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Thursday, June 30, 2011

PRESS RELEASE: Bantam Books & Dynamite Entertainment Announce Alex Ross and Mike S. Miller as Cover Artists for the Comic Book Adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s “A Game of Thrones”!

Bantam Books, an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group, announced today that Alex Ross and Mike S. Miller will serve as the cover artists for the comic book adaptation of George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, the opening volume in the New York Times bestselling epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice & Fire.

The series will be illustrated by Tommy Patterson and adapted & scripted by Daniel Abraham, the award-winning and bestselling author of The Long Price Quartet, The Dragon’s Path, Hunter’s Run (w/Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin), the short story collection Leviathan Wept and Other Stories, the Wild Cards: The Hard Call comic book miniseries, The Black Sun’s Daughter urban fantasy series written as MLN Hanover, and Leviathan Wakes (w/Ty Frank) under the pen name James S. A. Corey. The first issue of the monthly comic—which will be published by Dynamite Entertainment—is planned for release in September 2011, with compilations of the comics in graphic novel form to follow under the Bantam imprint.

“It has been 15 years since I first edited A Game of Thrones, and it is a genuine joy to be revisiting and adapting this landmark novel into a format that suits it so perfectly,” says Senior Editor at Random House Anne Groell. “George's writing has always been highly visual, painting rich, detailed and striking images in the reader's minds and hearts. And now seeing such a talented group of artists bringing that so vividly to life is truly exciting. I couldn't be more pleased with everything I have seen so far—and I can't wait for what is yet to come!”

“It's a real privilege and a treat to be involved with reinterpreting A Game of Thrones,” says writer Daniel Abraham. “It's a brilliant piece of work, and watching the strength of that story come into a visual medium is fantastic.”

George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice & Fire is the best book series I've ever read," says cover artist Mike Miller. “Not just in the fantasy genre, but in ANY genre. Just as I hear people saying Game of Thrones is the best series on TV, I'm sure they'll be saying the same about the comic book. You can't find a better writer anywhere than George, and I was very excited to get the opportunity to draw covers for the comic book adaptation.”

Game of Thrones began airing on HBO in April 2011, and quickly became one of the highest rated, and critically acclaimed show of the year, with a second season commitment by HBO following the airing of the first episode. The season finale was the highest rated episode of the season, showing the strength of the series. The comics and graphic novels will further expand the A Song of Ice & Fire series into a new medium, creating opportunities for readers old and new to immerse themselves in this bestselling world.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

George R.R. Martin sold his first story in 1971 and hasn't stopped. As a writer-producer, he worked on The Twilight Zone, Beauty and the Beast, and various feature films and pilots that were never made. In the mid-90s he began work on the New York Times bestselling epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. He is also the editor of the Wild Cards series and the recent anthologies, Songs of the Dying Earth, Warriors, and Songs of Love & Death. A Dance With Dragons, the long-awaited fifth volume in ASOIAF, will be published on July 12, 2011.

Daniel Abraham is the author of ten novels and more than thirty short stories. He has been nominated for the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy awards, and won the International Horror Guild Award. He has written the graphic novel adaptations of George R.R. Martin's novel Fevre Dream and novella “Skin Trade,” and original scripts for Wild Cards: The Hard Call. He also writes as MLN Hanover and James S. A. Corey.

ABOUT THE ARTISTS:

Alex Ross is known for his realistic human depictions of classic comic book characters. Highlights include Marvels with Kurt Busiek and Kingdom Come with Mark Waid. Between 1998 and 2003, writer Paul Dini and Alex Ross produced annual tabloid-sized editions celebrating the 60th anniversaries of DC Comics' Superman: Peace on Earth, Batman: War on Crime, Shazam: Power of Hope, and Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth, as well as two specials featuring the Justice League: Secret Origins and Justice League: Liberty and Justice. Ross' awards include a 1997 Will Eisner Award for Kingdom Come and a 1998 National Cartoonists Society Comic Book Award for Superman: Peace on Earth. Alex Ross is heavily involved with many Dynamite Entertainment projects and is currently reuniting with Kurt Busiek for Dynamite's Kirby: Genesis.

Mike S. Miller is a longtime artist for many comic publishing companies including Marvel, DC, and Image Comics. Mike S. Miller is most known for his work on the comic book adaptation of George R. R. Martin's Hedge Knight series, Robert Jordan's New Spring as well as his work on DC's JLA and Adventures of Superman. Miller created and wrote The Imaginaries, which was published by Image Comics before starting his own publishing company, Alias Enterprises, to publish the series, among others. The series is returning through Darren Davis's Bluewater Productions. In 2008, his comic book series Deal with the Devil was sold to Lionsgate Films.

Tommy Patterson’s creits include Farscape for Boom! Studios, the comic book adaptation of The Warriors for Dynamite Entertainment, and Tales From Wonderland: The White Knight, Tales From Wonderland: Red Rose and Stingers from Zenescope Entertainment. He has a BS in Studio Art and also works as a graphic designer.

ABOUT A GAME OF THRONES:

Long ago, in a time long forgotten, a mysterious event threw the seasons of the world out of balance. Now the kingdom is blessed by golden summers that go on for years, and cursed by cruel winters that can last a generation. In the cool north of this kingdom is a royal family ruled by Eddard Stark. The symbol of the royal house of the Starks is a direwolf; their motto is “Winter is coming.” As indeed, it is. For the Iron Throne of Westeros is once more under contention. With Eddard's help, Robert Baratheon won it away from the corrupt Targaryens, who had ruled Westeros for generations. But when Eddard is summoned south to help an aging king hold the throne they both won, he finds himself enmeshed in a web of treachery and lies, as faction after faction plays that most dangerous game of all—the game of thrones...

THOUGHTS: I’m curious about the comic book adaptation of a A Game of Thrones, but not really that excited. I loved The Hedge Knight miniseries, but those were novellas that were being adapted compared to a novel that is over 600 pages long. Plus, considering how impressive HBO’s Game of Thrones TV series ended up being, can the comic book adaptation even compare? Also, I’m not a fan of Tommy Patterson’s artwork, although the decision to use Alex Ross and Mike S. Miller as cover artists was definitely an inspired choice. In fact, I might end up buying the series just because of the covers, although I’ll probably wait until the graphic novels are available. Despite my reservations, I have faith in  Daniel Abraham’s abilities and believe the author will do the series justice :D
Wednesday, June 29, 2011

“The Last Werewolf” by Glen Duncan (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Order “The Last WerewolfHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Glen Duncan is the author of seven previous novels including I, Lucifer which was shortlisted for the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. He was chosen by both Arena and The Times Literary Supplement as one of Britain’s best young novelists. Glen currently lives in London.

PLOT SUMMARY: A veil of melancholy has fallen over Jake Marlowe. Not only is he a werewolf, but he is the last of his kind. Hunted by his enemies and haunted by his past, he is worn out by centuries of decadence and debauchery, and by the demands of his lunatic appetites. As a result, he decides to submit to his fate at the next full moon. However, as Jake counts down to suicide, a violent murder and an extraordinary meeting plunge him straight back into the desperate pursuit of life...

FORMAT/INFO: The Last Werewolf is 304 pages long divided over three ‘Moons’ and sixty-one numbered chapters. Narration is in the first person via the protagonist Jake Marlowe, except for the last six chapters. The Last Werewolf wraps up the novel’s major plotline, but leaves a number of matters unresolved, hopefully to be continued in a sequel or two. July 12, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of The Last Werewolf via Knopf. The UK edition was published on April 7, 2011 via Canongate Books.

ANALYSIS: Werewolves have never captured my interest the same way vampires have, but over the past few years, three books have come out that have really changed the way I look at werewolves. The first is Toby Barlow’s spectacular novel, Sharp Teeth. Then came The Wolfman by Nicholas Pekearo, rest his soul. Finally, we have The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan...

The Last Werewolf—my first Glen Duncan novel by the way—not only stars a werewolf as the main protagonist, but also features vampires, a World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena (WOCOP), and copious amounts of sex. Sounds like a formula straight out of an urban fantasy/paranormal romance novel right? Wrong. Instead, The Last Werewolf is a gritty and visceral, hard R-rated contemporary horror thriller dressed up in literary wrappings, which is mainly due to Glen Duncan’s sophisticated writing style and evocative prose:

If this was Hollywood I’d be dismissing her fully paid and heavily gratuitied in preparation for a night’s heroic solitary brooding, a sequence of fade-shots wet-eyed Pacino would do with baleful minimalism, staring out at the city, lit cigarette, bottle and glass, the face tranquilly letting all the death and sadness gather with a kind of defeated wisdom. But this wasn’t Hollywood.”

The moon was an inscrutable pregnancy, a withheld alleviation, a love more cunning than a mother’s.”

Personally, Glen Duncan’s writing style was somewhat difficult to follow as I had to constantly stop and re-read passages in order to fully digest what the author was saying, while the prose can get overblown at times. That said, the author does a marvelous job capturing the voice of someone who has been alive since the early 1800s and is weary of life. Even more impressive are the subtle, but noticeable changes to Jake Marlowe’s ‘journal entries’ when he suddenly discovers a reason for living.

Werewolf elements in the book are fairly conventional. The Curse is only transferred by infection. The infected can only transform during a full moon. Benefits include increased senses, healing, and lifespan. Silver is a weakness. Et cetera, et cetera. Of course, the author puts his own spin on the werewolf mythos in the form of an amped-up libido, the infection killing people instead of changing them, and a strong aversion to vampires. However, it’s the intimate and thought-provoking look inside the mind and heart of Jake Marlowe the werewolf that is the novel’s main attraction, which includes being tormented by the memories of everyone he has ever killed, suffering from profound loneliness and a life void of love, and wondering if life after death exists for a werewolf.

Plot-wise, The Last Werewolf starts out a bit slowly with the novel focused on establishing Jake’s past—when he became infected in 1842; his first kill which he has not spoken of in 167 years; the time he saved Harley’s life, his human familiar, fix-it and friend for fifty years—his loneliness and exhaustion of life, and his desire to die. That’s when the author throws a few curveballs—vampires, WOCOP politics, a love interest—to complicate matters for Jake and increase the novel’s entertainment factor. Unfortunately, these interesting plot developments become bogged down by Marlowe’s long-winded ruminations, while a narrative shift towards the end of the book telegraphs the novel’s ending. An anticlimactic ending that leaves many matters unresolved like Alexander Quinn’s journal which supposedly contains the origin of werewolves, and the vampires’ Helios Project.

Despite these issues with the story, The Last Werewolf is a striking novel. Glen Duncan’s writing is intelligent and provocative; Jake Marlowe is a compelling and sympathetic protagonist, even if he is a monster; and the plot delivers plenty of action, sex, thrills and surprises. Admittedly, I enjoyed reading Sharp Teeth and The Wolfman more than I did The Last Werewolf, but Glen Duncan’s book ranks right up there with the best that werewolf fiction has to offer, and is a tale worthy of a sequel...
Monday, June 27, 2011

Interview with Cameron Haley (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “Mob RulesHERE
Order “Skeleton CrewHERE
Read FBC’s Review of “Mob Rules
Read An Excerpt from “Mob RulesHERE

Last year I came across Mob Rules by debut author Cameron Haley. The novel differentiated itself from other urban fantasy titles with its dark setting and a morally ambivalent protagonist who acts as a gang enforcer. After reading Skeleton Crew, the second book in The Underworld Cycle—review to appear on Fantasy Book Critic in the next few weeks—I approached the author for an interview as I wanted to see his thoughts on his series, the UF genre and various other things. Fortunately, Cameron Hurley—which is a pseudonym for Greg Benage—agreed with the result below. On behalf of Fantasy Book Critic, I want to thank Greg for taking the time to answer all of the following questions:

Q: Greg, thank you very much for agreeing to participate in an interview. To begin with, could you introduce yourself for our readers and tell us what set you on the path of a writer?

Greg: Well, it was a long path. I’ve been a reader as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved stories. I think if you love them enough, you’re never really satisfied with simply consuming them passively. You and a lot of your readers are probably in the same boat—you don’t just want to read stories, you want to discuss them, talk about what the author might have done differently, about what worked and what didn’t, imagine different characters, scenes, story arcs, or endings.

It’s always been that way for me, and so I started writing my own stories. I took a few creative writing classes, and in college I started a couple of novels that never went anywhere. Writing Mob Rules—actually finishing it and seeing it published—was really just a matter of self-discipline and getting to a place in my life where I was settled enough to follow through on something that had always been a passion of mine.

Q: Cameron Haley is a pen name. Why did you decide to use a pen name and what are the reasons for choosing this particular pseudonym?

Greg: It was the publisher’s decision, and I think there were two reasons for it. First, name recognition and retention is important for word-of-mouth, and they thought my real name would be difficult to pronounce and less likely to be remembered. Second, a sizable majority of urban fantasy readers are women—and an even larger majority of my imprint’s readers are women—and the publisher felt they’d be more likely to pick up the books if the author had a gender-neutral name. I’m not sure I buy it, but I leave the sales and marketing considerations to the publisher.

Q: Could you elaborate more on the journey you went through in finding a publisher, what you think of Luna, and what you think they saw in your book?

Greg: The one thing I did right after finishing the book is find Absolute Write and its discussion forums on the Internet. It’s a very active forum full of published and aspiring writers and there’s a wealth of information there, along with plenty of qualified people willing to give advice, feedback, and criticism. I used that resource to polish my query letter and then sent it out to a list of agents I’d researched. I had an agent within a month, and about a month after that we submitted the manuscript to the editors of perhaps ten imprints that published urban fantasy. A month after that, Luna made an offer for the first two books in the series. We waited a few more weeks to hear from the other publishers, and then we took the offer.

My experience with Luna has been great. The truth is, The Underworld Cycle is rather different from most of the books they publish, and it was frankly more of a stretch for them than it would have been for some other publishing houses. Publishers don’t particularly like to stretch or take chances—especially on a debut—so I give them enormous credit for that. My editor is extremely experienced and has been a joy to work with. They landed me a cover artist—Timothy Bradstreet—whose work I’ve enjoyed for twenty years.

Of course, the fact that my series is so different from what they’re known for has some disadvantages. Luna is an imprint of Harlequin, and so a lot of their readers expect a certain kind of experience that The Underworld Cycle probably doesn’t deliver. And it goes the other way, too. I don’t think it’s terribly common for readers to choose books on the basis of publisher, but for those who do, some will pick up Mob Rules because it’s a Luna title, and they won’t care much for it; others who might enjoy it a great deal might pass it up because it’s a Luna title. There’s always a danger of that happening, and that’s why I appreciate opportunities like this to talk about my books to what should be my core audience.

Q: Mob Rules is written in the first-person which is very common for urban fantasy novels. Why do you think this is and what do you feel are the differences between first-person and third-person narratives?

Greg: One of the primary traditions that urban fantasy draws on is noir detective fiction, and first-person narrative really became an icon of that movement. It’s actually somewhat challenging to tell a story from the perspective of a cynical, morally compromised protagonist in a way that makes the character at least somewhat sympathetic to the reader. It would be easier in third-person, where the author could perhaps explore some of the reasons and motivations for certain behaviors and choices the reader may have a hard time accepting. It’s difficult to do that in first-person, unless the protagonist is angsting constantly. And a good noir hero or heroine shouldn’t suffer a lot of angst.

Third-person also allows the author to show more of the plot—you can come at it from different character viewpoints, including the antagonist’s if you choose. That’s one of the weaknesses of a lot of first-person urban fantasy, I think. The villains sometimes have a certain cardboard quality about them, because we never get inside their heads and understand what’s driving them. In Mob Rules, the real villain doesn’t even make an appearance until the end of the book, when Domino finally catches up (and catches on) to him.

On the positive side, though, first-person lets readers identify with the protagonist, explore the world, and experience the action much more immediately. Both POVs have strengths and weaknesses, and those will weight out differently for different books. I think first-person works very well in Skeleton Crew and is the right choice for The Underworld Cycle as a whole; third-person might have worked better for Mob Rules. Unfortunately, I’m not a good enough writer to pull off changes in narrative mode between different books in the same series!

Q: Staying with Mob Rules, Shanar Rashan endorses the rule: “Survive, pick a side and do whatever it takes to win!”, which Domino tries to follow. This rule strongly resonated with me while I was reading your book. How did you come up with this rule and are there any other principles Shanar Rashan follows?

Greg: I think the principle is just moral and existential nihilism, and Neitzsche probably expresses it better than Shanar Rashan. But the idea is that if life has no intrinsic meaning or purpose, and if morality doesn’t inherently exist, then these things are arbitrary—they are just what we choose to make them. All that’s left is the human will. That’s the underlying meaning of the title “Mob Rules.” At the beginning of her story, Domino is almost a creature of pure will. There’s another line in the book where she describes sorcery as “will and power.” That’s who she is and what she is, and the first book is really the story of her development from that starting point.

As for Shanar Rashan, the thing to remember about him is that he’s six thousand years old. First, he has a good excuse for being a nihilist, since it’s probably very difficult to sustain a commitment to anything over the course of an existence that endures so long. Likewise, he’s probably been many different people and held many different convictions during that time. We learn a lot more about that in Dead Drop, and some of it comes as a rather unpleasant surprise for Domino.

Q: Was there a precise spark of inspiration that lead to the creation of Domino and The Underworld Cycle? And how long have you been working on the series and has it evolved any from its original idea?

Greg: I’m not sure there was one spark. I wanted to write urban fantasy, and I wanted to write about a sorcerer. But I also wanted a take on it that hadn’t been done a million times already, and that meant no private investigators, no cops, no bounty hunters, etc. Separately, a couple things in film and TV sparked the idea that organized crime and urban fantasy were a good fit. Some of the fan speculation about Pulp Fiction, for example. The idea that it was Marcellus Wallace’s soul in the briefcase, that the bandage on the back of his neck when we first meet him is evidence that his soul has been removed. And a couple episodes of The Sopranos, one where Paulie Walnuts visits a psychic and learns that the ghosts of his victims are following him around, another when Christopher is being “made” and they’re going through this ritual, burning a card with the image of his patron saint. Anyway, I realized we’d never seen “sorcerer as gangster” before, and that organized crime was a pretty nice fit for a modern wizards’ cabal, an excellent way for them to hide in plain sight. I took that idea and ran with it, juxtaposing in myriad ways the criminal and supernatural underworlds.

Q) The Underworld Cycle is primarily set in Los Angeles. Why L.A.? And will you be exploring the world beyond the city in future volumes?

Greg: There were a lot of reasons for choosing L.A. One is just that the gang culture has such deep roots there, both in reality and in popular culture. Another is that, one of the things urban fantasy allows the writer to do is juxtapose the ancient and mythical with the modern, and L.A. is in some respects the most modern and most American of modern American cultures. It just has a lot of raw material to play with. And then, when I land that movie deal, it will be less expensive for the studio to do those location shoots! I do have one book outlined that would take Domino outside the city (and the country), but for the most part, this is an L.A. story. In my view, the best urban fantasy is as much about its city as its protagonist. They should work together. So The Underworld Cycle is about Domino, and L.A. is part of who she is.

Q: Speaking of The Underworld Cycle, how many volumes are projected (do you have an ending envisioned), how far along are you in the next book, and is there anything you can tell us about volume three?

Greg: I’d like the series to go at least six books, but it’s somewhat open-ended beyond that. As long as I still have stories to tell in the world, and as long as people want to read them and Luna wants to publish them, I’ll keep writing. One of the great things about SFF is that we’re very close to the readers, and the readers will always let you know when you’ve jumped the shark and it’s time to wrap things up. I’ve recently signed a contract for the third book, Dead Drop, and I’m working on it now. It’s tentatively scheduled for next spring. It’s difficult to say too much about it without spoiling Skeleton Crew, but it deals with the aftermath of events in that book and continues to build toward the supernatural war that’s coming.

So, to answer the question, I don’t really have a fixed endpoint in mind, but I do have a transition point. Those who have read even the first book probably recognize that it’s building toward a kind of apocalyptic scenario. It’s driving toward events that, if the series continues beyond that point, it will shift to a fundamentally different kind of story. Usually in UF we see one side or the other of “The Change” or whatever you want to call it. I think it would be cool to run a series all the way through to the other side.

Q: Is there a process you follow when naming your books? How about a special meaning behind the novels?

Greg: For The Underworld Cycle, I wanted short, punchy titles with, hopefully, at least a couple layers of meaning. There’s really nothing magical about the process—I try to define the core concept of the book and then brainstorm titles that fit. Sometimes, as with Mob Rules, they come quickly; sometimes I go through a few working titles before I land on one I really like. I’m happy to say that, unlike my name, the publisher has liked all my titles, through the upcoming third book in the series, Dead Drop.

Q: Your debut, Mob Rules, was nominated for Best Urban Fantasy Novel in the 2010 Reviewers’ Choice Awards by RT Book Reviews Magazine. Unfortunately, your book lost to Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews. Still, what did you think of the nomination and the chosen winner!?

Greg: I was surprised and delighted by the nomination, of course, and I think they made the right decision. The first book in the Kate Daniels series wasn’t the best UF of the year, and neither was Mob Rules. I think Skeleton Crew is a better book, and I hope the series will continue to improve. Maybe I’ll have a winner by book three or four!

Q: In the fantasy genre, cover art has always been a hot topic, especially how important it is in selling books. How do you feel about the covers for your books and what are your thoughts on the difference between Urban Fantasy covers from say “Paranormal romance”, et cetera?

Greg: As I said before, I love Bradstreet. I’ve been a fan of his since he really defined the look of Vampire and The World of Darkness for White Wolf in the early 90s. I loved his artistic approach to the covers and the way Luna’s designers drew on it to create a kind of Grand Theft Auto-inspired graphic look for the series. I think it’s appropriate and sets the covers apart from the typically darker, more “painterly” covers that are more common in UF.

The cover for a true paranormal romance will usually follow the conventions of that genre, with both a heroine and a hero (often shirtless!) in the illustration. The kick-ass chicks in black leather branch of UF has evolved its own conventions in cover art, of course—feminine backs and/or tushes with tattoos, maybe a sword. UF draws on multiple traditions, and some of these stories are influenced by the Romance genre—but it’s probably not a true paranormal romance if the hero/love interest isn’t on the cover. I think the cover art conventions in UF became so well established that they all started to look alike, and we’re starting to see a little more variety. That’s a good thing.

Q: You actually have a background in designing RPG games such as DRAGONSTAR, MIDNIGHT, DAWNFORGE. Did that experience help in your current writing and world-building? And how much does writing for RPGs differ from writing your own fiction?

Greg: Yeah, I mean, RPGs were my first opportunity to write commercially. On one hand, it’s very different from writing fiction. With games, you’re really creating the supporting material gamers can use to tell their own stories. You get caught up trying to tell your stories, it gets you in trouble. That’s not what roleplaying is about. On the other hand, the work I did in RPGs was almost pure world-building, and so I think it really honed my skills in that area. Hopefully The Underworld Cycle benefits from that experience.

Q: What's the best writing advice you've ever received? Conversely, what's the dumbest you have encountered?

Greg: The best advice probably isn’t particularly profound. Follow through. Don’t just write, finish it. Don’t just finish it, submit it. Don’t just publish it, learn from it and improve. The worst advice is probably “write what you know.” How about, “Learn something you didn’t know, and then write about it”?

Q: When you aren't writing, what other activities do you like to pursue?

Greg: I read a lot, mostly urban fantasy at this point, because I don’t even have time to keep up with all those, let alone everything else in the genre. Like many of your readers, I’ve been waiting for A Dance With Dragons for a very long time, and I’ll probably take a couple days vacation to devour it when it’s released. I’m ordinarily not a big TV guy, but we’re actually blessed with a lot of genre series that are worth following right now: A Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Being Human, Supernatural, True Blood. In the crime genre, Dexter redeemed itself last season and the first season of Boardwalk Empire was great. Like many men of a certain age, I have a Harley and like to go for a ride and pretend I’m not getting old from time to time. I’m also blessed with a wonderful wife, Maria, and I try to save some time to do things she enjoys, as well!

Q: You mentioned GRRM’s A Dance With Dragons. Who are some of your favorite writers?

Greg: In terms of their whole body of work, it’s fiction writers like Elmore Leonard, Larry McMurtry, and Cormac McCarthy. In SFF specifically, it’s Tolkien, Martin, King, Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Niven, and a lot of the other usual suspects. She’s gone crazy a couple times since and hasn’t been writing anything that interests me lately, but Anne Rice was also influential during my college years when I really started thinking about what I wanted to write. In UF specifically, Jim Butcher has been doing it right for a decade or so.

Q: In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to share?

Greg: Only to express my gratitude to you and FBC for this opportunity. Like I said, one of the big challenges for a new writer is to reach his intended audience, so this is a real service both to me personally and hopefully to the community of SFF readers. One of the great things about working in RPGs was how close I was to the gamers I was writing for. I had daily conversations with them, I knew what they liked and didn’t like, and that’s so important when the business you’re in is providing entertainment. Fortunately, SFF has the same kind of community—it’s just a lot bigger! So opportunities like this to reach out to that community, maybe start a conversation, are pure gold. I really appreciate it.
Sunday, June 26, 2011

“The Watchers” Video Roundup

Official Jon Steele Facebook
Order “The WatchersHERE
Read FBC’s Review of “The Watchers

Lausanne, Switzerland...

In the Lausanne Cathedral, Marc Rochat, a strange boy with a limp, watches over the city. He lives in a world of shadows and beforetimes and imaginary beings, waiting for the angel his mother told him he'd one day have to save.

Marc believes that angel is Katherine Taylor, a high-priced escort who is about to discover that her real-life fairy tale is too good to be true.

Meanwhile, Jay Harper wakes up one day with no memory of who he is, where he came from, or what he did before. Offered a job as a freelance security specialist for the International Olympic Committee, he has no choice but to accept. On the trail of a missing former hockey star, Harper crosses paths with Marc Rochat and Katherine Taylor, which he will discover is no coincidence.

Three lives. One purpose...

In support of the June 9, 2011 UK Hardcover publication of Jon Steele’s The Watchers (priced £12.99) via Bantam Press, Fantasy Book Critic hosted a series of videos that featured author Jon Steele discussing the different locations found in the book including Lake Geneva, LP’s Bar, Café Grutli, Escaliers du Marché, and Lausanne Cathedral. All seven videos are now included below, followed by a brief explanation from the author, Jon Steele:

The Watchers Video: Part One — Lake Geneva


Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) is the soul of Lausanne. I know her moods and am deeply affected by them. She is never the same, from one hour to the next. Her currents move like ballet and the light that plays across her surface is sometimes blinding, sometimes grey . . . always reflecting the colours of the sky and the clouds like some impressionist painting. And when she is still, showing you the perfect upside-down sky in her mirror-like surface, conversations fall into whispers so as not to disturb her. I may not believe in God, but watching a thunderstorm roll in from the Alps and seeing her waves rise like watery hands trying to catch the bolts of lightening reaching down from the sky, is to know that I am part of something mysterious and beyond my comprehension. The lake is my muse . . . always calling me to her shores to her a story.

The Watchers Video: Part Two — LP’s Bar


I had done four straight months on the front lines of the Intifada for ITN in 2000. I was ordered to take time off and get away. A friend who ran the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem, had a friend who ran a hotel in Lausanne. He told me, ‘I’m sending you to the Palace Hotel in Lausanne.’ A few days later I landed at Geneva, shell shocked and worn out. A limo was waiting and carried me to Lausanne. Afnan Taha (my partner in crime on the front line, and now wife) was with me. She began to cry because it was peaceful and green. We had rooms with views of the lake and stepping out on the balcony of my room for the first time, I cried too. After the dusty, tear-gassed, slaughterhouse world of the Intifada, Lausanne looked to be all that was left of paradise.

Down in LP’s Bar, I met people who would become friends and whose names I would blatantly steal as names of characters for the book. It is one of the great hotels and bars, run by one of the world’s great hôteliers. And everyone in it, from bartender to piano player kept me going with encouragement and love. And often refilled my glass at no charge whilst I sat at the bar scribbling way. I told them I was going to write a book set in Lausanne, they took it as a promise…and they never let me forget I had made it.”

The Watchers Video: Part Three — Café Grutli


Café Grutli s a local place at the bottom of Escaliers du marché, the wood steps that climb the hill to Lausanne Cathedral. You can see the belfry from the café windows. When I first came to Lausanne to write The Watchers, I went there for dinner very often. The same people would come in every night and the owner of the café was a jolly sort who made a tour of the place, telling jokes and collecting plates. He still does.

I had started character sketches to the book, and as any writer can tell you, writing the first sentence of chapter one is tough. I had  tried a hundred times and ripped it up every time. I needed something to make the reader feel the curtain was rising on a strange and mysterious place. So, one dark and stormy night, I was in the café, finishing my dinner and working my way through many glasses of Swiss villette wine. Of a sudden, I realised the opening sentence of chapter one was staring me in the face. The faces, the conversations, the clatter of glasses and plates, the clouds of cigarette smoke floating above heads, the dark raining world outside. And I imagined Marc Rochat in the corner, like me, watching. I pulled out my notebook, I took a deep breath, and I wrote: Marc Rochat pulled aside the lace curtains and watched the rain fall through lamplight and fall onto the cobblestones of Escaliers du marché.

The Watchers Video: Part Four—Escaliers du marché


No one is really sure when the covered stairs of Escaliers du Marché were first built. Written records date back to the 13th century of the Middle Ages, or as Marc Rochat would say, ‘Middles of Ages’ but historians are sure there have been steps since there was a cathedral. The wood steps follow the highest of the seven hills of Lausanne up from the centre of medieval Lausanne at Place de la Palud (very near the door of Café du Grütli), to very doors of Lausanne Cathedral.

Set along the oldest buildings of the town, Escaliers du Marché is much loved by les lausannois, me too. They have a magical feel about them that seem to transport a person back in time. I instilled that feeling with Rochat in the open of the story as he climbs the steps. The world seems to bend in the corner of Rochat’s eyes and he slips into the place he calls ‘beforetimes.’

And as an English speaker, I loved the sound of the words themselves; so much so that I end both the first sentence of chapter one, and the last sentence of the book with…Escaliers du Marché...

The Watchers Video: Part Five—Lausanne Cathedral (The Nave)


Growing up catholic, in the days of the Latin mass, I was a sucker for Gothic cathedrals. I mean just the word: “Gothic”. Cathedrak naves were designed to create the illusion of entering the kingdom of heaven, and I fell for it every time. Much of my young life I thought I would grow up to be a priest, and I would spend many hours before statues and crosses praying for an apparition...anything; a wink or a nod would do. It never happened. Then came sex and drugs and rock and roll, and that was that for me ever wanting to be a priest.

But I never lost the mystical feeling upon entering a Gothic cathedral. Many original Christian churches were built on pagan holy sites, much the way Christmas was tagged onto the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice. This gave the early Christians a ready crowd, as pagans would come to mass not so much to come to Jesus, but because they believed in the holiness of the place.

Lausanne Cathedral is the site of one of the first Neolithic settlements in Europe; people who believed in many gods, and in life after death. And the entire cathedral sits atop hundreds of open graves with “ancient skeletons looking like seeds waiting to be reborn”, as Rochat describes them.

And as I wandered Lausanne Cathedral and the crypt, I came to believe—as Rochat and Harper came to believe (and what the pagans knew all along)—that the earth beneath the stones is sacred.

(NOTE: A picture of one of the skeletons can be found Jon Steele’s twitter page @beforetimes.)

The Watchers Video: Part Six—Lausanne Cathedral (Climbing the Belfry)


It was six years ago when I first learned of le guet de Lausanne, the man who calls the hour through the night from the belfry of the cathedral. A friend and I were coming from dinner and he pointed out the man with the lantern high in the tower, just after the eleven o’clock bells. He said, ‘You will never see this anywhere else in the world.’

Once, all Gothic cathedrals had such a man. He was one of the most important people in the town. He watched for fires and invaders approaching the medieval walls of the town. As the world developed cathedrals got rid of their ‘watchers,’ all except Lausanne. For nearly 800 years there has been a watcher in the belfry of Lausanne Cathedral every night without fail.

My friend knew le guet de Lausanne and telephoned the tower and said he wanted to bring ‘an American writer’ to meet him, and that we were bringing wine. (You want a late night invite in Switzerland, tell them you have wine. Works every time).

We arrived at the bottom of the belfry tower and my friend called up, ‘Renato!’  A few moments later this shadow of a man, in a black floppy hat, leaned through the railings. He waved and disappeared.

‘Where’d he go?’ I asked.
‘To get the key.’ my friend said.
‘Huh?’

Just then the shadow of a man in the black floppy hat reappeared and began to lower a key on a long line of string.

‘You must be kidding me.’ I said.
‘Welcome to Switzerland.’ my friend said.

The Watchers Video: Part Seven—Lausanne Cathedral (The Bells)


Early one Saturday morning, shortly after my first trip to the belfry tower, I received a call from Renato, le guet de Lausanne. He told me he had something very important to show me at 5:00 that evening. I said I had something on but Renato insisted, ‘I am very sure it is important for your book.’

We met at Café de l'Evêché in the shadow of the Cathedral. Renato was at a table, two beers at the ready. Renato, as he does, talked about all sorts of things, except why I was there. (there is a lot of Renato in Marc Rochat). We had one more beer and at 5:45PM, Renato said…‘Allors, on y va.’

He led me to the cathedral, he opened the tower door and we climbed the steps to the belfry. It was my first time in daylight in the tower and the view was breathtaking. And while I was admiring the view, Marie Madeleine, seven tons of bronze and the largest bell in the tower rang for 6:00PM. Then all the yokes began to sway and all the bells of Lausanne Cathedral began to roar. It was deafening, like listening to the Big Bang at the moment of creation. The bells rang for fifteen minutes, and the final chord seemed to hang over the world like some never-ending sound. Renato looked at me and said:

‘Will the bells help you with your book?’
‘Yup.’ I said.
‘I thought so.’

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