains vigour the moment it comes into contact with his skin, and I watch, fascinated, as it sinks into his flesh and becomes one with him.
Lord Sithra’s smile lights up his face. “Not one of mine, but I must thank the kind lady anyway.” He winks.
I exhale and allow myself to smile too. “I’m glad.”