Thursday, January 31, 2013

Removed

I went to the doctor yesterday. He's been giving me antibiotics for a lump at the top of my thigh, but it wouldn't go away. So there was I, expecting he'd just say, "Keep taking the tablets." And instead he asks me, "Well, shall we take it out?" What! Now! I thought for about a minute and said yes, since sitting on the lump was rather a pain. Now I'm  sitting on a hole.

Thing is, the lump really didn't seem so big. Just something slightly out of place, not quite right, that wasn't too bad to live with. But now I've seen how much was hidden underneath (think a rather solid eyeball perhaps) I'm really glad I'm rid of it.

One day later, sitting slightly awkwardly in my computer chair, I'm editing the sequel to my novel, Divide by Zero. Part 2 of this companion tale's not quite right but not too bad for me to live with either. Maybe I just need to tweak this chapter, or that... Or maybe I should take out the rather solid eyeball and let the rest of the story knit back together around the hole. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's what I should do.

I'm looking for roots now and snipping them off carefully so there's nothing left behind, and I'm thinking how the doctor carefully dug to get the whole cyst out. He showed me it afterwards--no big deal--it looked quite cool (and quite like an eyeball)! So I'm thinking I might turn part 2 into a short story one day, or store it in a specimen jar on the shelf. I'm glad it's gone though. In a novel called Infinite Sum, it really wouldn't do to let an unwanted storyline proliferate, infinitely or otherwise.



Divide by Zero's available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc, or direct from the publisher at a really nice discount: http://stonegarden.net/index.php?main_page=product_book_info&cPath=3&products_id=229 I hope you enjoy it. And I hope you might look out for the next book too.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Seven Stars Shining

I've reviewed quite a few Seventh Star Press books now and I'm always delighted to get another one. Fantasy, science fiction, horror, great illustrations... whether it's an adult short story like R. J. Sullivan's Haunting Obsession, young adult fantasy like Jackie Gamber's Redheart, complex fantasy worlds like D. A. Adams' Brotherhood of Dwarves or Steven Shrewsbury's Thrall, or sci-fi/horror/mystic blends like David Blalock's Angelkiller, I've really enjoyed them all (as you'll see by following the links to my reviews on Gather). So the announcement that

Seventh Star Press is proud to reveal the new cover created by award-winning artist Matthew Perry for the upcoming release of the Writers Workshop of Science Fiction and Fantasy

really has to be interesting...

It's got a great cover (of course) and must surely be an interesting book for anyone writing sci-fi and fantasy.

Developed by Bram Stoker Award-winning editor Michael Knost, the Writers Workshop of Science Fiction and Fantasy is a treasure trove for writers of all levels looking to develop their craft in the speculative fiction genres.  Featuring contributions from several of the best speculative fiction authors in the world such as Neil Gaiman, Orson Scott Card, Harry Turtledove, James Gunn, Alan Dean Foster, Ursula K. Le Guin, Joe Haldeman, Kevin J. Anderson, Tim Powers, Mike Resnick, and many, many more, the book features a wealth of essays and interviews focusing on the writing craft as it pertains to the genres of fantasy and science fiction.

Slated for a late February release in eBook and a trade paperback release following soon after, the Writers Workshop of Science Fiction and Fantasy will be an important contribution to the speculative fiction literary community.  Whether just beginning a writing journey or extensively published, writers of all degrees of experience are certain to find this book to be an invaluable reference source.

For further information on the Seventh Star Press and its titles such as the Writers Workshop of Science Fiction and Fantasy, please visit www.seventhstarpress.com

Monday, January 28, 2013

A line between fantasy and reality

My older brother, aged ten at the time, informed me in superior tones that telling stories was the same as telling lies. It's true, I suppose. When I tell a story I'm telling about something that never happened to people who never existed. But I don't expect anyone to believe me--I want to make it sound real, not be real--I'm after that willing suspension of disbelief that lets the reader enjoy the experience. Maybe "willing" is the word that makes it not really "lying."

Of course, I challenged big brother eventually and asked if watching TV shows made the producer, the actors or the watchers into liars. And what are you when you talk about a show? (Did you watch Downton Abbey last week? Why didn't the expert doctor see the signs? Am I indulging in a lie by wondering?)

Fantasy stories can't count as lies--not in my brother's eyes--since no-one ever expects to believe them. But action adventure's not very real either--just fun... And what about memoir? What about a book that bills itself as a blueprint for success? Now that's one I'm definitely eying with suspicion...

Anyway, my brother and I grew up and we're still good friends. Big brother doesn't read fiction and I read tons, so perhaps I got all his reading genes, or all his lying ones.

This week I read lots of books in between editing, meeting friends, drinking coffee, cleaning, shopping... I should have done more editing. Perhaps more coffee would help.

Two Easter books (reviewed yesterday) are E. G. Lewis' In Three Days, and Lee Harmon's John's Gospel. Enjoy either of both of these with elegant 4-star cups of coffee, and look for some excellent research, lots of fascinating facts, and no lies (though some definitely intriguing fiction in Lee Harmon's retelling of history)!

Two fantasy stories are Time Sniffers, by C. S. Lakin, and Roots of Insight by Breeana Puttroff. Time Sniffers wins for me--it has dogs! And these dogs sniff out rifts in time, while a teen protagonist tries to rescue her mother, trapped in an exploding laboratory where the world is about to end. Enjoy with a well-balanced 3-star coffee as great dialog, enjoyable humor, and intriguing science (plus a bit of romance) all balance on the edge of well-chosen words.

Roots of Insight comes second in the Dusk Gate Chronicles, and readers should probably start with volume one since there are a lot of characters and interesting relationships between them. In this book, Quinn struggles with her feelings for secretive William, wild Thomas, and the boy next door. But will her affections remain in the real world on in the strange place across the magic bridge. And how will she hide her increasingly long absences from the people who love her? Enjoy with a 5-star bold intense cup of coffee as the danger grows.

Back in the real world, Tina Munroe has bad guys to catch in Vendetta, (a Tina Munroe mystery) by Nancy A. Niles. Set in and around Vegas, it pits a feisty young PI against a murderer who warns his victims, kidnaps their loved ones, then kills everyone in sight. The action's well-balanced with some truly intriguing characters, fun dialog and TV-movie excitement. Enjoy with a well-balanced full-flavored 3-star cup of coffee.

Meanwhile, Melissa Foster's Traces of Kara, coming soon, takes a much more ordinary young woman into kidnap, mystery and terror as she comes to terms with the secrets of her past. A 5-star dark intense coffee will go well with this dark intense tale.

Finally there's 17 cents and a dream, by Daniel Milstein, a short book describing the author's journey from the aftermath of Chernobyl to the American Dream, via the American nightmare. Billed as a blueprint for success, it's saved by the personal touch and occasional honest reminders that good luck and kind friends played a major part. Drink several cups of mild crisp 1-star coffee with this easy-reading memoir.


Two very different books with a common theme

I just read and enjoyed two books that touch on Easter and Lent, Christianity, history, research and the facts behind the stories. The writers are very different people; their traditions and beliefs probably differ too; but their rigorous investigation, combined with honest faith, tie these books together for me and make me thoroughly glad I got to read read them both. (Click on the pictures to find the books on Amazon)

John's Gospel, the Way It Happened, by Lee Harmon, combines two fictionalized accounts with excellent essays describing his research, discoveries and conclusions. In one thread, the aging John argues faith and facts with a much younger, disillusioned Matthew. In another the preacher Jesus faces a path that leads where he may not want to go. And in separate boxes and essays, intersperced throughout the text, readers can find fascinating facts, intriguing comparisons, and enthralling parallels. It's a controversial book, deliberately so, and not one for readers afraid of questions or threatened by disagreement. But John's Gospel is wonderfully thought-provoking (as indeed the book it derives from must have been when first written). While I readily admit I don't agree with all the author's conclusions, I'm truly enthralled by the journey and love this book.

Meanwhile author E. G. Lewis, best known for his wonderful Seeds of Christianity series (a set of fictional novels set in the early days of Christianity, wonderfully researched and bringing faith and history to vivid life), will offer his book, In Three Days, the Ancient Traditions of Lent and Easter, on a kindle deal soon as Lent approaches. This book sets out a series of essays, character studies, analyses, and even recipes (!) based on the author's research into history and science. His Christian faith is clear, but the writing makes this book easily accessible to believers and non-believers. The essays are pleasingly non-combative, inviting question, welcoming curiosity, and open to honest disagreement, making this a perfect book to accompany Lent, or to share with friends when the subject of Easter comes up, whatever your background.

Two great books, and one great season coming soon...

I don't suppose I can really review my own book, but I've got a good book for Lent out there too. Look out for Easter! Creation to Salvation in 100 words a day on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Createspace etc.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Does genre really matter?

I got in trouble with a reviewer once for describing a new adult book as young adult. (Don't miss Alexandra Lanc's visit to my blog next month where she explains the difference.) Another time I reviewed a children's adventure that was really young adult. Then there are mysteries that are actually horror, romances that read more like drama, Christian fiction with more of a vaguely spiritual fantasy feel. (Don't forget edgy Christian fiction too). A friend wanted to write a query letter and asked me what genre I'd put her novel in. Luckily she also asked lots of other people and did some great research on the internet. After all my reviewing, I'm really not sure I could have helped her.

If a novel includes people falling in love, does that make it a romance? (Troy and Lydia fall in love in Divide by Zero, but there's lots more going on.)

If somebody dies and the cops are involved, does that make it police procedural? (They're only minimally involved in Divide by Zero.)

What if someone's a murderer? Does that make the novel suspense? If it includes multiple generations, is it a family drama? If it's set in the 60s is it history? (Not if it's English I guess, since our history's kind of long.)

If there are angels and demons (as there are in Flower Child), will they turn the story into horror? And if the Bible's involved does it have to be religious? Or Christian?

I guess, in the end, most tales involve more than one theme. The primary theme could determine genre except that it's probably bound up in secondary ones--hence double-barreled genres like Christian suspense, romantic comedy, science fiction horror, and more. But I wonder if it isn't the sales pitch where genre really gets determined. If romance sells, play up the romantic element. If horror, go for that.

I classify my novellas (from Gypsy Shadow Publishing) as spiritual speculative fiction, but what else could they be?
  • Flower Child involves a boy and girl falling in love, therefore romance.
  • A woman deals with miscarriage, feminine issues perhaps?
  • Angels and demons, therefore horror.
  • Hints of the Bible suggest it might be religious.
  • Imaginary worlds, so fantasy or speculative...
Which would you choose?

Psalm Stories, from my Five-Minute Bible Story series (Cape Arago Press) reached #1 in Children's religious fiction and Christian Old Testament reference when they were promoted on kindle. My publisher must have done a really good job of classifying them (though I do wonder what a reader expects from fiction and reference combined--contemporary children's stories, based on the Bible, with author notes in the back...).





And then there's Divide by Zero again, from Stonegarden.net Publishing:
  • Boy meets girl, therefore romance
  • Predator in the woods, so suspense or horror
  • Grandchildren growing up, so family drama
  • Set in the recent past, in America, so maybe historical
  • Set in a small university town, small-town drama perhaps
  • Includes a Christian church, so Christian drama, but there are non-believers too who won't get converted...
I'm going for small-town drama, or family drama, but I'm not sure. What would make you more likely to choose to read it?

And does genre really matter?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What can you do in five minutes?

What can you do in five minutes?
  • Answer five emails if well-caffeinated and undistracted. Otherwise it might take fifty-five.
  • Read a very short story, unless you end up looking for other books by the same author and meandering the internet instead.
  • Plan the day's schedule, unless planning involves getting started on the schedule, in which case you'll never end.
  • Make coffee. That helps with the well-caffeinated bit.
  • Drink coffee. That counts as distraction.
  • Make tea, though deciding between coffee and tea can take more than five minutes on its own, so I'm not sure that counts.
  • Make a decision--probably not.
  • Make a snap decision, perhaps.
  • Buy a book, but let me into a bookstore and I'll be there for an hour or more.
  • Buy a book as long as the line's not too long at the checkout.
  • Buy an ebook because there's no line.
  • Read a bedtime story at the end of the day, then spend fifty-five minutes getting the kids to stop playing.
  • Tell a bedtime story, then spend fifty-five minutes writing it down and more on editing. Then find a publisher... allow five years... and then sell a bedtime story book to your friends.
 
Can I sell a book in five minutes? I guess it depends how long it took you to read this post. The book's called Psalm Stories. It's filled with five-minute read-aloud stories, contemporary, ancient, futuristic, realistic and more, all based on Psalms. If you get the companion book too, More Psalm Stories, you'll have 150 tales, each with questions and simple prayers, all tied to the 150 psalms in the Bible--perfect for planning those five-minute children's sermons in Sunday school, or for bedtime reading, or even for your own short Bible study.

Five minutes. Just click on the link:
http://www.amazon.com/Psalm-Stories-Five-Minute-Bible-ebook/dp/B00AQS1N0M/

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

When even time won't take you seriously - with Andy Gavin

There's a young adult book I'm really looking forward to reading soon called Untimed--isn't that a perfect title? The cover's pretty intriguing too. And author Andy Gavin's previous book, the Darkening Dream, was very enjoyable (read my review here.)

I'm delighted to welcome author Andy Gavin to my blog today to tell us a little about where the story and characters came from, whether our time, another time or none, but read on and find out. Over to you Andy.





Typically, Untimed began from a fusion of ideas. Lingering in my mind for over twenty years was a time travel story about people from the future who fell “downtime” to relive exciting moments in history (until things go wrong). I worked out a time travel system but had no plot or characters. Separately, in 2010, as a break from editing The Darkening Dream, I experimented with new voice techniques, especially first person present. I also read various “competition.” One of these was The Lightning Thief (the first Percy Jackson novel), which has an amazing series concept (if a slightly limp execution).  I love mythology and history, and liked the notion of something with a rich body of material to mine. I wanted an open ended high concept that drew on my strengths, which brought me back to time travel.
Some of the mechanics from my earlier concept merged well with a younger protagonist, voiced in a visceral first person present style. I started thinking about it, and his voice popped into my head. I pounded out a chapter not too dissimilar from the first chapter of the final novel. Then the most awesome villain teleported into the situation. I can’t remember how or why, but it happened quickly and spontaneously. Tick-Tocks were born (or forged).
            The Tick-Tocks are supposed to be mysterious, and I really wanted to reveal their secrets layer by layer. It was even important that by the end of the book, while you understand a lot more about them, you don’t really know exactly where they come from or what they're up to. A great nemesis needs this. Think Darth Vader or Professor Moriarty. Their secrets aren’t all on the table to begin with. Additionally, one of my favorite emotions to play with is “creep.” My first novel, The Darkening Dream, is all about creepiness, and I think it’s much more effective and scary than plain horror. So the Tocks are supposed to be creepy. Not exactly horrific, but just mysterious and creepy. That’s one of the reasons they don’t talk. Creepy.
Charlie’s character derived automatically from his voice, which I tried to make authentically 15. And while he’s sweet, and fundamentally optimistic and good natured, realism demanded a bit of an edge. Teen boys think about shit and sex. Sorry, but it’s true. I rub up on issues that make some squirm, even if I deal with the lightly: teen pregnancy, drinking, slavery, etc. But to sweep these under the carpet wouldn’t do justice to the 18th century – or our own.
            As to Yvaine. Well, she’s based in part on the kind of girl I wanted to meet when I was a teenager. This seems odd, considering how messed up she is, but like Charlie, I didn’t have much luck with girls in High School. In the 80s, being a “computer guy” and even worse, into video games, was pretty much the kiss of death (see 16 Candles for reference). Yvaine is smart, capable, and in charge, but she’s also damaged and emotionally needy. I thought the combination worked.
            Lastly, I’ll talk about Donnie. I’ve noticed that the most effective jerks tend to have some real charisma. Because of Yvaine, Charlie never really likes Donnie, but he maybe could have briefly. Donnie holds his little band together throw a mixture of intimidation, generosity, camaraderie and loyalty. He may be mostly out for himself, but he really sees himself as the protector and leader of his gang, and he acts this way to hold up his own self image. Even in the end, his loyalty to Stump is his own undoing, which is kinda sad – but that’s life. Real villains are heroes in their own stories.

About Untimed

Untimed is an action-packed time travel novel by Andy Gavin, author of The Darkening Dream and creator of Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter.

Charlie's the kind of boy that no one notices. Hell, his own mother can't remember his name. So when a mysterious clockwork man tries to kill him in modern day Philadelphia, and they tumble through a hole into 1725 London, Charlie realizes even the laws of time don't take him seriously. Still, this isn't all bad. Who needs school when you can learn about history first hand, like from Ben Franklin himself. And there's this girl... Yvaine... another time traveler. All good. Except for the rules: boys only travel into the past and girls only into the future. And the baggage: Yvaine's got a baby boy and more than her share of ex-boyfriends. Still, even if they screw up history -- like accidentally let the founding father be killed -- they can just time travel and fix it, right? But the future they return to is nothing like Charlie remembers. To set things right, he and his scrappy new girlfriend will have to race across the centuries, battling murderous machines from the future, jealous lovers, reluctant parents, and time itself.


You can find Untimed the ebook on Amazon here: http://amzn.to/12rE9Tl
And in paperback here: http://amzn.to/12rE9Tl

Read the first two chapters here: http://all-things-andy-gavin.com/untimed/sample/



About Andy Gavin

Co-founder of video game developer Naughty Dog and co-creator of Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter has a lifelong passion for storytelling. Turning his focus to writing, he’s crafted a pair of fantasy novels that bring to life versions of our world where all the myths that should be true, are.
His debut novel, The Darkening Dream, fuses intense action with a love of history and all things supernatural. On the eve before creation God created ten special things, among them the Archangel Gabriel’s horn, destined to sound the End of Days. But what happens if you’re a seventeen year-old girl and an ancient evil thinks it’s hidden in your basement?
His second novel Untimed, chronicles the crazy adventures of a boy no one remembers, who falls through a hole in time and finds himself lost in the past.
Find him on his website, Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Simplifying History with Kathleen Flanagan Rollins

Looking for a really intriguing read today? Then I have just the thing for you--Simplifying History, by Kathleen Flanagan Rollins, author of the wonderful Misfits and and Heroes (click here for my review) and the new volume Past the Last Island. I loved Misfits and Heroes and can hardly wait to read Past the Last Island too.



Simplifying History
            When I was growing up, dioramas were popular exhibits in museums.  Maybe you remember them.  They ranged from miniature battle scenes with scores of carefully painted tin soldiers to life-size spreads featuring dead, stuffed animals of specific areas, like the Northwoods or the African Plains.  They were at once appealing and simplified, or perhaps appealing because they were simplified.  Yet ultimately, their simplification robbed them of truth.
Diorama, Denver Museum

            The battle scene was probably carefully researched, the background carefully painted, the uniforms and insignia of the combatants, their flags, even the terrain recreated as closely as possible.  But in the end, everyone looking at it, even children, knew they were toys.  No one gasped at the horror and the bloodshed of the battle, the confusion of a terror-filled valley, the horses stuck in the mud or impaled by a lance, the screams of the wounded.  The display was safe and distant, a tableau of toy soldiers on a toy battlefield.
Diorama of the Battle of Bosworth Field

            In the dinosaur exhibits, the museum had to encase the displays in Plexiglas to prevent viewers from rearranging the plastic animals.  They simply begged to be played with, moved, made to come alive with roars and fights.  Even children knew that dinosaurs didn’t stand still.

             In the big dioramas, the museums put together preserved specimens from particular ecosystems.  In some cases, they were exotic beasts from far-away lands: a rhino and a lion from Africa, a jaguar from Mexico, a grizzly bear from Canada.  They were once alive, these creatures on display, but few viewers were filled with dread or even taken by surprise.  Something about these figures behind their protective glass enclosure told everyone they were long dead, curiosities shot to death years ago because someone felt museums needed to have these.
 Display from the Congo National Museum

            There’s something incredibly sad about these fierce predators now staring endlessly out of their glass eyes at a public who doesn’t care except to feel mildly embarrassed for the ones that are obviously getting a little threadbare.  So some viewers make jokes while others move on or check their smart phones.
            It isn’t real, the life presented in these displays.  Real life is seen in moments.  A real bear is glimpsed as it crosses a road far ahead, a lumbering figure surprisingly quick as it plows through the underbrush and disappears.  Out west, a cougar may be watching you without your ever knowing it’s there.  But you might catch the mark of its paw in the mud or the flash of its long tail as it disappears into the forest – if you’re watching.
            There’s another kind of unreality as well, also perpetrated by these displays: false information. For a long time, James Horner maintained that some dinosaurs were quite smart and very fast, yet when he proclaimed that idea in the Smithsonian Museum dinosaur exhibit, he was escorted out.  It took Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park bestseller and Spielberg’s blockbuster movie based on it to change people’s mind (and the Smithsonian exhibit).
            This happens in exhibits of early humans as well.  We see them huddled around their tiny fire, leading a miserable life.  That’s obvious because they look terrible, with long straggly hair, rough hide clothing, and a cave littered with old bones.  Whew!  Lucky we’ve come a long way since then, eh?

            And yet, some of the very earliest archaeological finds we have indicate that people cared very much about the way they looked.  Some of the oldest finds are jewelry – pierced, dyed shells strung together.  The contenders for oldest jewelry in the world include shell necklaces found in present-day Algeria and Israel (100,000 years ago), Morocco (82,000 years old), and South Africa, (80,000 years old).  Included with the pierced shells found in Blombos Cave, South Africa, was an incised block of red ochre, mineral clay widely used in face painting in many cultures, right up to today.  It’s a common ingredient in women’s makeup “blusher.”
            At the same time people were making marks on blocks of red clay and making strings of shell beads, they were burying their dead with fine tools and jewelry, indicating a sense of the afterlife where these people would need these fine goods.
            Breakthroughs in archaeology in the last twenty years have re-written the human story as we know it, yet they don’t get a lot of press, perhaps because people hate to shake up the tidy pictures they’ve internalized as truth.  DNA analyses have shown that many western Eurasians today carry traces of Neanderthal genes.  Obviously the story of human development is a little more complicated than we were led to believe!  Similarly, some people in the Philippines, New Guinea, and Australia have been shown to carry traces of Denisovan DNA.  Denisovans, once living in eastern Eurasia, are believed to be related to the Neanderthals.
            I’m writing a series of novels about ancient explorers in the Americas, about 14,000 years ago.  That’s not all that long ago.  Pedra Furada, a site in northeast Brazil, dated over 30,000 years ago, includes atlatls (dart-throwers) and darts, as well as rock art and pottery.  Monte Verde, in southern Chile, showing evidence of humans hunting mastodons, was also dated over 30,000 years ago.  In the Topper Hill site, in South Carolina, Albert Goodyear has found evidence of human presence 16,000 years ago and possibly 50,000 years ago.
            All these dates pale next to finds in Great Britain, which establish the presence of tool-making hominids 250,000 years ago, apparently later killed or driven out by the encroaching Ice Age.
All of this, to me, is very exciting - and reassuring.  We humans, a complicated species with a turbulent history, have faced difficulties before, including drastic climate changes that remade our world.  Yet we found a way to survive.  And maintain our spiritual connection to the world.  And look nice too.

Kathleen Flanagan Rollins

Sources and interesting reading:
Henshilwood, Christopher, et al.  “A 100,000 year-old ochre processing workshop at Blombos Cave, South Africa,” Science, 14 October 2011, 33:219-222
Mayell, Hillary.  “Oldest Jewelry?  Beads Discovered in African Cave” National Geographic News, April 15, 2004
Ravilious, Kate.  “Oldest Jewelry Found in Morocco Cave” National Geographic News, June 7, 2007
Randolph, W. Schmid.  “Ancient Shells May be Oldest Jewelry”  Live Science, 22 June, 2006
Sample, Ian.  “First Humans Arrived in Britain 250,000 years earlier than thought” 7 July 2010