Friday, January 31, 2014

Jon Land (author of The Tenth Circle) asks "What if?"

What if?

Those aren’t just the two most important words for any thriller writer, they also form the very foundation on which the contemporary thriller was founded.  Through a myriad of sub-genres and jumping off points, pretty much every great thriller written in the past half-century begins with an offshoot of what if?  Let’s explore the specifics.

1)  HISTORICAL SPECULATION:  Ah, the granddaddy of them all.  Let’s go back all the way to 1976 and the exceptionally influential Raise the Titanic, the Clive Cussler classic that helped define the contemporary action-adventure thriller.  It’s easy to forget that the book’s basis was that the Titanic was sunk because of something it was carrying in its hold, something with roots in a 19th century expedition undertaken in Russia. Cussler, by the way, has long been the master of this particular technique, always setting up his Dirk Pitt adventures with historical backdrops ranging from the circumstances of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance to Abraham Lincoln maybe not having been assassinated at all. Dan Brown brought this particular What if? to a whole new level, and similarly helped redefine it, in his mega-selling The Da Vinci Code which fueled the rise of Steve Berry, James Rollins, and Brad Meltzer, all who are expert at using parts of history to fuel speculation.

Prior to THE TENTH CIRCLE, my latest release, I had contemplated using either the inexplicable vanishing of the colonists from Roanoke Island or the seagoing mystery of the Mary Celeste as jumping off points any number of times.  But the time, and subject matter, was never right.  Now, normally I plan out a book months in advance but with THE TENTH CIRCLE it was mere weeks because the great success of the book’s prequel, PANDORA’S TEMPLE, led me to plunge into it because I had a window of a few months open to write and I wanted to get it out in time for this holiday season.  So I naturally gravitated not just to including one of those historical mysteries, but both, and committed myself to finding a historical connection between them.  No small feat, given the gap in time between Roanoke and the Mary Celeste.  But I had a blast fitting all the pieces together and offering the kind of answers in fiction that reality has never managed to provide.

2)  FUTURE THOUGHT:  What if there was a Third World War between Russia and the U.S. and you have Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising.  What if there was an attempted military overthrow of the United States government and you have Fletcher Knebble’s brilliant Seven Days in May.  What if a nuclear attack was accidentally launched on Russia and you have Harvey Wheeler and Eugene Burdick’s pulse-pounding Fail-Safe. Before he conceived Hannibal Lecter, Thomas Harris envisioned a terrorist attack on the Super Bowl, thirty years prior to 9/11 in the brilliant Black Sunday.  These concepts are far more grounded in reality than historical speculative thrillers.  They scare us and keep us reading because they indeed could happen.  We still have to suspend disbelief, but not nearly as much as we do with historical speculative thrillers which often confront us with redefined notions of reality, changing what was as opposed to what will be.

3)  CHASING THE MYTH:  Ah, the most classic of all structural what ifs because this category defines the modern-day quest story.  The classic example, of course, to digress into film is Raiders of the Lost Ark in which the intrepid Indiana Jones pursues the Arc of the Covenant containing the smashed pieces of the Ten Commandments.  Since then, and even before, pretty much every great mythological relic or tome has become fodder for thriller writers from the Holy Grail to the Great Crystal of Atlantis, the prophecies of Nostradamus, the lost gold of the Civil War—the list goes on and on and on.  I started PANDORA’S TEMPLE by posing the question what if Pandora’s box was real?  Well, the first thing I learned was that it wasn’t a box at all, but a jar.  That didn’t stop me from wondering if it did exist, what really was inside that bred the myth about the woes of mankind being unleashed once the box/jar was opened.  In THE TENTH CIRCLE, I tied the historical mysteries of the Roanoke Colony and Mary Celeste into a super weapon about to be employed by a madman today.  In PANDORA, I turned Pandora’s box (well, jar) similarly into a receptacle for a weapon so powerful, its release could lead to the destruction of the entire world.  You get the idea.

4)  SCIENCE FACTION:  No, that’s not a typo.  Some of the greatest what ifs ever posed led to the most influential thrillers ever written.  Ira Levin’s The Boys from Brazil, for example, which raises the possibility of a hundred Hitler clones being unleashed on the world.  Or Michael Crichton either in The Andromeda Strain (an alien organism with the potential to wipe out life on the planet) or, of course, Jurassic Park (dinosaurs brought back to life).  Or Peter Benchley unleashing a 25-foot Great White shark to terrorize the entire island of Amity in Jaws.  The great Ian Fleming re-imagined outer space as means to create havoc back on Earth in his James Bond thrillers Dr. No and Moonraker.  The thing all these have in common is that they were ahead, way ahead, of the curve.  Few had even heard of cloning before the Ira Levin classic in 1976.  Or that similar technology could bring back the T-Rex prior to Jurassic Park being published in 1990.  And before James Bond, space launches were just something you applauded on television.  Science did and always does offer an endless treasure trove for any writer willing to explore its breadth.  And while history and mythology are there for the taking, science is there for the growing and changing.  History and mythology will be tomorrow exactly what they are today.  Not so with science where every day is different, offering new possibilities and fronts for the world and thriller writers alike.

I could on forever with these categories or more examples in the ones I’ve already provided.  But you get the idea, and here’s the thing:  The one thing all thrillers have in common, no matter what category they fit into, is that they awaken the child in all of us by fueling our imaginations and making us feel like a kid again.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anything I’d rather help someone experience.  That’s what I tried to accomplish in THE TENTH CIRCLE.  Give it a read and let me know how I did.


Jon Land is the award-winning, critically acclaimed author of 36 books, including the bestselling Caitlin Strong Texas Ranger series that includes Strong Enough to Die, Strong Justice, Strong at the Break, Strong Vengeance and, most recently, Strong Rain Falling. The Tenth Circle marks the second return engagement of his longtime series hero Blaine McCracken on the heels of last year’s Pandora’s Temple which was nominated for a Thriller Award and received the 2013 International Book Award for Best Adventure Thriller. Jon’s first nonfiction book, Betrayal, meanwhile, was named Best True Crime Book of 2012 by Suspense Magazine and won a 2012 International Book Award for Best True Crime Book. He is currently working on Strong Darkness, the next entry in the Caitlin Strong to be published in September of 2014. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude from Brown University, where he continues to maintain a strong volunteer presence, in 1979 and can be found on the Web at www.jonlandbooks.com.

Catch Up With the Author:


Genre: Thriller
Published by: Open Road Integrated Media
Publication Date: December 24, 2013
Number of Pages: 420
ISBN: 978-1480414792

1590: An entire colony of British settlers vanishes from their settlement on Roanoke Island, seemingly into thin air.

1872: The freighter Marie Celeste is found drifting at sea off Gibraltar, its entire crew and passengers gone missing without a trace.

But what if there’s a connection between two of the greatest historical mysteries ever? And what if the roots of that connection lie in a crazed plot to destroy the United States as we know it today?

Those are the questions confronting Blaine McCracken as he takes up the trail of small time preacher Jeremiah Rule whose hateful rhetoric has done big time damage by inflaming an entire people half a world away, resulting in a series of devastating terrorist attacks stateside. Rule, though, isn’t acting alone. A shadowy cabal is pulling his strings, unaware they are creating a monster soon to spin free of their control.

McCracken has just returned from pulling off the impossible in Iran, ridding the world of one terrible threat only to return home to face another. Isolated in a way he’s never been before and now hunted himself, he’ll have to rely on skills and allies both old and new to get to the heart of a plan aimed at unleashing no less than the Tenth Circle of Hell. This as he contends with a failed congressman intent on changing the country to fit his own vision and an Iranian assassin bent on revenge.

Blaine’s desperate path across country and continent takes him into the past where the answers he needs lie among the missing Roanoke colonists and the contents of the Marie Celeste’s cargo holds. Those secrets alone hold the means to stop the Tenth Circle from closing. And as the bodies tumble in his wake, as the clock ticks down to an unthinkable maelstrom, McCracken and Johnny Wareagle fight to save the United States from a war the country didn’t even know it was fighting, but might well lose.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Fantasy Review - The Roads to Baldairn Motte

For a heroic fantasy novel written by not one, not two, but three authors - Garrett Calcaterra, Craig Comer, and Ahimsa Kerp - The Roads to Baldairn Motte is a surprisingly well-structured, remarkably cohesive tale that actually benefits from the different voices, without seeming fragmented. It's worth noting that this is a second edition of the tale, with new content, and a massive restructuring. I can't speak for the original edition, but my impression, based on this, is that restructuring paid off.

What we have here are three overlapping stories, each with a different narrative lead, but tied together by the same world, the same war, and the same struggles for survival. Interestingly, it's less about the war itself and those with the greatest stakes, and more about the 'common' people who are swept up by it, drawn into it, and (in some cases) ultimately defined by it.

Yes, there are kings, princes, emperors, lords and noblemen here, some of who are central to the tale, but it's the whores, farmers, peasants, doctors, soldiers, and other 'common' people with whom we're invited to connect. There are, of course, characters who cross over between tales, and I surprised to find that they retained a consistent feel, despite being written by different authors. Clearly, a great deal of thought and planning went into shaping this 'mosaic' novel, and it shows.

I felt the writing was a bit rushed or abrupt in places, as if the authors were impatient to get on with the story, but not to the point where it took away from the experience. The world was well-established in terms of politics and geography, with the stakes of war made quite clear. Some scenes could have benefited from a bit more physical description, just to anchor the reader in the world, but that's a minor quibble. Overall, the dialogue was strong, and the writing showed some definite flair. The Roads to Baldairn Motte is an interesting tale, both in terms of structure and content, and definitely worth a read.

ebook, Reputation Books Edition
Published January 2nd 2014 by Reputation Books

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Waiting On Wednesday - Morningside Fall by Jay Posey

"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:

Morningside Fall (Duskwalker Cycle) by Jay Posey
Angry Robot (April 29, 2014)

The lone gunman Three is gone, and Wren is the new governor of the devastated settlement of Morningside, but there is turmoil in the city. When his life is put in danger, Wren is forced to flee Morningside until he and his retinue can determine who can be trusted.

They arrive at the border outpost, Ninestory, only to find it has been infested with Weir in greater numbers than anyone has ever seen. These lost, dangerous creatures are harbouring a terrible secret – one that will have consequences not just for Wren and his comrades, but for the future of what remains of the world.

The gang at Angry Robot does it again, offering up another must-read sequel for 2014. Three (check it out here) was a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk thriller that read as if Mad Max had stepped into the world of The Dark Tower, aided and abetted on his journey by the likes of William Gibson and Richard Matheson, and I'm intensely curious to see where Posey takes the story next.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sci-Fi Review: To Sail a Darkling Sea by John Ringo

If you enjoyed Under a Graveyard Sky, the first in the Black Tide Rising series, or are a fan of John Ringo's unique brand of military-driven science fiction, then odds are pretty good you're going to enjoy To Sail a Darkling Sea.

The zombies take something of a back seat in this second volume, which is probably a good thing, since zombies can wear a bit thin after a while. Instead, the focus is turned to the survivors, with some really interesting exploration of the conflicts that arise when civilians and military personnel are forced into close quarters, especially in a world where power and authority is very much in question.

I was pleased to see that the book at least addressed, even if it didn't outright resolve, some of my concerns from the first book. The stress and weight placed upon 13 year-old Faith's shoulders is touched upon, avoiding the breakdown I thought was imminent, and resolving it instead with a transition to military discipline. She is largely the star of this second volume, which is no less implausible than it was on the first book, but she's given room to grow and to earn the reader's respect. She's simultaneously set up as a teenage sex symbol, and defended against characters who see her that way. What ultimately made that contrast work for me was the emphasis on the nightmares she experiences on the Alpha, with all the women who’d been raped and murdered trying to warn her of something, and how the spectre of those rapes continues to haunt her actions.

As for the promise of multinational intrigue, it's still just that - a promise - but we do learn a bit more about the three governments who still retain a measure of power. More interestingly, we get to explore the potential for a cure, and the power that brings with it in a world without borders. It's a valuable bargaining chip, and one that nations would quite literally go to war over. At the same time, Ringo makes us think long and hard about the logistics of post-apocalyptic survival - how you keep the equipment of war running, how you keep survivors fed, and how you manage all the little things like cleaning, cooking, laundry, and the rest.

Overall, this was a slower book than the first, and one I found got a bit repetitive by the end. It lacked some of the storytelling power of the first book, and got a little too involved in the military-driven elements for my tastes, but I recognize that's Ringo's niche within the genre, so I can hardly complain. It's still a well-written story, with some good, snappy dialogue, and a real flair for imbuing characters with distinct personalities. I liked the way Ringo brought the military and civilian worlds together, and thought the whole conflict between Faith, the Hollywood big shot who accosts her, and the Captain who would rather suck up to a celebrity than defend one of his soldiers, was exceptionally well played out.

Like the first volume, To Sail a Darkling Sea just stops, without the benefit of a climax to provide a sense of even temporary conclusion. There's a small resolution in the epilogue, but it's almost after-the-fact. The literary critic in me cringes at that betrayal of the traditional story arc, but the realist in me appreciates that Ringo didn't set up an arbitrary 'big' ending, just for the sake of ending on a bang.

Hardcover, 384 pages
Expected publication: February 4th 2014 by Baen

Anthology Review - The Book of Apex: Volume Four edited by Lynne M. Thomas

For me, the best kind of anthology is a genre-specific one. I like the novelty of ideas, the variety of subjects, and the unknown factor of what's coming next. While I do enjoy themed anthologies, I find that the subject tends to wear a bit thin by the end, and I'm always left second-guessing myself as to whether a story was weak, or I've just grown tired of the theme.

The Book of Apex: Volume Four of Apex Magazine is a genre-specific anthology . . . in the broadest sense. Like it's namesake, from whom the stories are reprinted, this is a collection of science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories from a wide variety of authors. Editor Lynne M. Thomas has dived deep into the first 15 issues of her tenure, selecting 33 of the best stories to present to the reader here.

I don't want to say too much and spoil the stories here, but standouts for me included:

  • "The Bread We Eat in Dreams" by Catherynne M. Valente - quite likely the coziest, homiest demon story you'll ever encounter.
  • "The 24 Hour Brother" by Christopher Barzak - a unique twist on the aging theme, with a baby brother who lives an entire life in a day.
  • "So Glad We Had This Time Together" by Cat Rambo - reality television meets honest-to-gosh paranormal society . . . with consequences.
  • "A Member of the Wedding of Heaven and Hell" by Richard Bowes - exactly what the title promises, a story of fiends and fools, angels and devils, all resigned to consummation of the marriage.
  • "Copper, Iron, Blood and Love" by Mari Ness - a fairy tale that could have come from the Brothers Grimm themselves.
  • "Tomorrow's Dictator" by Rahul Kanakia - a weird story about sales, human resources, public relations, and voluntary mind control that seems eerily plausible.
  • "Ironheart" by Alec Austin - a militaristic sort of tale, with absolutely the best first line in the entire collection.
  • "Armless Maidens of the American West" by Genevieve Valentine - less a forgotten tale of the Brothers Grimm and more a contemporary example of their legacy.
  • "During the Pause" by Adam-Troy Castro - probably my favourite piece in the anthology, one of those fragments that still manages to tell one heck of an apologetic story of alien interference.
  • "Sprig" by Alex Bledsoe - a clever sort of Renaissance Fair fairy tale that dares to deliver on the anticipated twist.
  • "Blood from Stone" by Alethea Kontis - a pulp era type horror story updated with a contemporary feel, complete with a dark twist

Like all anthologies, The Book of Apex: Volume Four of Apex Magazine is hit-or-miss, depending upon your preferred genre, narrative style, and storytelling framework. There are longer tales here with complete story arcs, and shorter tales that are little more than isolated scenes. In between are some unusual tales that leave you wondering from what larger narrative piece the fragment fell. You may not love them all, but you're certain to find ones you love.

Paperback, 368 pages
Published October 24th 2013 by Apex Book Company

Monday, January 27, 2014

Interview with Ira Nayman (author of You Can’t Kill the Multiverse)

Good morning, all! Here to start the week off with a smile is Ira Nayman, author of You Can’t Kill the Multiverse, the second book in Ira's hilarious Transdimensional Authority series.


Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Ira. It’s been a while since you stopped by to talk about Welcome to the Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience), so for those who are meeting you for the first time, please tell us a little about yourself. 

A: Sure. I’ve been writing humour since I was eight years old – it really is all I have ever wanted to do with my life (getting a PhD in Communications was something of a hobby, really…) .

In addition to the political and social satire that can be found on Les Pages aux Folles, I have been combining my humour with speculative fiction over the last few years. This has resulted in three major projects to date.

1. The Alternate Reality News Service, which sends reporters into other dimensions and has them write news articles about what they find there. It has been described by a couple of readers as “a science fiction version of The Onion.” There are currently five books in the series, the two most recent of which are The Street Finds its Own Uses for Mutant Technologies (general) and The Alternate Reality News Service’s Guide to Love, Sex and Robots (advice columns). I encourage readers to submit questions to the advice columns; they can find previously collected examples as well as new columns every week to get a feel for the sorts of things I’m looking for.

2. The Transdimensional Authority, the organization which monitors and polices travel between universes. This offshoot of the Alternate Reality News Service has been featured in two novels, Welcome to the Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience) and my latest book, You Can’t Kill the Multiverse (But You Can Mess With its Head). Although my ambition has never been to be a novelist, all being well these books will be the beginning of a long series.

3. I also have a series of short stories that take place after all matter in the universe at all levels of organization (from the smallest sub-atomic particles to stars, galaxies and the universe itself) is conscious. The main recurring character is an object psychologist named Antonio Van der Whall. When I have enough of the stories, and they have all been published in magazines or anthologies, I hope to publish them in their own collection. So far, seven of the stories have been published, and a few are currently outstanding.

I have also just finished a stand-alone novel and have written a small number of stand-alone short stories.

I am proflicli – prilfolic – prophilacti – I write a lot.

Q: LOL. You’ve called your latest, You Can’t Kill the Multiverse (But You Can Mess With its Head), a sideways sequel – what can you tell us about that, and about how the story came about?

A: Second books are often very difficult for writers to produce. You have all of your life up to the point you write your first novel to complete it, then you have a year or two to complete your second novel. It may be something of a cliché, but this was exactly the problem I faced following Welcome to the Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience). I had a story in mind, but whenever I tried to work on it, nothing came. Eventually, I had to shelve it and work on other things.

Unexpectedly, my book club came to the rescue. I belong to a group that meets monthly to discuss a speculative fiction book. One month, the list said that we were going to read Michael Swanwick’s The Dragons of Bagel. And, I thought, “What an awesome title! I’m really looking forward to reading that!” Fans of Swanwick’s work will know that it was a typo, that his book is actually called The Dragons of Babel. However, the title stuck with me, and inspired the writing of a novelette.

One other factor that came into play was that I was starting to feel a little bad about referring to all of the Transdimensional Authority investigators as “fire hydrants with limbs and dark glasses.” That was unfair – I realized that they could be interesting characters if I put some thought into individuating them.

As I started writing what would come to be known as “The Dragon of the Bagel,” I conceived  a story that would be told in five segments, each featuring a different team of Transdimensional Authority investigators, with a final chapter that would bring all of the different stories – and characters – together. So, that’s the novel I wrote.

I consider it a sideways sequel because it isn’t the follow-up that I had intended to write. The good news is that, having just completed a third novel that stands alone, I am finally ready to write the novel that I had planned as the sequel to Welcome to the Multiverse. The working title is Random Dingoes.

Q: I know you talked a little bit about balancing humour and story last time you were here, but how difficult was it to maintain that balance in a sequel? Did knowing the world and the characters make it easier, or did that add to the challenge?

A: I have found that writing about alternate realities requires new world building with each new work. To be sure, the Transdimensional Authority, the characters and the means of traveling between universes are common to each story (although I find more detail with each new telling), but the places the characters go to are always different. Each of the five segments of You Can’t Kill the Multiverse, for instance, takes place in a different reality, none of which appeared in the first book. (In fact, they parody different kinds of speculative fiction stories, but I’ll let readers discover which ones for themselves.) Yes, having common characters and institutions does help somewhat, but owing to the nature of what I write, I can’t get too comfortable with them.

I should also say that I try to develop characters and their relationships with each new work. So, for example, you’ll learn some interesting new things about Doctor Alhambra in You Can’t Kill the Multiverse. In addition, Noomi and Crash appear in one of the chapters, and there is a new wrinkle in their relationship. (They will be the central characters in Random Dingoes, and this wrinkle will be expanded, as well as more background on both characters, especially Crash.) So, there’s always something new for me to explore, and hopefully readers to enjoy.

As for the balance of humour and story…I’m a humourist first and foremost. I try to have humour working on every level of a work, from the overall arc of the story to individual lines. (And, sometimes, more than one bit of humour per line – one of the most fascinating criticisms of Welcome to the Multiverse was that my sentences were too long!) Some readers may find my attitude towards story too…leisurely for their taste. Fair enough – I’ll be the first to allow that my writing isn’t for everybody. But, those who like it do seem to like it an awful lot.

Q: Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated. Were there any twists or turns in this second volume that surprised you, or does it live and breathe because of challenges to your plans in the first book?

A: TRUE STORY: I was talking to an actor/producer friend of mine about how we approach writing. He said he started with characters, threw them into a situation and then saw what they did. I said I started with story, theme and other ideas and developed characters who did what I needed them to do within the parameters set by those elements. He asked me what I did if the character I created didn’t want to do what the story I wanted to tell demanded. He shrieked, “YOU CAN’T DO THAT!” But, of course, I can.

Whatever gets you to the end of the work works. Readers don’t know (and, let’s be honest, most don’t care) about the process by which you wrote something. All they care about is whether or not they enjoy it.

Q: You shared a great story with us last time around about a fan encounter at the Ad Astra convention – have there been any strange or surprising reactions to your work since then?

A: Because my novel publisher, Elsewhen Press, is British, I went to Eastercon, a British science fiction convention, for the launch of Welcome to the Multiverse. Although the con wasn’t in London, I stayed over for a couple of extra days to visit the city, something I have wanted to do since I was a young lad. Good times.

The launch was well attended considering I was a relatively unknown writer in that country. The publisher had taken out an ad in the con programme for the books he was launching there. One of the people who bought a copy of the book at the launch told me when he came to the table to get it signed: “I saw the title of the book in the ad the first day of the convention, and I’ve been waiting all weekend to get a copy of the book!” That was nice.

Q: We talked a little bit about Monty Python and Douglas Adams last time out, both of which have found new life – the former with Simon Pegg added to the cast, and the latter through Eoin Colfer’s novel. Since you’ve put out a sequel, what are your thoughts about revisiting your ‘classic’ material, and where do you draw the line?

A: RE: Python: let’s be honest: most of the Pythons did their best work with Python (the exceptions perhaps being John Cleese, whose Fawlty Towers was brilliant, and Terry Gilliam, who has directed some wonderful films). If, as promised, the Python reunion will feature a lot of new material (as opposed to being a nostalgiafest), I think it will be awesome. I am really stoked to see what they come up with.

RE: Eoin Colfer’s Hitchhiker novel: I refused to buy it. It was obviously a cash grab on the part of the publisher, and I refused to give them my money. Yes, there is a good possibility that Colfer’s novel is better than the last Adams novel (or two), although I would argue that he could mimic Adams’ style but never inhabit Adams’ soul; either way, for me that’s not the point. My loyalty is with the author (Douglas Adams), not the creation (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and reading another author’s take on his universe seems like a betrayal.

RE: My own writing: I see the Transdimensional Authority series of books developing in a similar vein as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books: they will be set in the same conceptual space, but they will feature different characters and explore different aspects of the main idea as I am inspired to write them. I don’t like repeating myself, and I hope this approach will keep it fresh for me (which, of course, will help keep it fresh for readers).

Q: Discworld is a hard act to follow, even if it does rest upon the back of a giant turtle. Continuing with the comedy theme for a moment, who or what makes you laugh - either chuckle and smile, or laugh-out-loud with tears running down your face? And which kind of humour do you prefer?

A: I wish I laughed more – I think it’s one of the most wonderful things human beings do. There are some television shows that make me laugh (ie: the first season of New Girl and all but the fourth season of Community), but they are actually rare. I find that most scripted humour is lazily written, relying on insults or stereotypes rather than true wit, and I just don’t find them funny.

I do have a lot of quick-witted friends, and I find I laugh most when I’m with them. This is especially true of my Web Goddess Gisella; on a good night, we can have each other in stitches.

Q: To step away from the page for a moment, when you're not writing (or reading, for that matter), what are some of the hobbies and passions that keep you busy?

A: I’m a political junkie, and I read two newspapers a day to keep up with ongoing events. And, like most people, I watch movies and read books to keep myself entertained. I wish I could answer this question with something exotic like naked bungee jumping alligator wrestling, but, as I mentioned in my first interview with you, I lead a pretty boring exterior life.

Q: 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?

A: As I mentioned, I have just completed a third novel, Both Sides. NOW! The basic premise is that one day everybody in the world changes sex. If you went to sleep a woman, you wake up a man, and vice versa. While still basically a humourous work (that’s what I do), the novel has a complex structure and is much more character-driven than the Transdimensional Authority novels. When it is eventually published, I think readers will see a different side of my artistic vision.

In addition to my ongoing projects, I do have one or two more things on the go, but they are so iffy that I can’t really talk about them at this time. All I can do is say that if you’re interested in my writing, stay tuned!

Thanks again for joining us, Ira!


You Can't Kill the Multiverse: But You Can Mess with its Head (Transdimensional Authority)
by Ira Nayman
Elsewhen Press (April 19, 2014)

It's just another day in the Transdimensional Authority, with teams of investigators doing what they do best (well, after breakdancing) - investigating. Bob Blunt is en route through a Dimensional Portal(t) to Earth prime 4-7-5-0-0-7 dash iota to investigate cars exhibiting most uncarlike behaviours - ribbit! (Breaking all of the Transdimensional Authority rules - number 127, he is without his partner, 'Breakfront' Balboa, who is on leave after an unfortunate incident with the Vulvar Ambassador to Earth Prime and a staple gun). Beau Beaumont and Biff Buckley have already arrived on Earth Prime 5-9-2-7-7-1 dash theta to find themselves surrounded by machines whose only intention is to serve human masters - even if it kills them!

Recently recruited TA investigator Noomi Rapier, with her partner 'Crash' Chumley, is on Earth Prime 6-4-7-5-0-6 dash theta where all matter at all levels of organisation (from sub-atomic particles to the universe itself) has become conscious. Meanwhile Barack Bowens and Blabber Begbie, taking the Dimensional DeLorean(t) to Earth prime 4-6-3-0-2-9 dash omicron, face multiple apocalypses (already in progress), and Bertrand Blailock and Bao Bai-Leung are having trouble travelling to their intended destination: the home of the digital gods. At first, they all appear to be looking for unauthorised and probably counterfeit Home Universe Generator(t)s, but could what's really happening be more sinister? (Yes. Yes, it could. We wouldn't want to leave you in suspense - )


Ira Nayman's dream when he was growing up was to be Francois Truffaut. Unfortunately, the position was taken. So, he grew up to be a comedy writer instead, something he has been combining with speculative fiction for almost a decade. His first novel, Welcome to the Multiverse*  was recently published by Elsewhen Press. The fourth and fifth books in the Alternate Reality News Service series (The Street Finds Its Own Uses for Mutant Technologies and The Alternate Reality News Service's Guide to Love, Sex and Robots) will be self-published by September. Ira updates his Web site, Les Pages aux Folles  weekly and contributes irregularly to the Facebook author/fan/whatever page "Ira Nayman's Thrishty Friednishes." In 2010, Ira won the Jonathan Swift Satire Writing Competition. Beat that, pretentious French filmmaker!

Mailbox Monday & What I'm Reading

If it's Monday, then it must be time for Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme that provides a virtual gathering place for bloggers (and readers) to share the books that came their way over the past week. Originally hosted by Marcia, of To Be Continued..., it has since become something of a book tour, with a new host each month.

A relatively quiet week on the review front, but a nice mix of requested review titles and approved ARCs:

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
Redhook (April 8, 2014)

Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes.

Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. "I nearly missed you, Doctor August," she says. "I need to send a message."

This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

Warriors by Ted Bell
William Morrow (April 1, 2014)

Dashing counterspy Alex Hawke must rescue a kidnapped American scientist as the United States and China move dangerously close to all-out nuclear war in this adrenaline-fueled thriller in the New York Times bestselling series that combines the hallmarks of Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, Ian Fleming, and Daniel Silva.

When an elderly professor at Cambridge is murdered, a victim of bizarre, ancient Chinese torture, Alex Hawke teams up with his Scotland Yard colleague and friend Inspector Ambrose Congreve to find the killer. But the death is only the opening move in a tense and lethal game of geopolitical brinksmanship.

In the United States the president has begun behaving strangely. Is his mental health deteriorating—or is there something far more sinister behind his questionable moves? The answer is crucial, for tensions are mounting between China, North Korea, and the U.S. And China has launched fighter jets and a mega submarine vastly more sophisticated than any seen before—military technology that leapfrogs anything the U.S. and Great Britain possess.

With the situation edging toward an unthinkable abyss, Hawke must pull off his most daring mission yet: infiltrate the China and neutralize the source of their advantage . . . or risk witnessing World War III.

Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard
Viking Adult (February 20, 2014)

A prince with a quest. A commoner with mysterious powers. And dragons that demand to be freed—at any cost.

Prince Corin has been chosen to free the dragons from their bondage to the Empire, but dragons aren’t big on directions. They have given him some of their power, but none of their knowledge. No one, not the dragons nor their riders, is even sure what keeps the dragons in the Empire’s control. Tam, sensible daughter of a well-respected doctor, had no idea before she arrived in the capital that she is a Seer, gifted with visions. When the two run into each other (quite literally) in the library, sparks fly and Corin impulsively asks Tam to dinner. But it’s not all happily ever after. Never mind that the prince isn’t allowed to marry a commoner: war is coming to Caithen. Torn between Corin’s quest to free the dragons and his duty to his country, the lovers must both figure out how to master their powers in order to save Caithen. With a little help from a village of secret wizards and a rogue dragonrider, they just might pull it off.

War of the Moonstone by Jack Conner
Allen Wise (November 28, 2013)

Imagine the epic reach of Tolkien, the grit of George R. R. Martin and the nonstop adventure of Robert E. Howard, and you will have some idea of the thrills awaiting you in "The War of the Moonstone", a tale of love, bloodlust and tragedy set in a land on the brink of destruction. Black times have come to Felgrad. Once one of the jewels of the Crescent, now the dark powers have turned their gaze upon it, and Giorn Wesrain, son of the baron of Fiarth, has become inextricably drawn into the machinations of the Dark One, along with his beloved Niara, High Priestess of Illiana. They have loved each other in secret for years, but that love will be tested as the armies of the Dark One strive against Felgrad.

Worse, one of their own, Raugst, is in truth an agent of the enemy, and Raugst will soon bend the barony to his will. If Felgrad falls, so too will the rest of the Crescent, and then the Dark One will be unleashed upon the world. Only Giorn and Niara can stop him, but how can they when the legendary Moonstone, the great artifact of the Light that has kept the fell powers at bay for thousands of years, has been taken? As Giorn sets out into the waste lands after it, to either reclaim it or find out what the Dark One wants it for, enemy hordes swarm the mighty city of Thiersgald and Niara is trapped behind its walls . . . with Raugst. This is only the beginning of the adventure that awaits you in "The War of the Moonstone".

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time hosted by Book Journey. This one is focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

With an eye towards reviews over the next few weeks, my imagination is currently split between a few different titles:

Snake Typhoon! by Billie Jones
Figure out how to stop a snake typhoon and save the world... or die trying! Yeah, that sounds like my kind of adventure. :)

The Book of the Crowman by Joseph D'Lacey
The first book was one of the best post-apocalyptic fantasies I've read in years, so you better believe I'm excited to have this ARC land in my lap.

The Roads to Baldairn Motte by Garrett Calcaterra, Craig Comer and Ahimsa Kerp
Despite not really having space in my TBR pile, I couldn't resist this . . . and I'm enjoying it so far.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Thriller Review - Snake Typhoon! by Billie Jones

A short read and a short review for a Sunday afternoon.

What do you get when you cross the foul-mouthed mayhem of Snake on a Plane with the intentional b-grade laughs of Sharknado? Well, swap out Samuel L. Jackson and Tara Reid for a petite sort of Angelina Jolie, and you've got Snake Typhoon! (yes, that is an exclamation mark in the title).

It's a silly, nonsense romp, complete with a massive cyclone in Australia, poisonous snakes, a secret government department, an opportunistic misunderstanding as to what a 'herpetologist' does, mystical nonsense, infomercial extravagance, and even a little lesbian titillation. Billie Jones clearly knows the source material, and isn't afraid to satirize it with some rather broad strokes of her pen.

Does it always work? No. Are there some gaping holes in the story? Yes? Does any of that matter? No. It's fun, it's frantic, and it plays like the best parts of a b-grade movie. The dialogue is sharp, the action is non-stop, and the humor is biting. There's even a cliffhanger involving a tarantula-quake that we can only hope is realized.

Snake Typhoon! isn't going to win any literary awards, but it's sure to be one of those fan-favourites that readers talk about over one too many drinks.

Published January 24th 2014 by Carina UK (Harlequin)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Interview with G.R. Matthews (author of The Stone Road)

Please join me in extending a warm welcome to G.R. Matthews, author of The Stone Road, the first book of The Forbidden List.


Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Geoff. For those who haven't yet had a chance to read up on your upcoming release, The Stone Road, please tell us a little about yourself.

A: I grew up in Wiltshire, England, amongst a number of hill forts, long barrows, and white chalk horses. The Avebury stone circle just down the road. A mystical landscape almost on par with New Zealand, except for the lack of mountains, glacial valleys and arêtes. I loved superheroes, like every small boy, and migrated on from comics to novels (I still get the comics, sssssh!) and used to exercise my imagination with AD&D as a teenager. The number of stories I wrote chapter one of, during my late teens, must number in the hundreds. They never got any further.

Eventually, I headed off to University then into an advertising job with a bank, which I quickly left. Back to University and then into teaching. Some of my characters are inspired by pupils and parents I’ve dealt with over the years. The completely alien environment of a school is a rich hunting ground for characters and stories. Where else in life are so many people who would never normally mix thrown together and have to get on, all watched, measured and judged by adults who are, in turn, watched, measured and judged by parents, press and government. It is a realm full of conflict (teenage rebellion), subtext, relationships, ambition, failure, joy and, above all, happy endings (results days).

I wanted to write more than just the opening chapter of a book so I took on an English degree, through the Open University, and began with the creative writing modules. The rest is just hard work, dedication, commitment and a healthy dose of insanity.  

Q: The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing. When did you begin writing The Stone Road, and what has the journey to publication been like?

A: First of all, I wouldn’t call myself accomplished – there are still sections of the book I want to re-write and change. However, if I hadn’t called it a day after edit and re-write 37 or so I never would have got it out the door and onto people’s reading lists.

I started it around four or even five years ago and by start I mean I had the idea and began thinking about the story. Originally it was going to be a short story, my final piece for one the modules on the English Degree - which I still hope to finish one day. I realised that the story I wanted to tell was too long for that so it went to the back of my mind. If you trawl through my old journals you’ll find little notes about the story and characters.

Nothing really went from thinking to writing till the NanoWriMo of 2011. I wanted to get a novel written and I know I need deadlines. I need that pressure to get things done whether external or self-imposed.

To get ‘The Stone Road’ out the door took the Nanowrimo and another year of writing, then another half a year of editing. I loved the creative part, getting the story down, following the characters through twists and turns that they created. You know that lots of writers say the characters take over the story and write it for you? I never believed that until they did it to me.

I was reading Michael J Sullivan’s Riyria books during the editing phase and he has an ‘afterword’ he will send you when you finish the books. I read that and then looked up his blogs about self-publishing. I also spoke, a lot, with a colleague of mine who had just self-published a fantasy book and that seemed to be the way to go. I wanted people to read the story and enjoy it.

Q: In terms of 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?

A: Editing. Re-working the story to ensure that any changes the characters enforced are foreshadowed or reflected earlier in the book was an important part of the edit and one that I was fine with. It is the proof-reading I struggled with. Years ago, one of my pupils (I mentioned I teach?) ran a short and easy psychology test on me. You read a few lines of text out loud and then locate the mistake. I never spotted the mistake and neither, apparently, do the majority of fluent readers. It was simple, a ‘the’ at the end of one line and another ‘the’ following it directly on the line below. I only saw the first one. I tend to read quickly, enjoying the story, and if an ‘a’ or a ‘the’ is missing between words I tend to put it in – I’m sure most of us do. In the end, I had to engage a proof-reader / editor to go through my final draft and pick out any of I’d missed. I can see why traditionally published authors have three editors for each book.

Q: Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when indulging your imagination. Were there any twists or turns in The Stone Road that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans for the story?

A: Good grief, yes. One in particular was a light bulb, eureka moment. I was writing a scene near the end where one of the heroes enters a house in pursuit of someone and comes face to face with a character I had intended to be the main villain in the book (and in the follow ups) – the deviser of schemes, the hidden threat, that sort of thing. But, as I started to write that scene that light bulb went on and I relegated him, in fact I killed him off, in favour of a character that was more established. The relationships the characters had developed just changed my mind, and the way the story went at that point. Of course, I had to go back and re-work a little here and there. But in terms of narrative flow it just made complete sense. Listen to the characters; they know what they should be doing!

Q: 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?

A: Peace and no distractions. The kids need to be in bed, the wife too. I tend to write with headphones on and music playing. I have several playlists that I cycle through depending on mood. The Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack is always good for creating an epic mood but, normally, I listen to music that I know well, that won’t distract me too much; Mumford, Lumineers, and, throughout the editing stage, Kodaline. If it hadn’t been for Kodaline I may not have finished the book! I have to have music playing.

Q: When writing, do you ever consider how a reader or reviewer will react, or do you write solely for your own satisfaction?

A: Probably a little clichéd but I write stories that I want to read. Having said that, I want others to enjoy the story too. So, in the planning and re-working stage I am always trying to think about how a reader would react to this scene, or a character doing something. Does it add something to the plot or character? A reader and reviewer are, these days, with the power of Amazon and Goodreads, almost synonymous. I’m prepared for the 1 star reviews, hopefully they’ll be out-numbered by the 5 star ones! Joe Abercrombie posts his 1 star reviews up on twitter for all to share. If he can get them, or Mark Lawrence, or any of the other fantastic authors out there then they shouldn’t phase the rest of us… too much.

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

A: If you include the short stories, then a few readers, and two of my tutors during the creative writing modules, mentioned that my writing has a poetic feel to it. I must confess to not being a big lover of poetry. Sorry. There is some great poetry out there, and I do own a few collections. However, there can be beauty in a turn of phrase, or a well-chosen word.

Q: 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?

A: Eddings really started my love for fantasy. I devoured his books, the Belgariad, in particular. I first read that series when I was 15 or 16 and that coming of age story, the shy boy who goes on to greatness but never loses sight of his origins is fantastic. I like the love story too; in fact I ended up marrying a Ce’nedra alike so maybe Eddings has a lot to answer for.

The book I have read the most, and you’ll see echoes (hopefully of theme rather than writing style) in The Stone Road, is Space Mavericks by Michael Kring. Often on the list of worst books ever, but I love it. He only ever wrote two books out of the trilogy but I always hope that somewhere, someone has the manuscript for the third one. I recall my first copy got so dog-eared and ruined that I had to go to Ebay and get another copy as it is long out of print. I’d recommend it to everyone.

Q: When you're not writing (or reading, for that matter), what are some of the hobbies and passions that keep you busy?

A: I am a geek and proud. So, for me, my spare time, when it is not spent with my children and family, is playing computer games particularly RPGs and MMOs. Failing that I love to watch the best of eighties TV; Knight Rider, McGyver, that kind of thing. Without Lovefilm and Netflix I don’t think I would watch any TV at all.

I also play the guitar. I taught myself to play at University during my Geography Degree and will happily strum along to songs for hours. I reached a point where I wasn’t getting any better – I am not a gifted musician. My brother is and I heartily recommend, if you like rock and blues, to check out Innes Sibun CDs. I got Rocksmith 2014 for Christmas which I have fallen in love with. I can plug my Fender into the PC and play along with REM or the Arctic Monkeys – my lead guitar playing is getting better already. Plus, I wear headphones which my wife loves. Oh, and I am banned from singing.

Q: Assuming you had total creative control over the production, who would you cast as the leading roles, were The Stone Road to hit the big screen?

A: Donnie Yen would play Zhou. If you’ve seen Ip Man then you’ll know why. He has the grace in moving and could play the Diplomat forced into conflict with the vulnerability it needs – especially considering the losses that Zhou faces. For Haung, Jet Li  – someone of a stronger build who has a range of fighting styles. He also has a quite a young face that would fit Haung quite well. Marbu, I’d have Jackie Chan and though it would be against type for him to play someone who is, perhaps, not so nice – I think he’d enjoy the challenge.

You’ve given me an idea; perhaps I should turn it into a screenplay and send it off to them!

Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is book 2 of The Forbidden List next, or is there a project on the horizon that you're really excited about?

A: Book 2, ‘The Blue Mountain’, is plotted out and being written, though it is slower going than book 1. I think I learnt a lot writing the first book that makes me second, and sometimes third, guess how I write. After that, Book 3 – I know how it ends but I am excited to see how the characters get to that ending.

However, I have a novella written that I really like and came close to publishing. But, I held back. I think the character has more stories to give and I want to explore those. It is a sci-fi novel and narrated in the first person. I keep thinking about it and making notes in my journal – I probably have enough scenes drafted out to have half a novel written.

A huge thanks to Geoff for stopping by to join us today!


The Stone Road (#1) by G.R. Matthews
Published November 7th 2013

War between the two cities has lasted for thirty years and now, at last, there is the chance for peace. Zhou of Wubei, a trained negotiator and diplomat must travel to the city of Yaart and seal the peace but rivalries and bitterness exist on both sides.

Haung, a trained warrior, must play the part assigned to him to win the war but enemy threats might be the least of his problems.

There will be peace but on whose terms and at whose behest. It is always darkest before the dawn. On 'The Stone Road' dawn can sometimes be a long, long way away.


G R Matthews grew up on the edge of the west country, a place renowned for its rolling chalk downs, hill forts and barrows. No surprise then that he turned a love of reading into a the desire to write fantasy novels and science-fiction stories. He holds a degree in Geography and Diploma in Creative Writing (and literature). His son also writes books but being only 6 years old they tend to be short and to the point but it is a start.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dark Fantasy Review: Maze by J.M. McDermott

Normally, I would be cautious . . . hesitant, even . . . about any book described as a weird/dark fantasy novel. It just sounds either artistic or pretentious, conjuring memories of high school texts that were very literate indeed, but about as entertaining as a line at the license bureau. About the only reason I decided to give Maze a shot was that it came from Apex, and I've come to expect solid entertainment from them.

J.M. McDermott is to be commended for delivering on his rather ambitious concept. This is, first and foremost, the story of a maze . . . but it's also a tale of interwoven lives inside that maze. There is that of Maia, who remembers life aboard a space station, even if her daughter knows nothing but blood. There's Joseph, who returned home from his high school reunion to find something in the darkness. There is Wang, who sees a future that could have been. There's Julie, who knows nothing but a life inside the maze, and Lucius, the Neanderthal who loves her.

And then there's Jenny, the ghost, who just may be much more than that.

There is some very weird, very visceral horror surrounding these stories - the bug-like, plant-like, and beast-like monsters just scratch the surface. More than that, though, there's a palatable sense of hopelessness and dread to the maze and those who exist within it. It is neither a safe nor a happy place to be. For that matter, it's not a healthy place to be either, with the hopeless denizens surviving on blood, maggots, and even cannibalism. One character describes it as a sort of Bermuda Triangle that people stumble into it, but which is indifferent to them. What is it really? Why is there? What is its purpose? Well, we never really find out any of that, but that's not really the point.

To get back to that idea of being literate, this is a very well-written, carefully-crafted tale. It's structured just so, with a mother and daughter bookending not just the pages, but the ideas and lives within. The language is short and abrupt, taking unexpected turns on a regular basis, and often doubles back on itself to repeat words, phrases, and more. It reads like a maze, but that's not to say it's futile or frustrating. Reading is itself an experience, with the stories a part of that experience.

To be honest, I'm not sure if there's a great purpose or deeper message to the work, or whether this is just a story of survival against all odds. What I do know is that Maze makes for a fascinating read that may try a bit too hard, at times, to be literate, but which never forgets that it's higher purpose is to entertain.

Paperback, 214 pages
Published January 13th 2014 by Apex Book Company

Art, Dreams, and Mazes by J M McDermott (GUEST POST)

Art, Dreams, and Mazes
by J M McDermott

Nobody cares about how a book is written, except when it is so good that every iota of information is like an egg that gives birth to a thousand dissertations. (Imagine the cavalcade of critical pens if James Joyce had live-blogged the scribing of Ulysses?) I prefer writing itself to writing about writing. I think, for everyone's sake, I will skip the subject of how I wrote a complex, mosaic text, and leave that to people who want to check out Interfictions Zero, where I wrote this about such things:

Beyond the mechanical act of word on page, careful consideration of words, etc. (The art of writing is the art of editing one's writing.) what's left to discuss?

Art feeds your dreams. Dreams feed your art.

I was pushing my head against the walls of the maze, writing Julie Station's sad story, and thinking about what it was I was writing, what it would become and the appropriate form for the maze-like halls. Tangled love affairs, certainly, but what else could capture this boundless unknowable space? To solve a maze is to destroy it. The puzzle must remain locked up in plain sight. Instead of lines fiddling and squiggling through the maps, the plot would follow the flight of birds over the walls. Alexander solved the Gordian knot with a single swipe of sword, How else to capture the unsolvable knot?

Writing this, wrestling with this, I went to my ten-year high school reunion and couldn't believe it happened. Ten years passed like falling asleep and waking up and now I was approaching middle age. I'm nearly there, at 34. I'm on the edge of youth. I have to start having annual physicals. Pains I feel in the morning take a long time to walk away in the morning. I expect this will only get worse as I get older. Oh, but there were so many familiar faces at this reunion at a bar in downtown Fort Worth. They had mostly married, made new versions of themselves and exchanged business cards. Too goddamn many lawyers, is what it was, at that private high school. Oil men and lawyers. What the hell kind of school produces so many oil men and lawyers? There was a few doctors that I remembered when they were young, and wanted to be doctors, and now they were, and weren't they so satisfied with themselves? Had the minotaur gored them, yet? Had the darkness fallen over them, and the pains and the fear? Probably. We all put our best shirt on, our best shoes. We smile and exchange business cards. It is a night that serves to remind you why you did not, in fact, keep up with these people, even if most of them are very nice people, with nice houses and nice spouses, and undoubtedly lovely children. But, I told these doctors and oil men and lawyers that I wrote books. They looked at me like I had told them I was an alien. They challenged my assertion. Yes, one could actually have walked across the street to buy the book off the shelf at the big Barnes & Noble that used to be there. At the time, they had plenty in stock. All the old high school feeling came back to me, then, in a flood.

At the reunion I had a conversation with one very nice person, and I think we spoke more to each other that night than we ever did in all of our high school experience, and it was pleasant to finally meet someone, talk with them, after knowing them so very long. It was a conversation that ended and never came back.

That night, I had a dream. This otherwise lost woman was in the dream, stolen by my subconscious to become a person in the Maze. First, though, the goblins of the Maze  - the Djinni - had to come for us both. A puff of light came, like dandelion fluff or cottonwood, and it was dust and ethereal, but it had a whispering voice. My name is Jenny. Put me in your lung. Breathe deep. I obeyed, and the dark woman was born from my lung like Eve from Adam's rib. Maybe like Lillith was born of the side of the chest, and Eve came later to balance the ribs of men. This living darkness made meat out of my meaty flesh disappeared into the apartment, became a monster there, and when the dream's expression of the bright woman from the reunion that was very pleasant to chat with briefly, with whom I have not exchanged a real life word since in any form, well... Art feeds your dreams, and dreams feed your art. Life feeds both the raw material of both.

MAZE is here. It is a rather complex novel, but better for its complexity. Form follows function. Mazes that are solvable are not mazes at all.


Maze by J.M. McDermott
Published January 13th 2014 by Apex Book Company

From every corner of time and space, sometimes people go missing without a trace. They never come back.

Get lost in the long stone halls of the maze with the ones that find each other, form tribes, scrape out a like from rocks and sand. Their stories interweave. Maia Station is a scientist ripped from stasis, but she has no tools to test the way things are. Instead, she raises her daughter as best she can and survives. Wang Xin once had his head dipped in water, and a djinni in the water entered his eye. He sees the future, exactly as it was supposed to be if he hadn’t seen the light, but it does him no good in the life he has. In a world much like our own, Joseph comes home from a ten year high school reunion and encounters a light in the darkness. The light speaks.

My name is Jenny. Put me in your lung. Breathe deep.


About J.M. McDermott
His first novel was plucked from a slush pile and went on to be #6 on Amazon.com's Year's Best SF/F of 2008, shortlisted for a Crawford Prize, and on Locus Magazine's Recommended Reading List for Debuts. His short fiction has appeared in Weird Tales Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, Apex Magazine, and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, among other places. He has a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Houston, and an MFA in Popular Fiction from the Stonecoast program of the University of Southern Maine.

By night, he wanders a maze of bookshelves and empty coffee cups, and by day he wanders the streets of San Antonio, where he lives and works.

He tries to write in between.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Waiting On Wednesday - Dawn's Early Light by Ballantine & Morris

"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:

Dawn's Early Light: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris
Ace (March 25, 2014)

Working for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, one sees innumerable technological wonders. But even veteran agents Braun and Books are unprepared for what the electrifying future holds…

After being ignominiously shipped out of England following their participation in the Janus affair, Braun and Books are ready to prove their worth as agents. But what starts as a simple mission in the States—intended to keep them out of trouble—suddenly turns into a scandalous and convoluted case that has connections reaching as far as Her Majesty the Queen.

Even with the help of two American agents from the Office of the Supernatural and the Metaphysical, Braun and Books have their work cut out for them as their chief suspect in a rash of nautical and aerial disasters is none other than Thomas Edison. Between the fantastic electric machines of Edison, the eccentricities of MoPO consultant Nikola Tesla, and the mysterious machinations of a new threat known only as the Maestro, they may find themselves in far worse danger than they ever have been in before…

This series has been a ton of fun so far (check out my review of The Janus Affair), and I had the pleasure of hosting their cover reveal back in May of last year, so this one is definitely a must-read.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

An Interview with Tahir Shah (author of Eye Spy)

Good morning, all! Please join me in extending a warm welcome to Tahir Shah, traveller, filmmaker, and author of 15 books. Over the last year Tahir made the move from travel writing to fiction, with Scorpion Soup released on January 7th of last year, and Eye Spy on April 19th.

Please be sure to check out his bio following the interview, as he is a fascinating man with some incredible stories to tell!


Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Tahir. For those who haven't yet had a chance to check out your latest releases, Scorpion Soup and Eye Spy, please tell us a little about yourself.

A: thanks for inviting me. So... Me... Well, I'm a travel writer and a novelist from an Anglo-Afghan family. I was born and raised in Britain and have spent the last ten years living in a fabulous tumble down mansion in Casablanca, set in the middle of a shantytown. I am married to Rachana, who's from India, and I have two children -- Ariane and Timur.

Q: With fifteen books, published in thirty languages, and in more than seventy editions, your journey through the world of publishing is almost as impressive as your journeys through Africa. When did you begin writing, and what are some of your most memorable milestones along that journey?

A: I come from a family of writers. My father was the Sufi scholar Idries Shah. Both grandfathers, one grandmother, an aunt, uncle, and both my sisters, are published authors. The important thing about it is that in our home writing has never been a scary and difficult thing. It's seen as something magical, something that creates incredible opportunities. But, more importantly, it's seen in our family as a way of creating something from nothing. I have been very lucky to have known a great many writers, both as I was growing up and now in adulthood. My father was close friends with Doris Lessing, who passed away towards the end of last year. I remember J. D. Salinger at our home, and Robert Graves was a frequent visitor, too. I've been very influenced by Lessing, and by my friend Paul Theroux -- both of whom have inspired me because they write what they want to write, when they like... and they are proud to break the rules.

Q: In terms of 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?

A: The idea. That's the cornerstone of any project. And it's what has to be clear as crystal. If you don't have the idea right in your head, the book is going to fall flat on its face. So I find myself turning an idea around in my head, for months, sometimes even years. And I let it grow there... Thinking about it while I'm driving, or making tea, or on nights when I can't sleep. The great thing about an idea is that, given time, it will grow, and bear fruit... all on its own.

Q: Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when indulging your imagination. With your recent turn to fiction, have there been any twists or turns that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans for the story?

A: That's such a good question. When I hadn't done many books I used to get all worked up about it. I would regard writing a book like climbing a mountain. I'd have sleepless nights. I would panic. But, with time, I have learned to enjoy the process of telling the story. It is therapeutic and is something that gives me huge pleasure. I used to write hundreds of pages of notes for a book, and keep to them rigidly. These days I write an outline. It is usually about fifteen pages or so... Quite detailed. And I will have it on my desk, but I will deviate from it. But, always, I keep in my head the question: 'How is this going to sound to the person reading it?' And, 'Is it entertaining or poignant, or boring?' I think the test is having written a text that still amuses you the writer, even after reading it a dozen times.

Q: If we can talk for a moment about Eye Spy, which seems a very different sort of story than what you’ve told before, how did that story come about, and at what point did Dr. Kaine’s obsession with eating human eyes come into the story?

A: EYE SPY started for me when I opened a newspaper and saw a picture of a box of glass eyes.  I couldn't stop thinking about it. I talked about it constantly, and thought of nothing else. My wife said I should write a novel about it, about the eyes... As a way of putting them out of my mind. The thing about me is that I'm quite obsessive. Most other people could have simply turned the page of the newspaper, but I couldn't. It was a kind of mania.  So I turned the idea of the box of eyes around my head, and I found myself wondering who would have a box of glass eyes. The more I thought of it, the more I realized it would be, or it could be, a brilliant eye surgeon. And the more I wondered how he would be, the more I thought he might have cannibalistic tendencies. I know it's strange. It was strange for me, but it just came out of me. I didn't want him to seem like a Hannibal Lecter character. I wanted him to have some compassion. Yes, he went off the rails quite conclusively at the end, but I like to think he was the kind of person you would want to meet, because he was so downright interesting.

Q. We do tend to be fascinated with our villains, don't we? If we can look back for a moment to your adventure tales (House of the Tiger King, In Search of King Solomon’s Mines, and Trail of Feathers), what can you tell us of the real-life adventures behind the stories?

A: I love to travel. And I adore getting out of my comfort zone. The thought of a long adventure is so utterly appealing to me. I found that by setting myself a big goal -- whether it be searching in Ethiopia for King Solomon's Mines or through Peru's cloud forest for Paititi, the greatest lost city of the Americas -- it gets me motivated for a journey of astonishing hardship. The thing that drives me more than anything is people... Encounters with people. And I love oddballs. I don't quite know why. One of my favorite things is to get a random group of people together and invite them home for dinner. My wife isn't such a fan of weirdos, crackpots and psychos. At one dinner recently I overheard her say to a friend, while looking at my latest assortment of oddballs, 'This is Tahir's winter collection.' And travel allowed me to root out whacky people, whether they be in the Amazon or on a bus in India, or in the Arctic.

Q: 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?

A: Yes! The music of Andea Bocelli gets me in the mood for writing. Particularly the song UN NUOVO GIORNO.  I can listen to it endlessly... And I do.

Q: With fifteen books on the shelves, you must have experienced a wide range of reader reactions. What is the strangest or most surprising reaction you’ve encountered to -date?

A: Hmmm... Interesting question. I get a lot of emails from people, and you have no idea how incredibly grateful I am to people who take the time to write to me. I almost always drop everyone and write straight back. I rarely get hate messages. I got one once and it made me terribly sad. I went into a huge gloomy funk. Then I realized that the person who wanted it merely wanted attention. So I wrote back, showering him in attention and praise, and he said he was sorry for such an outburst the first time round.

Q: That's interesting - I like that you were able to 'save' him as a reader. Have you found that your work has resonated better with readers in one country or another? Is there a country or a market where you’d really like to breakthrough?

A: What I have found is that different people read in different ways. Women, for instance, read in a much more accurate way than men. They notice detail that men always seem not to notice. I find that Americans are very interested in the outside world, and have been interested especially by my books on Morocco. And, I find that the French and the Latvians get a lot out of the simplest of books. As for a country I'd like to break through in... I think it would be China.The reason is not so much that the sales have the potential to be vast, as much as the fact that the mainland Chinese have just begun a steep cultural learning curve, having been sequestered for so long.

Q: 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?

A: As I said above, Doris Lessing and Paul Theroux have been huge influences on me. Others were the Victorian explorers, like Richard Francis Burton and Samuel White Baker. I put into that category Sir Wilfred Thesiger, who was a personal friend and in many ways a mentor to me.

Q: 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?

A: I'm so glad you asked. I have JUST finished writing a novel called PARIS SYNDROME. It's based on the true-life condition, that tends to afflict Japanese tourists to the French capital. They get all excited in anticipation but, after a long flight, little sleep, rich food, too much wine, and far too little time, about 40 Japanese tourists to Paris completely implode each year. The psychiatric condition, known as Paris Syndrome, manifests itself in hallucinations, vomiting, shock, nausea, and a range of other maladies. The only cure for Paris Syndrome is to leave Paris, and never to return. Now I am sitting down to write a big novel called a THE HOUSE OF WISDOM, largely about the extraordinary scientific legacy left by the Abbasid Arabs of the ninth century.

Ends all



Tahir Shah is the author of fifteen books, many of which chronicle a wide range of outlandish journeys through Africa, Asia and the Americas. For him, there’s nothing so important as deciphering the hidden underbelly of the lands through which he travels. Shunning well-trodden tourist paths, he avoids celebrated landmarks, preferring instead to position himself on a busy street corner or in a dusty café and observe life go by. Insisting that we can all be explorers, he says there’s wonderment to be found wherever we are – it’s just a matter of seeing the world with fresh eyes.


Eye Spy by Tahir Shah 
Published April 19th 2013 by Secretum Mundi 

The greatest eye surgeon of his age, Dr. Amadeus Kaine is fêted by royalty, dictators, Hollywood, and the international jetset. An epicurean of sophistication and dark obsessions, he’s devoted his life to locating the perfect food.

While treating one of Central Asia’s most depraved despots, Kaine is given a little pie to eat – a delicacy reserved for guests of the president. It’s the most delicious thing that’s ever passed the surgeon’s lips, and one that has seemingly miraculous effects.

All of a sudden, Kaine finds that his bald patch is growing over with thick black hair, and that his body is healing itself from the inside out. But, best of all, he realizes that his mental faculties are stimulated in ways he never believed possible. He can write books in a few hours, learn languages in a matter of days, and effortlessly solve problems from world hunger to global warming.

The drawback is that the dictator’s little pies are prepared with human eyes, taken from convicts working in the opal mines. Horrified that he’s unwittingly become a cannibal, Amadeus Kaine can’t think of anything but getting his hands on some more of the illicit specialty.

Obsessed in particular by green eyes, he begins hunting for victims to satisfy his wayward craving. While perfecting his method, he learns to appreciate the subtleties in taste. As he does so, a terrible affliction strikes – Occulosis.

An eye disease that has jumped the species gap from industrialized poultry farming, the virus rips through society, robbing the masses of their sight. The only man who can save the world is the inimitable Dr. Kaine, who is himself on the run.

One of the strangest tales of obsession, mania and intrigue ever told, EYE SPY will quite literally change the way you see the world.