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Monday, November 27, 2017

SPFBO: The Final Semifinalist Update (by Mihir Wanchoo)

For the last batch of books, I decided to combine all the remaining ten books into one group and see which books would join the 5 previous semifinalists. So here are my thoughts on all of them:

Miss Landon and Aubranael by Charlotte E. English: ML&A is a delightful story mixing romance and fairytales and the author wonderfully writes these characters who are endearing to say the least. A simple story told with gusto and a truly vibrant cover made this book a worthy read. Plus as a reader who generally doesn’t get hooked by Regency romance plots, this book had me chuckling along and enjoying myself with its flair and pace.

The Heartstone Thief by Pippa DaCosta: The Heartstone Thief was another intriguing title which had a spectacular cover. The story was a dark one and I enjoyed that aspect. The characterization wasn’t spectacular but it kept me intrigued and in the end while I enjoyed the story settings. I didn’t find the plot to be gripping enough and so while I completed the story, it didn’t leave an impact..

The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale by Danielle E Shipley: This was a unique book with regards to its plot and settings as it mixed the Robin Hood mythos within an urban fantasy setting. The story however was a bit drier than I would have liked and the pace was also on the slower side. Hence this book didn’t work for me.

Shadows for a Princess by Dominique Kristine: This was an epic fantasy book with some really terrific female characters however the plot is more than a bit standard and hence this book didn’t make the cut for me.

The General's Legacy by Adrian G Hilder: Adrian Hilder’s fantasy debut checks all of the boxes that fantasy fans love. Epic action and battle sequences, check. Relatable, heroic characters check. A world filled with magic & intrigue double check. All in all this was a book that while ending on a cliffhanger-ish situation (due to the book being split into two volumes, of which this is the first). I appreciated that the author had given me the heads up about it. This book while not doing anything out of the box, certainly provides a very enjoyable fantasy story. That’s something that every debut author should strive for.

Thunder Hunter by Rachel Medhurst: Thunder Hunter had me excited as it was an urban fantasy which had its roots in norse mythology. The writing style and the main character voice reminded me a lot of Tim Marquitz in terms of action mixed in with the machismo of the main character. However unlike Tim Marquitz’s Demon Squad series, this book didn’t have that flair to carry it across and I lost interest in the middle.

Gods of Color by C.H. Baum: C. H. Baum’s debut effort was a nice mix of dark and epic fantasy and to top it off there was an interesting magic system which reminded me a lot of the one in Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker. The book’s pace also helped in this read and it was a dark and strong effort.

Andy McBean and the War of the Worlds by Dale Kutzera: This was such a fun book, I loved the author’s twist on the War Of The Worlds storyline and how he managed to infuse this children’s book with so many antics. Overall this is a book and series which pokes fun at the classic SFF stories and it will definitely have its audiences among the adult and kid audiences.

Haven of Shadows by Ken Lozito: After reading Haven Of Shadows, one thing is imminently clear Ken Lozito certainly knows how to write and write well he does. This book had shades of epic fantasy mixed in with S&S and to top it off the characterization was very engaging. Overall this book had me reading it all the way till the end and I had very few complaints from it.

Night of the Chalk by Samuel Gately : This book was the one whose cover had me intrigued and once I started reading I found there were even more things to make it stand out. Firstly kudos to the author for the world building and for creating a plot that engages the reader to look further for clues. I certainly enjoyed the “less is more” aspect of the author’s writing style as he carefully constructed each chapter to build upon the last and increasing the claustrophic confines of the story. Mixing spy craft, dragons & good writing, Samuel Gately certainly won me over.

Overall within this round, I had quite a few good titles and authors mixed in and it was certainly hard to narrow down my choice to just two titles but I felt that would a fair decision. So the two titles which made the semifinal cut are The General’s Legacy(Part I) and Night Of The Chalk. A tip of my hat to Charlotte English, Dale Kutzera, & Ken Lozito who narrowly missed out.

I’ll be reviewing all the three remaining semifinalists within this week and will be announcing the FBC’s finalist by the middle of next week. Many congratulations to our seven semifinalists as I believe this lot of 30 books had a lot of good titles and I can safely say that this was the group of death in SPFBO 2017

Saturday, November 25, 2017

GUEST POST: "Emperor Calvo Reviews The HIdden Face" by S. C. Flynn

Today’s post is written by Calvo, emperor of Faustia. Here is his meeting with Dayraven the main character, who has just returned to Faustia after fifteen years as a hostage in the rival Magian empire:

Dayraven walked to the edge of the pool and stared across the steaming water at the man aged about sixty on his own, leaning back against the far side of the pool. Emperor Calvo the Great. His beard was silver now.

The emperor seemed to wake out of a daze and peered through the rising steam. ‘Urland? Urland? Can it really be you?’

I’m Dayraven, my lord - Urland’s son.’

Oh. You’re so like him, even with that touch of southern sun on your face and that beard. I thought for a moment -.’ 

The emperor lent back and gazed upwards through the mist of vapour. ‘We were all young and strong back then. Great days, with Urland at my side - and now his son is here. Welcome back to us, Dayraven.’

You will already be aware that I have issued an edict banning this book, ordering the destruction of every copy in existence and imposing harsh penalties on anyone possessing, producing or distributing a copy. As an “enlightened” ruler, I will explain my reasons.

If widely read, this book would have a damaging effect on the empire. I found this work so offensive that I was unable to even finish the first half of it. However, it is clear from those pages that the author is a paid agent of my enemies and rivals, the Clovian dynasty.

I am shown as an old fool, spending all my time bathing, feeding my pet elephant, gorging on red meat and living in the past, rather than running the empire. I am the emperor, and what kind of empire would it be if I were not free to do as I wish?

The author’s obvious bias towards my Clovian enemies is equally deplorable. In contrast with my unflattering portrait, they are shown as clever manipulators and black magicians, dressed in striking cloaks decorated with golden bees.

You have been warned of my disapproval. This notice to be posted in all public places by my order.

Calvo, regnal year 36. 575 FE.

[NOTE: Despite the above, Emperor Calvo couldn’t resist later reading the entire novel. Fortunately, he then decided that his ban was too severe and revoked it.]



GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: S. C. Flynn was born in a small town in South West Western Australia. He has lived in Europe for a long time; first the United Kingdom, then Italy and currently Ireland, the home of his ancestors. He still speaks English with an Australian accent, and fluent Italian. He reads everything, revises his writing obsessively and plays jazz. His wife Claudia shares his passions and always encourages him.

S. C. has written for as long as he can remember and has worked seriously towards becoming a writer for many years. THE HIDDEN FACE is his second novel and the first book in the Fifth Unmasking series. He blogs over at He is on Twitter @scyflynn and on Facebook.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A face without a face - an unmasking that leaves the mask.

Once every few hundred years, the sun god, the Akhen takes on human form and descends to earth. Each Unmasking of the Face of the Akhen ends one era and begins another; the last one created the Faustian Empire. Where and when will the Face next appear, and who will he – or she – be?

Dayraven, son of a great hero, returns to Faustia after years as a hostage of their rivals, the Magians. Those years have changed him, but Faustia has changed as well; the emperor Calvo now seems eccentric and is controlled by one of Dayraven’s old enemies. Following the brutal death of his old teacher, Dayraven is drawn, together with a warrior woman named Sunniva, into the search for an ancient secret that would change the fate of empires.

Powerful enemies want the secret as well, including a dynasty of magician-kings who were thought to have died out long before, a mad, murderous hunchback and a beautiful, deadly woman who is never seen. Sunniva and Dayraven fight to survive and to solve the mystery while their own pasts come back to life and the attraction between them deepens.

The Hidden Face is a fantasy mystery drenched in the atmosphere of the Early Middle Ages and in Kabbalistic riddles, and is the first book in the Fifth Unmasking series.

Checkout all the stops in The Hidden Face Blogtour:
23rd November - Bookworm Blues
24th November - Fantasy-Faction
25th November - Fantasy Book Critic 
26th November - Bookwraiths
27th November: - The Tattooed Book Geek 
28th November - Beauty in Ruins
29th November - MightyThorJRS
30th November -  The BiblioSanctum

Friday, November 10, 2017

Interview with Craig Schaefer [Part II] (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Long Way Down 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The White Gold Score 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Redemption Song 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Living End 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Plain-Dealing Villain
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Killing Floor Blues
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Castle Doctrine
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Winter's Reach 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Instruments Of Control 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harmony Black
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Red Knight Falling
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Glass Predator
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Double Or Nothing
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Cold Spectrum

Continuing on from yesterday, here's part II of our grand interview with Craig. Herein he talks about the various intricacies of his series, author branding, Tarantino comparisons and more...

Q] All your series have complex female characters. Be they be a protagonist (Harmony, Jennifer) antagonist (Navarasi, Nessa) or even a conflicted character (Caitlin, Hedy, Livia), they are fascinating nonetheless? What’s your thought process in writing such wonderfully complex, yet lethal women?

CS: I would say that it’s the same process I undergo for creating male characters – give them motivation, desires, fears, an inner life – but there’s a little more to it than that.

Female representation is really important to me. I exert that worldview into my books by making sure female characters are the driving force they deserve to be, just like in the real world. They can be heroes, villains...sometimes just figuring out their place in life, like people do. They’ve gotta be real people. My bottom line is, until fleshed-out and complex female characters are considered the absolute baseline expectation for any writer – just like male characters are now – there’s still a lot of work to be done. It should be so common that nobody even notices.

Q] Even though your series embraces a number of urban fantasy tropes, you also have made a rather strong effort to twist reader expectations and keep them entertained. What are your thoughts on these tropes in general and how did you decide what tropes you wanted to utilize and which you didn’t?

CS: Here’s where I make people mad at me, if I haven’t already: I don’t actually like urban fantasy all that much, as a genre. There are some urban fantasy authors doing fantastic work out there and I’m proud to call several of them friends of mine, but the vast majority of the field leaves me cold. I haven’t even read most of the Dresden Files (though I have huge respect for Jim Butcher as an author, which is why I gave him that tiny shout-out in the fourth Faust novel. Couldn’t take my lead character to Chicago and not tip my hat…) What excites me as a writer is the potential that comes from mingling genres – and, well, when I mingle fantasy and anything in the modern world, that makes me an urban fantasy writer.

The early entries in the Faust series are the most traditionally-UF-ish of my books, because I was finding my voice and confidence (I still am, but I’m a little closer now) and I felt like I “had” to adhere to certain tropes for the books to sell; for instance, making Faust a detective-ish character – something I enjoyed poking fun at in The White Gold Score – rather than the occult gangster he was intended to be and has finally blossomed into. At the same time, because I didn’t want to get lost in the shuffle, I set a ground rule that still exists today: no vampires, no werewolves, no fairies.

I largely wanted to avoid the classic “kitchen sink” urban-fantasy issue, where every monster and mythological beastie ever dreamed actually exists, and the gods of every pantheon are dropping by for tea. I feel that this is a case where more is a lot less; supernatural creatures should be rare, cool, special things that have a reason to exist and a defined place in the world. When it comes to deities, make that double. Triple, even.

Q] How much do you let readers’ feedback inform your writing? For instance, one conflicting point about the Harmony Black series was the relationship between Cody & Harmony. Is this something which you factor into your future writings?

CS: I do listen to my readers’ feedback, to an extent. I’m generally of the stance that if one person loves or hates a particular story element, that’s just their particular take. If a thousand readers love or hate a thing, that thing needs to be looked at and evaluated going forward.

Cody came about an inch away from literally getting stuffed in a refrigerator. (And believe me, I would have been smiling when I wrote it.)

That said, at the end of the day, I have to be true to the story I want to tell and there’s some feedback that I just have to decline. The biggest ongoing complaint I get about the Faust series is that people want:
 1) lots more spellcasting, like in every chapter,
2) Faust’s magic to be bumped up to superhero levels, and
3) elaborate exposition on the rules of how magic works.

None of that is ever going to happen. That’s not my setting, that’s not my story. And other writers do a great job with those concepts! There’s definitely a place in fantasy for, for instance, lovingly-defined magic systems with elaborately-structured rules straight out of a tabletop RPG, and some authors can have a ton of fun doing it. I’m just not one of ‘em.

Q] One of my favorite writers James Rollins had mentioned his “rule of five” about when to become a full time writer? You were working your day job when you first few books were released. When did you make the jump to full time writer and with regards to Jim, did you find something similar when you took that leap?

CS: Just about! I hadn’t heard of the “rule of five” at the time, but I did have about five books in the Faust series out when I made the leap to full-time writing. It’s good advice; I wouldn’t suggest anyone do the same (or go into any self-employed endeavor) without that plus a solid nest egg in case of emergencies.

That said, quitting the corporate job was a spur of the moment thing. I was in a job that was killing me (I literally had health complications from stress), and one Saturday I had a long talk with a friend of mine. She asked how much I was making from my books each month, and then she asked what the bare minimum of cash I needed to survive and pay my monthly bills was. Number A was bigger than Number B.

Then she said, “Craig, you’re quitting your job first thing on Monday morning. I’ll be calling at nine to make sure you did it.”

Sometimes we all need a little push from a good friend, to do what needs doing.

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

CS: Oh, it’s definitely a turnoff for some readers, and it makes marketing a pain in the butt, but like I said earlier – as a writer, that’s where so much potential for excitement lies. Why color inside the lines when you can use the whole page? Cookie-cutter is easy, and easy is the enemy of art. Worse, it’s boring. My number-one job is to entertain my readers, and mixing things up is one of the best weapons in my arsenal.

For instance, the second Faust series arc runs from a jewelry heist, to a prison-break story, to a Vegas mob war. The Harmony series swings from hunting monsters in small-town America to uncovering government conspiracies. I never, ever want a reader to say, “Eh, this book was okay, but it was just like the two I just read.”

To me, characters are key. My objective is to get you into my characters. If I can convince you to love or hate them, all the better, so long as you want to know what happens next and spend some time hanging out with them. Once that’s established, we can have all kinds of fun by mixing up the adventures they inevitably find themselves in, willingly or otherwise. If I can’t hook you with my characters, it doesn’t matter what the plot is or what genre elements I employ, because I’ll lose you as a reader.

Q] For some authors it’s easier writing their second series, while for others it’s more difficult. How was it for you, and did you learn anything when writing the Faust books that helped you prepare for The Revanche Cycle & the Harmony Black books

CS: I made so many mistakes in my early books. So many. Most writers can say the same, I think; no matter how many practice runs you make before your debut novel drops, there’s no escaping the learning experiences in store for you. I’d love to get a giant “do-over” and start from scratch with all I’ve learned since I began, but since life doesn’t work that way, I have to hope readers bear with me.

A lot of that is just style and structure. Figuring out what works, what doesn’t, finding your narrative voice. You can only learn writing by writing (and reading), and you only get better with practice and hard work. I’m still improving, and I hope to keep improving until the day I die.

Beyond the all-important task of finding my voice, the Faust books gave me a precious insight that was vital for the Revanche series, and it’s something I hope every writer discovers: the awareness that I didn’t have to censor myself. Dark as the books are, I had so many “Oooh, I can’t write that” moments where I had to fight to get words down on the page, because I was afraid people would trash the books (or gosh, think bad things about me!)

Yeah, turns out that doesn’t matter. When I got a one-star review calling The Long Way Downdegenerate and vile filth,” sales jumped for two days straight. I gradually realized that an author’s job is honesty; even though the story is fiction, it still has to ring with truth, and that means telling it the way it needs to be told. And for every person who hates it, somebody’s going to love it for the exact same reason. You just have to find your crowd, the folks who dig what you’re laying down, and treasure them like gold.

As far as what people think of me, that also doesn’t matter. The thing is, a writer’s books are a reflection of their inner landscape, and people generally don’t separate art from artist. People are going make whatever assumptions they want about me based on my writing, and I’m cool with that. To quote Pirates of the Caribbean, “…but you have heard of me.”

Q] One of the quirky things I noticed is that you have things in your book which aren’t quite explained. For example I have always wondered what “NP” suffix means when it was mentioned on Faust’s bounty declaration?

CS: I actually cut a joke about that from the original draft.
It means ‘no problem.’”
No, but in your case, it probably should.”

Q] You have co-written this short story titled “Sweet, Blissful, Certainty” in  the Urban Allies anthology. Please tell how this collaboration with Steven Saville came to be? How did you guys write this story and will there be touchbacks to this story in the future books?

CS: I was invited to participate in the project by the anthology’s organizer, Joe Nassise. Each story in the anthology was a team-up; I’m not sure how he picked me to work with Steven Saville, but I’m glad he did – Steven is a really cool guy, and never having written a collaboration before, it was a great learning experience. The story was a crossover between the Faust series and his new book Glass Town, hindered slightly by the fact that he hadn’t read my books and Glass Town had been delayed by the publisher, so I hadn’t read his either. So we started with a long, long chat where we briefed each other, gave run-downs of our respective worlds, and brainstormed over a way to bring them together.

After that, we broke the story down into chunks, retreated to write our respective bits, then passed the manuscript back and forth as we worked to try and blend them into a cohesive short. I liked the final result, though I was a little irked that the publisher, wanting a more vague resolution, cut my original ending. As it stands, it’s a weird little piece I consider mostly out of official continuity – there’s a couple of references to heaven, for instance, which doesn’t exist in my setting – but I learned a lot from it and made some new friends.

Q] In some of your previous interviews you have talked about author branding and the experience each of your books provide for the readers and your fans. On your site you have the title “Dark fantasy author” besides your name. Can you talk more about this brand which you are building and why readers should pay attention to it?

CS: People respond to taglines. Mystery author, science-fiction author, etc.; it’s shorthand that lets you know what to expect right off the bat. I write fantasy with dark, non-family-friendly overtones, whether it’s set in modern times or another world altogether, so that seemed like the best way to sum myself up.

Building a brand is all about reader expectations. Stephen King is a great example: whether he’s writing straight-up horror, psychological thrillers or dipping into crime novels, you always know when you’re reading his work. Brand is a mix of recurring themes, a certain style and narrative voice, the elements of a book that transcend the plot. My job, essentially, is to make sure repeat readers know what they’re getting when they pick up a Craig Schaefer novel, and deliver a great, consistent experience every time.

Q] I must confess reading about Justine and Juliette for the first time, they felt a bit Tarantino-esque. Upon learning of their origin of their names, it seemed so spot on. Can you tell us how these two came to be within your imagination?

CS: I’m a huge Tarantino fan, so I consider that great praise indeed. And there’s definitely a link there: while I was working on The Long Way Down, I felt the series was going to need a little comic relief to offset the bleakness. And of course, the humor had to be pitch-black. Specifically, I was thinking of (can I spoil a 20-year-old movie?) the bit in Pulp Fiction when Marvin gets shot in the face. It’s out-of-nowhere, so brutal and so funny, and then you feel bad for laughing, then you keep laughing, and it’s so pitch-perfect with the rest of the movie.

That’s more or less what I aim for with Justine and Juliette. They’re ditzy, they’re snarky, they’re funny, and then you get something like the basement scene in The Living End and you have this realization of holy crap, they’re torturing this guy to death, and this is their idea of a good time. They’re a pair of twin pistols that could go off at any minute, and you can only hope they’re not casually pointed in your face when it happens.

Q] One of the crucial connecting pointers within all your worlds is the presence of the cutting knives in them? Due to one of the revelations in Double Or Nothing with the Woman In Red mentioning her nine daughters. So does this mean there are only nine knives in existence?

CS: There are nine true knives. Various worlds have developed lesser copies and imitations; for instance, most of the Owl’s coven used cutting knives for getting to and from the Dire Mother’s glade, but those weren’t originals (except possibly for the Owl’s, which was handed down from her mother). The true ones are capable of things we haven’t begun to see yet, though people who have read Double or Nothing have a pretty good inkling.

Q] Another of those funny things I’ve noticed two different series is that the Mourner of the red rocks & sisters of the noose both share a resemblance in their dressing and creepy factor? Are they related in any way or was that just a coincidence?

CS: Yep! Not a coincidence: the Mourner is a former Sister of the Noose. She’ll be appearing in the upcoming Wisdom’s Grave trilogy, which will dig a little more into that backstory by the final book (and the Sisters may be making a return, too…)

Q: You have currently two active series, one finished and a new trilogy that you’re working on and will be releasing soon. With so many different projects that you’re juggling, do you ever feel overwhelmed? What keeps you motivated?

CS: The only bit that overwhelms me is keeping all the balls juggling in the right order; I’m a hybrid author, some of my books being self-published while others come out through a publisher, and since they all share a common universe it can make timing seriously tricky. For instance, a Harmony book might get shuffled around on the publisher’s release schedule, and now there’s going to be references to something that didn’t happen yet in the Faust books or vice-versa unless I quickly turn in rewrites.

Motivation, though? That’s easy. This is who I am. Writing is hard work, if you’re doing it right, but it’s also my art. Is there anything better to live for? The process of creation is joy. Putting smiles on my readers’ faces – that’s joy, too. That’s where the real magic is.

Q: Do you have any parting thoughts or comments that you’d like to share with our readers?

CS: Two years ago I became a full-time writer, achieving my lifelong dream. If a jerk like me can do it, then whatever your dream is, you can do it too. Don’t give up.

(Unless your dream is, like, killing a lot of people. Don’t do that. Definitely don’t tell people I said you could do it.)


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Interview with Craig Schaefer [Part I] (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Long Way Down 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The White Gold Score 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Redemption Song 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Living End 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Plain-Dealing Villain
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Killing Floor Blues
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Castle Doctrine
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Winter's Reach 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Instruments Of Control 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harmony Black
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Red Knight Falling
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Glass Predator
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Double Or Nothing
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Cold Spectrum

Craig Schaefer is an author whose books I’m besotted with entirely. It’s rare for me to enjoy somebody’s works to such an extent and it’s fair to say that Craig Schaefer has joined a select few authors in my mind whose books I will read without any hesitation. I’ve always wanted to ask Craig some very specific questions about his books and the characters within as well as his plans for the future.

He was very kind to answer all of them and since there were so many. I’ll be splitting them into two parts. So without any further ado, enjoy part I…

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic Craig. In your previous interview you spoke about how and when you decided to turn yourself into a wordsmith. Can you talk to us about your childhood & early adult life? What were your some of your hobbies?

CS: Childhood? Shitty. I was a nerd in the 80s, before it was cool to be a nerd. It’s kind of amazing now, with so many “geek” pastimes blown up and gone mainstream; our biggest movies are based on comic books, Vin Diesel talks fondly about playing Dungeons and Dragons, video games are as popular as TV really is a different world. It’s hard to remember that there was a time when computer games were a weird and arcane hobby, comics were considered the domain of pimple-faced basement-dwellers, and D&D was a gateway to Satanism.

(This is also why I have zero patience for modern-day geeks who want to dangle from a cross and pretend to be social outcasts. No, you aren’t. No. You aren’t. All this stuff we love is cool now. Be happy about it, damnit.)

Like most writers, reading was an early and voracious hobby. I more or less lived in the local library; it was my safe harbor, and the gateway to a hundred worlds. When I discovered role-playing games, I latched onto those as well; they were an early creative outlet, and weeks spent lovingly detailing my campaign worlds were an early taste of the joys of writing.

Q] I had read that from the age of four was when you realized that you wanted to become a writer. What was the delay in you finally realizing your wish?

CS: Partially, getting my life together. My mental illness (obsessive-compulsive disorder and mild depression) went undiagnosed through my childhood and young-adult life. It wasn’t until I moved out on my own and grew a little that I was able to figure out that something was wrong with my head, and that I needed to do something about it.

It always feels awkward, talking about that. But that’s why I talk about it. Because I know – because some have told me so – that a number of my readers are grappling with mental illness as well. And despite the ongoing social stigma, there’s nothing to be ashamed about that, any more than one would be ashamed of diabetes or a broken leg. So I need to be open about it in the hopes that other people feel safe to be open about it, and that’s how we collectively make that stigma go into the trashbin of history where it belongs.

From there it was just…life. Working paycheck to paycheck, watching the weeks slip away and turn to months and turn to years. I needed the motivation to find the discipline and go at a writing career with everything inside of me. And eventually, the weight of the years and the hunger that never went away just peaked, and gave me the push I so desperately needed, and here I am.

Q] You have often spoken about how much planning goes into your books. I wanted to ask you how did the Daniel Faust series develop in your mind? What was the original spark? What were your inspirations for it?

CS: As I recall, I was in the middle of a reading binge, swinging between crime novels and horror (my two favorite genres). I had just read an Elmore Leonard novel and a Clive Barker novel back to back, and I found myself thinking, “Dang, I love both of these writers so much, wouldn’t it be amazing if they wrote a book together?”

I’m not going to claim I’m anywhere near Leonard and Barker’s level (someday, if I keep working at it, maybe), but that was the seed of the Daniel Faust series. It grew out of the desire to read a horror-crime series, and in the finest punk-rock tradition, since I couldn’t find one, I did it myself. (Also in the punk rock tradition, my first attempts were seriously rough and unpolished, but I hope I’ve improved my skills since then.)

Q] One of the funny things I’ve noticed is that you have never quite described Daniel Faust’s appearance entirely. You have described Harmony quite a bit but not Faust why is that?

CS: Part of it is the difficulty of working a physical description into a first-person narrative. You can always have the character look in a mirror, but, ugh. Really? I mean, I’ve done it – I think every writer’s done it at some point – but I hate falling back on that technique. Beyond that, I think (I can’t prove it) that a more vaguely-defined appearance works better for a first-person story. You’re already asking your reader to put their mind in this character’s brain-space, and you want to do anything possible to make that identification easier.

Also, Daniel is the kind of guy who blends into a crowd (all the better to slip up behind you and snatch your wallet, or stick a gun in your back). When he appears in the upcoming book Sworn to the Night, his physical description largely boils down to “a wave of chestnut hair and a cruel slash of a smile,” which is all people usually remember five minutes after meeting him.

Q] So far we have had only snippets about Daniel’s past (abusive father, younger brother, been possessed about 30 times, etc.) In about seven books, one novella and three short stories, only one was a prequel-ish look into his recent past. Why have you been so coy in revealing more about his past, his family & his younger formative years?

CS: Partially because Daniel thinks about those days as little as possible. Largely, though, it’s in service to the overarching series plot. Daniel’s little brother Teddy is going to play a big, important role in the series, but I couldn’t bring him “on stage” until the time was just right and I’d laid the narrative elements I’m going to need later. (That said, the time is just about right now. Teddy’s making his first non-flashback appearance either in 2018’s The Neon Boneyard or the book right after that one.)

Q] One of the most consistent facts that is mentioned in the DF books and especially to Faust is that he’s got one messed up moral compass. Now while it’s easy to say that it’s entirely his choice. I wanted to see what you thought of Bentley & Corman’s influences on him. Sure they saved his life and made him what he is today but are they without blame in all of Daniel’s train wrecks?

CS: Oh, they definitely played a part. As semi-retired grifters, they took Daniel’s raw talent – both as a magician and as a criminal – and refined it into real ability. When con games, social engineering, and cracking security are part of your day-to-day curriculum, not to mention the arts of dark magic, you’re not gonna turn out as a model citizen or enjoy a particularly stable life.

Q] One solid feature of all your series is that all of them feature excellent worldbuilding. What is it about worldbuilding that you love, and what are the keys to successfully crafting such a believable, yet fantastical world like that in the Revanche cycle or even the one shared by Faust or Harmony?

CS: I think you’ve always got to know more than you show. One mistake some fantasy authors make is doing a ton of worldbuilding, and making sure every damn bit of it is on the page. The history of Castle Zyzagoria and the war that shook its foundations 450 years ago might have nothing to do with the plot at hand, but here’s a two-page infodump all about it. As a writer, that history might be important to you, and it might even inform little background details or descriptions, but that doesn’t mean it has to be shared with the readers.

In my opinion, the purpose of worldbuilding isn’t to create giant festoons of detail and lore; it’s to create a credible, consistent setting that will make readers say “Sure, that makes sense, and I could imagine living there.” It’s spice, and just like spices in cooking, the correct ingredient in a tiny amount can go a long way toward flavoring a dish just right. Dump in fistfuls of everything on your spice rack just because you can, and what you’ll get is an inedible mess.

But going back to my first point, you do need to know this stuff for yourself. I had mapped out the cosmology of my shared world long before any of it hit the page, because I needed to know where I was headed narratively and what the boundaries and rules of my universe looked like. Little details can be made up on the fly, but the big questions and mysteries of your story’s setting should be hashed out before you type “Chapter One.”

Q] Talking about our world, one of the things that are mentioned in the background is the “Cold Peace” and the infernal courts? How do the courts work? How many courts are there in total spread throughout the world? Will we get a world infernal courts map (something like this)?

CS: How do they work? Badly, with severe structural dysfunction! Imagine the worst office you’ve ever worked in, filled with back-stabbing coworkers who are out to steal credit for your efforts, stall your career advancement, and possibly murder you. And despite that, you still give 110% to the team, because you know that if your court shows any sign of outward weakness then all of your rivals will swoop in and carve up your territory (and you) in a heartbeat.

I’d love to do a full map of infernal territory at some point. Actually, I’d love to do a ton of supplemental material. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing up a tabletop RPG, which would also act as an unofficial companion of sorts to my books; it’s something I’ll think more about later next year when my schedule has a little breathing-room, but there’s a ton of logistics involved in that kind of project (playtesters, artists, printing, etc.) Maybe I’ll do a Kickstarter or something. We’ll see!

Q] Another funny aspect I’ve noticed in the Faust & Harmony books is that none of the main cast of characters are truly religious besides Halima. I was wondering in such a complex world/universe as yours how do your characters square with their faith with the knowledge of the demon courts/magic/etc.?

CS: Well, it’s not a happy universe. Hell is a concrete, real place. Heaven, as far as anyone knows, is not. The few angelic beings anyone recalls seeing are violently insane, and if there’s any kind of higher power out there, it’s utterly silent. Faced with that kind of worldview, it’s little wonder that most people who are clued-in don’t spend much time in church.

There have been creatures claiming to be gods at various points in history; the Enemy has admitted to using that trick on other worlds, for instance, and there’s the “faded gods” Circe warns about, but that raises the interesting (to me, anyway) question of who and what kind of entity is qualified to be called a god. It’s a loaded word that’s meant so many things to so many faiths and cultures throughout history.

And then, of course, there’s the Lady in Red

Q] Now with the last couple of books in the Harmony Black & Daniel Faust series, there have been revelations that all your books were connected. Supposedly thirteen characters are involved in the “cosmic story”. In the Revanche Cycle, two characters (the Witch & Knight) were present on that world. Were there any other characters from the cosmic story who were marooned on the same world?

CS: None that appeared in the story by name. Very early in my outlining, I thought about making beleaguered nobleman Felix Rossini one of the characters in the First Story, but jettisoned that because it clashed with the underlying theme. Without spoiling anything, Felix’s final ending is meant to be both cyclical and very definite at the same time; the idea that he’d someday reincarnate and repeat felt wrong, and a disservice to the character. Felix’s story ends when the final book says it does, exactly how the book says it does.

(Also, there are a lot of parallel worlds, and the Enemy getting imprisoned utterly screwed up the mechanics of the universe. The twelve other characters have been scattered all over the place…until recently.)

Q] Following on a similar line of thought, were there any other characters present on Earth previously when all the characters were scattered throughout the cosmos? And Now are all the characters on earth now that the Enemy is centered here.

CS: Well, Carolyn Saunders (the Scribe) is present and accounted for, as is the Prophet (who appeared in The Killing Floor Blues) and the Thief (the title currently and unwillingly held by Daniel Faust). The others have either arrived or are slowly filtering in across the wheel of worlds, in various stages of “waking up.” With the Enemy freed and loose on our planet, the cycle is reasserting itself for the first time since he was imprisoned – which means we’re on the road to the apocalypse, just like a hundred worlds before us, if he can’t be stopped once more.

Q] In The Castle Doctrine, it was revealed that there are supposedly 13 characters of the cosmic story, of which ten were named. Is that the entire number? and besides the Thief, Paladin, Scribe, Witch, Knight, Enemy, Prophet, Killer, Drifter & Salesman) who are the remaining three?

CS: Yep, there are thirteen in all. As far as who the last ones are, I’m keeping silent on that for now. Largely because there are six possibilities in my outline, for those three slots, and it’s going to come down to where they’re needed in the plot.

Q] I recall in one of your blog posts talking about character depth, you had mentioned that one of your characters was Transgender but you never revealed it because it didn’t matter to the story. You have always known about it and would you care to reveal who that character is?

CS: I’m still working out how to handle that. It’s a minor character, and bringing it up feels like box-checking or tokenism if I can’t seamlessly make it part of the story. So it’ll keep until I can do it right and with respect. (By way of comparison, a character was revealed to be asexual in Double or Nothing; I knew she was from the time of her first appearance back in Redemption Song, but there was never a reason for her to talk about it until then so it just didn’t come up.)

MW: The second part of this in-depth interview will be posted tomorrow so you can watch out for that :)

NOTE: Woman In Red digital artwork courtesy of Florian Mecl.
Monday, November 6, 2017

The Fifth SPFBO Semifinalist Update (By Mihir Wanchoo)

So far we have had four semifinalists and each book has been of a different kind. It seems that this time around, we at Fantasy Book Critic have an abundance of richness in the variety of titles, genres and quality. As we are getting through our lot, we are down to the last fifteen titles and it’s becoming tougher & tougher to sort through the titles.

As with our previous lots I’ve tried to read at least five chapters or 20% of the book (whichever was longer). However with this lot, all of the books were so much fun that I read through all of them. So here are my concise thoughts on each of them:

Where The Waters Turn Black by Benedict Patrick – This is the second standalone volume in the Yarnsworld series and it is a wonderfully heartwarming story. The plot has a very folksy charm to it and the main character was one of the most engaging ones I’ve read about recently. All in all, this volume made me a big fan of Benedict Patrick and the unique world he has weaved.

The Arbiter by M.M. PerryThe Arbiter was an interestingly dark story and the way the author streamlined that darkness was fun to read. I got a strong Terry Brooks vibe in the way the author set up the story and the characters as well. This story touches upon racism & slavery in a very quick way and while this seems to be a standalone story, I wish the author writes more in this milieu.

The Half-Killed by Quenby OlsonThe Half-Killed is and interesting historical story with strong supernatural undertones. This story was an excellent surprise and I have to point out how much I enjoyed Quenby Olson's  characterization and plot. This book was one of those books that I didn't want to complete because of how much I was enjoying the story.

The Waterfall Traveler by S.J. LemThe Waterfall Traveler is an interesting title that combined YA fantasy and engaging characters. I liked this title because of it's main character Ri and in spite of its YA nature (as I'm not a big YA fan). However the plot pace was a bit slow in places and the ending thankfully made up for it (while it was predictable, it was still a lot of fun to read).

Windsworn by Derek A. SiddowayWindsworn was an intriguing book that focuses on Gryphons and I liked that aspect. This book reminded me a lot of Eragon  (but better written) with regards to the training & bonding aspects between the main character & her gryphon. The gryphons in the story aren't at the same level as those featured in The Black Gryphon by Mercedes Lackey but since this is the first volume of the trilogy, I could overlook that. This book was so enjoyable that I wanted to read more in this trilogy because of how the author utilized the tropes and how enjoyable the story was. 

In this lot, four books really struck my eye and it was a tough call between The Arbiter, The Half-Killed, Windsworn & WTWTB and ultimately I had to go with the book which was the most unique in this lot because of its unusual world setting and charming characters. So without any further adieu our fifth semifinalist is Where The Waters Turn Black by Benedict Patrick.

My commiserations to all the other four authors. This was a tough call and I want to give a special shoutout to Quenby Olson & Derek Siddoway. Their books deserve a wider readership and I would love to review their future books on our blog.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

COVER REVEAL: Black Cross by J. P. Ashman

I'm much obliged to J. P Ashman for giving us this opportunity to host the cover reveal for the revised edition of his debut BLACK CROSS. Here's what Jon had to say about how this book cover came to be:

"The new cover for Black Cross came about due to the unfortunate cessation of contact between my previous artist and I. The original cover did what I wanted it to and it'll always hold a special place in my writing career. However, after a seriously tough year for me personally, a good friend of mine (Taya Latham) encouraged me - persistently for six weeks - to let her run a crowd funding campaign to snag a new cover artist. I'd fallen away from my writing and my muse was dead. I needed an injection of confidence and enthusiasm and she was sure this would work. i was skeptical, but agreed."

"She was right, I was wrong."

"It worked a charm! A feckin' powerful charm!"

"Taya, along with many friends from the awesome online fantasy community - you all know who you are and I love you all - banded together and financially and emotionally supported me in my search for a new series artist. I had three in mind... and one of those contacted me before I could contact her! Win!"

"Pen Astridge, artist to authors such as Mark Lawrence and Graham Austin-King, enthusiastically approached me and offered her services. I snapped her hand off. Not her drawing hand that would be stupid."

"With an incredible level of energy and interest, Pen dived into the new cover of Black Cross, knowing through discussions with me that I desired a character based cover like so many beautiful pieces out there at the moment. She worked and showed me, altered bits and bobs and impressed me. She came up with stunning ideas and projected her and my imagination onto the new cover of my debut novel. Sergeant Falchion came alive!"

"Pen also came up with a gorgeous Black Powder Wars series logo, with crossed cannons and gnomish grenados. Her fonts are stunning and the colours make the cover pop. She's over the moon and threw her all into it. I'm equally as happy, if not more so. We hope you are too!"

"Now comes the cover for Black Guild, the second book in the tales of the Black Powder Wars, which releases soon - ARCs are already out and about!"

"I look forward to seeing this cover in print - the hardback dust cover is incredible - and I look forward to seeing reader photos in the future, both of Black Cross and the books and covers to come! Thanks to Mihir and Fantasy Book Critic for this cover revelation, and to the awesomeness that is Pen Astride, Taya Latham and the rest of you beautiful lot!"

 As you can see how gorgeous a cover, Pen has created for Jon and I can't wait to see how it looks in physical form. I'll be hoping to review it when Jon releases the revised edition and will love to see how he has progressed as a writer. Checkout the blurb for the book below...

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Arcane magic can be a ruinous power, despite admirable intentions.

A mysterious scroll finds its way into Lord Severun’s hands, enabling him to release a dangerous experiment upon Wesson. With Sergeant Falchion unable to forgive himself for aiding the wizard, and desperate factions taking advantage of the devastating aftermath, Falchion embarks on an arduous quest alongside friends and strangers alike. However, even if their attempt to seek aid is successful and the city is saved, they risk revealing a secret that threatens much more than Wesson alone.

From a fantasy world not too dissimilar to our own dark and bloody histories, the beginning of an epic tale is told. Incredible magic is unleashed, allies become enemies; unlikely friendships are forged, and a foul plot is discovered that will shatter the long lasting peace of Altoln and her allies, plunging them into a gritty, brutal conflict that falls far from the fluffy fairytales of old.


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