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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

GUEST POST: Writing A Good Villain by Gerrard Cowan

Fantasy novels need proper villains. Or do they? What is a villain these days, and does every story need one central, unifying enemy?

Villains in science fiction and fantasy come in many shapes and sizes, but one thing is certain: these days, they are rarely black and white characters. It’s pretty unusual now to find a totally evil warlord or dark wizard or whatever pitted against a band of merry good guys, at least among the big names in the genre.

The enemy in today’s fantasy books tends to fall into one of three broad categories: an interesting, perhaps conflicted, representative of dark forces; a misguided person, who sees his or her actions as part of a greater good; or a terrible, irreconcilable evil, but one who is just one dark force among many greyer elements.

The first category is perhaps the most common, and refers to those villains who know they are villains, want to be villains, are cool with being villains, and yet have been built into interesting and well-rounded characters. They don’t simply sit in a dark tower, chewing over their machinations. I think the Falconer in Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard sequence is a case in point. He’s not the most likeable wizard ever created, but he has great depth.

The second category covers those who come to evildoing along a kind of crooked path: they see their actions as part of a greater good, at least initially. Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader might slot into this group.

Finally, there are the irredeemable, straight-up bad guys, who nevertheless form just one thread in an intricate tapestry of badness. The Others in A Song of Ice and Fire are always hovering in the background, threatening general destruction on Westeros, yet there are so many other brilliantly twisted and dark characters in the foreground that it’s difficult to know who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad’.

These categories are pretty broad-brush, and I’m sure I’m missing out on other excellent examples, but that’s not really the point. What matters is this: it just isn’t enough to have a simplistic Big Bad. People want their villains to have broad personalities and varied motivations, because that’s what it’s like in the real world.

This makes the process of creating villains that much more challenging. You want them to be interesting, with maybe a bit of light mixed in with the dark. In fact, you have to take exactly the same approach you adopt when forming your ‘good’ characters. People should be able to imagine them existing in the real world (within reason). You might want to base aspects of them on people you’ve met – erm, on second thoughts, that might not be such a good idea. But they need to feel real.

Besides, this makes things more fun for the writer. If all the reader expected was a two-dimensional, scenery-chewing, dark-hearted villain, you could more or less use the same one in every novel. But your enemy is unique to your book, allowing you an infinite range of possibilities. OK, it’s harder work to flesh them out, but it’s so much more satisfying when you’re done.

In many ways, creating a solid villain is much easier than the opposite task: creating a believable hero or heroine. It’s very easy to end up with a simpering, angelic central character, who in no way behaves like a real person. In fact, it can be more difficult to inject a little badness into a good character than to do the opposite. Again, though, it’s an enjoyable process.

I think what really matters is tension. There should be tension within all your characters, but there should also be a fundamental tension at the heart of the novel, which drives the narrative. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a tension between ‘good’ characters and ‘bad’ characters: it could be between a society in decline and one on the rise, or a world of rules and a world of magic, etc. At any rate, today’s fantasy readers want – and expect – their characters to have depth.

Official Author Website
Order The Machinery HERE
Read chapter one of The Machinery HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Gerrard Cowan is a writer and editor from Derry, in the North West of Ireland. His debut fantasy novel, The Machinery, is out now from HarperVoyager UK. It is the first in a trilogy.

His first known work was a collection of poems on monsters, written for Halloween when he was eight; it is sadly lost to civilisation. He can be found at his website, on FaceBook and is @GerrardCowan on Twitter. Gerrard lives in South East London with his wife Sarah and their two children.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Interview with C. T. Phipps (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To start with, could you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, what experience you went through in finding a publisher, how you ended up with Ragnarok Publications, and anything else you’d like to share about yourself?

CTP: Oh, I think I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first (terrible) book when I was six-years-old and I’ve been inspired to try to do it ever since. I didn’t make a serious attempt until I was done with college and I made quite a few mistakes on my way to finding a publisher. If I were to give any recommendations to fledgling authors, it’s to seek out other authors for their advice and attend seminars.

Don’t try to do this on your own but learn from the voices of experiences. I owe a lot to finding very helpful friends amongst already-published authors who helped me refine my craft before they introduced me to Permuted Press, Ragnarok Publications, and Jim Bernheimer (owner of Amber Cove Publishing and writer of Confessions of a D-List Supervillain).

Q] “The Rules Of Supervillainy” is a straightforward comedic urban fantasy book, while “Esoterrorism”, is a much darker urban fantasy-thriller hybrid. Can you tell us how & why there was such drastic shift between books?

CTP: I think the difference between the books is a good illustration of the nature of the writing process and how it can be more than you expect it to be. When I set down to write Esoterrorism after several other attempts at writing the Great American Fantasy Novel TM, I had the idea it would be my big epic work. It was the one I was focused on making it my “signature” piece.

While doing so, I became mentally drained and decided to write something just for fun. You know, just to clear my brain so I could work on Esoterrorism some more. The Rules of Supervillainy was the result, being, essentially, a love-letter to everything I loved about superhero comics and a sort of madcap comedic romp.

It was written before the Avengers movie which makes someone’s early comment on the manuscript (It’s like superheroes written by Joss Whedon) all the more funny. It was just pure entertainment and nothing I really expected to be a big success. Still, every time I shared it with someone, people loved it and told me I should publish it so I decided to give it a try alongside Esoterrorism.

Much to my surprise, I found out it was every bit as popular, if not more so, than Esoterrorism now I have two very different but awesome groups of fans. It’s given me encouragement to follow my instincts and write whatever genres I feel inspired to try my hand at. Next year, I’m going to be releasing my dark fantasy novel, Wraith Knight, for example, which is going to be entirely different from both.

Q] Esoterrorism is the first volume in the Red Room series. Could you give us a progress report on the next book, offer any details about the sequel and outline your plans for the series as a whole?

CTP: The sequel to Esoterrorism, Eldritch Ops, is done and already set for publication in 2016. It follows series protagonist, Derek Hawthorne, as he (badly) adjusts to being one of the House’s Committee. It’s a bit like being a board member of the Illuminati and he’s less than pleased by the moral compromises and ruthless decisions he has to make. Given an opportunity to do some fieldwork after discovering his ex-partner is still alive (albeit as a vampire), he leaps at the opportunity to determine if there's a conspiracy within the world's most powerful conspiracy.

Derek has to determine whether it’s possible to reform the House as a force for good or whether the organization has become so obsessed with power that the only option is to try and tear it down. I have a lot of fun examining the politics and world-building of my setting as well as Derek’s past as an operative. We also get some good developments on fan favorites Shannon, Lucy, and Penny.

I have the third volume of the book, Operation: Otherworld, in manuscript form and that will be the focus for all of the major events in the series to come to a head. After that? Who knows. It may be a trilogy or it may turn into an ongoing series. I’m still undecided.

Q] You also have a sort of comedic superhero book out called The Rules Of Supervillainy. What was the inception for this story and what was it about this idea that you HAD to write it?

CTP: I like to think of The Rules of Supervillainy as part of an emerging genre called "capepunk." Capepunk books are those prose superhero books which attempt to seriously examine the underpinnings of superhero worlds both silly and serious. Because book series tend to be finite creator-owned content, they can have serious changes and developments which comic books don't have as serialized corporate-owned IP.

The first capepunk book was, IMHO, Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman and it’s gone on to inspire many other similar works. I, myself, was inspired by works like Marion G. Harmon's Wearing the Cape, Confessions of a D-List Supervillain by Jim Bernheimer, and Peter Clines' Ex-Heroes.

What actually inspired The Rules of Supervillainy and the Supervillainy Saga as a whole was my thinking about the mechanics of a comic book world from the person on the ground. One thing I loved about the early seasons of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer is they took an irreverant post-modern look at what it would be like to live in a world where every horror movie was true. Being an ardent lover of comic books and superheroes, I had the idea of sticking a character who was as familiar with superhero tropes and comic book geekery as the average fan into a world where he was one.

Gary was born and raised in a world where men can fly, women can punch through walls, and a guy stalking the streets in a black cape is "normal." Analyzing what sort of place that it is and how this came to be seemed like it would be really fun to right. I also decided to make him a (reluctant) supervillain rather than a superhero since we'd seen everymen become heroes in the Marvel movie franchise. I was interested in seeing how the reverse would be true, basically Scarface meets Spiderman. Gary is a little nicer than Tony Montana, though.

Wittier too.

Q] In the preface for The Rules Of Supervillainy, you very clearly wonder about the world of superheroes and as to why anyone would want to be a villain? Yet you then explore how Gary Karkofsky decides to become one? What made you choose Gary to explore this dichotomy?

CTP: To go with my earlier Spiderman example, Peter Parker's initial reaction to being bitten by a radioactive spider wasn't to fight crime. No, his initial reaction in the comics was to decide to use his newfound powers to get rich. It took the death of his Uncle Ben to become devoted to the principles of "with great power comes great responsibility."

For me, I'm cynical enough to believe the majority of people in the world would be interested in using their abilities for self-interest before anything resembling the Batman's heroic resolve to rid the world of crime. I love crime fiction and over-the-top stories of colorful gangsters so it was interesting to see if I could combine those to do a "supervillain" origin story the same way so many superhero movies are hero origins.

The thing is, I play with the concept a bit as while Gary is evil enough to be a wannabe bank-robber and thief, he's not quite bad enough to be a monster like so many of his world's villains. More Catwoman than Joker.

Q] What are your plans for Gary and rest of the cast of TROSV? Can you tell us about the The Games Of Supervillainy and the series beyond?

CTP: Well, I'm pleased to say The Rules of Supervillainy audio book is coming out this month and The Games of Supervillainy is coming out early this November. I have plans for two books a year at present. The Supervillainy Saga books are extremely easy to write since I’ve got my entire childhood and seventy years of comics to draw from.

As for The Games of Supervillainy’s plot, it picks up immediately after the events of Rules, dealing with the fact Falconcrest City has become overrun with zombies and an evil cult. Gary’s wife, Mandy, has since gone on to become a superhero in her own right and the tensions between the couple will be a focus of the book as they try to figure out if a marriage can survive being on opposite sides of the superhero/villain divide.

Further books will get into showing the world going through a transition as the setting’s people try to figure out just what sort of world they want to live in. Do they want idealistic superheroes like Ultragod (the setting’s resident Superman) or something more vicious and brutal (like the Extreme). Gary as the outsider to all of this will serve as a wildcard and we get to see him develop fully into his role as a supervillain in a world which is well and truly sick of them.

We’re also going to get some fun character development from Cindy (a.k.a Red Riding Hood), Gabrielle (a.k.a Ultragoddess), and Diabloman—people who have been effected by Gary’s good-natured antiheroism. Some will get better and some will get worse. Some will even fall in love.

Q] You have used this quote by R. Chandler in one of your articles: “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man.” Please tell us what about it struck you and how did you utilize it in your writing (if any?)

CTP: I think, for me, Raymond Chandler's quote encapsulates something I love about my writing, which is the fact my (anti)heroes journey into gritty and dark worlds not of their own making. Gary, Derek, and my upcoming Wraith Knight hero Jacob are all flawed protagonists with qualities that would make them villains in other series. However, at the end of the day, we're walking through their shoes and we understand where they're coming from. The world around them is also far more corrupt and entrenched in its troubles than anything they bring to it.

For me, I like to write about heroes who don't necessarily have the ability to slay the dragon and rescue the Princess. In Esoterrorism, the House is a ruthless and corrupt institution which is still (arguably) a necessary evil to protect society from the supernatural. In The Rules of Supervillainy, we have genuine superheroes but they seem to be overwhelmed by the endless numbers of bad guys who just keep popping up. In Wraith Knight, we have a world which is full of all the corrupt institutions of real-life Medieval history AND supernatural evils akin to orcs and Ringwraiths.

My heroes are never cowardly but they're sometimes self-serving and rarely have the answers to solving problems. They muddle their way through the complex social and moral ills of their setting as best they can. What they do which separates them from the rest of us is they meet it head on and that makes them heroes, whether they're bad or good.

Q] When you start out writing, do you have an overall plan for the book? How much of the plot do you plan out? Or to quote George R.R. Martin, “are you a Gardener or an Architect” when it comes to your writing?

CTP: It depends, really, on the work. I am definitely a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants author when I write Gary and that results in quite a few rewrites as I have to herd the cats my main characters turn out to be. Wraith Knight is a very structured sort of story and I know exactly where each little piece goes. Esoterrorism is more of a mixture of the two, conversations being freeform and the general story being carefully plotted out.

In general, I like to think that I am more of a Gamemaster (to reference Dungeons and Dragons). I create the set up for my characters and then I imagine how they would react to it. When you have characters that are really well-developed in your mind, I believe they tend to take the initiative with plotting and interaction.

Q] Please tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination and inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right. Similarly, are there any current authors you would like to give a shout out to?

CTP: If I had to thank any particular author for setting me on my present path, it would definitely be Jim Butcher for the fact The Dresden Files were the first books which made me think, "I could do this." I just loved the blender of sticking together snark, a hodge-podge of mythology, 1st person narration, oddball characters, and humor with a very serious world. Esoterrorism also owes a bit to Charles Stross as he created a semi-serious take on spies with The Laundry Files which included more than a few "take that" shots at James Bond-style superspies. I wrote Esoterrorism as a counterpoint to TLF as a result, saying, essentially, "What's wrong with James Bond-style superspies?"

In terms of local influences, I would like to, again, give a shout-out to Tim Marquitz (Demon Squad, The Blood War Trilogy), Jim Bernheimer (Prime Suspects: A Clone Detective Mystery, Confessions of a D-List Supervillain), Rob J. Hayes (The Ties That Bind trilogy), Kenny Soward (GnomeSaga), and Seth Skorkowsky (Tales of the Black Raven, Valducan). These authors have not only been influences in me and good friends but I enjoy they’re work too.

Q] I believe you have a fantasy series coming out later this year or early next year as well. Can you talk to us about it and what will be your elevator pitch for it?

CTP: Wraith Knight follows Jacob Riverson, an epic hero of the past, who wakes up two-hundred-years later after his death and discovers he’s a Wraith Knight. A sort of legendary monster created by the King Below to be generals to his armies of monsters and created from the enslaved souls of heroes. The King Below is dead, albeit not exactly gone either, and his armies are scattered.

The heroes who defeated him have since used their defeat of the King Below to justify building an empire which is attempting to instill the values they hold into all of the formerly enslaved followers of the King Below as well as other “heathens.” Jacob gets roped into assisting a rebel against their reign, Regina Whitetremor, despite the fact it’s not exactly a straight contest between good and evil. It also may be a road to hell as the King Below’s ghost encourages him to take up the mantle of Dark Lord.

Maybe fantasy peoples need a Devil to blame everything on.

Q] Amidst all your writing, you also actively review books, movies and more on your blog page. How do you find the time to do all of it? Which recent reads have caught your eye that you would like to spotlight for our readers?

CTP: I find a lot of reviewers make the mistake of trying to take on too much at a time. It's understandable if your blog or review site is your life but if it's a hobby, it's important to pace yourself. One of the more interesting criticisms I received was someone mentioning I didn't do very many reviews of stuff I didn't like and that caused them to question my integrity. My response was, "Well, I tend to review stuff I like since I don't really want to waste my time writing about stuff I think stinks."

If I had to recommend some recent reads, aside from those authors I thanked above, then I could be here all day. I would, however, like to recommend Devan Sagliani and Shana Festa if you like horror and zombies. If you love dark fantasy, like I do, then check out Mark Lawrence and Scott Lynch. If you want a fun urban fantasy romp then I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest you check out Craig Schaefer. I won’t lie to you, I also go to Fantasy Book Critic to get a lot of reviews about stuff I want to check out too.


Q] In closing, do you have any last thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

CTP: Read what you love, write what you love, and make no apologies.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

DAYS OF THE DEAD BLOG TOUR STOP: The Social Writer by Gail Z. Martin

Fantasy Book Critic is extremely excited to be a part of Gail Z. Martin's blog tour Days of the Dead, especially since today is Halloween!

Gail Z. Martin is the author of the upcoming novel Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Dec. 2015, Solaris Books) as well as the epic fantasy novel Shadow and Flame (March, 2016 Orbit Books) which is the fourth and final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga. Shadowed Path, an anthology of Jonmarc Vahanian short stories set in the world of The Summoner, debuts from Solaris books in June, 2016.

Other books include The Jake Desmet Adventures a new Steampunk series (Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) from Orbit Books and the urban fantasy novel Deadly Curiosities from Solaris Books.  

Gail writes four series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, The Deadly Curiosities Adventures, The King’s Convicts series, and together with Larry N. Martin, The Storm and Fury Adventures. Her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies. Newest anthologies include: The Big Bad 2, Athena’s Daughters, Realms of Imagination, Heroes, With Great Power, and (co-authored with Larry N. Martin) Space, Contact Light, The Weird Wild West, The Side of Good/The Side of Evil, Alien Artifacts, Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens.

Without further ado, welcome Gail Z. Martin and don't forget to read at the bottom of the post to learn about how you can take part in the opportunity to get some nice treats – literary style!


 The Social Writer 

Gone are the days when an author can retire to his or her garret and write in solitude, as the mysterious, reclusive artist.

Welcome to the real world. Thanks to social media and a 24/7 news cycle, readers want more than just your books. They want to get to know you, to interact with you on an ongoing basis. They don’t just want to hear you—they want you to hear and respond to them. Visibility is so important that publishing contracts now routinely include marketing clauses requiring author participation in publicity efforts. Sometimes, the push to promote almost seems to overtake the opportunity to write new books.  

Marketing is a fact of life for authors at every level of success. While the small group of authors at the pinnacle of their careers might spend their time on nationwide book tours and being a guest on top TV and radio interview shows, authors at every level are taking similar steps to ensure that their books get the visibility they need to send readers scurrying to the bookstore.

Of course, when you’re meeting the public, you’re not writing. So there’s a trade-off, but if the public isn’t buying your books, you won’t be writing for long.

What are the must-do elements for a writer to fulfill the ‘social contract’?   

Conventions—Genre conventions, ComicCons, these are the places readers go expecting to meet authors, artists and creators. There are probably a half a dozen conventions—or more—every weekend of the year. I love going to conventions, because I was a fan before I was a pro. I geek out just as much over meeting the legends of fandom, whether those are artists or celebrities or authors I admire. I also value the relationships I’ve created at ‘cons’ with other authors, con runners and attendees. While the very largest conventions can be a bit of a blur, smaller cons create a lot of opportunities to have good conversations, share a drink and get to know people better, and listen to what fans and readers think.

Social Media—Facebook, Twitter, podcasts, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Reddit are where readers want to connect on a regular, sometimes daily, basis. And it’s not just about the books. Sure, readers want to know when you’ve something new out, or what convention or store signing you’ll be at next. But they also want to see pictures of your dog (or cat), vacation photos, funny memes, pictures of the cool new dish you tried to cook, pictures of you and your convention friends, great costumes…you get it. And don’t forget the ‘social’ part—which means you encourage people to talk to you, instead of you just talking to them.

Real people stuff. YOU stuff—the things that give a sense of who you are so there is a human connection. You don’t have to share your inner feelings and bare your soul, but the more of a glimpse you give of the real you, the more other people can relate to you. (Note: If you’re a real ***hat, then don’t be the real you. Be someone nicer.)

Blogs—Your own and someone else’s. Blogging is a way for you to share tidbits about the work in progress, musings about the universe, reactions to what you saw on TV last night, upcoming events, pretty much anything that interests you. Blog tours are a series of guest blog posts in a given period of time, usually to promote a new book or a key event. Bonus points if you ask questions that encourages people to comment so that the blog becomes more of a two-way conversation.

Book clubs and store signings—Yes, these still exist in the Internet era. They’re actually more precious because there aren’t as many of them as there used to be. Small groups like this can be a lot of fun because they’re on more of a personal level, and people feel a little less intimidated about asking questions or giving feedback in a comfortable setting.

Why is the social part so important? I think people today are hungry for interpersonal connections. So much of what we do is online that we want to meet real people. At the same time, TV and the Internet have created the illusion that celebrities come into our living rooms every day, and the immediacy of social media makes us expect two-way conversations with people feel like we know but don’t really know.

As a writer, is it hard to juggle the social elements and still get the books done? Yes. No matter how much we write about time-travel, there are still only twenty-four hours in a day to do everything that needs to be done. On the other hand, the social part can be a lot of fun, and very gratifying. I really enjoy the chance to get out a meet people, hear back from readers, talk shop with other pros, and have a fangirl moment around my heroes. It’s all good. Very, very good.

My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for my stories and for books by author friends of mine. You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Details here:
Book swag is the new Trick-or-Treat! Grab your envelope of book swag awesomeness from me & 10 authors before 11/1!
Trick or Treat! Excerpt from my new urban fantasy novel Vendetta set in my Deadly Curiosities world here Launches Dec. 29
Treats not Tricks! Read an excerpt from Collector, one of my Deadly Curiosities stories
More Trick Or Treat fun with an excerpt from In An Iron Cage

Trick or Treat! Double-Dragon Publishing sampler #7

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Spotlight on four upcoming novels and cover art (by Mihir Wanchoo)

THE TIGER AND THE WOLF by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Book blurb - In the bleak northern crown of the world, war is coming

Maniye’s father is the Wolf clan’s chieftain, but she’s an outcast. Her mother was queen of the Tiger and these tribes have been enemies for generations. Maniye also hides a deadly secret. All can shift into their clan’s animal form, but Maniye can take on tiger and wolf shapes. She can’t disown half her soul, so escapes – with the killer Broken Axe in pursuit.

Maniye’s father plots to rule the north, and controlling his daughter is crucial to his schemes. However, other tribes also prepare for strife. It’s a season for omens as priests foresee danger, a time of testing and broken laws. Some say a great war is coming, overshadowing even Wolf ambitions. But what spark will set the world ablaze?

This will be the start of a new epic fantasy series that is said to be “Game of Thrones's internecine rivalries meet Jean M. Auel's epic tales of a earlier world in turmoil.“

As a fan of his The Shadows Of The Apt series, we can’t wait to see what new devious fantasy story Adrian has come up with. The fantastic cover art and design is by Neil Lang.

THOSE BELOW by Daniel Polansky

Book blurb - For centuries beyond counting, humanity has served the Others, god-like Eternals who rule from their cloud-capped mountain-city, building a civilization of unimagined beauty and unchecked viciousness.

But all that is about to change. Bas Alyates, grizzled general of a thousand battles, has assembled a vast army with which to contend with the might of Those Above. Eudokia, Machiavellian matriarch and the power behind the Empty Throne, travels to the Roost, nominally to play peacemaker - but in fact to inspire the human population toward revolt. 

Deep in the dark byways of the mountain's lower tiers, the urchin Pyre leads a band of fanatical revolutionaries in acts of terrorism against their inhuman oppressors. Against them, Calla, handmaiden of the Eternals' king, fights desperately to stave off the rising tide of violence, which threatens to destroy her beloved city.

The story begun in Those Above comes to a stunning conclusion in this unforgettable battle for the hearts and minds of the human race, making The Empty Throne series the most exciting epic fantasies of recent times.

The gorgeous cover is a perfect complimentary one to its predecessor and is by Rhett Podersoo. After loving Daniel's take on war and elves in Those Above, I certainly will be very eager to see how it all ends for Pyre, Calla, Eudokia & Bas.

DEAD MAN'S STEEL by Luke Scull

Book blurb - In the City of Towers, former rebel Sasha and her comrade Davarus Cole struggle to keep the peace between the warring mages who vie for dominion. But when the White Lady sends Davarus south to the Shattered Realms to seek allies among the fallen kingdoms, he finds that his hardest battle may be one fought within. The godly essence now residing within him offers power that could be used against the Fade—but with every death that feeds It, Cole risks losing a part of himself.

An association with a Fade officer grants the Halfmage Eremul a position of privilege among Dorminia’s new masters. He witnesses firsthand the fate that awaits humanity. But with his magic pitiful in the face of the Fade’s advanced technology, the Halfmage must rely on his wits alone to save whom he can…

And in the frozen north, the legendary warrior Brodar Kayne fights a desperate battle for his people. He is running out of time: an ancient evil sealed beneath the mountains is about to break free, an evil that is older than humanity, older than the Fade, older even than the gods—and it will not stop until the entire world is drowned in blood

This is the US cover art for the concluding volume of Luke Scull’s debut trilogy. It’s scheduled to be published in December of 2016 and looks like that’s Davarus Cole on the cover. 

SKULLS by Tim Maquitz

Book blurb - Life held little interest for Jacob...until he found death.

Abused and neglected, Jacob's only solace comes when he is alone in the woods or in the arms of his new girlfriend. But when he stumbles across a hidden bunker filled with human skulls, he learns what true suffering is. Drawn to examine the skulls, he finds there is more than just empty blackness behind their lifeless stares. Through their eyes he watches them die.

With every glance, he witnesses another murder, the memories of the dead playing out inside his mind until reality becomes a blur. A primal cruelty awakening, Jacob returns to the morbid comfort of the skulls, over and over again. But when he happens upon a fresh skull, a victim tortured and slain for his amusement alone, he knows his time has come. Face to face with death, Jacob must choose whether to resist the darkness that dwells inside or condemn himself forever, murdering his innocence on the edge of an axe.

This book is the revised edition with striking cover design by Shawn King and from while I certainly enjoyed the story in its previous iteration. I can’t wait to read the revised version which going by Tim’s horror writing will be smashing to say the least.

Monday, October 26, 2015

GUEST BLOGGER: Going Dark, Why Gulf is So Different by Julie E. Czerneda

Fantasy Book Critic is extremely excited to welcome Julie E. Czerneda to our blog. We are kicking off a blog tour for Julie's book This Gulf of Time and Stars. This Gulf of Time and Stars is the first of the final trilogy in Czerneda's science fiction series – Clan Chronicles

This Gulf of Time and Stars is scheduled to be published November 3, 2015! Learn more about the series and author Julie E. Czerneda by reading below!

More about the series:

The Clan Chronicles is set in a far future with interstellar travel where the Trade Pact encourages peaceful commerce among a multitude of alien and Human worlds. The alien Clan, humanoid in appearance, have been living in secrecy and wealth on Human worlds, relying on their innate ability to move through the M’hir and bypass normal space. The Clan bred to increase that power, only to learn its terrible price: females who can’t help but kill prospective mates. Sira di Sarc is the first female of her kind facing that reality. With the help of a Human starship captain, Jason Morgan, Sira must find a morally acceptable solution before it’s too late. But with the Clan exposed, her time is running out. The Stratification trilogy follows Sira’s ancestor, Aryl Sarc, and shows how their power first came to be as well as how the Clan came to live in the Trade Pact. The Trade Pact trilogy is the story of Sira and Morgan, and the trouble facing the Clan. Reunification will conclude the series and answer, at last, #whoaretheclan.

Without further ado, we welcome Julie E. Czerneda for her guest blog! If you wish to follow more posts from Julie E. Czerneda or learn more about the series feel free to follow the blog tour via Facebook. The Facebook event can be found here.


Going Dark, Why Gulf Is So Different.

Those familiar with my novels, particularly the last two fantasies, A Turn of Light and A Play of Shadow, but also my science fiction, will know it’s fair to say I’m something of a fluffy bunny, a term first coined by the inestimable S.M. Stirling, who isn’t one (although very sweet). More telling, perhaps, my dear long-time friend Anne Bishop categorizes her books as “Julie-proof” or not. By that standard, her Ephemera books and latest series, the Others, are (and I love them), but her Realms of the Blood books are not. However beautifully written, those are too dark for me.

Yet now I’m writing dark. What’s up with that?

My previous lack of dark isn’t completely due to my being a fluffy bunny, aka a romantic, optimistic person looking for stories that not only satisfy my tastes, but make me want to linger, re-read, and generally sigh with joy. Okay, that’s a big part of it. I love happy endings. What really gets me is that I can’t forget what I’ve read, especially if it’s disturbed me. Washing out the brain? Not an option. There are enough despicable things in the world without reading them on purpose, therefore I don’t. That means horror, especially well-written, convincing horror, isn’t for me.

Nor, I’d thought, was dark.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a tragic ending, given it’s done not for shock value but rather with powerful inevitability. Life’s like that. Such endings can be beautiful and uplifting, despite the tears. (I read with tissues.) I’ve written such an end for a beloved character, with tissues, and am proud of it. (Species Imperative)

But that’s not going dark. Dark, to me as a writer, is unrelenting. It steals hope, limits choices, sends characters into peril—then slams the trapdoor behind them and tosses away the key. Dark is about making readers wonder how anything good could happen, even as I prepare to make it worse.

Which brings me to Reunification. I knew ten years ago what had to happen in these books in order to complete the story of the Clan. I knew as I wrote the prequel trilogy, Stratification. My hands literally shook as I finished Rift in the Sky, writing how the Clan, faced with living among Humans, made their choice.

The wrong one.

Even now, writing this, I find myself forced to pause and take a deeper breath, letting it out in a sigh. A story starts with infinite possibilities, but each event, each decision, narrows the options. A good story—a great one—gathers momentum. The inevitable narrowing seizes the writer by the heart as well as mind and you’ve no choice, that word again, but to take the only path left.


Science fiction explores consequence. Like any experiment, you put the requisite parameters and constraints in place, then record what happens. That a story does so in words makes it no less potent a tool. The Clan, embodied as Sira, is my experiment and I’ve watched its ending unfold.

A confession. I was supposed to jump in and start writing Reunification in 2009. After all, I’d just done the prequel after months of research. It would have been efficient, to say the least. Maybe I was a coward—okay, I was a coward—but knowing where the story had to go, I discovered the last thing I wanted to do was write it.

I called my dear editor and asked to do the opposite. She agreed, and I spent what became years building a rich world full of magical toads and invisible dragons, writing a romantic, optimistic, blissfully happy fantasy (A Turn of Light), then its sequel. I’m glad I did. Yes, you had to wait, but my hindbrain had understood. I wasn’t ready, in 2009, to write what I had to write.

I am now.

As I said at the start, This Gulf of Time and Stars will be a surprise to some of my long-time readers. In it, no one and nothing is safe. In it, the Clan face the consequence of the choice they made, to subjugate and use those of lesser power. Generations of breeding for Power, of fearing discovery, of fearing Humans, have narrowed their options to one. The story goes dark, by my definition above, and doesn’t come up for air.

It was a different experience, revisiting these characters, my very first. Different, because I know their endings as well as the story’s. That knowledge makes me hold on tight and savour each moment. Cherish them, as I might not have otherwise.

Maybe that’s why Gulf–and the trilogy it begins--is so different. Not the going dark but because it’s the end, after all these years, to my first story. For me, it’s the right ending and I’m content. Even better, I’ll have answered my own question.

Who are the Clan?

Footnote: Still not ready to read your Blood books, Anne


About Julie E. Czerneda 

Since 1997, Canadian author/editor Julie E. Czerneda has shared her love and curiosity about living things through her science fiction, writing about shapechanging semi-immortals, terraformed worlds, salmon researchers, and the perils of power. Her fourteenth novel from DAW Books was her debut fantasy, A Turn of Light, winner of the 2014 Aurora Award for Best English Novel, and now Book One of her Night`s Edge series. Her most recent publications:
a special omnibus edition of her acclaimed near-future SF Species Imperative, as well as Book Two of Night`s Edge, A Play of Shadow, a finalist for this year’s Aurora.
Julie’s presently back in science fiction, writing the finale to her Clan Chronicles series. Book #1 of Reunification, This Gulf of Time and Stars, will be released by DAW November 2015. For more about her work, visit or visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads. 


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