Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Interview with author Jason Beymer

Author Jason Beymer is here to talk about his debut novel Rogue's Curse.




Tell us about your book.

Rogue's Curse is a dark comedy set 2000 years after the Rapture. Doban, a nasty rogue, discovers the talisman responsible for the Rapture and it embeds itself to his skin. Now the ancient prophet who created the talisman wants it back, and he manipulates the king into launching a manhunt. And (just to sweeten the pot) Doban must turn to the only woman who ever loved him—a woman he once left to die in a tomb—for help. Rogue's Curse has tons of sex, monsters, palace politics, romance, humor and adventure.

But mainly the focus is on the relationship between Mona and Doban. What has happened in the two years since he left her to die in the tomb? How did she survive and escape? And most importantly, can they set aside their differences long enough to stop a second Rapture? At its heart, Rogue's Curse is about second chances, and whether or not we repeat past mistakes when presented the opportunity.

Bottom line: 2000 years after the Rapture, the world still sucks.

Rogue's Curse is available now as an eBook for purchase from Lyrical Press and Amazon (as well as other fine eBook distributers). You can read an excerpt at my blog

Tell us about your favorite scene in the story, without giving too much away, of course.


My favorite scene is in Chapter Two. I'm a HUGE fan of reality TV, and especially "To Catch a Predator." That's my favorite. My protagonist, Doban, stumbles into an elaborate sting operation in Waterside Village: a quiet cottage, door propped open, lots of other horses tied to the same hitching post out front. Hmm. This was my homage to the best damn reality TV show that ever was.

What draws you to writing dark comedy/fantasy?

I want to make people laugh, and then feel ashamed of themselves for laughing. For humor, I've found the genre of fantasy and urban fantasy are the best playgrounds. Lots of comedic potential when reality can't get in the way.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process. For instance, are you a pantser or a plotter? If you’re a plotter, what method do you like to use?

Definitely a "pantser." I have an idea, a few key scenes and a vague ending in mind. I take these three elements and dump my characters into the world. They write the first draft for me. My first draft is always a big wet mess. Once I have this mess in front of me, I become a "plotter."

What are some of the writers and books that have inspired you?

Ray Bradbury is the king. The KING. When I first read the Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, I nearly wet myself. Philip K. Dick is one of my favorites and I love the sense of paranoia he injects into every novel. I'm also in love with the short stories of Stephen Crane. The Monster is outstanding. For humor, some of Shakespeare's first comedies can be hilarious.

From Comedy of Errors: "She's the kitchen wench and all grease; and I know not what use to put her to but to make a lamp of her, and run from her by her own light. I warrant her rags and the tallow in them will burn a Poland winter. if she lives till doomsday, she'll burn a week longer than the whole world" (3.2.94-99).

That cracks me up.

Tell us about yourself. Do you have any hobbies and interests outside of writing, and if so, do they ever find their way into your writing?

Video games (Xbox and PS3), lots of reality TV (I can't get enough), and chasing after my six-year old daughter. Do these three things influence my writing? Oh, yeah.

Team Angel or Team Spike? Bill or Eric? Edward or Jacob? River Tam or Buffy Summers? And why? 

I don't want any of these. I want a Maenad of my very own. Maenads rock. I don't know why everyone was complaining. Those orgies looked sweet. Actually… I just think Michelle Forbes is hot, so I'll take one of her instead, please.

This maenad's for you, Jason.



**

Thank you Jason!

To learn more about Jason and Rogue's Curse, check out his links: his blog Beer and TV, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. He's also having a contest on his blog to win a copy of Rogue's Curse so be sure and check that out.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Review: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley


Blurb:
The year is 1881. Meet the Mackenzie family--rich, powerful, dangerous, eccentric. A lady couldn't be seen with them without ruin. Rumors surround them--of tragic violence, of their mistresses, of their dark appetites, of scandals that set England and Scotland abuzz. 
The youngest brother, Ian, known as the Mad Mackenzie, spent most of his young life in an asylum, and everyone agrees he is decidedly odd. He's also hard and handsome and has a penchant for Ming pottery and beautiful women. 
Beth Ackerley, widow, has recently come into a fortune. She has decided that she wants no more drama in her life. She was raised in drama--an alcoholic father who drove them into the workhouse, a frail mother she had to nurse until her death, a fussy old lady she became constant companion to. No, she wants to take her money and find peace, to travel, to learn art, to sit back and fondly remember her brief but happy marriage to her late husband. 
And then Ian Mackenzie decides he wants her.


 My thoughts:

I picked out this book based on it's great reviews and it did not disappoint. Author Jennifer Ashley did an amazing job of showing the symptoms and behaviors of someone who would be diagnosed today with Asbergers or high-functioning autism. In 1881 Ian was considered insane and spent years in an asylum. It wasn't until their father died and the eldest Mackenzie brother led the family that Ian was released, and finally able to have something approaching a stable existence. Ian shares a tight-knit bond with his brothers but he believes he's incapable of truly loving someone. He proposes to Beth the first night they meet but it takes the course of the book for him to accept that he is capable of loving her. As interesting as Ian was, Beth was every bit his match. Smart enough to see beyond the gossip and even past Ian's uneven behavior to the man underneath, she's not afraid to risk her heart by getting involved with him. They make a perfect match and their relationship is deeply passionate. If you're looking for a historical romance that's a little different from the rest of the pack, I highly recommend this one. It's a great read.

Review: Unholy Ghosts

Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane

Blurb:
THE DEPARTED HAVE ARRIVED.

The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully tattooed witch and freewheeling ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the wicked dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.


My thoughts:

This is the first in the new Downside series and it's a winner. There are some elements to this that make it atypical for urban fantasy and while some readers objected to those elements, I felt they really brought something new to the table. First off, this is a very dark book, darker than most UF I normally read. Scenes in the Downside feel like something akin to Blade Runner, post-apocalyptic and claustrophobic. That's only one aspect of the fantastic world-building going on here. The Church of Real Truth practices a sort of atheist fundamentalism that's just as unsettling as the kind we see in real life. I was especially impressed with the magic Chess works in her job.

Chess is a drug addict, something that was hard for me to get used to when I first started the book. She is mostly functioning and seems to have no desire to get clean. Of course I'm hoping that changes over the course of the series and I have to admit, even though it can be a bit difficult to read, if Chess does get clean at some point it's going to make for a hell of a journey. Another unusual element: although Chess winds up getting intimate with one guy, it's pretty clear who the real love interest is, and he is not at all the usual pretty boy hunk you normally find in UF/PNR. His name is Terrible and though I didn't think much of him at first, by the end of the book I had Terrible Fever. These are two fascinating characters, constantly surprising, and they've got me hooked on the Downside. I've got the second book, Unholy Magic, in my to-be-read pile and I'll snap up the third one as soon as I can.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

On Writing: Secondary Characters

Cross-posted from Frightening Journeys.


In On Writing Stephen King says:
It's also important to remember that no one is "the bad guy" or "the best friend" or "the whore with a heart of gold" in real life; in real life we each of us regard ourselves as the main character, the protagonist, the big cheese; the camera is on us, baby. If you can bring this attitude into your fiction, you may not find it easier to create brilliant characters, but it will be harder for you to create the sort of one-dimensional dopes that populate so much pop fiction.
It's easy to put so much energy, so much thought, into creating your main characters that all those secondary characters wind up being cardboard cutouts. "The best friend" or "the wacky sidekick" or whatever else have a purpose to fulfill, in relation to the story and the main characters. The trick is to not write them as if that's all they're for. The trick is to write them as if there is an alternate universe of the fictional world you are creating and in that alternate universe, that secondary character is the main character. Some of the best, most fully realized novels I've ever read had secondary characters that were so interesting, I would gladly have read a book about their adventures.

One of the best examples of this I know is the Harry Potter world. While I understand why JK Rowling doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life writing Wizarding World stories, as a reader nothing would delight me more than reading the further adventures of some of the side characters, especially George Weasley and Neville Longbottom. In fact I loved the entire Weasley family and loved every minute they were on the page. As for Neville, his own journey through the course of the books was every bit as amazing, and occasionally heartbreaking, as Harry's. When Neville had his big moment in the Battle of Hogwarts I cheered so much I dropped the book. In the hands of a lesser storyteller, Neville would have been just the stereotypical nerdy picked-on kid, and a prop to reflect aspects of Harry's own journey. But instead we saw glimpses of a young boy on his own Hero's Journey, every bit as compelling as the main character.

Who are some of your favorite secondary characters that you'd love to read more about?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

On Writing: The "What If"

Cross-posted from Frightening Journeys.


In On Writing Stephen King says:

A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot, which is fine with me. The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-if question.

In all honesty I don't see much difference in "plot" and "situation", but let's talk about using What If as a starting point for a story. Sometimes a novel will start with a character that is so compelling, he won't stop haunting you until you tell his story. Sometimes a novel will start with a question. What if this happened, what if that happened? That initial question will invariably lead to more questions. For instance, what was the fallout? Who was affected? How did they react? All of these questions are just a variation on the theme of, and then what happened? What if is your jumping off point, and if it's compelling enough you'll jump into the story with or without a safety net.

For Bring On The Night my initial question was, what if the noir tough guy was both a girl and a vampire? Followed by the question, what if she didn't brood and fall in lurve? I went from there, asking more what ifs as the story progressed. With the short story that eventually mutated several times until it became Mojo Queen, my starting point was, what if someone chose to be possessed by an evil spirit? Mojo Queen went through quite a few incarnations but in the end that initial question could still be found as an integral part of the plot. I found myself floundering when I tried to write a follow-up, until a question occurred to me: what if a natural disaster, like a flood, created havoc on the spirit plane just like those events do in the physical world? How would ghosts and spirits react, how would that affect people, and what would it take to calm these rattled spirits down again? I've worked out answers to the first two of those questions and I’m sure I'll figure out the third one in the course of writing. I’m also sure more questions will come up.

Have you ever started a story with a what if question? Was that a successful way for you to start?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Jailbreak

1955
 A post-war Ozzie and Harriet world of GI Bill-educated middle class workers coming home to the suburbs every night. A segregated world. A carefully buttoned-up world. A world where couples danced a polite mambo to the biggest Billboard hit of the year, Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White by Perez Prado.

1956
But there was a volcano about to erupt under all that smooth civility. In 1956, five of the top twenty Billboard hits were by a single artist – Elvis Presley. Everything about this young man – his eyeliner, his appropriation of black culture, his hips – was subversive and dangerous to the status quo. My favorite quote about Elvis is from Bob Dylan: “Hearing Elvis for the first time was like busting out of jail.”

It’s not hard to imagine at all. A lot about Elvis may seem tame to modern audiences but I was struck by something when searching for YouTube videos to add to this post. We have our own status quo now. Popular music is jailed behind the bars of Auto Tune and Pro Tools, Karaoke Idol and lip-synching live performances. Watching clips from the 1968 Comeback Special give me a taste of what that jailbreak must have felt like to Dylan and others. It’s an exhilarating rush. What is hard to imagine is Elvis being dethroned as king of that new language of divine ecstasy known as rock and roll. These songs are an absolute joy. All of the crappy movies, all the pills, the groupies, the hangers-on, the bad decisions and the lost opportunities – all of that fades to nothing under the power of his soaring voice. Elvis loved all kinds of music, and could sing all kinds of music with equal passion. His voice and the love for music that he could channel through it were his most amazing gifts, and these performances display both beautifully.

1968






Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Guest post from author Sara-Jayne Townsend

Author Sara-Jayne Townsend is on the blog today to talk about her experience with her writer's group.


LESSONS LEARNED FROM WRITING GROUPS
By Sara-Jayne Townsend

Writing is a solitary business.  You scribble away in your garret, with no one but the characters who live in your head for company, alternately lurching between the two extremes of believing a) your work in progress in the greatest work of literature in the history of the world, and b) your writing is such hopeless drivel you should throw it all in the trash, go back to the day job and give up forever the vain dream of becoming a writer.

I first discovered the value of writing groups late in my teens, at the time I began to submit my work to editors.  Up until that point, the only people who had read any of my stories were my parents and teachers, and I suspected their enthusiastic praise was somewhat biased.

The first writing group I joined I discovered from an advert in the personal column of FEAR magazine.  Naturally, given the location of the ad, it was a group for horror writers.  But it was so reassuring to discover another group of writers into the same kind of writing as I was.  No longer did I feel I was alone in my taste for the sick and the morbid in fiction.  Amongst this group, I found allies equally sick and morbid.

That group folded a couple of years later, but three of us from the original line-up missed the writing group so much we decided to form a new one.  Thus the T Party Writers’ Group was born.  It had its first meeting in January 1994, with just the three of us.  The T Party is still going strong; it remains the longest-running genre-focused (read:  sf, horror and fantasy) writing group in London, and it now has over 30 members.

I think its longevity is testament to how valuable its members find it.  Firstly, the value of the writing group as a support forum cannot be underestimated.  It’s nice to be amongst like-minded people.  Most non-writers have no real clue of how the publishing world works.  If you’re a not-yet-published novelist, you’ll have met that acquaintance who asks you, every couple of months or so, “so is your book out yet?”  And you get tired of explaining you haven’t even sold the damn thing yet, and even if by some miracle it does sell next week, it won’t be out next month.  If you’re a writer with a published novel, there’ll be that colleague who keeps asking why you’re still working here – after all, now you’re published you’re earning loads of money and you don’t need this job anymore, do you?

Your fellow writing group members understand the reality.  They ride the same roller coaster of acceptance and rejection that you do.  They know how it feels when you get discouraged because the WIP just isn’t shaping up the way you want it to.  And they’ll be there with the champagne when that acceptance comes in.  They also understand that even if that novel contract comes in, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be rich and famous overnight.

The other benefit from a writing group is the honest feedback.  It’s all very well for your mum to think you’re a brilliant writer, but in the long run that’s not going to help you get published.  The candidness of the critiques offered in a writing group seem to depend on the group.  Some have a policy of being supportive, no matter how flawed the writing.  The T Party, it seems, can be more brutal in its feedback than other groups.  Ultimately, we want to encourage everyone into publication.  If the writing has flaws, they will be pointed out.  All of the novels I’ve submitted to the group over the years have been fairly soundly flayed.  This can be hard to take at the time – it’s always difficult to hear criticism about something you’ve put so much of yourself into.  But after a time of reflection, when it’s time to revisit the manuscript and make a start on the next draft, I find myself having to agree with the criticism.  Often it was difficult to hear, but it needed to be said.

And because of this, my writing has improved over the years.  Nowadays I try to identify my own bad writing habits and nip them in the bud before I get to the stage I send it out to the group.  Perhaps I can pick out “head-hopping” – that’s a no no.  Or maybe that character might seem a bit stereotyped.  What can I do to make people sympathise with him more?

The other valuable thing I’ve learned from the T Party is how to deal with rejection.  All writers have to develop a thick skin, unless you’re planning on just writing for yourself and never letting anyone read it.  You won’t get very far if you crawl into a hole every time you receive a rejection.  Being a member of the T Party has helped me develop that thick skin.  The criticism may have been quite harsh over the years, but it’s left me able to handle anything an editor or agent might say to me.

I would encourage all writers to join a writing circle of some form, because you learn so much from them.  If there isn’t one in your area, you can always start one.  In the early days of the T Party, we advertised in small press magazines for more members.  It didn’t take long for our numbers to grow.  This was in the days before everyone had internet access – it’s much easier these days.  And if you can’t find enough people for a “real space” writing group, join an online one.  There are plenty of forums and sites around where you can post your writing for helpful comments from other writers.  But ultimately, writing doesn’t have to be lonely, and the learning process takes a life time.  Contact with other writers is an essential part of the writer’s life, so don’t hide away in your garret.  Seek them out and say hello.  They’ll probably be just as glad to hear from you as you are to find them.

*




Sara's debut horror novel Suffer The Children is available from Lyrical Press. You can learn more about Sara at her website, and her blog is always a great read too.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Dark Road

I have pretty eclectic taste in music. There are a lot more genres and artists that I will listen to than won't. I learned a long time ago not to be a snob about music, that you can find gems in Top Forty just as often as you can in the indie stuff. No matter what I listen to when I feel like experimenting, I always go back to what I think of as "source music," Southern music, namely blues.

Blues encompasses so much, it's impossible to put only one label on it. Blues is Saturday night dance music, Sunday morning regret music. Social, racial, and economic protest music. There's probably a bigger helping of "love gone wrong" in the gumbo recipe that makes up the blues more than anything else. To me, a paranormal writer, there is also another flavor of blues that I can't get enough of - spooky blues.

There's a novel in the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly called A Darkness More Than Night. I've always thought that was the single greatest book title ever. It would have been a great title for a novel about the blues because it's the perfect description for the kind of spooky blues I'm talking about. I once referred to Robert Johnson's music as an "existential apocalypse" in a short story, and I think that's pretty accurate, too. You may think you're staring into a dark night … it seems empty, but is there something out there beyond the edge of your vision? Why does it fill you with the kind of dread that plays on your nerves like an out of tune piano? Is it because in some part of your mind you don't want to listen to, you know that rather than just another moonless night, you're staring into the abyss of your own soul. That's a place most people don't want to look. Think about that the next time you wonder why Fill-In-The-Blank-Annoying-Pop-Star is the biggest thing on the music charts.

I write about characters who are at home in the darkness. The soundtrack to their exploits is varied, but it always comes back to the blues. They're not afraid to walk down a dark road, not knowing what's out there.

Mississippi crossroads

Unfortunately the embedding is disabled but you click to hear the post title song: Dark Road by Floyd Jones.