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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday - Torchwood: Exodus Code by John & Carol Barrowman

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Torchwood: Exodus Code by John & Carol Barrowman
Sept 13, 2013 (BBC Digital)

It starts with a series of unexplained events. Earth tremors across the globe. Women being driven insane by their heightened and scrambled senses. And the world is starting to notice - the number one Twitter trend is #realfemmefatales. Governments and scientists are bewildered and silent. The world needs Torchwood, but there's not much of Torchwood left.

Captain Jack Harkness has tracked the problem to its source: a village in Peru, where he's uncovered evidence of alien involvement. In Cardiff, Gwen Cooper has discovered something alien and somehow connected to Jack. If the world is to be restored, she has to warn him - but she's quickly becoming a victim of the madness, too...


A new Torchwood book, from none other than Captain Jack himself, that reviewers are saying is easy to imagine as the show's fifth season? Count me in.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Four Stars for Three by Jay Posey (#bookreview #scifi)

What would happen if Mad Max were to step into the world of The Dark Tower, aided and abetted on his journey by the likes of William Gibson and Richard Matheson? Well, you'd get something very much like Jay Posey's post-apocalyptic cyberpunk thriller, simply titled Three.

This is a book that demands a lot of the reader - a lot of patience, a lot of imagination, and a lot of faith that Posey knows where he's going with it all. He simply drops us into the middle of his world and expects us to catch up. Not only isn't there a lot of narrative exposition, there's not a lot of background or explanation provided. Terms and concepts are casually tossed around by characters who clearly know what they're talking about, but we're expected to read between the lines and pay attention to the snippets of information to figure out the larger picture. It's likely to be frustrating for some readers, especially since we never do get all the answers, but it really immerses you in Posey's world, with the mystery and the suspense a large part of the book's appeal.

In terms of characters, Three, Cass, and Wren make for a solid trio to guide us on our journey through this barren landscape. Equal parts Mad Max and Roland Deschain, Three is the mysterious loner who stands apart from everyone and everything around him. He's as coldly arrogant as he is fiercely independent, but he's also unshakably loyal, morally grounded, and altogether human beneath that harsh exterior. Cass is a complex character - damaged, addicted, and on the run. She sacrificed her own future long ago, but is desperate to preserve that of her son, while she still can. Wren is somewhat problematic, a little too perfect and precocious, but he has potential. Here is a young boy, on the cusp of something amazing, who holds a mysterious power that certain people would kill to understand.

As for the primary villains - Asher and his villainous gang of henchmen - they don't seem like much more than thugs originally, but as we learn more about who and what they are, they take on a life of their own. By the end of the story, they're not just a serviceable threat, but legitimate foils. More importantly, they're developed as characters with drives and motivations, as unsavory as those may be, and even deserving of some small dose of sympathy. Actually, they probably develop a bit better than the protagonists in that their changes are more gradual, and far less remarkable, than of Three in particular.

The world of Three is largely your typical post-apocalyptic landscape, a barren wasteland broken here and there by remnants of civilization. Much of what's left is literally underground (sewers, bunkers, tunnels, etc.), and the only safe refuge from the Weir once the sun goes down. Despite all that's been lost or destroyed, however, there remains a complex cyberpunk-type element to the world, with characters 'wired' into some sort of network that allows them to do everything from check the time to map their GPS coordinates, and others mechanically augmented with varying degrees of technology. As for the Weir, some readers will definitely be left frustrated by the lack of information regarding their true nature, but Posey seems to understand that monsters are at their most frightening when left with a little mystery. Think fast zombies with a sort of collective cyberpunk consciousness, and you get enough of an idea to truly fear when darkness falls.

It's not a perfect book, but it's damn-near. Yes, we'd all like more information and more answers, but so long as Posey delves deeper into how and why the world works in subsequent volumes, I'm quite fine with that. There's definitely a little emotional manipulation going on here that may strike some readers as a cheap ploy, particularly with Cass and Wren, but it worked for me because their relationship seemed natural/normal, and served to ground the story. The pacing is excellent and the narrative sharp, and even if the conclusion leaves us a little frustrated, it also leaves us demanding more.


Expected publication: July 30th 2013 by Angry Robot
Paperback, 421 pages

Friday, July 26, 2013

Exploring the Conjure House with Gary Fry (#horror #bookreview)

In what feels like a much older novel than it is, Conjure House offers up a solid, old-fashioned horror novel story, the kind where the real horror always seems to be just off the margins of the page. Gary Fry establishes each scene beautifully, engaging the reader's imagination so well that it's often a surprise to look back and realize just how sparse the details are upon the page, when they're so vivid and vibrant in the mind's eye. It's a neat narrative trick, and one that's not easy to pull off, but it really serves to draw you deeper into the story.

Horror novels are often a bit odd, requiring a kind of patience that we, as readers, don't extend to other genres. We're generally willing to sit back and let the author establish the scene, foreshadow the real horror, and build up the suspense before finally allowing our fears to escape. Here, however, we get two of the strongest opening chapters I've read in a horror novel in quite some time. By the time we're through them, we already have the background we need to appreciate the horror, some sympathy for the protagonist, and a burning desire to find out what's really going on behind the doors of the Conjure House.

Fry makes use of a lot of the standard elements of the genre here, including a haunted house; the tormented, secretive father; the sensitive, somewhat prescient mother; the child who is surprisingly mature for his age; and the small circle of childhood friends who have scattered over the years, but who immediately return home to put the past to rest. Anybody who has ever read a Stephen King or Dean Koontz novel knows the formula, and also knows that formula can work very well, with enough inspiration and talent behind it. Even if Fry doesn't quite pull it off, there's enough imagination and ingenuity here to justify the attempt.

The pacing lags a bit in the middle of the book, as old friends are brought back together, but there are enough eerie, creepy, unsettling glimpses of the true horror embedded in their journeys to keep the reader close. Unfortunately, Anthony and his family dynamic is the weakest part of the story, and the lack of likability/sympathy does keep the novel from achieving the full impact of its potential. As for the mystical mumbo-jumbo of the Conjure House, the philosophical concepts of folding time, and the Lovecraft inspiration behind it all . . . well, it's a big heavy-handed for such a short novel, and probably a bit too intangible for some readers. I didn't particularly buy it, and didn't find it lived up to the atmosphere Fry created, but I did find it a nice alternative to the typical religious/spiritual conflict of good and evil.

Overall, it's a good book . . . a solid read . . . and a nice addition to the genre. I doubt I'll have any strong memories of it a few weeks or months from now, but I am curious to give Fry another read, and have no hesitation in recommending this to fans of the genre.


Expected publication: July 30th 2013 by DarkFuse
Paperback, 326 pages

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Captivated and Enthralled by Blood Makes Noise (#bookreview)

There are some books you read where the prose is so crisp, where the story flows so well, you immediately wonder what else the author has written. Blood Makes Noise is one of those books. Even if one were to have absolutely no idea who Gregory Widen is, it wouldn't take more than a few chapters to send you scrambling for Wikipedia to confirm that not only is he a writer, but an accomplished one at that.

Yes, this is the man who brought stories such as Highlander, Backdraft, and The Prophecy to the screen, and that deft touch for dramatic tension, narrative efficiency, and the almost poetic flow of ideas comes through in his first novel.

With its roots firmly embedded in the real-life story of Eva “Evita” Perón, Blood Makes Noise tells the story of her corpse's journey into exile, and then back home again, as witnessed on the way out, and accompanied on the way back, by Michael Suslov, a CIA officer assigned to Buenos Aires. This is a solid spy thriller, historical thriller, and human interest story all rolled into one, propelled by two very different (but equally flawed/damaged) personalities. It's because of Evita's legend that we're drawn into the tale, and because of Michael's sadly endearing life that we're so willing to stick around through the initial set-up. Once the novel his the halfway mark, however, it's a wild, frantic, and very bloody race to the finish.

While Widen's screenwriter pedigree makes for a crisp tale, it also makes for a thin one at times. There's not a lot of scene setting or description here. Many scenes are little more than dialogue, tersely worded actions, and a little narrative oversight. Personally, I found that to be a style that worked for the story, but some readers may find themselves craving a bit more detail, particularly early on. It is an emotionally gripping tale, however, and Widen does a masterful job of using Michael to draw the reader in, feel for his moral dilemmas, and ultimately sympathize with a man who isn't necessarily very likable. The pacing is a bit uneven for a novel, but were you to watch it as a movie, in a single sitting as opposed to reading it over multiple nights, the pacing would be just about right.

If you're looking for a good read to take to the cottage, and don't mind having to think a bit about what's going on and why, Blood Makes Noise is a great choice. It's not what I would call a 'fun' read, but an entertaining one.


Published April 30th 2013 by Thomas & Mercer
Paperback, 442 pages

A Miracle of Rare Design . . . and good reading (#bookreview)

A Miracle of Rare Design by Mike Resnick
Hardcover, 196 pages
Published July 19 2013 by Dog Star Books

Synopsis:

How far would you go to unlock the mysteries of an alien culture? Journalist and adventurer Xavier William Lennox becomes obsessed with the rituals of the Fireflies, an alien culture of gold-skinned inhabitants living on the planet Medina. When he gets too close to their mysterious society, he's captured, tortured, and banished for defying their laws, but vows to learn what the aliens are so desperate to hide, even if it means becoming one of them. His curiosity doesn't end there. As opportunities arise to study more alien races, Lennox takes cultural immersion to the breaking point. He not only buries himself in the language and customs of the aliens, but also undergoes severe surgeries to become one of them. Each time his humanity is stretched until he faces his biggest challenge-trying to return to the ordinary life of a man who has experienced the universe in ways he was never meant to.


Review:

Reprint coming soon from Dog Star Books, in affiliation with Raw Dog Screaming Press.

Big fan of Mike Resnick, he always comes out with a character of awesome likeness. A man of many awards, for his sci-fi work. I recommend his Stalking The Vampire and his other "Stalking" titles.

In "Miracle of Rare Design" he presents his main character, Lennox - a thrill seeker with a self-centered ego. After being brutally assaulted by a Firefly alien race and left for dead, Lennox gets the opportunity to return as a Firefly. After mastering its movements and native tongue, he tries to make a deal with the alien race for planet earth.

In a change of events, the missions keep coming, taking him to other alternate planets to become one of their alien race and learn there way of living. One transformation leads to another like an addiction. Returning to human doesn't seem right . . . but you'll have to read and find out the path Lennox chooses.

If you are a fan of Resnick then pick this up, If you already read it, read it again (includes prologue by Heidi Ruby Miller). If you are new to Resnick's work, great book to start with. GREAT READ!!

(as posted by Donald on Goodreads)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Big Damn Heroines - Women Kicking Ass (#guestpost)

Hello, everyone! My name is K. Piet, and I'm the Marketing Director of Storm Moon Press, here today to tell you about our latest anthology release, which packs a proverbial punch.

Big Damn Heroines is an anthology that was very important to us at Storm Moon Press. When we were thinking up new anthology calls, the concept of a size-friendly anthology focusing on women kicking ass immediately came to mind. You see a lot of female protagonists in the realm of Fantasy & Paranormal/Urban Fantasy, from Buffy to Anita Blake to Kate Daniels to Jaenelle (The Black Jewels). Everyone wants to have the next amazing woman who is strong, kicking ass and taking names.

But how many of these badass women are ladies of size?

Well, of those listed above, the answer is zero. In fact, the majority of the time, the women who end up kicking ass are written as being smaller, skinnier, or shorter than average. I suppose it's in an unconscious effort to make the kicking ass part even more impressive. After all, the big baddies are seven-foot-tall monsters with incredible strength or magical powers that have been building over centuries, so of course we need another physical attribute to put the female protagonist at more of a disadvantage, right? (Can you detect my sarcasm?) But, when authors consistently portray badass women as exclusively slender, svelt, or smaller than average, you run into the problem of the take-away message becoming "Only women of X size are capable of kicking ass." Or should it be XS, as in extra-small?

See, that's where we at Storm Moon Press wanted to put our foot down. There's a misconception that in order to be healthy, athletic, or strong in any way, you have to be a certain weight. The stereotype in most popular fiction follows those lines, and the first thing we wanted to do with Big Damn Heroines was toss that out the window. In this anthology, we proclaim that size doesn't matter, that women can be large and in charge. Kicking ass and taking names is still possible when you're full-figured. Being physically larger than most of the female protagonists out there doesn't automatically relegate you to the role of comic relief, undesirable best friend, or just the background fat character placed there to make the MCs look better by comparison.

In real life, smaller and skinnier doesn't necessarily denote health. The average woman typically can't identify on the physical level with most of the female protagonists out there, so it just reinforces a negative perception of size. Whether it's intended or not in the books we read (not to mention other media), the portrayal of women as main characters does have an impact on the social definitions of what is acceptable or expected of women at a given size. Our message is that size isn't the factor that determines a woman's suitability as a main character and love interest. Ladies of size should be celebrated in fiction right alongside other women.

In short, the anthology delivers on its title; it's full of big damn heroines who not only get the chance to test their mettle, but also find love on their terms. I hope everyone enjoys the eclectic collection of sci-fi, fantasy, and urban fantasy stories in this anthology. Thank you so much for having me today on Beauty in Ruins!

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Big Damn Heroines is a celebration of the plus-sized woman. Specifically, the plus-sized woman kicking ass. The media perception of the strong female protagonist is almost invariably thin, but powerful women come in all shapes and sizes, and it's time that they had a chance to stand up and be recognized. The four stories in this anthology show that bigger women can be more than comic relief or the dumpy best friend. They can be a force to be reckoned with all on their own.

"Machine Gun" Mercy is a member of the Valkyries, an all-female squad of Roughnecks patrolling the outer solar system. When a distress call comes in from the penal colony on Titan, Mercy and the Valkyries descend to confront the Terror on Saturn VI. Porter has followed the career of vigilante superhero Firebird with great interest, if only because Firebird is actually Blaise, once her dearest friend. Firebird seems to be self-destructing, though, and though Porter tries to ignore it, she finds herself drawn into the Folie à Deux, a shared madness that threatens to swallow them both. The widening Distance of Memory following the recent death of their fourth member has left surviving bondmates Zaezon, Margellian, and Corynteea lost and uncertain. But when they come across evidence of a band of Renders attacking villages, they must find their way together as three in order to complete their mission. Finally, Cat, a Finder gifted with the ability to locate objects and people with preternatural ease, is contacted by former lover Mirsagh to help track down a merchant's son. As they follow the man's trail, old feelings—good and bad—resurface, and Cat is faced with the choice to let Mirsagh be the Finder's Keeper again.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cheering on Chapel versus the Chimera (#bookreview)

David Wellington is one of those authors who have been on my radar for a while. I've picked up copies of Monster Island, 13 Bullets, and Frostbite, and I remain excited about all of them, but they've yet to make their way to the top of my TBR pile.

When I saw Chimera: A Jim Chapel Mission come available for review, I knew I had to seize the opportunity to finally make David a priority read . . . and I'm glad I did. Less of a straight-forward monster tale than his others, this is a sci-fi tinged thriller that could sit comfortably on the shelf next to the likes of Michael Crichton, Douglas Preston, and James Rollins.

Chimera was a very well-paced thriller, with some nice dramatic tension, suspense, and a deeper mystery that kept the plot moving, but which never overshadowed the immediate story. David's style of writing here is perfect for the genre, tailored slightly for a character who is just a little uncertain about whether he's the right man for the job. There are a few moments of dark humor, as well as a typical will-they-won't-they romance that actually worked better, and was developed far more naturally, than I expected.

The Chimeras themselves are interesting, and the slow unveiling of their origins adds a nice layer of sympathy atop the horror. Often, there's a danger in humanizing the monsters, but here it works, largely because of the way in which David balances that with the moral ugliness of their creators. In terms of the overall story arc, I don't think it's any great spoiler to say that there's a critical betrayal that precedes the final act, but even if I saw something coming, I must say I was pleasantly surprised to find the truth of the situation was deeper than I suspected.

If I were to have one concern with the book, it's that Jim Chapel himself comes across a little flat. Maybe it's because this is first adventure, and David is just laying the groundwork, but he could definitely be developed a little better. Outside of his job, the rehab that landed him the position, and the war injury that landed him in rehab, we really know very little about him. He never opens up about favorite foods, hobbies, friends, or anything that might help to humanize him. It's not a huge issue, and certainly doesn't stand in the way of enjoying Chimera, but that kind of development is needed if Chapel is to reserve some space on the shelf for future adventures.

If you're looking for a quick, action-packed, sci-fi tinged thriller to take to the beach or the cottage for the weekend, you could certainly do a lot worse than Chimera. Give it a shot, and you won't be disappointed.


Published July 23rd 2013 by William Morrow
ebook, 432 pages

Monday, July 22, 2013

Talking Vanishers or Dangerous Latitudes with James Ullrich (#interview)

Good morning, all! Today we have the good fortune to welcome James Ullrich to the ruins, here to talk his work, his travels, and his writing.

Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, James. For those who haven't yet had a chance to give The Vanishers or Dangerous Latitudes a read, please tell us a little about yourself.

Hi Bob, thanks so much for having me. Happy to be here. I’m a freelance writer, editor and author. In terms of my travel writing, I specialize in European travel. My travel writing work has been commissioned and published in nationally distributed publications including The New York Examiner, World War II Magazine, Aviation History Magazine, Writers Weekly, Renaissance Magazine, Global Aviator Magazine, and Weider Publishing Group among others.  I’ve also written European-based travel guide material on popular websites/blogs including Travel Addict, Vagabondish, Backpacker, InTravel, Compass, and Writer Abroad

Earlier this year I published my first two novels, a dark suspense/thriller set in Prague called The Vanishers and an adventure about a travel writer on the hunt for a legendary lost city in the Amazon called Dangerous Latitudes.

I’ve also just finished my MA in clinical psychology with existential-phenomenological emphasis at Seattle University. 

Not a bad background from which to write! Whether you're talking journalism or narrative fiction, the journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one. When did you begin writing, and how did you feel when you first saw your work in print?

I’d always had a knack for writing; it’s what came the most naturally to me. I was always good at painting a picture with words and telling a story. When traveling I kept a journal (something I recommend to all writers and travelers). One thing that marked my travel experiences was a tendency to have encounters with interesting people, to find myself in strange or funny situations, and to observe a lot. So before I knew it I was writing down some of my stories for friends back home. They liked them and told me I should try to get published. I submitted some of my reports from various places, and to my surprise, they found interest. It was a pretty big thrill to see my name and my words on a printed, glossy page while standing in a large book store! I realized then I was in the extreme minority—a writer that actually got published and paid for it.

Not a bad way to get started, indeed! In terms of your novel writing, what comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?

Mainly just making sure that the story works. The first paragraph has to really hook the reader and invite them in; and the last chapter is key too; it had to tie everything up and give the story and the characters the sort of closure they deserve. It has to be satisfying. So, that’s a struggle too. The blurb is a nightmare—trying to distill the essence of the story and the characters and why the book is good into a paragraph is really, really tough.

Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when writing about time travel and magic. Have there been any twists or turns in your writing that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans?

Absolutely. Some writers, who are better with words than with life, have trouble creating textured characterizations; they have their characters act. But humans don’t act; they behave. They’re incredibly complex and often have conflicting motivations they’re not even consciously aware of. Their little tells—which are unique to every person—give them away. So I try to paint the picture using those little details to inform your understanding of them and where they’re coming from. I try to ply them with as many layers as I can, because people are multilayered. I also do it to increase the suspense—I want readers to keep guessing as to what the characters will ultimately do or feel. It’s not really hard to achieve that effect; we humans are subject to so many competing drives and desires and impulses, and that in itself creates lot of suspense, and I try to convey that while still keeping a tight, fun, suspenseful story going.

I like that line about behaving, as opposed to acting - great point. I suspect, given your background in travel, the answer is 'no' but do you have a soundtrack to your writing, a particular style of music or other background noise that keeps you in the mood?

I can write pretty much anywhere, having learned how to do it in noisy train stations and youth hostels on the road. That is a great skill to have, as solitude and quiet are not always available.

In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to date?

People have responded incredibly well to the stories and the characters, so that is deeply satisfying. Also, people really dig the settings and atmospherics, which is really gratifying, since that element is so much a part of the experience of the books. 

For example, The Vanishers is a suspense/thriller/heist story with an international setting. The action spans from Rome to a Scottish castle to the French Alps to Prague. The title refers to the main characters, an elite heist team known as the Vanishers. They’re a team of four former Special Forces vets (and one female cat burglar) from around the world. They’re experts in espionage, disguise, and cutting-edge technology. No one knows who they are, what motivates them, or where they are headquartered. Finally Interpol assembles special team led by a legendary Inspector to track them down. The story begins in a museum in Rome, the scene of latest heist. It also happens to be the new Inspector’s very first day on the job. The chase moves through Europe as the story progresses. We move to a mist-shrouded castle in Scotland, then to the sunny, snowy, French Alps from a major action sequence and to introduce a key character. The final part takes place in Prague. 

For me and a lot of other travelers, Prague has always possessed a unique allure. The atmosphere is evokes a sense of mystery like few other places in the world, and that’s why it’s one of my favorite places to visit and write about. This also made it the natural choice for the final act of the story to play out; the cobbled alleyways, the vague feeling of danger you get when strolling in the narrow lanes under the church spires at night—especially if it’s a little rainy or misty—all epitomize that enchanting, Eastern Europe ambiance. I’ve tried to capture that atmosphere in The Vanishers.

With Dangerous Latitudes, the pattern is similar; we move from New York City to the dusty libraries of Europe in search of clues to a legendary Lost City in Amazon that was written about by the Conquistadors. Then the action moves to the jungles of South America. I wanted the reader to smell the old paper and dust of the European archives, and feel the heat and lurking danger of the jungle along with our hero, travel writer Matthew Hunt. From all the feedback I’ve received, it seems like I’ve succeed, which is incredibly gratifying.

To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?

I really like writers like Ken Follett, who really knows how to craft a story in multiple genres and historical eras. They know their craft and understand that character and story are the fundamental drivers regardless of the time period the story takes place in or the subject of the narrative. I like the adventure/thriller writers like Robert Ludlum and John Le Carré too. Also, I love Clive Cussler, Steve Berry, Joanna Penn, and James Rollins, who often tie their suspenseful stories to a historical mystery of some kind. The non-fiction travel writing of Bill Bryson and the late Pete McCarthy really inspires me too; they’re funny and insightful and make me want to pack a bag, grab my old leather journal, and catch a plane somewhere.

Nice. It's been a while since I've read any Ludlum or Le Carré  but Cussler and Rollins are always on my TBR list. Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there a project on the horizon that you're really excited about?

I’m about to begin my next book, and am in the planning process. Since my stories involve lots of different locales and usually a historical mystery of some sort, there’s lots of research to be done! So that’s where I’m at right now. But it’ll be worth the wait. In the meantime, I write a weekly blog post for http://www.vagablogging.net/ and will be having travel articles published in Renaissance Magazine, Travel Post Monthly, and Writers Weekly in the next few months. 

A huge thanks to James for stopping by!

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The Vanishers
by James Ullrich

Priceless works of art are vanishing from Europe’s greatest museums, and the culprits are a shadowy team of experts in espionage and cutting-edge technology who can make anything vanish from anywhere—for a price. They are allied in an elite heist team known as the Vanishers, and their exploits have electrified the continent, giving them near-mythical status. They seem beyond capture.

Until now.

With an elite Interpol unit on their trail, the team considers quitting while they’re ahead—until a mysterious collector seeking a precious relic offers them the challenge of a lifetime. The Vanishers embark on a treasure hunt across Europe even as one member harbors an explosive secret that could doom them all.

An elaborate game of cat and mouse ensues as their nemesis, a determined Italian detective with a secret of his own, closes in. The detective soon finds his life threatened by an enemy operating deep within his own ranks, while the Vanishers realize their new assignment is more than they’d bargained for. After a stunning discovery and a tragic death, an alliance is forged between the adversaries to unmask the mysterious figure manipulating them all from the shadows.

Racing from the museums of Rome to the dark alleys of Prague, no one is quite who they seem to be as the Vanishers attempt pull off the heist of the century—and survive.


Dangerous Latitudes
by James Ullrich

Travel writer Matthew Hunt has covered stories, people, and dangerous destinations all over the planet. But nothing has prepared him for his latest assignment.

A call from a young woman with an incredible claim sets him on a once-in-a-lifetime quest for a fabled Lost City in the darkest reaches of the Amazon jungle.

The woman, a beautiful young historian named Elena, claims to have received a letter from her father, long thought to have perished while researching the fate of a sixteenth-century Conquistador. Held against his will deep in the jungle, he makes a desperate plea for help.

Armed with a cryptic warning and a set of clues, the worldly travel writer and the youthful historian begin a desperate quest to find the truth behind the man’s disappearance—and the mysterious object of his pursuit—before it’s too late. Their search for the truth will take them from the dusty archives of Spain to the furthest depths of the Amazon.

With each new revelation, another piece of the puzzle emerges, and other questions are raised. Along the way, the pair finds that some allies are not who they seem, and make a deadly enemy who intends to keep the spoils for his own.

All of Hunt’s resourcefulness and determination will be needed to stay alive and solve the mystery. What secret really lies in the heart of the rainforest? A glimmering Lost City, a Fountain of Life, or something more sinister than they can imagine?

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James Ullrich is a freelance travel writer, editor, and author. His work has been commissioned and published in nationally distributed publications including The New York Examiner, World War II, Aviation History, Renaissance, Global Aviator, Military, and Weider Publishing Group among others.

He’s also contributed European-based travel guide material on popular websites and blogs including Travel Addict, Vagabondish, Compass, Backpacker, InTravel, and Writer Abroad. He contributes a weekly blog post to Vagablogging ( www.vagablogging.net ).

In addition to writing, James has given talks on affordable independent travel to audiences interested in getting more out of their travel experiences for less cost.

Originally from Chicago, he’s previously worked as the Chief Managing Staff Writer for the Chicago Music Guide and served graduate internships in the Political Affairs Office of the US Embassy in London and the White House Office of Presidential Correspondence.

In his free time he enjoys wandering through Europe with a backpack and a journal. He hangs his rucksack in Seattle.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Stacking The Shelves & What I'm Reading

Stacking The Shelves is a weekly meme being hosted by Tynga's Reviews, while Mailbox Monday is being hosted by Book Obsessed this month (see Mailbox Monday for each month's host). Both memes are all about sharing the books you've added to your shelves - physical and virtual, borrowed and bought. It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Book Journey, and it's focused on what's in your hands, as opposed to what's on your shelf.


With an eye towards my plans for the next few months, I'm still trying to hold off on adding too much to the TBR pile, but I did pick up a few new titles:

Cthulhurotica
ed. by Carrie Cuinn
Paperback, 340 pages
Published Dec 16, 2010 by Dagan Books

I've had my eye on this for a while, but when I realized it was the same Carrie who edited the sci-fi archaeology anthology In Situ, I was sold.



Wayward
by Blake Crouch
Paperback, 322 pages
Expected publication: Sept 17th 2013 by Thomas & Mercer

Coming to television courtesy of M. Night Shyamalan, I snagged this and Pines, book 1 in the series, for review.




Razor's Edge
by Martha Wells
Hardcover, 384 pages
Expected publication: Sept 24th 2013 by LucasBooks

Acquired via NetGalley - it's Star Wars and it's Martha Wells . . . how could I possibly resist snagging this?




As for what we're reading, the team has reviews coming up over the next 2 weeks for:


What's topping your shelves this week?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Talking Time Travel & Magic with Scott Spotson (#interview)

We have the good fortune today to welcome Scott Spotson to the ruins. An author, artist, and fellow Canuck, Scott currently has three titles in print, with a fourth - the creepy and unsettling thriller, Delusional - soon to come.


Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Scott. For those who haven't yet had a chance to give Seeking Dr. Magic or Life II a read, please tell us a little about yourself.

Hi, thank you as well for having me here! I’ll start off by saying I’m glad we’re both Canadian, as we do need a Canadian voice in this world of indie writers!  My book, “Life II,” is wholly set in Canada, except for side trips to Greece.  I work in tax, which many people would find to be a field which is a polar opposite to creative writing! Not to worry, there’s absolutely no discourse on taxes in any of my books!

Well, Stieg Larsson gave it a shot, but he abandoned the tax discourse after about 100 pages to write a murder mystery instead. I'd say the opportunity is still there!

Getting back to you for a moment, the journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in this era of small presses and digital publishing. When did you begin writing, and how did you feel when you first saw your work in print?

I started writing as a young kid; these were all short stories of vivid imagination. For example, I once wrote about finding myself in a dream and seeing eyes at the back of my mother’s head (now I know how she was able to find out everything I did wrong!) and having to eat myself out of a mountain of ice cream when trapped in there.  I wrote a book in my early 20’s, a novel that is nowadays considered “new adult,” but had to shelve it as there was no electronic publishing back then. I started again in the summer of 2012 when I had too many stories in my head, and couldn’t resist trying again. This time, I pleasantly found out about the new digital publishing era.

Digital publishing has certainly opened doors, but it's only half the equation. Given that it must sometimes seem like a second job all on its own, how do you keep yourself excited about those self-promotion opportunities?

You’re right, in self-publishing on a digital platform, there’s no publisher, and there’s zillions of books out there, so you do have to promote yourself, or you’ll never be noticed. I resolved to myself at the beginning, to truly test my writing, not to involve my family or friends in reviewing my books. I’m glad I did it that way.  In fact, I’ve made many new friends, even if only on-line, among beginning authors.  I keep myself motivated through reviews that show how much people liked my books, and especially those that said the books made them think about what they’re doing.  

That's a fair approach. In terms of the writing itself, what comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?

The creation of ideas if the easy part. I guess the hardest part is making the story stick together, although I pretty much know the story from beginning to end. It’s those gaps that can kill your story. For example, it’s easy to imagine a wizard fighting a monster. But what you need to set up are the background and the characters: where did the wizard come from? Why does he (or she) want to fight, what is he defending or asserting? Where does the monster come from, and how do they meet? These are very important details, and if you flesh them out, you’re beginning a solid book. So, to answer your question, it’s not really the first chapter or last chapter, it’s making the story consistent and compelling.  

Good point - those details make the difference between disposable and memorable. Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when writing about time travel and magic. Have there been any twists or turns in your writing that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans?

Yes, that happens many times, and I like it.  It makes your book more fresh.  For example, in Life II, I introduced a surprise fellow time traveler named Lucinda, who was absolutely nowhere in my initial concepts of the story. That choice was controversial, as some readers felt she threw off the balance of the story and didn’t belong there. But I felt she was essential to shake up the story, as Max (the main character) seemed to be coasting along too easily to the conclusion of the book at that point. And I felt it was important to return to the origins of Dr. Time, to wrap up the vital role she had at the beginning of the book.  

And in Seeking Dr. Magic, I originally planned to have Dr. Magic killed by the authorities, and to have the main character, a detective, grieve over what would have been a waste of extraordinary magic.  However, I kept Dr. Magic alive, and the ending of the book showcases their close relationship. 

And that, right there, is magic. 

Do you have a soundtrack to your writing, a particular style of music or other background noise that keeps you in the mood, or do you require quiet solitude?

Interesting question. Is this common among writers?  I never thought of it, so I guess I’ll have to answer that I write in solitude.

In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to -date?

Yes, I was very surprised how readers loved my stories, but could not relate to the main characters (many could, but also many couldn’t).  For Life II, the readers felt the main character was very self-centered, and I didn’t intend him that way.  Maybe wanting to change your life a second time around requires a self-centered person, so maybe I can’t get around that, but I certainly can look at softening the edges of the choices he makes without losing the thrust of the story.  For Seeking Dr. Magic, the reader felt that the main character, a detective, was celebrity hungry and arrogant.  Naturally!  I did that on purpose, to set him up for belittling by an even more arrogant Dr. Magic. I thought it would be fun to have a battle of the super-egos.  Now I understand that even with that premise, arrogant characters are hard to like in a main role, so I’ll see about softening these edges as well.

Actually, I like the idea. To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?

Well, it’s very hard to say, because I read like osmosis, without seeking out certain authors.  My parents had their house very well-stocked with books, mainly adult books, so I would read a bit of this and that, without really reading the whole book through, as I was still young and didn’t think of myself as a student of reading, just grabbing what I thought interesting.  As a kid, I would sometimes read four children’s or geared-to-young-adult books in one day (back then, books weren’t so characterized as “young adult”). There’s been years where I hardly read any books, being so busy with college or raising kids. So you could say I’m eclectic in my tastes.  However, I love science fiction, some fantasy, and speculative fiction.  

Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there a project on the horizon that you're really excited about?

Yes! I have two books in the works, first coming up (September) is “Delusional” where a young woman in the center of a love triangle is experiencing delusions, but later one we find out that someone with paranormal abilities is causing these hallucinations to drive that woman away.  It’s bizarre as the main character isn’t sure what is real and what isn’t real.  Then she investigates these strange happenings and gets further caught up in the chaos.

The second book (hopefully scheduled for December) is “The Four Kings” whereby four well-meaning but arrogant wizards (all young adults) take over governing the world, introducing what they see are economic and political reforms to “kickstart” human civilization “by a hundred years.”  Thus, the book sets up a cultural clash between the wizards and the humans, as the wizards use the concept of “bread and circuses” to keep their subjects entertained through amazing games of challenge and skill that they put on. We see the story through the eyes of Amanda, who’s human and has been appointed by the wizards as “Supreme Liaison” to act as go-between the humans and the wizards. It should be a fun read! 

They sound like interesting stories - best of luck with them, and thanks for stopping by!

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Seeking Dr. Magic
by Scott Spotson

Chaos reigns around the world. Strange creatures, accorded the title "Phantom Ninjas" by the media, are leaping off tall buildings and somersaulting back up without any scratch - and then disappear. There follows more spontaneous acts of magic, confounding the world. Who - or what - is responsible? In the middle of the mystery arrives Detective Hetfield, a private investigator just recently retired from the FBI, who is accustomed to fame as a star witness in the murder trial of a beloved actress. Hetfield, seeking ever more celebrity to boost his profile, uses the media to put forward the theory that a person of extraordinary magical powers is behind all the incidents, and labels him Dr. Magic. Hetfield gets much more than what he bargained for when that powerful being does exist - in the form of a young man long disillusioned with his past - and cruelly takes him up on his offer.


Life II
by Scott Spotson

Upon discovering a 1958 book titled "Account of Time Travel on Earth Using Wave Theory," 42-year-old Max Thorning's life is thrown into chaos. Seeking answers to the book's cryptic clues, he discovers Dr. Time, a seemingly benign alien who has control of the Time Weaver, a remarkable device that can command any scene from the Earth's past. Dr. Time offers him a choice to go back into Time, to any point in his lifespan that he can vividly recall. The catch: he can only bring his memories, and can only live the future one day at a time. Follow Max's dilemma as he goes back to his 16-year-old self and tries to forge his destiny into a new one called Life II.

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Scott Spotson is a Canadian novelist who excels in imagining scenes of intrigue and adventure within ordinary lives while daydreaming, then pulls together various plots to create a compelling story.

Scott has written three books: Life II, a time travel novel; Seeking Dr. Magic, a novel that imagines what happens when a powerful wizard comes of age as a young man, and wreaks his havoc on the world, which is yet unaware of his existence; and You Know You're Thin When..., a humor book using large single panel cartoons.

A fourth book, Delusional, will be published tentatively by July 2013.

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disclosure goes here (if necessary)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday: On the Steel Breeze by Alastair Reynolds

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

On the Steel Breeze by Alastair Reynolds
Sept 12, 2013 (Gollancz)

It is a thousand years in the future. Mankind is making its way out into the universe on massive generation ships.

On the Steel Breeze is the follow-up to Blue Remembered Earth. It is both a sequel and a standalone novel, which just happens to be set in the same universe and revolves around members of the Akinya family.

The central character, Chiku, is totally new, although she is closely related to characters in the first book. The action involves a 220-year expedition to an extrasolar planet aboard a caravan of huge iceteroid 'holoships', the tension between human and artificial intelligence ... and, of course, elephants.

Lots of elephants.


I don't read a lot of hard SF, but I do like to dabble from time-to-time and Reynolds is an author I've had on my radar for a while now. I picked up Blue Remembered Earth last summer, and started reading, but just got sidetracked by other titles. I quiet enjoyed what I read of it, and thought it was a very interesting introduction, so I'm looking forward to catching up.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sharing a Sense of Desolation with Travis Simmons (#bookreview #giveaway)

While it wasn't necessarily a bad book, there were so many little issues with Desolation that I really had trouble enjoying it.

On the plus side, Travis Simmons has definitely done something interesting with zombies here, adding a little fresh blood and brains to a genre that's become very tapped out. Rather than limit himself to a choice between the classic shuffling zombie and the contemporary speedy one, he incorporates both into his story, and then adds a third flavor in the infernals - basically zombies with brains. Not content to stop there, he also adds an even darker element, with human necromancers who have the power to create and control the zombies. It definitely makes for a very dark, exciting read, but he needs more space to fully explore the concepts.

Unfortunately, this is a book that's in dire need of an editor. While I generally don't like to focus on that element in my reviews, when it becomes a distraction - as it did here - I have to call it out. Little things like the proper use of its/it's and there/their/they're are one thing. They're annoyances, but you can train your mind to skip by them. Wrong or missing punctuation is another thing entirely, however, and there were passages - particularly following a line of dialogue - where my reading just hit a brick wall of incomprehension. Also, while I know it's difficult to work personal details into a first person narrative, it shouldn't have taken 7 or 8 chapters before Asher is revealed as a guy. Yes, I know it's clear in the synopsis, but when a book has sat on your e-reader for a few months, the value of a synopsis or cover blurb is entirely lost.

As for Asher being a guy, I certainly had no issues with that, and thought gay romance angle was an interesting touch, particularly with his lingering feelings for his now-zombie boyfriend. Their romance was solid, and I think Asher's grief was very well portrayed. In addition, I really liked how Simmons continued to play with the romance angle, right up to the climax of their final zombie confrontation. My problem with Asher was not his sexuality, but his personality and his perfection. He's a little too much of the perfect hero, more a pulp adventure novel cliché than somebody fit to lead a post-apocalyptic horror novel.

Ultimately, this felt like a young adult novel that was deliberately sexed-up and bloodied-up to appeal to a wider audience. It certainly has potential, and I think Simmons can do some really exciting things with the material, but this first volume is just a bit too rough and unpolished for my tastes.

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Writers Workshop Blog Tour

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About the Author

I have been writing since I was 14. I began writing a book called "The Calling of the Two" and while writing that on and off I started uncovering another idea.

"Yes, this is all well and good, but what about before? What happened in the world before these characters came into it?" I always knew there was a "before" and as I started wondering about it I got ideas. At first they were little ideas but as I discovered the names for my characters a whole story about them emerged.

I started working on The Revenant Wyrd Saga several years back and I am very happy I did because hearing and documenting Jovian and Angelica's story has been one wild ride.

I live in a remote part of upstate New York and honestly just hoofing around my neck of the woods gives me a ton of inspiration for my novels. I love research, and I love speculating on different ideas and theories.

Website: http://www.travissimmons.net/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authortravissimmons
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TravisSimmons5
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4342608.Travis_Simmons

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About the Book

Desolation
by Travis Simmons

Asher St Paul thought it was just a typical zombie apocalypse like in the movies, until the necromancers crawled out of the woodwork.

Since the undead have chased the living into hiding, the necromancers are able to roam freely in a new America of their making. Asher is seeking safe harbor. The need for safety is what drove him from his home in Philadelphia Pennsylvania before it was shelled. He has searched from quarantine to quarantine, always finding them overrun with zombies until he hears of The Refuge, a military compound in Binghamton New York.

With his family and lover lain to rest by his own hand, he has nothing left to lose and gives everything he has to reach the safe haven. But questions arise when he reaches The Refuge, mainly, how has he been able to sustain multiple zombie bites and not change? He thinks he has found safety in the military compound turned quarantine, but he was wrong. Even now there is a necromancer trying to make The Refuge
their kingdom of the dead.

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a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for review from Jitterbug PR and from the author
as part of a virtual book tour. I was not compensated nor was I required to write a positive review. The
opinions I have expressed are my own. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade
Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in
Advertising.”

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Conflicted (and excited) about King of Thorns (#bookreview)

I opened my review of Prince of Thorns, book 1 of The Broken Empire saga, by saying:

"Damn, but this was one hell of a book!"

I would like to begin this review in a similar spirit, by saying:

"Damn, but this was one hell of a book to review."

I've let it settle and digest for a few days, but I'm still very conflicted in my thoughts regarding King of ThornsMark Lawrence has improved upon many aspects of that first book, particularly in the areas of character development and world-building, but the converging paths of the narrative structure didn't work so well for me this time around.

Generally, I'm not a big fan of stories that jump back and forth in time, balancing flashbacks with the 'current' or 'present day' narrative. It's just not a device that works for me. Having said that, it did work for me in the first book, largely because Jorg was such a unique sort of protagonist that I was truly interested in just what happened to place his feet upon such a path. Here, the 'present day' narrative jumps ahead four years, forcing a gap that allows for the same device to be used again. The problem is, with my curiosity about Jorg's origins already sated, the flashbacks here lacked the same drawing power. As much as I appreciate what Lawrence attempted to do with the copper box - I thoroughly enjoyed the way in which his banked memories altered the course of battle - I didn't find the 'big' memory a compelling enough mystery to justify taking us away from the events of his wedding day.

Of course, it doesn't help that the story of Jorg's wedding day is such a strong story on its own. Taking place over the course of a single day, it develops his character, advances the plot, and resolves several key conflicts in exemplary fashion. Here we have a few moments of courtship, a rushed marriage, a siege, a quest, and a battle - more than enough to carry a tale. Once again, Jorg and his band of brother face impossible odds, but find novel and exciting ways of stealing the upper hand. This is fighting dirty, as we'd expect, but it works.

Speaking of fighting dirty, the climax is another aspect of the tale about which I'm conflicted. It's completely in keeping with Jorg's character, and brilliantly resolves some of the larger challenges facing his march to the ultimate throne, but once again it relies upon artifacts of Builder technology. I'm honestly not sure whether I like that pattern. It intrigues me and excites me, and I love the Dark Tower way in which the ghosts of the past have both a significance and an enduring sense of peril, but it just felt a little to convenient here, a little too much of a stretch. Ultimately, whether it's a clever device or a bit of a cheat is something I really can't say until I see how Emperor of Thorns is resolved. I would actually be disappointed not to see it attempted again, but the 'how' and the 'why' of it will mean everything.

I would, of course, be remiss not to say a few words about the women of the world. While her diary entries didn't necessarily add anything to the narrative for me, it's clear that Katherine is being pressed into a pivotal role. Not only is she quickly becoming a key piece in the overall game of thrones, but the significance of her thorn in Jorg's side continues to grow. As for his child-bride Miana, she was a pleasant surprise, worthy of not just her place in the story, but also of a place as Jorg's side. I expected very little of her going in, but began to like her early on, and definitely respected her contributions by the end. Chella, as we might expect, continues to play a role in events, haunting Jorg's thoughts and driving him into confrontation with the dead. The scene in which she forces a confrontation with the ghosts of his genocide amid the marsh and the mud is just awesome, and almost enough to redeem my conflict about the dueling narratives.

Overall, King of Thorns is a strong read, and a worthy sequel to Prince of Thorns. Despite my conflicts with the telling of it, I enjoyed it immensely, and actually stayed up late to read the final 200+  pages. The cast of characters has grown, Jorg has grown, the world has grown, and the stakes have grown. A bigger book than the first in every respect, this is a tale that leaves even bigger expectations for Emperor of Thorns.


Published August 7th 2012 by Ace Books
Hardcover, 449 pages

Friday, July 12, 2013

Call for Submissions - Midian Unmade: Tales of Clive Barker's Nightbreed

Stoker Award-winning anthologist Del Howison (Dark Delicacies 1-3, The Book of Lists: Horror) and internationally bestselling urban fantasy author Joseph Nassise (Eyes To See, By the Blood of Heroes) have joined forces with horror Grand Master Clive Barker to bring you back to the city of Midian and the creatures of the darkness known as the Nightbreed!
Tor Books will be publishing MIDIAN UNMADE: TALES OF CLIVE BARKER’S NIGHTBREED in simultaneous hardcover and trade paperback editions in the fall of 2014 and we’re looking for original horror and dark fantasy stories that fit the guidelines below.

MIDIAN UNMADE: TALES OF CLIVE BARKER’S NIGHTBREED
We’ve all felt it at one time or another – that sense of unbelonging, of being isolated, possibly even shunned because of our differences; not for anything that we’ve done but for simply being who we are.  We’ve all felt it – in childhood and adolescence, certainly, but even as adults as well, when the winds of change blow through our lives and we discover that those things we thought immutable are, in reality, anything but.
When this happens we all become like changeling children, at odds with those around us as well as with ourselves, looking to distant horizons for fresh comprehension of our purpose, sometimes even of our very nature.
The fiction of the fantastic literally overflows with metaphors for times like these, though none more so than the Nightbreed, those freaks and grotesques and shapeshifters extraordinaire that inhabit the hidden necropolis of Midian and make it their own in the pages of Clive Barker’s CABAL.   The Nightbreed are a colony of survivors, the last remnants of the once great tribes of the moon, and in their alienation they find a sense of togetherness, of belonging that often seems more human than those who bear that name.
Until the coming of Boone, that is, and the destruction of their hidden sanctuary, when they become outcasts once again.
MIDIAN UNMADE: TALES OF CLIVE BARKER’S NIGHTBREED picks up where CABAL left off, chronicling the lives of the ‘Breed as they disperse into the world after the fall of Midian.  We’re looking for stories of struggle and despair, of hope and sanctification, as the former inhabitants of Midian try to adapt to the world from which they retreated years before.  A world that does not want them.  A world that will hound them, hunt them, simply for the crime of being different.
Writers have Clive’s permission to use the existing members of the Breed that appear in the novella Cabal, in the film Nightbreed, and in the companion volume, The Nightbreed Chronicles, published by Titan Books.  Writers also have the option of creating their own unique and fantastical creatures that fit the Nightbreed mold.
We’re seeking original horror and dark fantasy stories.  We pay five cents per word up to 5,000 words, with 30% paid on acceptance and the remainder to be paid after the complete manuscript has been accepted by the publisher. (Please note that this is work for hire project as Clive owns the world in which the project is set. Writers may use their stories in this anthology and have permission to use them in collections of their own works or in annual best-of anthologies, but they may not write and submit additional stories featuring the characters they create for this project to publishing projects elsewhere.)
Story submissions should be sent to either Joe Nassise (jnassise@gmail.com) or Del Howison (del@darkdel.com), using the subject line MIDIAN STORY ENCLOSED.  If the subject line is not used, we cannot guarantee receipt of the story, as we will both be using email filters to isolate all Midian submissions from our regular mail.  Stories should be submitted before September 30th, 2013.
Questions can be directed to either of the email addresses above. 
We look forward to hearing from you!

Check out Joseph Nassise's blog, Shades of Reality, for updates and additional details.