December 18, 2014

If You Go Out in the Woods: a review of Kelli Owen's "Crossroads"

Crossroads
by Kelli Owen
Gypsy Press (2014)
84 pages
ASIN B00JYI6MF6

Available via Amazon.com

I can remember heading out to one of the local cemeteries with a bunch of friends back when we were in high school. It was the middle of the night and we were gonna hold a seance. The ghosts no-showed, but I did get bit on the arm by one big ass bug because I didn't want to break the circle (plus, I had a bit of a crush on the gal whose hand I was holding, and flinching away and squealing about some bug biting me just wasn't an option). But I digress. What I'm getting at is that effing off into a graveyard for some midnight shenanigans sounds more exciting than it actually is. For the teens in Kelli Owen's story though, they get the night of the their lives.

Dean, Tucker, Stephenson, Bobbie, and Jody take off in Dean's pickup onto a back road in search of an old church and graveyard, with a ouija board in tow. Oh, Ouija. You and your abominable deviltry. Now, maybe you were subjected to that PG-13 horror flick, Ouija, this fall and are in no mood to be twice disappointed by hackneyed attempts at horror. Well, fear not, for Kelli Owen is responsible for this tale and she does not f**k around with any PG nonsense. Nor does she let you get to comfortable in how you think this story is going to play out, because it diverges from the predictable and offers up horror from a different source.

The conflicts and cowardice and contradictions found in each of the five characters are wrought out through much of the story, both in its preamble to the ghost play in the woods and after the surprise that lays in wait for them rears its head and scares the bejesus out of them. With the limited time, Kelli afforded herself in writing this novella, she manages to wring each character for all they're worth, though there were a few moments that could've have been stretched, but that's just me getting wrapped up in the interactions when the sh*t hits the fan.

It's a genuine heartpounder.

December 17, 2014

The Bizarre and the Unbridled: an interview with Scott Cole, author of "SuperGhost"

Scott Cole is an artist, graphic designer, and writer, all at the same time. His imagery has been seen in magazines and art galleries, as well as on that flyer you picked up at the coffee shop, and his short stories have appeared in a handful of anthologies, with many more publication credits coming soon. He lives in Philadelphia, listens to strange music, and loves cold weather. (source: www.13visions.com)




Scott's new book, SuperGhost, came out this fall and I had the chance to ask him a few questions about it and other bookish things. Enjoy.

Gef: What was the impetus for SuperGhost?

Scott: Well, for a long time, I considered myself to be strictly a short story writer. I definitely wanted to write something longer, but it never really seemed to work out. At the same time, I knew I needed to come up with something that was at least novella-length - if for no other reason than to stand a better shot at landing something with a reputable publisher.


Eventually it occurred to me that a couple of my short story ideas - one about a mad scientist fusing phantom limbs and another about something that happens in the second half of SuperGhost (which I won't spoil here) - would work really well together if I combined them.

Of course, this realization came to me just as the lights were going down at a film screening I was attending with a friend. I spent the entire movie half paying attention to the film, half shaking with excitement about these puzzle pieces fitting together. As soon as the movie was over, I pulled out my phone and started furiously typing notes.


Not long after that, I bounced the basic premise off my friend Adam Cesare. He liked the concept, which was encouraging. So I basically told him to nag me about it on a regular basis until I finished writing it. He did, and thankfully I finished it in time to submit to Eraserhead Press for their New Bizarro Author Series. A few rewrites and revisions later, here we are.


Gef: What kind of a gear shift is it when writing a bizarro story as opposed to something more conventional, assuming there is one?


Scott: For me, the Bizarro stuff comes much more naturally. I notice more of a shift, or at least more difficulty, when I try to write more conventional, straightforward horror.


Maybe it's just that there's so much freedom in Bizarro fiction. It's ridiculously fun to write. Not that there isn't freedom in other types of fiction - but with Bizarro, it's a bit more "anything goes".


Gef: What little tricks have you picked up with approaching your writing?


Scott: I don't know that I have any real tricks. Most of it comes through practice, and through reading a lot, I think.


I also think it's important to read one's writing out loud. There should be some sense of rhythm or music to the words.


One piece of advice that I always like to pass on is something I heard years ago, in a Q&A with comic book writer Brian Bendis, back when he was doing his indie crime comics. It's simply this: "Arrive late, leave early" - meaning that you don't have to write every scene from the very beginning to the very end. You don't have to write the part where the characters walk into a room. You can start the scene halfway into their conversation. And you don't have to watch them leave the room either.


The one trick I *want* to learn is how to get all these ideas down faster. There are so many things I want to write, but only so many hours in the day, and most of them get spent at the day job or asleep.


Gef: What do you consider to be the strength or saving grace of bizarro fiction?


Scott: I've described Bizarro fiction in the past as being all about unbridled creativity. That's what drew me to it in the first place - the insane ideas, the twisted characters, the beautifully bizarre visuals.


Of course, a truly successful story is going to need plot and character too. But when you've got that substance and it's enrobed in a delightfully weird coating of Bizarro style...Mmmmm...it's so delicious.


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?


Scott: That's a tough one, actually. I'm not sure I ever received any truly awful writing advice. If I did, I may have just ignored and forgotten about it.


That said, I think if anyone tells you that every element in your story must be fully explained, they're probably a pretty boring writer.


And I think when we tell kids in school that they need to write in complete sentences, we should maybe explain to them that that idea can flex a bit in fiction. Or maybe I'm just over-thinking the question.


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


Scott: I don't really feel much guilt about loving the things I love. I mean, I think some people who read Bizarro fiction would consider it a guilty pleasure, embarrassing in some way because of how weird it can be, but I don't. I mean, there are certain things I won't pull up on my monitor at work, but that's for other peoples sake. As far as I'm concerned, weird is wonderful.
I love all kinds of stuff in all kinds of media - everything from film noir to '70s exploitation films and cheesy '80s slasher movies. I love graphic design and 1950s horror comics and public sculpture and old-time radio drama and live theater and vintage toys. Some of it is very serious stuff, some of it is totally silly, but I'm not really embarrassed about any of it. If I was, I guess I wouldn't mention it here.


Gef: We're coming up to the end of the year, which means everyone and their mama is writing a year-end lists. So what book, movie, game, show, song, or dirty limerick has found its way to the tippy-top of your favorites this year?


Scott: I feel like I'm perpetually a few years behind on new release stuff these days. But I do catch a few things.


My favorite movies of the year were probably SNOWPIERCER, UNDER THE SKIN, and the JODOROWSKY'S DUNE documentary. And I recently saw IT FOLLOWS at a film festival, which I thought was really kind of brilliant. THE TRIBE was really interesting too - it's a sort of crime story set at a school for the deaf. The film is done entirely in sign language with no subtitles or translations, and it's pretty powerful - especially the ending. THE BABADOOK will probably make my year's best list too. I want a copy of that pop-up book.


I've read a ton this year, but it's mostly been older stuff - some hardboiled crime novels, some classic horror, and a ton of recent-if-not-quite-new Bizarro. For some reason I've gotten a little obsessed with 1970s and '80s horror movie novelizations in the last few years too. So I'm chipping away at reading some of those here and there as well.


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


Scott: It's funny - now that I finally figured out how to write something longer than 3000 words, I've got a slew of ideas for longer-form fiction. I'm starting work on a couple more novellas now, but they're in the early stages, and I probably shouldn't say much about any of them just yet. Of course, whether they see the light of day or not will to some degree depend on people picking up SuperGhost, wink-wink...


I'll continue writing short stories and flash fiction too. I doubt that will ever stop.


People can find me on Twitter (@13visions) and Facebook (/scottcole13), and at my website (www.13visions.com).

December 16, 2014

A Circus of Metaphors: a guest post by Kristi Charish, author of "Owl and the Japanese Circus"

Kristi Charish is the author of a forthcoming urban fantasy series OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS (Jan 13th, 2015, Simon and Schuster Canada/Pocket Books), about a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world. She writes what she loves; adventure heavy stories featuring strong, savvy female protagonists, pop culture, and the occasional RPG fantasy game thrown in the mix. The second installment, OWL AND THE CITY OF ANGELS, is scheduled for release Jan 2016.

Kristi is also a scientist with a BSc and MSc from Simon Fraser University in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and a PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. Her specialties are genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology, all of which she draws upon in her writing. She is represented by Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative Artists.



A Circus of Metaphors
by Kristi Charish

When I first approached Gef about doing a blog tour stop here he came back with an article idea: How about something on circuses in fantasy? (my upcoming novel is titled Owl and the Japanese Circus)

Fantastic idea!...Except there aren’t technically any circuses in Owl and the Japanese Circus, despite the title. There is a Japanese Circus, but it’s just the name of a fictional Las Vegas casino.

So, being both a writer and researcher I got to thinking about why I chose the Japanese Circus instead of The Tokyo Club or the Japanese Casino, or something equally telling.

The reason I came up with is this: the imagery evoked by the word circus is uniquely eclectic. There isn’t just one picture that comes to mind, there’s a kaleidoscope of interpretations. Circus can inspire everything from innocent humor, (think the weekday comic strip Family Circus), to a suggestively dark and magic wonderland hinted at by the title of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. And let’s not forget the horror circuses inspire- either as a perverse stage for a serial killer or the deep-routed, unholy fear of all things Clown courtesy of Steven King’s Joyland and It respectively.

The trick is you never quite know quite which incarnation (or mix of all the above) you’re going to get until you open the pages. It’s a clear noun that carries a palpable and irresistible level of uncertainty, a chaotic and unexpected mix of possibilities unlike most other words in our culture.

There might not be any real circuses in Owl and the Japanese Circus, but that uncertainty, whether it signifies innocent wonder, a corruptive, surreal sense of adventure or imminent horror courtesy of a childhood haunt - the circuses of speculative fiction are a place you know doesn’t feel quite right but you still need to step inside...


Well that kind of word really is priceless. 


About Owl and the Japanese Circus (find it on Amazon.com and Chapters)Fans of Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, and Linda Hamilton will flock to the kick-ass world of Owl, a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world.

Ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix—better known now as Owl—has one rule. No supernatural jobs. Ever. Until she crosses paths with Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. He insists Owl retrieve an artifact stolen three thousand years ago, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll get rid of a pack of vampires that want her dead. A dragon is about the only entity on the planet that can deliver on Owl’s vampire problem – and let’s face it, dragons are known to eat the odd thief.

Owl retraces the steps of Mr. Kurosawa’s ancient thief from Japan to Bali with the help of her best friend, Nadya, and an attractive mercenary. As it turns out though, finding the scroll is the least of her worries. When she figures out one of Mr. Kurosawa’s trusted advisors is orchestrating a plan to use a weapon powerful enough to wipe out a city, things go to hell in a hand basket fast…and Owl has to pick sides.

December 15, 2014

Book Blast and Giveaway for 'The Last Enchantress' by Scott & Judith Powell (*free* Dec 15-17)

A new novel is available this week, penned by the husband and wife duo of Scott and Judith Powell, called THE LAST ENCHANTRESS. In fact, for the next three days, you can download the ebook free from Amazon. Just click on the link below. To learn a little more about the book, just scroll down, and there's even a Rafflecopter giveaway to give you a chance at winning a $100 Amazon gift card.
Download a FREE copy of The Last Enchantress
Available December 15th to 17th

last enchantress
The Last Enchantress by Scott & Judith Powell

Being nineteen for over three hundred years bites, and being single in New York with magical powers isn't much better.

Eva is trying to live an everyday life in New York. When this fails, she takes a seemingly unmagical job as a translator for a wealthy American family in Spain. Eva cannot stay out of trouble for long as she runs into a friendly but hungry vampire named Louis. Eva feels drawn to this handsome, dangerous stranger who has problems of his own.

Louis's life was just fine until Eva walked into his church. She smells like heaven. Or is it hell, always smelling but never partaking? Surely she is the devil coming to collect on his lost soul.




PowellAuthor Biography

Scott Powell was born in Burlington, Vermont, to a father who was a police officer and a mother who emigrated from South Korea. He received a degree in marketing from the University of Las Vegas, Nevada, and a master's degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Scott served a two-year Spanish-speaking mission for his church. He is a mixed martial artist who continues to train with his father, a second-degree black belt in tae kwon do and a kick boxer.

Besides being married to Scott for almost seventeen years, Judith Powell is a stay-at-home mom whose whole life has been full of stories. Being raised by an Irish storytelling father and a Native American mother, stories have filled her life and her head until they finally had no choice but to flow out through her fingertips.



Praise for the Book

What fun, and new perspective on vampires. And the intro of new specie, Enchantress, gives this novel a wonderful and imaginative take. 
It gives us another take on Vampires and the only Enchantress left in the world. The story flows smoothly and the characters are developed well.
Let me just start by saying for the record I am not a huge fan of Vampires or flying humans, but this book has led me away from that concept with a fantastic storyline that focused on a man and woman who were meant to be. The fighting scenes were very detailed and visual as you can tell the authors made this a point of emphasis in preparing this book.

add to goodreads




100_Amazon_Paypal


Blog Tour Giveaway

$100 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash

Ends 12/31/14

Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Amazon.com Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.


December 12, 2014

Little Malt Shop of Horrors: an interview with Adam Cesare, author of "Exponential"

I interviewed Adam Cesare about a year ago when The Summer Job was set to be released. You can read that here if you like. And now Adam has a new novel coming out through the same publisher that put out Summer Job, Samhain Publishing. This new book is called Exponential and I had a chance to ask Adam a few questions leading up to its release. Enjoy.


About Adam Cesare's Exponential: Can anything stop a creature that won't stop growing? Sam Taylor just wants a friend. Is that too much to ask? His only mistake is finding that friend in Felix, a lab mouse that Sam rescues from the top-secret facility where he works as a janitor. Shortly after his rescue, the mouse begins to change, to swell. There's something new growing underneath Felix's fur. Growing very fast. Holed up in a roadside bar, four survivors-a woman who's lost everything, her drug dealer, a tribal police officer, and a professional gambler-are all that stand between the rampaging beast and the city of Las Vegas. But as the monster keeps growing-and eating-how long until it's able to topple the walls protecting them?




Gef: Where did you get the inspiration for Exponential, 'cause the premise sounds a little bonkers?

Adam: I don’t know. Inspiration might be a bit too strong a word.

Don D’Auria, my editor at Samhain, and I were talking at the hotel bar at World Horror (New Orleans, so the one before the last one, I guess). We’ve done this twice now, three times if you count me pitching Video Night, but I don’t because I was mega nervous back then. I try to keep my output varied, and I really enjoy taking the different subgenres of horror and putting my own spin on them. I’m trying to hit them all, eventually.

If I remember it correctly, I pitched Don an early ‘60s malt shop kind of story, a book with drive-in theaters and lascivious drooling monsters, but he was resistant to something that niche and with that prominent a period setting. So I just turned the question around and asked him to look at his publishing schedule to tell me what he didn’t have enough of.

He took a print-out from his bag, began flipping through it and rattling off what he had on the slate. “Witches, ghost, werewolf, deep-sea adventure, another ghost” etc. and I asked “do you have any big monster stories? Stuff like Razorback or The Blob?” He said no and I was like: “Well you do now!”

So there’s the inspiration. What resulted is different from all those points of comparison, but it fits in that genre. It’s got all my usual themes and fixations (the way movies influence the characters’ lives comes up), but everything else about Exponential is pretty much the opposite of my last novel, The Summer Job. Where that was more restrained with a tighter focus on a single protagonist, this thing has a huge cast of characters (especially for what turned out to be a pretty slim book), tons of action, a weird streak of humor and a subplot that edges up against Elmore Leonard-esque crime caper.

So I think it’s fair to say that I like to mix it up and get to cut loose with Exponential.

Gef: What kind of a gear shift is it when writing your own work as opposed to the collaborations you've worked on recently?

Adam: The only real change is having to wait on other people to continue. It’s probably different for everyone who collaborates, but Cameron Pierce, Shane McKenzie and I have a very easy going approach to working together. So far one person has “lead” each collaboration, coming up with the idea and then taking the first shift, while the rest of the collaborators understand that we’re allowed to edit, switch around, and add things without fear of offending anyone else. I work well with everyone I’ve co-written with. Cameron and I are almost done with a novella called Bottom Feeders. It’s about killer catfish, kind of a southern-fried noir Jaws.

Gef: How intensive was the research process for you? What little tricks have you picked up with approaching the research phase of writing?

Adam: I’ve only written one book where I’ve had a real “research step” in the process, and that was because it had a very specific setting (this project hasn’t been formally announced so I have to be vague/cryptic). Otherwise I’m usually good with just a few Wikipedia searches if I’m unclear on the features of a certain car or gun or something small like that. Since real-world geography plays a little bit of a part in Exponential (the monster starts out in one place, then goes on a sort of novel-long road trip), I was leaning a little heavier on Google Maps than I usually do, but other than that, I make do with my own wealth (heh!) of knowledge.

Gef: What do you consider to be the strength or saving grace of the horror genre?

Adam: I think it’s the freedom of a broad genre. It’s the fact that there are so many different definitions of what horror is, how deep the genre can go to both ends of the highbrow and lowbrow spectrum.

It usually makes for a terrible panel discussion. People know what I’m talking about if anyone’s ever been to a con and had to listen to authors or filmmakers fumble through the awful (yet seemingly still obligatory) “What is Horror?” question, but I think that central nebulousness of the genre is what makes it great.

The flip side of that nebulous nature is that anything and everything bearing the “horror” label is easy to dismiss for some folks. Even the big ticket horror items, the books, TV shows and movies with general audiences, often get branded as “thrillers” or whatever. Nobody wants to use the real word. It’s a shame, really.

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?

Adam: To me, the reason that the market can sustain this whole boutique industry of writing advice/tips, blogs, and twitter lifestyles, is that no one piece of advice or “hot tip” or “lifehack” (barf) universally works for everyone. Everyone’s personal approach becomes their “social media platform” (double-barf) and thus there is so much varied, conflicting, advice. Some of it helps people, I’m sure, but I’m betting that everyone’s mileage varies with every specific tip.

“You should write every day” seems to be the most prevalent piece of advice that doesn’t work for me. Yeah, momentum is awesome to maintain, and can really help with longer works. But I think that “Write every day” can/should be replaced with: “Be serious about your work.” As long as you’re serious about what you’re producing and pay attention to you craft, then I don’t think you need to write every day.

Do you go into your office/workplace every single day of the year? No, I hope you don’t.

The only constants for me are: read, write, and work hard.

I’m not saying writing can’t be taught, it can. I’m just not into fortune cookie pedagogy.

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

Adam: I don’t really believe there is such a thing as a guilty pleasure. My philosophy is that people should own up to the things they like, but not before doing some deep thinking about why it is they like them.

But then again, most of the stuff I love can be classified as guilty pleasures, so it may be a deep sense of shame that makes me hold this position.

I’d say my guiltiest pleasures are the more mainstream things I enjoy. Horror fandom has such a streak of elitism to it sometimes. Like if you’re a fan of a wide-release horror film from the last decade that had a decent advertising budget you suddenly become a poser.

Yeah, I like my underground, vintage deep-cuts just as much as the next fan. I’ve got all the Kino/Redemption Jean Rollin re-issues, rarely miss a Scream Factory release, and on the book front I have a stack of those semi-recent Richard Laymon omnibuses. But I also enjoy the Paranormal Activity series, have no problem with remakes or found-footage or PG-13 films on an ideological level (even if most of them aren’t good) and was a big fan of the newest Friday the 13th (a capital offense in some states, if I understand the internet correctly).

Gef: We're coming up to the end of the year, which means everyone and their mama is writing a year-end list. So what book, movie, game, show, song, or dirty limerick has found its way to the tippy-top of your favorites this year?

Adam: It’s not a “new” movie, strictly speaking, but the newly restored cut of Nightbreed is pretty amazing.

I’ve been going through a bit of a horror dry spell for the last few months. I went to a couple films, rented some VOD stuff, all with the hope of having something to blog or write about, but…well, I guess if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

That said, I’ll be renting Starry Eyes and The Babadook soon. I hear great things about those. Maybe 2014 will finish strong.

As far as books go, my to-read pile is gigantic and I try not to skip ahead, so while I could probably give you a definitive “best of 2012” I’m pretty under-read for stuff that came out this year. I did cheat and read Megan Abbot’s new one, The Fever. I really loved that.

I’m way behind on TV, too, but I did watch Penny Dreadful. It’s a classic literary monster crossover ala The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. On paper, it sounds like it shouldn’t work at all, but it’s REALLY well done.

It’s not a movie or book, but single favorite horror thing I consumed this year was probably Outlast. If any of your readers are gamers they need to check it out. It’s scary as hell.

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

Adam: Right now Shock Totem is taking pre-orders for Zero Lives Remaining, a new novella about a haunted video arcade. I’m really proud of the book and ST is putting a lot of work into making the special edition *actually* special. They even commissioned Mike Lombardo’s Reel Splatter Productions to make a short trailer, it’s great.

There will be more affordable editions of that, but if people are collectors, the hardcover is the way to go. Here’s that info: http://www.shocktotem.com/10/12/2014/adam-cesares-zero-lives-remaining-pre-order-now/


Random House just recently revealed the cover for my novel Mercy House, which will be coming out with their Hydra imprint in June. Pre-orders for that are up now, too. It’s an insane book. I'm so excited for people to read it.

I’ve got a bunch of other stuff too, but it’s all far off and I’ve got a lot of stuff people can check out right now, if they want. The backlist doesn’t have an expiration date on it, in fact I think Video Night and Tribesmen have aged like a fine wine, at this point.

As far as keeping up with me, my website’s the best place: www.adamcesare.com

Thanks so much for the questions, Gef!

Always welcome, Adam. And as for the rest of you, Amazon.com has Exponential available for purchase right now, so what are you waiting for?

December 11, 2014

Go West: an interview with Maxine O'Callaghan, author of "Delilah West"

Maxine O’Callaghan was born in Tennessee in 1937 and grew up in the boot heel of Missouri as a sharecropper’s child.  She was the first in her large extended family to finish high school and left a few days after graduation with ten dollars and a bus ticket for Memphis.  She went from there to Miami where she joined the Marine Corp Reserve and then to Chicago where she went on active duty for a while and got her first taste of California during basic training at the Recruit Depot in San Diego.

In 1972 she moved with her husband and two children to Orange County, CA, a long way from the cotton fields of her childhood.  As a stay-at-home mom she began her writing career with short stories, including one to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine about a private detective named Delilah West, which predates both Marcia Muller and Sue Grafton’s entry into the female PI genre. She published thirteen novels and a collection of short stories.  She has been nominated for both the Anthony and Bram Stoker award.  Her novels and short fiction featuring Delilah West were honored by the Private Eye Writers of America with their lifetime achievement award, The Eye, for her contribution to the field. (source: http://mysterythrillerbooks.com/author/maxine-ocallaghan/)


Maxine's Delilah West series is coming back thanks to Brash Books, and I had the chance to ask her a few questions about the books and writing in general. Enjoy.

Gef: Where did you get the inspiration for Delilah West?

Maxine: As we've come to know, eye witness accounts are often unreliable.  I thought it would be interesting if my PI witnessed a hit and run, then was challenged to prove she was wrong about what she saw.  This premise turned into Hit and Run.  Of course, there's lots of complications for Delilah West along the way.

Gef: How intensive does the research process get for you? What little tricks have you picked up with approaching the research phase of writing?

Maxine: Depends on the subject matter. I've had the good luck to belong to a writer's workshop that included a cop and a real live PI, both with lots of connections. I'm also brash and bold--lol--and cold call whoever can provide the info I need.

Gef: What do you consider to be the strength or saving grace of the crime genre?

Maxine: I believe mysteries are all-time favorites because the reader can vicariously face the worst evils and situations and triumph in the end.  Well, usually.

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?

Maxine: Write what you know.  I mean, what does a stay-at-home mother of two know about chasing down bad guys?

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

Maxine: I'm a sucker for a well-written serial killer novel and movies about aliens.

Gef: We're coming up to the end of the year, which means everyone and their mama is writing a year-end lists. So what book, movie, game, show, song, or dirty limerick has found its way to the tippy-top of your favorites this year?

Maxine: Not a fan of animated movies, but after having to watch Frozen with my four-year-old granddaughter at least 100 times, I have to confess I love it and might even watch it on my own.

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

Maxine: I'm writing a new Delilah West novel, as yet untitled.  Long time since the last one.  I've had some major health problems to deal with.  I blame Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman of Brash books for firing up the creative juices!

December 10, 2014

Beer Monkeys and Bouncy Castle Kung Fu: an interview with James Walley, author of "The Forty-First Wink"

About The Forty First Wink by James Walley: Marty is having a bad morning. Roused from slumber by a gang of polo mallet wielding monkeys and a mysterious voice in his wardrobe, he must quickly come to terms with the fact that the world outside his door is now the world inside his head. Lying in wait amidst bleak, gloomy streets, deserted theme parks, and circus themed nightclubs, lurks the oppressive shadow of a myriad of giggling, cackling pursuers, hell bent on throwing a custard pie or two into the works. 

Assisted by a string of halfcocked schemes, a troupe of tiny unlikely allies, and (literally) the girl of his dreams, Marty sets out on a heroic quest to wake up and get out of bed. 


Find The Forty First Wink on Amazon.com


Gef: Where did you get the inspiration for The Forty First Wink? I mean, heck, where does the imagery of polo-mallet-wielding monkeys come from?

James: I've actually been visited by the beer monkeys many times myself! I've always believed that they are where hangovers come from. Really, a great deal of 'Wink' was borne from my love of all things random. I wanted to create a situation where the reader simply had to keep turning the pages, since absolutely anything is possible. Pure escapism and fun are what makes the story tick. I just went where my imagination took me. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes me to clowns.

Gef: What went through your head when you finally got to hold your debut novel in your hands? How has the experience with Ragnarok been thus far?

James: It's probably the most surreal and euphoric feeling I have ever experienced. You're holding something that you've laboured over, and basically lived in for months. I suppose it's like giving birth, only slightly less messy.
Ragnarok have been fantastic. They're growing so fast, and pulling in some awesome talents, so it's nice to be involved in something like that. Since I'm something of a newbie, they talked me through the whole process, from editing, all the way through to promotion. Plus, I think I was the first British author they took on, so I think extra brownie points are in order for that.

Gef: How intensive was the research process for you? What little tricks have you picked up with approaching the research phase of writing?

James: As you can imagine, researching tiny, living toy pirates and bouncy castle kung fu can be problematic. I found that it was usually little, seemingly insignificant things that required the most research. Fictitious place names, nautical terms, the sort of thing that fits seamlessly into the story, but that would stick out like a sore thumb if it was wrong. The most research I did was for the character of The Locust, since he talks like Wikipedia!
In terms of tricks, the only thing I can wholeheartedly say is, Google, Google, Google!

Gef: What do you consider to be the strength or saving grace of the fantasy genre?

James: That's a difficult question, since there are so many branches of fantasy. For me, the ability to create completely new worlds is what excites and interests me. Tolkein, Pratchett and Adams are all huge influences to me, and all have a wonderful knack of creating lavish environments for their characters to play in. It's fantasy, I can have a high speed car chase in an ice cream truck if I want to!

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?

James: This is also a tough one, since everyone writes differently. Some people plot, others run screaming into the thick of the plot, waving their pen frantically. The worst thing I hear is that there is a 'right' and 'wrong' way of doing things. Some people don't write four hundred drafts, and that's ok. Some people break the fourth wall, and that's ok too. There isn't a handbook, because writing is organic and personal.

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

James: I suppose I'm a sucker for a good reluctant hero, or a plan that goes so spectacularly wrong that it actually stumbles through and ends up working. Maybe it's the Brit in me, but heroes that can bench press a hippo, wear tight spandex and have their own theme music are ten a penny. The awkward little guys who try their best to deliver a stirring speech before tripping over their own shoelaces are more my cup of tea.

Gef: We're coming up to the end of the year, which means everyone and their mama is writing a year-end lists. So what book, movie, game, show, song, or dirty limerick has found its way to the tippy-top of your favorites this year?

James: Harking back to the last question, I loved Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy. It plays the "screw ups come good" card beautifully, and made me feel like a wide eyed, cheering kid again as I peered out from behind my popcorn with a huge grin on my face. In terms of books, I have been poring over Ragnarok's catalogue since joining their ranks, and there are some beauties to be found there. Kevin Lucia's Devourer of Souls has some wonderfully spooky undertones of old school King, and the collaborative Dead West series covers zombies and the old west - two of my favourite genres. Really, everything I've read from the Ragna-paddock has been exceptional. Yes, I am biased, but it's true. They really do only put out gems.

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

James: I have been beavering away like a...beaver, on a collection of short stories which will be trickling out over the next few months, starting with Santa Claus Wants You Dead which will form part of Fireside Press' "Wishes" triple anthology. After that, I'm hoping to be able to announce the release of Bad Little Boys Go To Hell, and If You Burn Down The Woods Today in the new year. Following that, I'll be looking to complete and release the second of the "Wink" trilogy, The Fathom Flies Again.
I can be found sneaking around Facebook planting seeds of insanity, and also on Twitter (@JamesWalley74). There is also a FortyFirst Wink Facebook page, which will continue to provide news and updates on the emerging trilogy.



December 9, 2014

Kept Under Lock and Squee: a review of John Scalzi's "Lock In"

Lock In
by John Scalzi
Audible Studios (2014)
narrated by Amber Benson
11 hours
ASIN B00KY6Y8PS
Available via Audible.com 

John Scalzi's name has been bandied about for years as a sci-fi writer whose work I need to read, so when I had the chance to listen to the Audible version of his latest novel, I figured it was about time to see what all the fuss was about.

In this stand-alone novel, a virus devastates humanity in the not-too-distant future. It acts like the flu for most, but about 1% of those afflicted suffer what is eventually called "Hayden's syndrome," rendering them paralyzed and unresponsive, forever trapped inside their own bodies. With millions afflicted, a new industry arises. Androids are made, basically robotic bodies that can be remotely controlled by the bedridden, and offer nearly all tactile experiences a human body can. Then there are other afflicted people who are still mobile, yet they possess an innate ability to serve as surrogates themselves, suppressing their own consciousness to allow the locked in to use their bodies. All this creates a certain societal morasses, and amid all of that we jump into the story a quarter century after the outbreak, just in time for a murder mystery.

The two detectives on the case of a dead integrator, a person who rents out the use of their body, who appears to have been killed by an unknown attacker in a hotel room. Shane is the rookie, a lock in herself and the daughter of a powerful politician crusading for the rights of the afflicted. Vann, a grizzled vet herself on the force, has reservations about working with Shane at first, but the opposites attract plays out really well as they gauge each other through the course of the investigation.

The window dressing for this book feels reminiscent of Robert Venditti's comic series, The Surrogates, but that's really just a surface level thing, because Scalzi's story explores different themes altogether and doesn't pose as much skepticism and wariness towards the technology as found in Venditti's story. Here, much of the story relies on Shane finding her footing, literally and figuratively, as she makes a name for herself apart from the long shadow cast by her family's dynasty.

The star of the book, at least in the audiobook experience, may be Amber Benson. Wil Wheaton also offers narration in another edition of the audiobook, but I went with Benson for the sake of the protagonist being female, and Benson's performance was spot on throughout, and went a long way to drawing me in as a listener. It didn't hurt that Scalzi's characters and pacing and the pay off at the end all aided in creating one heckuva story melding sci-fi with police procedural.

If this is the kind of stuff Scalzi writes, I'm definitely gonna have to read more of it ... or listen to it. Either way.

December 8, 2014

Chasing Tale [12/8/14]: Ghost in the Shill

It doesn't seem all that long ago that the book industry turned to reality TV as their new resource for blockbuster books. After all, Snooki is a published "writer" thanks to Simon & Schuster. Heck, Kim Kardashian's mom has a cook book with her name on it (does she even know what the inside of a stove looks like?). But reality TV is yesterday's news apparently, as the latest bestseller is coming from, of all places, YouTube.

Who Is Zoella? Meet The YouTube Star Whose Book Is Breaking Sales Records

Affirming my age, I had no idea what a Zoella was until she made headlines last week with word her debut novel, Girl Online, had a stellar first week of sales that eclipsed the great J.K. Rowling's debut week. She has millions of followers on YouTube (a site where comments do not exactly promote literacy) so I imagine publishers saw potential there, and Zoella apparently has been yearning to write a novel--or S&S just threw heaps of cash at her to spur the muse. But, over the weekend questions arose and it turns out that the object of tween idolatry didn't write the book herself.

Was Zoella's novel Girl Online ghostwritten?

After reading the sample provided on Amazon.com, all I can say is that if Girl Online has a hook, the first chapter camouflaged it well. The gal alleged to have ghostwritten the book can't be in any great hurry to take credit for it, I imagine, considering it was a six-week rush job and kinda reads like one. But hey, if a book penned by a YouTube celeb--or by her ghostwriter more likely--gets girls to put down their phones and read an honest-to-god book--or even just open their Kindle app--for five f**king minutes, I'd call it a success story.

I just hope it serves as a gateway drug for those newcomers to novels, and inspires them to seek out better written books.

And speaking of better written books, quite a few of the recent arrivals to my to-be-read pile fit that description, I reckon.


Writing the Novel by Lawrence Block - Did you buy a lot of books on Black Friday? I didn't. I bought one. This one. I have quite a few books on writing, but aside from Stephen King's On Writing I don't have many memoir type books. This one should be interesting in that regard.

Krampus: The Yule Lord by Brom - I won this cool looking audiobook from horror author, Edward Lorn, last week. I've heard good things


Apocalypse Girl Dreaming by Jennifer Brozek - This is a short story collection coming soon through Evil Girlfriend Press. I actually interview Jennifer last week, which you can check out by clicking here to learn a little more about the book.

All-Night Terror by Adam Cesare and Matt Serafini - While I have an interview coming up soon with Adam to talk about his new novel, Exponential, I stumbled across this collaborative effort he did a while back as a freebie on the Kindle Store in November. Nice.

The North by Sean Cummings - Speaking of scoping out freebies, this was another one that I was alerted to last month. Teens and zombies? C'mon, you know you're interested. And it's only a buck right now anyway.


The Things in the Darkness by Ira Gansler - Ira stopped by the blog not too long ago with a guest post, as part of his blog tour to promote his debut novel. You can check out the guest post by clicking here.

The Nightmare Girl by Jonathan Janz - Mr. Janz has a new novel coming out in January. It sounds good. It sounds grim and harrowing and gut-wrenching too, but underneath all that is Janz's wordsmithing, which just gets better and better.

One Rainy Night by Richard Laymon - On the classic horror front, I was perusing Laymon's line-up on the Kindle Store and I saw this book that I'd never heard of before. The guy has written a lot and I've heard readers and writers praise their favorites, but this one I don't recall in the conversation before. Well, a small town deluged by rainfall that turns people into homicidal maniacs sounds like something I probably should have heard of, especially since Laymon wrote it.


You Have to Fucking Eat by Adam Mansbach & Owen Brozman - Ah, the follow up to Go the F**k to Sleep. On top of the actual book, I listened to Bryan Cranston narrate the thing via the free Audible version. Oh brother, wait 'til my sister see this.

Harvest by Rob Pobi - This one showed up in the mail courtesy of Simon & Schuster. It's set for release in early January and features a hunt for a serial killer throughout New York City, and at first glance looks like it might be in the vein of Thomas Harris. We'll see.


Stonehill Downs by Sarah Remy - This new release came via HarperCollins and fits into the epic fantasy genre, one of genres I keep meaning to read more of. I actually have an interview coming up in the near future with Sarah too, so keep an eye out for that.

Storme Warnin by W.L. Ripley - This mystery/thriller coming out through Brash Books next year is actually the fourth in a series that now has a new home. I have an interview coming up soon with Warren just in time for Christmas, so get ready for that one too.

Abram's Bridge by Glenn Rolfe - And at the end of December I'll have an interview with Glenn, whose new novella is set to be published by Samhain Publishing. It's a ghost story, so that's already a step in the right direction for my liking.


It's Only Death by Lee Thompson - Ooh, some Lee Thompson goodness coming from DarkFuse in January. This one goes into the noir thriller side of things with a bank robber coming home to see his dying mother only to wind up in a hornet's nest of trouble when old enemies find out he's back in town.

Blockbuster by Liva Von Biela - Also from DarkFuse in January is some near-future dystopian horror. I'm so used to reading contemporary horror from the DarkFuse roster, so this should prove interesting in its divergence. Plus, I hear Lisa is a heckuva writer.

Critical Dawn by Darren Wearmouth and Colin F. Barnes - Archeology and Science Fiction? No sign of Indiana Jones. Shucks. But hey, no sign of Shia Labeouf either. Yay!



Poor, Poor Ophelia by Carolyn Weston - Here's a novel set for release in February from Brash Books. Actually it's a re-release on the book that was adapted into The Streets of San Francisco. And if you're not familiar with that show, there's this YouTube channel you can check out: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMOGx6jFN8pjKIgR2Zoq5WQ

John Golden: Freelance Debugger by Django Wexler & John Golden and the Heroes of Mazaroth by Django Wexler - I look forward to listening to these two audiobooks, as the idea of blending sci-fi and fantasy with a computer tech troubleshooting fantastical creatures infecting computer systems sounds really snazzy.


December 5, 2014

Getting Graphic: a review of "Heart of the Beast" by Dean Motter, Judith Dupre, and Sean Phillips


Heart of the Beast: 20th Anniversary Edition
written by Dean Motter and Judith Dupre
artwork by Sean Phillips
Dynamite Entertainment (2014)
112 pages
ASIN B00MPU3K1O


I never heard about this graphic novel until I received a review copy of this edition celebrating its 20th anniversary. As it stands, with a story revolving around the New York City art scene, I'm inclined to think the book is more visually captivating than anything else.

A torrid love affair between Sandra and Victor. She's a bartender with aspirations of being an actress. He's a bad boy figure, all brooding hunkiness that has her enamored to the point of obsession. But as Victor's secrets worm their way into the open, his true nature is revealed, and given the allusions to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, it ain't pretty.

While stylish and atmospheric to a point of saturation, the story itself felt muted and not terribly interesting. A bit manic, a bit moody, but not very memorable. Perhaps there is a fondness tinged with nostalgia for the era in which this story is depicted, or for when it was originally published. But I came at this story anew and unfazed by any accolades it may have received previously. It's good, hits all the right notes for a standard gothic romance, but the visuals came away having made more impact than the words.


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