Thursday, July 31, 2014

Interview with T K. Geering (paranormal romance author)

Good morning all, and welcome to the next in our series of interviews with the authors of Thorstruck Press.

This week we're sitting down to chat with T K. Geering, paranormal romance author, with Soulfate coming soon.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Tee. For those who haven't yet had a chance to enjoy your work, please tell us a little about yourself and what we can expect.

Hello Bob and thank you! I’m just this side of over the hill.

Most people call me Mad Tee and from me you can only expect insanity… I’ll just loosen off this white jacket a bit. They strap us in so tight these days.

I live in Kent commonly known as the Garden of England. I’m single and enjoying it immensely. In my spare time (about 2 or 3 days a week) I experience door to door service by the local police. I should add I've been a volunteer with them for 24 years. It was them that turned me into the nutty idiot I am today. I certainly have to keep my wits about me. They have an answer for everything. In fact I based a couple of the characters in my books on them.

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, and what has the journey to publication been like?

I started writing short stories in my teens just for self-satisfaction. Then in 2010 I started to write seriously and completed three books within a year.

I bought the Writers and Artists Year Book and began at *A* and finished at *Z*. I had many *thanks but no thanks* and ended up with a drawer full of rejections. Then out of the blue, I was asked to interview a new publisher by an author site I belonged to. Unbeknown to me they were checking me out and asked to publish my books. As they say the rest is history.

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?

The storyline is usually buzzing around in my head for a while and then its words on paper with no problem. The title does seem to get changed continually as the story progresses. The cover blurb drives me nuts. Have I done too little, too much? Does it capture the storyline?

Q: Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when developing a series that touches on multiple genres. Were there any twists or turns in your writing that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans for the story?

The current WIP started out as a fantasy and ended up in the crime genre. My characters completely took over and I went along for the ride, both fascinating and totally crazy. The characters write far better than I do anyway - also there will now be a completely different ending.

Q: Wow, a complete genre shift - those are some demanding characters! When writing, do you ever consider how a reader or reviewer will react, or do you write solely for your own satisfaction?

It’s always great when we get good reviews because our life’s blood goes into each story and we sweat blood and tears over each and every chapter. I write because I literally can’t stop and if readers enjoy my work that’s great. Before I changed publishers I was commissioned to write a true crime on an American tragedy. At first I said no because it was too sensitive, then in the next breathe I just had to say yes because I was mentally writing it as *a fly on the wall* It ripped the guts out of me and I shed buckets of tears but I just couldn't stop writing it. It’s still under the editing stage, but feedback from a couple of author friends has been extraordinary and the previous publisher was astounded at my change of writing skills so clearly it will be a winner.

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

Easy peasy this one. My books were written for the YA market but so far, readers of adult fiction have favoured it. Some of the reviews are exceptional and I was astounded when comparisons were made to J. K. Rowling and Jean Auel.

Q: Not bad company to be in at all! 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?

Oh Jane Austen every time. It’s the romantic in me. I just love that historical era of romance.

Q: Assuming you had total creative control over the production, who would you cast as the leading roles, were your work to be optioned for the big screen?

Well my previous publisher informed me that they wanted to have the Erasmus series turned into a film so I already have some idea. I see Erasmus (a time travelling lover with attitude) played by Richard Armitage; an English actor who starred as Thorin Oakenshield in the feature film trilogy adaptation of The Hobbit.

For English fans, who can forget him as the moody seductive Guy of Gisbourne in love with Maid Marian in the Robin Hood TV series? Sighs!!

I see Shasta (a quiet demure but stunning young woman) played by someone like Emma Stone or Diana Agron both naturally beautiful women.

Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there another story yet to be told in your latest world, or perhaps something completely different on the horizon?

The current WIP is steaming ahead. As I said previously the characters are writing it for me so no problem there. There is also another partly written in the Erasmus series which is set in medieval times. My fans of Erasmus are chomping at the bit for that one and I have advanced orders lol.  At some point the American tragedy will be published I guess.

Thank you for the interview Bob I have enjoyed it immensely. It’s time now to tighten up the straps on my white jacket and go back to the padded room. Ciao for now.


About the Author

I started to write initially in my teens for amusement but began to write seriously about five years ago. I didn’t chose to write fantasy it chose me…

In the past I have lectured to ‘A’ level and Performing Arts students on creative writing. It became an extremely interesting sideline and gave a natural break from editing, reviewing and writing.

Whilst sitting in my garden amongst the Shasta daisies one hot balmy summer evening, I idly watched a spider spinning a web. I was intrigued by the intricate structure, and ease of his accomplishment.  A storyline formed in my mind and I began making notes. My mind was racing, and my fingers were loaded with words. A couple of glasses of red wine and Shasta was born. I then realised there was a sequel lurking within. Another character introduced himself as Erasmus a time travelling lover with attitude. My quick fingers helped him to achieve his time travelling and within a year the trilogy was complete.

Whilst interviewing a publisher for the writing group I belonged to, I was both shocked and delighted to hear that they were head hunting me for publication of my books. The rest as they say …… is history. My writing style has been compared to J.K. Rowling and Jean M. Auel, and my books are now sold worldwide.

Tee Geering writes paranormal romance and is a previously published author.


About the Book

Soulfate by  T K. Geering
Coming soon from Thorstruck Press

Shasta's life takes a supernatural turn when she meets a stranger in her tiny village. Her newly adopted stray cat is hostile toward the enigmatic Erasmus, betraying the paranormal essence of her feline companion.

Naive, unprepared for love or a soulmate from the past and future, Shasta is plunged into a reality where realms warp and meld, and where she is their conquest.

When the soul and fate collide, Shasta falls in love with her soulfate.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Species Imperative by Julie E. Czerneda

"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:

Species Imperative by Julie E. Czerneda
Expected publication: September 2nd 2014 by DAW Trade

A threat to entire worlds. Where on that scale does one woman fall?

Dr. Mackenzie "Mac" Connor’s goal in life is to be left in peace to study her salmon and their migration. She has no interest in the Interspecies Union, space travel, or the mysterious Chasm, an expanse of dead worlds filled with the ruins of alien civilizations. The only cloud on Mac’s horizon is having to meet with the Oversight Committee to defend any research intrusions into the protected zones on shore.

But what Mac wants no longer matters. There’s another, darker, migration underway, this time across space. What created the Chasm has awakened once more, to follow its imperative to feed on living worlds. How can it be stopped?

Aliens have asked Mac to find that answer. She knows it may mean sacrificing all she loves, including Earth itself. She’s determined to find another way.

But, first, she must survive.

The Chasm of the past was only a trial run, for this species intent on replacing all life with its own. And they’ve learned her name.

While not a *new* title per se, this 10th Anniversary Trade Omnibus Edition is exciting for a number of reasons. Fans who spoke out as fellow biogeeks on Facebook are not only being acknowledged in the new edition, but graciously treated to signed bookmarks and bookplates. Now that, my friends, is how you say thank you to your fans. :)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sci-fi Review: Justice 4.1 by Jim Webster

When William at Safkhet Publishing first approached me about a review for Justice 4.1 I was curious, but just didn't see how I'd be able to fit it into my review schedule. Fortunately, he was primarily interested in driving some press in anticipation of Loncon 3, which meant Jim Webster and I had the better part of 5 months to get to know one another.

I'm glad I took the bait and let it taunt me from the review shelves for so long, because I quite enjoyed this. It worked well as both an interstellar sci-fi thriller and as a gritty crime thriller. The central conflict/mystery is actually quite strong, and the setting lends it multiple layers that are enjoyably revealed. As for those layers, I liked the universe that Webster introduces here, its geography, its politics, its history, and its philosophies. The technology is a bit simpler than one might expect, but it does lend the action an immediacy to which we can relate.

There are some big set pieces here and some glimpses of true space opera, but it's those simpler scenes that I found most entertaining. For instance, there's a scene early on where a booby-trapped satellite is carefully defused during a daring spacewalk, and it had as much drama to it as some of the larger battles that mark the book's climax. I found the characters just about perfect for the storyline, all-too-human, questionable in their motives, and sincere in their pursuit of a cause. I was surprised by how some of the friendships/relationships developed, but in a good way. As for the writing, it was crisp and clear, with the words flowing effortlessly off the page - a comfortable read, as well as an exciting one.

The book does end rather abruptly, with some questions left unexplored, but being that Justice 4.1 is The Tsarina Sector Book 1, we can only hope there's more to come.

Paperback, 154 pages
Published March 1st 2014 by Safkhet Fantasy

Monday, July 28, 2014

God Hunter by Tim Lees (Tour Excerpt)

Chapter 1: Field Ops

            I was laying cable on the south side of the altar, working by instinct now, rather than planning. There is a point the brain goes quiet and the hands take over. That’s the point I like. I felt the wires grow warm under my fingertips. They pulsed and trembled; once or twice they caught a gleam of color from the windows high above, and then a spark would seem to flash along their length. I’d move them, one way or the other, depending which felt right.
The tools of my profession can be beautiful, seen from a certain angle, in a certain frame of mind.
So when Shailer called, “Watch this!” I didn’t look up straight away. I swung the second braid of wire off to the left, put a loop into the third, then took the fourth and held it for a moment, seeking my next move. I sucked my lower lip. I could have made a guess, and probably have even got it right. But the rhythm had been lost now, and the sense of things was gone.
I turned round slowly, pretty sure I wasn’t going to like what happened next.
Shailer was standing in the aisle. He wore baggy shorts and a long, sloppy T-shirt, which may have been the fashion back at home, but left him with the look of a collapsing tent. He’d put a chalice upside down on his head. It pushed his hair into his face. He grinned at me, waved, and started goose-stepping back and forth for all that he was worth. He raised his right arm. He sieg-heiled gleefully and bellowed in a dreadful German accent:
            “Lebensraum! Lebensraum!
I told him, “Cut it out.”
Lebensraum, mein Führer!”
“Cut it out!”
            But it was my fault, I suppose, regardless of how inadvertently. Last night I’d tried preparing him. I’d had him watch the newsreels, the old stuff, to get him in the mood, get him acclimatized - given the place we were, the history; a quick reminder of the power of thought en masse. What my old mentor Fredericks, in his pompous way, would no doubt call an Invocation of the Deity, for what that’s worth. Still, I’d been hoping it might resonate, set a few thoughts spinning where there’d probably been precious few before.
Shailer hadn’t seen it that way. No, to Shailer, it had all meant something very different: a bunch of funny-looking guys in funny-looking uniforms doing funny-looking marches, much too long ago, and much too far from home to be of any interest now.
Especially to him.
            He put his fingers up under his nose, the other arm still raised in a salute. It was more John Cleese than Hitler, to be honest, and perhaps not even that; more somebody impersonating Cleese, reality a dozen times removed.
            I stood up, crossed to him in six quick steps, and slapped him hard across the face.
            That got his interest, anyway.
            The chalice toppled from his head and clanged onto the floor. The echoes shivered; it was as if the whole church suddenly breathed in, scenting something was amiss within it. The hairs upon my neck began to prickle. I recognized that moment, knew it instantly. I glanced around.
The going can get sensitive at this stage. Things get raw.
Shailer stared at me, shock and disbelief caught in the slack O of his mouth, the water welling in his eyes. Then his shoulders tensed, his fists came up, his eyes went thin and hard. I waited for the rush of anger to die down. I told him, “Be professional.”
His eyes stayed hard.
I said, “You fool around on one of these, then we could both die. You, I don’t much care about. Me, I do.”
His mouth squeezed tight. A muscle flickered in his jaw. I turned my back and walked slowly to the altar, giving him lots of time to jump me if he’d wanted to.
He wanted to, all right.
He didn’t try it.
“Fetch the flask,” I said. I said it in a neutral tone. Business-like. I kept my head down, bending to the work. Footsteps on the stone floor. I heard him coming, closer, closer. He set the flask beside me. It’s a thick metal container, like a strongbox with a socket in the top.
“OK,” I said. “That’s our receptor. Once we’re done, we double seal it, just for luck, and walk away. I’m hoping that it won’t take long.”
He didn’t answer. I was talking to myself. I linked the last few cables, showed him a third time how to do it, carefully explained it all, reciting from the manual. My heart-rate was up. Breathing too. The talking helped to calm me, normalize me once again. I like to stay cool when I’m working; no stray emotions, nothing to latch onto. It’s like a meditative process. I tried to focus on the task, to let that side of my brain come to the fore. Signs were, we’d got a pre-incarnate here. Tricky. Or worse. And Shailer was the last person I wanted with me. All right - to be fair, perhaps it wasn’t his fault he was such an idiot. But if it wasn’t his, I’d really no idea who else to blame.


About the Author

Tim Lees is a British author living in Chicago. His short fiction has appeared in Postscripts, Black Static and Interzone, among many other publications. He is author of the collection, The Life to Come, nominated for a British Fantasy Award, and the novel Frankenstein’s Prescription, described by Publisher’s Weekly as “a philosophically insightful and literary tale of terror.” When not writing, he has held a variety of jobs, including teacher, conference organiser, film extra, and worker in a psychiatric hospital. His blog is www.timlees.wordpress.com.


About the Book

God Hunter by Tim Lees
On-Sale: 8/5/2014 | ISBN: 9780062358813

Registry field op Chris Copeland arrives in Hungary on a routine mission: find a sacred spot, lay down a wire grid, and capture a full flask of a god’s energy. But when his arrogant new partner, Shailer, sabotages the wires, things go very, very wrong: the god manifests as a mirror image of Chris himself. Chris quickly destroys the god, and, for the good of the company and his own career, buries the evidence.

Six years later, Shailer is a rising star among the energy industry’s corporate elite, while Chris has taken a break from operations. But when a mysterious serial killer begins stalking Budapest-a psychopath who bears an eerie resemblance to Chris-the operative is forced back into the field.

With the help of Anna Ganz, a brusque, chain-smoking Hungarian detective, Chris tracks the monster across the globe. Only the real danger isn’t a killer on the outside . . . it’s Chris’s treacherous colleagues at the Registry who refuse to acknowledge the terrifying forces they’ve unleashed in the name of profit-forces whose origins lead back to the dawn of man . . . and beyond.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sci-Fi Review: Jani and the Greater Game by Eric Brown

Although a bit silly at times, with some lazy plot points that border on embarrassing, Jani and the Greater Game was a fun read that left me wanting to read more in the series. Eric Brown has built an intriguing alternate history here, one that merges steampunk with (minor spoiler here) alien technology, and peopled it with some interesting characters.

Actually, to be honest, the villains are a rather one-dimensional racist caricatures, but the heroes are refreshingly diverse - a smart young woman of mixed Indian and English ancestry and brave young man of a lower Indian caste. To Brown's credit, he does allow for a couple of decent, upstanding Brits to counter all the greedy, nationalistic, arrogant conquerors, but the Russians and the Germans get no such saving graces.

There's not a great deal of story to this initial volume, but that's okay because what Brown has really set out to do is recapture the spirit of the turn-of-the-century adventure novel. In fact, the entire text is peppered with references to the likes of Verne and Kipling, including the suggestion that Verne's stories were based on actual events. This is an adventure/quest story that's primarily concerned with getting Jani from point A to point B, with a series of conflicts and escapes along the way, propelled by an underlying mystery that's rather obvious, but which does end in a nice twist. It's a fast-paced tale, filled with adventure, graphic violence, a little social/political commentary, and humor. It's not particularly deep or complex, but it's a fun journey to share.

As for the technology, the alien elements are actually the blandest, but only because they are variations on a theme we've seen them done before - although the invisibility cap and mind-reading skull-mesh are kind of cool. Instead, it's the human steampunk elements that are the most incredible, capped off by Mr Clockwork's Mech-Man and Amazing Mechanical Elephant. They're not just window dressing either, they're key elements of the story, and set-pieces upon which the overall climax relies.

Like I said, it's a bit lazy in parts, with the resolution relying on some conveniently foolish choices and timely coincidences, but at least some of that can be attributed to the youth of the protagonists. If you think of Jani and the Greater Game in terms of its young heroine, and let her set the context, then it's easy to forgive (if not completely ignore) the story's flaws. Fans of the pulp adventure and steampunk genres will certainly find something here to enjoy, and I suspect there are bigger, better things to come in the inevitable sequel.

Expected publication: July 29th 2014 by Solaris

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Mailboxes, Shelves, and What I'm Reading

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

I've been focusing on striking a better balance between upcoming titles and my personal TBR shelves, so only 1 new addition this week.

Find Virgil (A Novel of Revenge) by Frank Freudberg
Published November 14th 2013 by Inside Job Media

Get inside the mind of a serial killer as you never have before. Is Martin Muntor a villain or a victim?

Can you imagine rooting for a madman to succeed in a terroristic plot to kill hundreds of people? Second-hand smoke gave Muntor lung cancer, and he's mad. Very mad ... and he's going to do something about it. It's 1995, and the tobacco industry thinks it's invincible.

But is it?

Muntor devises an ingenious strategy to put cigarette companies out of business, and he doesn't care how many people he has to take with him in order to do it.

Hapless private investigator Tommy Rhoads has to find Muntor, and fast. But that's not going to be so easy. Muntor's smart and has nothing to lose, and the FBI doesn't want Rhoads's help. Rhoads has a lot at stake -- personally and professionally -- and is desperate to stop the killer.

Who's right, and who's wrong? Read Find Virgil now, and go along for the wild ride. You'll never forget it.


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

With an eye towards my scheduled reviews for the next few weeks, I'm currently turning pages with:

• Justice 4.1 by Jim Webster  
Join intergalactic investigator Haldar Drom as he cleans up criminal scum.

• The Ghoul Archipelago by Stephen Kozeniewski 
Zombies, a freighter rescue, billionaire madmen, cargo cults, and post-apocalyptic gruesome horror.

• The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory
I've always looked to Lackey for classic fantasy, and her collaborations with Mallory have been outstanding . . . plus it has pirates!

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Fantasy Review: Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb

I can't remember the last time I felt so torn about a book, and so conflicted about a review. This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year, and I really wanted to enjoy it. In fact, compared to my usual reading pace, I spent a great deal of time in the world that Robin Hobb created - and while I did enjoy aspects of it, I have to be honest in that most of my time was spent waiting for aspects to enjoy. It's a testament to Hobb's writing (and to Fitz's legacy) that I was able to exhibit such patience. Looking back, the closest analogy I can think of is watching a chess game between tournament masters - fascinating, challenging, and admirable, but hardly riveting.

Fool's Assassin may be labeled book one of the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy, but it's really an extended prologue of over 500 pages, followed by an opening chapter of about 80. That is to say there's a lot of talking, a lot of speculating, a lot of worrying, but not a lot of action. In fact, there are only a handful of scenes where anything of consequence takes place, and most of them are rushed together in those final 80 pages. It's hard to talk about them without getting into spoiler territory, but I will say the resolution of Molly's pregnancy is genuinely surprising, and those of you anxious for a reunion between the characters of the title will be waiting a very long time.

Hobb's writing is gorgeous, as always, and it's easy to fall into the cadence and rhythms of her story. Initially, it felt like no time at all had passed since the last trilogy, allowing me to become lost in the world of Fitz all over again. It was truly marvelous. However, around the halfway mark I really began to feel the lagging pace, with the story slow going, but somehow still compelling. I genuinely doubt it would have worked if I weren't already so familiar with Fitz, and invested in seeing where his second life might take him. The problem is, Fitz wasn't Fitz. Yes, his personality was there, and I know Hobb was trying to show us how far he had distanced himself from his past, but I have a hard time believing he could become so lazy, so gullible, so careless, and so insecure.

As for the other characters, that's a sore spot for me. Characters that we know and love, like Chade and Kettricken, are but pale imitations of their former selves. New characters, like FitzVigilant and Shun, are as shallow as they are annoying, while the most significant new addition (whose identity I refuse to spoil) is far too cold and awkward to ever embrace as a character, much less a narrator. Molly started out with some real potential, but soon became an extended plot device, and as fascinating as his (small) piece of the story is, we hardly get a chance to know the Fool.

The opening scenes were fantastic, and I really expected the story to take off from there, but we're subjected to endless chapters of dancing, talking, dressing, shopping, dreaming, complaining, and musing. It took forever to come back to that potential and, when we finally did, it was a race to the finish with a cliffhanger that reeks of desperation. I will absolutely give the next book a read, but Fitz had damned well better return to his old self, and there had better be a significant payoff for all the time we've invested in tolerating that character/narrator I have been so careful not to spoil.

Fool's Assassin is for hardcore fans only, and even then I suspect it will be something of a polarizing tale. Then again, maybe it's just me. The book does have a plethora of 5-star reads, so I'll be curious to see how the readers and reviewers I respect most react to the read.

Hardcover, 688 pages
Expected publication: August 12th 2014 by Del Rey

Interview with Bill Kirton (satirical crime author)

Good morning all, and welcome to the next in our series of interviews with the authors of Thorstruck Press.

This week we're sitting down to chat with Bill Kirton, author of satirical crime thrillers, including his latest, The Sparrow Conundrum.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Bill. For those who haven't yet had a chance to enjoy your work, please tell us a little about yourself and what we can expect.

I took early retirement from university teaching to concentrate on writing. I've also done a few other jobs – acting, directing, voice-overs, TV presenting, writing fellowships. As far as my novels go, the main output is the series of 5 mysteries featuring DCI Jack Carston. They’re set in North East Scotland and follow the whodunit and/or whydunnit pattern but I’ve tried to avoid genre clichés. Carston, for example, is happily married and there’s usually a coda at the end of the books suggesting that, while this particular case has been solved, crime is a constant aspect of life. I also write satire, humour, historical crime/romance and children’s stories. I’m classed as a crime writer but I’d rather just be a writer. I’d like readers to laugh a lot but also to think about some of the things that crop up in the narratives.

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, and what has the journey to publication been like?

I’ve been writing for decades. My first broadcast output was radio drama on the BBC and Australian BC and stage plays which were performed in Scotland and the USA. I’ve no idea why I changed to novels but back in the 90s I sent my first one to an agent who liked it and took me on. She sent my book to Piatkus, who also liked it but wanted police procedurals instead, so I wrote one (Material Evidence) and they published it. Since then I’ve been traditionally published in the USA and, when the publisher had to close, I followed the Indie route and published my 9 novels as ebooks and paperbacks. The process was surprisingly easy and certainly quick and cheap. I’m happy, though, to be part of the Thorstruck family now and will be transferring most, if not all my books to them. Being an Indie gives you almost total freedom but having also to do marketing and PR means you lose a lot of writing time.

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?

Blurbs and titles take far longer then they should. I mean, when you’ve written a story of 90,000 words, reducing it to a couple of hundred – or even fewer – is very hard. As for the book itself, it’s often slow going at the beginning, not because I’m striving for the perfect, attention-grabbing opener but because some of the characters haven’t yet formed and need to say and do a few things before they have any substance. Once they’ve done that, though, I can usually rely on them to take the story where it needs to go. Occasionally, I get stuck because they’ve taken me to an impasse but that’s usually the cue to rethink the plot. Sometimes, the person I thought was guilty turns out to be the good guy and an apparently innocent one has done the killing. Whenever that happens, the result is always better than my original instinct. That doesn’t happen, though, with the satire/humour books. Once the characters are up and running, I just enjoy being with them and get plenty of laughs from what they do.

Q: Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when developing a series that touches on multiple genres. Were there any twists or turns in your writing that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans for the story?

Ooops, I realise I’ve just answered this question. For me, it’s not a question of ‘sometimes’ but ‘always’. I was chairing a panel at the Edinburgh book festival one year and one of the panellists said ‘You’ve got to give your characters room to dance’. That was a beautiful way of summing up how the process works. In an early radio play, I used the characters to illustrate some imagery of expansion and contraction that, to me, fitted the play’s theme. The problem was that I then began forcing them to say things I wanted to say rather than letting them be themselves. A review of the play in a national magazine began ‘This is a tiresome play about tiresome people’ and I agreed completely with that assessment. I hadn’t given them room to dance or to be themselves.

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

One bit of basic advice I give when asked is that you should separate the functions of writer and editor. When you write the first draft, don’t worry too much about technical things – spelling, grammar, etc. – just let the story flow. But then, having set it aside for as long as possible, come back to it as an editor (and reader) and start polishing it and getting rid of anything that gets in the way of reading pleasure. There’s definitely satisfaction in getting the rhythms of prose right or of twisting the story to create surprise and, most of all, there’s enormous pleasure in reading reviews which have lots of LOL references. Negative reviews are useful except when they arise from the reviewers’ prejudices rather than anything that happens in the book. Writing with readers or reviewers in mind would never work for me. It has to be just me and the characters – anyone else would destroy the fiction.

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

Two things. In one of my books, there’s a rape scene. I asked my wife to check it from the woman’s point of view and she made some great suggestions of reactions which would never have occurred to me. The book was reviewed in The Sunday Telegraph by a top crime reviewer, who praised it and acknowledged that the rape scene wasn’t gratuitous but essential to the plot resolution. An Amazon reviewer, however, was shocked by it (fair enough) but then said that when you read that sort of thing you have to ‘"question the author’s psyche’.

Another Amazon review of a different book was entitled ‘What's the Weather Forecast?’ and this is it:
‘An interesting story overall, but really - what is it about British authors that make them write extensively about the terrain and the weather - and not only that, but the history of the weather and the weather in relation to surrounding areas and different seasons. A simple "It was raining." would do. The story could have been cut quite a bit shorter without all of the weather and rolling hills.’

The fact is that the story opens on an offshore installation, where weather is always a significant factor in whatever’s happening. There are 2 paragraphs establishing what a dangerous place it is, especially in a gale which throws hailstones at you. And that’s it. I checked the manuscript to see what had upset the reviewer so much and, in over 86,000 words, the word ‘weather’ occurs 4 times and, overall, there are 9 references to things such as rain and wind – each of them one-liners. As for the ‘rolling hills’ – the expression never appears and there are only 2 references to ‘hills’ which, since it’s set in Scotland, seems very restrained to me.

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?

I've always written so I don’t think I can say that any particular writer got me started, but I enjoy reading writers such as Tom Sharpe, Terry Pratchett, Carl Hiaasen and others that I’d like to emulate them. That’s what The Sparrow Conundrum is aimed at. When I taught, though, I had to give lectures and tutorials on French literature, especially the great 19th century novelists and I learned so much from them. I’ve no idea how many times I’ve read Madame Bovary, for example, but I still enjoy it. I sometimes just read a couple of pages to remind myself of the importance of choosing exactly the right word, getting the right rhythms, and making the gaps between events as important as the events themselves. We’re always learning.

Q: Assuming you had total creative control over the production, who would you cast as the leading roles, were your work to be optioned for the big screen?

In fact, a Los Angeles company has optioned one of my short stories for the screen. I won’t have any say in the casting (that’s if it ever happens) but it’s nice to know that someone thinks the story’s interesting enough to want to film it. My ideal casting for, say, Jack Carston and his wife Kath might be Alan Rickman and Olivia Coleman, but I’d be happy to leave that to the director. Film and theatre are great collaborative media and the things they produce differ greatly from the books on which they’re based, so I think the director would know better than the writer what would work best.

Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there another story yet to be told in your latest world, or perhaps something completely different on the horizon?

I’m writing the sequel to my historical novel The Figurehead at the moment but recently I've been feeling I’d maybe like to get back to drama, so that’s a possibility. But I’ve also started a sequel to The Sparrow Conundrum and I want to write the last in the Carston series, so plenty for me to look forward to. And, of course, I’m now with Thorstruck so who knows what that will bring?


About the Author

Bill Kirton was a university lecturer in French before taking early retirement to become a full-time writer. He’s had radio plays broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4 and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, stage plays performed in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and the USA and he’s been the visiting artist to the Theatre Department of the University of Rhode Island on four separate occasions. There, he directed stage plays, gave classes on creative writing and theatre, performed in revues and translated three plays by Molière for public performance, one of which won a BCLA prize. Material from his Edinburgh Festival revues was broadcast on the BBC, ITV and French television.

He’s also been a TV presenter, a voice-over artist, and a Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow at the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, and the universities of Dundee and St Andrews. His non-fiction output includes Just Write, co-written with Kathleen McMillan and five books in Pearson’s ‘Brilliant’ series: Brilliant Study Skills, Brilliant Essay, Brilliant Dissertation, Brilliant Work Skills and Brilliant Academic Writing.

His novels, two of which have won awards, are set in the north east of Scotland. Material Evidence, Rough Justice, The Darkness, Shadow Selves and Unsafe Acts all feature DCI Jack Carston. The Figurehead is a historical novel set in Aberdeen in 1840, The Sparrow Conundrum is a satirical crime spoof and Alternative Dimension is a satirical look at the online worlds where virtual and real overlap. He’s also written a children’s novel, The Loch Ewe Mystery and some other children’s stories. His short stories have appeared in the Crime Writers’ Association annual anthology in 1999, 2005 and 2006 and one was chosen as one of the Best British Crime Stories, Vol. 7, a 2010 anthology edited by Maxim Jakubowsky.


About the Book

The Sparrow Conundrum  by Bill Kirton
Published June 26th 2014 by Thorstruck Press

Chris Machin may think he’s just a teacher but the bottom feeders in Aberdeen squabbling over North Sea oil and gas contracts prefer to use his code-name – Sparrow. When his garden explodes, he takes flight, unleashing various forms of Scottish mayhem.

More complications are added by his ex girl friend and a sociopathic policeman whose hobbies are violence, making arrests and, best of all, combining the two. Several murders later, two wrestlers, a road trip to Inverness, a fishing trawler, a Russian factory ship, and some fragments of a postman complete the enigma of…

… The Sparrow Conundrum.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Interview with Rik Stone (author of Birth of an Assassin)

Joining us today is Rik Stone, a man who took a company pension at 50, after years in the shipyards and in the quarries, completed a BSc degree in mathematics and computing, and began writing. His debut novel, Birth of an Assassin, is the first in a series.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today. For those who haven't yet had a chance to enjoy your work, please tell us a little about yourself and what we can expect.

About me? My name is Rik Stone and I grew up in the slum-lands of North East England. I left school at fifteen and worked in shipyards, the merchant navy, and quarries before taking up education and going into IT. The idea of becoming a writer in the early days was like the current idea of winning the lottery. But a dream is a dream and is there to be realized; even winning the lottery, albeit, that depends on luck while realistic ambition is achieved through hard work.

When an opportunity arose to pursue a writing career I grabbed it with both hands, did a few creative writing courses, read a million ‘how to’ books and wrote stories – not very good ones. Still, I pressed on, honed the skill set I was constantly accruing and completed a novel that I was proud of; Birth of an Assassin. This book is an explosive and fast paced thriller that looks deep into the darker side of society. It is set in Cold War Russia and none of the cast are what I would describe as being good-guys; to a man they have personal motives and their intentions are not always honourable.

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, and what has the journey to publication been like?

I began writing seriously in 2005 and I can tell you, the road to publication is peppered with disappointment. I thought my dream had come true when I first got an agent, but, having been tied into a contract for thirteen months, felt the need to walk away from it. I had a publishing contract offered to me, but when I had the fine print looked at, they wanted to own me, so again I walked away. If that sounds arrogant, it isn't, they were tough decisions to make, but you have to look after your own interests.

Q: That's a hard thing to walk away from - good job! 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?

The first paragraph. When I get an idea I write three sentences. They constitute the beginning, the middle and the end. I usually let that simple outline sink in for a day or two before putting pen to paper. When I do, the tale flows in my mind, usually through to the end. But it’s in that first paragraph where the story takes shape; this is the place where the characters become real to me and because of that it is them who decide which way they want to go.

I can struggle with the last chapter. It could be the most important piece of the book as it can determine whether you have a fan or just someone passing through. Because of this I probably write and rewrite that chapter more times than any other.

Q: Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when developing a series that touches on multiple genres. Were there any twists or turns in your writing that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans for the story?

Almost every twist and turn surprises me. I have something in mind and then the character throws in a curve that I have to follow. I mentioned my three sentence rule; while I allow them to change in the first chapter, I will produce another three sentences and after that I stick to them rigidly. They become waypoints I must reach. However, the route taken to get to them is flexible. This is one of the things that excites me about writing; like life, you don’t know what’s coming next.

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

Difficult! With Birth of an Assassin I felt I might ostracize a section of readers because the setting was in Cold War Russia and none of the heroes were from the west. Of course, every writer wants lots of readers to go out and buy their books, but you have to follow what you feel is right for the plot. So, I guess I wanted to write for my own satisfaction and yet still have a multitude of readers who would love it!

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

I don’t know about strange reactions, but I have been surprised. When writing Birth of an Assassin I thought its appeal would lie with a male audience, but that guess was way off mark. The book has received great reviews from male and female readers alike – equality rules.

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?

The work of Harold Robbins inspired me in early life. The opening chapters of his books always gripped me, so much so, I would read them over and over: they took me into the scene where I felt I was actually witnessing the proceedings. And to be able to escape reality at that time in my life was a wonderful thing. John Connolly is currently one of my favourites; his work makes me think and, for some strange reason, I can associate myself to his Charlie Parker protagonist.

Q: Assuming you had total creative control over the production, who would you cast as the leading roles, were Birth of an Assassin to be optioned for the big screen?

Oh boy, I wish! My main protagonist, Jez, would have pretty, good looks, something like Johnny Depp, perhaps with a bit more muscle. The love of his life would be like Christina Aguilera; apart from her obvious beauty I think she could carry off the tough image of Anna. George Clooney has the strong features required of Jez’s mentor and a young version of Ivan Drago (Rocky IV) could carry off the evil character of Otto Mitrokhin.

Q: Nice I can imagine that. Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there another story yet to be told in your latest world, or perhaps something completely different on the horizon?

The Turkish Connection is ready-to-go. It is a follow-up to Birth of an Assassin. The terms prequel or sequel don’t apply because the story runs in parallel, so I call it a paraquel. It has a different cast of characters to that of the first book and is set, as the name suggests, in Turkey. It is the second segment in a story that will take five books to complete. The first two books are stand-alone, but the characters come together in the third offering. I am currently half way through book four, but in the mean time a modern day thriller came to mind and I felt obliged to put what I was working on to one side. This book is set in Brazil and I am currently working on an edit which will be followed by a copy-edit and then that will also be done and dusted.

Thanks for joining us, Rik.


About the Author

Do children born into poverty become impoverished adults? It happens; pitfalls and roadblocks to advancement are everywhere. Rik Stone grew up poor amidst the slum-lands of fifties North East England, and left school at 15 without any academic qualifications.

He worked in the shipyards on a local river and later went into the merchant navy. Further down the line, he worked quarries in Essex in South East England.

But life was without horizons until, contrary to what his teachers had told him, he found he was capable of studying and completed a BSc degree in mathematics and computing.

Life got lucky for him when he took company pension at 50 and began writing. And now, here he is offering up his debut novel Birth of an Assassin, the first in a series.


About the Book

Birth of an Assassin by Rik Stone
Published July 16th 2013 by Silver Publishing

Set against the backdrop of Soviet, post-war Russia, Birth of an Assassin follows the transformation of Jez Kornfeld from wide-eyed recruit to avenging outlaw. Amidst a murky underworld of flesh-trafficking, prostitution and institutionalized corruption, the elite Jewish soldier is thrown into a world where nothing is what it seems, nobody can be trusted, and everything can be violently torn from him.

Given the order to disperse and arrest a crowd of Jewish demonstrators in Red Square, Jez breaks up the rally but discovers his sisters in their ranks. Rushed for a solution, he sneaks the girls from under the noses of secret police and hides them in downtown Moscow. But he knows they will no longer be safe in Russia. He has to find them a safe route out.

The journey begins, but he is unaware that his every move is being observed and that he has set in motion a chain of events that will plunge his life into a headlong battle to stay alive.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Glass Shore by Stefan Jackson

"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:

Glass Shore by Stefan Jackson
Digital Edition in September 2014; Paperback in December 2014

What if ‘Think Differently’ was more than a campaign slogan?

What if it was part of a mind control network geared toward advanced sciences, creating a vibrant, creative and competitive workforce?

This is the world of Glass Shore, a dynamic existence featuring fierce vehicles, cruel weapons and serious body augmentation.

Manhattan, 2076. The fabled city of gold realised; a city of dazzling buildings and beautiful people; a city celebrated for converting an obsolete subway system into an adult playground. Manhattanite Nikki’s life changes forever when she finds the files labelled ‘Project Blue Book appendix 63-A’. The report contains a disc related to the Glass Shore, the horrendous nuclear event at Puget Sound in 2062. Disclosure of these files is not an option, so powerful people want Nikki dead. To protect her Nikki hires Apollo, her long-time friend and lover, who is magnificent at his job. He is also a clothes whore with an honest enthusiasm for life.

Nikki and Apollo are the hottest couple in Manhattan. Betrayed by friends at every turn, set upon by bounty hunters and other elements of security, law enforcement and civil protection, they utilise the best hotels, the sexy Underground and the glorious city of Manhattan as their shield.

“Government hit squads, illegal weaponry, hackers, cyborgs, twists, turns, sex, drugs, and a surprising lack of rock’n’roll – Glass Shore takes its readers on an express journey through the highs and lows of life in a dystopian future. Leaving you wondering at each turn what will come next, the story is superbly balanced between government conspiracies, criminals and corporations and how they inevitably intertwine.”

This one appeals to me on so many levels - it just seems like a cool sci-fi read.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Interview with Nigel Lampard (author of The Loser Has to Fall)

Good morning all, and welcome to the next in our series of interviews with the authors of Thorstruck Press.

This week we're sitting down to chat with Nigel Lampard, author of more than a dozen psychological thrillers and murder mystery, with The Loser Has to Fall - a war romance - coming soon.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Nigel. For those who haven't yet had a chance to enjoy your work, please tell us a little about yourself and what we can expect.

My name is Nigel Lampard and I spent thirty-nine years in uniform with the British Army before working as a civilian for them for eight years.  I started writing after a tour in Berlin back in the early 1980s: I fell in love with the city and what it stood for and after leaving Berlin I needed to continue the experience, so I put pen to paper – then I fell in love with writing, a love affair that is still very strong.  Jane, my wife, and I have been married forty years, we have two sons and with their partners we have three grandchildren.  I have written thirteen novels so far, four of which have been published. You can expect from me a sense of humour, dedication, integrity, loyalty and when needed, support.

Q: As I'm sure you can attest, 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, and what has the journey to publication been like?

As I said, I started writing in the early 1980s and although the possibility of being published was always at the back of my mind – a dream – I didn't think it would ever happen. After I retired at the ripe old age of sixty-one a dedicated supporter told me that I should ‘do something’ with my novels. Without any expectations I joined a website called Struggling Authors, its owner read some of my work and put me in touch with Night Publishing – which became Taylor Street Books (TSB). I never looked back. It had taken thirty years but as I never thought the dream would come true, those thirty years were the equivalent of five minutes.  TSB folded on 1st June 2014 but fortunately I discovered Thorstruck Press Ltd, was accepted, and now I feel that together we have a long friendship ahead of us.

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?

Initially it didn’t matter because only loyal friends and relatives read my ramblings, but when it became serious I was very fortunate to have a great editor (teacher!) who has given me tremendous support and confidence.  I find – as I’m sure many other authors do – that once I have created the characters they take over and quite often change the direction in which I wanted to go. In order of difficulty though, I would say the first paragraph is the hardest because that is where you have to grab the reader’s attention and hopefully, keep it.  The final paragraph is dependent on whether there is to be a sequel or not.  As long as most of the readers are happy with the outcome, the last paragraph can be very satisfying. I don’t like writing the cover blurb but I don’t find it difficult. I think the author of the cover blurb ought to be independent of the author of the novel, but that is just me.

Q: Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when developing a series that touches on multiple genres. Were there any twists or turns in your writing that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans for the story?

I touched on this in my previous answer. I was walking through a local quintessentially pretty English village called Ashby St Ledgers in Northamptonshire with my family, when one of my sons suggested I write a novel centred in and around the village. Ashby St Ledgers just happened to be the location of where the Gunpowder Plot was planned.  It was 2003 and the 400th anniversary of the plot would fall the following year. I had just finished a novel so I took on the challenge.  A modern day gunpowder plot would give me a tremendous story line and in 2003/4 there were a number of politicians I would gladly put a bomb under! I even called the main character Peter Salter, a play on Salt Petre being a constituent part of gunpowder.   Suffice to say in Subliminal – the title of the book – the gunpowder plot gets a passing mention, the thrust of the story was taken over by the characters and concentrated on the tricks of the subconscious mind – how different could that be? Although the story was turned on its head – literally – by the characters I had created, I finished the story feeling they had got it right and thank God they had! The politicians lived to see another day!

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

Initially I wrote for my own satisfaction but since some of my books were published, and when editing my own work, the reader and reviewer are constantly on my mind. Writing for me is like entertaining: you invite people into your home to enjoy themselves, therefore I invite people to read my books and enjoy what I write – if I did not think of them I would be failing as a host.

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

One reviewer said that one of my novels – In Denial – was the best story she had ever read, another  reviewer said that Pooh Bridge – my first novel to be published – was summed up very well in the title – pooh! The accolades – although unbelievable on occasions – boost the ego, the criticisms at first, hurt.  I have learnt to cope with the good and the bad but abuse, which I’m sure all authors have experienced, is uncalled for but will always happen. There are some strange people out there.

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?

Yes, Robert Goddard –  I was an avid reader of his books before I started writing seriously but I felt if I could emulate him then I would be happy. I was overcome with pride when a reviewer said about one of my books – In Denial I think – that Robert Goddard was still alive and well. I also thoroughly enjoyed MR Hall’s Jenny Cooper (Coroner) series. But now I find myself reading a variety of books – judging the opposition – on my Kindle and highlighting the typos, and the grammatical and PoV  errors as I read. Perhaps that makes me rather sad!

Q: Assuming you had total creative control over the production, who would you cast as the leading roles, were your work to be optioned for the big screen?

Obviously it would depend on which book was being dramatised for the big screen. I am sure as with other authors, I visualise my characters and then they become real people. Yes, there are known actors who could be cast in the leading roles but also there are people on the street who could equally fit the bill. Authors have to be people watchers and I often see an individual and think, yes, she could be Sarah, he could be Colin etc, etc. So, this is a difficult question to answer and one which if the producer didn’t get right, I would withdraw – if I could – the rights for dramatisation.

Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there another story yet to be told in your latest world, or perhaps something completely different on the horizon?

The first book to be published by Thorstruck Press LtdThe Loser Has to Fall - is very different to the ones already published by Taylor Street Books and which will hopefully be republished by Thorstruck. I suppose my genre – I hate that word – is thriller/romance, but The Loser Has to Fall is a tearjerker set in Sarawak during WW2 and in post-war England.  My future books – already written – fall back into the original genre although I have written one science fiction novel, but if my sons’ comments are worthy of note, it will need a lot of revising! So something completely different is closer than the horizon, but changing genres can – I am told – lose an author some of his followers. We will see.


About the Author

Nigel Lampard was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army when after thirty-nine years he retired from active service in 1999. Trained as an ammunition and explosives expert, he travelled all over the world and was appointed an Order of the British Empire for services to his country. Before finally retiring in 2007 and as a second career, he helped British Forces personnel with their transition to civilian life.

Nigel and his wife, Jane, have been married for forty years and they have two sons and three grandchildren. They have lived in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex since 2007.

Nigel started writing after a tour in Berlin in the early 1980s – he fell in love with what was then a walled and divided city. After leaving Berlin the only way he could continue the well-developed affair was to write about it. By the time he completed the draft for his first novel he was already in love with writing. Over the ensuing years, and for sheer enjoyment, he wrote a further twelve novels most of which are in the psychological thriller/murder mystery genre but there is always a bit of romance thrown in! However, the first novel – The Loser Has to Fall - to published by Thorstruck Press is not in this genre, it is a war romance set in a war-torn Sarawak on the island of Borneo and then in post-war England: if ‘Tearjerker’ is a genre than this story fits the bill.

Nigel is a previously published author with Taylor Street Books


About the Book

The Loser Has to Fall by Nigel Lampard
Coming Soon . . .

War comes to sleepy Sarawak
Lovers are separated
The misery ends and they are reunited
But the war has taken its toll

When Colin attempts to escape the invasion, Rachel is interned by the Japanese. She begins nearly four years of untold hell. Injured, Colin is cared for by the Iban – the notorious head-hunters of Borneo – and embarks on a previously unimaginable life, taking Aslah, the headman’s daughter, for his wife.

But his heart is torn in two for although separated, the love Colin and Rachel have for each other never wanes.

The war ends.
Colin, Rachel and Aslah stand to lose everything.
There could be winners.
But The Loser Has to Fall.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sci-Fi Review - Levels: The Host by Peter Emshwiller

As hard as it is to believe that it's been 25 years since Peter Emshwiller's cyberpunk classic first hit shelves, it's even harder to accept that it's been out of print for so long. Fortunately, in celebration of it's silver anniversary, it's now available as an e-book, complete with a new intro and a shiny new cover.

Fortunately, the story itself hasn't changed, and neither has the telling. Levels: The Host still has that early 90s, edge-of-apocalypse, pulp sci-fi sort of feel to it, but it's surprisingly fresh and original. Re-reading it now, after so many years, it's just as imaginative and just as much fun as the first time around.

Part of what makes the story so attractive is the simple ways in which Emshwiller subverts expectations - beginning with language. Instead of inventing new slang that's dated almost as soon as the final page is turned, he plays with words we already know, extending conversational trends, turning the f-bomb into a part of everyday speech, and making words like rape the coarsest of curses. Even his hero is a subversion, an all-around average guy who wants nothing more than a chance to be a mother (not in a gender sense, but that of gender roles).

Yes, Watly Caiper is a First Leveler, a denizen of the subterranean industrial slums, who aspires to an impossible dream of motherhood. In order to save up enough money to cover the costs, he has applied to become a host, renting out his body to angry, horny, or bored Second Levelers who want to to play in the slums without risking their bodies. It's a dangerous job, despite the multiple safeguards, but it pays extraordinarily well. Unfortunately for Watly, his second gig not only sees his body being used to assassinate one of the most prominent Second Level businessmen around, but the stranger taking a ride inside him has worked very hard to disable all those safeguards and frame Watly for murder.

What follows is a classic thriller, with Watly desperately trying to evade capture while trying to clear his name. The set pieces are fantastic, dark and claustrophobic on the First Level, and gleaming chrome and blue skies on the Second. There's at least one narrow escape in just about every chapter, a few great chase scenes, and more than one double-cross that proves to be as clever as it is entertaining. The emphasis here is very much on the human element, with technology playing a supporting role, as evidenced by the experience of hosting. While we do learn about the how and why of it works, it's really the sensory experience of what Watly feels and how he experiences his world as a consciousness with no physical control over his own body that drives the story.

Levels: The Host is a fun, fast-paced read that doesn't try to 'wow' the reader with technological genius, and which avoids the temptation to drive any sort of 'hard' moralizing or ecological message. The climax is something of a shocker, setting up the events of Short Blade, but the core mystery here is resolved.

Mass Market Paperback, 368 pages
Orginally published April 1st 1991 by Spectra

Following My Muse: a Guest Post by Leonard D. Hilley II (author of Shawndirea)

Sometimes a writer’s muse will do unexpected things with a character or a storyline, but that’s a good thing. Don’t ignore the gentle prodding. Follow. I give you two examples of how this has worked well for me.


I’ve been asked if I use an outline when I write. The answer is: “No.”

I don’t know why, but I’ve never been able to outline events well before they occur in my fiction. When a great idea pops into my head, I immediately write it down. That’s my writer instinct. I may not know where the idea will lead, but I’m willing to follow.

That’s how the Darkness Series began. In January 1996, when I laid down to go to sleep, the opening sentence came to me: “Dropping a cat from the top of a ten story office building was not the best way to remain hidden, but it was necessary.”

I was intrigued. I didn’t know where the story would go or why someone dropped the cat off the building, but I got up and wrote it down. A few minutes later when I was trying to go to sleep, the next two paragraphs came to me. So, again, I got up and wrote down the words.

The next day I sat at my computer and hammered out twenty pages in a few hours. At the end of those pages, I found myself in a new dilemma. I couldn’t add anything else to the storyline. Anything I attempted to add didn’t fit, sounded too corny, or took away from the characters and the building plot. I was stuck, and I didn’t know why. I printed it out and set it in a box to work on later.

Two years later, during my final year at Morehead State University, I registered to take two creative writing classes in the coming fall. During the summer I took out the twenty pages and thought I would see if any new ideas stirred to breathe life into this story. Rereading the piece I realized something. I didn’t have twenty pages of the novel. What I had was the skeleton of a novel that needed depth, description, and more urgency to push the plot forward.

I took a yellow notepad and made a lot of notes. When I was content with how I would flesh the book out, I sat at the computer and spent a week working and revising with the new ideas. The last sentence of the original twenty pages now ended on page 100; but still, I couldn’t add anything else. Frustrated, I set it aside.

Once the fall semester started, we met the new creative writing professor, Dr. Chris Offutt. He stated that his class would be treated like a writer’s workshop, and on our designated days, we could bring in a short story or the chapter of a book we were working on to have the class evaluate it. When my day came, I brought the first chapter (~32 pages) of Predators of Darkness: Aftermath in and gave each student a copy. The next week they came back to critique and offer suggestions about what did/didn’t work.

After everyone in the class made their suggestions, the professor walked to the chalkboard. He drew out a diagram on the board and said, “Leonard, you don’t have one chapter here. What you have is five or six chapters.” In a matter of minutes he mapped out five chapters. I feverishly wrote down his suggestions. The best part is that something clicked. The fog lifted. And I suddenly visualized my characters, their uniqueness, and their voices were audible in my head.

Eventually, Predators of Darkness: Aftermath grew into 340 pages, and there are four complete novels in the series. Had I not written that sentence down, I do wonder if the series would have occurred. After all, I didn’t have a plot or any characters. All I had was the one sentence. I never imagined the opening sentence would spawn four more novels afterwards (Yes, I’m working on the fifth book), which is why I suggest that writers follow their muse, carry notebooks, and don’t get chained to an outline. If a character takes an unexpected turn into a dark alley, don’t stop him/her. Follow.


A couple of years ago I published Devils Den. Due to the characters in the fantasy realm of the novel, I thought that writing a novella backstory would be a good idea. However, my muse had a much different idea.

The fantasy characters in Devils Den I’ve known—in my mind, at least—for more than twenty years. The first novel I attempted was based on these characters, but the plot was too weak to develop, so I killed the story. But the characters never died. They didn’t speak a lot, but they were there in the back of my mind, maturing.

As I started the “Prequel” for Devils Den, something strange occurred. The characters wanted their voices to be heard, and they weren’t shy about letting me know. What I thought would be 40-50,000 words, came to life on a much larger scale. Twenty years of maturing in my mind, the characters suddenly brought their world to life. And thanks to Millard Pollitt, who drew an outstanding map of the realm, so many places can be explored. The plotlines are endless.

The new novel is a 148,000 word epic fantasy novel (Name and cover soon to be announced). Since the events in this novel are twenty years prior to Devils Den, and so much occurs between the two, the new book has become the first book in its own series.

So, you see, my muse took me in a different direction and definitely farther than the novella I had planned. Most often my muse knows more than I do, so I follow, take notes, and I write down what I hear and see. If there’s a better formula than that, I don’t know it.


About the Author

Leonard D. Hilley II currently lives in the mountains of Kentucky with his wife, Christal. He is a biologist that has also earned his MFA in creative writing. Having a passion for books at an early age, he knew he wanted to author his own creative works. He wrote his first novel at the age of eleven and has never lost his love for books.

Blog: http://deimosweb-hilley.blogspot.com/

Twitter: @Deimosweb Publishing

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1194774.Leonard_D_Hilley_II

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/leonard-d-hilley-ii/32/bb2/760

Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Leonard-D-Hilley-IIauthor-page/157289854329916


About the Book

Chronicles of Aetheaon
Book I
Leonard D. Hilley II

Genre: Fantasy (Epic, Adventure, Sword/Sorcerer)

Publisher: DeimosWeb Publishing
Date of Publication: June 27, 2014

ISBN: 9781310304965

Number of pages: 536 printed pages
Word Count: 148,000

Book Description:

Often the smallest unexpected surprises garner the most demanding dilemmas, which proves to be the ordeal that entomologist Ben Whytten faces. While netting butterflies to add to his vast collection, he mistakenly sweeps what he thinks is the most spectacular butterfly he has ever seen into his net. Upon examining his catch, Ben is horrified to discover he has captured a faery and shredded her delicate wings into useless ribbons.

Devastated, Ben vows to take Shawndirea back to her realm, Aetheaon; but he discovers that doing so places their lives into immediate danger. To get to Aetheaon, they must pass through a portal rift deep inside the haunted cavern, Devils Den.

Once they cross the rift, Ben enters a world where mysteries, magic, betrayal, and power struggles await. He must adapt quickly or die because Aetheaon is filled with enchanted creatures and numerous races where chaos often dominates order. And since Shawndirea’s destined for the throne of Elvendale, opposing dark forces plot to prevent her from ever reaching her kingdom again. The faery's magic isn't enough to fully protect them, so he must trust other adventurers to aid them during their journey.



Chapter One

The early autumn sun blazed over the freshly cut hayfield in Cider Knoll, Kentucky.  Ben Whytten rested his butterfly net against the rusted barbed wire fence and then wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.  Sweat soaked his shirt and blue jeans.  Although fall had officially begun, the outside temperature didn’t indicate it. Sporting near ninety degrees, summer refused to let go of the climate and turned what should have been a pleasant Saturday afternoon into an intimidating taunt, daring anyone with partial sanity to remain outdoors in the sweltering heat.
After he unscrewed the canteen cap, he tilted it back and took a long drink of cold water.  Beads of water dripped down his short brown beard.  He sighed and twisted the cap tightly.  His piercing brown eyes studied the sky.  Not a cloud in sight.  No breeze to help combat the hellish sticky heat.
Ben combed his sweat-matted brown hair from his eyes with his fingers.  He picked up the butterfly net and looked across the straw-colored field at the small grove of pastel leafed maples that lined a winding stream.  The shade was inviting, and he guessed a good ten degrees cooler than the open field.  He took a deep breath and trudged across brittle grass stems that crunched beneath his hiking boots.
Collecting butterflies during autumn was better than spring or summer because the diversity of species increased.  The fall forms of butterflies were generally brighter, larger, and fed in greater clusters on the ironweed, milkweed, and clover.  Brilliantly colored swallowtails puddled along the creek beds.  Plump moth larvae were also easier to find as they searched for places to spin cocoons or burrow beneath the soil to pupate before the colder temperatures set in.
“If colder weather ever settles in,” Ben thought, “Hell will have truly frozen over.”
Long narrow grasshoppers jumped and took to flight as Ben crossed the field.  Their wings buzzed as the alarmed insects glided and drifted downward, landed, and propelled themselves into the air again.
Reaching the shade beneath the maple branches, Ben leaned against a thick tree trunk and closed his eyes.  The shallow stream trickled softly.  Cicadas hummed.  In the distance a woodpecker rapped the bark of a massive dead pine.  Weather had stripped away sections of the rough pine bark, revealing the smooth yellow wood underneath.  The soothing sounds of nature relaxed him, and he was thankful to be outside, alone.
Dr. Isaac Deiko had planned to collect insects with Ben this particular Saturday, but at the last minute, he called and said that he couldn’t go.  Deiko had to help set up tables for a gun show in a neighboring town.
The news didn’t disappoint Ben.  He’d rather collect butterflies and other insects alone.  The outdoors was a place where he gathered his thoughts and meditated about life.  The forests, bluffs, and meadows were the best places where he felt at peace.  Leaving the fast-paced, bustling technological-craving addicts for a calmer, slow-paced life without all their distractions was worth more than millions of dollars to Ben.  He’d give up all the instant gadgets for the tranquility that his grandfather and great-grandfather experienced while working on their farms.
Ben kept a serious outlook on life while Dr. Deiko spent more time playing practical jokes on their colleagues and students, which often irritated and infuriated Ben.  He knew if Deiko came on this field trip, the collecting possibilities would be little or none simply because Deiko was clumsy-footed and boisterous.
Ben had never extended an invitation for Deiko to join him in the first place.  In fact, Deiko had invited himself when he found out about Ben’s collecting plans for the weekend.  Although Deiko was a biologist like Ben, Deiko was more concerned with uncovering a discovery to make him famous, whereas Ben loved science and didn’t care if anyone other than his students knew he existed.  Of course when final exams rolled around, most of his students would rather he didn’t exist.  Other than giving his students field trips from Hell, his tests were considered harsher than rigorous ten mile hikes through steep mountainous terrain.
Ben looked back across the field and chuckled.  He had traipsed hundreds of acres through forests, caves, and fields when he was still in middle school.  He had done so voluntarily, without a word of complaint, and yet, today’s college students voiced disdain over the least thing.  The challenge wasn’t getting them to learn; it was getting them to do anything that didn’t require the pacifying need for their technology.
His inner frustration brought more heat to his face.  He was seconds from rehashing how he wished computers and cellphones weren’t so controlling until the soft bubbling creek caught his attention.  The gentle soft sound of water allowed his mind to leave the tensions of the classroom and return to the natural calm surrounding him.  He expelled a long sigh and refocused himself.
Tall narrow blades of grass covered the sandy banks of the shallow stream.  Small drab satyr butterflies fluttered lazily from grass blade to grass blade.  Ben shook his head.  After two hours of walking the fields and woods, he had hoped to capture a few new specimens to add to his collection.  But with each species he encountered, he already had at least a half-dozen of those pinned inside glass-top boxes at home.  In many ways, he believed he’d have done himself a greater service by staying home.
But regardless of what he deemed bad luck, his life was about to change.
He removed his backpack and set it down.  Slowly he lowered himself and sat back against the tree trunk to rest.  He set down the canteen and placed the net handle across his lap and watched the gentle stream flow.  A few minnows darted back and forth beneath the water as water striders skimmed like polished skaters across the water’s surface.
Ben was drenched in sweat and drained from the heat.  A cool breeze stirred along the stream, which seemed an invitation to relax a while longer.  His eyes ached to close for a nap.  He fought the urge to doze even though the place was so comforting and peaceful.  But, if nothing interesting presented itself soon, he was going home.  He dreaded walking across the dry pasture to his SUV.
Ben took his hunting knife from the sheath attached to his belt and then picked up a dried oak branch.  He whittled and shaved away bark.
Perhaps it was the extreme heat that kept the most brilliant butterflies in hiding, but he still didn’t see any within the grove or along the sandy banks.  Later in the evening he might have better luck, but he refused to stick around that long.  He slid the knife back into its sheath and rubbed his tired eyes.
Sunlight filtered through the leafy canopy.  Several birds flew low across the stream and through the trees.  Seconds later two yellow butterflies glided to the edge of the far bank and landed.  A larger butterfly caught his attention.  At first glance he thought it was a giant swallowtail, but instead, it turned out to be an oversized tiger swallowtail.
Ben’s fingers tightened around the net handle.  He pushed himself to his feet.  He stepped lightly and headed toward the stream to get a better look at the butterflies.  Near the bank, a blur of metallic bluish-green streaked past him.
“Damn!” he said, watching the zipping wings catch the breeze and glide.
With incredible speed, it darted up, down, left to right, and along the stream’s edge.  Perhaps the sweltering heat or near dehydration was playing tricks on him, but he was almost certain glittery dust trailed behind it.
Ben hurried after the butterfly, a prize unlike any other in his collection.
Few butterflies in this part of Kentucky had such metallic colorings.  One he thought of immediately was the White M Hairstreak, but this one was too large and flew much swifter.  Another butterfly with similar colors was the long-tailed skipper, but the sheen sparkling off the butterfly following the stream was too bright.  Its flight was also more erratic.  The skipper stayed near gardens, and he doubted any strayed this far into the woods since the larvae food plant was the leaf of various beanstalks.
Ben realized he had just discovered something new.  Excitement shot through him.
He hurried along the stream and jumped over a fallen tree.  His sudden pursuit had not gone unnoticed.  The iridescent creature darted downward and swept through the tiny branches of a shrub.  But Ben moved faster.
As the beautifully winged specimen shot through the other side of the bush, Ben arced the net sharply and captured his prize.  The end of the net pulled and stretched while his captive struggled to fight free.
Quickly, Ben clamped his fingers near the end of the net, but by the time he did, the struggling ceased.
He opened the net and looked inside.  His eyes widened.
“What the hell?” he asked.
At the bottom of the net lay a gorgeous creature, but not what he had expected to capture.  Her wings were tattered, frayed.  Unconscious, he hoped, but he feared she might be dying or already dead.  Broken scales and wing fragments covered her nearly nude body.
His excitement of the chase suddenly turned to regret and dread.
A faery?
Ben dropped to his knees and gently set down the net. 
“God,” he whispered.  “I hope I didn’t kill you.”
He carefully placed his left hand beside her unmoving form.  He nudged her into the palm of his hand with the tip of his finger.  She breathed, but her eyes remained closed.  Her radiant face was more beautiful than any woman he had ever met.
A door slammed and echoed near the pasture gate where he had parked his SUV.
Ben looked over his shoulder but couldn’t see who had driven up.
“Ben!” Deiko shouted.  “Where are you?”
“Dammit,” Ben grumbled under his breath, looking back over his shoulder.  “What the hell are you doing here?”
He hurried to the tree where his pack lay.  He curled his left hand gently around the faery’s limp body while reaching into the pack.
Ben took a wide-mouthed dark plastic bottle, set it between his knees and unscrewed the hole-punched lid.  Glancing back over his shoulder he saw Deiko’s lanky figure jogging toward the grove.  Deiko smiled and waved when their eyes met.  His jog turned into a sprint as he headed toward Ben.
Ben placed the faery into the jar, turned the lid, and wrapped the jar inside a white cloth before setting it back into his pack.  No sooner had he placed it there and zipped the pack shut, Deiko’s thundering footsteps stopped beside him.
“Catch something nice?” Deiko asked.
“No,” Ben replied, looking up but not making eye contact with Deiko.  “Not much activity out here today.  I blame the heat.”
Deiko smiled broadly.  “You caught something.  Something special.”
Ben shook his head, picked up his pack, and stood.  “Look around, Isaac.  What do you see?”
Deiko glanced around but then his eyes focused on Ben’s backpack again.  “I agree.  Not much flying around.  But you got something.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Your eyes.  It’s the same with poker players who have a great hand and haven’t conditioned themselves to suppress their excitement or like kids that find money on the ground after someone drops it.  Hell, I noticed people at the gun show who bought guns from people far cheaper than the owners knew the guns were worth.”
Ben’s eyes narrowed, and he chose to change the subject.  He said, “How was the gun show?  I thought you’d be there all day.”
Deiko shrugged.  “That had been the plan.  Not much going on there, either.  Got a couple good deals though.  Like this Ruger.”
He pulled a handgun from the back of his belt.
“Nice,” Ben replied.  Carefully he slipped his pack over his shoulder and headed toward the hay field.
“Well?” Deiko said.  He tucked the gun behind his belt and stepped in front of Ben.  “Aren’t you going to show me?”
Sweat dripped from his Deiko’s black hair and beaded on his brow.  Ben studied the determination set in his colleague’s dark eyes and his firm muscular jaw.  Within seconds, Deiko’s boyish face had hardened into that of a fierce murderous villain.  Physically, he had no weight to put behind his facial threat.  He was tall and quite bony with slender arms.  And although Deiko was probably fifteen years younger, Ben had no doubt if he was forced to fight that Deiko would be the one sitting on the ground looking up and rubbing his jaw.  But, then, there was the gun issue.  Isaac was armed and all Ben had was his knife.  Even those odds didn’t stand in Isaac’s favor.
“Show you what?” Ben asked.
“Your prize.  It must be something nice since you still refuse to show me.”
“How many times have I told you that I haven’t found anything?”
“You and I should play poker sometime,” Deiko said.  “I’d make a fortune.”
“Being as I don’t play cards, you’re probably correct with that assumption.”
“Oh, come on, Ben,” Deiko said.  Hostility loomed in his voice and darkness narrowed his eyes.  “Why are you afraid to show me what you found?”
Ben studied him for a moment.  Never had he seen Isaac behave like a demented spoiled brat.  He had his moments, but Dr. Deiko generally didn’t keep a quiet and intimidating tone.  But out here, away from others, Ben suddenly saw the violence that hid deep within the botanist, and it was creeping to the surface.  Knowing that Deiko lusted for fame, for a discovery beyond what man had seen or could fathom, Ben knew he could never show the faery to Deiko.  The second he did, something horrible would happen.  To Ben and the lovely faery.
Deiko had not only shown the gun as his grand prize from the gun show, he had established his subtle threat by revealing he had brought it into the field.  Hunting season was still a few weeks away, and no one needed a gun to collect butterflies.  He had shown the gun for a reason—either as a bullying tactic or simply to exhibit dominance.
“I think the heat is getting to you, Isaac,” Ben said, shaking his head and stepping around his colleague.
“Put down the pack,” Isaac said.
Ben froze when Isaac inserted the magazine into the gun and snapped the gun’s chamber back and forth.
“Put down your pack.  I want to see what you’re hiding inside.”
Ben turned.  He looked in Isaac’s eyes, then to the gun.
Isaac shook his head.  “Uh-uh.  Just set it down.”
Ben frowned and slowly lowered his pack to the ground.  He held his hands before him in surrender.  “You’re making a big mistake.”
“So you did find something.”
“And if I did?  You going to kill me for it?” Ben asked.
Isaac chuckled.  “Depends on how good a find it is.”