Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Magic, by Andy Gavin

I'm delighted to welcome Andy Gavin, author of The Darkening Dream, to my blog today. The Darkening Dream blends vintage horror with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, setting teenagers from the early 1900s against vampires, demons and more, and bringing a wealth of religious imagery to bear. You can find my review of the Darkening Dream here, but seriously, I'd recommend you read Andy's post instead. It's much more interesting.

In constructing The Darkening Dream I wanted the meta-story to play off conventional tropes. Broadly, a cabal of ancient supernatural beings has sent one of their number to recover an artifact needed to destroy the world. And surprise, it turns out a group of teens are all that stands between them and Armageddon. How much more Buffy can you get?

But that's just the high level. I also wanted to ground this preposterous scenario in real history and legend. So as a methodology, in designing my array of supernatural beings and occult practitioners I turned to historic sources. Before our modern science and technology rendered magic quaint, it was the domain of religion and superstition. Of belief. And each spiritual and magical system has its own framework. Proponents wrote out of certainty, out of faith. I merely dig up their writings and take them at their word.  


What binds a group of ancient evil beings together? Not some grand principle of villainy. Evil is just extreme selfishness. But hatred can go a long way. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. So who from the ancient world has suffered the most?

Might it be the old gods? Or those who worship them? Who offers sacrifice anymore to Osiris? Who fears the shadow of Anubis as they step from this world into the next? Who believes the beetle god Khepri drags the sun across the sky behind him? No one. And those that remember the glory days are pissed off. So who's been lurking around since the time of the pharaohs?


The Comte de St. Germain has, or so he told everyone in the court of Louis XV. Apparently, at the very least, he is party to the secret magics of Osiris, Son of the Earth, King of the Dead.

The elixir of Osiris is said to prevent death. And so the comte, which is but one of his many names, has been lurking about for some time. But the old magics are not what they once were. Their power has diminished with their gods. So he whispers in the ears of kings, pulling on what strings he can, seeking allies where he can find them.

And old gods may fade, but as long as a single soul still believes, they never die. Even the ancient blood gods and their vampire acolytes. Born in ancient forests of the north where men offered midnight blood sacrifice. Of their king, their Ancient Master, raised from the dead a hundred centuries past, nothing remains but pure fury. Hatred for the burning sun, hatred for his mortal prey, hatred for the new world of foul brick and lifeless steel. But in hatred, perhaps, there is common cause.  

The Artifact

Clearly, the physical goal of our baddies had to be something really big. Something useful to them in their plots. The fall of antiquity was not about barbarians at the gates of Rome. No. The rising tide of monotheism was what really swept away the old order. So it is against God that our villains lash out. And I found the perfect legend in the most unlikely of places.

 I was passing the time during Yom Kippur services by reading the story of Abraham offering Isaac for sacrifice (Genesis 22). This has always been a passage of particular interest to me, dealing as it does with the nature of the relationship between man and God and the meaning of ritual sacrifice. But it was in the commentary that I noticed something peculiar, a cryptic remark that "the Ram in the Thicket is but one of ten special things created by God on the eve of creation." How's that for a magic seeker's wet dream.

 Back at home I dug into this and discovered that on the eve of the first Sabbath, before the creation of world, God created ten special things (which besides the Ram include the rainbow of Noah, the staff of Moses, and other goodies). These items are eternal, having existed before the universe, they have no temporal beginning or end. God, it seemed, placed the Ram into the trust of the Archangel Gabriel, who kept it in the Garden of Eden until Abraham needed it at Mount Moriah. Afterward, nothing of the Ram was wasted. Gabriel took the horns and brought one to Moses so that he could sound the arrival of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. The other was kept by the archangel, hidden in the Garden, so that at the appointed time it might be brought to Elijah to sound the End of Days.

 This notion of a horn blast sounding the end of the world is a highly persistent meme. It's found not just in the Jewish traditions regarding the Messiah, but in the Revelations of John where seven angels (including presumably, Gabriel) sound the end of time and the Last Judgment. And also in diverse mythologies such as the Norse, where the Gjallarhorn shall announce the onset of Ragnarök.

In the world of The Darkening Dream, all beliefs are simultaneously true, as brought forth and conceived by their believers. This means that anything as consistent as the horn legend is doubly true. Archetypal truth made manifest. And what of Gabriel's Horn? Eternity is a long time and the archangel flits hither and yon. Might not a busy seraph misplace such a thing... if only for a short time?  

The Myriad Layers of the Esoteric World

How to properly envision a world in which vampires, the Archangel Gabriel, witchcraft, and Egyptian gods all exist? Many might just toss them together arbitrarily, but I wanted to find a framework consistent with traditional mysticism. Having read hundreds of religious and magical texts I have identified numerous consistencies in the thought patterns of the esoteric mind.

By way of example, let's place ourselves in the mind of my protagonist Sarah's father Joseph. As a Rabbi, scholar, and mystic Joseph draws his world view from the Zohar and other great texts of the Kabbalah. In this conceptualization, which can be summed up as "hidden and not revealed," the world is a many layered thing, like an onion, with the portion we perceive merely the lowest of ten modalities, all simultaneously overlaid. The pure conceptualization of God pervades everything, and is the highest. Yet the human mind can not fully comprehend this level of divine and celestial purity. In between are various layers that express important truths like "Beauty" and "Wisdom." In Joseph's orthodox world, God is all powerful, so powerful that even the Archangel Gabriel is but a manifestation of His Strength. The angel is not an independent entity, but a protrusion of God's will into these middle layers of reality. Joseph might actually see the angel, but in his mind, this is just his perception of an aspect of God leaking into the mortal layers. The human mind cannot comprehend the divine, so God softens the blow with the angelic form.

 As hard as this might be to get your head around, it seemed reasonable to extend this kind of framework to many forms of magic in the book. The villainous Puritan warlock, Pastor John Parris, works a school of traditional witchcraft, yet it too is based on layered perception of reality. For him, the magical realm is twisted into a less spacial form, with objects and people adjacent not just by physical proximity, but by the likeness of their form and nature. So, a person's hair, separated as it might be from their body, provides magical access to the owner. Likewise, his religious conceptualization allows for the layering of hell dimensions, separated by flame. With the help of his succubus lover he is able to step through these fiery gateways and bend the rules of time and space.

 While occasionally, as is the case with the Horn, the mythological drives the story, most often the structural needs of my plot demanded esoteric action. I therefore required interoperability between diverse magic systems in order to make the action work. For example, when Joseph wishes to protect his home from the intrusions of the evil Parris and the ancient vampire al-Nasir, he prays to invoke the archangels and align the physical rectangle of his house with the metaphysical form of King Solomon's Temple. For him this is an act of faith drawing on protective aspects of God's divinity.

But Parris too is able to perceive this change in the nature of reality, albeit in his own terms. His plans to gain entry requires the construction of an elaborate ritual analog. Like a voodoo doll for a building. Just as the limbs of the doll can be broken, the metaphysical walls of the temple may be breached.  

Succubus from the source

For each of my supernatural beings I strove to draw upon classical source materials rather than rely on 20th century pop culture. My warlock, Pastor Parris, is a man of repressed passion based on serial killer profiles. His only emotional connection to the outside world has been through a series of dominating female figures. First his puritanical grandmother, then following her grisly demise, his succubus lover Betty. Like all magic in the world of The Darkening Dream, Betty is a conceptual product of her beholder. So I turned to The Malleus Maleficarum, the rantings of two 15th century clergymen, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger. This book, which translates as the The Witch Hammer, was used by the Inquisition as a handbook for identifying and persecuting witches and demons.

 Along with a five page essay on the mechanism by which Succubi and Incubi transfer semen, the Maleficarum has this to say about Succubi:
Devils have no lungs or tongue, though they can show the latter, as well as teeth and lips, artificially made according to the condition of their body; therefore they cannot truly and properly speak. But since they have understanding, and when they wish to express their meaning, then, by some disturbance of the air included in their assumed body, not of air breathed in and out as in the case of men, they produce, not voices, but sounds which have some likeness to voices, and send them articulately through the outside air to the ears of the hearer.
From this passage, we know that one of the means of identifying Succubi is that they do not move their lips when speaking, but manipulate the elements of fluid air near their mouths directly. Hence, in my novel, Betty does not open her mouth to speak, but the air in front of her shimmers as she does. In keeping with my fast paced action oriented novel, I never make an issue of this, but like thousands of other details in the book it is informed by the source. Clearly brothers Kramer and Sprenger knew what they were talking about, as they inspired thousands to burn at the stake.

The Power of the Word

With each different school of magic I tried to extract the historic flavor and mindset of past occultists. The mysterious Khepri, another of my villains, practices an ancient Egyptian magic entirely different from Parris' devilish thaumaturgy. The spirit of Egyptian magic often derives from the use of secret names and the spoken word — nay command. The sorcerer/priest orders, by way of his secret magic, the very gods and demons to do his bidding. So it is that when Khepri invokes the miniature sun which is his weapon, he cries these words from The Egyptian Book of the Dead:
Re sits in his Abode of Millions of Years. The doors of the sky are opened for me, the doors of the earth are opened for me, the door-bolts of Geb are opened for me, the shutters of the sky-windows are thrown open for me. I know you, I know your names; Release him, loose him!
By sheer force of his sorcerous will he demands the sun yield to him. And so it does.  

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

By writing a modern fantasy adventure, but by grounding the magic and supernatural in tradition, I wanted to prove that the old adage really is true: Truth is stranger than fiction. The twisted imaginations of our ancestors, devoid of the distractions of the current age, were often far more creative than the half-assed creations of Hollywood and the like.

Find the Darkening Dream on Amazon here 

or go to

 to learn more

Monday, February 27, 2012

Of Gods and Kings and the World of Fantasy

I reviewed James West's The God King last week (see review of the God King by James West), and today I'm privileged to have him here on my blog answering some interview questions. I really enjoyed this interview and learned a lot about what goes into writing and creating fantasy. I'm sure you'll enjoy the interview too, and don't forget to leave comments and ask your own questions at the end.

Thank you for visiting my blog James. Let's talk epic fantasy...

Which fantasies have you most enjoyed reading, as a child and as an adult? Do you think they influenced you in writing the God King?

First let me say how much I appreciate you setting up this interview and the opportunity it provides me to talk about what I consider my real work! Thank you!

Now to the nitty-gritty. The first book I ever read that even smacked of the fantastical was the Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub. The first traditional fantasy I ever read was The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan. Although I have since read quite a few fantasy-type novels, these two rank high on my list of favorites. To make it an even three, I will add George R.R. Martin’s, A Game of Thrones. As far as influence goes, Stephen King will always hold a special place in my heart. For me, he is one of those few authors who can write about something that means absolutely nothing to me, yet still draw me into the story, compel me to keep reading, and leave me feeling satisfied. That is the kind of writer I aspire to become.

I have the same aspirations, and I'd say the God King did indeed compel me to keep reading. Is fantasy your favorite genre to read? To write?

I love writing fantasy. It has so much potential, and is so full of what if ideas, that I never get tired of it. As far as reading, there is so much to read across so many genres that I only get around to one or two fantasy titles in a given year.  

You invent some fascinating civilizations in your novel. Are they modeled on any particular people or places? Where would you say they were most like?

As I mentioned, the cool thing about fantasy is that it’s a genre that allows authors and readers the unfettered exploration of the idea of what if. When I began setting up the world in which The God King would take place, I was looking at ancient cultures of the Middle East, the Greeks and Romans, and the Germanic tribes. I wondered what would happen if I smashed all those separate epochs and peoples together. In short, I suppose my civilizations are modeled after real peoples and eras. But as a fantasy writer, I let my imagination mix together and render down all the information I had absorbed in research, and what came out were cultures that are familiar in some respects, but wholly fictional in others. That said, there is no question that I set the story of The God King in a realm flavored by the ancient Middle East.       

When you create your characters’ names, do you base them on a real-world language? Do you hear the sound of the name before you work out how to write them? Does it worry you that readers might not pronounce the names “right?”

When I first started writing fantasy—2002-2003—I knew I wanted to tell stories that took a step away from European settings, and knew I would need to come up with different/appropriate sounding names and places. With that in mind, I discovered a great and invaluable resource in online name generators. I made a list of literally thousands of names, all based on real world languages. Taking it a step further, when I look back over that list, I pick a name that sounds interesting, then add or subtract a few letters, and maybe toss in some apostrophes and hyphens for visual effect. Generally I like to make a name sound just like it looks. As far as worrying over a reader mispronouncing those names, it never crosses my mind. I know for myself that I have read a lot of truly outlandish names in various books, and I find that my brain automatically retranslates the tongue-twister/brain-teaser name into something that works for my reading pleasure.

There are some visually spectacular scenes throughout this book. If it was being made into a movie, which scenes would you want to be most sure were replayed correctly?

That is a tough one, because I would want all of them done right :) Some of my favorite scenes follow: when Varis first encounters Peropis in the Thousand Hells; when Ellonlef sees and experiences the aftermath of the release of the powers of creation; the entire scene when Kian, Azuri, and Hazad encounter Lord Marshal Bresado under the Black Keep; when Varis discovers that his army is not what he thought they were, and the steps he takes to rectify that situation…. I could go on, but I do not want to bore everyone, or give too much away!  

Reading your answer brings those scenes back to mind for me. I think I'd like this movie. Meanwhile, are the marshes based on somewhere you’ve been? What about the cities?

My family moved around a lot when I was growing up, so I spent time in Northern California and all over Oregon. I lived in Southeast Alaska for a time, as well as North and South Carolina, and Florida. When in the Army I was stationed in Hawaii—I was in the infantry, so I spent a lot more time sweating in the jungle than on the beach—which also took me to Australia and Haiti. For a year after the Army, my wife and I decided to earn some extra college money by driving eighteen-wheelers. Logging close to a 1,000 miles a day as a team, we literally drove over nearly every mile of interstate America has to offer. After college we spent a year in New Mexico, before finally coming back to Montana. With all that in mind, I would say the closest thing to a swamp/marsh experience for me was a month spent in Fort Polk Louisiana, and the countless times I drove back and forth across the deep south. As far as cities, I would say they come from research and imagination.     

You use the number three a lot—three gods, three moons, three men marching together… and, of course, people often talk of stories having three parts—beginning, middle and end. Did you use the number three as a deliberate symbol or do you think there’s something in us that naturally gravitates towards that number?

Until I read that question, I had not considered that the number three showed up so many times. If there is any symbolism there, it was not intentional. I have to admit, I am curious as to where and how I will use that number in the future. Of course, for me that uncertainty, constantly wondering what if, is one of the most alluring things about writing fiction. I cannot tell you how many times I intended the story to go one way, only to have it take off on its own, leaving me to hang on for the ride. That is where things can get tricky, because I want to see where it will go, but I also know I have to stay on task.  

I really enjoyed the dialog between Kian, Azuri and Hazad. Did you model them on real people?

The best short answer I can give is to say yes and no. The more accurate answer is that when I am writing it all becomes real to me—people, places, and situation—so much so that when I am really steaming along, what I see outside my window becomes the fake world. I have gotten used to that, but when I first began writing I found it rather unnerving to head out to the grocery store after a few hours of writing. I would get the strong impression that the people picking over the fruit and vegetables were not people at all, but some strange, alien race … of course, writers are not the only people who believe aliens are everywhere :)

The long and short of it is this: When I am writing, I immerse myself in the story to the point that I begin to believe the story and its people exist in a real time and place. They live out their lives on a world that is a shadow of our own, spinning around a distant star in some fantastic parallel universe.    

The God King flows very naturally from one location to the next. Did you plot the whole story before writing it or did it shape itself that way?

I usually do a rough outline, with bullet points serving as guideposts. But as I touched on earlier, the story always ends up taking over. Experience has taught me to keep a light but steady hand on the reins. If I give the story its head it will gallop off, and those separate bullet points have the potential of turning an otherwise tight story into a rambling series of events that fail to drive the plot. If I am too firm, my writing loses vitality, color, becomes formulaic. The cool thing is that if I end up somewhere really interesting, I can cut it from the current project, then explore it in depth in another. In that, I do a lot of recycling :)   

Do you see any analogies between human creativity and the creative forces wielded by Varis and Kian?

I am not sure I can reasonably answer that, but I’ll give it a shot. Ultimately I intended to introduce a power into their world that, left to itself, is neither good nor evil. As the series continues, the underlying conflict is: What will humankind do with that much unbridled power? Can good prevail over the evil that will surely come? Or will that godlike power, coupled with the imagination and aspirations of the heart, corrupt and ultimately destroy humanity?     

Now I really want to read more. What a great theme for the series. So, my final question: Is there something I’ve forgotten to ask that you’d really like to answer?

I’d love to share a bit of my new work with you.

Here is a short blurb about my upcoming book! If anyone wants to read the first chapter for free, they can visit my blog at

The Crown of the Setting Sun, the second novel in The Heirs of the Fallen series, is a story set almost two hundred years after the Upheaval, the cataclysm that unfolded during The God King. An age of darkness cloaks the world and the Faceless One risen to power, using legions of Alon’mahk’lar, the Sons of the Fallen, to ensure absolute dominion over what little remains of humankind.

Among humans, the people of Izutar are hunted and chained, and seem to have no other purpose than enslavement. All that begins to change when an old man of mysterious origins sacrifices his life to allow his grandson, Leitos, to escape the mines, the only home he has ever known. Freedom from a life of subjugation, however, is not the blessing it first seems.

Weak and alone in a world beset by walking nightmares, in a world where he can trust no one, Leitos must abandon his ingrained, timid nature and grow strong and cruel in order to survive. Charged by his grandfather to seek a fabled order of warriors, Leitos fears the existence of the Brothers of the Shadow Blade is but a dying man’s blind hope … a hope frail as morning mist caught beneath the crushing heat of the desert sun.      

 Thank you James. I shall look forward to reading Crown of the Setting Sun. And I've really enjoyed having you visit my blog.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Paper doesn't break!

Okay, the pages of a book can get torn, I can spill things on them, and they bend if I sit on them. But seriously, paper doesn't break, and computers and kindles can drive me up the wall.

I'm gazing at a stretched out screen at the moment because my computer keeps losing communication with the monitor. It might all go black and turn into an ordinary screen soon. Meanwhile nothing's where I expect it to be--even moving the mouse feels all wrong--frustration! Gaghghgh!

When I've finished this post I'll probably go back to reading and reviewing a book, having finally managed to load it onto my kindle. First attempt it just didn't transfer. Second attempt it wouldn't open (and the kindle crashed). Third time's a charm. Gaghghgh!

Or maybe I'll write, except then I'll be stuck with this crazy screen that keeps flickering and changing on me. Perhaps I should just go out and do some yardwork while the sun still shines.

I did find one thing the kindle's better at than a paper book though. I've reviewed two puzzle books from Grabarchuk--Cut the Shapes and Puzzle Quizzes--and their new interface is really great. Cut the Shapes is definitely my favorite--the aim is to color in half a shape so the two halves match perfectly, and moving that mouse around with the five-way button just feels right--it's addictive--it's fun! (And it goes well with a 2-star lively cup of coffee.)

I read a fun mystery called Dead Red Heart by R.P. Dahlke on my kindle too. It's the second in a series with an entertaining 40-year-old female protagonist who flies planes as well as solving murder mysteries. Great characters and well-drawn Modesto CA location--I'll be looking out for more and drinking 2-star lively cups of coffee as I read them.

One more excellent kindle read this week was A.F. Stewart's Ruined City. I've been meaning to read this for ages, a scary horror compilation of stories from different points of view that build into an intriguing picture of a world and its people. Enjoy a 4-star complex elegant cup of coffee with this elegant collection.

I was going to read this next one on my kindle but the pdf wouldn't work. It might have been easier if the text wasn't in columns, but still, it's an interesting book, if slightly more geared towards business people than to me. Fulfill your threats by Jonathan Wutawunashe begins with the usual implication that you can do it if only you try, but he does go on to point out that education, hard work, and knowing your own skills is important too. Read this with a 4-star complex cup of coffee.

I've read two real books this week too, and like I said, nothing went wrong with them. They didn't break. They didn't refuse to load. The pages turned as soon as I told them to... :) (Yeah, but I still like my kindle, and my computer).

The author of the Darkening Dream, Andy Gavin, will be a guest on my blog next Wednesday, so don't miss him. He's written a great combination of classic horror and modern teen fiction, with lots of spiritual elements and magic thrown into the mix. And he's written a truly fascinating post for you to read next week. Don't miss it. Bring your 5-star bold dark intense coffee too.

And finally, a classic literary novel about the staying power of love, Joan Frank's Make It Stay. Love in an age of freedom, friendship at an age when years begin to count, loyalty in a time of suffering, and hope in the face of despair, this one's got it all, plus the scents of the sea, the flavors of cooking, the gentle wind in the California trees... Enjoy a 4-star rich and complex coffee with this rich and complex tale.

Okay, back to that book review. My computer screen still looks weird. My kindle pages still turn too slow. And the sun's still shining a bit... so back to the yardwork instead.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Computer reading

Reasons to read on a computer:
  1. It's easier to write the review if I can make notes while I'm reading.
  2. It's easier to stay awake if I'm sitting in a computer chair (though I've still been known to fall asleep over the keyboard).
  3. Some pdf files look really awful on my kindle.
  4. I can't read epub files anywhere else. 
  5. I can't read docs (or blogs) anywhere else.
  6. And it's easier to search for files on my computer.
So here are reviews and coffee recommendations for four books read recently on my computer, plus one real hardback, just to be different: 

Starting with the hardback, we read Annie Proulx's Bird Cloud for our book group this month.It felt a bit like a cross between Bill Bryson's At Home (which we read in December) and Jane Kirkpatrick's Homestead (which they read before I joined up). The memoir is nicely framed with the parallel migrations of family and nature, but it's a slow read with lots of detail and a rather down-beat ending. Enjoy a complex 4-star coffee to keep yourself observant and awake.

And so to the computer. (I suspect my computer chair may not be ideal... Number one reason for not reading at the computer; it makes my back ache!)

Opening Day by Joe Perrone Jr is the second in the author's Matt Davis mysteries, read on the computer because I couldn't find it on my Kindle. (I think I'm having a bad effect on technology at the moment. I've had the book on there for ages, but if I ask my kindle to do a search, for any book title, it always succeeds then promptly dies and needs restarting, making the search function not terribly helpful.) The protagonist has left New York's grit and grime for the countryside and fly-fishing, but he's still a cop. Without the high-tech tools and speed of the city, will Matt find the murderer before he/she strikes again? Combining the gorgeous scenery and pleasing characters of a cozy mystery with hard-boiled detective work, this one makes for a nice change of pace, best enjoyed with a 3-star well-balanced coffee.

Dellani Oakes' Take a Bite Outta Crime is one you'll have to read on the computer too, since it's being released in installments on the Second Wind Publishing blog. It's well worth searching for (or waiting for in book form), a cozy mystery that quietly sneaks off in paranormal directions with gentle hints, persuasive characters and a bitingly gourmet restaurant. Enjoy some 5-star bold dark intense coffee with this.

Heading further afield in the real world, I read an epub edition of India was One, by An Indian. It's a novel with such a convincing voice you'll think the Indian in question is talking to you, side-tracking into explanation, describing cricket, traveling from India to America to Europe... An interesting what-if of recent history with a reminder to look deeper at who we are. Enjoy this surprisingly well-balanced book with a 3-star well-balanced coffee.

Little 15 by Stephanie Saye is one I could have read on my kindle. But remember that bad effect on technology thing? Last time I connected my kindle to the computer to copy a file across it got all upset with me, so I decided not to risk it. Like India was One, this story's told in a convincing voice, just as if the main character is sitting across the table from me. This time the narrator is an American girl, describing the struggles of her 15th year when attempts to be perfect come face to face with a world (school and family) that clearly is not perfect. Easy-reading, but not an easy read, this one begs readers to listen instead of leaping onto the tabloid judgement bandwagon. Highly recommended. Read with a 5-star intense cup of coffee. Read with a teen. Read with sorrow and hope. (I got a review copy from World Literary Cafe.)

And finally, one last book I had to read by computer because the pdf wouldn't work on my kindle. The God King by James West is a fascinating fantasy with a well-drawn imaginary world where convincing powers of good and evil collide in the lives of regular, imperfect people. Well-written with plenty of depth and fascinating characters, this fantasy was one I couldn't put down. Enjoy with an elegant complex 4-star coffee. And come back on the 27th  for my interview with the author.

Now it's time to relax on a comfortable chair, perhaps with a coffee, and enjoy some books not on a computer. Or maybe I should write, but, like I said, my back's aching...

Connected ?

I needed to get myself organized, too many books still waiting for review, too many deadlines almost missed, too many times I plan  one thing and find I'm doing another. Since my website and blogs are all on Google, I thought a Gmail account, plus calendar and task list and all the rest, might help... plus a smart-phone (isn't Christmas wonderful). So now I'm almost organized and mostly connected and...

... and then I logged out of emails and went to my website (built with Blogger, part of Google) to check how it looked. It looked blank, blocked, gone. I searched (with Google) for help, then felt foolishly inspired to check for an email explanation. But I couldn't log in; my emails were likewise blank, blocked, gone. So I checked my phone where a nice warning triangle told me all my accounts were unavailable.

Organized. Connected. That's what I wanted wasn't it? But now I'm so connected a single problem might leave me disorganized and unable to connect. I still don't know what went wrong with my account. Eventually, after panicking a while, I found the little blue links for What to do..., logged in (partially) to read a notice about suspicious activity; Google needed to "verify" my account. One cell-phone text message later plus a few quick clicks and the world was back to rights (though, of course, Google now knows my cell-phone number--they're more connected, evermore).

Maybe someone really was hacking my account, in which case, thank you Google for rescuing me. Or maybe I'd set up two blogs up to post simultaneously. Who knows? I know I don't. But I do know being connected's not quite as helpful I'd thought it would be.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Paper, kindle or pdf?

When people ask me to review a book I usually ask for paper if possible. I know it's bad for the environment and all that, but it sits in real space to guilt me, smiles from its cover to attract me, wanders around the house with me and even to the station in the car, doesn't mind being held over the cooker while I make dinner, doesn't break if I drop it...

Failing paper I'll happily review a kindle copy--never loses its page, small and light to carry, letters grow bigger when the room grows dark so I can read it in any light... but I do tend to lose track of the titles I'm meant to read next; it doesn't guilt me or organize me very well.

And, failing that, I'll take a pdf. I usually try them on the kindle first in hopes the text won't turn pale gray and spider-like. Sometimes some words are big enough to read, but if it isn't most of the words my eyes just can't cope with the confusion. Pdfs glue me to the computer, which glues me to the chair, which makes my back ache... but I still love reading.

One day I might do some kind of analysis to see if I write better reviews for paper, kindle or pdf. But for now I'll grab another coffee and post this week's reading list. The links should lead to longer reviews on gather. The coffee ratings are for style not quality.

Black Purse, by Stephanie M. Sellers, is a slowly-told novel with deep characters, rich history, and wonderful insights into different shades of abuse--personal, racial, or societal--and recovery. Drink a 4-star complex coffee and read slowly.

Black Purse features horses and their healing touch. In Russell Blake's An Angel with Fur, a wonderful dog called Lobo is the impetus for the author to move beyond his earlier life. I'd challenge anyone not to fall in love with this dog, and the story's beautifully told, filled with doggy humor and comfort in sorrow. Drink a 3-star smooth balanced coffee with this.

Moving from real dogs to somewhat imaginary ones, Cynchia and Mike Arsuaga's My Life as a Dog feels like a cross between Time Travellers Wife, Harry Dresden and a paranormal romance. And it really works. Great characters, zany humor, intriguing background, suspenseful mystery, and a gorgeous little Yorkie called Precious. Enjoy with a 2-star bright easy-drinking cup of coffee.

Staying in the world of the paranormal, Vampires Rule by K.C. Blake is a teen novel with vampires who aren't dreamy, dangers that aren't easily resolved, and relationships that aren't simple and predictable. Enjoy a 3-star well-balanced coffee with this one too.

Larissa Hinton's Everblossom is a carefully sculpted set of short stories and poems highlighting ideas from the authors novels. The writing's a little breathless and unpolished but I really enjoyed the twist on high school assumptions in the story Changes. I read the author's novel, Iwishicana/Acanwisha too--a fascinating premise executed with the out-of-this-world anything-goes approach of a later Robert Heinlein novel. Complex plot, lots of teen dialog, and the reader left to figure out what's going on...Drink a 5-star intense cup of coffee with these intensely written pieces.

All read on the kindle, though I'm reading a paper book now and have an epub and a pdf just reaching the top of my queue.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Science fiction, science fantasy

My husband likes science fiction--solid, believable science, actions with consequences, characters who care about details and facts before opinions...

My son's more interested in fantasy--complex, plausible characters, storylines with depth, worlds of intricate imagination...

Me, I like both, especially when they're packaged in the same book. I read and reviewed Karen Wyle's Twin Bred some time ago, an exciting novel with lots of twists and turns, plots and sub-plots, ethical dilemmas, and an alien race worthy of Orson Scott Card, plus believable science and a just a gentle hint of fantasy. And I heard it's available free, just today (well, yesterday too, but that doesn't help you) on kindle, so why not give it a try.

Hmmm, lots of interesting free books turning up on kindle. Will Amazon start offering free time to read them too? There's a thought for a tale...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Five Reasons to Leave...

I recently read and reviewed Carolyn Moncel's 5 reasons to leave a lover, a novella and two short stories that deal with love, cheating, cruelty, deception, ambivalence and death. The stories, like the author, travel the world from the US to Europe, and, as an English American, I wondered if the author felt the "reasons" might be viewed differently from different cultures. Carolyn Moncel very kindly gave me her thoughts on the subject, so, over to you Carolyn, and thank you for visiting my blog today. 

French vs. American Attitudes Regarding 
One Reason to Leave a Lover 

By Carolyn Moncel  

“Chérie, I must say that your people place way too much emphasis on affairs.” 

These words are uttered by a male French character in my upcoming collection of short stories called Railway Confessions. I think his response generally encapsulates well what the French, in particular, may think about Americans when it comes to at least one of the reasons highlighted in my book, 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover. 

To recap 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover is my second book, and it’s a collection containing a novella and two short stories focusing on love and lost. American Ellery Roulet and her French husband, Julien, from my first book, Encounters in Paris, return— this time involved in an emotionally-charged love triangle, and along with two other couples, explore how different types of love relationships splinter due to abuse, ambivalence, deception, cheating and even death

It’s a very realistic collection. In addition to finding inspiration in Paul Simon’s song, “50 Ways to Leave a Lover,” other scandals including that of former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and former International Monetary Fund (IMF) Director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) were influential . But also on the other side of the spectrum, couples like Bill and Camille Cosby who have been married for over 45 years or the late Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward who were also married well over 40 years had an effect on the stories created as well. However, the most revealing insight came after interviewing ordinary people (both French and American) who were just trying to make it through their marriages each day. I came to realize that maintaining relationships is hard and downright complicated. 

Now cheating is an uneasy subject to be sure; fraught with complexity, but it is also one topic that I do like to discuss because it generates such a strong reaction among readers. It also perfectly illustrates some vast differences between French and American cultures. 

About five years ago American journalist and Parisian resident Pamela Druckerman wrote an intriguing book called Lust in Translation where she examined how cheating in general was viewed around the world. A lot of what she wrote about French culture and their reactions to infidelity was basically correct. Both the French and Americans cheat at relatively the same rate but how each culture deals with the problem itself is quite different. While Americans may view infidelity as both a personal and spiritual assault, the French tend to replace morality with rationality. For instance, an American may look at the situation of infidelity and conclude, “my spouse cheated and now my marriage and life are over.” 

Conversely, a French person may look at the same circumstances and come to a different conclusion: “my spouse cheated, but my marriage may not be over and my life certainly isn’t.” I think the French often view infidelity as an inevitable occurrence – especially over a long life span of a relationship). Whereas an American woman may confront her spouse, the French woman, by contrast, may not. She may not want to jeopardize her quality of life or status. Keeping quiet could give her a chance to win her husband back or select her moment and means of retaliation. 

Whether one is discussing cheating or any of the other four reasons, the perspectives are roughly the same: a person will leave (either literally or figuratively) a relationship if it becomes impossible to stay. Americans may find any one of these transgressions grounds for leaving a relationship. However, as one French friend revealed, priority is placed upon the deed, so deception would be at the top of their list of transgressions while cheating would be considered the least offensive act of all. 

Maybe the interview that I conducted with an elderly French woman explains it all. She told me that in the 60 years that they had been married, she and her husband had been through everything together and had weathered the storms. She said ‘When you get as old as we are and death is near, you are not thinking about who cheated on whom. It’s more about did you really enjoy one another while you still had the chance. Everything else is irrelevant.’ The bottom line here is this. A person can leave a relationship any time they want but that doesn’t make the decision to do so any easier. Honestly at the end of the day, people can say hypothetically what they would or wouldn’t do if presented with any of these five reasons, but no one really knows what path they would take until it happens to them. 

Thank you for visiting my blog today Carolyn. I really enjoyed reading your post.

About Carolyn Moncel
Carolyn Davenport-Moncel currently resides in Lausanne, Switzerland with her husband and two daughters. Her previous work includes Encounters in Paris – A Collection of Short Stories.   

Visit Moncel’s website at:   
Follow her on Facebook:
and on Twitter:

About 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover
Published in September 2011 by Mondavé Publishing via CreateSpace, 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover – A Novella and Other of Short Stories is now available in paperback and also in all digital formats at all major online bookstores including, (, and  The retail price for paperback is $13.99. The Kindle edition is $5.99.  Single story downloads start at $.99.  The ISBN number is: 978-1456339272.  Ms. Moncel is available for appearances, book club discussions and interviews.

Encouraged, pushed forwards, and Caught.

A few years ago I joined my first social networking site,, and met, amongst other good friends, a wonderful lady called Sarah Collins Honenberger. Knowing she was a genuine published author (I bought and enjoyed her first book, White Lies), I was amazed by Sarah's kind and encouraging comments on my writing. So, when she suggested I submit something to an online magazine, I plucked up courage and asked which one. Sarah suggested, who had already published something of hers (Night Noises). So I tried, and they said yes. My journey began!

Some time later Sarah Collins Honenberger's second book came out, Waltzing Cowboys, and she offered me a book exchange, her second real book for my second self-published one! A real live author actually my book and wanted a review from me! And so my years of book-reviewing began.

We met again, online, in the Amazon Breakout Novel Awards competition. My Divide by Zero made the quarter finals. Catcher, Caught, by Sarah Collins Honenberger, most deservedly went further. Divide by Zero, much edited and remodeled, will come out in print this summer (July 2012, from Stonegarden), so in a way Sarah, with her continued kind comments and encouragement, has pushed me yet again in the direction I wanted to go. Meanwhile...

Meanwhile Catcher, Caught isn't just in print. It's in schools! Building on J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, it tells the modern-day tale of a teen diagnosed with leukemia as he follows Holden Caulfield's lead, questioning authority, searching for identity in the face of death. A 21st century re-telling perhaps.

I've long dreamed of getting my writing into a bookstore, but Sarah Collins Honenberger dreams further and wider and continues to inspire and encourage me. Congratulations Sarah, and if anyone reading this is looking for a new American best-seller, try Catcher, Caught.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Looking in on "The Bright Side"

I recently read and reviewed S. R. Johannes' tween novel On the Bright Side, first in her Starling series, and was delighted to get the opportunity to interview the author. A novel filled with zany puns, heavenly remakes of modern technology, green issues and high school disasters... where does it all come from? Well, here's your chance and mine to find out, plus some interesting hints on the joys of writing and getting published.

Me.        Hi. And thanks for joining me. I enjoyed reading On the Bright Side and have to say, the heroine Gabby’s voice sounds so very convincing. Did you have a particular teenager in mind when you created her?
SRJ. My self. I was kinda grumpy when I was a tween. I think I got in more fights about boys in middle school than in high school.
Me.        I really liked the way you wove many religious ideas into the start (and anchored them in Gabby’s test in school). Did you have to do lots of research to get the ideas?
SRJ. I am very corny so those cheesy links come to me naturally – sadly :)
Me.        Your novel includes some beautiful touches for anyone made uncomfortable by thoughts of death and dying. What inspired you to write it?
SRJ. I have watched shows where people say they died for a few minutes and describe what they saw. They always talked of death in such a positive light. In fact, some of them didn’t want to come back and suffered depression b/c they wanted to stay in the peaceful beautiful place they saw. There are so many dark books about death. I wanted to flip it and see if I could do a positive and funny book about the AfterLife.
Me.        I really enjoyed how you used such modern issues in your "afterlife." Are you addicted to technology?
SRJ. Yes! I have to force myself to put away all gadgets when kids are around. I have xbox, ipad, iphone, itouch, and mac air. You name it I have it.
Me.        What about recycling? Are you avidly “green?” Do you drive a hybrid car?
SRJ. I am semi green – maybe more like lime green. I recycle the best I can and pay attention to my thermostat, lights etc. But I do not drive a hybrid – though I would like to!
Me.        Do you have a dog (Hey, I have to ask about dogs)? Do you think rabbits go to heaven?
SRJ. I have a dog. Just had 2 die a year ago. And yes I think there is a pet heaven. My 8 year old is convinced dogs are assigned a cloud as a bed. We even sent a balloon carrying a doggie bone up in the air. I don’t want my kids to be scared of death – it prevents you from living. It makes me feel good to think of something else out there. Something I am working towards. This can't be it.
Me.        Do you like roller-coasters?—screamer or silent rider? (You'll have to read the book to see why I'm asking this.)
SRJ. Hate them. I am petrified of death which is why I don’t want my kids to be. I’ve always been scared of dying – especially since I had my kids. This book was healing for me. But not that healing :)
Me.        I loved all the “no-pun-intended” puns. Are you as funny in real life as you are in your writing?
SRJ. Yes I am hilarious. ;) My hubby says Im the only one that laughs at my own jokes. But I think other people laugh = they just don’t laugh as loud as I do :) I am sillier than I am funny. But I definitely look at life in a funny way.
Me.        That makes sense, and this looks like being a really fun series. I really like how this first story is so complete in itself as well. When is book two coming out?
SRJ. No clue. When it was almost bought by a big house, I had to submit book 2 and 3 synopsis so I know what happens. I just have to write it. I wasn’t planning to do that unless this one gets a good response.
Me.     That sounds great, and congratulations. I'm sure On the Bright Side will get a good response. Meanwhile, one final question: Life after death is sort of a wraparound theme, but I felt like this novel was more about doing the right thing with life, whether here or hereafter. What do you think the theme is?
SRJ. The theme is appreciating your life – no matter where it is. Accepting what happens and thinking about how the way you treat others – impacts them and you. Whether indeirectly or directly.
Me. Thank you so much for visiting my blog, and for letting me review your book.

Untraceable - Coming Nov 29th!
A new young adult wilderness thriller with a missing father, a kickbutt heroine, and of course - two hot boys.
Available in paperback and ebook at Amazon, B&N, iTunes, and other sellers.
Find out more about S.R. Johannes, and find advice on YA writing, marketing etc. at her blog

or look for On the Bright Side on Amazon...

On the Bright Side is a hilarious road to guardian angeldom paved with so much drama and due-paying that it makes middle school look painless.

As if the devil’s food cake at her wake and the white fat pants she’s stuck wearing for eternity weren’t bad enough, fourteen year-old Gabby is quick to discover that Cirrus, the main rung of Heaven, is a far cry from the Pearly Gates. Here, Skyphones and InnerNets are all the rage. Until Gabby finds out she has to protect Angela, her school nemesis, in order to move up through the training levels of heaven. Problem is, Angela is now hitting on Gabby's should-have-been boyfriend. (awkward!)

Instead of protecting Angela, Gabby pranks her (like tripping is a sin?) at the hopes of cooling off the new couple. At first, they seem harmless until the school dance sabotage gets 
completely out of control. Then, her Celestial Sky Agent, who happens to have anger management issues of his own, puts Gabby on probation, threatening her eternal future. 

Determined to right her wrongs, Gabby steals an ancient artifact that allows her to return to Earth for just one day. Without knowing, she kicks off a series of events and learns what can happen when you hate someone to death.