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Friday, May 30, 2008

"The Mirrored Heavens" by David J. Williams

Official David J. Williams Website
Order “The Mirrored HeavensHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Watch “The Mirrored HeavensBook Trailer HERE
Read Reviews of “The Mirrored Heavens” via Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review + SFRevu

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Previously, David J. Williams worked as a writer and concept developer for the award-winning real-time strategy computer game Homeworld. “The Mirrored Heavens” is his first novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: In the 22nd century, the first wonder of a brave new world is the Phoenix Space Elevator. Built by the United States and the Eurasian Coalition following a second cold war, the Elevator is the grand symbol of the new alliance between the superpowers. And it’s just been destroyed.

The mysterious insurgent group Autumn Rain claims responsibility for the attack, but with suspicions rampant, armies and espionage teams mobilize across the globe and beyond. Enter Claire Haskell and Jason Marlowe, U.S. counterintelligence agents, and former lovers—though their memories may only be constructs implanted by their spymaster. Bound together by the enigma of their past, they can trust no one. For in a time of shifting loyalties, the enemy could be anyone—from a shadowy assassin on the dark side of the moon, to a Euro data thief, to a fugitive making one last border run.

As the hunt for Autumn Rain escalates and the superpowers move to the brink of war, the lives of all those involved will converge in one explosive finale—and a startling revelation that will rewrite everything they’ve ever known—about their mission, their world, and themselves…

CLASSIFICATION: Combining cyberpunk, military science fiction and espionage, “The Mirrored Heavens” is a smart, intense, and thoroughly engaging futuristic thriller that brings to mind William Gibson, Ghost in the Machine/Appleseed anime, Neal Asher, Richard K. Morgan, Josh Conviser’sEchelon/Empyre” novels, and such videogames as Deus Ex and Halo

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 401 pages divided over four ‘Parts’ with zero chapter breaks. Opens with Text from The Treaty of Zurich and closes with a Timeline of World History from A.D. 2035—2110. Narration is in the third person and alternates between Claire Haskell/Jason Marlowe, the Operative, and Lyle Spencer who is introduced in Part II: Incursion. “The Mirrored Heavens” is Book One of the Autumn Rain trilogy, but the story is wrapped up nicely so that it can be read as a standalone.

May 20, 2008 marks the North American Trade Paperback release of “The Mirrored Heavens” via
Bantam Spectra. Cover artwork is provided by Paul Youll.

ANALYSIS: As mentioned in the Author Information above, David J. Williams’ previous experience as a writer includes the
Homeworld RTS computer games, and it shows by the novel’s videogame qualities, both good . . . and not so good. First, the positives. With any decent videogame you have to have a hook, a concept that will attract gamers—or in this case readers—and in this regard David delivers by extrapolating from current events and envisioning a near future where superpowers are working together to prevent war, where the Moon has become an important political/economic tool, and where mankind is only decades from colonizing other planets. The best thing about this setup is how easy it is to imagine such a future, which stems from how much effort went into making 22nd century Earth as realistic as possible. For a glimpse into the detailed world-building behind David’s vision of the future—year 2110—be sure to visit the Official Autumn Rain Website for a timeline on world history, an overview of the geopolitical situation, a breakdown of the United States’ different Commands, manifestos, memorandums and much more…

Next, you have to have protagonists that can kick a lot of ass. In this case, there are three: Claire Haskell, razor; Jason Marlowe, mechanic (mech); and the mysterious Operative. There’s also a fourth character in Lyle Spencer, a European data mercenary, but he’s not on the same level as the other three. Basically, razors are hackers who specialize in ‘net infiltration’ via the Zone (cyberspace)—hence the comparison to William Gibson and Ghost in the Machine—while mechs specialize in ‘physical infiltration’ and are ruthless killing machines made all the more dangerous by the combat suits they employ which comes equipped with camouflage, gun/missile/grenade racks, flamethrowers, flight capabilities, and other nasty goodies—thus the comparison to Appleseed, Deus Ex, and Halo. While razors and mechs can operate solo, they’re most efficient working as combos as readers will discover in “The Mirrored Heavens”. As far as razors and mechs go, Claire, Jason and the Operative are among the very best and they more than live up to their deadly reputation :)

Perhaps the most important quality that can be measured in a videogame is its gameplay—or fun factor—and in that area “The Mirrored Heavens” delivers in spades. Essentially a non-stop action-packed roller coaster, David’s debut is about as much fun as an action junkie can have without going to the theatres or buying a PS3. In some cases, it’s even more fun :) Part of the reason is that the action scenes are just breathtaking, both in delivery and their cinematic scope. Another reason is because the action is relentless. At all times “The Mirrored Heavens” alternates between three separate storylines that—while connected together as part of a larger picture—seem to be competing with one another to see who can come up with the most intense, most spectacular action sequences imaginable ;) As a result, “The Mirrored Heavens” is jam-packed with so much action, you rarely have time to take a breath…

One area that “The Mirrored Heavens” excels at—and is not a known strength when it comes to videogames, with certain exceptions—is the plotting. Not only does David handle the different storylines with exceptional grace, but the pacing is superb, espionage/intrigue elements strategically complement the action, the twists & turns are clever and unexpected, and for the opening volume in a trilogy, the book is immensely satisfying while leaving the reader craving for more :)

Negatively, “The Mirrored Heavensis a debut novel and is not without flaws. So continuing with the videogame theme, the biggest issue is the characters. Yes, Claire, Jason, the Operative and so on are bad-ass and it’s extremely entertaining to see them in action, but as far as personality and depth go, there’s little to be found. For one, almost all of the characters in the book are either razors or mechs and there’s very little that differentiates one from the other. Secondly, we never get to really know any of the characters. Where they came from, their history, their likes & dislikes, their thoughts & opinions, et cetera. Another videogame-related issue is the lack of description in the book. If not for the wonderful images, charts, maps and blueprints found on the
Official Autumn Rain Website, I would have a hard time picturing the Space Elevator, Belem-Macapa, mech suits and so on. My guess is when you write for a videogame, the visual aspect is already taken care of, so describing what a person or object looks like isn’t a major priority, but with a novel more detail is helpful. Finally, like a videogame “The Mirrored Heavens” sports a few deus ex machinas, although if you think about it, it’s not uncommon to find such plot devices in speculative literature.

As far as the actual writing, David J. Williams shows off some impressive skills like his aforementioned plotting, the pacing and the excellent action sequences, but a couple of things bugged me. One was the economical prose dominated by extremely short sentences: “He sits up. Gets up. Goes to the washbasin. Lets water dash itself against metal and skin. He runs his hands along his face. He wonders if something has changed.” I admit that this issue is a lot more noticeable at the beginning of the novel than at the end, and it does fit well with the punchy nature of the story, but it was still annoying at times. Another concern was the way David switches from one narrative to the next. For instance, one perspective will end with “’You get used to it,’ says the Operative”, while the next starts with “But what you don’t get used to is what these third-world cities are like in their rafters.” It’s a clever way to make the transition, but the problem is that David uses this trick so many times it kind of gets old after a while. Lastly, some of the dialogue is weak, particularly the sarcastic quips.

CONCLUSION:The Mirrored Heavens” is far from perfect, but for a debut it’s damn impressive and despite its flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed the hell out of the novel :) In fact, I’m confident that “The Mirrored Heavens” will end up on my shortlist as one of 2008’s Best Science Fiction Debuts, and if David J. Williams can take his game to another level, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the author have the same kind of impact on the genre that Richard K. Morgan has had…
Thursday, May 29, 2008

Winners of the Andrzej Sapkowski / The Last Wish Giveaway!!!

Congratulations to Daneal Cain who was randomly selected to win a COPY of Andrzej Sapkowski’sThe Last Wish” (Reviewed HERE) and Nicole Davis who was randomly selected to win the GRAND PRIZE featuring both a copy of the book “The Last Wish” and The Witcher video game, all thanks to Orbit Books!!!

In just a brief news update, I wanted to introduce everyone to Liviu C. Suciu :) Like David Craddock, Liviu is a huge fan of speculative fiction and I’ve asked him to contribute book reviews whenever possible. So far he’s reviewed
Alastair Reynold’s “House of Suns” and William Dietrich’s “Napoleon’s Pyramids” & “The Rosetta Key”, and has already completed reviews of Brian Ruckley’sBloodheir” and Maurice G. Dantec’sCosmos Incorporated”, which will go live in the near future. Also forthcoming from Liviu are reviews of David Weber’sBy Schism Rent Asunder”, Harry Turtledove’sThe Man With the Iron Heart”, David Louis Edelman’sMultireal”, Karl Schroeder’sPirate Sun”, and much more!!! Because of his knowledge, passion—and ability to read so much faster than I ;)—I’m very happy to have Liviu on board and I hope everyone will give him a warm welcome :)

Lastly, check out the video below which is an interview with author
James Rollins who wrote the novelization of the new film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Order HERE). Jim is also the author of the New York Times bestselling Sigma Force novels, the newest of which will hit stores on June 24, 2008 and is titled “The Last Oracle”. I’m actually hosting a giveaway for “The Last Oracle” and its predecessor “The Judas Strain”, so to enter just sign up HERE. I will also be reviewing “The Last Oracle” in the near future and I’m working on an interview with Jim :) In the meantime, enjoy the video:

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Mind the Gap" by Christopher Golden + Tim Lebbon

Read An Extract HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: A prolific and bestselling writer of horror, fantasy, and suspense for adults, teens, and young readers, Christopher Golden’s bibliography includes The Veil Trilogy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Hellboy tie-in books, Ghosts of Albion (w/Amber Benson), and “Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire”, co-authored with Mike Mignola, which they are currently scripting as a feature film for New Regency. Christopher has also collaborated with Thomas E. Sniegoski on The Menagerie series, the OutCast novels, the comic book miniseries Talent, and the upcoming comic book miniseries The Sisterhood—the latter three titles have all been acquired for film adaptation. Other upcoming works include “Poison Ink” for Delacorte, “Soulless” for MTV Books and “British Invasion” for Cemetery Dance Publications. Read Fantasy Book Critic’s latest review/interview with Christopher Golden HERE.

Tim Lebbon is a British writer of horror and dark fantasy. He has won three British Fantasy Awards, a Bram Stoker Award, a Shocker and a Tombstone Award. Tim’s bibliography includes the “Dusk/Dawn” duology, the Noreela novel “Fallen”, “Beserk”, “The Everlasting”, “Hellboy: Unnatural Selection” and the New York Times bestselling movie novelization of
30 Days of Night. He is also the author of the novella “White”, soon to be a major motion picture. Forthcoming/new releases include “The Island” (2009-a Noreela novel) from Bantam Spectra, “The Whisper of Southern Lights” for Necessary Evil Press, “British Invasion” for Cemetery Dance Publications, “Last Exit for the Lost” from Cemetery Dance, “Bar None” for Night Shade Books, and “The Reach of Children” (w/Michael Marshall Smith introduction) for Humdrumming. Read Fantasy Book Critic’s latest review/interview with Tim Lebbon HERE.

Besides collaborating on “The Map of Moments” (Spring 2009), the second novel of
The Hidden Cities, Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon are also co-authoring The Secret Journeys of Jack London YA novels for Atheneum.

PLOT SUMMARY:Jazz Hide Forever”. These were her mother’s last words, written in her own blood. Now suddenly on her own, Jasmine Towne is going to need every skill she’s ever been taught to survive. For a cabal of enigmatic, black-cad strangers she calls the ‘Uncles’ are after Jazz for unknown reasons and her only escape is to slip into the forgotten tunnels of London’s vast Underground. Here she meets a tribe of runaway urchins and survivors calling themselves the United Kingdom and begins an adventure that links her to the ghosts of a city long past, a father she never knew, and a destiny she fears only slightly less than the relentless killers who would commit any crime under heaven or earth to prevent her from fulfilling…

CLASSIFICATION:Mind the Gap” is a contemporary mystery thriller with elements of Oliver Twist, a caper story, and a dash of the supernatural—namely ghosts, Victorian magic, and steampunk. Basically, it’s kind of like a ‘modern day Oliver Twist’ meets The Thomas Crown Affair/Ocean’s 11 meets Neil Gaiman’sNeverwhere” with a tiny sprinkling of John Twelve Hawk’sThe Traveler” and The Illusionist/The Prestige mixed in. “Mind the Gap” is an adult novel that is mostly suitable for older YA readers with only a little R-rated violence and language…

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 368 pages divided over twenty chapters. Narration is in the third-person, exclusively via the protagonist Jasmine ‘Jazz’ Towne. “Mind the Gap” is the first novel in
The Hidden Cities series and is self-contained, although I could possibly see a sequel sometime down the road :) Includes a 15-page preview of the second novel in The Hidden Cities, “The Map of Moments”, which features new characters and a new city—post-Katrina New Orleans.

May 20, 2008 marks the North American Trade Paperback release of “Mind the Gap” via
Bantam Spectra. Cover artwork is provided by Stephan Martiniere.

ANALYSIS: Even though “Mind the Gap” is extremely fast-paced, the novel started out really slowly for me and it wasn’t until 160 pages in that I began to get excited about the book. The problem was that for almost the first half it seemed like Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon were just going through the motions, delivering a plot that was one recognizable convention after another:

The protagonist’s mother mysteriously murdered by shadowy people and forced on the run… Raised to trust no one, Jazz constantly lives in a state of paranoia… Discovers a forgotten subterranean Underworld of abandoned bomb shelters and train stations… The whole London backdrop and its ghosts of the past… A group of runaway urchins—and their Fagin-like mentor Mr. F—who survive by stealing from those ‘topside’… Possessing abilities that no one else has...

It wasn’t until the gentleman thief came into the picture in Chapter Eleven that “Mind the Gap” began to get really interesting. Questions were answered, pieces of the jigsaw puzzle started to fall into place, the intensity and excitement was ramped up, and the novel began to show off some of that imagination and panache that the authors are known for, including a heart-pounding finish—particularly the last fifty pages—of unexpected twists, tragedy, old magic, and rebirth…

Of the authors, “Mind the Gap” may be the first collaboration between Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, but their writing styles mesh together so well in the book, it’s like they were born to work with one another. Both write with great confidence, possess smooth prose, know how to tell an engaging story, and are vividly creative. Plus, they really complement one another. Tim has a gift for evoking the horrific, while Christopher knows how to appeal to the younger/mainstream audience, both of which come into play in the novel. The one drawback regarding the authors is their characters. While Christopher & Tim can write well-drawn characters, they tend to lack a certain depth & intimacy and the cast in “Mind the Gap” is no exception. Other than that, there’s not much to complain about apart from the slow beginning.

CONCLUSION:It’s now how you start, but how you finish”. This old adage has been applied to everything from life to sports, and it works just as well for a novel. At least for me, I will always appreciate more a novel that starts slowly and ends on a high note opposed to one that starts strongly and peters out at the end. “Mind the Gap” by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon is the former: a novel that takes a while to get going, but when it finally does kick into high gear, the results are spectacular. Because of the terrific finish—and the combined talents of two great authors in Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon—I highly recommend “Mind the Gap” and have high hopes for the next Hidden Cities novel…
Monday, May 26, 2008

"Severance Package" by Duane Swierczynski

Official Duane Swierczynski Blog
Order “Severance Package
Read Reviews of “Severance Package” via Bookgasm

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Duane Swierczynski is the author of six non-fiction books including “The Big Book O’ Beer”, edited “Damn Near Dead: An Anthology of Geezer Noir”, and has written four crime novels including his latest, “Severance Package”. Until recently, Duane was the editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia City Paper and has authored two interactive mysteries: The Crimes of Dr. Watson and Batman: Murder at Wayne Manor (July 2008). He is also under exclusive contract with Marvel Comics and is currently penning the new ongoing Cable series and will be taking over Immortal Iron Fist this July with more comic book projects on the way…

PLOT SUMMARY: For media relations director Jamie Debroux, what begins as a Saturday managers’ meeting takes an interesting turn when the head of the company announces that Murphy, Knox & Associates is the front company for a covert intelligence agency. One that the higher-ups want shut down and swept under the rug. Which means everyone at the meeting has to die.

Before the boss can even finish making the announcement, bullets have started flying and poison gas starts spraying. Some of the employees don’t like the new direction the company is taking. Some employees have secretly been working for another Company all along. And one particularly enterprising employee wants to turn this crisis into any opportunity for promotion. But Jamie Debroux, aware for the first time of the true nature of his employer, just wants to call it a day and head home to his wife and newborn son. All he has to do is survive an especially rough day at the office…

CLASSIFICATION: Blending together noir, espionage, and dark office humor, “Severance Package” is like Alias meets The Office meets Mr. and Mrs. Smith as imagined by Quentin Tarantino. Also possesses the accessibility and lightning-quick pacing of a Dean Koontz thriller.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 265 pages divided over twelve chapters, which are preceded by office/business-related quotes. Narration is in the third-person via several different point-of-views including the boss David Murphy, the seven employees that David has been ordered to terminate, a private guard, an agent in Scotland, etc. “Severance Package” is self-contained, but a few questions are left unanswered and readers will be hoping for a sequel ;) Interspersed throughout the novel are eight stark black-and-white illustrations by comic book artist
Dennis Calero (X-Factor, Legion of Super-Heroes) that vividly portrays the book’s noirish vibe, as well as a ‘list’ that continuously gets updated as people are terminated :)

May 27, 2008 marks the North American/UK Trade Paperback publication of “Severance Package” via
St. Martin’s Minotaur. The eye-catching cover artwork is provided by Tom Coker.

ANALYSIS:Severance Package” is my first Duane Swierczynski novel. Before that, I had only heard of the author in passing through his comic book work, specifically on Moon Knight which I’m a huge fan of. Coincidentally, the current Moon Knight series was relaunched in 2006 with pulp fiction writer Charlie Huston at the helm, an author that I was reminded of when reading “Severance Package”. I was also reminded of Tarantino, but the person that I was most reminded of when reading Duane’s new book, was Dean Koontz. Koontz is a master of the contemporary breakneck thriller and Swierczynski shares many of the same qualities including silky-smooth prose, crackling dialogue, witty humor, and an eye for building adrenaline-inducing suspense. They also share an ability to write memorable characters with distinctive personalities and quirky traits like David Murphy’s sex/eating binges, the security guard’s extreme fear of being assaulted, and Nichole Wise’s workmanlike willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Granted, the violence and language is a little more hardcore in “Severance Package” than in a Dean Koontz novel, you won’t find any horror / supernatural elements in Duane’s new book, and action sometimes overshadows suspense, but the resemblance is there :) In other words, like a Dean Koontz novel, “Severance Package” is a thrill ride, engrossing, and massively appealing, and if this is the kind of fiction that one can expect from a Duane Swierczynski novel, then I think I’ve found myself a new favorite author :)

CONCLUSION: What’s there not to love about “Severance Package”? The concept is wild and insanely entertaining involving everything from sarin gas, poisoned champagne, and tracheotomies to Kevlar-reinforced pantyhose, popcorn tins, and assassinating your co-workers as part of a job interview ;) The plot is unpredictable; the female characters are sassy, sexy and badass; and the novel boasts the perfect mix of intrigue, comedy and hard-boiled action that grabs you by the throat while kicking in your teeth. Basically, “Severance Package” is tailor made for the big screen, and if the book doesn’t get made into a film, and soon, then somebody in Hollywood needs to get fired…
Saturday, May 24, 2008

“The Hounds of Ash and Other Tales of Fool Wolf”

Official Greg Keyes Website
Order “The Hounds of Ash and Other Tales of Fool WolfHERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s REVIEW of “The Born Queen
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s INTERVIEW with Greg Keyes

AUTHOR INFORMATION: A full-time writer of fantasy and science fiction, Greg Keyes’ bibliography includes “The Waterborn”, “The Blackgod”, The Age of Unreason tretralogy, Star Wars/Babylon 5 media tie-in novels, and The Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone series. Greg has also received degrees in anthropology from Mississippi State and the University of Georgia, is a certified fencing instructor, and an avid cook.

PLOT SUMMARY: Once considered a promising gaan—or shaman—by his Mang tribe, Fool Wolf is now a thief, gambler and womanizer wandering far from his native land in search of a way to rid himself of Chugaachik, a powerful goddess that shares his flesh and is a threat to all he loves…

In this collection of short stories set in the same world as Greg Keyes' Children of the Changeling (The Waterborn, The Blackgod), Fool Wolf embarks on one harrowing adventure after another in search of answers and solutions to his problem. Along the way, he will help put his father’s spirit to rest; battle giants, sorcerers, and gods; bring down cities; discover treasure of the greatest beauty; find himself at the center of a plot to resurrect an ancient evil; and uncover dark secrets that will shape his destiny…

CLASSIFICATION: Full of adventure, swordplay, magic, and mythology, “The Hounds of Ash and Other Tales of Fool Wolf” embodies the spirit and characteristics of classic sword & sorcery fantasy with nods to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian and Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné, while I was reminded of Glen Cook’s Black Company novels. Readers can also expect plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor and clever deception.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 192 pages divided over seven short stories—“The Hounds of Ash” is basically one story broken up into three ‘Parts’—which first appeared in the now defunct
Dragon print magazine. There’s no framing device, but the stories occur in chronological order and are loosely connected, particularly “The Hounds of Ash”. Narration is in the third person via the protagonist Fool Wolf.

May/June 2008 marks the North American publication of “The Hounds of Ash and Other Tales of Fool Wolf” via
EDGE Science Fiction & Fantasy Publishing. Cover art is provided by Julie Dillon.

ANALYSIS: Opening the short story collection is “Wakes the Narrow Forest”, which finds Fool Wolf haunted by the ghost of his father who was recently killed by a giant. To put his father’s spirit to rest, Fool Wolf must travel to the land of the giants to steal back a horse. There, Fool Wolf joins forces with a giant whose father, the Elder, is the one they seek… Probably the weakest short story in the collection, but nevertheless entertaining, “Wakes the Narrow Forest” basically acts as an introduction to the type of individual Fool Wolf is—concerned more with his well-being than others, Fool Wolf will lie, cheat and do whatever it takes to ensure his survival—a land where mankind coexists with gods & goddesses, and the tone of the book which blends together sword & sorcery action, sarcastic humor and trickery. It also gives us a glimpse into the predicament that Fool Wolf is dealing with—whenever Chugaachik’s power is unleashed, Fool Wolf relinquishes control of his body to the goddess for a short time who will torture, defile and slaughter any nearby innocents. That was how Fool Wolf lost his first love…

In “The Skin Witch”, Fool Wolf’s quest for a cure to his Chugaachik problem brings him to the ancient city of Nhol and a sorcerer, Lepp Gaz, who can supposedly help him. The problem is that Fool Wolf has been contracted to kill Lepp, which is illegalized in Nhol and has drawn the wrath of the Jik, deadly priest-assassins… Convoluted, full of surprising twists, and featuring a powerful villain and dark blood magic, “The Skin Witch” is one of the best short stories in the collection and one of my personal favorites :)

In “The Fallen God”, Fool Wolf awakes as a prisoner in Rumq Qaj, a city of buildings—‘so tall that no light touched the narrow streets’—built from the spirits of gods and the blood of humans. In order to gain his freedom from both his captors and Chugaachik, Fool Wolf agrees to slay a demon for the Architects. Of course the ‘demon’ in question is actually Uzhdon, the Opal of Nah, a slayer of evil and champion of good. Like Fool Wolf, he possesses a totem god inside him, but also wields a godsword that prevents him from dying, unless he is bested in a fair match… The shortest short story in the collection, “The Fallen God” is also one of the funniest, especially the interaction between Fool Wolf and Uzhdon. Like the others, expect plenty of twists and turns.

A case of mistaken identity in “The Fallen God” sets Fool Wolf on a treasure hunt from the Land of Nine Princes to Ranga Lehau, home of the Python King and a great treasure. There, Fool Wolf is marooned without food, tormented by Inah, “the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes upon”, and caught in a deadly power play… Action, romance, humor, magic, “The Fallen God” has a little bit of everything :)

Saving the best for last is “The Hounds of Ash” which is broken up into three Parts: “The Sleeping Tide”, “The Opal of Nah” and “The Hounds of Ash”. Building upon the other short stories in the collection, “The Hounds of Ash” finds Fool Wolf, Inah, Uzhdon, Lepp Gaz and others caught up in a tangled mystery—spanning from the floating city of Pethvang to Nah and the Strictured Land—involving terrible dreams, spirit hounds and ancient gods… Jam-packed with surprising plot twists, shocking revelations, epic confrontations, biting humor, and a kick-ass ending that will make your jaw drop, “The Hounds of Ash” is traditional sword & sorcery at its finest…

CONCLUSION: In the Author Introduction at the beginning of “The Hounds of Ash and Other Tales of Fool Wolf”, Greg Keyes claims that it was ‘a real treat’ writing the Fool Wolf stories. Well it’s safe to say that reading this collection is an even bigger treat, especially if you’re a fan of Greg Keyes or old-school fantasy. For me, I loved everything about “The Hounds of Ash and Other Tales of Fool Wolf”. I loved the character of Fool Wolf, his me-first attitude, his intelligence—which is much deadlier than his fighting abilities—his sarcasm, and the complex relationship between him and Chugaachik. I loved the setting with its rich mythology and supernatural elements. And I loved the way the stories were written, with their pulpy blend of adventure and humor, the energetic pacing, and the unexpected plot twists. In fact, as much as I love Greg Keyes’ The Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone, I have to say that I loved “The Hounds of Ash and Other Tales of Fool Wolf” even more and fervently hope that the adventures of Fool Wolf will continue…
Friday, May 23, 2008

Interview with Greg Keyes

Official Greg Keyes Website
Order “The Hounds of Ash and other Tales of Fool Wolf
Order “The Born Queen
Read An Excerpt from “The Born Queen
Review Reviews of “The Born Queen” via
Andrew Wheeler, Blogcritics, Fantasy Book Critic, Fantasy Book News & Reviews, Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review + Leap in the Dark

Back on March 25, 2008, Del Rey published “The Born Queen”, the fourth and concluding volume in Greg Keyes’ excellent epic fantasy series The Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone. In support of the book’s release, I was hoping to interview Mr. Keyes, but because of the author’s situation, he was only taking phone interviews, an option that wasn’t available to me. Fortunately, contributing writer David Craddock was able to step in for me and thanks to publicist Diana Franco, the interview was arranged :) From there, David and Greg did the rest, and the interview turned out better than I hoped, covering everything from The Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone, Star Wars, Babylon 5 and Greg’s upcoming release “The Hounds of Ash and other Tales of Fool Wolf” (May/June 2008) to fantasy tropes/trends, the differences between science fiction & fantasy, writing tips, and a whole lot more. So whether you’re a long-time fan of Greg Keyes, or new to the author, I hope you’ll enjoy this little chat with Mr. Keyes:

Q: Let’s talk about your new book “The Born Queen” which completes The Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone series. Originally you sold the series as an outline and mentioned that you didn’t follow the blueprint very closely. So in what ways has “The Born Queen” deviated from your original outline?

Greg Keyes: I knew what my beginning and end points were; it was the way I got [to the end] that was really different. As I was writing the characters, they did things I didn't plan on, which, as
Terry Brooks once told me, sounds a bit schizophrenic. [Laughs] I think writers are a bit schizophrenic in that we build these characters in our heads, and then they start doing different things. For instance, Aspar was not originally an important character. He was kind of the guy who discovers the Briar King and all that before fading out near the end of the outline. As I started writing, I just noticed that Aspar was the character I really wanted to write about.

Q: It's always interesting when characters decide to mutiny, isn't it?

Greg Keyes: Yes, it really is!

Q: In a series like this, readers can be very vocal about how their favorite characters are handled or what they would like to see in a book, especially a concluding volume. Have the comments of fans had any bearing on the way you wrote “The Born Queen”?

Greg Keyes: I would say no. I tend to follow my instincts while I'm writing. That's one thing I've noticed about myself: I tend to think better when I'm writing than when I'm outlining. Outlining is more about plot, whereas writing is more about character.

Q: Do you like the way you wrapped up the series as a whole?

Greg Keyes: I do, yeah. I was very pleased with the way the series wrapped up. I think there are moments where I wished it was over, but that's the case with anything I've written. It's fun at times, and that's what carries me through it. I have those really nice moments and I get really excited, or I think of exactly the right phrase, that kind of thing. But really, writing is about just sitting down and doing it.

Q: The Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone series have often been described as 'George R.R. Martin-lite'. Do you think that's a fair comparison? Good? Bad?

Greg Keyes: I think it's fair in a way. It's hard for me to really comment because I've only ever read one of his books. At times I think I know what that means, and at others I don't. I don't mind being compared to other authors, because I'd do that if I were a reader trying to describe a book to another reader. Like, “Oh, yeah, this is kind of like Michael Moorcock, but crazier,” something like that. On the other hand it wasn't my plan to write a book like anyone else. If the implication is that I intended to do something and I failed to, then that would bother me, but I didn't.

Q: Even though your series embraces a number of fantasy clichés, you also make a concerted effort to twist usual conventions. What are your thoughts on fantasy tropes in general and how did you balance what stereotypes you wanted to twist and those that you embraced?

Greg Keyes: That's actually not something I planned to do. What I do is pick these character types that aren't necessarily fantasy stereotypes, but archetypes rooted in myth. I just start writing them as people and try to imagine what it would be like to actually inhabit that role. I like to think of my characters in general as more important than my plot. If I follow my outline, I believe my characters will start as stereotypes and end as stereotypes, no matter my intentions. Then I stop thinking about them as characters and become stereotypes.

Q: Cliffhangers are an integral part of your work, and they're often used to end almost every chapter of your books. How do you avoid having them become a gimmick?

Greg Keyes: I don't know! It's just something I've done in almost all of my books. In fact, I was writing some books on Babylon 5 a couple of years ago. I got about halfway through one of the books and something just didn't feel right about it. I realized, “Wait a minute - I'm not switching chapters between different characters.”

I think I do it because I like that kind of writing myself. You know, you read a chapter about one guy and think, “I don't care about him, I want to know what happened to the other guy!” But then you get attached to the current character, which means you don't want to leave him when his chapter ends and swings back to the first guy.

I would say that a lot of that probably comes more from movies than other literature. I'm heavily influenced by movies. In fact, that question about stereotypes and look at Ang Lee's early work, where he would take a typical story and put an odd twist into it. I know some people are annoyed by that switching chapters thing, but a lot of the things I watched and read growing up were like that, and I liked it. It's also a way of keeping things fresh for me as well.

Q: Contrary to many entries in the epic fantasy genre, time passes quickly in your books. What led to this technique?

Greg Keyes: Sometimes, a couple of days will occupy a large chunk of the book, and then a month will pass. I think that I like a faster pace. To a larger extent, a lot of things that influenced me growing up moved really quickly. You see that influence in my work, and I just kind of like to move things along, not getting bogged down for too long.

Q: In your eyes, how has the fantasy genre evolved since you first wrote the Children of the Changeling duology and based on current trends, what might the future hold?

Greg Keyes: That's a good question. I'd been an avid fantasy reader all of my life; I actually started reading science fiction when I was really young. I'd never read fantasy until I was around 13, and it was accidental. I picked up The Return of the King that had a wacky 1960s cover and I thought it was sci-fi. By the time I realized it wasn't, I was already interested in it even though it was obviously the third Lord of the Rings book.

When I knuckled down to start writing, which was the early 80s, I quit reading as much; in fact I almost quit reading entirely. I was married, had two jobs, and was trying to write. When I wrote “The Waterborn”, I was completely unaware of what kind of fantasy was selling and what wasn't. Just completely out of touch with the market. I thought I was writing a normal sort of fantasy but the critical reaction proclaimed that it was very different; I didn't think it was different at all. I guess it was!

I'd written a few books previously that were never published. It was set in 1350 and took place in the United States. The characters were Native Americans. It was a fantasy, but it was kind of a strange one. What happened was, one publisher was interested in it and led me on for about a year. They finally said that they didn't know how to sell it. I said to myself, “What if I take some of those ideas, but give the guy a sword, make the girl a princess, and put the guy on a horse?” I sold it in a month.

I'm not completely aware of what the market is doing because I don't pay a lot of attention to it. Partly because I've been writing The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone for a long time, so my concentration has been on them. I started writing them in '99, I think. One thing I'm doing now is taking some time to see what's currently out there.

Q: So do you do a lot of reading while you're writing?

Greg Keyes: I almost don't read [any fantasy] at all. And that's a shame because I do like the genre, but I find that when I'm writing books like The Age of Unreason [series], where there's a lot of research involved—like what shoes people wore during the Eighteenth Century, there's just tons and tons of research... I like that. I have an academic background and I enjoy that kind of reading.

When I'm writing stuff like The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone I tend to turn back to stuff from the mythic past, like Beowulf and that kind of thing, just to reground myself and all that. I could probably count on one hand the number of fantasy novels I've read in the past 10 years. Right now I'm re-reading some favorites just to remind myself what I loved about [the genre] to start with.

I've read a couple things lately that I like. But when publishers send me things for quotes, I usually can't get through them. I don't know if that's an artifact of what I'm being sent or what, but I've read a couple in the past couple of years, and I did get through them and like them.

It's just a time management issue. I keep promising myself I'm going to read this or that, but I just haven't gotten to. For instance, I've always planned to read Robert Jordan's stuff, but I just haven't had time. Like I said with Martin, it's nothing about not liking the books, I just don't have time to read them.

Q: That's actually a relief to hear. If you don't mind a tangent, I'm a writer myself and just submitted a series for publication. I'm very proud of it, but what with working, dealing with “real life” stuff and other matters, I sometimes don't have the time to devote to writing that I'd like. Did you experience anything like that? If so, how did you alleviate it? Did you create a writing schedule or anything?

Greg Keyes: When I was trying to get published, the first thing I did was write short stories. This was in my early 20s, and I got married when I was 24. I wrote the shorts and sent them off. They got rejected, but they always came back with good advice from editors. Of course at the time I thought I was a genius and they were idiots. Basically it just made me angry, so I'd shove stories into a drawer and forget about them after the first rejection. I eventually concluded that I can't write short stories, but I can write novels.

At the time, when I really got started, I was working a full-time job during the week and at nighttime. I would take my typewriter to the night job because all I really had to do was stay awake. So at first I wrote all weekend, then at night. Later on I started graduate school and decided that I wanted to write a book that year. During the three summer months, I quit the day job and my wife took over the earning. She believed in me, and I wrote eight hours a day, just like a nine-to-five job.

Now things are considerably different. I'm lazier, a little less willing to sit down for eight hours. Well, I can't; I'm at home all day with a two-and-a-half year-old. What I did was have a nanny come in for about three hours a day so I would have writing time, but I wasn't willing to quit watching her grow up. Now I write when I can. I write when the nanny's here and on weekends.

I think it does really help if you say, “I'm going to write at this time,” and you set that time that you're going to do it every day. Even if all you end up doing is staring at a blank screen, or you do what I did, which was writing eight pages that you threw away. At least you're in the process.

I think what makes writers different from everyone else is, even though everyone has stories to tell, writers need the ability to sit down and do it. Make yourself do it when the sun's shining and there are other things you could be doing. You just need to sit down to do it. It really helps to find a schedule, because otherwise you say, “Well, I could be writing right now, but I'm tired.” You're doing it, so you realize it's not always fun.

Q: No, sometimes it really is work.

Greg Keyes: Yep.

Q: Getting back on track... Besides traditional fantasy, you’ve also written The Age of Unreason tetralogy which mixes steampunk influences with history. Personally, this series sounds like it would be a lot of fun to research & write. What did you like most about writing The Age of Unreason?

Greg Keyes: Its starting point was a real place in time. Every time I write a book I feel like there are certain people watching over my shoulder. Like if I write a Star Wars book, all those fans are looking over my shoulder to make sure I don't use the wrong color of light saber or whatever. When I wrote The Age of Unreason I felt like I constantly had these imaginary history professors—who would probably never even read the books—looking over my shoulder, and I felt kind of accountable to real history.

I did some traveling for it, went to London and actually found the place where... well, there's a scene where Benjamin Franklin's in London looking for Isaac Newton, and he goes into this particular coffee house that's a real place and actually still exists. It's a pub now, not a coffee house. The funny thing was, I couldn't find it on a modern map but I found it on a Nineteenth Century map. I went in and read a plaque outside proclaiming that folks such as Newton had indeed hung out there. I went in and got a beer and I told the waitress about her establishment's historical significance. She said, “No, I think it's been this way for a long time.” I said, “But 300 years ago, it was different.” Then she called another guy in to discuss the matter and I said, “You know there's a plaque right outside with all of this information, right?”

Q: “Newton’s Cannon”, the first volume in The Age of Unreason tetralogy, actually won the prestigious Le Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire Award. How did you feel about this honor?

Greg Keyes: I got an email from my French publisher about two weeks after 9/11. The offer was, “We're telling you know because we're afraid you won't come. You've won the Le Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire Award. We'll fly you into France to receive the award but we understand that you might be daunted by flying right now.” I replied, “Bring me over.” I found it really interesting. It was my first time to a French convention. It's a really different thing going on over there. First of all there are translators running around everywhere, and people get so out there with what they're talking about. They'll start with a topic that seems reasonable but eventually becomes a discussion about crazy things. It's really interesting and fun.

I was really honored to win the award. I'd been sort of snubbed by the French for my first couple of books; they didn't even publish them. Then I went and wrote a book that had Louis XIV and boom, published. It was great.

Q: You also wrote tie-in novels for Star Wars and Babylon 5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing books in already established universes opposed to original fiction?

Greg Keyes: I've often compared it to writing a haiku. A haiku has pre-established rules that you have to follow, but that doesn't mean you can't write a good haiku. Sometimes constraints and boundaries can force you to do things you've never done before. It can make you a better writer - or a worse writer.

Writing for Babylon 5... there had been novels written before, but only one was thought of as good by J.M.S. [
J. Michael Straczynski]. He told me to forget about the other ones and start from scratch. If I had a question, there were people I could call that would get the answer for me. I even got to go watch them film an episode. I was creating the back story of Babylon 5 for the most part, and that was really interesting, and relatively free. There were boundaries, but they were pretty loose.

With Star Wars, the boundaries were tighter, but not too much more so. I had a lot of creative latitude with that. The relationship wasn't as close; I worked through my editor. There's also a group of readers they trust to tell them, “Yeah, this is Star Wars.” They're real fans who can see beyond surface attributes and will tell you that it feels like Star Wars. There were more drafts of the Star Wars books, both of the outlines and the actual books because I was hearing from more people: my editor, the reader group, authors who had written books before me, authors who had written books after.... It was a very communal effort. It was very different from anything I'd ever done, because writing is largely solitary - that wasn't. But I enjoyed the experience.

Q: What are you currently working on at the moment?

Greg Keyes: Right now I'm trying to figure out what I want to write next. I finished Thorn and Bone and got to thinking, “What now?” I wasn't really sure. I was just approached to write some Elder Scrolls, though, and it's great because my research is to play Oblivion [Elder Scrolls IV]. [Laughs]

Another thing that happened with Thorn and Bone that dragged things out a bit was that I took on Star Wars projects. They're from the same publisher, so I was able to push my books back in order to tackle Star Wars. But I didn't particularly like writing that way. I always felt I was slighting somebody. So I'm back to taking on one project at a time.

Q: In May/June 2008,
EDGE is releasing your new short story collection “The Hounds of Ash and other Tales of Fool Wolf”. Can you tell us more about this book?

Greg Keyes: If you read those stories, I think you'll see the influences from Jack Vance and Michael Moorcock, my early influences. It's about a character I created for Dragon Magazine, actually. A guy named Dave Gross, who used to be the editor of Dragon, came to a book signing of mine in Seattle. He loved “The Waterborn” and had brought a copy with him. He opened it up to a map that says, “Giant.” He said, “I want to know what's there. I'll pay you to write a short story.”I told you earlier that I couldn't write short stories. What I really hadn't understood was how tough the short story market was, especially back then. So I wrote a series of stories about this character. The world was the same one as in “The Waterborn”, but none of the same characters. It was a labor of love; I really loved writing them. One thing about the market I know is those sorts of stories, like the collections they published in the 70s and 80s, stories that string together to form a larger story...almost nobody publishes those anymore.

Q: Looking back, what have been the biggest improvements that you’ve made as a writer since you were first published?

Greg Keyes: My early writing, when I look back at it, had some kinks. Rather than starting the story, I told you about where the story would take place. I was a controlling narrator, which didn't leave enough to the imagination. That was stuff I never really published. I think I've gotten better at writing characters. My descriptions have become simpler; I used to think of the craziest way to describe something rather than doing it naturally. My voice has become more consistent.

Q: In what areas would you like to improve?

Greg Keyes: I tend to avoid writing about mass warfare because I don't know how to do it. At some point while working on “The Born Queen”, I thought, “You know, I have to go read some books about medieval warfare.” So I stopped and I read, and I read...and I read. I've fenced, and I've done martial arts, but writing about war, about how to make it interesting...I'm always bored by that in books. It takes a great writer to make me interested in a big fight. It's something I shy away from because I'm afraid I can't do it that well. Anything I shy away from, I'd like to be able to do. I might still choose not to do it, but I want to be able to know that I could have done it.

Q: Are you more comfortable with short stories now?

Greg Keyes: I am, but they're still harder to write. With a short story, you can't waste words; you can't waste time with anything. Short stories are something I loved reading while growing up, and that's probably another influence on the pace of my stories. Short stories...well, they're brief. They're less forgiving than a novel, just like a poem is harder to write than a short story.

Q: Since you've written both sci-fi and fantasy, what do you feel distinguishes the two?

Greg Keyes: I guess there's always been kind of a gray area between them. At the extremes, they're certainly different. I think science fiction is mostly, classically defined as extrapolating from technology — if such-and-such a thing were invented, how would it change the world? The people? It's about science, and it's about some extrapolation from known science. So for instance, I might argue that Star Wars is not science fiction; it's fantasy. It has some sci-fi elements, but it's not about science; it's about people.

I think, ultimately, science fiction is literature that doesn't predict the future, but it helps us imagine it. If you grew up reading science fiction...there's no book that predicted it accurately, but there are some that knocked around what might be. But those who grew up reading sci-fi aren't all that surprised by [scientific and technological developments], whereas those that didn't are like, “What's going on?” [Laughs] I think science fiction is a game we play with our brains that imagines what can be.

Fantasy, ultimately, at its most basic form, is deciding what we're going to bring from our past. You know, what part of our mythic past is still relevant? If you look at literature before the 20th century, it's mostly fantastic, including Shakespeare. Magic, elves, gods, devils, they all figure very prominently in what's going on with [fantasy's] unseen forces. For some reason in the 20th century, outside of fantasy, people decided that stuff wasn't relevant.

I think there are kinds of fantasy [literature] that isn't realized as such. It's just that it gets marketed differently, so people feel different about it. For example, take the novel “Like Water for Chocolate”. It's not the kind of fantasy I write, but it's a fantasy.

What is a hero? I've noticed that every time somebody makes a movie about Beowulf, he's never like he actually is in the epic. People are a little uncomfortable with the way he was in the epic. In the new movie, Beowulf turns out to be a little crooked. Have you seen the newest movie?

Q: No, I haven't. I've heard there were lots of differences. I love the epic, though. It's one of the stories that got me into fantasy.

Greg Keyes: Yeah, see, I love the epic, too, and I'm really confounded as to why someone can't make a movie that stays closer to the original epic. Maybe even have the actors speak Old English and subtitle it. Every time they do it [a movie], they have to find some sort of modern take on it, and I don't think it needs that. But that's just me.

I mean, I don't know about you, but reading fantasy, when I was in high school, is part of what kept my moral compass straight. It's a very moral genre. It makes you ask questions about right and wrong, courage and a lack of courage.

Q: I agree. People looking for superficialities see it as a genre where men carry swords and wizards throw fireballs at dragons. But if written well, it's about people, and their lives and situations.

Greg Keyes: Yeah, I think it really is. I'm not sure what my idea of what a hero would be without fantasy. One thing that I do, that I really enjoyed doing in Thorn and Bone, is to write characters who don't always have swords, but still have tremendous courage. Courage isn't something predicated by strength or the ability to fight; it's having the guts to stand up for what you ought to.

Q: It's a great message, and I think fantasy is a great genre with which to relay that message.

Greg Keyes: Exactly, I agree.

Q: You've demonstrated a lot of diversity in your writing. Are there any other genres in which you'd like to write?

Greg Keyes: I don't have any compelling interest in writing in other genres. I like reading other genres, which I didn't do growing up. I read science fiction and fantasy, and that was pretty much it. When I was a kid, [sci-fi and fantasy] are what I wanted to write, and they're still what I want to write. I've been asked a similar question about screenplays — they pay a lot of money, but I have no interest in writing them. That doesn't mean I won't one day, but as of right now, I'd really have to be pulled to write a screenplay. I love movies, but I want to write books, science fiction and fantasy books.

I've been knocking that very question around because there are a couple things I could write that wouldn't be fantasy, or that would at least have very tame fantasy elements. I think they're good stories, but I just can't get that excited about them. Historical fiction comes to mind, and I did something close to that with The Age of Unreason. In fact I believe anyone who writes historical fiction actually wrote historical fantasy, because you're imagining things you can't possibly know. You can't possibly know what people said in a bedchamber, or what their motives were for doing something. You can make a guess at it, but you'll never really know. So even though you're writing about something that might have happened in one sense, it certainly didn't happen the way you're writing it, not exactly.

Beyond that, I don't know. With fantasy, I can write about people I know in very subtle ways, but I don't want to embarrass them or give them illusions of grandeur. I really don't want to write about myself.

Q: What would you say if someone wanted to convert one of your books or series into a screenplay?

Greg Keyes: The quick answer is, I'd like that. There's a lot of money in it, but also because I like movies and I'd be very interested to see how the movie turned out. I'm always very interested to see what my covers look like. I'm very interested to see how somebody interpreted my characters in my painting, or in any other medium. I would be really interested to see how someone interpreted one of my books as a movie.

Now, the fact is, most movies I've seen made from books I like kind of worried me. Either I didn't like them at all, or I had to separate myself from the book. I think that's what it [enjoying a book-to-movie adaptation] requires: you need to really separate yourself, because they're two different mediums. I think I'd have to take that attitude if someone made a movie from one of my books.

I made the horrible mistake of going to see Troy. About a month before I saw it, I'd just finished reading The Iliad again. Iliad is amazing and terrifying. So I walked out of Troy and said, “I hate it.” But then I thought, “Maybe I'm not being fair. Maybe I can just step back from the whole idea of it being The Iliad.”

So I watched it again...and I hate it again.

Q: [Laughs]

Greg Keyes: I think the main thing that was missing in Troy was that The Iliad is about a bunch of guys who have been on a beach for 10 years. These guys [in Troy] just show up, and in three days, it's over. There are fundamental differences there, and Troy just wasn't as interesting to me. But I have seen movies based on books that I really like, so again, as long as I can think of them as their own thing...

I think it's even harder as an author. Very few authors get the control that
J.K. Rowling did with Harry Potter, for example. I think the same thing recently happened with one of Terry Brooks series and he's already had to kind of step back from it.

Q: That worries me! I'm a big Shannara fan.

Greg Keyes: Yeah, I think it was Shannara. It would almost have to be. I went on tour with him a couple of years ago and asked him a lot about this movie. And I don't know where it is in terms of production because I haven't talked to him in awhile. I imagine you could find out on his website. [Laughs]

Q: [Laughs] Yeah, that's probably true. But you know, I do think that if they're done correctly, now is a good time for more fantasy literature-to-cinema. Even though it happened before Lord of the Rings, that was so successful that everyone's suddenly jumping on the bandwagon, kind of like with superhero movies.

Greg Keyes: Yeah. Unfortunately, whenever that happens, there's a tendency for Hollywood to say, “We don't need a book. What do we need? Just a guy with a sword.” Then they just get some guy to write it and it sucks. I've always thought I should write something that would make a good movie, but I find it hard to think that way when I start writing.

Q: You mentioned covers. How much control do you have over what appears on the front and back of your work?

Greg Keyes: Not much. That's actually why I made that comparison. Early on, with my first few novels, I was asked for suggestions, for what I thought was a good scene. They'd run preliminary sketches and stuff by me, but I don't think that if I ever said no, they'd pay much attention. Those decisions are really made in marketing.

The only times I've had a strong say in my covers were with “A Calculus of Angels” and “The Empire of Unreason”. And that's because my editor had just gotten fired, and the editor usually never puts the artist and the author in direct contact. My suspicion for that is because authors have such clear ideas in their mind of what things should look like, they might stymie the creative efforts of the artist.

The first cover of any of my books I ever saw was the British cover of “The Waterborn”. When I first saw it I was just stunned. In fact I'm looking at it now; it hangs on the wall in my office. The second cover I ever saw actually wasn't on the book. It was a court scene from “The Waterborn”, and at some point it got to marketing and they said, “ Start again.” So there are two covers for that book, one which was never published.

More recently, the process has been even different in that they'll start the cover before I've even finished the book. So they're more concept covers. Once I see the cover I'll try to come up with a scene that sort of resembles the cover, but again, that's market-driven. They're trying to decide what kinds of covers are selling, and that's always been the case. I remember with “The Waterborn”, the cover had to be blue, because blue is selling! Blue is good!

It's all taken very seriously, and I don't know much about it, so I try not to get involved. I've been rather pleased with my covers.

Q: So you just write the book and let the marketing and artist folks do their things?

Greg Keyes: Pretty much! It's always fun to see the covers, and it's really interesting to see how things are interpreted. But I'm not too involved with it, and that doesn't bother me too much.

Q: In closing, 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 as a writer?

Greg Keyes: Well, probably not...not in a big way. For one thing I didn't know any of those guys personally. And that might sound cold, but I'm obviously more affected by the deaths of people I know personally. For instance, the death that affected me most last year was Jamie Bishop, son of science fiction author Michael Bishop. He was one of the guys shot at Virginia Tech. Jamie and I were very close in college, he was a great friend. I'd just talked to his dad a couple of weeks before.

But in terms of the genre, one death that really had an affect on me was Roger Zelazny's. That's when I tried to quit smoking. I don't think he died of lung cancer; it was liver disease or something. But it had an affect on me, and it just stunned me that he was taken so early.

Like I said, I've never read anything by Robert Jordan, not because I didn't want to, but because I just haven't gotten around to it. But these guys, especially
Terry Brooks, he created the concept of a best-selling fantasy novel. Jordan maintained that concept, and guys like him. Those writers, like Jordan and Leigh Eddings were great for all of us, but I don't think their deaths have changed anything for me in any major way.
Thursday, May 22, 2008

"The Wolfman" by Nicholas Pekearo

Order “The WolfmanHERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: By the time Nicholas Pekearo was 28 years old, he had already penned three novels and was well on his way to a terrific career as a writer. Then on March 14, 2007, while volunteering as an NYPD Auxiliary Police Officer, he and his partner, Eugene Marshalik, were killed in the line of duty in the very neighborhood Nicholas grew up in—New York City’s Greenwich Village. “The Wolfman” is Nicholas’ first published novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: Marlowe Higgins is a werewolf. For years he struggled with his affliction, aimlessly wandering the country, fearing for the lives of innocent people who were murdered by the beast within him every full moon. Then he found a way to use his unfortunate curse for good—by only killing really bad people.

Settling at last in the small town of Evelyn, Higgins manages to find a job and even a friend. But one night everything changes. It turns out Marlowe isn’t the only monster lurking in the area. A fiendish serial killer known as the Rose Killer has been brutally murdering young girls across the country and is now terrorizing Evelyn. Higgins targets the killer as his next victim, but on the night of the full moon, things go drastically wrong…

CLASSIFICATION:The Wolfman” reminded me of
Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt novels . . . that is, if the protagonist was a werewolf instead of a vampire, and if the story was set in a small southern town in the early 90s rather than 21st century Manhattan. Like those novels, horror and supernatural elements are downplayed in favor of crime noir and mystery/thrills, but where Joe Pitt channeled Quentin Tarantino, “The Wolfman” is flavored more by Thomas Harris, and early Dean Koontz/Stephen King

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 286 pages divided over twenty-six chapters and a prologue / epilogue. Narration is in the first-person via Marlowe Higgins, but is an accounting of events that have already occurred. “The Wolfman” is a standalone novel, but was planned as an ongoing series. May 13, 2008 marks the North American hardcover publication of “The Wolfman” via
Tor Books. Jacket photograph is by Bruce Brown.

ANALYSIS: Vampires versus werewolves? In my mind, there’s no contest. Vampires will always be cooler and more interesting than werewolves. Partly it’s because of the vampire mythos, but it also has a lot to do with the kinds of stories that I was exposed to. Dracula, I Am Legend, Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series, Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, Vampire Hunter D, the Blade movies, the Legacy of Kain videogames . . . these are all great interpretations of the vampire legend. On the other hand, what I remember most about werewolves are movies like Teen Wolf, The Howling, An American Werewolf in Paris, Wolf and Cursed—not exactly storytelling at its finest—and aside from Toby Barlow’sSharp Teeth” and the Anita Blake books, I can’t think of any decent werewolf literature that I’ve read. Of course, if there were more books out there like Nicholas Pekearo’sThe Wolfman”, maybe I would have a much higher opinion of werewolves :)

Basically Marlowe Higgins, the protagonist of the book, is cursed: every full moon he changes into a seven-foot-tall werewolf and murders someone, which obviously affects his personal life. So for over twenty years, Marlowe has been drifting from one small town to another, barely scraping by, living under false names, and alternately trying to find someone who can cure his condition or coming up with enough courage to commit suicide. In “The Wolfman” it’s the year 1993, Higgins is forty years-old, and he’s settled down in a town called Evelyn, complete with a job, a friend, and a hooker that he’s in love with. He’s also developed an understanding with the beast residing in him so that only bad people are killed. It’s a system that’s been working, but when a serial killer who mysteriously has no scent comes into town, all hell breaks loose…

The first thing that really stands out in “The Wolfman” is the character of Marlowe Higgins. What makes Marlowe such a great character is his colorful tough-guy attitude, which really comes alive through a spirited narrative style, rough language, and spot-on slang & pop culture references that convincingly evoke the 80s and 90s. Even better, Marlowe is a character with depth as he frequently interjects the main narrative with flashbacks about his curse, what he lost because of his curse, his time in ‘Nam, and numerous other remembrances that flesh out his history.

Secondly, I loved the old-school ambiance of the book, which really made me nostalgic for the early 90s when I used to devour anything by Dean Koontz, Brian Lumley and Robert R. McCammon. “The Wolfman” just possesses that same kind of vibe. But instead of being a straightforward horror novel or supernatural thriller, “The Wolfman” is more of a hard-boiled crime noir with police procedural, a serial killer mystery, and dark humor all mixed in.

Lastly, I really liked Nicholas’ take on werewolves which is a combination of classic mythology—curse is handed down from one generation to the next, can only transform on the full moon, is almost impossible to kill, et cetera—and fresh ideas. For instance, when the beast kills a person, it doesn’t just take their lives, it takes their spirits. As a result, Marlowe can experience the memories of everyone the beast has ever murdered, and even absorbs some of their traits like certain eating habits or knowing different languages such as French, Greek, Mandarin and Spanish. Another interesting twist is that the werewolf is a separate entity, so Marlowe has no recollection of what happens on a full moon . . . unless the beast decides to share its memories ;)

That all said, “The Wolfman” is not a perfect novel. The pacing sometimes drags because of the frequent flashbacks and Nicholas’ tendency to over-describe things, there are a couple of inconsistencies in the police investigation, and for a crime noir “The Wolfman” amazingly fails to deliver any kind of shocking twist—the identity of the Rose Killer, why the beast can’t scent the serial killer, who the person is behind the threatening phone calls to Marlowe; these subplots are telegraphed so blatantly that it’s impossible not to know the answers long before the author finally reveals them. In spite of these imperfections though, “The Wolfman” is a striking debut, one that I immensely enjoyed, and if Nicholas was still with us, I’m quite positive that every one of his novels would have made it into my book collection :)

CONCLUSION: According to the Editor’s Note, Nicholas Pekearo envisioned “The Wolfman” as the start of a series with Marlowe Higgins encountering all sorts of nasty trouble in the future with ‘neo-Nazi vampires, demented wizards and alchemists.’ Sadly, we’ll never know how those adventures might have turned out, but if “The Wolfman” is any indication, the books would have been visceral, hard-hitting, and entertaining as hell. Regardless, at least readers will always have “The Wolfman”, which apart from a few flaws, is a tremendously satisfying novel, and an unforgettable tribute to what might have been…

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