April 20, 2015

Freedom in Fiction: an interview with Lola Smirnova, author of "Twisted"

About Lola Smirnova's Twisted: In the corrupt economy of post-Soviet Ukraine opportunities are scarce.

Young and eager sisters – Natalia, Lena and Julia – harbour dreams of a better life.

Naive and tempted by the allure of ‘quick’ money the girls set off on an adventure that changes their lives forever…

Can they stay out of trouble enough to fulfill their ambitions?

Can they hold on to their idealism in a world where depravity and danger are constant companions?

How far are they willing to go to make a buck?

TWISTED is a true life shaped into fiction story of vulnerability, courage and the art of making a living in the sex trade.

Gef: What was the impetus behind sitting down to write Twisted?

Lola: I had a story to tell that maybe could help to change peoples' often ignorant attitude to the problems of sex industry, victims of which usually are young inexperienced women. I wanted the reader to realize that those working girls are humans ... They dream, love or suffer the same way as anyone's girlfriend, sister or daughter.

Gef: Was there something more freeing in the writing process by choosing to write a novel rather than straight-up nonfiction?

Lola: “Freeing” is definitely a right word! Writing fiction is much more of a creative position, while nonfiction is more of a task, which naturally makes writing fiction much more fun and enjoyable.

With fiction, I can create my own world and not worry about if something is fact or if it is inaccurate. ANYTHING you want can come to life, you don't have to stick to the rules of real life...

Gef: Along with real life experiences, what else did you draw on in your writing? Was there much research involved with regards to locales or other facets of the story?

Lola: Yes, I interviewed people in the trade and did some online research. 

Gef: Twisted has garnered some decidedly positive reviews in the course of a year? How gratifying has it been to see the reception to your first novel? And how does that fuel you as you write the sequel? Is it a motivator or a tad intimidating?

Lola: When you receive positive feedback about your “baby” like that, you get assured again that it was worthwhile spending three years of your life on creating it.

It’s definitely a motivator, but intimidating at the same time. It plants questions in my head: are my readers going to enjoy the sequel as much as they enjoyed the first book, am I going to be able to meet their expectations…?

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Lola: Frankly, all advice I found in the “how to” books and other sources so far have been useful. I wouldn’t consider any of them as a bad advice.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your other projects? 

Lola: I just finished writing a sequel to TwistedCraved and it’s in the process of editing now. If everything goes well, it should be released some time next month…

Straight after that I’ll probably start the next book to complete the planned trilogy.

The best way to keep up with my projects is to follow my online social networking pages, like Facebook, Twitter or subscribe for the newsletter through my website, as I regularly post about the latest developments on my projects.

- Author website:

- Twitter:

- Twitter handle:


- Facebook page:

April 15, 2015

Chasing Tale [April 15, 2015]: Fandom and Dumber

Chasing Tale is a recurring look at the books that have wound up on my to-be-read pile, as well as a rant on whatever is on my mind at the time.

Val McDermid wrote a piece for the Guardian a couple weeks back titled "Why crime fiction is liberal and thrillers are rightwing." It's interesting because whatever politics exist in thriller and crime fiction, the writers and the fans don't appear to be embroiled in any kind of artificial "culture war." I mean, when Stephen King (that detestable tree-hugging, tax dodging, gun hating liberal that he is) won the Thriller Award in 2012, right-wingers didn't lose their minds and accuse the awards of being overtaken by "libtard" cliques. But people in the science fiction & fantasy community for the last few years, and this year especially, have straight-up forgotten how to adult ... all because of the Hugo Awards.

If you haven't heard the hoopla, just Google the words "Hugo Awards" and "puppies," and have fun with the fustercluck  you find in the results. It has hit such ridiculous levels (from Alex Jones caliber conspiracy theories to alleged death threats) that the grandpa of all things nerdy, George R.R. Martin, had to take time away from not finishing his A Song of Ice and Fire series to offer a voice of reason to the juvenile pissing and moaning.

The whole thing smacks of paranoid bullshit. Or, heck, maybe all these malcontents are right and I'm the crazy one. Maybe there's an unholy left-wing army that has hijacked the SF/F community. Maybe it's some unholy right-wing army that did the hijacking. Or maybe--just maybe--these grown-ass authors need to stop throwing hissy fits, stop with the drama bombs, stop losing their shit over every slight both real and imagined, and stop fetishizing a goddamn paperweight that--let's be honest--kinda looks like a chrome dildo.

I do enjoy an author meltdown now and again, but the usual culprits only get their fur up over 1-star Amazon reviews, or maybe a snarkfest between a self-published author and a traditionall published author. But this lot is the who's who of sci-fi and fantasy. New York Times bestsellers bellowing at each other from their digital soap boxes in a manner that makes a brawl in the Ukrainian parliament look downright cordial. It's such a pathetic display and has been drawn out for so long, even my prurient popcorn munching is dampened by the idea that the Hugos aren't until August, which means we probably have yet to hit the high watermark for asinine embarrassments.

I don't expect much from the rabble on Twitter or comments sections on blogs, the fetid swamp where the bodies of civil discourse are dumped, but it would be nice if the figureheads of this fiasco could drop the righteous indignation and hyperbole, blogging incessantly about how hard done-by they all are, and get back to doing something productive. Ya know ... like writing a f**king book.

Speaking of books, a bunch more wound up on my bookshelves. Have a look and let me know what you've added to your TBR pile lately. But if you wanna comment on the literary illuminati, don't bother. You're just gonna put me to sleep.

The Crime of Our Lives by Lawrence Block - On top of all the fiction he's written, Lawrence Block has collected a slew of his nonfiction, as he reminisces about his time in the crime genre trenches. Should be great.

Desert Rising by Kelley Grant - This is a debut novel out through Harper Voyager Impulse. A fantasy novel with capricious deities and giant cats. Hmmm. Sounds like your average day on the internet to me.

Black Cat Mojo by Adam Howe -This one is a collection of novellas that combine crime and horror, and boasts some eye-catching titles like "Of Badgers and Porn Dwarfs." O_o If that's not doing it for ya, there's always "Jesus in a Dog's Ass."

From Hell by Tim Marquitz - The Demon Squad series just keeps rolling along, and I have some serious catching up to do. With the books I already have, I received a free copy of this novella.

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire - A new series from McGuire, so I figured I'd try to get in on the ground floor with this one. The gal is prolific, and from what I've read of her work thus far, pretty damned talented to boot.

The Nobody by Tom Piccirilli - An amnesia-themed thriller novella by one of the most remarkable writers on this century thus far. Oh, you don't believe me? You obviously haven't read his work yet. Fix that.

"Suffer the Children" and "The Voivod" by Dominic Selwood - I received a couple of short stories that are a bit of an homage to M.R. James. I do enjoy a good ghost story, especially of the British persuasion.

Incarnate by Anton Strout - I've reviewed the first two novels in Anton's gargoyle series, so I may as well finish off the trilogy while I'm at it. The second book was a noticeable improvement over the first, so I'm curious how this third one fares.

Inhuman Interest by Eric Turowski - This one sounds little bit steampunky, little bit adventure thriller, little bit urban fantasy. Might be worth a look-see.

Scavenger: Evolution by Timothy C. Ward - Tim's third installment in his Scavenger series is out now. The guy is building up a head of steam the last year or two. Might wanna keep an eye on this guy.

Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells - Loved, loved, loved Jaye's Sabina Kane series, and now she has a new urban fantasy series, this one featuring a police force tackling supernatural powers. Neat-o.

Dark Screams: Volume Three by various authors - The third installment of the ongoing anthology comes out soon. Loved the first, liked the second, so I'm hoping the third rebounds back into great territory. With Ketchum and Straub in the ToC, there's a strong possibility of that.

April 14, 2015

Sweet Dreams and Psycho Clowns: an interview with Tim Waggoner, author of "Dream Stalkers"

About Tim Waggoners' Dream StalkersA new drug – Shut-Eye – has been developed in the dreamland, and smuggled into our world. It’s addictive, and dangerous, and Shadow Watch agents Audra and Mr Jinx are on the case, preparing new recruits to deal with the problem.

Meanwhile, a wave of ancient, bodiless Incubi are entering the dreams of humans in an attempt to possess them and live new lives. Only the criminally insane would ever risk a confrontation with them.

Thank goodness, then, for Mr Jinx: clown, Shadow Watch agent, psychopath.

Find it on Amazon.com or buy direct from Angry Robot Books.

I had the chance to ask Tim a few questions about his Shadow Watch series and his writing. Enjoy!

Gef: I could ask where you got the inspiration for the Shadow Watch series and the Maelstrom, but instead I'll just ask where you got the inspiration for Mr. Jinx?

Tim: When I first came up with the idea of a human partnered with her ultimate nightmare, I thought of how many people – including my oldest daughter – are terrified of clowns. They don’t bother me at all, but they really get to a lot of people. I decided it would be a fun archetype to play around with because a clown can represent chaos, and since you never know what they might do, it would add a fun level of unpredictability to the story. Plus, it would allow me to write all kind of crazy humorous bits associated with him. I was also inspired by an early scene in Who Frame Roger Rabbit? during which we see Roger drink alcohol and in reaction make a sound like steam whistle that’s so loud it shatters windows. It made me realize that wacky characters like that, if they existed in the real world, would be terrifyingly dangerous, and I so I combined scary clown with a maniacal toon, and Jinx was born!

Gef: What was it about this book, if anything, that you approached differently from the previous titles?

Tim: I explored the main characters’ pasts as Shadow Watch officers in the current book, and I developed the world of Nod as well as its mythology and spiritual beliefs in more detail. Audra and Jinx find their stock has risen considerably with the citizens of Nod since the last book, and they find the admiration they receive a bit baffling. This book has a larger scope that the previous one, so I had to be careful to keep a tight rein on the plot so it didn’t spiral wildly out of control (at least, no more out of control than usual!).

Gef: Is there much of anything that you need to do differently in writing with regards to a series as opposed to a stand-alone novel?

Tim: You need to make sure to maintain consistency with characters and events, of course. Plus, you need to make certain that new stories seem like continuations without being mere repetitions. You need to give the characters emotional arcs for each book – they need to grow and change with each story, so you need to find a different aspect of their personality that you didn’t explore in previous stories (or didn’t explore in much detail) to create a new emotional arc for them. You need to balance readers’ expectations for familiarity with their need for something new and make sure you tend to both – a tricky balance to maintain!

Gef: How intensive does the research process get for you? How much of a rabbit hole was it with looking into aspects of dreams and their influence?

Tim: I didn’t do much research for the Shadow Watch books. I’ve based most of the dream material that appears in the books on stuff about dreams I’ve learned over the years from books and articles, as well as on my experience with dreams and the experiences of other people – friends and family – who’ve told me their dreams. I find dreams fascinating. The idea that we live half of our lives in the real world and half of our lives in a very unreal world, where anything can happen. It’s no wonder humans have created so many myths and legends. We live part-time in a fantasy world!

Gef: When it comes to dreams, I suppose there is the temptation towards an "anything goes" attitude to what can and will happen in that world, but what kind of limitations or mechanics did you impose on this world, like a magic system you might say?

Tim: When I decided that the dream elements would be manifested in the physical world, it really helped me keep those elements grounded. For example, I decided that Incubi – the living nightmares – would only have special abilities during the night and that those abilities would be limited based on the kind of creature they are. They are all stronger and more durable than humans when in their night forms, but they are just as vulnerable as humans during the day. I treated them a lot like X-Men-type mutants. I chose an ability for them, didn’t make them all-powerful, and gave them flaws. Jinx can only do clown stuff – withdraw wacky items from his pockets that are also highly lethal. His flaw is that he’s insane and impulsive, making him equally likely to harm friend as well as foe.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Tim: Write what you know. It implies that people should basically just write personal essays and not use their imaginations to create stories. Writing from direct experience is vital, of course, but writers can use real-world experience to create stories. For example, when I was four, I was briefly lost in a department store. My relatives found me, and all was well. I can use that experience of being lost to write a scene about a child lost in a medieval fantasy marketplace or a space station. I can use my memories to create a realistic emotional core to what is ultimately an unrealistic scene. I think “write what you know” has done more damage to beginning writers, and maybe derailed more careers before they could begin, than any other piece of writing advice.

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Tim: I don’t believe in feeling guilty about any pleasures. I can watch a highly artistic film like Birdman one day and then watch a silly cheese-fest like WolfCop the next. As long as I find something of interest in a work of art or entertainment, something that I respond to, that provokes thought or emotion in me, that’s all I care about. I want to experience books and movies that feed me somehow, that provide fuel for my artistic imagination. High culture, pop culture, low culture . . . it’s all grist for the mill as far as I’m concerned.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Tim:I have a short horror novel called Eat the Night that will be coming out from DarkFuse Publishing before long. I’m currently working on another horror novel called The Mouth of the Dark for Samhain Publishing, and I’m also working with the good people at Angry Robot to decide what novel(s) they’d like me to do next for them. You can keep tabs on me at www.timwaggoner.com, follow me on Facebook, or @timwaggoner on Twitter.

April 13, 2015

Book Set Giveaway: S.P. Miskowski's Skillute Cycle (US only)

The Skillute Cycle takes place mostly in the fictional town of Skillute, Washington. The town has a dark history, both in the natural sense of being a place that struggles with difficult social and economic changes over time, and in the less natural sense: something haunts the woods. Indeed, terrible things happen in Skillute, and the thread that weaves through all of the books is the world's women, who are in unbearable situations and trapped by malevolent forces. This force may have originated in the very disillusionment in which they live and have lived for generations. Miskowski aims for claustrophobia and paranoia in the Skillute Cycle, and in doing so, shows us just how horrific the domestic can be. 

The Skillute Cycle
Knock Knock (novel, nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award)
Delphine Dodd (novella, nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award)
Astoria (novella)
In the Light (novella)

S.P.'s biography: 

S.P. Miskowski's stories have appeared in Supernatural Tales, Horror Bound Magazine, Fine Madness, Other Voices, Identity Theory, and in the anthology Detritus. Her non-fiction has appeared in Nightmare Magazine. The Skillute Cycle, a four-book series published by Omnium Gatherum Media comprises the debut novel, Knock Knock, and her first novella, Delphine Dodd (both of which were finalists for a Shirley Jackson Award,) as well as novellas Astoria and In the Light

Raised on Flannery O'Connor, Edgar Allan Poe, and public television in Decatur, Georgia, Miskowski now lives in California with her husband, fantasy and sci-fi author Cory J. Herndon.

S.P.'s social media and book links:
An excellent, in-depth interview with S.P. on The Gothic Stirhttp://www.gothic.stir.ac.uk/blog/an-interview-with-s-p-miskowski-part-one/

S.P.'s Social Media:

And for U.S. readers here's a chance to win a set of The Skillute Cycle. Contest ends in 6 days, so get in there.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Brush Off the Clouds and Cheer Up, Put On a Happy Face: a review of Jeff Strand's "Facial"

by Jeff Strand
DarkFuse (2014)
86 pages
Available at Amazon.com

For a second, I thought Facial was going to be equal parts gritty and sardonic, but it didn't take long to realize that Jeff Strand had far stranger plans in mind with his novella.

Meet Greg. He's got an unfaithful wife. He's not so tore up about her cheating, but one guy she slept with just had to gloat about it. So Greg hired a guy to kill that guy. Then Greg killed the guy he hired to kill that other guy. Now Greg needs to get rid of the guy's body.

Meet Carlton, Greg's brother. Carlton isn't a crime boss. He isn't much of anything really. But he does have a basement, and in that basement is a lion corpse, and underneath that lion corpse is a face. And that face is hungry.

Wait, lion corpse? Yeah, but don't get bogged down on that detail. Focus on the face ... or not. Actually, better not, because people who come in contact with that face ... change. Everything changes really.

If this sounds a little weird to you, you're wrong. It's a lot weird. What is at once a fairly straight-forward tale of revenge and jealousy veers into this unsettling, bloodthirsty tease towards the apocalypse. It's not a threat of some great cataclysm, but just the gradually ramping up of one dead body after the next, and the disquieting realization between the two brothers that their original intentions for taking lives is no longer why they do what they do, and it doesn't seem to bother them that much.

If you're familiar with Jeff's previous work, the touches of humor are certainly there in full display, but I can't recall ever reading one of his books that was quite so bizarre. And that might be saying something, because the guy knows how to inject the bizarre into the mundane. It's a daring story, though readers eager for outright explanations to the uncanny may away scratching their heads ... or their faces.

April 10, 2015

The Projectionist Behind “The Projectionist”: a guest post by Jason Heller

Hex Publishers, a new Denver-based publishing house, will release its first anthology, Nightmares Unhinged, in September 2015. The book will feature eighteen tales of dark and twisted fiction written by a roster of award-winning and bestselling authors that reads like a who’s who of dark and speculative fiction, a broad literary genre encompassing fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements – most often horror. 

Contributors include Mario Acevedo, bestselling author of the Felix Gomez vampire series; Nebula Award winner Edward Bryant; New York Times bestseller Keith Ferrell; Jeanne C. Stein, bestselling author of The Anna Strong Vampire Chronicles; Bram Stoker Award winner Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem, yet another Bram Stoker Award winner. New York Times bestseller Steve Alten will write the book’s foreword.

Another of the anthology's contributing authors, Hugo Award winner Jason Heller, was generous enough to offer a guest post about his story and how it came to be. Enjoy!

The Projectionist Behind “The Projectionist”
By Jason Heller

Every writer worth their weight in words didn’t just grow up around books—they grew up around movies. I got luckier than most. My grandmother managed a movie theater.

Movie theaters were different things in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when I was a kid going to my grandma’s theater. Multiplexes had not yet taken over. Lots of little, twin-screen cinemas still dotted the American suburbscape, refuges for bored kids and cheap dates and parents who snuck out on their kids (or snuck out on each other). They were dusty, and the candy was stale, and the 35mm film sometimes tilted off the screen, and they were about as architecturally evocative as a shoebox.

They were also magic as fuck.

If I sound slightly romantic about the blemished bronze age of cinema, you don’t know the half of it. I huffed that dust and devoured that stale candy and felt my bones stretch inside that shoebox. My grandmother’s first theater was in the little Gulf Coast town of Englewood, Florida. It was there that I saw Star Wars, in 1977, right when it came out. I was five years old. I had no idea what was going on or what anything meant. But it made me want to know, and thus was born my love of science fiction, fantasy, and mythology.

My grandmother’s next theater was just a few miles up I-75 from Englewood, in the slightly larger town of Venice (population circa today: 20,000 souls—although it was certainly lower than that in 1980). In that twin-screen, stripmall cinema wedged between a Radio Shack and a McDonald’s, I saw almost every major movie that was released from 1980 to 1985, when my mom uprooted us to Colorado. Flash Gordon. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Conan the Barbarian. Blade Runner. The Road Warrior. Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Last Starfighter. The Thing. Poltergeist. Tron. Not to mention, of course, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Seeing as how my grandma couldn’t keep track of me and my little brother at all times while she was busy managing the theater, we were able to sneak into the R-rated movies without breaking a sweat.

But I didn’t just watch all those movies. They watched me. They crept under my skin, slithered through my hair, bored into my eyes, displaced my internal organs. They taught me about the nature of truth and lies. At a young age, every single week, I was vividly shown an irrefutable rebuttal to the lesson that honesty was the best policy. Lies were better. And if you could make those lies gigantic, you were an artist.

Lies surrounded my family. That didn’t make us different than any other family, but it was still painful and confusing and surreal. Whenever possible, I chose the lies on the screen. To me, the bigger lies were the more honest ones.

I wrote a short story titled “The Projectionist” for Hex Publishers’ debut horror anthology, Nightmares Unhinged. It’s about theaters, and it’s about lies. It’s drawn from my experiences as a kid who wandered a movie theater as if it were his own personal wonderland, but it’s also drawn from the movies that I saw then. It’s also influenced by movies I wouldn’t see until I was slightly older: particularly those directed by David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Terry Gilliam, and others who knew that reality and truth were as infinitely malleable as consciousness and, at times, even flesh itself.

As much freedom as I was given at my grandma’s theater, there was one place I was rarely allowed: the projectionist’s booth. In her first theater in Englewood, a rickety spiral staircase led to a hole in the ceiling; that was where the projectionist sat and unspooled his visions. In her second theater in Venice, it wasn’t quite so gothic, but it was just as forbidden. Logically, I knew why I wasn’t allowed up there: Kids break shit. But another part of me—the part that had been nurtured and fed secrets and fertilized by the liquid darkness of spilled soda and melted licorice and the musty drapery of velvet—dreamed of the mysteries that the projectionist’s booth held.

From time to time, through a half-open door, I caught a glimpse of the camera. It looked more like an animal than a machine. It was elaborate, elegant, elephantine. I couldn’t imagine how one could conceivably operate such an apparatus. Did you strap yourself into it? Was it an exoskeleton? Could it transform itself into other, eldritch objects, the way it transformed the flat, blank slate of the movie screen into a gaping hole torn in the universe? And the film itself! Were those threads of celluloid some kind of tendons? Was the spinning of the reels part of a vast metabolic process? What would ever happen if I did go into the booth when no one else was around?

That, and maybe a few other things, is what “The Projectionist” is about.

I’m nowhere near the first writer to set a horror story in a movie theater. I certainly won’t be the last. That’s because theaters can be so many things to so many people. A sanctuary. A monastery. A museum. A cathedral. A dungeon. A brothel. A spaceship. A telescope. An escape pod. A mouth. A stomach. A womb. It can be more than a single thing at once, in the same way that images are open to interpretation and words can have different meanings and truths can be distorted to fit the screen they’re being shown upon.

Even if that screen is a person.

Even if that screen is a child.

I was lucky to have grown up in a movie theater. It was one of the few lucky breaks I caught. “The Projectionist” is not autobiographical, goddess forbid. But I did try to pour as much liquid darkness into it that I could. The liquid darkness that I was steeped in for so many years, growing up in those theaters. The liquid darkness that I learned to breathe. And the liquid darkness that I still breathe, even when I wish I didn’t have to.

Jason Heller is the author of the alt-history novel Taft 2012 (Quirk Books) and a Senior Writer for The Onion's pop-culture website, The A.V. Club. He's also a former nonfiction editor of Clarkesworld; as part of the magazine's 2012 editorial team, he received a Hugo Award. His short fiction has been published by Apex MagazineSybil's GarageFarrago's Wainscot, and others, and his reviews and essays have appeared in Weird TalesEntertainment WeeklyNPR.orgTor.com, and Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Time Traveler's Almanac (Tor Books). Additionally, he wrote an official Pirates of the Caribbean tie-in book, The Captain Jack Sparrow Handbook (Quirk). He lives in Denver with this wife Angela amid a dearth of things that aren't books

April 8, 2015

A Q&A with Barbara Stark-Nemon, author of "Even in Darkness"

About Barbara Stark-Nemon's 'Even in Darkness': As a child, Barbara Stark-Nemon grew up listening to her grandfather’s unforgettable tales of their family’s former life in Europe. Barbara’s favorite story was the one of how her grandfather, an attorney, arranged to escape Germany with Barbara’s mother and grandmother in 1938, only weeks before Kristallnacht. But there was one story that intrigued Barbara more than any other: How did her grandfather’s sister, who did not escape during the Holocaust, manage to survive, and why had she remained in Germany living with a Catholic priest?

A historical novel based on a true story, Even in Darkness is the harrowing saga of family, lovers, two world wars, and the Holocaust, revealing a vivid portrait of Germany during the twentieth century. Spanning a century and three continents, the book tells the story of Kläre Kohler, whose origins in a prosperous German-Jewish family hardly anticipate the second half of her long life in a loving relationship with Ansel Beckmann, a German priest half her age.

The story begins when Kläre’s only concern is her marriage to Jakob Kohler. But, as Germany erupts into WWI, Kläre must learn to navigate the dangerous place her home has become and then protect her growing family. By 1939, the Nazis have assumed power, and Kläre is trapped in Germany by loyalty to her war-injured husband and aging mother. She arranges escape for her sons, but is then deported to the concentration camp Theresienstadt. Walking the razor edge of death daily, Kläre uses her position as a massage therapist to the commandant to survive and assist other internees. Meanwhile, her children meet danger and desperation in their new lives in Palestine and England.

Ansel’s connection to Kläre comes after the loss of his mother and time in an orphanage, and continues through his university studies during the Nazi years, and a harrowing military experience on the Russian front.

In the most unlikely circumstances, Kläre and Ansel not only survive, but find renewed meaning in a life with each other. Their relationship transcends the boundaries of generation, religion, and societal expectation, bearing witness to the way in which love, as redemption for pain and suffering, enters our lives in unexpected ways.

Find it on Amazon.com

What inspired you to write Even in Darkness?

Even in Darkness is based on the life of my great aunt, who alone among her siblings did not escape Germany during the Holocaust. Her story of survival—the courage and strength she had to remake herself and her life in the face of unspeakable loss—has been an inspiration to me throughout my adult life. Hers is a beautiful story and having come to know it in depth I wanted to share it and create a legacy for her.

You researched the book thoroughly. Did you know from the beginning how extensive your research would become?

Yes and no. I’ve known since one of the visits I made to my great aunt in Germany many years ago, that I wanted to write her story, so I started interviewing her (she was already over 90 years old) and the priest, who is the other main character in this story. I also interviewed my parents and grandparents. I already knew a lot about my grandfather and great aunt’s family from Sunday nights around the dinner table. Then my aunt died, and the priest sent me all her personal papers, including over 50 letters that her son had written to her during and after the war from Palestine, where he had been sent at the age of 12. Those letters deepened and changed what I understood about all their lives in a way I couldn’t have predicted.

What was one of your favorite stories that your grandfather told you about his life in Germany?

My favorite story is one that’s actually in Even in Darkness and describes how, when all hope appeared to be lost for getting a visa to leave Germany, my grandfather chose to try one last time at the bidding of my 12-year-old mother who pestered him that she wanted to go to the U.S. to join her best friend who had already emigrated. My grandfather didn’t want to frighten my mother by telling her that he’d tried repeatedly to see the American consul and been denied an appointment. My mother begged him to go that day; it was her birthday. When he said he might not be able to get in, she told him to tell the diplomat it was his daughter’s birthday. My grandfather stayed all day in line at the consulate, and as he was about to be turned away yet again, he pleaded that it was his daughter’s birthday and he just felt it was a lucky day. The official let him in, and an hour later he had the necessary visa. That was in May of 1938, and they were finally able to leave in October, just a few weeks before Kristallnacht.

Where did you begin your research and where did it lead you?

I traveled to Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and to Israel to trace all the histories and see all the places I learned about in my grandfather’s stories and later, in the trove of personal papers my great aunt left to me. I was able to interview even more people related to this story, walk the streets, photograph the homes, take trains over the same routes to the concentration camp, look out over the hills surrounding the kibbutz where all my characters lived out their lives. In archives and museums I learned details of births, deaths, marriages, businesses, deportations, displacements, escapes and emigrations. All this knowledge fed my imagination for the parts of the story I didn’t and couldn’t know.

How did you feel reading letters written by your ancestors? What did you learn from these letters?

This was one of the most thrilling and challenging aspects of writing Even in Darkness. To translate these sixty-five-year-old letters and hear the voice of my mother’s cousin as a 19-year-old pioneer in Palestine with his description of his escape from Germany and the early years of his life half a world away was both fascinating and did more than anything else to make that time and his character live for me. The exhaustion, desperation and heartache of his parents, having just survived years of persecution under the Nazis, and then three years in a concentration camp and displaced person camp, can be heard in his youthful assurances that one day it would be safe for his mother to visit, brushing off the dangers he faced, and his exuberance for all that he was training to accomplish on the kibbutz he and other young pioneers were starting.

What kinds of considerations were there in incorporating real letters into your novel?

The biggest challenge was to capture the voice, the history and the language of the letters and still work within the story structure of the novel. It was the most poignant and concrete example of the constant balance I had to maintain as I was writing Even in Darkness between what really happened to the people on whom the book is based, and what worked for purposes of writing a good novel.

What was the most surprising part about your research? Did you uncover any family secrets?

There were some surprises. Through interviews with cousins in Europe I learned a different perspective about other members of my grandfather’s family, whom I knew only though his stories. I learned about my mother’s cousins who were hidden in a convent by nuns. I learned about the personal decisions about faith and influence in the Catholic Church at that time that had enormous impact on my family. I learned that another great aunt was a beautiful singer and evaded arrest by singing for a German officer. And I learned that what people had to do to maintain their safety and their sanity during the dangerous years of the 1930s in Germany resulted in boundary crossing behaviors that were both courageous and painful.

What was the hardest part about writing fiction around events and people that really happened and really existed?

As I’ve said elsewhere, Even in Darkness is not just my first novel. It is a story of my heart and the finest tribute I can craft to two remarkable people and to other Holocaust survivors everywhere. To separate my personal attachment to the real people and events behind the book enough to insure a tight, compelling novel was a really interesting challenge for me as a writer. I also felt very sensitive to and responsible for the privacy and the legacy of other family members. Finally, this is not your typical Holocaust survival story, and the very things that make it unusual might be painful to people who would have a hard time with some of the decisions my characters made.

How did your research expand your understanding of living life as a Jewish woman in the twentieth century in Germany?

I got to ask my great aunt the hard questions about what it was like to watch her whole family leave, and then have to send her children out of the country. I got to hear her nieces tell me how hard their mother begged my aunt to leave, and I got to feel the agony of her decision not to leave without her husband who was ill and had refused to believe the Nazi menace was serious until it was too late, and her mother who was too old to get a visa and refused to go as well. As a mother of three sons, right around the ages of the children Klare sent out, I read the letters she received from her sons and ached for what it meant, for what she lost. I grew to understand that she had to take charge of their lives and save them as best she could; a role that her traditional upbringing couldn’t have prepared her to take on.

Why did you decide to write a novel rather than a biography or memoir?

The simple answer is, there were too many missing pieces in the story. I didn’t know all the facts, but felt I understood from the point of view of the characters. It was a way to use all the compelling reality of the family story with the immediacy that fiction allows us to maintain. In the first year that I worked on the book, I participated in a wonderful workshop with the author Elizabeth Kostova. I had recently come back from a research/interview trip to Germany with much new information. We worked the story out both ways: as a memoir and as a novel. In the end, I realized I wanted to write a novel, this novel.

Were there any unexpected obstacles you encountered when you began writing Even in Darkness?

I thought I could work full time, finish raising three boys, do volunteer work and write a novel. I had no idea how much I would love the research and the writing, and how much I wanted to devote ALL my time to it!

What advice would you give to authors conducting research for their book?

Do as much as you can; use your network to help you, invest in it. The work you do to inform yourself will exponentially inform your story.

Who’s a character from a book you wish you could meet?

Bernhardt Steinmann, the publisher that courts Klare in Even in Darkness!

Barbara Stark-Nemon (www.barbarastarknemon.com) grew up in Michigan, listening to her family’s stories of their former lives in Germany, which became the basis and inspiration for Even in Darkness, her first novel. Barbara holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Art History and a Masters in Speech-language Pathology from the University of Michigan. After a 30-year teaching and clinical career working with deaf and language-disabled children, Barbara became a full-time writer. She lives and works in Ann Arbor and Northport, Michigan.

April 7, 2015

Realistic Sci-Fi and Futuristic Vibes: an interview with Aer-Ki Jyr, author of "Apex"

About Aer-Ki Jyr's ApexThe last human in the universe is brought out of stasis to find his once vast galactic empire no more...and his life very much in danger.

It’s been eons since humans controlled the universe. Defeated by a mysterious enemy, the downfall of humanity brought about a virtual dark age, with culture and technology stagnating in its absence. But now, trade is once again flourishing as human artifacts resurface throughout the galaxy, resurrecting long forgotten advancements.

And one such discovery might very well alter the course of the future forever.

An epic space adventure, Aer-ki Jyr’s APEX is a breathless race to the ultimate prize, with the very fate of the stars hanging in the balance.


Gef: Where did you get the inspiration for Apex?

Aer-Ki: Actually, for the first part I was channeling the Mass Effect video game, then for the rest of it I was watching Tron Legacy over and over, sometimes just listening to it when I wrote to get that futuristic vibe.
Gef: What tends to spring into your mind first when crafting a story? Is it a "what if," a character, a specific scene?

Aer-Ki: Honestly, it's when I see a movie or read a book that does something wrong. I want to 'fix' it and show how it's supposed to be done. Biggest thing nowadays is that nobody writes the 'good guys' right. I mean, when everyone wants to be a Sith instead of a Jedi something is seriously wrong.
Gef: What was it about this book, if anything, that you approached differently from the previous titles?

Aer-Ki: To date, I make my living as a writer writing a serial called Star Force. Each episode is about 1/3 to 1/4 of a novel and it's structured like a TV series. When I wrote Apex I told myself to write it like a movie instead. It's more focused and character driven, whereas Star Force is huge in scope and is, among many things, world building without a main character.
Gef: How intensive does the research process get for you? What little tricks have you picked up with approaching the research phase of writing?

Aer-Ki: I write space scifi, so my research is playing video games and watching movies. Beyond that I make everything realistic, and that comes from my base knowledge of science that I've just accumulated over the years. So when I write I usually don't research first, just google things along the way that come up. I pretty much know what I need going in.
Gef: What do you consider to be the strength or saving grace of science fiction?

Aer-Ki: People are looking for something in the genre that they usually don't find...yet they keep looking. There's a hunger there that drives the genre, though most authors can't give them what they're looking for. When you can, you hit it big. George Lucas proved that with Star Wars, and to this day nobody can identify exactly what he did to generate that kind of a following.
Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Aer-Ki: In English class, we were told to follow MLA format. Now I laugh at that. The purpose of writing is communication between author and reader in the most efficient way. No rules, just what works, and different readers will receive information in different styles, so there isn't just one way to write. Anyone who says there is doesn't know what they're talking about.
Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Aer-Ki: I'm of a mind that you should never feel guilty about anything worthwhile. I used to watch Sailor Moon in college because it came on before DBZ. It's a wacky girls cartoon, but there are some good things in it. I'm able to split a movie or book or tv show into pieces, tolerating the crap in order to soak up the good bits. No need to feel guilty about that, though you might get made fun of a bit.
Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Aer-Ki: Star Force is a franchise I'm working on, with the backstory 'Origin Series' coming to a completion in about a year from now. The franchise will continue on from there, but right now putting out a new episode every 2 weeks is keeping me busy. I'll also be writing Apex 2 around that schedule, though I haven't started it yet. 

Twitter is the best place to keep up with me, but I also have an author facebook page and an active Star Force one where I post a meme a day along with series updates.

Apex is available on Amazon.com and other online bookstores.

April 6, 2015

Dreaming and Scheming: a review of James Walley's "The Forty-First Wink"

The Forty-First Wink
by James Walley
Ragnarok Publications (2014)
154 pages
Available at Amazon.com

Well, that was weird.

If you wonder who out there might be around to offer the kind of whimsy and weirdness that readers loved from Terry Pratchett, James Walley is a writer you may want to consider.

In The Forty-First Wink, Marty is your usual lovable schlub. One morning he awakes with what he believes to be one monster hangover. Why else would there be monkeys in his bedroom wielding polo mallets?

Well, turns out Marty is trapped inside his own mind, or more accurately, his dreams. All of the wacky and whacked out entities now surrounding him have populated his dreams for as long as he can remember, and finds himself aligning with a few to find a way to wake up and stop his mirror-image doppelganger from sabotaging his plans. The tiny toy pirate might be some help. The actual girl of his dreams, too. The psycho clown? Err ... maybe keep looking.

With an abandonment of dry British humor and an embracing of the absurd, Forty-First Wink is a mix of Alice in Wonderland and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, with some Robot Chicken for seasoning. It's madly off in all directions, yet manages to keep a towline of a plot pushing the story forward through the kaleidoscopic dreamscape that is Marty's mind.

It might be a bit rough around the edges, but it's fun and a strong showing from a debut author that has my attention when it comes to his next book.

April 3, 2015

Nice Horrible Things: a Guest Post by Austin Dragon, author of "Hell’s Menagerie" and “Hollow Blood”

“I saw Joseph Stalin shoot Che Guevera dead and then proceed to beat Pol Pot to death. Mao Zedong and Adolf Hitler sat there laughing. It was all an epic achievement of science!”

Uncle Joe killed his brothers, Che and Pol, because he felt they had not killed enough people to be part of their Billion Dead Club, and was genuinely offended by their existence.

That was the pivotal issue. It began as a tiny whisper of a voice in her head and had grown into unsettling screams of conscience. They were sim-clones—not the actual murderous despots, not even real clones of the actual murderous despots—but everyone treated them as if they were the real thing. More importantly, the Hell Boys believed they were real men.

The Keeper decided one day she would kill all her ‘boys.’ This spontaneous morality that mirrored, what she often said aloud, “the archaic and simple-minded, paleo-religious social constructs” of Jew-Christians had first crept into her mind more than a year ago. She fought it within herself intensely at the beginning and asked herself, how such an upstanding free-thinking Pagan scientist such as herself could have anything in common with those people? But over the course of a year, she slowly began to embrace her new state of mind. She became as convinced in the need to destroy them, as she was to have them ‘birthed’ in the first place. She even announced her decision to her biological father and boss before...

Excerpt from Hell’s Menagerie (After Eden Series, Tek-Fall, Episode II)

His very eyes bulged from their sockets; his teeth jutted forward from his wide-open mouth, unable to scream; his ponytail flew and flapped behind his head, and his hands clutched his horse, Gunpowder, with inhuman strength borne out of the depths of panic.

Ichabod rode the horse out of Sleepy Hollow in the grips of incredible terror. The ground was ripped up with the terrible force of his horror-stricken horse as both man and beast disappeared into the night.

In close pursuit, the black goblin horse appeared with its huge, misshapen, towering rider—a glowing pumpkin already in the rider's hand. The rider had neither neck nor head on his shoulders. They raced after their prey like an unstoppable force.

It was Ichabod Crane's last day alive. The year was 1790.

Excerpt from Hollow Blood (Sleepy Hollow Horrors, Book 1)

When horror is done right, it is a great genre. However, as I think most of know, most of it is far from great. For me, classic horror is The Exorcist, The Shining, Alien (a nice sci-fi-horror hybrid). But as the television blockbuster The Walking Dead shows (I wrote a blog post: Top Five Reasons Why the Walking Dead is Great Drama), good horror is not about the special effects or gore. It’s the story!—kind of like good drama in any drama.

This March, I released the latest novel in my After Eden science fiction thriller series, Hell’s Menagerie. I also debuted my first classic horror novel, Hollow Blood (Sleepy Hollow Horrors, Book 1), and officially making myself a multi-genre author.

The reason I published both at the same time is that they are both about horror. Hell’s Menagerie (and its predecessor, Metal Flesh) delve into the ‘horror’ of modern science. The science fiction of the 1890s, 1960s and 1980s is being replaced by science fact. However, have we as a society even begun to think about the ramifications. In many ways, the real science can be far more terrifying than any book or movie, because it’s real! In Hell’s Menagerie, set in 2093, they are making monsters—and not just simulated clones of long dead mass-murderers. Do we stop it? Can it be stopped?

In Hollow Blood, the horror is more of the classic kind. We are told there is no Headless Horseman. But a man is still dead. The protagonist of the story says it was a human, not supernatural murderer. But why is does the very air around Sleepy Hollow seem to be haunted? Why do the trees seem to be watching you? Why do even the most docile of animals in the wild seem to be deranged and stalking you.

The books represent two different types of horror: the intellectual, fear of future kind, the other, a creepy atmosphere that screams that something is evil lurking with a whisper. My After Eden Series continues to the outbreak of World War III. My Sleepy Hollow Horrors are simply the introduction to more horror to come.

About the Author: Austin Dragon is author of the After Eden Series and the new Sleepy Hollow Horrors. He is a native New Yorker, but has called Los Angeles, California home for the last twenty years. Words to describe him, in no particular order: U.S. Army, English teacher, one-time resident of Paris, political junkie, movie buff, campaign manager and staffer of presidential and gubernatorial campaigns, Fortune 500 corporate recruiter, renaissance man, and dreamer.

In 2015, he releases the next books in the science fiction series along with brand new series and new genres in mystery, cyberpunk, fantasy, and YA dystopia!

Don’t Forget to Enter His “Nice Horrible Things” Blog Tour and $100 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway Here!

Connect with Austin on social media at:

Website and blog: http://www.austindragon.com

Other books by Austin Dragon


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