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Friday, February 29, 2008

"Happy Hour of the Damned" by Mark Henry

Official Mark Henry Blog
Order “Happy Hour of the DamnedHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Reviews of “Happy Hour of the Damned” via Darque Reviews, The Fantasy and Sci-Fi Lovin’ Blog + Urban Fantasy Land

Let’s be honest here. In the subgenre that covers urban fantasy, paranormal romance and supernatural mystery, there are just way too many books to choose from anymore. I mean seriously, with new series starting seemingly every week, how are readers supposed to know which ones to read and which ones to avoid? Sure, you have the heavy hitters like Laurell K. Hamilton, Glen Cook’s Garrett P.I. novels, Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison, Simon R. Green, Patricia Briggs, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Charlaine Harris, etc., but what about newer authors? How can we tell which ones are worth the time and the effort? Frankly, I don’t have a definitive answer, but sometimes it just comes down to sheer luck ;)

Take for example Mark Henry’s debut novel “Happy Hour of the Damned”. I was aware of the book, but the main reason I decided to review it was because the author personally contacted me and sent out a signed ARC. And also because he’s a fellow Washingtonian :) As far as the actual novel, “Happy Hour of the Damned” sounds like any other typical contemporary supernatural fantasy you can find on the market today, complete with a female protagonist who narrates in the first person, a mystery investigation, and other common tropes. Factor in a cover that I was not very impressed with, and it’s safe to say that I was not expecting much from Mark’s debut. Which is why “Happy Hour of the Damned” was such a wonderful surprise.

For as generic-sounding as Mark’s book may be, “Happy Hour of the Damned” actually turned out to be one of the most daring and refreshingly distinctive urban fantasy novels that I’ve ever read…and it all starts with the writing, specifically the author’s ability for flair. For instance, the first-person narrative of Seattleite Amanda Feral, our heroine, is presented as her own personal memoir and comes adorned with hundreds of amusing footnotes—kind of like Jonathan Stroud’s The Bartimaeus Trilogy or Susanna Clarke’sJonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell”—numerous insets including drink recipes & DJ set lists, excerpts from supernatural-operated publications like Otherworld Weekly, and even her own author acknowledgments ;) Stylistically, you can expect the writing to be snarky, hip, full of clever plays on words & coined phrases—e.g., deadutantes, flesh-junkie, heterodead, post-mortem elegance, crittery, etc.—and uproariously funny, but don’t mistake humor for wholesome family fun because Amanda is quite the foul-mouth. Which brings me to the characterization, particularly Mark’s authentic portrayal of a vain, fashion-savvy bitch in advertising exec Amanda Feral whose voice was just spot-on. Of the book’s supporting characters like gay vampire Gil, the slutty zombie Wendy and Liesl the succubus, not as much depth is provided, but the author does a good job of imbuing everyone with their own distinguishing traits.

Conceptually, there’s nothing new about having supernatural entities like vampires, zombies, werewolves, and whatnot existing alongside humans and having their own hotspots in nightclubs and bars. Just read one of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake novels for that idea, but Mark Henry does take it a step further with the aforementioned magazines, their own newspapers, a reality TV show—Undead on Tape—a spa, and even a 12-step group! He also plays around with a couple of mythologies like having two types of zombies: the ones that most people are familiar with—mindless, flesh-eating monsters referred to in the book as ‘mistakes’—and made zombies, which are individuals who have received ‘the breath’, like Wendy and Amanda. Basically, made zombies are just like humans except for being undead, unable to heal—which makes things difficult for someone as beauty-conscious as Amanda :)—and only able to consume flesh & alcohol without developing a severe case of diarrhea. Other interesting ideas is a Hell that’s quite different from the one we probably imagine in our heads, a succubus training camp, and the creepy reapers.

Story-wise, “Happy Hour of the Damned” follows Amanda Feral as she plays Nancy Drew in trying to find her missing friend Liesl. Along the way, readers will get to see Amanda’s life before zombification, how she was made into one of the undead, relive her very first meetings with her supernatural friends (Gil, Wendy, Liesl), and learn of their own origins which are presented as ‘Interludes’. On top of that, Amanda will also stumble onto a diabolical plan to take over the world that involves zombie mistakes, the frightening Elizabeth Karkaroff, and Starbucks… Of everything mentioned, including the writing, the characters, the presentation, and the plot, I’d have to say the story was probably the weakest link. For one, the flashback was a bit too long, the pacing uneven at times, and the world domination plot was kind of silly & flawed. Still, the story was a lot of fun and provided gratuitous amounts of sex, black comedy, and surprisingly graphic violence :) In fact, as a whole I would describe “Happy Hour of the Damned” as Sex in the City meets Shaun of the Dead meets George A. Romero

In the end, Mark Henry’sHappy Hour of the Damned” once again proves that you can’t judge a book by its cover. It also shows that there’s a lot of life left in the urban fantasy subgenre, and even though it’s getting harder to differentiate between all of the releases out there, Mark’s debut firmly demonstrates that there are still authors who can bring something new to the table. I just hope the novel doesn’t get overlooked because I really want Mark’s series to succeed so I can read many more volumes in the Chronicles of Amanda Feral which continues in “Road Trip of the Living Dead”…
Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Peter F. Hamilton US Author Tour Dates!

In support of the March 25, 2008 US release of “The Dreaming Void” by New York Times-bestselling British SF writer Peter F. Hamilton, Del Rey has put together a US author tour that will span from coast to coast starting with Seattle and ending at this year’s New York Comic Con. Dates are listed below.

For those unfamiliar with the author, “The Dreaming Void” is the start to
Peter F. Hamilton’s brand new Void Trilogy, which is set in the Commonwealth Universe that began in “Misspent Youth” and was continued in The Commonwealth Saga (Pandora’s Star, Judas Unchained). For Fantasy Book Critic’s review of “The Dreaming Void” which was initially released in the UK August 2007 by PanMacmillan, click HERE.

In other news, I’ve been asked to send some interview questions to Mr. Hamilton which I’m currently working on and readers will hopefully see around the release of “The Dreaming Void”. In fact, if anyone has a question for the author, please feel free to leave them in the comments section and I will take them under consideration, thanks! Now, for the dates:

SEATTLE, WA
Thursday, April 10
7:00pm
University Bookstore
4326 University Way NE

PORTLAND, OR
Friday, April 11
7:00pm
Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing
3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd., Beaverton

SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Saturday, April 12
4:00pm
Borderlands
866 Valencia Street

SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Saturday, April 12
7:30pm
Writers With Drinks
The Make-Out Room
3225 22nd. St.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA
Sunday, April 13
3:00pm
Books Inc.
301 Castro Street

SAN DIEGO, CA
Monday, April 14
7:00pm
Mysterious Galaxy
7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd

SALT LAKE CITY, UT
Tuesday, April 15
7:00pm
Barnes & Noble
1104 East 2100 South

DETROIT, MI
Wednesday, April 16
7:30pm
Borders Books & Music
43075 Crescent Blvd, Novi

NEW YORK, NY
Saturday, April 19
1:00pm
New York Comic Con
Jacob Javits Center
SF Roundtable
Panel Room 3 (1E15)

"Emissaries from the Dead" by Adam-Troy Castro

Order “Emissaries from the DeadHERE

Although new to me, writer Adam-Troy Castro has been around since the 80s and has produced almost eighty short stories and twelve books which range from Spider-Man tie-in novels to short story collections and non-fiction. His latest offering, “Emissaries from the Dead”, is the author’s first original novel and is set in the same futuristic universe as his short stories “The Funeral March of the Marionettes” (nominated for the Hugo + Nebula Awards) and “The Tangled Strings of the Marionettes” (Nebula nominee), and features Andrea Cort from the novella “Unseen Demons”.

Associate Legal Counsel for the Homo Sapiens Confederacy Diplomatic Corps Judge Advocate—what a title!—Andrea Cort is on her way back to New London for a scheduled sabbatical when she is suddenly diverted to the cylinder world One One One to investigate a murder. An investigation that is hindered by several complications:

1) Unlike most artificial ecosystems, One One One is twenty light years from the nearest inhabited world, is a thousand times larger than the average cylinder world, and is constructed so that the only habitable portion of the habitat is a cluster of vegetation clinging to the interior station axis which is known as the Uppergrowth, while the lower atmosphere is a “poisonous soup of thick gases above a sludgy organic sea.” In other words, One One One is an extremely treacherous environment, especially for someone with an aversion to heights which happens to be the case for Andrea.
2) Because of the Brachiators—engineered sentient lifeforms—eleven different races are involved in a legal battle to institute the Interspecies Covenant. Unfortunately, AIsource has claimed One One One exempt from such treaties and is only allowing one race—humans—to observe the Brachs, but without any diplomatic status meaning they, including Andrea, have no official standing or immunity during their tenure on the habitat.
3) Andrea has orders from her superiors to find the AIsource innocent in the investigation no matter what. Even if all evidence points toward the AIsource being guilty of the murder, it’s her duty to implicate a scapegoat. Otherwise, humanity could find them selves in a war that they would most certainly regret.
4) When Andrea arrives on One One One, she learns of a second murder that raises even more questions.
5) She also learns that she was assigned the investigation for specific reasons, one of which holds the shocking answers of what happened during the horrible Bocai Incident.

In short, it’s an impossible investigation that only gets worse the more involved Andrea becomes, for as the mysteries deepen, so too does the danger and the revelations, many of which will change the Counselor irrevocably. Fortunately, it also makes for great entertainment :) An intense, intelligently conceived murder mystery set in a vividly surreal science fiction backdrop… Just a wonderful concept in my opinion, especially when you factor in everything else the book has to offer starting with Andrea’s intriguing character analysis:

You see, as an eight-year-old child Andrea lived through the Bocai Incident when an unexplained murderous madness suddenly gripped the world’s inhabitants including the girl. From there, Andrea was subjected to years of study before the Diplomatic Corps started employing her as their own personal tool. Because of the Incident though and the ongoing prejudice that she's had to deal with, Andrea became a misanthrope that regards herself as a monster, while constantly contemplating the embrace of death... Like I said, Andrea is pretty fascinating, more so because of the evolution she undergoes throughout the book and the surprising decisions she makes towards the end as a result of everything she's experienced.

Of course there’s a lot of other interesting stuff in the novel as well such as cylinked humans— people who share one personality through multiple bodies, a concept I’ve read recently in Peter F. Hamilton’sThe Dreaming Void” and Paul Melko’sSingularity’s Ring”—the indenture system of the Diplomatic Corps, Adam-Troy Castro’s take on artificial intelligences, and the Brachiators’ subculture, particularly their unique viewpoint on Life & Death (Ghosts). Still, what I enjoyed the most about “Emissaries from the Dead” was the smartly executed murder mystery, the imaginative setting of One One One, and the deep character study of Andrea Cort. Unfortunately, there was one major problem I had with the book and that was the narrative style.

Now because I haven’t read any of Adam-Troy Castro’s other works, I can’t tell if Andrea’s first-person narrative was supposed to be a reflection of her antisocial personality or was just the way the author writes, but I found her ‘voice’ to be incredibly nondescript. I mean she has no flair, she’s not funny—though she tries to be occasionally—and she just really comes across as mechanical. Once again, I’m not sure if that was intentional or not, but I just can’t help wonder how much better the book would have been if Andrea had a more distinctive voice. After all, the rest of the novel was pretty strong from the plotting and pacing to the character development, some excellent SF concepts and thought-provoking themes, not to mention the author showing off his talent for writing horrific imagery. Nevertheless, despite my problems with the narrative I was really impressed with Adam-Troy Castro’s book and will definitely be reading the direct sequel—“The Third Claw of God”—which I have a feeling will be even better…
Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Winners of the Kim Harrison + Solaris Books’ SF BUNDLE giveaways!

Congratulations to Adina Weinstein (New Jersey) who was randomly selected to win a SET of Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan novels (US Version) including copies of “Dead Witch Walking”, “The Good, The Bad, And The Undead”, “Every Which Way But Dead”, “A Fistful of Charms”, “For a Few Demons More” and “The Outlaw Demon Wails”, all thanks to EOS Books!!! Remember, the new Rachel Morgan book, “The Outlaw Demon Wails”, is officially out today, so be sure to pick up your copy HERE. Also, you can find an excerpt HERE, read a review of the book HERE via Darque Reviews, and WIN an Apple iPhone by following these directions HERE :)

Congratulations also to Gina Howard (Tennessee), Helen Hutmache (New Jersey), Belinda Yaxley (Australia), Vanessa Hunter (New York), and Meredith Shearer (Georgia) who were all randomly selected to win a
Solaris Books’ SF BUNDLE including copies of Andy Remic’sWar Machine”, Chris Roberson’sThe Dragon’s Nine Sons”, Jeffrey Thomas’Blue War” and “The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume II”!!! As above, today marks the official release of “Blue War" (Reviewed HERE) and “The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume II” so be sure to add them to your shopping list!

As far as the other giveaways, just a reminder that the ones for
R.A. Salvatore’sThe Ancient” (Sign up HERE) and a SET of Jim C. Hines’ Goblin War trilogy (Sign up HERE) end next Tuesday, March 4, 2008 – 11:59AM PST. Meanwhile, the giveaway for Felix Gilman’sThunderer” (Sign up HERE) ends on Thursday, March 6, 2008 – 11:59AM PST and a SET of Patricia Briggs’ Mercedes Thompson books (Sign up HERE) ends on Tuesday, March 11, 2008 – 11:59AM PST. Don’t worry though, I have a whole bunch of new giveaways that will be starting soon, kicking off this Thursday :D

"Heart of Light" by Sarah A. Hoyt

Official Sarah A. Hoyt Website
Order “Heart of Light
HERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

Known for her diversity, the Portugal-born Sarah A. Hoyt has written dozens of short stories and several novels including a Shakespearean fantasy series, the Musketeer Mystery books, and the Shifter urban fantasy series. She has also written a historical romance under the pseudonym Laurien Gardner, a collaborative novel with SF author Eric Flint, and co-edits the forthcoming anthology “Something Magic This Way Comes” (March 4, 2008).

In Ms. Hoyt’s new Magical British Empire series which kicks off with “Heart of Light”, the author introduces an alternate nineteenth century era where magic not only exists, but is an integral part of life. For instance, while the world may feature trains, air transportation, indoor lighting, guns, and other modern amenities, it is magic—not science or technology—that powers them. That’s why there are magelights instead of electricity, carpetships—yes, flying carpets—instead of airships, and powersticks instead of rifles. Still, for all of the differences there might be between Sarah’s Victorian time period and the one in our history books, many things remain the same such as a powerful British Empire reigned over by Queen Victoria, Africans enslaved by white people—known as ‘Water People’ in this case—and proper English manners :)

Where the author deviates the most is in how Europe became a global superpower. Forty generations earlier, Charlemagne stole a jewel from a statue that was meant to represent the “mother of all mankind”, and with it bound all of the magical power in Europe to himself and his descendants, thus allowing certain individuals to perform feats of ‘great magic’. In contrast, in other nations like Africa, magic is distributed to everyone evenly, regardless of birth or rank, and so are only able to execute ‘small magic’. Hence the reason for Europe’s dominance. Unfortunately for Europe, the power has become fractured over so many different bloodlines that numerous revolutions have erupted throughout the great nation, not to mention the threat of anarchists who seek an equalitarian society. In response to this situation, Queen Victoria has devised a plan to acquire the remaining jewel—called the Heart of Light—and use it to bind all of Europe’s magic to her bloodline, thus ensuring the British Empire’s supremacy.

This is where Sarah’s novel starts off at with a honeymoon trip to Cairo actually doubling as the queen’s secret mission to recover the Heart of Light. Unfortunately for the Oldhall newlyweds, Nigel is completely unsuited for the task—he was only chosen because of his connection to the compass stone and the disappearance of his older brother Carew—while Emily has no clue about the mission, which leads to a major misunderstanding between the couple that jeopardizes the operation and places both of their lives at great risk. Complicating matters even further are the Hyena Men—a secret African organization intent on capturing the jewel for themselves so they might finally become strong enough to ‘cast off the yoke of European oppression’—Nigel’s old classmate and friend Peter Farewell who has his own secret agenda, a dangerous were-dragon, affairs of the heart including the realization that maybe Nigel & Emily weren’t meant for each other, and the terrible revelation that using the Heart of Light will destroy the very fabric of reality…

Part romantic adventure (Romancing the Stone), part alternate history, and part fantasy quest (The Chronicles of Narnia), Sarah A. Hoyt’sHeart of Light” is a solid book that was fun and quick to read, but not entirely satisfying. What I liked about it was the backdrop, the magical concepts, the cultural clashes between British & Africans, the development of the characters, and the book’s easy accessibility. What I didn’t like so much was the predictability of the story’s romances and certain plot elements, how PG the novel was which attributed to the book’s lack of tension, an ending that was a common fantasy trope, and various inconsistencies like how Nigel suddenly transforms from an out-of-place foreigner into someone who can kill a lion with just a spear and Emily discovering her ‘soulmate’. Another issue I had—though not really a problem—was the worldbuilding. As interesting as this version of the nineteenth century was, I just wish there had been more details. For instance, how did magic affect other nations or major historical events like the American Revolutionary War? Hopefully we’ll get to learn more about such things in the sequels, but I just thought the book’s historical aspects lacked the depth or imagination that I’ve seen in other historical fantasy novels. To be honest, I’ve actually read other Victorian settings and yes, even romances that were much better than what could be found in Sarah A. Hoyt’sHeart of Light”, but I have to admit that I liked how the author blended together all of these different genres. In short, I enjoyed “Heart of Light” enough that I’m interested to see what happens in the sequel “Soul of Fire”, but at the same time it’s a series that I can live without…
Monday, February 25, 2008

Interview with Jonathan Barnes

Order “The SomnambulistHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s
REVIEW of “The Somnambulist
Read Edward Moon’s Interview
HERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

Earlier this year I finally got to read Jonathan Barnes’The Somnambulist” after hearing so much about the debut novel following its UK release in 2007. Despite some issues I had, I thought the book more than lived up to its expectations and was really interested in learning about the creator behind “The Somnambulist”, especially since the author has virtually zero online presence. And thanks to Jonathan’s US editor Diana Gill—and to Mr. Barnes of course!—I was granted that opportunity :) Ironically, when I was putting together questions for the interview, Jonathan was a guest blogger at the EOS Blog and addressed a lot of the topics that I was hoping to cover, including the novel’s unconventional narrative, the story of how the book came to life and the inspiration behind it, the many unresolved loose ends found in “The Somnambulist”, and Mr. Barnes’ work as a book reviewer. While the author may have answered many of the questions I had, I still had plenty more to ask so I hope readers will join us as Jonathan discusses how the American version of his debut is slightly different from the UK version, the title of the book “The Somnambulist” and how it might actually allude to another character, and his sequel “The Domino Men”…

Q: For starters, you graduated with a degree in English Lit from Oxford, you write reviews for the
Times Literary Supplement, and you live in London which is about the extent of your biography ;) So, could you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, what experience you went through in finding a publisher, first with Gollancz for the UK and then William Morrow for the US, and anything else you’d like to share about yourself?

Jonathan: Apart from a brief phase when I was about four and I decided I’d like to be a farmer, I think I’ve always wanted to be a writer. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved stories. I wrote a lot at school and at university I wrote and directed four or five plays. The buzz I got from doing that made me determined to find some way to go on telling stories once college came to an end and I was out on my own in the real world. Consequently, I’ve spent the past eight years working in a variety of office jobs whilst writing in the evenings and at weekends.

I sent “The Somnambulist” to all kinds of publishers and agencies and it was pretty comprehensively rejected. In the end, close to giving up, I sent the first few chapters, entirely on spec, to Gollancz where it was rescued from the slush pile by my future editor Simon Spanton. He liked it enough to buy it and everything snowballed from there. Gollancz themselves sent it to William Morrow where it was picked up by the wonderful Diana Gill who’s nurtured it and brought it to American bookshops. So it’s really all down to the kindness of strangers – first Simon, then Diana.

Q: Concerning your profession as a reviewer, you recently posted an interesting bit
HERE on the EOS Blog regarding the growing shift between professional and amateur reviews—a movement you said should be applauded…for the most part. Could you elaborate a bit more about this?

Jonathan: “Profession” is putting it way too strongly! I’ve contributed the odd article (sometimes extremely odd!) to the TLS over the past eight years. It’s a great privilege and I thoroughly enjoy the intellectual discipline which it demands, although I don’t often review contemporary fiction – my most recent pieces have been on mysteries, the unexplained, ghosts and hauntings (spot a theme developing here?). I meant nothing sinister by saying “for the most part”. As I suggested in my blog, the democratization of the critical process is irrefutably a good thing but it does mean that there’s a bewildering wealth of opinion out there. It’s tough to know what to think, that’s all, and harder than ever to get a consensus.

Q: Isn’t that a good thing though? I mean, not everyone experiences a book exactly the same, so shouldn’t reviews reflect a fractured opinion rather than a consensus one?

Jonathan: It's absolutely a good thing. And I don't think you're ever going to get a consensus on a story - a good or an interesting story, at any rate. It's just the sheer volume of opinion on-line which can prove overwhelming.

Q: I can understand that. Now even though “The Somnambulist” just made its debut in the US on February 5, 2008, the novel has been available in the UK since last February. Because you’ve had almost a year now to reflect on the book since it was first published, what are your overall thoughts on how “The Somnambulist” turned out? Would you change anything if you had the chance?

Jonathan: Of course. Absolutely. There are always things that you’d change. Who was it that said that “art is never finished, only abandoned”? (Just looked it up – Leonardo da Vinci, apparently). Anything in particular? Well, I’d certainly try to give poor Inspector Merryweather more of a character. I feel that I let him down a bit by making him such a stock and generic figure without (as I hope I did with some of the other characters) subverting or playing with those clich├ęs at all.

For the record, the US version of “The Somnambulist” is slightly different to its UK counterpart. I reworked it slightly - a few nips and tucks, a couple of short additional sections – in an effort to make it smoother.

Q: Were these mainly grammatical changes, or did you play around any with the plotting or characterization? Could you give any specific examples?

Jonathan: It went well beyond grammar. There are a couple of short new scenes – an additional reverie by the old man who sleeps beneath the city, for example – as well as a slight smoothing out of Chapter 4 (Moon's thwarted investigation of the Glendinning case). I never thought that chapter quite came off in the original and it really bugged me for a while. Thankfully I improved it for the American edition and now I can sleep soundly once again.

Q: You actually started work on the manuscript back in 2001. How much has the book evolved since then?

Jonathan: The story has remained pretty much unchanged – believe it or not, I had the whole thing planned out in my mind before I started and I never really deviated from it – although I think the book evolves as it goes on. The early chapters read very much as me feeling my way into writing a novel whilst the ending is much more confident and technically assured. At least, that’s my opinion. A lot of people have told me that the beginning is by far the strongest part of the book and the ending is pitifully weak by comparison – which doesn’t bode especially well for my future career!

Q: LOL. On the
EOS Blog HERE you mentioned that “The Somnambulist” was your homage to the things you’ve always loved including “Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, Frankenstein, Charles Dickens, Alan Moore’s From Hell, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and the London histories of Peter Ackroyd.” What they nearly all have in common is either London or the Victorian era, which I touched upon in my review of “The Somnambulist”. In your opinion, what is it about the Victorian time period, and London in particular, that is so appealing to writers?

Jonathan: Oh, it’s just irresistible, isn’t it? Difficult to say exactly why but for me at least it’s probably down to two things – the modernity of the time, the way in which, with its crumbling empires and voracious cities, it feels so close to the concerns of our own age coupled, paradoxically, with its safety. For all its darkness and squalor, there is an odd security to the era—that lost time before the twentieth century decided to do its worst.

Q: Besides everything that was mentioned in the previous question, who or what else influenced you in writing “The Somnambulist”?

Jonathan: The first series of 24 was shown in England when I was writing the book and I remember wishing that I could capture some of its breathlessness, that show’s reckless, relentless, stampeding kind of narrative.

Q: Arguably, your book’s most distinctive feature is an unconventional narrative that blends a first-person narrator with third-person omniscience. Was it difficult getting the right kind of balance between the two, and what are the keys to writing a narrator that is successfully ‘fallible’ or ‘unreliable’?

Jonathan: I’m pleased that you think it’s distinctive. I love the idea of the unreliable narrator and believe that there’s still plenty of interesting stuff that can be done with it. Certainly, I always thought that is would be fun to write a story from the point of view of a narrator who absolutely despises his protagonist. Although, if I’m being honest, “The Somnambulist” mostly plays the conceit for laughs – perhaps the best kind of fallible narrator is a much more subtle creation. I was thinking about this recently, when reading Neil Gaiman’s brilliant “Keepsakes and Treasures” in his short story collection Fragile Things. Here the narrator is hugely likeable, the kind of person you’d want to have a beer with, and only by queasy increments do you realize that the man’s an irredeemable monster.

Q: Another aspect that’s unique about your book is how diverse it is genre-wise. I mean there are elements of mystery, Dickensian, horror, gothic fiction, penny dreadfuls, et cetera. Personally, I loved that flexibility, but for some readers it might be a turnoff. What are your feelings on books that fit firmly into a single classification as opposed to those that are hard to categorize?

Jonathan: I’m delighted that you loved it. I know some people who were hoping for a straight crime story, say, or for a more overt piece of SF were disappointed. But there’s no reason why stories should have to cleave to any particular template.

In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if the barriers between genres continue to come down over the next few years. One of my favourite books of the 21st century so far is David Mitchell’sCloud Atlas”. It was sold as a literary novel but look at how many genres it contains – thriller, science-fiction, social comedy… Pick and mix fiction – it’s the future!

Q: In yet another of your
posts on the EOS Blog, you addressed the matter of ‘loose ends’, which was actually an issue I had with your book. Thankfully, it sounds like a lot of the questions I had will be answered in your sequel “The Domino Men”, while those that aren’t like the Clapham debacle have a reasonable explanation for them. One thing still bothers me though and that was the Somnambulist himself who was more of a supporting character. Why name the book after him, and will we get to learn anymore about the Somnambulist in future volumes?

Jonathan: I don’t think I’m ever going to reveal what happened in Clapham! And I think I’m done with the Somnambulist – for the time being, at least.

As for the title… There are at least three good reasons. Firstly, I don’t think it’s necessary to name the book after the protagonist. Take Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar – the title character’s murdered at the start of Act Three. Secondly, and more prosaically, I liked the Somnambulist as a character and thought that his name would make for a memorable title. And thirdly, the title might not refer exclusively to the character you mention. There is at least one other person in the novel to whom one might justifiably apply the description of “somnambulist”…

Having said all that, the book is about to be published in Germany where it’s been renamed Das Albtraumreich des Edward Moon (The Nightmare Realm of Edward Moon) so I suspect that a lot of people agree with you!

Q: That’s an interesting point you make about the title alluding to someone else. Considering the meaning of ‘somnambulist’, I have a couple of speculations ;) Going back to your sequel—which will actually be available to readers in the UK starting February 21, 2008—what can readers expect in “The Domino Men” and how is it related to “The Somnambulist”?

Jonathan:The Domino Men” is not a direct sequel to “The Somnambulist” but it takes place in the same world, a little over one hundred years later. There are a few familiar faces, some unlikely survivors from the first book (if you wondered what the Directorate were really up to, for example, you’ll find out here) but it’s largely quite a different kind of story. Diana’s described it as a spy thriller colliding with H. P. Lovecraft. Whereas “The Somnambulist” deals from the outset with peculiar characters who operate in an even weirder world, “The Domino Men” concerns the gradual invasion of an apparently normal universe by all manner of scary strangeness.

And, as with the first book, the US edition will be slightly different to the UK one – meaning that completists are very welcome to buy both!

Q: Could you elaborate some on the differences between the two versions?

Jonathan: I'm in the middle of the edit right now, so it's still a bit early to say. I'm really enjoying the opportunity to revisit and rework it and have been inspired to create a couple of new scenes.

Q: For some authors it’s easier writing their second novel, while for others it’s more difficult. How was it for you, and did you learn anything when writing “The Somnambulist” that helped you prepare for “The Domino Men”?

Jonathan:The Domino Men” seemed to flow a good deal more fluently than “The Somnambulist” although I had to write it in a much shorter space of time. The most helpful thing I learnt from writing the first book was the simple, unavoidable discipline of having to put words onto the page every day.

Q: So what are you currently working on and do you have any other projects that you could talk about?

Jonathan: Plenty of ideas for the future but nothing concrete at the moment…

Q: At the very least, can you tell us if there will be any further stories set in the same universe as “The Somnambulist” and “The Domino Men”?

Jonathan: I've not got anything planned which is explicitly not set in that universe (which is fairly close to our own, in any case). Whether individual characters and settings will recur is entirely dependent on whether I come up with good stories for any of them. I guess that my aim would be to write standalone books which nonetheless take place, very loosely, in a shared universe.

Q: Moving on, there’s a lot of cross-pollination today between different mediums such as literature and movies, comic books and videogames, TV and animation, etc. And personally, I think your book is destined for the big screen so has there been any interest or anything optioned for adaptation, and if so, can you give us some details?

Jonathan: Nothing optioned so far. Mind you, as you pointed out earlier, if there’s anything at all distinctive about the book it’s the narrative voice, which might be rather surplus to requirements were it ever to find itself on screen. But who knows?

Q: Well I’m sure Hollywood could figure out a way to make the ‘distinctive voice’ work, but what would be your dream adaptation?

Jonathan: Dream adaptation? A proper version of “A Study in Scarlet”, the first Sherlock Holmes story, with Holmes and Watson portrayed by actors who actually resemble the characters in the book – namely, energetic young men in their twenties. Find unknowns to play them and add a ridiculously expensive prologue with Dr. Watson getting shot at the battle of Maiwand. Need a screenwriter? I’m your man.

Q: I actually meant with your own novels, but being a Sherlock Holmes fan myself, I would love to see a great adaptation of “A Study in Scarlet” too, so that works :) One last question in this area. Have you ever thought about writing in a different medium like comic books, movie scripts, television or videogames, and if so, what would you like to tackle and why?

Jonathan: Ideally, of course, I’d like to explore every medium! Although I think I need to get a lot better at writing prose before I consider attempting anything else. My absolute dream job would be to write an episode of Doctor Who – my favourite programme since childhood and now back better than ever.

Q: Well hopefully someone who is intimately involved with the Doctor Who show will be reading this!

Nowadays the internet is a very important tool for authors and publishers in promoting their books, but unless I’m mistaken, you don’t have a website or blog. Why is that and will that change in the future?


Jonathan: A combination of indolence and technophobia on my part, I’m afraid. But it’s a good point! Hopefully, yes, this will change in the future.

Q: Between the two covers for “The Somnambulist”, I really like the US version better. What do you think about the covers and your thoughts on the subject as a whole, especially how important they are in selling a book, how speculative fiction covers are considered generic, the difference between international & stateside covers, et cetera?

Jonathan: Interesting. Actually, I love both covers equally. The UK cover conveys the quirkiness and eccentricity of the book whilst the US equivalent dramatizes its moodiness and melodrama. I don’t think I’m remotely qualified to comment on the business of book covers except to say that it’s clearly a very important marketing tool (sometimes the only one that books receive) and to acknowledge that, so far, I’ve been inordinately lucky on that front.

Q: I didn’t get a chance to ask you to participate in my 2007 Review/2008 Preview
HERE, so I thought I would take the opportunity now. Basically, it’s a three part question, but since we already covered one area we’ll just stick with the following: What were your favorite books that you read in 2007, and what titles are you most looking forward to in 2008?

Jonathan: There were lots to enjoy in 2007: some great ghost stories – “The Man in the Picture” by Susan Hill, “Twentieth-Century Ghosts” by Joe Hill; some wonderful comedies – “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” by Paul Torday, “Welcome to the Working Week” by Paul Vlitos; and Alan Moore being characteristically challenging and cerebral in “The Black Dossier”.

As for 2008, I rarely miss a book by Stephen King so I’m really looking forward to “Duma Key”. Also the latest thriller from Michael Marshall after his spectacular The Intruders and the follow-ups to two of my favourite debuts from last year – “Every Day is Like Sunday” by Paul Vlitos and “The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce” by Paul Torday.

Q: Very nice list :) I’m really looking forward to the next Michael Marshall novel myself! In closing, what other activities or hobbies do you enjoy?

Jonathan: Swimming, walking, going to the theatre and the cinema, riding
on empty buses and feeding the swans by the river.
Friday, February 22, 2008

"Bone Song" by John Meaney

Official John Meaney Website
Order “Bone SongHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Reviews of “Bone Song” via SFFWorld, Strange Horizons + SF Site

Because of his novels “To Hold Infinity” (shortlisted for the 1999 BSFA for Best Novel), the critically acclaimed Nulapeiron Sequence—“Paradox” (2001 BSFA shortlist), “Context”, “Resolution”—and various short stories, British author John Meaney is primarily known as a writer of hard science fiction. In his latest offering however, John changes tack a bit and delivers a novel in “Bone Song”—first released in the UK March 2007 via Gollancz/Orion—that is described as blending “gritty futuristic noir with gothic fantasy”. A fairly accurate description, although personally I would categorize the book as urban fantasy…

You see the definition for ‘urban fantasy’ can vary quite a bit, but the current trend seems to involve a contemporary setting; a wise-cracking protagonist who is usually some sort of private investigator or detective; a plot that is part mystery, part drama and part supernatural fantasy; and there’s usually a sequel or two. So based on that criterion, “Bone Song” is pretty much an urban fantasy novel. I mean the backdrop is definitely present day, the main character—while not a PI or detective—is a police lieutenant which is close enough, and the story is driven by a murder investigation that features plenty of familiar police procedural elements and subplots like a romance, a traitor and obvious red herrings, not to mention the supernatural aspects. Plus, the cliffhanger ending guarantees a sequel—“Dark Blood”—which is actually already out in the UK. In short, “Bone Song” is just your average urban fantasy novel right? Not quite.

What I failed to mention is that the setting is actually quite unique. On the surface Tristopolis may seem like any normal mega-city with its police force, hospitals, subways, taxis, celebrities, et cetera, but in reality Tristopolis is like some kind of demented alternate universe where everything is slightly askew. For instance, the weeks are eighteen days long, the days twenty-five hours, the sky is purple, the architecture is neo-gothic with a taste for skulls, and instead of taking God’s name in vain you curse by saying death, Thanatos or Hades. And that’s just the minor stuff. You also have talking deathwolves who are a form of security, necrofusion reactors which powers the city using the bones of the dead, wraiths that can be bonded to just about anything from elevators to morphing motorcycles, Bone Listeners who can divine a dead person’s memories by listening to their bones, and plenty more including zombies, mages, witches and so on. In other words, Tristopolis is a place where magic, science, and the necrotic all coexist…kind of like something Tim Burton would cook up—I’m thinking especially of Corpse Bride or the Nightmare Before Christmas—with JK Rowling and Edgar Allen Poe assisting. If that sounds weird, it is but I couldn’t think of anything else. I mean the gothic vibe obviously evokes Burton and the emphasis on death Poe, but the application of magic in a contemporary backdrop reminded me a lot of Harry Potter, even though Meaney is much better at it. Specifically, the author uses his degrees in physics and computer science to make such concepts as the Bone Listeners’ stochastic predictive processes, the thaumaturgical method of Image-Inclined Hexing, wraith frequencies, etc., seem real rather than a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. In summary, I absolutely loved visiting Tristopolis and my favorite part of the book was discovering all that the city had to offer.

As far as the rest of the book including the story, the characters and John’s delivery, I wasn’t quite as impressed. For starters, the plot is pretty standard fare if you’ve read or seen any police procedural fiction—there are politics involved in finding clues and getting warrants, diversionary tactics to keep the reader from guessing who the real traitor is, and so on. In fact, the only parts of the story that I would describe as unconventional were the paranormal methods that the cops used in their investigation and the killers they were hunting down. Meanwhile, the characters—which include main protagonist Lt. Donal Riordan, Commander Laura Steele, her task force (Xalia, Viktor Harman, Alexa, Harald Hammersen), and various secondary players—are all pretty ordinary. Sure, Xalia is a freewraith, Laura a zombie, and Donal can hear bones sing, but they don’t really offer anything beyond their initial makeup. Part of that has to do with the way the characters were written. Initially, Donal was the primary point-of-view, but then about 150 pages in, the narrative starts regularly switching between multiple perspectives. While this helps to increase the pacing, actual character development suffers, particularly that of Donal & Laura who were pretty important pieces in the book, especially considering how “Bone Song” ended. Speaking of which, I really disliked the novel’s conclusion. Not so much the cliffhanger, which immediately brings up a couple of highly interesting dilemmas that Donal will have to face in the sequel, but just the suddenness of it which I thought could have been fleshed out more. Other than that, I wasn’t convinced by the attraction between Donal & Laura which felt unrealistic, and felt the subplot involving a gross misunderstanding between task force members was weak and unnecessary…

Overall, John Meaney’sBone Song” is a difficult novel to rate. On the one hand, the sheer invention of Tristopolis, its inhabitants and the familiar yet distinctive society is worth experiencing on its own. Then again, the conventional plotting, stereotypical characters and uneven execution can be disappointing. Still, “Bone Song” is entertaining, goes by quickly, and offers a lot of fresh & intriguing ideas which is why I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the sequel…
Thursday, February 21, 2008

PRESS RELEASE: Solaris Books signs author Keith Brooke!

Solaris Books have signed up author Keith Brooke for a stunning new science fiction thriller called “The Accord.”

The Accord, a virtual utopia where the soul lives on after death and your perceptions are bound only by your imagination. This is the setting for a tale of love, murder and revenge that crosses the boundaries between the real world and virtual reality.

When Noah and Priscilla escape into the Accord to flee Priscilla’s murderous husband, he plots to destroy the whole Accord and them with it. In revenge they arrange to have him assassinated but their success comes at the price of giving him the keys to the virtual kingdom. How can they hope to escape their stalker when he can become anything or anyone he desires and where does the pursuit of revenge stop for immortals in an eternal world?


Consultant Editor George Mann said of the deal: “I had the pleasure of publishing Keith’s short story, “The Accord”, in the first Solaris Book of New Science Fiction. When Keith approached us with his idea to expand it into a novel, we were all incredibly enthused. This is a major breakthrough novel from an author I’ve admired for many years.”

The short story that the novel was based on has been chosen for Gardner Dozois’ next Year’s Best Science Fiction.

Keith Brooke’s first novel appeared in 1990, and he has published four more adult novels, two collections, and over 60 short stories. Since 1997 he has run the web-based SF, fantasy and horror showcase Infinity Plus, featuring the work of around 100 top genre authors, including Michael Moorcock, Stephen Baxter, Connie Willis, Gene Wolfe, Vonda McIntyre and Jack Vance. An anthology of the Best of Infinity Plus was published by Solaris last year. His most recent novel, “Genetopia”, was published by Pyr in 2006 and was their first title to receive a starred review in Publishers Weekly. Writing as Nick Gifford, his teen fiction is published by Puffin, with one novel optioned by Little Bird.

I’m not familiar with Keith Brooke’s work, but this sounds really cool :) I should probably check out that short story too. Anyways, for more information, read the full press release
HERE.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Whitechapel Gods" by S.M. Peters

Order “Whitechapel GodsHERE
Read Reviews of “Whitechapel Gods” via Darque Reviews + Don D’Ammasa

Ever since I started putting together Spotlights highlighting a month’s speculative fiction releases, I’ve inevitably come across titles that have received little fanfare that have gone on to become some of my favorite books. Such is the case with S.M. Peters’Whitechapel Gods”, a debut novel that I almost passed over if not for its eye-catching cover. Even then, I nearly gave up on the book because I could hardly find any information on it—no author website or blogs, no press release, hardly any reviews—but I was intrigued enough by the description that I added “Whitechapel Gods” to my review pile which turned out to be a pretty smart move :)

Like Stephen Hunt’sThe Court of the Air” and Jonathan Barnes’The Somnambulist”, “Whitechapel Gods” takes place in a fantastical Victorian setting. In this case, the backdrop is 19th century London, specifically the district of Whitechapel—that is, a Whitechapel like you’ve never seen before, walled off from the rest of the city and transformed into a “steampunk-driven hell” where humanity suffers under the tyrannical rule of the ancient gods Mama Engine and her consort Grandfather Clock. We’re talking about a world where dissenters are crushed under the heels of man/machine hybrids such as the Gold & Black cloaks, and the unstoppable Boiler Men; where clocks act as portals for the all-seeing eye of Grandfather Clock; and where there are things much worse than death such as eternally serving Mama Engine in her Great Work. If that’s not bad enough, there’s also a disease called “clacks” that transforms flesh into gears & metals, and Old Whitechapel where if the air doesn’t kill you then the Ticker Hounds, nesses, clickrats or Frankensteins will. In other words, it’s a world without any freedom or hope.

Into this bleak milieu—which partly evokes
H.R. Giger, The Matrix, and various steampunk-influenced videogames, anime & comic books—we have a resistance that has finally gotten the break they need, a weapon that could actually kill Grandfather Clock. Of course, they’ll have to recover it first from the bowels of the very dangerous Old Whitechapel, and do so before the maniacal John Scared—the weapon’s original owner—can get his hands on it and without getting killed by the Baron’s Boiler Men who are determined to stop them at any cost. Even if they accomplish all that, they’ll still need to construct the weapon and infiltrate the Chimney—the heart of Mama Engine’s Great Work—in order to activate it, and that’s not even taking into account the problem of how to deal with Mama Engine or the third god that is now making its presence felt…

Told over the course of two days and through multiple point-of-views, “Whitechapel Gods” moves along at a vigorous pace that feels very much like watching a movie or playing a videogame. In fact, “Whitechapel Gods” shares many similarities—both positive and negative—with such visual mediums including comic books. For instance, the action scenes are stylish, elaborate, and over-the-top. The plot meanwhile, while cool in a geeky kind of way, is admittedly thin and relies on numerous deus ex machinas like Aaron who can see into the essence of things, the drug mei kuan, and characters who have a hard time dying. Speaking of which, “Whitechapel Gods” features many larger-than-life characters that would look good on the big screen or coming out of your Xbox 360 + PS3, but are a bit lacking in the development department. Still, between such memorable personalities as Bergen, a statuesque German hunter with a shameful secret; Missy, a former whore haunted by voices; Oliver, ex-leader of the Uprising and the key to defeating the gods; the goblin-like villain John Scared with his doomsday plot; and the Faustian-like Baron Hume who speaks in poetic riddles, it’s hard to complain.

In the end, what can I say :) I’m just a huge fan of the whole Victorian/steampunk setting, so even though “Whitechapel Gods” lacked the depth & insight one might expect from a novel and had its share of issues, I thoroughly enjoyed S.M. Peter’s debut. So much in fact that I was very sad to see the book end, especially in a manner which seems to rule out any sequels. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for standalone novels, but in this case I loved the world and the characters so much that I just want to keep returning back to S.M. Peters’ Whitechapel over and over again...

UPDATE: The cover artist is Cliff Nielsen. For more information and to view his portfolio, click HERE.
Monday, February 18, 2008

"Blue War" by Jeffrey Thomas

Official Jeffrey Thomas Website
Order “Blue WarHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s REVIEW of “Deadstock
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s INTERVIEW with Jeffrey Thomas
Download Deadstock” for free HERE

In Jeffrey Thomas’ latest Punktown novel—other titles include Punktown, Monstrocity, Everybody Scream!, Punktown: Shades of Grey and Deadstock—private investigator and mutant shapeshifter Jeremy Stake, star of “Deadstock” and the short story “In His Sights” (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction), returns to face his greatest challenge yet.

This time, Stake is asked by an old pal to investigate the situation on the extradimensional planet Sinan where a standard housing development has gone horribly wrong. Instead of the little condo-type village that was supposed to have been grown from the preprogrammed smart matter, an eerily detailed replica of Punktown is being constructed which is consuming everything in its path including forests, villages, farms, and temples. And because of Punktown’s immensity, it’s only a matter of time before Bluetown—so called for its color scheme as well as its obvious relationship to Punktown—devours the Jin Haa’s city Di Noon. As horrifying as that is, the real reason Jeremy was brought in was because of another discovery: three clones that were grown in the middle of Bluetown. Finding out who the clones are based on, how the smart matter was able to achieve such a complicated process, and stopping the growth of Bluetown are all part of Jeremy’s job, but there’s even more to the situation.

You see, as revealed in “Deadstock” and revisited in the new book, Stake was a deep ops veteran of the Blue War when the Earth Colonies backed the moderate Jin Haa in breaking away from their religious conservative counterparts the Ha Jiin in exchange for access to Sinon—a gas emitted from the decomposition of the Sinanese dead—which is what fuels quantum teleportation, the latest breakthrough in travel. So for Jeremy, returning back to Sinan means reliving the horrors of that war and other difficult memories, especially that of Thi Gonh, a Ha Jiin sniper dubbed ‘the Earth Killer’ that he fell in love with during the war…and is still madly in love with eleven years later. In other words, Stake’s mind is not entirely on the task at hand and to make matters worse, he has to deal with a Colonel that seems to be hindering his investigation and a conspiracy—including a lethal STD aimed specifically at the Sinanese—intent on provoking a second Blue War

If you read “Deadstock” you should recognize the Punktown setting, Jeremy Stake and the Earth Killer Thi Gonh, but let me warn you that “Blue War” is quite a different novel. For starters, where “Deadstock” ranged wildly from cyberpunk noir to Lovecraftian horror and just outright bizarreness in exciting b-movie fashion, “Blue War” is a more accessible, intelligent and provocative sci-fi thriller. That’s not to say that “Blue War” doesn’t offer any of the imagination, nerve or genre-busting that Jeffrey is known for. After all, besides the Bluetown mystery and some cyberpunk elements, the book still has plenty of bloody violence and Jeffrey’s trademark weirdness like sex with a hermaphrodite, Sinan’s dangerous fauna—jellyfish-like Benders which terrorize the sky, carrion trees, snipes—and the Sinanese clerics who mutilate their bodies as a show of their faith and possess powerful telekinetic abilities. It’s just that most of it is overshadowed by the weightier issues at hand like the obvious Middle East/Vietnam War parallels, cloning ethics, the riveting love story between Stake & Thi and the cultural clashes involved, and the overriding theme of identity that is explored in countless ways such as Jeremy’s chameleon-like talent, the Punktown facsimile, the clones, teleportation which is basically another form of cloning, Thi’s many different personas, et cetera. In addition to all of that, there were a few other deviations like the third-person narrative focusing mainly on Stake this time rather than the alternating viewpoints found in “Deadstock”, and the lack of flashbacks—both of which helped to streamline “Blue War’s” narrative. Still, as a whole it’s mainly the differences philosophically and stylistically that are most apparent.

Overall, “Blue War” was another impressive entry in the Punktown mythos, and while I admit that I missed the zaniness found in “Deadstock”—especially the horror-influenced vibes—and thought the book was toned down in a couple of areas like the language & the violence, I very much enjoyed Jeffrey’s new book. Particularly I really like Jeremy Stake as a protagonist, loved that Thi was more heavily involved since she was a favorite of mine from “Deadstock”, and I thought the subject matter was much more satisfying this time around. In short, Jeffrey Thomas continues to impress, and if you haven’t discovered this fantastic author for yourself yet, then there’s no better time than the present…
Friday, February 15, 2008

Interview with David Keck

Official David Keck Website
Order “In A Time of TreasonHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review’s Reviews of “In the Eye of Heaven” + "In a Time of Treason"
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s REVIEW of “In the Eye of Heaven” + “In a Time of Treason

Way back in September 2007, Colleen Lindsay—aka La Gringa of The Swivet and newly hired literary agent for FinePrint Literary Management—sent out press kits to numerous SF/fantasy blogs promoting author David Keck, his debut novel “In the Eye of the Heaven”, and his forthcoming sequel “In a Time of Treason”. Additionally, I was given the opportunity to interview the writer, and because of Colleen’s considerable experience—over twenty-three years—in the book publishing industry and the many fabulous titles she’s already introduced me to, I wholeheartedly agreed. What I decided to do though—taking a page from Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist—was ask some of my fellow bloggers that also received David’s books, to engage in a little collaborative Q&A which Mr. Keck was more than willing to participate in :) So many thanks goes out to Aidan from A Dribble of Ink, Graeme from Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review and Tia from Fantasy Debut for joining me in what turned out to be a very fun and insightful interview:

Q: Why do you write?

David: I’ve always written. When I was a kid, I filled pads and pads of paper with drawings. Most of these would have been the childhood equivalent of storyboards or comic strips. For a while, a friend and I used to draw stories together. (I remember when the first erasable pens hit the market that we were quite excited about the potential for vaporizing each other’s drawings). It was an extension of playing with toys, I expect, and I suppose that play must be an important element in every author’s desire to create. I still love the feeling of discovery that you get when some invented being or situation suddenly feels right. It’s a great thing.

Q. Steven Erikson (of Malazan fame) mentioned that he had a hand in your debut novel, “In the Eye of Heaven”. Can you expand on the relationship you two have and how that relationship helped “In the Eye of Heaven” see the light of day?

David: I was an inadvertent founder of a writers group back on the prairies in the early nineties. I knew some people from courses at the University of Manitoba and others from volunteering at the Manitoba Writer’s Guild (which eventually gave me a grant to work on my first book, by the way). Steven Erikson and I ended up on the same reading series. He liked what I read and approached me after the reading.

His first Malazan book went through that writers group. We accidentally moved to England at the same time and really became friends over there. We worked on a screenplay sitting in Gatwick airport coffee shops – because the Gatwick stop was halfway between his place and mine. In the end, he gave my first draft(s) a very close look. (Neither one of us plays around with a critique, I should add).

I think we write quite differently, but there are clear similarities. (It may come from rooting for a hapless hockey team and living in an isolated city with hard winters). Who knows?

Q. So how has “In the Eye of Heaven” been doing, sales-wise? How many translations? Any other brags?

David: My favourite little brag about “In the Eye of Heaven” is that it popped to the top of the hardcover list in the Winnipeg Free Press. (I’m from Winnipeg, if you hadn’t guessed). I had a big, glorious reading with two stories of friends beaming down, I did a few interviews for the paper and the local media, and the book bobbed to the top of the list. (It spent a few weeks bouncing around up there among international bestsellers – and the more Canadian and more literary works). Best week ever.

Q: One of the biggest criticisms aimed at your debut was the writing particularly problems with the prose, how confusing certain passages can be, and the lack of descriptions and infodumping. So did you pay much attention to readers / reviewers’ remarks and use that input when writing “In a Time of Treason”? I was just wondering because I felt the prose and structure of your sequel was much more accomplished.

David: The response to "In the Eye of Heaven" has been fascinating. There have been a gratifying number of raves, but, as anyone who checks Amazon reviews could tell you, some readers have struggled. My suspicion is that the readership breaks on stylistic lines. I want to write tight, economical prose. (You’ll notice short sentences in short paragraphs). I have a mortal dread of exposition and ping-pong dialogue. (I read Elmore Leonard after too much lyricism). I want terse descriptions that pick out scenes in quick, flashbulb splashes. As a reader, I like the charge of catching implications, of feeling the pieces snap together, of seeing the wry little truths that even the characters don’t quite get.

If you’re up for it (and I’m really on my game), that’s what I want you to find in Eye of Heaven.

If you’re not up for it (or I’m off my game), my poor Eye might leave you baffled.

When writing "In a Time of Treason", I went back over the text underscoring what mattered most and anchoring characters and scenes in hopes that the book would retain its clarity even at a brisk read.

And I’ve always liked the review that wondered if it was too soon to label me a “visionary.” (It was the first one I read, and from a Canadian literary publication, so it’s got a special place in my fragile ego).

Q: Another area of concern was the difficulty in connecting with the characters especially the protagonist Durand. Personally, this wasn’t really an issue for me but I was wondering why you chose to write in a third-person narrative rather than through multiple viewpoints or the much more intimate first-person, which I thought would have worked extremely well with the series?

David: I chose to attach the story to a single third person narration for two main reasons. I like the relentlessness you can squeeze from a single character remorselessly followed through every trial. I’m not a great fan of the old cliff-hanger and switch 3rd person merry-go-round. (I remember reading The Two Towers as an utterly hooked adolescent and feeling something near fury as the narrative fractured and left characters behind). I find that when such narratives aren’t tuned precisely, I am dislodged from the drama and forced to puzzle my way back in. (And then dislodged again). Some great work is written this way, but I think there are advantages to other techniques.

As for the first person narration, I find them a little restrictive. When every word must be spoken in the viewpoint character’s voice, a writer’s hands can be tied. (Sometimes in very interesting ways, mind you). You will often find that first person narrators tell their stories a little like the wry and self-aware authors themselves. (Of course, if you’ve ever reading something like Trainspotting, you’ll have seen the power of throwing yourself whole-heartedly into the bewildering mind of a back-street addict – a rough ride, but fascinating).

Q: Besides the exciting action sequences and the authentic realism of the setting, what I liked best about your books was the mythology. However, I admit that it took me a while to understand the relationship between the High King, the Banished, the Lost Ones, the sanctuaries and the land itself. Could you just expand a bit more about this relationship, Saerdan’s voyage, any influences, and what you were trying to accomplish with this fascinating concept?

David: I’m a fool for world building. You have no idea. The novels take place in Creation: the world and everything in it. But, more importantly, Durand and his friends (and enemies) are alive in a very real, very old and somewhat mossy nation called “Errest the Old.” This old nation and its web of cathedrals, temples, monasteries, and shrines pins down the more unruly and more ancient world beneath their civilization. The king of Errest is, like kings the world over, tied to his land. As in most places, a king is at the epicenter of the rituals of his people. And the web of cathedrals, temples, monasteries and whatnot that keep Errest livable are bound to him and the oaths and rituals of his coronation. (There is a great ceremony where he must spend “three days under stone” in a deep cist among the bones of his ancestors before he can be crowned – there are few weak kings of Errest).

The moments between one king and another are, of course, perilous with a great deal of praying required to keep things from slipping into Errest from the Otherworld below and beyond before a new king rules.

Oh. And Saerdan is a founding king. He sailed to Errest on a ship called the Cradle from a broken island kingdom at the end of an unspeakable war. (And he’s a bit of a culture hero). The Lost are, of course, the hungry dead who’ve yet to find their way to the Gates of Heaven. And the Banished are Neverborn spirits who came to Creation uninvited (and must creep between calendars and countries to retain their jealous existences among the living).

Q. What kind of things did you learn while writing “In the Eye of Heaven” that made you a better writer when it came time to sit down and write the sequel?

David: I learned a lot while working on “In the Eye of Heaven.” But I’ll tell you, first and foremost, that I learned to listen to my mum. She read an early draft and, with a certain reticence, approached me afterward with a question. She doesn’t read a lot of fantasy. But she wondered, “Isn’t there any romance in these things?” And I am still rewriting the whole trilogy (Eye is the first of three) in the aftermath of the little question.

Q: Speaking of your sequel, “In a Time of Treason” comes out February 19, 2008. What can readers expect?

David:In a Time of Treason” is when everything really goes wild in poor Durand’s life. There is open war in Errest the Old. The sky teems with carrion crows. Cities burn. Lands are laid waste. Good people die. And people are pushed to do things they must regret. There is also a nice bit where people row down a cold river and across a stormy lake in a perilously open boat. (An excuse to combine my limited canoeing experience, my memory of the Canadian reality program Quest for the Bay, and my love for nautical fiction).

Really, “In a Time of Treason” is the book where things go out of control and it’s all our poor hero can do to hang on. Sturm und Drang, the Germans call it.

Q. Two books into the series, are things still going the way you planned or are you finding that characters and situations are developing a mind of their own?

David: My earliest conception of the series was much more modest. I sat down to write a nice little prequel to the story of a bitter (and battered) knight who’d popped up in a short story I was playing with. The character was heading off to save a duke’s daughter from a terrible monster, but he really didn’t want to do it. (He didn’t feel the part was right for him).

I thought that I could tell the story in a single novel, but, really, the story opened up when I looked closely. There was actually a day when I split the first planned novel into two books and redesigned both to solidify the plots. And another (rather complicated day) when the love story in the third book required that I rewrite the first two novels entirely.

Fortunately, I think there’s little danger of the third book running away. It might take a little while to write, but it doesn’t show signs of multiplying. (And I will be very stern with it, should it begin to do so).

Q: What can you tell us about book three?

David:A King in Cobwebs” is the final volume in the story of Durand Col. Unless the book gets away from me, a jaded Durand will finally get a real chance at happiness. And the cobwebbed king of the title will make his scuttling way onto the stage after two volumes lurking very much in the wings.

Things get far worse before there’s a chance of their getting better, of course. Seething nasties will arise in a southern forest. The dead will walk. The poor old kingdom will be pushed to the very brink of annihilation—and Durand will probably have to learn to talk to the love of his life.

Q. Sounds great! Now if you could go back and change one thing in your books, what would it be?

David: If I could go back in time and change one thing, I’d get the capitalization down. I can’t tell you how complex the capitalization of silly invented clergyman’s titles gets. (Yes, that’s what’s under my skin. You might want more on-stage romance or larger doses of magic, but I want to get the capital letters squared away). Sigh.

Q: Are you involved in any other writing projects? If so, could you share some details?

David: I played with a short story recently. There were monks in it. It all concerned a dangerous and secret book – and a typographical error. Before that, I’d been struggling with a group of Winnipeg buddies to get a little science fiction idea off the ground. (Sadly, the project met the fate of most underfunded film ideas, though not for want of trying from many of those buddies I mentioned).

Q. What about any unpublished novels lying around in a trunk or elsewhere? If so, how many are there and do you have plans to pursue publication for them?

David: My trunk novels are all short stories. I’ve got a great many of them lurking on outmoded floppy disks and in peculiar corners of my hard drives. Once upon a time, I made a conscious decision to move from short work to the great long novel. It took a while to get it right, but I made the rookie mistake of working all of my demons out in the first full length novel I tried. (Do not try this at home, I must warn you all).

Q. Growing up in a sleepy little Canadian city like Winnipeg must have been a very different life than life you have now living in the bustling, non-stop city of New York. How has life changed since first being published?

David: It’s funny, I grew up in Winnipeg. But I actually spent the five years leading up to my move living and teaching in a small town an hour away. All of this means that the contrast between tiny Manitoba farm town and large American metropolis couldn’t have been greater.

New York can be intimidating, however, it’s quite safe (as American cities go). And, once you get used to the place, it’s easier to navigate the place and its people.

Oh. And I now find myself carrying a messenger bag everywhere. There weren’t too many “murses” back home, as I recall.

Q. Like many of my favorite authors, you’ve taken up the nasty (but addictive) habit of blogging. What’s your opinion of the blogosphere (and the Internet in general) and how has it affected your career as a novelist?

David: The blogosphere has been very little like I guessed. I find that it’s become a way for me to keep in touch with a broad circle of acquaintances. It’s possible that, eventually, the site will become overloaded with curious fans, but at this moment, I’ve found that it’s better bait for luring long lost friends out of the ether. (Not a bad thing, I think).

Q. There’s a guy in a bookshop wondering whether to take a chance on your book, sell it to him in ten words or less!

David: Oh, how ‘bout: The blood-curdling medieval as they really thought it was!

Q. What were you doing at the exact moment that the inspiration for ‘In the Eye of Heaven’ hit you?

David: Clearly, a wonderful story is wanted here. But I haven’t the foggiest! I’m a real notebook guy. There are heaps of the things stuffed in odd corners everywhere I’ve been. Watching TV. Attending a lecture. Reading a magazine. Or drawing faces. I’m always drawing faces. (Most pages in my notebooks look a little like the ten most wanted). An obsessed archivist could probably go back among the faces and the scribbled notes to find the first traces of my wrong knight in not-shining armour story.

Q. Durand, Lamoric and Heremund have gone out for a few beers. By the end of the evening which one has…
a) Hit on someone else’s woman?
b) Accidentally broken something very valuable?
c) Been ‘escorted’ home in a police car?


David: I love that you remember the characters’ names! At first I was going to say that Heremund (a bit of a rascal with a sense of humour and a broken nose) would have jumped in and done it all. But, seeing as I’m God in this little universe, it would have been our hero, poor Durand. For perfectly innocent reasons, stalwart Sir Durand would certainly have hit on someone else’s woman, broken something valuable, and been taken off by the police. (It’s entirely possibly that it would have been Lamoric’s woman, the girl’s prized possession, and that poor Lamoric’s dad would be town sheriff too).

Q. Your recent blog post mentions that while you were at the World Fantasy Convention, you got to tease an editor who rejected your novel. Do you recall how many queries or rejections that it took before you sold “In the Eye of Heaven”? Could you tell us a little about your publishing story?

David:In the Eye of Heaven” started out as a much weaker book in about 1997 when it first attracted the attention of a UK agent (who eventually lost track of his interest and gave the book a miss). These days, I can’t help but think that this bit of misfortune was actually a lucky break. “In the Eye of Heaven” has a lot more going for it than that ancient draft – called “Childe” actually. (A very pretentious name, I think, now).

The version that actually sold attracted the first agent who read it and sold to Tor the first time around. Apparently, it also appealed to the Germans and the Russians (as the book made its way to Europe).

Q. Your bio mentions that you are a middle school teacher. This makes you, in our mind, a very brave man. Do you plan to remain a teacher or do you hope to one day become a full time writer?

David: I’d love to write full time, but, as many a writer will tell you, it’s increasingly difficult just now. It is difficult to keep two consuming creative endeavours alive in one brain and middle school teaching in the inner city can be physically and psychologically exhausting. Still, I wonder whether I might miss the thousand random interactions of day-to-day life in a busy workplace should I ever have the option to leave the day job behind.

Q: Does working as a teacher and having degrees in English Literature/History & Education have any bearing on the way you write? If so, in what ways?

David: When I went to school, I followed my interests (unless they gave me no choice). I’m a great fan of social history and I’m building a rather silly library of books on subjects ranging from medieval horse archaeology to first hand accounts of fairy beliefs in rural Ireland. I ended up writing a lot of poetry in a lot of courses. I’ve read nearly as much as anyone else with a degree in English Lit. I’m sure it all comes out on the page as my hero tramps through just the right sort of field with just the right type of mud and is menaced by just the right supernatural oddity. (All described with just the right metaphor too, eh?)

Q: Personally, I really like the jacket artwork for both of your books which are provided by artist David Grove. It’s a very elegant and realistic approach. Did you get to provide any input for the design and how do you feel about your covers compared to other fantasy cover art?

David: David Grove is a dab hand with a paint brush. I liked the first cover so much, I hunted David down and bought the painting. (He was very concerned that I knew how small the panel was and that I liked the way he’d framed it). The picture is staring at me from the living room wall as I write, actually.

As far as getting input into the cover is concerned, I’ll be a little cagey. Suffice it to say that an artist must take his direction from the art director, the editor, and marketing professionals. It’s a very lucky writer who is approached for a secret word, and he must be discrete.

Q: I think it’s safe to say that any writer would love to have their books turned into a movie, television series or whatnot. Regarding “In the Eye of Heaven” has anyone approached you about adapting the novel?

David: So far, “In the Eye of Heaven” has not slipped the bonds of its format. I had a quite word from a film friend, however, that the cover appeared on an executive’s blackberry one day after a particularly prominent review. I wouldn’t say no.

Q: Let’s fantasize. How would you adapt your book?

David: Personally, I’d love to see a film. Yes. Perhaps Guillermo Del Toro will call. And, seeing as I’m an excellent armchair director, he’d need me to collaborate. Yes. That’s clearly what must happen.

Q: Last year was tough for writers of speculative fiction. Several authors passed away including Robert Jordan, Madeline L’Engle, Lloyd Alexander, Leigh Eddings, Fred Saberhagen, Jack Williamson, Alice Borchardt, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. while Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Did any of this affect you and is there anything you would like to say?

David: It was indeed a bad year for luminaries and those of us who idolized them. Your list includes writers of nearly every stripe: weavers of childhood magic, the writers of the broadest epics, rebels most irascible, and comics bright enough to make any reader weep. Every one of them will be missed. And I hope that Mr. Pratchett keeps scrapping for years to come.

Q: If I came to you looking for something to read, a novel or an author who you feel has been criminally overlooked, what would you suggest?

David: I just finished J.J. Connolly’sLayer Cake” (after watching the movie) which does a marvellous number in incomprehensible slang and I’m reading another of Patrick O’Brian’s nautical novels, which should be read by anyone with even a vague interest in things historical. It’s lovely, unabashedly nautical and utterly unpredictable.

Q: In closing, what are your New Year’s resolutions for 2008?

David: Write!

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