Monday, January 26, 2015

Author Interview: Clarissa Johal (STRUCK)

We are at the one year release anniversary of Clarissa Johal’s spectacularly creepy novel STRUCK.  She’s hanging out with us today to talk about her writing inspiration, her love of thunderstorms, and how doing a few plies keeps her writing mind nimble! 

But first, here’s the synopsis:
After a painful breakup, Gwynneth Reese moves in with her best friend and takes a job at a retirement home. She grows especially close to one resident, who dies alone the night of a terrific storm. On the way home from paying her last respects, Gwynneth is caught in another storm and is struck by lightning. She wakes in the hospital with a vague memory of being rescued by a mysterious stranger. Following her release from the hospital, the stranger visits her at will and offers Gwynneth a gift--one that will stay the hands of death. Gwynneth is uncertain whether Julian is a savior or something more sinister... for as he shares more and more of this gift, his price becomes more and more deadly.
And now to the interview! (Honestly, I found my self nodding and yes-ing so much of through this interview, it's like Clarissa is my spirit guide. But not in a stalker-y way. I swear I am not that creepy.) 

Tell us a bit about STRUCK.

STRUCK is my second paranormal novel through Musa Publishing. I was inspired to write STRUCK during a terrific thunderstorm several years ago. I was out running and wondered what it would be like to be struck by lightning in the paranormal sense. I went to bed that night with the idea kicking around and ended up having a nightmare. When I woke, the whole of the book was in my head. I started doing research and interviewed several lightning strike survivors. The aftermath of a lightning strike can be pretty devastating. 

And God this book sounds creepy! I love the idea of Julian sort of straddling good and evil. Where did you come up with the idea for him?

Thank you! I aim for creepy. Julian came to me as most of my characters come to me—completely formed. He had his own ideas about what he would and wouldn’t do in my story. My characters always seem to have their own agendas, I just write it down.

What supernatural entity is he, or would that be a spoiler?

Julian has been claimed by dark entities that live within the “particular” energy manifesting as a lightning strike. He isn’t a demon but more of a dark soul. Telling you more than that would be a spoiler, but I will say this—the cycle has been going on for quite some time.

Can you tell us why was Gwynneth chosen by Julian?

There’s a part of Julian that feels a kinship with Gwynneth; she’s an artist and he was an artist. But initially, Gwynneth was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s only as the story progresses that Julian struggles with his initial intent.

You have some wonderful side characters. What do you love about writing sidekicks?

Thank you! I love to make them as interesting as the main character. My side characters have lives and back stories of their own. I always try and write with the idea that, if I wanted to, I could turn them into main characters and write another book just as interesting. 

Weather clearly plays a huge part in this story. Do you have a favorite weather event? I love anything with howling wind. (Except sleet, because that’s when I want precipitation to make up its damn mind!) 

I LOVE thunderstorms. Love them. Howling wind is always a plus, but if you’ve got lots of thunder and lightning going on, I’m usually outside playing in it. 

How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? What was it?

My parents were pretty strict about the television and movies I watched. I was a pretty sensitive kid, so that was probably a good thing. It wasn’t a horror movie, but I remember watching the 1971 version of Omega Man with Charlton Heston. I would have been about seven years old. I have no idea why my parents thought it was okay for me to watch, other than it was billed as science fiction. The afflicted albino mutants scared the crap out of me. I had nightmares for weeks! I’m good with most horror movies but once you start messing with the eyes, I’m done. The eyes are the windows to the soul. 

What drew you to gothic horror?

I started out writing fantasy. I was working on a trilogy when I was hit with the characters of Cronan and Lucas from BETWEEN. They wouldn’t leave me alone. I would wake with their back story in my head, I would get flashes of their homeland and people they knew—I felt like I knew their lives inside and out. It was weird. It took me about a month to write the rough draft, which never happens, it usually takes me much longer. I joke I was pulled into the Otherworld with BETWEEN because it changed my life. I’ve been writing paranormal and gothic horror ever since. 

Do you have a favorite gothic horror novel?

I really enjoyed Brom’s Krampus: The Yule Lord. He was able to portray Krampus as a sympathetic antagonist, which is always a plus. I just read An Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James and enjoyed it. Anything by Neil Gaiman is instantly on my “to read” list. I have a bit of a writerly crush on him. 

What are you working on now? Any new books on the horizon?

Yes! I have a paranormal psychological horror VOICES coming out May 19, 2015 through Permuted Press. I’m also working on THE ISLAND which should be ready to submit to my publisher by January.

Do you have any writing rituals?

No secrets here, I’m OCD when it comes to my writing day. First, I’ll start with coffee. Coffee is a must. Two cups of Gevalia French roast in the morning. Then, I get my daughters off to school. From there, I hit the gym, come home, have breakfast and do some ballet (I’ve been dancing for about 20 years). After I get my body in gear, I write. By noon, I’m slumping so I have to eat almonds because I’m addicted to them. Blue Diamond Honey Roasted almonds, to be exact. Then, I write some more until it’s time to pick up my daughters from school. My day in a nutshell, haha. 

Where is your favorite place to write?

I have a chair in the living room that reclines. It’s my favorite chair because it’s beside the fireplace and I can look out the window. If I’m feeling restless, I’ll write upstairs in my dance studio so I can pliĆ© between scenes. I can’t write when other people are home, though. It messes up the energy. 

What inspires you to write? 

Art inspires me. I’ll see a painting or some relic an anthropologist has found and stories will come to me in a rush. It’s almost painful not to write them down. A lot of times, characters speak to me and tell me their stories. I just write them down. That sounds weird but writers are a weird bunch. 

What 5 books are on your bookshelf right now?

Hmm, I just bought The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue. I’m excited to read that. I’m also reading Doctor Sleep by Stephen King and Last Stand of Dead Men (Book #8 in the Skullduggery Pleasant Series) by Derek Landy. I generally can’t read “for fun” when I’m writing because it has tendency to change my writing style. Right now I’m reading (for research): Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us by Jason Offutt and The Banshee: The Irish Death Messenger by Patricia Lysaght. 

What do you recommend people see/read/hear?

To see (out and about): My recommendation is to go to an art museum. Look at pretty things. Take a friend or take your child, but just go. There’s something special about art. 
To see (at home): I rarely watch television, but I’m really into American Horror Story: Freakshow right now. There’s some great writing going on with that series. I would love to collaborate with those writers. 
To read: I think any of the books I’ve mentioned are worth a read but people have different tastes. 
To hear: Corvus Corax is a great band but not to everyone’s tastes. If you like bagpipes and neo-medieval type music, give them a listen. 

If you want to stalk Clarissa along with me online you visit her website, or hook up with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Book Review: Henge

I know, I know, I am not a fan of reviewing but here I am with my second review this week! But I'm letting my kid take this post, since is a YA fantasy. 

But first, a bit about the book. Henge, by Realm Lovejoy. is the first book in the LeFay series. The book not only retells the King Arthur myth through the eyes of Morgan LeFay but it also sets it in modern day. Very cool stuff. Here's what my daughter thought:
Morgan wants to become Maven (a protector) to Prince Arthur. She enters the “Arthur’s Round,” a competition to become the Maven. She runs into a series of magical problems at the camp, while making friends (and enemies).  
Morgan is magical—she can conjure fire in her hand and use it to do all different things. 
Her mom got executed for using magic when she accidentally killed someone, but Morgan saw it and knew that her mom was protecting herself.  
I am a fan of the King Arthur story, and I loved that the book told it from Morgan’s point of view. I thought it was a neat twist to set the story in the present time with cell phones and cars and other modern things. But they still have Knights, and I am glad that they are in there.
I loved that there was a lot of action and the book kept my attention. I definitely want to read the next book in the series.  
You can find Realm Lovejoy online at her website or blog, or hang out with her on Facebook or Twitter.

Enter the giveaway for one signed paperback copy with swag, four paperbacks and four eBooks.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Book Review: A Heart for Copper

I am not a fan of reviewing other authors. Writing is tough enough without the criticism, and, like all art, book appreciation is rather subjective. But SilkWords Publishing is building their reputation as the go-to publisher for a “chose your own adventure” style novellas (aka “branched fiction” or "pick your path"), and I could not resist checking out their latest release, A Heart for Copper.  

SilkWords is doing the 21st Century version of the old “hypertext” books. Hypertext cropped up at the very early stages of the internet as we know it. But they did not live online—they were purchased on CD and then read on your computer. It was cumbersome. If you are the type that likes to unwind on the couch or in bed with a book, hypertext was impossible unless you had a laptop. But it was created for a niche (and academic) market, and there it remained. 

Fast forward 20 years. The new sophistication of eReaders make the promise of choosing your own adventure a reality for millions who use Kindle and Nook (devices or apps). SilkWords is driving this new way of reading.   

Sharon Lynn Fisher's A Heart for Copper is a steampunk romance about Copper, an automaton created by a young inventor. When he implants a heart into Copper, she comes to life. But whoever holds the heart’s key decides Copper’s fate. Will she become human or will she remain a automaton? Will she find true love with her creator, or will she strike out on her own to find more like her?

Here the reader decides.

I took several paths, curious to see the story play out differently as many times as I could. It was a fascinating way to read, although I missed the author’s guidance. She knows her characters better than I do. Most authors, myself included, have backstories for their main characters — and mine can get very specific. So it felt strange to make Copper’s decision for her. I kept wondering who the author would have wanted to take the key. But I had to chose—did I want a love story, or one of empowerment? I chose the road I assumed would be less taken.  

This direction I took introduced me to a magical world filled with other automatons as she searched for the alchemist that created the heart that brought her to life. It was a world I wanted to spend more time in and get to know better. Depending on the road you take, you may not spend much time here. But even with taking the path that explored this world more, it felt like I was leaving too soon. I wanted more time there. 

The writing itself was beautiful, with lush descriptions that helped create this fantastical steampunk world. In a way, that felt like the antithesis of the reading medium. I was so engrossed in the world, and the characters that Sharon Fisher created, that I wanted her to guide me through the story she wanted to tell. 

That said, I think “branched fiction” is something to keep an eye on. Culturally, the signs are pointing towards audiences that want to be more involved in the art they are consuming—the rise of interactive theater, the appeal of “virtual reality” gaming (once again, Oculus took CES by storm), audiences want to experience their chosen art and entertainment in a very personal, individual way. 

Check out SilkWords' website for more offerings, where they offer loads more branched fiction stories as well as "reader vote" stories, where readers decide where the book goes next. A Heart for Copper is definitely Rated PG, but their other stories are very much for the over 18 set, many are downright steamy. 

For more on SilkWoods their work in branched fiction, check out Jill Archer's terrific interview with Sharon. There's some great info in there about the future of their company and upcoming website changes (including heart shaped "game currency") to boost reader interaction even more. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Cover Reveal: The Fire Mages

I really enjoy epic fantasy, but full disclosure, I often prefer movies because the visual impact is so sensational. Like The Lord of the Rings—the book frustrated me, but the films captivated me. 

I doubt it was failure of writing, since Tolkien’s The Hobbit remains one of my favorite books (not my favorite movies though). And I love Martin’s Game of Thrones books, even more so than the HBO series. I think it is partly because I find his world building less visually opulent, which leaves more room for story. And with Martin’s work, there is plenty of story.

And this is turning into an awful way to intro a cover reveal for a new epic fantasy adventure! So let's get to it.

The Fire Mages by Pauline M. Ross is about mages and powers and wielding magic. And the cover is awesome. 

Here’s the official blurb: 

Kyra has always been drawn to the magic of spellpages. She is determined to leave her small village far behind and become a scribe, wielding the power of magic through her pen. Halfway through her training, she has a mage as patron and her ambitions are within her grasp. But a simple favour for her sister goes disastrously awry, destroying Kyra’s dreams in an instant.
Devastated, she accepts an offer from a stranger to help her find out what went wrong. The young man sees growing power within Kyra, potentially stronger than spellpages or any living mage. The answers to unlocking that power may lie within the glowing walls of the Imperial City, but its magic is strong and the unwary vanish without trace on its streets. Thirsty for knowledge and desperate to avoid another accident, she feels compelled to risk it.
While she focuses on controlling her abilities, a storm of greed and ambition boils up around her. Kyra is a pawn in the struggle for dominance between unscrupulous factions vying for rule of her country. Trusting the wrong side could get her killed–or worse, the potent magic she barely understands could be put to unthinkable evil.

Cool, right? I am excited to dive into this one.

Author Pauline Ross is from the Scottish Highlands, and I am convinced that it is the perfect location to write epic fantasy. The view from her office is “Moray Firth and the Black Isle to the mountains beyond.” So, yeah, this is going to be good. 

And about that cover? Pretty damn perfect.

You can find Pauline over at her website, where she reviews tons of epic fantasy, so fans of the genre may want to pay repeat visits. Or connect with her via Twitter.

And you can purchase The Fire Mages via Amazon. (And it’s on sale for .99, so not even a splurge!)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Author Interview: Gustavo Florentin (The Schwarzschild Radius)

I'm stepping away from the paranormal today to feature the contemporary thriller,  The Schwarzschild Radius, set in my fair city. When Rachel's sister goes missing, the 18-year-old Columbia University student falls into a violent underworld of child pornography, snuff films, and other horrific crimes. In searching for her sister, Rachel finds herself in the crosshairs of a killer who "auctions the deaths of young girls in an eBay of agony." This book is not for the faint of heart, with trigger warnings galore, but it's getting some terrific reviews, and worth a look if you like exciting but unsettling reads.

You can visit author Gustavo Florentin over on his website, connect with him on Facebook. And look for the giveaway at the end of the interview -- it's for a $50 Amazon gift card!

Tell me about The Schwarzschild RadiusWhat inspired you to tell Rachel’s story?

The Schwarzschild Radius had its genesis decades ago when I attended the Bronx High School of Science. I met so many brilliant young people there and a few years later I thought it would be a good idea to write a story about some geniuses who solve a mystery using their wits. 

What type of world is the New York City that you have created in the book? Is it similar to the NYC we know, or are there certain elements that you created? 

The New York City in the book really exists, though it may not be something most people are familiar with. The abandoned subway tunnels, for instance, go back to the Civil War, and there really are people living in some of them. They are called “mole people." (Ed note: For those interested, there's a great book from the early 90s, about the homeless that live in the abandoned subway tunnels, The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath NYC

What drew you to writing thrillers?  

I started out reading the classics when I was young. Later, I came to admire devices like plot twists and surprise endings. There are many more of those in thrillers than in The Brothers Karamazov, for example. I really liked The Day of the Jackal. Forsythe combined research, suspense and a beautifully elegant writing style into a blockbuster and that book really set the bar for me. 

Many of the reviews for this book focus on how frightening and dangerous the world is that Rachel dives into. And that the “monsters” are real rather than paranormal creatures make it all the more horrific. Is it difficult to write “human” monsters? How do you get into their heads?  

I can identify to some extent even with the bad guys, but at some point, I simply have to use a lot of technique. These antagonists are SO evil that it’s hard to get into their skin. I find that making them intelligent and at times reserved is more effective than making them act over the top all the time. That would get tiresome and the evil would lose its impact. 

You have a fascinating, very technical day job! Is it tough moving between engineer and writer? How do you balance the two? 

One has nothing to do with the other, it’s true. Sometimes when I’ve had a really stressful day I have to unwind before writing by listening to music or playing the violin for a while. When you’re doing one job, you really have to forget the other. Needless to say, I would rather be writing than solving IT problems. 

Now that The Schwarzschild Radius is released, what is next for you?

I’m working on my next thriller, but I find that marketing The Schwarzschild Radius takes more time than I thought it would. Marketing is not something you give much thought to when you start writing. I don’t really care for self-promotion, but it’s a reality of the writing life. My new novel is a political thriller where the main character is John McKenna, the detective in The Schwarzschild Radius. I needed someone with his background and he fit the bill perfectly, so that saved me the trouble of creating a new protagonist. 

Do you have any writing rituals?

Yes, I tend to read first. I’m usually reading four or five books at a time and I’ll read a chapter of each to get into the groove. Then I’ll read what I wrote yesterday, then I’ll start writing my day’s quota, which is 500 words during the week and 1000 to 1500 words on the weekends. It’s a tough regimen between my day job, marketing The Schwarzschild Radius and having a  life. 

Where is your favorite place to write?

I do all my writing on a home-made lapdesk in front of my fireplace. I have a really nice office which I use for my engineering work, but when I quit for the day, I don’t go back in there. 

What inspires you to write?  

I like originality. I’ll always look for an original premise and I have to be able to condense it into a great pitch under 30 words. Above all, the idea has to move me. I have to get the feeling that this story HAS to be told. Only then can I commit a couple of years of my life to writing it. 

What 5 books are on your bookshelf right now?

It’s all over the map. Money Shot, by Crista Faust, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, The Snow Leopard by Peter Mathiessen, Hollywood by Gore Vidal and an Agatha Christie collection. 

What do you recommend people see/read/hear?

Well, certainly if you’re into fiction and drama, immerse yourself in it. Find an inexpensive playhouse and see plays whenever you can. Read history, classics and the modern works. I watch a lot of foreign films on Netflix. Get a feel for what’s been done, so when you get an idea, you’ll know if it’s worthy. 

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Waking the dead

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER. I have both a Walking Dead and Tainted Blood spoiler after the jump! You have been warned! 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Author Interview: H.D. Smith (Dark Awakened)

H.D. Smith had me at “demon.” 


I am in the plotting phase of two new books and both are about demons. And I have a demon in the Hell’s Belle series (good old Bertrand) that is slowly becoming my favorite character to write. So, these days I am obsessed with demons.

Now, add in that H.D.’s heroine works for The Demon King, and, just like your boss, he doesn’t offer dental. Needless to day, I am in book love and thrilled that H.D. is going to hang out with us today.

(By the way, there's a Rafflecopter giveaway at the end of the post. Enter to win both books in the Devil's Assistant series, and a $75 Amazon gift card!)

Tell me about Dark Awakened (Book 2 in the Devil’s Assistant series).
Dark Awakened picks up right where Dark Hope left off … in the elevator with Death!
Claire has just walked away from the Devil’s protection … to live free or die … but unfortunately she can’t avoid the Bounty Hunter sent to return her to Purgatory, or her fate in being “the girl” in the prophecy.

What’s a typical work day look like for a devil’s assistant?
Claire doesn’t spend much time in the office in book 2, but in book 1 her duties included processing “early retirements” (HR inside joke for calling a human’s debt due), handling maintenance’s requests for dental (no one gets dental), and passing along bad news from senior leaders at the company (like the IRS audit the VP of Finance refuses to report).

Did you work as an assistant? Okay, what I really want to ask is, did working as an assistant spark the idea for the series? (Was your boss a devil?) 
Well … I’ve never worked for the Devil, but my last boss was known for his willingness to handle employees on a plan (read about to be fired), he had horns that someone gave him as a joke after the third firing (before my time at that job) … of course when he read an early version of book 1 he couldn’t stop hearing my voice as Claire … so of course I told him he was “The Boss” :)

Can you tell us a little bit about Claire and her powers?
Claire is twenty-one. Her life was interrupted five years ago when the Devil called in her mother’s debt, which apparently she’d inherited. At the beginning of book 1 Claire thinks she’s just an unlucky human, but after a trip to Purgatory, her powers are awakened and she starts learning who she really is. By the end of book 1 she has unbound her powers and is able to use astral projection, a bit of touch magic, a form of persuasion, and null spells (almost any spell that is directly cast on her). She can also see through most veils and with the help of an embedded translator, hear and read almost anything as English. Her powers change in book 2, she gains a few new skills and enhances her existing powers in new and exciting ways.

Death is a character in your book. Can you tell us about him? And what’s Claire’s relationship with him?
Claire gets really bad news at the end of book 1. Although Death is cursed to love another, he has the ability to make her feel loved. She has the ability to remind him of his lost love … not exactly a relationship made in Heaven, but something they both need … or so she believes, which is why she agrees to let him hide her from the Devil. Unfortunately that doesn’t work out very well for either of them. 

Now that Dark Awakened is released, what’s next for you?
I have four books planned in the Devil’s Assistant series. Originally it was going to be a trilogy, but there is a very strong “4” theme in the books, and I always wanted to write four books for this series (one for each contender). I have started reworking book 3 (major rewrites ahead after editing books 1 & 2), and I have a plan for book 4. In between all of this I’m working on a new edit of my novellas. I learned a lot editing Dark Hope and I want to show my earlier works some of that love :) While my main focus is four books for the series, that doesn’t mean I won’t revisit the world again … you never know which character may get its own book.

Do you have any writing rituals?
Not any rituals, but I absolutely CANNOT “plan” a book … it is the kiss of death if I try to outline. I usually have a game plan and I go from there … pantser here, all the way! 

Where is your favorite place to write?
My day job occasionally means my “office” is onboard a cruise ship … which isn’t as exciting as it sounds (trust me) … during my downtime (what little there is) I have been known to lounge around on deck 4 with my feet up and my laptop open writing as the ocean waves float by. Back in the real world, my favorite place to write is at my sit-stand-treadmill-desk (google it … it is the most awesome thing ever).

What inspires you to write? 
I get these crazy stories in my head and I’m compelled to archive them for future generations ;) … seriously, I just like telling complicated stories that could twist in on themselves at any moment and implode … or unwind in a way that is pure magic. 

What 5 books are on your bookshelf right now?
I almost never have real books anymore. Most of the ones I have are from a conference last year … I’m an audiobook-a-holic … I love audiobooks. I’ve just started reading (listening to) the Imp series by Debra Dunbar. I have an absurd number of audiobooks on my “shelf” … according to audible the count is 979, 271 of which are from this year … I listen at 2x speed, always buy my credits in bulk, and absolutely love the new “professional narration” option when you purchase ebooks that have an audiobook available.

What do you recommend people see/read/hear?
I hear the Devil’s Assistant series by HD Smith is awesome ;)
Some other favorite audio series to consider are:
 - Jane Yellowrock series by  Faith Hunter
 - Jane Jameson series by Molly Harper
 - Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews
 - Elder Races series by Thea Harrison
 - Guild Hunter series by Nalini Singh
 - Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh
 - New Species series by Lauren Dohner
 - Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep 

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