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Friday, October 30, 2020

GUEST POST: The Judge by Jesse Teller

Jesse Teller is mentally disabled. He suffers from PTSD from an abusive childhood. He is bipolar, suffers from daily to hourly hallucinations, and has DID (multiple personality disorder).

He has been a member of the self-published fantasy community for four and a half years now, has published fourteen books, with plans to publish countless more.

Jesse Teller is not a sane man. He has been declared mentally unfit and is a certified madman. This blog series is a glimpse into the way he sees a small handful of his peers and a look into his own mind. This is an excerpt from the third volume of his autobiography yet to be published.

The Judge

She came into my life during the SPFBO contest. I have entered it two times, this year will be three. The blogger has Legends of the Exiles now. I have no idea what she thinks of it. She might love it. Might hate it.

Legends of the Exiles was the book that was never meant to be. See, there is a huge aggressive movement right now against men writing women. A lot of male writers have a big problem writing women. It is obvious from what they write. And those who are rabid about this topic are lumping all men into that group. The idea is that no men write female characters correctly. That idea is ludicrous. But when you are a male writer and someone says this and corrals you in with misogynistic writers you have to prove them wrong. I felt like I needed to defend myself. The only way I know how to do that is with my writing.

There was a bigger reason for the book’s creation of course. I loved the characters. The book is a collection of four novellas that all cross over each other. These four women had either not been touched on or had barely been touched on in the seven-book epic series they belonged in. They had been side characters. Other female characters had been more important to the story at large. So I desperately wanted to know the story of these four women.

I wrote Exiles as a cool down book after finishing the first act. After the attack on my sanity that The Great Hall gave me, I needed a fun book to write. This did not end up being fun.

Exiles dealt with issues women have to deal with every day. Sexual assault, dick pics, molestation, patriarchal society ruling over their freedoms. The intelligence of women being down played. The sacrifices a woman is forced to make for her family. All of these things and more are discussed and serve as themes for Legends of the Exiles. Every woman who has read it but one thought it was brilliant. Every man had issues with it. So, I call it a win.

I only mention Exiles when I talk about The Judge because she is a strong female and a bastion of women writers of fantasy. She is also a source of hope to me and a source of judgment. She is inspirational in her power and devastating in her ability.

I met The Judge through my wife’s reading of her book. She liked what she read and told me that this was one of “us.”

Us is the word I use for the writers who take their work very seriously. The ones who put money and time into the creation of the product they put out, and The Judge is that.

Her covers are amazing. Her books perfect quality. They are edited, beta read, edited again, read and reread to get them just right, because The Judge has been working on this project for a long time.

When she was young she started creating the world that she writes in. It took her decades to get the first book finished. See life gets in the way. It always does. Kids, work, marriage, schooling. Everything in your life will get in the way of your writing. Plus there is The Wall that you hit.

It happens at about page eighty for me. I am excited about the book and talking about it all the time. I have been waiting to write it for years and when I finally get to start it and leap head first into it, I am so psyched. But at around page eighty it becomes work. I am not as excited. I am far from finished, far from my trophy, far from any sort of accomplishment, and it becomes a chore to write for a long time. The words don’t come, the scenes seem to stretch on forever, and no matter how good a scene you have written you know there are still so many more to go.

The epic books I write have over eighty scenes. Over sixty chapters. There comes a point where I feel they will never be finished. But I have the time, I have the support. I have been given all the tools, and if I need more, I can always find them. I have every advantage. No job. Big slabs of time during the day.

The Judge had none of these things. So, chapter after chapter, page after page, over decades of time she pounded out this book. It never left her. She thought of it constantly. And she had to watch it bubble and hiss in her mind as she did the other things life expected of her and she ached for the time to pound it out.

Races and magic systems. Fantasy with a sci-fi element. More and more, the book showed her over the years, and more and more she waited and chipped away at that first book. She kept writing and she kept waiting and dreaming of the day she would finish it.

But no matter how many years she worked on it; she never gave up. She kept slicing and building, shaping and forming until she had her first novel done. She called it Blade of Amber. It was how she wanted it. It was ready. Now was the time to start the second.

But as she looked at the first and what she had done with it she was not happy. She did not like the final product.

This is where a writer will either pull the book and stuff it in a trunk or just let it fizzle out and become forgettable. This is where a writer pulls their book and slinks off. They give up. Every one of them does. Their writing career was a failed experiment. It is over.

But The Judge would not give up. The Judge does not know how to quit. She does not know how to drop the project she has been working on for so long. So she rewrote it. Reworked it. Jerked out everything she didn’t like about it, and when she had it perfect she rereleased it under the name A Wizard’s Forge.

More years of waiting and aching to get back to the keyboard as the next book boiled and hissed.

She wrote the second book in the series, A Wizard’s Lot and put that out too. Soon after its release she decided she wasn’t happy with it. So again she pulled it. She worked on it for years. Rewriting. Betas. Rewriting. Editors. Rewriting. More Betas. And after many years had gone by, she had a new book for a waiting world.

But this is not the end of the Woern Saga. So back at it. Chipping. Never given enough time to pound it out. She is working on it every chance she gets. Keeping her focus. Keeping her dream alive. Getting it out to beta readers. Fighting through their comments. Rewriting, polishing again, out to the editor, rewriting. The job never ends and The Judge never quits.

Encouraged by the reviews she is getting, encouraged by the things people say about her books, and more shaping and chopping. No one I have ever met has worked harder on a series. No one I have ever met has wanted it more.

A few lines here. A chapter there before life pulls her away again. The anticipation of the next writing session sits on her chest. The chores that need to be done to put out a great product never ending. And yet she loves her story so much, and she is so dedicated that she pushes it on. She works through days of compliments and encouragement. She works through days of silence when no one talks about her work. Nothing curves her love of her world and her character. Nothing dulls the need she feels to get the book out, the series finished. More when she can. She is the never-ending wave that slowly eats away the shore. She is the constant drip of water that cuts through the mountain.

The Judge does not stop. The Judge does not know how to stop. And my respect for her is higher than anyone else in the game. Anyone else in the community of self-published writers. Because there are so many things I cannot count on in my life. My mood, my alters, my bipolar, my hallucinations. So many things are wavering and inconstant. I have a few people to hold on to. And when I begin to lose my footing, I know that The Woern Saga will be finished.

It’s an odd thing to be encouraged by. But when your career starts off as slow as mine has, and you wrote for twelve years without any kind of recognition, then things like the constant of this sort of determination bring you peace and strength.

The Judge does not know that there are times when I feel the need to walk away. And she does not know how frustrated I get when the readers pass by my book. And she does not know that the reason I have not lost hope is because A Wizard’s Forge is out there. And after so many years of work the rewrite of the second book, now called A Wizard’s Sacrifice had broken free. Book two is out again. So much better and so much stronger than ever before.

That is all I need to know sometimes to come back to this board at page eighty-four. And keep typing.

Author Bio: Jesse Teller fell in love with fantasy when he was five years old and played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. The game gave him the ability to create stories and characters from a young age. He started consuming fantasy in every form and, by nine, was obsessed with the genre. As a young adult, he knew he wanted to make his life about fantasy. From exploring the relationship between man and woman, to understanding the qualities of a leader or a tyrant, Jesse Teller uses his stories and settings to study real-world themes and issues.

 We  are thrilled to be part of the #BardsAndScribes blog tour and you can read the previous stops over here:

31st October - The Lunatic over at Weatherwax Report

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It by KJ Parker


Order Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City over HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: K.J. Parker is a pseudonym for Tom Holt. According to the biographical notes in some of Parker's books, Parker has previously worked in law, journalism, and numismatics, and now writes and makes things out of wood and metal. It is also claimed that Parker is married to a solicitor and now lives in southern England. According to an autobiographical note, Parker was raised in rural Vermont, a lifestyle which influenced Parker's work.

FORMAT: Orbit published How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It in August 2020 as a second book of The Siege series. It works as a standalone. The book is written in the first-person POV (via Notker) and counts 354 pages.

OVERVIEW: I don’t have to convince Parker’s fans to buy his books; they’ll do it anyway - even his weaker books beat most of the low fantasy published nowadays. How to Rule the Empire and Get Away With It is a loose sequel to Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, but it works as a standalone. And it’s great.

Notker, a cynic, actor, and playwright has a knack for impersonating influential people. His acting skills and physique allow him to win the audience and make a living. Things get complicated when the enemy’s trebuchet kills Lysimachus, a venerated war hero. Without him, the city is doomed.  It turns out Notker resembles him. A bit. He doesn’t have scars, and he dislikes blood and violence, but who cares. Definitely not the conspirators who coerce him into impersonating the hero. 

Notker’s ex-girlfriend, Hodda, gets caught up in intrigue as well. To make matters more interesting, she used to date the real Lysimachus. Not to mention other influential figures. The pair gets tangled in a web of lies, and things escalate quickly. The Senate appoints Notker as Emperor and wants him to lead the war against King Ogus and his ruthless warriors. While Hodda plays an important role in the story, we stay in Notker’s head and POV. Like most of Parker’s protagonists, he’s no hero: 

Me, I don’t care about the bad guys, so long as they keep the hell away from me. When they get too close in my face, I tell lies and run away. That means I’ll never be a hero, but I don’t mind that. I do character parts and impersonations.

Notker’s sardonic voice, and his cynically philosophical asides about life, love, and politics, charmed me. Despite his shortcomings, Notker makes do. He uses his wit and resources to ensure an exciting and surprising finale. I love Parker's use of tight first-person narration. It always makes me laugh, think, and brood over the condition of humanity. 

Ah, the people. My countrymen, my fellow citizens, my brothers. Mind you, some of them are all right, when you get to know them. But a lot of them aren’t; and here’s a funny thing, because when you mix them together, the ones that are all right and the ones that aren’t, as often as not the resulting blend is far worse than the sum of its parts. Greedier, more cowardly, more stupid.

Parker conveys backstories through instant immersion into the everyday life of Notker, an actor turned Emperor trying to save the day against impossible odds. He has no illusions about his countrymen, but he’ll try to help them, anyway. 

Nothing changes more often, more rapidly or more radically than the past. Yesterday’s heroes are today’s villains. Yesterday’s eternal truths are today’s exploded myths. Yesterday’s right is today’s wrong, yesterday’s good is today’s evil. And tomorrow it’ll all be one hundred and eighty degrees different, on that you can rely.

Much as I enjoyed Sixteen Ways to Defend The Walled City, I liked How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It more. It feels tighter and Notker is easier to like than Orhan, even if there are a few moments where pacing could be improved. Still, this is a fantastic novel. Parker provides an immersive story with clever twists and uncomfortable truths about human nature and society in elegant yet utterly unpretentious prose

One could argue that whole of Parker's oeuvre has the same general feel. That he writes only one character with the same fatalistic but humorous outlook on life. And yet, as a writer, he gets away with it because he does it so well and he always offers unexpected twists. How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It is darkly funny and cheerfully horrific and I had a great time reading it.

GUEST POST: Keeping Epic Fantasy Fresh By Gail Z. Martin

I love epic fantasy with all its sword and sorcery, magic, castles and intrigue. As much as I enjoy the classic series I grew up with, I realize that the world changes and the way we tell tales should change with it. So as I continue writing my fourth epic fantasy series (Assassins of Landria), here are some things that I try to keep in mind.

Many readers don’t have the time or inclination to dive into massively-thick novels. While they’re home during the pandemic, they may be juggling working remotely, having more family at home all the time than usual, remote learning for children, or just the stressed-out attention span limitations of these trying times.

While some readers welcome immersing themselves in a really long book, others can’t muster the focus and concentration. That’s why my newest series, Assassins of Landria has books that are about half the size of my traditional epic novels. They’re lighter, funnier, with fewer points of view and interbraiding plotlines, and a smaller cast of characters. They’re also buddy-flick style, with a lot of banter. My goal was to provide epic feels without the epic length.

I also try to approach the cast of characters with a fresh eye. A lot of classic epic fantasy limits women to roles as wife, mother, servant, and paid companion. Yet the historical record shows that many women went to war, took up arms to protect their villages, and carved out roles for themselves beyond home and family. The same is true with LGBTQ and non-binary characters. Once again, history provides many examples of real people through the ages, figures who have been too often overlooked in the most familiar retelling but who existed and from whom we can draw ideas.

Since my study as a history major was Western European Medieval history and my own ancestry comes from that part of the world, my books’ fictional settings tend to resemble that area in topography, economics, political systems, technology, etc. But the historical record is clear that throughout history there were travelers, merchants, and others of many ethnicities present in Northwestern Europe, so the Middle Ages weren’t nearly as ‘white’ as our movies and TV shows tend to present. An ethnically varied cast of characters is actually more historically accurate.

At every age in history, there were people who held a range of views about social, cultural and political beliefs and actions that were common in their time. That includes topics like slavery, persecuting witches, forcing religious conformity, and abusing the power of a title, position or office. Showing characters who oppose such things, even if they are in the minority, is not retconning the past, but rather acknowledging that humanity has never been in full agreement on anything.

By diving deeper into real history and going beyond the broad-brush overview, we can find a much richer, varied and more interesting—and historically accurate/representative—source of inspiration than in turns keeps epic fantasy fresh and appeals to a broader group of readers.

What’s new? Plenty! Sons of Darkness (Night Vigil Book 1) and Inheritance (Deadly Curiosities Book 4) are now on audiobook. Monster Mash and Creature Feature are the newest Spells Salt and Steel books. Witch of the Woods and Ghosts of the Past are the newest in the Wasteland Marshals series, and Black Sun is the latest Joe Mack Adventure. Coming soon: Fugitive’s Vow (Assassins of Landria Book 3) and Reckoning (Darkhurst Book 3).

My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with brand new guest blog posts, giveaways and more! You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Get all the details about my Days of the Dead blog tour at

Official Author Information: Gail Z. Martin writes urban fantasy, epic fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books, Orbit Books, Falstaff Books, SOL Publishing and Darkwind Press. Urban fantasy series include Deadly Curiosities and the Night Vigil (Sons of Darkness). Epic fantasy series include Darkhurst, the Chronicles Of The Necromancer, the Fallen Kings Cycle, the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, and the Assassins of Landria. She and co-author Larry N. Martin write the Spells Salt and Steel, Wasteland Marshals and Joe Mack Shadow Council Archives Adventures. As Morgan Brice, she writes urban fantasy MM paranormal romance. Series include Witchbane, Badlands, Treasure Trail, Kings of the Mountain and Fox Hollow series.
Friday, October 23, 2020

Blood & Honey by Shelby Mahurin (reviewed by Caitlin Grieve)

Official Author Website
Order Blood & Honey over HERE
Read Caitlin’s review of Serpent & Dove

grew up on a small farm in rural Indiana, where sticks became wands and cows became dragons. Her rampant imagination didn’t fade with age, so she continues to play make-believe every day—with words now instead of cows. She still lives near that childhood farm with her very tall husband and semiferal children.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Lou, Reid, Coco, and Ansel are on the run from coven, kingdom, and church—fugitives with nowhere to hide.

To survive, they need allies. Strong ones. But as Lou becomes increasingly desperate to save those she loves, she turns to a darker side of magic that may cost Reid the one thing he can’t bear to lose. Bound to her always, his vows were clear: where Lou goes, he will go; and where she stays, he will stay.

Until death do they part.

FORMAT/INFO: Blood & Honey was published on September 1st, 2020 by HarperTeen. It is 528 pages divided into three parts and 47 chapters. It is told in first person, alternating between Lou and Reid. It is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.

are on the run from just about everyone in the kingdom. Lou’s mother, the witch queen Morgane, wants to kill her and complete her plan to destroy the royal family. Reid has betrayed the Chaussers, the order of witch hunters that protect the kingdom, in order to save his wife Lou. On top of that, Reid has discovered he is a rare male gifted with witchcraft, making him even more of an enemy to the kingdom. When Lou and Reid discover that Morgane is plotting an attack at the funeral of the Archbishop, the two realize they will need to call upon other allies in the kingdom to fight her. Unfortunately, those potential allies are reluctant at best to work with a former witch hunter. With time slipping away, Lou, Reid, and their friends must find a way to convince these groups to their side, before it's too late.

Oof, this review pains me to write. I LOVED last year’s Serpent & Dove. It was a book that took an absurd premise – a witch and a witch hunter end up in a marriage – and made it absolutely work. Lou and Reid were a great enemies-to-lovers romance, and the magic system, where a person must sacrifice something similar to achieve an effect (for instance, if you want temporary better hearing, you temporarily give yourself weaker eyesight), was intriguing. I went into Serpent & Dove thinking it was a standalone book, and was torn when I discovered a sequel was in the works (since then, the series has picked up for a full trilogy). Serpent & Dove was a great self-contained story, and I truly didn’t feel like I needed more.

Still, I went into Blood & Honey full of excitement to see some favorite characters return. What I got was unfortunately a letdown. Gone was the playful bickering of two characters who had come to love each other despite their differences. Instead, Lou and Reid had regressed into two characters that seemed to determined to bring up every reason they had to hate each other. I was especially perplexed by Reid. He had been a bit of a stick-in-the-mud in the first book, but by the end he had shown signs of loosening up. In this sequel, however, he was not only rigid, he was demanding and controlling – despite having fallen in love with free-spirited Lou. At every point he’s complaining about how evil magic is, how Lou needs to stop using it, how it’s abhorrent. He makes no attempts to understand it, despite it being a very fundamental part of his wife’s – and now his – existence.

Lou, unfortunately, deserves some of his criticism because for some reason (perhaps stemming from a dangerous magic used at the beginning of the book) she is becoming dangerously cold-hearted with the use of her magic. Lou has always been a ruthless character, but that always came from a place of survival. The idea now is that Lou is in danger of becoming her mother, the evil witch-queen Morgane, apparently just from the using magic at all. Blood & Honey gives you two characters who are both in the wrong, who suddenly make-up for no real reason heading into the final battle.

I’m focusing a lot on the characters in this review because they were so important to why I loved the first book to begin with. In general, well-written characters are the most-important thing for me in a book. Even the secondary characters felt a bit lackluster. So much time is given to the angst of Lou and Reid that the others aren’t given much to do (I could not begin to tell you why Beau is traveling with the group). There are some potentially interesting new characters introduced among Lou and Reid’s traveling companions, but once again they have relatively little to do on the page.

The plot itself is fine. Lou and Reid and the rest of their friends race against time to collect allies against Morgane. This requires Lou and Reid to be split for part of the book (which didn’t help the relationship aspect). They make some new alliances, but it didn’t feel like a ton really actually happened. I devoured Serpent & Dove in just under 24 hours; the sequel took me a full week. It didn’t help that there was no reintroduction of any of the secondary characters. No helpful aside of “this person is the prince” or “this is Lou’s best friend.” I spent the first few chapters cross-referencing with book one trying to remember who some of the characters were. If you’re diving into this one, best find a recap somewhere first.

CONCLUSION: Blood & Honey is an unfortunate misfire due to the characters. Lou and Reid have understandably different views on magic, and I appreciate that the characters might disagree on things given their different backgrounds. But the way they approached those differences felt like it came from a place of malice and distrust. Both characters proclaim internally that they love the other, but I almost never saw it on the page. If you are returning to the series hoping for more swoon-worthy romance, I’m afraid you’ll need to seek it elsewhere.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

After Sundown anthology edited by Mark Morris

Official Author Website
Order After Sundown over HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

Mark Morris (editor) has written and edited almost forty novels, novellas, short story collections, and anthologies. His script work includes audio dramas for Doctor Who, Jago & Litefoot and the Hammer Chillers series. 

FORMAT: After Sundown is 304 pages long and it contains twenty short stories. Published on October 20, 2020 by Flame Tree Press (a division of Simon & Schuster) it's available in an e-book and paperback format from most retailers.

With this anthology, Morris proves he has an eye for quality and his finger on the pulse of the horror genre. He has assembled a stellar line-up of some of the top names in the genre, as well as four new authors. After Sundown contains 20 original horror stories. While, officially, there's no common theme to the stories, I've found one. Most of them are gripping from the get-go. 

I especially liked the opening story Butterfly Island by C.J. Tudor  – it's fast, furious, and uncompromising. Set in the near future, it follows a rag-tag group of survivors looking for a haven on a seemingly deserted island. It's a horror anthology so it won't come as a surprise that things go wrong and people end up being blown up, sacrificed, and eaten. All in 19 pages! I loved the idea and the execution. And I want more.

Most of the stories are good reads in a disturbing way. Some dive deep into terror, some contain the supernatural and uncanny to further raise the stakes. Take Grady Hendrix, for example. In Murder Board, he plays with the Ouija Board theme. What if the board messes with people sitting over it and trying to send a subconscious message to the other? Expect unexpected.

Other standouts for me included Sarah Lotz’s  That's The Spirit about a fake psychic who may not be so fake after all, and Ramsey Campbell’s creepy Wherever You Look that defies categorization. 

After Sundown is a fine horror anthology. Filled with spine-chilling stories, it'll make your heart race nonstop. It proves horror has no boundaries. You can find it in both supernatural and non-supernatural stories. Highly recommended.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Reviewing classics: Doctor Rat by William Kotzwinkle

Official Author Website
Order Doctor Rat over here: USA/UK

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: American novelist William Kotzwinkle is a two-time recipient of the National Magazine Award for Fiction, a Book Critics Circle award nominee, a winner of the World Fantasy Award, the Prix Litteraire des Bouquinistes des Quais de Paris, the PETA Award for Children's Fiction, and he wrote the narration for Michael Jackson's E.T. record which won a special children's Grammy.

FORMAT: Originally published in 1976, Doctor Rat won World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1977. It's 220 pages long. 

OVERVIEW: I love animals. I've been vegetarian for twenty years, more than half of my life. I can easily enjoy epic battles and stories, in which humans suffer and die. But if you hurt a dog or a cat a rage ignites in me. I can't help it.

This book contains extensive and visceral scenes of animal experimentation and it pulls no punches. Whole species are destroyed. Despite using grotesque aesthetic and containing hilarious moments, it was a difficult read for me.

Kotzwinkle's imaginative fable features Doctor Rat, friend to man, and foe to all other species. Doctor Rat is an insane lab rat who revels in the despair and brutality of animal experiments. He's even composing songs in honor of gruesome experiments.

When animals start to prepare rebellion, Doc wants to squash it.

There's plenty of shifting perspectives in the book. The plot revolves around Doc Rat fighting against the rebellion, but we see parts of the plot told through the eyes of other animals and species. The ones near the end of the novel are heart-breaking and lyrical. Sentimental? Probably yes.

Obviously, there are oversimplifications and shortcuts in this book. Animals are beautiful, humans cruel and sadistic. The balance is off and the perspective is strongly biased. But it does deliver a message that can be interpreted in many ways.

Is it a life-changing book? I don't know. I've made plenty of adjustments to my life years ago and I do my best to minimize my negative impact on the environment. I guess, I still can improve in certain areas.

It's definitely a book that got more than one visceral reaction from me. It's devastating and powerfully written. It's a book that made me want to shout "To hell with Pacifism!" and build a bomb or, even better, hack a Death Star and wipe out all laboratories that experiment with animals from the face of the earth.

It's a brutal and maniacal satire. It's terrifying, heart-wrenching, grotesque, and sad. Usually, I plow through books like Duracell bunny on speed, but in this case, I had to make frequent pauses because it was a bit too much for me. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Interview with Mark de Jager, author of Infernal

Official author website
Preorder Infernal over here: USA / UK

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little bit about yourself. Feel free to brag. 

Well, when I’m not at work or writing (yes, writing is work but I meant the day job kind) I’m usually out walking, reading, gaming online, or eating. Food and drink bring me great joy and I might well have been a hobbit in a previous life. I live in southeast London with my wife Liz.

When and why have you decided to become an author? 

The idea that maybe I could actually write something that someone else would like to read only really took hold about eight years ago. I’ve always been a big fan of the fantasy genre and helped run a book review blog for a few years which helped demystify the process. 

How old were you when you first sat down to write a fantasy story or novel? 

About eight years younger that I am now! I’d dabbled with stuff before then, but mostly as background fluff for D&D and similar games that I was playing. The first time I sat down with the idea to write an actual continuous novel length story was late 2012ish, and it took me just over a year to finish it. That first attempt was a mess, but an invaluable learning experience. 

Tell us a little bit about your writing process. When and where do you write? Do you start with a character, an image, or an idea? Talk a little bit about how a novel “grows” for you. 

I work full time, so I had to make a conscious decision to carve out a time for myself. When it comes to writing, I start with the seed of the idea and try to expand on it. More often and not what I think is a cool idea is more like a cool scene. It has to be able to stand up to what I call the ‘And then?’ test. If it survives that, I’ll do a rough outline and start fleshing out the main character until I can get a sense of their ‘voice’. 

How often do you write? Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired? Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day? 

I discovered that I prefer writing early in the day, so I get up that bit earlier and park myself in the (incredibly supportive) Costa near my office for at least 45 mins before office hours, every weekday and with a target of 500 words. I know I should be saying ‘every day’, but life does intrude! Having that routine does help and I try and stick to it no matter what, but if I can’t, I try and make it up another time to hit my 500. It’s an achievable target, so never feels too daunting, and I get a buzz out of beating it. 

What’s the hardest thing for you during the whole “writing experience”? 

The self-doubt/impostor syndrome. No matter who you are, there’s a point where you just look at the manuscript and convince yourself it’s utter rubbish and destined only for the recycle bin. It’s like a runner hitting ‘the wall’ mid-race. 

What did you find easy, difficult, or surprising about the publishing process? 

Firstly, that the people within the industry are generally a great bunch. However, I found the pace that things move at a bit hard to understand at first, which may just be a by-product of the nature of my day job. The wheels turn, but at their own inexorable pace! 

What was your initial inspiration for The Chronicles of Stratus series? 

A Youtube clip of a family at a zoo. They were clearly on a day out and were at the tiger enclosure, trying to get it to react. The tiger wanted to get to them so badly, and they just stood there eating snacks and laughing at it, and I just really felt bad for it. 

You originally published Infernal in 2016. Is the republished version exactly the same or was the story tweaked in any meaningful way? 

It’s largely the same manuscript, except that this time it’ll be followed by the rest of his story. 

What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any? 

It’s written in a first-person point of view, which has its own challenges. I could only tell the story from Stratus’ perspective, which meant that I had to be well and truly inside his headspace, which was a bit of a rollercoaster given his inhuman nature. 

If you had to describe Infernal in 3 adjectives, which would you choose? 

Fresh, gory, and darkly humorous. 

Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers will sympathize with them? 

Stratus is a conflicted character- he knows he isn’t human, and he knows he’s being hunted, but he doesn’t know what he is, who’s chasing him, or why. The world that it’s set in isn’t a friendly one, and despite his strengths, he’s actually quite vulnerable. 

A tricky question - the main characters in any book are commonly considered a reflection of the author. Is this true in Infernal? 

I reserve my right to remain silent on that one! 

Infernal is dark and violent but also darkly hilarious. I loved your grim humor and Stratus’ lack of social graces as it added levity to the narrative. In your opinion, what’s the place of humor in dark fantasy? How exactly would you describe the tone of Infernal? 

I’m glad to hear that! I think that humour definitely has a place in fantasy, and beyond. It’s always been part of the human coping mechanism, even if it’s sometimes very subjective and a product of the circumstances people find themselves in. The real difficulty comes in striking the right balance and keeping it true to the setting. Stratus was a great foil simply because he is so utterly different to whose sensibilities he offends. 

Would you say that the Chronicles of Stratus series follows tropes or kicks them? 

I like to think it gives them a bit of a kicking. Nothing too serious, maybe a bruised rib or two. Tropes should like a good glass of wine, complimenting the meal but not overpowering it. 

Alright, we need the details on the awesome cover. Who's the artist/designer, and can you give us a little insight into the process for coming up with it? How does it tie to the book? 

I like that Rebellion have used the same studio, Head Design, that did the original cover so they had the original notes and background to the story to hand. There are a number of factors they had to take into account, but I think they really knocked it out of the park. Each element ties into something within the story and brings it all back to Stratus and his struggle to understand himself. 

What’s your publishing Schedule for 2020/2021? 

As at today’s date, Infernal is on schedule for publication in November, with Firesky to follow in Spring 2021. If you like the cover for Infernal, you’re going to love Firesky’s! 

Do you have any other authorial goals that you are striving towards that you want to talk about? 

Up to now, getting Firesky into print and telling the rest of Stratus’ story was my number one goal. I’m currently working on another project for Rebellion but also have a few really fun ideas I’d like to tackle, including venturing into Horror territory. 

Can you name three books you adore as a reader, but that make you feel inadequate as a writer/in awe of the craft? 

I’m a big fan of Tolkien and his vision first and foremost so I’ll put Lord of the Rings down as one. Raymond E Feist’s Magician blew my mind the first time I read it, and I read it again last year and it did it again. 

David Gemmell’s Druss the Legend definitely takes pride of place alongside them. 

Can you please provide an out-of-context quote from the book to get readers pumped to read Infernal? 

“How in god’s name do you accidentally eat someone?” 

Finally, can you tell us a couple of fun facts about yourself that are not already available on the internet? 

I make my own sausages, and am terrified of karaoke. 

Thank you so much for agreeing to this conversation, Mark! We greatly appreciate your time and thoughts.

No problem, it was a pleasure! 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

A Time For Witches by Craig Schaefer (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Pre-order A Time For Witches over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Long Way Down 
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Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Right To The Kill
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Black Tie Required
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Ghosts Of Gotham
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Loot
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Insider

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Craig Schaefer was born in Chicago and wanted to be a writer since a very young age. His writing was inspired by Elmore Leonard, Richard Stark, Clive Barker & H. P. Lovecraft. After reaching his 40th birthday he decided to give in to his passion and since then has released twelve novels in the last three years. He currently lives in North Carolina and loves visiting museums and libraries for inspiration.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Once upon a time, Lionel Page didn’t believe in magic.

That was before his odyssey to New York City, and the quest for a lost manuscript that ended in mysteries, murder, and the buried secrets of his own past. He used to be a professional skeptic. Now he’s a witch in the service of Hekate, chasing myths across the heartland of a haunted America.

The reappearance of a hero from Greek legend is just one sign of the coming storm. There are Amazons on the highway, and death-spirits lurking in cheap roadside motels. And Madison, Lionel’s lover, is on a mission of her own. A mission, fueled by vengeance, to slay a man who can’t be killed: her ex-husband. If Lionel doesn’t catch up with her in time, neither of them will survive.

In Ghosts of Gotham, Lionel Page opened his eyes to the real world. Now he has to fight to protect it.

A Time For Witches is divided over fifty-five chapters, and an afterword. Narration is in the third-person, via Lionel Page and Madison Hannah. This is the second volume of the Secret History/Ghosts Of Gotham series.

October 14, 2020 will mark the North American paperback and e-book publication of A Time Of Witches and it is being self-published by the author. Cover design is by James T. Egan.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: A Time For Witches is the direct sequel to Ghosts Of Gotham, and not the standalone that Craig has previously written and spoken about (you can access that via his Patreon page). The story begins just over a month after the events of New York City where Lionel Page found out about the hidden world, his own heritage and who Regina Dunkle is. He also met Madison Hannah over there and his life changed UN. Now that he's been alerted to the real nature of the world, he has (kind of) accepted Hekate's offer of becoming a witch in her service.

finds himself on the road as he seeks to find why things ended the way they did in Montauk. However along the way, a most mysterious murder attempt soon puts him on the trail of an enigmatic entrepreneur who might not be to blame. Lionel finds a new mortifying mystery that forces him to lean back on his journalistic skills and soon find himself in another sinkhole of murder and carnage. Things become more complicated as his target seems to be just ahead of him however he has to also help out innocent folks. This second surprising chapter in the Secret History universe is a wild, action packed ride into the annals of Greek mythology and small town America while showcasing all of the charismatic characters and plot twists, that one has come to expect from Craig Schaefer's works.

This book heavily plays up its Greek mythological roots and while I loved that aspect in book 1, I was even more ecstatic with its in-depth usage towards all aspects of the plot of this sequel! I won't spoil anything about what facets the author utilizes but here's a small hint (we get a quick look into Madison's past). For folks who have read Ghosts Of Gotham, they will know exactly where things might be headed. There's also the addition of the Amazons which was a nice twist and I think many readers will enjoy the explanation (about their origins) provided by Craig Schaefer. Safe to say, it fits in with the mythological roots and the author also manages to weave it with the life and hardships of common Americans.

This book unlike the first one doesn't have a gothic atmosphere, it’s more of a mystery thriller with terrific action sequences as well as some nice glimpses of horror (seriously there's one scene is the book which rivals the best of Alien & Ring in its sheer creepiness). The story unfolds like a proper mystery wherein our protagonists are introduced to the central mystery and then alongside the readers, go forth trying to resolve it. I'm a fan of the mystery genre and this book was a solid effort considering all the topics that it encompasses. The characterization as with any Schaefer title is a highlight and here we get two protagonists who while having a bit of grey within them, are still admirable as any other heroic ones. Lionel and Madison are characters who while being heroic are very much normal people (Madison less so) but Lionel is very much a commononer who’s trying to find his footing while constantly having to expand his horizons with new information.

Lionel’s everyday man approach to things was a refreshing outlook as it fit the genre needs as well as kept the plot on an even keel. Secondly Madison is a very complex character and within this book, we are given a small glimpse into the horrific events in her past. This made me want to read more about her and I hope if the author writes more sequels, he explores that as well. Madison's reformation began in The Ghosts Of Gotham and it continues with some vital steps in this sequel. She's a scene stealer and her action sequences in a hotel are one of the highlights of this book. The dialogue is smooth and the pace of the plot is even throughout (at no point does it lag). We get a mystery and then the characters get to solving it. The process was a straightforward one and in respect to Craig's other titles, was different enough so as to make this series stand out (as compared to the Charlie McCabe series which is the closest to this one but has more of the action-oriented feel to it.

I know the author has mentioned that this series of books is not connected to his First Story saga, but I feel that with the common connection to the Lady In Red, there might be a teeny weeny one which might get revealed later. Overall this book had a lot of connections to Greek mythology and so for those who are decently versed, will get to enjoy things a bit more.

For me, the only negative about this book was that there’s a group of villains who are seemingly underutilized. I can’t reveal their names or who they are, but you’ll know when you come across them. Their leader is a big name and so I was expecting a bit more. However this observation is completely subjective and other readers might not find any such deficiencies.

CONCLUSION: A Time For Witches is a sequel that takes on what’s been established by its predecessor and then proceeds to blow everything apart by injecting action, more Greek mythology and some terrific touches of horror. I thoroughly enjoyed this sequel and can’t wait to read what Lionel, Madison do next. Whatever Craig envisions next, I’ll be there cheering them on all the way.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Invisible Life Of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab (reviewed by Caitlin Grieve)

Official Author Website
Pre-order The Invisible Life Of Addie LaRue over HERE(USA) or HERE (UK) 
Read Lukasz's review of The Invisible Life Of Addie LaRue

is the #1 NYT, USA, and Indie bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and This Savage Song. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured by EW and The New York Times, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and been optioned for TV and Film. The Independent calls her the “natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” and touts her “enviable, almost Gaimanesque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones.”

FORMAT/INFO: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue was published October 6th, 2020 by Tor. It is 448 pages divided into seven parts and 108 chapters. It is told in third person from Addie and Henry's POV. It is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Addie LaRue is tired of living a small life. She lives in a tiny village in France in the early 1700s, and she’s about to be forced into a marriage she doesn’t want. In an act of desperation, she prays to the dark – and the dark answers. One hastily made bargain later, Addie can live forever. The catch? No one remembers her once she leaves their sight. Addie spends 300 years traveling the world, learning how to live with her curse, resisting the dark god’s temptation to give in and release her soul to him. Until one day, in 2014 in New York, Addie meets a boy who actually remembers her.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is the kind of book that invites you to sink into it and lose yourself. It is not a fast-paced book, but it draws you in. Sometimes with slower books, I have to give myself goals – get to the end of this chapter and we’ll see if we need to take a break. With Addie LaRue, I lost track of how many chapters I’d read, was never tempted to look at the progress bar. I was thoroughly entranced by Addie and her story.

The tale jumps back and forth between Addie in 2014 and Addie at various points in her life before. How she met the dark god (that she comes to call Luc), her early days living with her curse, various tragedies and successes she had in her life, and so forth. Those alternate with “present day” Addie as she tries to understand why this young man named Henry is immune to her curse. Henry has his own story to tell, and his POV eventually enters the mix of chapters as well. It’s all one seamless story, and I was never rushing to get back to one section or the other because it just flows together so well.

But even this slower paced romance has an air of tension to it, because you know as the reader that something is going to go wrong, nothing can quite be this perfect. It’s a feeling only reinforced as small bits of ominous foreshadowing begin to drop into the story. It made the second-half of the book even more engrossing, because you want to know what’s coming, want to know the secret(s).

This tale is a love story, but that isn’t all it is. It’s about how we interact with the world, how we want to be perceived and how we connect. Both Addie’s story and Henry’s play on this theme and explore the big and small ways we want to be remembered. Even something as simple as being called by your name can have a huge impact, something The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue won’t let you forget. It’s about loneliness and wanting to belong and wanting to live and the prices we pay to get what we think we want in life.

There was one thing about this book that bugged me a little (and is a personal preference) but the prose could repeat certain phrases in a way I found took me out of the story. To paraphrase, it was along the lines of “Addie won’t know for ten more years, but…” In some ways it’s a necessary turn of phrase for contextualizing Addie’s place in both personal and world history, but the repetition jarred me slightly. To be fair, the whole story almost feels like a modern-day fairy tale in the way it is written, so this likely won’t bump against others.

That, perhaps, is the best way to describe The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. It’s a modern-day fairy tale, a cautionary tale to be careful what you wish for. But it’s also about one woman’s drive to LIVE, to see the world, to keep discovering new things. Addie may be frustrated by her curse, may be lonely, may even be tired some days, but there is always something in the world she hasn’t seen yet, and she’s determined to seek it out.

CONCLUSION: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is a story of love and connection. It keeps a slow but steady pace that will keep pulling you forward to see how these lives play out until the last final page.

NOTE: This review was originally posted on Catlin's website Realms Of My Mind
Sunday, October 11, 2020

Tower of Mud and Straw by Yaroslav Barsukov

Official author info: After leaving his ball and chain at the workplace, Yaroslav Barsukov goes on to write stories that deal with things he himself, thankfully, doesn’t have to deal with. He's a software engineer and a connoisseur of strong alcoholic beverages—but also, surprisingly, a member of SFWA and Codex (how did that happen?). At some point in his life, he’s left one former empire only to settle in another. 

Format: Tower of Mud and Straw is a serialized novella published by Metaphorosis (read or listen to part 1 here, for free). The book will be available in e-book and paperback editions in February 2021.

Overview: Minister Shea Ashcroft had a good, successful life. If only he were a spineless careerist, he could enjoy it for a long time. And we wouldn’t read about his adventures. Refusing his queen’s order to gas a crowd of protesters got him banished to oversee the construction of the biggest anti-airship tower in history. 

To make the progress and keep the tower stable, its builders use mysterious Drakiri technology. Some have no issue with it, others are afraid of it. Shea’s queen sees the tower as her legacy while Drakiri believe it’ll end the world. Shea’s assignment gets dangerous and emotionally taxing. Someone wants him dead. His love life gets complicated. Everyone around has secrets. Memories he’d rather erase hunt him. He has to travel to the origin of the species. All of that in four acts.

The characterization here is superb, with all the players distinct and well-written. The story, divided into four acts, feels complete and well thought out. Sure, fans of detailed world-building will crave more context, but we get more than enough to enjoy the story, anyway. Barsukov finds a good balance of plot and subplot and weaves a few storylines in the narrative. We learn a lot about Shea’s past, his current situation, and motivations of secondary characters without having to get through their excessive backstories. I found relationships between characters engaging, although I also found the romance lacking in the build-up and emotional truth.

The story tackles themes of discrimination, cultural differences, and destructive politics and does it with sensitivity. The narrative alternates between introspective moments, revelatory of character and place, and dramatic action and intrigue. It doesn’t strike a perfect balance, but it’s close to it. Barsukov’s prose is elegant and restrained without being fussy or lifeless. I found his action sequences suspenseful, and Shea’s introspection deep and convincing. 

Tower of Mud and Straw is a fine example of a novella format - it tells a complete, well thought out story, in less than 200 pages. I wouldn’t mind learning more about Drakiri and their technology or getting more insight into cultural differences, but I’m satisfied with what I got.
Thursday, October 8, 2020

Exclusive Cover Reveal: A World Broken by Carol A. Parks

They say that long ago, the world was unbroken. That there was no war—nor poverty, nor disease, nor famine. That the gods themselves walked among mortals—choosing some to be their instruments of peace and justice among the races. They even say that there was no winter. 

Then, it all fell apart!

I am so thrilled to finally be able to reveal the cover to A World Broken, the first book in my new epic fantasy series, The Chronicles of the Lady Sar.

This book has been a long time coming, in several ways. First of all, the story has been rattling around my head for over a decade. It’s morphed significantly in that time (and has also been re-written a couple times), but it’s been around conceptually and in some written form since before Heretic Gods, my debut series, was even a seed in my mind.

Second, it was a long time in coming because I was supposed to publish it about 5-6 months before now. As it turns out, 2020 not only majorly screwed up my timeline, but it was a lot harder to switch gears from Heretic Gods to this series than I anticipated…and I confess I found myself just a little encumbered by perfection paralysis.

Nonetheless, the time is here at last. A World Broken will be released October 29th in e-book, with paperback to follow shortly thereafter. It has an absolutely gorgeous cover with artwork and design by Brit K. Caley, who also designed the covers for my Heretic Gods books.

But before we get there, a little about the book.

Unlike Heretic Gods, which is a dark sword & sorcery/adventure fantasy series that gets a bit more epic the further in you go, The Chronicles of the Lady Sar is epic fantasy in the classic sense, in both scale and scope—with a twist.

This story was born when I started to brainstorm an epic fantasy and became more interested in the backstory than the story I was brainstorming. That then led to the entire concept of turning a classic epic fantasy trope on its head—I think you’ll recognize it: (cue deep gravelly voice and dramatic music): “a long, long time ago, the world was forever broken, but now an old evil has risen again…”

Except, instead of writing about the old evil arising once more, I’m telling the story of the original events—how that first golden age of peace and abundance was shattered—for this particular secondary world, anyway. And in this particular secondary world, the world and story begin in a truly utopic time: as the blurb at the start of this post asserts, there is no war, no disease, no famine, no winter—and no poverty, because, in fact, they don’t even have money. (By the way—try writing a story without war or money idioms. You don’t realize how much they litter language until you try to avoid them.)

That blurb is written from the perspective of someone millennia in the future, looking back on the legend of this world. Here’s the rest of the blurb:

The five races of Erets have lived in one accord since the inception of the world. But now, the seeds of hostility are growing due to a dispute over an innocuous plant, and three people find themselves entangled in affairs they would have once found unbelievable.

An advocate—trained to promote mutual understanding between the races—must confront the unimaginable prospect that peace is out of reach.

A priest—one who refuses to bend the knee to the gods he serves—finds that the only vow to those gods he has made might be harder to keep than he expects.

And a seeker—a gentle warrior sent to uncover the truth behind an unthinkable murder—stumbles into a labyrinth of lies that could shatter the world.

These three must save the world that they know. But are they already too late?


Concept aside, what else will you find in this series? 

True to my favorite story-telling, this is a character-centric story: while the concept plays with a classic fantasy plot trope, this story revolves around the development of three characters who will later (in this imaginary world) be seen as legends. It turns out, in the “true story,” they’re just mostly normal (as normal as one gets in a world with magic, green people, and no money, anyway) people who happen to be in the right place at the right time—or wrong place at the wrong time, depending on how you look at it. And it’s less about whether they save the world but how they weather the storms that having to save the world brings (pun intended…I’m so sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Partially because these characters are “noble good,” (in a rather dramatic change from my previous series), and partially because of the world the series starts in, this is also hopeful fantasy. This is especially true of book one, which is really setting the stage for what is to come, but also the rest of the series.

Also true to my form, there is magic. Yay! While the magic system isn’t as scientific feeling as that from Heretic Gods, it’s still a nuanced or “hard” magic system—with rules and restrictions and all that fun stuff that I love—based around the literal use of emotions to do magic.

There are also fantasy races. Five of them, in fact, only one of which is human. They’re all made up by moi—no elves, dwarves, and goblins here. The magic system is linked intrinsically to the five races and their patron gods—who, by the way, also have lesser deity representatives that physically supervise mortal governments. I mean, you gotta keep those mortals in line and all, or you never know what they might do…

And, then, there’s the romance. I actually prefer to call it a love story rather than a romance, because there’s definitely not much in the way of “romance,” in the typical sense, in A World Broken. You will, however, find a priest who has taken a vow of celibacy falling slowly for a woman he can’t have, who also just so happens to begin to develop feelings for him as well. Oh, it’s terrible, it really is. One day I’ll tell the story of why I wrote these characters this way and how it completely backfired on me.

However, you’re probably not here for more anecdotes. You’re mostly here because you wanted to see this cover you were promised, aren’t you? So, with no further ado
It seemed rather unfair to me that I got to ramble on about this book for the purposes of showing you the cover, and the actual artist gets to say nothing. So, I asked Brit if she had anything she wanted to add, and here’s what she had to say:

When Carol first pitched her cover idea for A World Broken, I couldn't wait to get started. It sounded so intriguing and beautiful with highlighting not the characters but the structures they live in. Researching ways to bring this world to life was challenging but also fun. I'm so honored to be part of this project and can't wait for book 2!”

As usual, Brit has brought the atmosphere of this book to life visually. The structure on the front is a temple—and after I gave her the scene where it was described as possible inspiration for a cover, she came back with a concept that was even better than my description, so I updated it to match!
The scene set on the cover evokes a classic epic fantasy feel, but the mood is almost whimsical. Her “painterly” style brings a soft beauty that really captures the world—with a touch of melancholy in the lone figure overlooking it all. It’s perfect for this book, and I adore the way it turned out.

I hope you adore not only the way the cover but also the way the book turned out. There’s a ton of fantastic darker fantasy out there, with angsty and sometimes grey characters—as I myself have written! But if you’re looking for something with a more hopeful tone, character-driven with honest-to-goodness good characters that you can be terrified about how I’ll try to break in subsequent books, world-building that includes hard magic and made-up fantasy races, physically present deities with maybe mysterious motives, and a slooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow burn, sweet and tortuous (non-)romance, then I hope you’ll give A World Broken a try.

Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Carol A. Park

is the author of The Heretic Gods trilogy and the upcoming series The Chronicles of the Lady Sar. She lives in the Lancaster, PA area with her husband and two young and active boys–which is another way of saying, “adorable vampires.” She loves reading (duh), writing fantasy novels (double-duh), music, movies, and other perfectly normal things like parsing Hebrew verbs and teaching herself new dead languages. She has two master's degrees in the areas of ancient near eastern studies and languages.

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