July 23, 2014

My Boyfriend Is a Ghost: a guest post by Kimberly G. Giarratano, author of "Grunge Gods and Graveyards"

About Grunge Gods and Graveyards: Parted by death. Tethered by love.

Lainey Bloom’s high school senior year is a complete disaster. The popular clique, led by mean girl Wynter Woods, bullies her constantly. The principal threatens not to let her graduate with the class of 1997 unless she completes a major research project. And everyone blames her for the death of Wynter’s boyfriend, Danny Obregon.

Danny, a gorgeous musician, stole Lainey’s heart when he stole a kiss at a concert. But a week later, he was run down on a dangerous stretch of road. When he dies in her arms, she fears she’ll never know if he really would have broken up with Wynter to be with her.

Then his ghost shows up, begging her to solve his murder. Horrified by the dismal fate that awaits him if he never crosses over, Lainey seeks the dark truth amidst small town secrets, family strife, and divided loyalties. But every step she takes toward discovering what really happened the night Danny died pulls her further away from the beautiful boy she can never touch again.

Kimberly is the middle of a blog tour right now, promoting the heck out of Grunge Gods and Graveyards, and was kind enough to stop by the blog today with a guest post

My boyfriend is a ghost

What is it about ghosts that makes them such romantic fodder for paranormal reads? In my debut novel, Grunge Gods and Graveyards, my female protagonist falls in love with a ghost. (Well, technically she falls in love with him before he becomes a ghost, but once he’s lost his corporeal form, the sexual tension increases dramatically.)

Grunge Gods was originally inspired by an old film called The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. In the movie, a young widow moves into a haunted seaside cottage and falls in love with the ghost of the man who once owned the house (played by Rex Harrison -- I saw this movie when I was in high school. I think he was a sea captain). Anyway, Mrs. Muir and the ghost have a romantic relationship until the day she dies an old woman. Then they connect in the afterlife. I found this movie to be so romantic and touching that it stayed with me long enough to inspire a novel. So, what is it about ghostly romances that readers, like myself, find so compelling? Well, I’m going to break this down into, what I call, ‘The Three S’s.’

SEXUAL TENSION: There is nothing sexier than a hottie ghost that the main character cannot touch. One of the aspects of Danny and Lainey’s relationship that I tried to play up in Grunge Gods was the fact that there was this heavy romantic undercurrent that they couldn’t act on. They had kissed once before but once Danny became a ghost, their ability to touch each other was pretty much annihilated. They would flirt, get themselves all hot and bothered, but for so much of the story, Lainey could not feel Danny’s touches. It became an itch they couldn’t scratch.

[Side note: In The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, there’s a part where Rex Harrison’s character says something to Mrs. Muir that she need not be ashamed of her figure (It’s set in the early 1900s so it’s supposed to be quite scandalous). Sure, it could come across as a little pervy, but the ghost was checking Mrs. Muir out. Hot!]

SECRECY: There is something incredibly romantic about the secret lover. And nothing could be more secretive than loving a ghost. Lainey can’t possibly tell anyone she is seeing ghosts, let alone lusting after one. So instead, she has this big, special secret that only she and Danny share. Not only does it strengthen their bond, but it takes their relationship into the forbidden zone, which...makes for extra sexual tension. See above.

SADNESS: Dying young evokes incredible sadness. It’s tragic. Painful. Haunting. In Grunge Gods, Lainey feels responsible for Danny’s death. She believes that had her actions been different, Danny would still be alive. So everyday Lainey lives with that pain and guilt. She will not get to be Danny’s prom date or see him off to college. She won’t get to hold his hand at a concert. Danny’s death fundamentally changes both of their lives. If you want an unforgettable romance, there needs to be sadness as well as joy because it haunts the reader well after the story is over.

Well, there you have it -- Kim’s three S’s as to why ghosts make for the best romantic interests. Why do you think ghosts are such hot romantic leads? Please sound off in the comments and thanks to Gef for having me.

Kimberly G. Giarratano, a forever Jersey girl, now lives in the woods of northeastern Pennsylvania with her husband and small children. A former teacher and YA librarian, Kimberly adores Etsy, Jon Stewart, The Afghan Whigs, ’90s nostalgia, and (of course) everything YA. She also speaks Spanish, but is woefully out of practice.

Kimberly always dreamed of being a published author. Her other dream is to live in Key West, Florida where she can write in a small studio, just like Hemingway.

You can visit her blog at kimberlyggiarratano.com or tweet her @KGGiarratano.

Below you'll find a Rafflecopter entry form for a chance to win some swag, but if you can't wait to get your hands on a copy of Kimberly's novel, you can find it at these fine bookstores:

July 22, 2014

Midwestern Monstrosities: an interview with Scott Burtness, author of "Wisconsin Vamp"

About Wisconsin Vamp“Midwestern nice” is hard to pull off when you’re a bloodthirsty monster.

Poor Herb isn’t even sure how he got vamped in the first place. With no one to guide him, Herb fumbles into his newfound abilities, courting disaster with each bumbling step. Sure, there are some perks. The local stripper wants him, he can do this whammy mind-control thing, and he is getting a lot better at bowling. But he can’t drink beer, the bodies are piling up, and his best friend Dallas is getting suspicious. When Herb and Dallas go for the same girl, keeping his dark secret becomes the least of Herb’s concerns.

Booze, billiards, babes, blood, bake sales, bowling, bar fights and karaoke. Who would’ve thought that being undead would make life so interesting?

Gef: Writing horror effectively is challenging, but writing humor effectively may be even more so. So, imagine blending the two. What was the biggest challenge for you in writing Wisconsin Vamp?

Scott: Humor is all about timing and pacing. The set up and delivery of a joke has to flow. When writing a humorous moment, trying to get the timing and pacing right was definitely challenging. Too much description of the moment, and the timing would be too sluggish. Too little description, and the reader wouldn't be able to really 'get' the joke. There were many scenes that I wrote and rewrote countless times, hoping to make the humor of the moment flow for the reader.

To help get the flow of the humorous sections right, I would skim Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett novels, or imagine that what I had written was being read out loud by John Cleese.

Gef: Vampires have been around the block a time or two and yet folks keep finding new little spins on the genre. When you came up with Wisconsin Vamp, were you a bit daunted by all the vampire novels already out there?

Scott: I'm not sure I would've come up with Herb Knudsen if there weren't a gazillion different takes on vampire lore already in existence. I think that all the variations, from Nosferatu to Buffy to Lost Boys to Japan's hopping vampire craze to sparkly Twilight, all help keep vampires relevant and interesting and endlessly enjoyable.

What I really enjoyed about Wisconsin Vamp was writing about a newly-turned vampire that didn't know what he was supposed to be. A significant part of Herb's journey is plain old self-discovery. Turning to the only 'instruction manual' he can think of, Herb watches a stack of vampire movies on VHS. Comparing what he sees in the movies to what he can actually do becomes an adventure for Herb unlike anything he's experienced before.

Gef: After Twilight, the backlash by vampire fans seemed to be to try and make them scary again. You're opting for the comedy route. Heck, it worked for Whedon. What is another monster that could use a laugh or two?

Scott: Personally, I'm writing the classics. The Monsters in the Midwest series will feature a werewolf novel and a zombie novel for sure. Beyond that? Who knows? The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Loch Ness Monster, Godzilla (and of course, Mothra)... the sky's the limit when it comes to funny monsters.

Gef: Zombie comedies are called zom-coms, so what's a vampire comedy called? And can you trademark that?

Scott: Suck-larious? Fang-sterical? Vamp-camp? I better stop before I hurt myself...

Gef: What was the biggest eye-opener for you when you finally published Wisconsin Vamp?

Scott: Writing a book was relatively easy. Getting people to know about the book... exhausting. I had this naïve idea that a catchy title and a fun, unusual cover would drive sales. If my book was on the shelf of the local bookstore, that might have been true. When I finally published Wisconsin Vamp, I was stunned by how many books their are in the world, and how hard it has been to get on people's radar!

Gef: Setting is a great way to set a book apart and you went with Wisconsin. If I may be bold, not exactly an exotic locale. What was the lure to base it there?

Scott: A lot of vampire pop-culture happens in big, exotic cities. It makes a certain degree of sense. If you need to eat people, it's best to be somewhere with a large population so you can 1- never go hungry, and 2- get lost in the crowd, so to speak.

Vampires also seem to, more often than not, have impeccable taste, an endless checking account, and really swank pads.

When I decided to write about Herb, I didn't want him to have any of those things. Having spent a lot of time in rural Wisconsin growing up, I decided a little town in the northwoods would be the perfect spot for a socially awkward vampire of little potential and even less ambition.

Another question that I get asked by friends is, "Your a Minnesotan. Why didn't you set it there?"  The honest answer is... I liked the way 'Wisconsin Vamp' sounded.  It just rolls off the tongue a little better than "Minnesotan Vamp." (IMHO)

Gef: You have a sequel scheduled for later in the year. Any tidbits you can divulge on that one? Is Herb sticking to Wisconsin?

Scott: The core trilogy will stay in (or at least very close to) the fictitious town of Trappersville, WI. The sequel will feature many of the characters introduced in Wisconsin Vamp, and center on a werewolf. As to whether or not Herb will be there... that'd be a spoiler, and no one likes a spoiler!

Gef: Where can folks keep up with you and Herb?

Scott: For folks who want to follow my minute-by-minute ramblings: www.Twitter.com/SWBauthor.

If you'd like to get less frequent brain dumps: www.Facebook.com/SWBauthor.

I'm also on Goodreads, where I intend to start blogging about something, someday: www.Goodreads.com/SWBauthor

Win one of three autographed copies of Wisconsin Vampire, each will include a Wisconsin themed postcard from the main character, Herb. This giveaway is restricted to USA only, please! Enter through Goodreads.


    Goodreads Book Giveaway


        Wisconsin Vamp by Scott Burtness


          Wisconsin Vamp


          by Scott Burtness



            Giveaway ends July 23, 2014.


            See the giveaway details
            at Goodreads.


      Enter to win

July 21, 2014

Chasing Tale [7/21/14]: Kindle Unlimited and the Temple of Doom

For ten dollars a month, Kindle owners in the U.S. will have the chance to read a f**kload of ebooks thanks to the newly unveiled Kindle Unlimited, and even have the luxury of listening to Audible audiobooks on top of all that. Is this the future of reading? Hmmm.

I'm Canadian, so it's not an option for me, but even if it was I don't really see it as all that enticing. The reason for that is because I have been buying ebooks off the Kindle Store for years. Cheap ebooks, never mind the glut of freebies that have been offered over the years. My Kindle is crammed with ebooks, so I don't really feel incentivized to shell out ten dollars every month to buy even more ebooks from what is actually a relatively limited inventory of titles when you consider ALL that is available on the Kindle Store.

If I was a newcomer to Kindle land, sure, I'd consider it. But even then, I might hold off until I see the major publishers hop on board, because quite frankly those are the guys charging exorbitant prices on ebooks. For instance, Brad Thor's new bestseller, Act of War, is on the Kindle Store for twice the price of signing up for a month of Kindle Unlimited. I don't care who the author is, there is zero chance of me paying $20 for one ebook. But if Simon & Schuster was to suddenly hop on board this new Kindle Unlimited gimmick, well the price really isn't an issue anymore.

It's early yet,  and it's way too early for anti-Amazon folks to declare the sky of falling, and it's definitely too early for pro-Amazon folks to start fellating Jeff Bezos out of gratitude. Let's give this thing to the end of summer and then have a gander at who is signing up and who is reaping the rewards.

As for the ebooks recently thrown onto my to-be-read pile, I am unsure how many of them are available through the new program. All I know is that a great many of them are by authors whose work I have read before and would wholeheartedly recommend. Take a look and leave a comment with what you think about Kindle Unlimited, and what ebooks you've added to your Kindle recently.

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes - If Broken Monsters does with Detroit what The Shining Girls did with Chicago, I suspect this thriller will wind up on my faves-of-the-year list.

Pennsylvania Omnibus by Michael Bunker - Amish sci-fi. Go figure. Anyway, I was lucky enough to win this serial novel that has been handily collected into one book, thanks to Tim Ward over at Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing. Thanks, Tim.

Supreme Justice by Max Allan Collins - I had the good fortune to interview Mr. Collins last week (you can read that here) and I have a review copy of his new near-future political thriller, which sounds really promising.

Wide Spot in the Road (Drifter Detective 4) by Wayne D. Dundee - Garnett Elliott penned the first three installments in the Drifter Detective series, but it looks like Dundee is taking the reigns for this one. Fine by me.

A Rope of Thorns by Gemma Files - Chizine Publications had a Canada Day/Independence Day sale on their website, and I finally pulled the trigger and picked up the second book in Files' weird western Hexslinger series. I thought I'd already bought it, but I guess not. Problem solved.

Grunge Gods and Graveyards by Kimberly G. Garratano - Kimberly will be stopping by the blog in a couple days as part of a blog tour, so watch out for that.

The Big Hit by James Neal Harvey - I guess this is Harvey's first novel in fifteen years. That's quite a stretch. This cross-country thriller sounds promising at any rate.

Doubleback and Toxicity by Libby Fischer Hellmann - I received the audiobook edition of Doubleback from Libby. It's the second book in her George Davis series, the first of which I already have on my Kindle. Toxicity is part of the same series, but I think it's actually a prequel. Anyway, I snagged that one free off of the Kindle Store.

The Rats / Lair / Domain by James Herbert - If you ask a horror fan for a classic horror novel to read, they will quite possibly recommend James Herbert's The Rats. I've yet to read it, and I've not been in a hurry to buy it, but then I found this trio of ratty paperbacks at a used-books shop and figured it was time to add it to my shelf.

The Wraith by Joe Hill - There's a new graphic novel coming soon that links in with Joe Hill's NOS4A2. I don't know about you, but that's all I need to know to peak my interest.

You by Caroline Kepnes - A romantic thriller with two lovers who might be in a competition to out obsess each other. So long as it's not written in second-person PoV, I'm happy.

Chasing Ghosts: Texas Style by Brad and Barry Klinge - Honestly, this was a total impulse buy. I saw it on a clearance table for a few bucks, marked down from like $26--really?!--and thought I'd get it because ghosts. Since buying it though, I've read a couple reviews and ... I think I'm setting myself up for buyer's remorse.

Fires Rising by Michael Laimo - Nothing like a little apocalypse to occupy your time. This horror novel has an audiobook release, narrated by Jack de Golia. Basically an ancient evil buried under a derelict church is let loose and it's up to the indigent people living there to save humanity.

Hair Said, Flesh Side by Helen Marshall - Along with A Rope of Thorns, I scooped up this short story collection from the Chizine book sale, as it has certainly been recommended to me enough times since its release.

Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy - The second season of Hemlock Grove is out this summer on Netflix, so it must be doing something right. Based on this novel, which I received from FSG Originals, the show looks cool, but I gotta say I'm more interested in reading the book as is the case with most film/TV adaptations.

Dog Days by Joe McKinney - I found myself with a free ebook copy of Joe's award-winning YA novel from Journalstone Publishing. Neat-o. I've already bought more than a couple of Joe's ebooks that I have yet to read, but it's hard to pass up a freebie with his name on it.

Kokomo's Cafe by Armand Rosamilia - I've been reading so much genre stuff over the years, the contemporary fiction tends to take a backseat, and there's a fair bit on my shelf I've been meaning to read. Well, I got the chance to listen to this audiobook recently. Rosamilia is probably better known for his horror fiction, but these quirky short stories were pretty darned good too.

White Walker by Richard Schiver - Richard will stop by the blog next week with a guest post to talk about ancient gods and this new novel. So watch out for that.

The Deep Dark Woods by Ty Schwamberger - Ty's wilderness horror novel is out with a snazzy cover and a cool, high-octane premise. He'll be stopping by the blog soon too, with a guest post of his own.

Doubledown IV (Biters / The Reborn) by Harry Shannon and Brett Talley - Do you remember those old Ace Doubles from back in the day? You read one book, flip it over and--oh look--another book. Well, Journalstone released their fourth Double Down book a few months ago featuring two post-apocalyptic tales by two talented authors. 

And Death Will Seize the Doctor, Too by Jeremiah Swanson - This one involves a guy who can heal people, but not before he takes someone else's life. Interesting premise.

A Hollow Dream of Summer's End / A Hollow Dream: Eternal Autumn by Andrew Van Wey - Back to back novels from Andrew, here. Part of an ongoing series of interconnected books, it starts with a group of friends trapped in a treehouse by an ancient evil, then just goes even darker from there. Neat-o.

Police at the Funeral by Ariel S. Winter - I got caught at the mall waiting for a bus with nothing to read, so I hit up the bookstore across the road--so silly that it's not in the mall anymore--and found this Hard Case Crime title. Unbeknownst to me, however, it's the third in a trilogy. Doh! Looks like I need to hunt down the first two books now.

Legends of Red Sonja by various authors - This series which started up late last year has been collected into a graphic novel set to come out in September. The only thing more impressive than the artwork is the line-up of contributing writers, helmed by Gail Simone.

July 18, 2014

Nothing Weird About It: an excerpt of Brian McGreevy's "Hemlock Grove"

Nothing Weird About It
Excerpted from Hemlock Grove: A Novel by Brian McGreevy
An exhilarating reinvention of the gothic novel, inspired by the iconic characters of our greatest myths and nightmares. Now a hit television series on Netflix.

And remember: the flesh is as sacred as it is profane. 

I forgot this.


The green-eyed boy sat alone in the food court and fingered the needle in his pocket. The syringe was empty and unused, he had no use for the syringe. He had use for the needle. The green-eyed boy -- he was called Roman, but what you will have seen first was the eyes -- wore a tailored Milanese blazer, one hand in pocket, and blue jeans. He was pale and lean and as handsome as a hatchet, and in egregious style and snobbery a hopeless contrast from the suburban mall food court where he sat and looked in the middle distance and fidgeted with the needle in his pocket. And then he saw the girl. The blond girl at the Twist in pumps and a mini- skirt, leaning in that skirt as though daring her not to, or some taunting mystic withholding revelation. Also, he saw, alone.

Roman rose and buttoned the top button of his blazer and waited for her to continue on with a cone of strawberry, and when she did he followed. Maintaining a discreet distance, he followed her through the main concourse and stopped outside a women's apparel store as she entered, and he watched through the window as she browsed the lingerie and finished the cone. She looked around and stuffed a mesh chemise down her purse and exited the store. Her tongue darted to collect crumbs from her lips. He continued following her to the parking structure. She got into the elevator, and seeing there were no other passengers, he called Hold please, and jogged to the car. She asked him what level and he told her the top, and this must have been her floor as well because it was the only button she pressed. They rode up and he stood behind her smelling her trampy perfume and thinking of the underthing in her purse and silently tapping the syringe through the fabric.

"You ever close your eyes and try real hard and trick your brain you're actually going down?" said Roman.

The girl didn't answer, and when the door opened she stepped out curtly, like he was some kind of creep when he was just trying to make friendly conversation. But so it goes. The game as it were afoot.

He took out the syringe and palmed it, stepping out of the elevator, and outpacing the clip of her heels he closed the distance between them. She was now aware beyond question of the pursuit though she neither turned back nor made any attempt to run as he came on her and jabbed in an upward thrust, the needle puncturing skirt and panty and the flesh of her ass, and just as quickly he withdrew as she gasped and he continued past her and down the row to his own car.

He repocketed the syringe and entered the front seat, putting it back all the way. He unzipped his jeans, freeing his erection, and laced his hands behind his head. He waited. After a few moments the passenger-side door opened and the girl got in and he closed his eyes as she lowered her head to his lap.

A few minutes later she opened the door and leaned over and spat. Roman's hands unlaced and his arms came down and as they did his hand fell naturally to her lower back, and just as naturally he rubbed. Nothing weird about it, or even a thing you think about, you rub a girl's back because it's there. But at the feel of his touch she recoiled abruptly and straightened. Roman was confused.

"You don't like that?" he said.

"Oh no, baby," she said. "I think it's totally hot."

But she was lying, and lying, he realized, about the first thing, about the needle and sucking his dick, and not what he was asking about, about her hate of the barest human-to-human gesture at the end. He was depressed suddenly and terrifically by the defeated life of this lying whore and he wanted her to be gone now, and to get out of the fucking mall.

"It'll take a hose to get the smell of prole out of my nostrils," he said.

"Poor baby," she said, neither knowing nor making any attempt to care what he meant.

He reached into the blazer and took out the money in cash and handed it to her. It looked wrong and she counted it. It was $500 over the agreed amount. She looked at him.

"You know my name?" he said.

"Yeah," she said. It would have been pointless to say otherwise, everyone knew his name.

He looked at her. "No you don't," he said.

Excerpted from HEMLOCK GROVE: Or, The Wise Wolf by Brian McGreevy, published in March 2012 by FSG Originals, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2012 by Brian McGreevy. All rights reserved.

Author Bio: Brian McGreevy is the author of Hemlock Grove, as well as creator of the Netflix series of the same name. Born in the Pittsburgh area, he dropped out of high school in the ninth grade, citing "creative differences." A former James Michener Fellow at the University of Texas, he is a founding partner of the production company El Jefe.

For more information, please visit http://www.brianmcgreevy.net/ and follow the book on Facebook and Twitter.

July 17, 2014

When the Grindhouse, When the Bee Stings: a review of Alex de Campi's "Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight Vol. 1"

Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight Vol. 1
by Alex de Campi
artwork by Francesco Frankavilla, Simon Fraser, Chris Peterson, Nolan Woodard, and Dan Panosian
Dark Horse Comics (2014)
112 pages
ISBN-10: 1616553774
ISBN-13: 978-1616553777

What would summer be without a little sex and violence? Perhaps the real question is: what would summer be without A LOT of sex and violence?

Well, there's no need to worry, because Alex de Campi has got your covered, which is more than can be said for the buxom babes populating the pages of this graphic novel.

Collecting the first four issues of this ferocious series, we are treated to two two-part tales. And you may as well flip a coin to choose which is the more debauched and delectable.

First up is "Bee Vixens from Mars," which I originally reviewed over at I Smell Sheep as it was released in single-issue format (#1 and #2). A small southern town finds itself infiltrated by a bevy of honey-suckling beauties bent on world domination. How do they do it? Why, the honey of course. This has all the gusto of a sci-fi movie from the 60s and some 70s-caliber titillation thrown in for good measure. It sets the tone for the series as a whole really well, so if you wind up offended by this one, you better stay the hell away from "Prison Ship Antares".

Ever heard of Orange Is the New Black? Yeah, well, "Prison Ship Antares" ain't that. Instead, it's lesbian prison exploitation ... in space. Just picture a the OITNB cast terrorized by a sadomasochistic warden dominatrix. Yeah, the level of sex and violence is somewhere north of 10 with this one. And somehow, Alex de Campi creates a heartfelt moment or two in the cacophony of screams and explosions. Not too shabby.

If you grew up loving those campy, racy, shooty, stabby, movies of yesteryear, the kind that really did not give f**k one about the sensibilities of school marms and anal retentive malcontents, then this is the graphic novel for you. It was certainly the graphic novel for me.

July 16, 2014

The Natural Flow of the Weapon: an interview with Sebastien de Castell, author of "Traitor's Blade"

Sebastian de Castell's novel, TRAITOR’S BLADE (July 15, 2014; Jo Fletcher Books/Quercus), has received a fair bit of buzz with his historical setting and metric ton of swashbuckling, with nods to Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. I had the chance to ask Sebastien a few questions of the novel and sword fighting in general. Enjoy!

Gef: The Three Musketeers meets Game of Thrones. Not a bad hook. You've got a background in a lot of things, not the least of which is fencing, so was storytelling just a natural progression for you?

Sebastien: I think we’re all storytellers at heart and a lot of our happiness comes from finding our natural medium. For me, it all started when I was about fifteen years-old I read a book by Keith Tailor called "Bard" and decided that was the job for me - you know, traveling, performing, storytelling, and occasionally swinging a sword. Since no one was hiring for the position, I made up for it by doing everything from touring in a rock band to writing books to choreographing sword fights for theatre to...well, you get the idea. Years ago I was in the middle of a fencing match and realized I was writing a story in my head based on the bout (note to fencers: this is a terribly unwise thing to do in the middle of a match.) Later when I'd go jogging I'd still be making up stories in my head. Eventually in 2006 I just sat down and let the story I'd been writing in my head come out. That story became Traitor's Blade.
Gef: Your protagonist is a Greatcoat, kind of a traveling judge, jury, and executioner. Was this an idea you already had in mind for your story or something inspired from your historical research?
Sebastien: I wanted my protagonists to have a role that was a little different from the types of characters we often read about in fantasy novels. I’d once found a passing mention to the twelfth century English  justices itinerant. These were judges appointed by the King and sent on year-long circuits of towns and villages where they would hear cases and render verdicts. The idea of the wandering judge appealed to me, so I set out to explore what would happen if these travelling magistrates had to deal with local nobles who might not like their verdicts and might decide it was easier to kill off the judge than pay the fine.
Gef: What's the most common mistake an uninitiated person makes when he/she picks up a sword?

Sebastien: Don’t try to emulate what you’ve seen on TV or in the movies. Instead, start by letting yourself discover the natural flow of the weapon. Sword fighting, at it’s core, is about finding the natural biomechanics of how your body and the sword work together.
Gef: What's the most common mistake an uninitiated writer makes when he/she picks up a pen?
Sebastien: Don’t let anything or anyone discourage you from finishing your first book. Will it be flawed? Almost certainly. But that book, however terrible, will be one of the most wonderful accomplishments of your creative life. It’s also the threshold you must pass through in order to discover your own voice as a writer. It will be worth it. I promise.
Gef: What's the most memorable sword fight you've seen on screen or on the page?

Sebastien; There are a ton of great ones out there. I suppose my favourite remains the Wesley/Inigo fight from the film version of  The Princess Bride. Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin do such an amazing job of capturing the magic and fun of the old Errol Flynn style of fighting (helped, of course, by the amazing choreographer Bob Anderson.) But I’d feel terrible if I didn’t also mention Bill Hobb’s wonderfully gritty and raw fights between d’Hubert and Feraud in The Duellists (which was also Ridley Scott’s first feature film.) The fights in those two films very much reflect the two different styles of choreography - the fantastical and the realistic - that fight directors work with.
Gef: You have four books planned for the series, but do you have any other projects people should look out for writing-wise, or are your renaissance ways pulling you towards new crafts, perhaps? 
Sebastien: I've completed the first book in a new series called Spellslinger which is sort of noir-western-fantasy about a down-on-his-luck mage and the blackmailing thief and occasional murderer who is his business partner (and who also happens to be a raccoon.) It's fast-paced and surprisingly dark which makes it great fun to write. I’m also writing a new mystery series that’s a bit of a “ Nancy Drew meets  True Detective” thing (weird, I know, but I promise it’ll work).
Gef: Where can folks keep up with your writing and other exploits? 
Sebastien: I love hearing from readers and they can find me at  www.decastell.com or @decastell on Twitter. 

If you would like to buy Traitor's Blade, you can visit Amazon.com and get the hardcover by Jo Fletcher Books.

About Traitor's Blade: With swashbuckling action that recall Dumas' Three Musketeers Sebastien de Castell has created a dynamic new fantasy series. In Traitor's Blade a disgraced swordsman struggles to redeem himself by protecting a young girl caught in the web of a royal conspiracy.

The King is dead, the Greatcoats have been disbanded, and Falcio Val Mond and his fellow magistrates Kest and Brasti have been reduced to working as bodyguards for a nobleman who refuses to pay them. Things could be worse, of course. Their employer could be lying dead on the floor while they are forced to watch the killer plant evidence framing them for the murder. Oh wait, that's exactly what's happening.

Now a royal conspiracy is about to unfold in the most corrupt city in the world. A carefully orchestrated series of murders that began with the overthrow of an idealistic young king will end with the death of an orphaned girl and the ruin of everything that Falcio, Kest, and Brasti have fought for. But if the trio want to foil the conspiracy, save the girl, and reunite the Greatcoats, they'll have to do it with nothing but the tattered coats on their backs and the swords in their hands, because these days every noble is a tyrant, every knight is a thug, and the only thing you can really trust is a traitor's blade.

July 14, 2014

Near Future, Far Right: an interview with Max Allan Collins, author of "Supreme Justice"

Max Allan Collins' latest novel, Supreme Justice, hit shelves this month, published by Thomas & Mercer. You can snag yourself a copy over at Amazon.com if you like. But before you do, I had the good fortune to ask Mr. Collins a few questions about the novel and his writing career. Enjoy.

About Supreme Justice (courtesy of Amazon.com)After taking a bullet for his commander-in-chief, Secret Service agent Joseph Reeder is a hero. But his outspoken criticism of the president he saved—who had stacked the Supreme Court with hard-right justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, amp up the Patriot Act, and shred the First Amendment—put Reeder at odds with the Service’s apolitical nature, making him an outcast.

FBI agent Patti Rogers finds herself paired with the unpopular former agent on a task force investigating the killing of Supreme Court Justice Henry Venter. Reeder—nicknamed “Peep” for his unparalleled skills at reading body language—makes a startling discovery while reviewing a security tape: the shooting was premeditated, not a botched robbery. Even more chilling, the controversial Venter may not be the only justice targeted for death...

Is a mastermind mounting an unprecedented judicial coup aimed at replacing ultra-conservative justices with a new liberal majority? To crack the conspiracy and save the lives of not just the justices but also Reeder’s own family, rising star Rogers and legendary investigator Reeder must push their skills—and themselves—to the limit.

Gef: Supreme Justice is set in the near future, but where a science-fiction novel might be afforded certain allowances by readers as far as futurism and prognosticating on future technologies go, are thriller readers less forgiving? Did you feel or anticipate any push back with regards to how you imagined this near future America?

Max: Most of our readers so far have had no trouble with our "in the not too distant future" time frame, to quote Mystery Science Theater 3000.  I didn't want to be so far into the future that we'd have to indicate technological changes -- I wanted the book to feel like now.  My researcher/writing associate, Matthew Clemens, and I are discussing two possible follow-ups toSupreme Justice and are exploring whether to show some advancements in law-enforcement tech.  Basically I wanted a world with cell phones and texting and so on, which I think will be around for some time in more or less the same form.  There was immediate push-back from some conservative readers who felt I was banging a liberal drum by indicating a far right-leaning court could cause problems for America.  Frankly, I could have done something similar with a far left-leaning court.  The point was less left vs. right than extremism on either side being problematic for a democracy.

Gef: Your protagonist is an ex-member of the Secret Service. In your research, did you get much co-operation from the Secret Service or did they just put you on a watch list and call it a day? Have you ever had instances in your story research where resources or experts are just utterly uncooperative? 

Max: I knew better than to approach the Secret Service.  But I've done a lot of research on the Secret Service for prior books -- my JFK assassination novel, Target Lancer, in the Nathan Heller series, for example.  Also, I wrote the movie novel of In the Line of Fire, which is about a Secret Service agent, and my wife and I wrote a novel called Bombshell, with a Secret Service protagonist sharing the stage with Marilyn  Monroe.

Gef: So ... the U.S. Supreme Court certainly made headlines before they scurried off for their summer vacation. How did you perceive the whole Hobby Lobby ruling and the ensuing uproar?

Max: I wrote the synopsis of Supreme Justice five or six years ago.  I forget what it was they'd done that irritated me and got me thinking about the concept of a political activist trying to adjust the balance of the court by violence.   I knew that whenever I got around to writing it, the Court would do something to promote my book for me, by making a controversial ruling on something or other.  This group has really been going all out for me. 

Gef: I've read more than a couple reader reviews of thrillers, as well as other genres, that a writer's political bias distracts from the story. Do you find any merit at all in a sentiment like that?

Max: I admit I was surprised by how many readers on the right -- and a few on the left -- objected to political content in a political thriller. It's like somebody saying of a legal thriller, "Hey, watch it!  Too much law!" But honestly, Matt and I -- who are both left of center in our politics -- naively thought we'd hit the ball down the middle. We weren't trying to make a liberal point particularly, but maybe it's in the DNA.  The most blatant anti-right speech comes toward the end, when the hero is trying to manipulate the villain by pretending to be in sympathy with his motives. The point here, again, was the harm of extremism.

Gef: On your blog recently, you mentioned your reading time is spent with the classics as opposed to more modern fare. So for a fella like me who is still getting to know some of the writers from days gone by, like Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson and John D. MacDonald, who are some of the less ballyhooed writers I should be looking up?

Max: Well, I should start by saying I don't read political and legal thrillers. I didn't know about Grisham's The Pelican Brief, which has some similarity to Supreme Justice, until readers pointed it out, after publication -- I've never read him, or Vince Flynn or any of them really. In the political thriller area, I am more influenced by certain films and the books that inspired them, likeSeven Days in MayThe Manchurian Candidate and Dr. Strangelove. I am more a mystery/suspense guy, which is why my thrillers have a mystery component.  My heroes, besides those mentioned, are Dashiell Hammett, Mickey Spillane,  James M. Cain, Rex Stout, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Agatha Christie.   Other writers of the '30s - '60s who influenced me, and whose work I return to, would include Horace McCoy, Chester Himes, Donald E. Westlake (often writing as Richard Stark), Ennis Willie, and Ted Lewis. 

Gef: Along with Supreme Justice, Thomas & Mercer has published a fair number of your novels, one I recently purchased that really caught my eye, that being one you co-wrote with your wife, Barbara, Bombshell. I just want to know who came up with the idea of a story with Marilyn Monroe and Nikita Khrushchev on the lam in Disneyland? 

Max: The novel was Barb's idea -- she wrote a short story version first that was published in an anthology.  I thought it had the potential to be a full-length novel.   It was our second novel together, originally published under both our names but republished by Thomas & Mercer under our joint pseudonym, Barbara Allan.  That's the byline on our comic cozy "Trash 'n' Treasures" mystery series, the most of recent of which is called Antiques Con.

Gef: Supreme Justice has garnered some heaps of praise and a metric ton of reviews on Amazon, and that seemed to be in just the first week of its release, so how are planning out the rest of your summer and how can readers keep up with your shenanigans?

Max: We had a busy winter and spring, with several new novels under our belts (Barb and me, I mean).  We've done Antiques Swap together, and I did a western called The Legend of Caleb York based on an unproduced screenplay that Mickey Spillane wrote for his friend John Wayne.  I wrote another in my Quarry series for Hard Case Crime, Quarry's Choice, and completed an unfinished Mike Hammer novel from the Spillane files, Kill Me, Darling.   Now I'm researching the next Nate Heller novel, which will be about the McCarthy era and the Red scare of the '50s.   Barb and I, and our son Nate, will be at the San Diego Comic Con in less than two weeks as I write this.  Nate is a Japanese to English translator, and recently did a new translation of Battle Royale as well as a BR graphic novel, both for Viz.   I'll be presenting the Scribe Awards for the International Association of Movie and TV Tie-in Writers on a convention panel.  Back home, I'll be playing a few gigs with my longtime classic-rock band, Crusin'.

Big thanks to Max for stopping by the blog. And for the rest of you, if you want to keep up with the man, you can visit his website at www.maxallancollins.com/

July 11, 2014

Chasing Tale [7/12/14]: What Would Jesus Trademark?

I read the other day from the AV Club that Tyler Perry has trademarked the phrase, "What Would Jesus Do?"

I just don't understand trademarks, I guess. As I see it, a certain level of both obliviousness and avariciousness is required to trademark such a long-standing phrase. It's a phrase so ubiquitous that the idea anyone, let alone a filmmaker, can now claim exclusivity for making money off of it just runs counter-intuitive to any supposed Christian intent. I am fairly confident that at no point during this process did Tyler Perry ask himself: What would Jesus do?

This little nugget of dipshittery further demonstrates how the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office specializes in the jumping of sharks these days, as the trademarks and patents they have been granted over the last few years are stymieing. 

As far as trademarking common phrases go, Tyler Perry now ranks among the elite of money-grubbing hacks alongside Donald Trump who trademarked "You're fired," and whats-his-face on Storage Wars who has an actual trademark on the word "Yup."

Maybe I should trademark the phrase "This movie sucks" and make a mint off all of the reviews for all future Aunt Madea movies.

Ah well, enough of that silly shit. More books are on my TBR pile. Check 'em out:

Domino Falls by Steve Barnes and Tananarive Due - A husband/wife collaboration with one grizzly-sounding novel involving infected people waking up as crazed maniacs. Not a cozy British mystery then, I'm guessing.

The Year I Died Seven Times #4 by Eric Beetner - The fourth installment in this serial novel came out in June. Only three more to go after this one and business is picking up.

Prodigal Blues by Gary A. Braunbeck - I wondered if I might ever find a Braunbeck novel in my bookshop meanderings and lucked out when I found this one. A non-supernatural horror novel no less.

The Engines of Sacrifice by James Chambers - I don't think I've ever read Chambers' work before, but I received this collection of Lovecraftian-style horror from Dark Regions Press, and it sounds pretty cool, so I'll definitely give it a chance.

Shadow Animals by Keith Deininger - A new novella that came out in June, this one features one of the creepier covers I've seen in a while. C'mon, dudes with antlers are totes creepy. 

The Remnant: Into the Collision by P.A. Douglas - Nothing like a good old armageddon via meteorites. Saw this one with a recommendation from Jonathan Maberry. Good enough for me.

Red by Jack Ketchum - I'm a dog lover, so if there's a book on this list that's bound to hit some trigger for me surrounding animal cruelty, it's this one. Granted, the book is more about the dog's owner exacting revenge on the scumbags that killed his dog.

Blood Games by Richard Laymon - I'm gradually finding Laymon novels here and there, and even found his titles are available as Kindle titles too. Neat-o. This one was on sale a little while back, so I scooped it right up.

Devourer of Souls by Kevin Lucia - I bought a copy of this during Kevin's launch party a couple weeks back. I've read some of his short fiction and really liked it, so this book of two connected novellas ought to be another example of Ragnarok Publishing's eye for talent.

Slob by Rex Miller - I can't remember where I first heard about this classic thriller novel. It was either a Stephen King blurb or a catchy plot summary in the back of one of my pulpy paperbacks of the era. Either way, it's on the Kindle Store now and subsequently on my Kindle.

Dark Water by Barry Napier - Barry sent me a review copy of his brand new thriller novel, and he even stopped by the blog recently with a guest post that you can check out here to learn a little more about the book.

The Stolen by Bishop O'Connell - A modern fairy fantasy tale, this one from Harper Voyager sounds quite promising, and it has a very evocative cover to go with it, too.

The Midnight Road by Tom Piccirilli - If recovering from a brain tumor isn't trying enough, Tom Piccirilli suffered a small stroke in June. Medical bills, y'all. I went and bought this book after hearing the news. I already a good number of his books, but not the thrillers published by Bantam a few years back. Until now.

Last One Alive by Kristopher Rufty - This one is a taut thriller novella with a couple short stories thrown in for good measure. I've only read a bit of Rufty's short fiction, so I figured it was time I added an actual novel to my Kindle--even if it's only a short one. But hey, it was only a buck when I bought it.

The Montauk Monster by Hunter Shea - If you're curious about Hunter's new novel, he stopped by the blog recently with a guest post that you can read here. A very cool sounding local legend I hadn't heard of until I heard about the novel.

The Sucky Life of Thomas Crow by Phillip Stanley - Here's a novella I received that involves a brow-beaten, down-on-his-luck schmo entranced by a vampiric goth girl. Oh, that old chestnut. :)

"Scavenger" by Timothy C. Ward - Set in Hugh Howey's Sand universe, Tim wrote a novelette here that works pretty darned well as a stand-alone. I'm more familiar with his work on Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing, but the guy's got a knack for writing too.

The Cutie by Donald E. Westlake - I can't decide what sold me on this Hard Case Crime book more: the name on the cover or the cutie on the cover. Six of one, half a dozen of the other, I suppose.


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