Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Interview - James A. Moore

Sup Peeps! 

I'm delighted to bring you the first instalment of our ongoing interview series for 2017. This week, I had the pleasure of talking to one of the true gentlemen of speculative fiction, James A. Moore. I hope you all enjoy it! 

James A. Moore, welcome to Smash Dragons! First up, tell us a little about yourself and your career so far. 

Well, to say it’s been convoluted would be an understatement. I started off in comic books, working here and there for Marvel Comics on a few projects. Some were published, like the story “Of Love, Cats & Curiosity,” in issue 15 of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, and several were not. I was just taking over on a couple of titles when they got cancelled and then Marvel had a purge that ended with every contact I had there unemployed. 

I did a lot of work with roleplaying games, mostly with White Wolf Games for Vampire: the Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, and the rest of the World of Darkness. 

Then one day I decided to write a novel and I sat down and started working on the first of those at the same time I was working with White Wolf. 


Did you always envisage yourself writing stories when you were younger? Can you remember the first story you wrote? What was it about?


Nope. I had every intention of being a comic book artist. Turns out my ability to draw was nowhere near my levels of ambition and one of the editors at marvel was nice enough to be direct and point that out to me while he also suggested I try my hand at writing. 

I was writing my first novel when a friend of mine told me I should write a short story first. So I set the novel aside and wrote a story called “Simon’s Muse,” about a writer who meets his idol and find out over the span of time that his idol’s muse is actually the bogeyman. 

You mentioned that you started off in comic books. I'm curious, Batman vs Superman... where do you sit in this long running debate?

Superman. Batman's one hope is Kryptonite and he'd never get close enough to him if Superman was even a little bit alert that day.

Every writer has a process. I'm curious, what's yours? Are you a plotter or a panther? What do you think are the positives and negatives to your particular approach?

Oh, I’m definitely a pantser. I don’t know if there are advantages, but I know that whenever I plot something out properly I feel like it loses all spontaneity and that hurts my head. I like the surprises and the way that, sometimes, characters do things I did not expect from them. I think it makes for a better book, at least for me. 

I’m a massive fan of your Crowley stories. How did the genesis of Crowley come about? Was it a light bulb moment, or the culmination of many different thoughts and creative threads? 

Thank you very kindly! I’m rather fond of the bastard myself. I sort of had plans for Crowley in comic books, but they never came to fruition. Instead of losing him, I made a few adjustments and plopped him into my first novel, UNDER THE OVERTREE, when I needed a character like him. Believe me, he has evolved a lot over the years. 

Will we see more Crowley stories in the future?

Oh yes. I’m just finishing a collaboration with Charles R. Rutledge and we have another planned. I also have a stand alone story set for him in Victorian England, and I’m about three quarters of the way through a weird western called BOOMTOWN, which actually precedes several of his adventures in the old west. 

I couldn’t get away from Crowley if I wanted to. He wants to be talked about.


I’ve recently started to read Seven Forges, the first book in your epic fantasy series. I have been struck by just how different (in a good way) it feels to a lot of the fantasy that is being published today. Was this a conscious decision on your part? To write something that stands out from the crowd? 


Absolutely. When I was younger, before I started writing, I read almost nothing but fantasy. A friend of mine introduced me to horror when I told him I was sick to death of reading the same story again and again (Orphan boy finds Item of Power, uses Item of Power to save the Land from Evil Menace coming back for Round Two.) It was a fun story the first hundred times, but it got stale. So I decided no dragons, no elves, no ancient menace coming back to threaten the Land. They had to be new and different or I didn’t want to deal with them. 

What’s your take on publishing right now? What do we, as an industry and community, need to do better in your opinion? 

Buy books and read them. Seriously. Make sure you post your reviews online, on Amazon, on Goodreads, the whole nine yards. On the publishing side? Harder to say. I know several very successful self-pubbed authors. I am more and more impressed by the successful ones every day. I’m likely going to be publishing a lot of my backstock on my own in the hear future, rather than giving up half of everything, including control of how the books are done. Time will tell. 

I will say this: Publishing is constantly changing these days and I’m interested in  seeing what it becomes. 

Tell me a random fact about yourself.

I’m seven years a widow this year. I still love and miss my wife, but life moves forward and so have I. 

What’s the most cherished book in your library? Why?

Stephen King’s THE STAND, the original version, not the unabridged volume that is far too thick and unwieldy. I think it’s one of the best books ever written and it drew me into reading again when I was seriously thinking of stopping. 

Favourite movie? Why?

That's waaaaay to hard to answer. So I'll say Captain America: The Winter Solider, because it's a phenomenal example of practical special effects and one hell of a fun story. My answer would be entirely different tomorrow or the day after.

If you could shoot the breeze for a day with any other writer (dead or alive) who would it be and why?


Too many choices. I’ve met several of my favorites. These days? I’d love to pick the brain of Ray Bradbury, who has always been a favorite of mine 

You write about horrifying things in a lot of your stories. I’m curious, what scares James A. Moore?

What used to scare the hell out of me was losing my loved ones. I couldn’t imagine what my world would be like without them. These days, having lost my wife and several family members I’m not as afraid of that as I once was. If I’m being honest, I’m not exactly happy with the results of the latest election and I think we’ll see dark times ahead. That scares me a lot. 

What do you do when you’re not writing? 

I read books, I work at a Starbucks not far from my house because I truly love being able to cover my medical expenses, get out of the house and have a 401K, along with Christopher Golden I’m teaching a few writing courses, and I am an avid movie buff. 

You mentioned that you work at Starbucks. What's the weirdest order you've ever received? 

Short coffee (8 ounces) with ten pumps of white mocha and 8 raw sugars and extra caramel drizzle. Basically about two ounces of actual coffee and enough sugar to jack an elephant's blood sugar into the stratosphere. 

One of the things I admire about your work is its scope and breadth. You happily dance across genres, pushing yourself from horror through to military horror and even epic fantasy. What is the reasoning behind this? Is it to stay fresh creatively? 

I hate the idea of being forced into one model of writing. I like to write about whatever strikes my fancy and that means looking outside of the horror genre from time to time. Horror is my first love, and likely always will be, but I want to do different things. 

You’ve collaborated with Charles R. Rutledge (another author whose work I deeply admire) on a number of writing projects. Just how hard is it to work alongside another author? What are the benefits and negatives of collaborations in your opinion?

The first rule of writing with someone else is to find someone you like and admire. The two are not always the same thing. I’ve written with Kevin Andrew Murphy, Jeff Strand, Christopher Golden and Charles. R. Rutledge. I enjoyed each process for different reasons. Mostly I like the idea of playing in a shared sandbox of ideas. I like reading a story that I’m a part of. In the case of working with Charles, we like to throw curveballs at each other and watch what comes of it. 

If you had to pick three other writers to be on your zombie apocalypse team who would they be? Why?

Brian Keene, because he owns lots of guns and has done his research. Jonathan Maberry becasue he's done the research and has mad martial arts skills. Charles R. Rutledge for both of the aforementioned reasons. 

What's the best piece of advice that you could give to people wanting to break into the industry?

Work at it every day. Finish one project at a time. Develop a thick hide. Don't quit the day job. Read outside of your genre, read inside of your genre. Write what you want to read, not what you think someone else might like to read. 

What book are you most looking forward to reading in 2017? 

Grim Death and Bill the electrocuted criminal by Mike Mignola and Thomas E. Sneigoski. The two of them working together on a novel is a notion that absolutely delights me. You can check out a link here.

Finally, what's on the horizon for James A. Moore this year? 

I'm working on the sequel to The Last Sacrifice right now. That's called Fallen Gods. Indigo, a mosaic novel with Charlaine Harris, Christopher Golden, Kelley Armstrong, Jonathan Maberry, Kat Richardson, Seanan McGuire, Tim Lebbon, Cherie Priest,  and Mark Morris and yours truly comes out in June.  And, with Christopher Golden, the novella ten years in the making, Bloodstained Wonderland is coming out this year as a limited edition from Earthling Publications. Also, Charles R. Rutlede and I have our third Griffin & Price novel, A Hell Within, coming out from Cohesion Press later this year. I like staying busy. People can check out my Amazon page for more information and pre-order details. 

James A. Moore, thanks for dropping by! 

You can find James's work at all good book retailers. Be sure to check out his Seven Forges series (I'm reading through it now and it's fucking amazing!) and his latest book, The Last Sacrifice. His work with Cohesion Press is also top notch military horror (Crowley for the win!). 

Until next time good people, be nice to each other and keep on reading! 

Review - Bound by Alan Baxter

Smash Dragons is back baby! After a lay off over the holiday period I'm delighted to get back into the swing of things with you all. Up first, I decided to revisit my review of Alan Baxter's Bound. It has just recently been released by Ragnarok Publications in the US and UK (with a blurb from me on the cover), and is an amazing read. 

Buy it, buy it now. 

I picked up Bound, by Alan Baxter, on the recommendation of a friend. I owe that friend a few drinks now. 

Bound is about cage fighter Alex Caine, a man who can see his opponents moves before they make them. Following a successful fight Alex is approached by an Englishman called Welby, who knows his secret and wants Alex to help him unlock the key to an ancient and powerful grimoire. Drawn into a world filled with magic, violence, and a chaotic Fey godling called Uthentia, Alex must harness his innate magical ability and fighting skills to prevent the end of the world as we know it.

Upon finishing Bound my first thought was 'damn.'

My second thought was that if Stephen King and Jim Butcher ever had a love child then it would be Alan Baxter.

Finally, my third thought was that Bound is a seriously entertaining read.

Full of dark, gritty and bloody goodness, Bound is possibly one of the best urban fantasy novels I've read in many years. Cracking action and dialogue propel the story along at a fast pace as the reader journeys from the cages of the underground fighting scene in Sydney to the icy wastes of Iceland. I loved the fight scenes, and I could tell they were written by someone who has trained extensively in hand to hand combat and martial arts. I almost felt the bones being broken and smashed at times throughout the book, and it was this gruesome realism that kept me enthralled page after page. The world in which Bound is set was also gloriously gritty and full of things that go bump in the night. Dark horrors exist everywhere (the Three Sisters for example) in this universe, and the world is full of mythical and supernatural creatures such as gargoyles and the Fey.

Alex Caine was also a fascinating protagonist, flawed in many ways but still very noble and honest. He was a believable hero whom I couldn't help but cheer for as the odds kept stacking up against him. His rages, lust, frustration, and mistakes throughout the story only added depth to his character and made him more human. His dialogue and interplay with the other characters (like Silhouette) throughout the novel were also loaded with wit and humour that had me chuckling well into the night. 

The other characters and creatures in Bound were also interesting. I loved the idea of the Kin, and the dark horrors like the Three Sisters and the Subcontractor. However, the two characters I absolutely adored were the evil duo of Mr. Hood and Miss Sparks and their Black Diamond Inc. They are the perfect narrative foil for Alex and Silhouette, and their dark and twisted relationship and actions brought a real nefarious essence to the story that was both creepy and strangely thrilling as well. 

All in all Bound was a bloody excellent read. I cannot recommend this book enough to fans of Butcher and Wendig.

4 out of 5 stars!

For more information, and purchase details, go here. Also, be sure to check out Alan's other work on Amazon or at his website. He is a wonderful writer with incredible talent. 

Friday, 16 December 2016

Best of 2016!

Well it's that time of the year again. The festive season is in full swing here at the lair (no, I'm not drunk... yet), and I figured it was time I reflected on what has been an amazing year for genre fiction. 

Looking back over the books I read in 2016 made me realise just how lucky I am to be a reader. I've witnessed the emergence of some stunning new talent this year, and I've rediscovered some old favourites along the way. To paraphrase George R R Martin, I've lived a thousand different lives over the past twelve months, and I've loved every single one of them! Choosing a top ten proved extremely difficult. I struggled to make my selections for a long time. However, after much deliberation and thought I managed to nut it out, and I'm pretty happy with the list I came up with. Most of the top ten have full reviews (those that don't never fear, I will get to them soon), which I have provided links to if you'd like to check them out. I've also linked purchase information. It is the season of giving after all, and as a friend of mine pointed out when you buy a book you are buying two gifts essentially (one for the reader, and another for the author of the book you purchased). So be generous to those around you!  

So without further ado, I give you my top ten best reads of 2016! 

1 - The Fisherman by John Langan/Crow Shine by Alan Baxter

I cheated a little here, but I really couldn't seperate the two. The Fisherman is a magnificent character- driven cosmic horror that crawled under my skin and refused to budge. Langan is a masterful storyteller, and The Fisherman is hands down one of the best books I've ever read, period. You can buy The Fisherman here.

Crow Shine is also an incredible book that is filled to the brim with rich and powerful dark fiction. It is one of the best collections I've ever read, and Baxter is one of the best short fiction writers working in the world today. I loved this book so much I even forked out a lot of money to buy a signed limited edition copy of it! Highly recommended. Check out my full review here, and buy yourself a copy here.

2 - The Grief Hole by Kaaron Warren 

Words cannot describe how good this book is. Poignant, chilling, and powerful, The Grief Hole is arguably one of the best ghost stories I've read in all of my years as a reader. Warren takes you on a terrifying journey into the world of loss and grief, and in doing so rips out your heart, stomps on it, and shoves it back into your chest. Captivating work. You can buy a copy of it here.

3 - Swift to Chase by Laird Barron

Swift to Chase, Barron's fourth short fiction collection, is arguably his best. It is an enthralling and frightening journey across both time and space that digs even further into his ever-growing cosmic mythos. Barron always pushes the boundaries, and this remains the case in Swift to Chase. I was hooked on every single story in this book, and Barron took my mind to places I never imagined I would go. Poetic, intoxicating, and brave storytelling, Swift to Chase is cements Barron's position as one of the best genre writers in the world today. Check out my full review here, and pick up a copy here.

4 - The Blood of Whisperers by Devin Madson

Have you ever read the opening few line of a book and fallen instantly in love with it? I have. The Blood of Whisperers had me hooked with the lines: We are judged. That's what the  Sixth Law says. It says the gods are always watching. That they can hear the whispers of our souls. From that first page onwards I was drawn into one of the best fantasy books I've ever read. Wonderful Asian inspired world building, brilliant characterisation, and a story that will destroy you emotionally, Madson takes everything I love about writers like Guy Gavriel Kay and makes it better. Highly recommended. You can pick up a copy here

5 - The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle 

The Ballad of Black Tom is cosmic horror at its finest. It is raw and formidable storytelling, with LaValle never shying away from both honouring and critiquing Lovecraft and his work. I was enthralled by the setting (1920s New York) and shifting points of view, and I adored the pacing of it. LaValle sets everything up like a chess master, and leaves you reeling at the end. Brilliant characterisation and top off what is one of the best stories I've read in many years. Madness encapsulated in novella form, and mesmerising from start to finish, I can only hope that LaValle writes more stories in this genre. You can buy a copy here.

6 - Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew J. McKiernan

Although this collection was published a couple of years ago (and won an award mind you), I didn't read it until early this year. And holy hell, what a collection! McKiernan is one of the most talented writers I've ever come across. Writing in a style that is both poetic and muscular, he dances across genres with glee with stories that range from Lovecraftian horror through to a clown counter revolutionary movement. One of my all time favourite collections. You can read my full review here, and pick up a copy here

7 - Into the Mist by Lee Murray

I'm a big lover of military horror, and Lee Murray nails everything I love about the genre with this book. Thrilling, action packed, and utterly enthralling, Into the Mist blends ancient myths and primordial horror with a wonderful setting and powerful characterisation. Lee Murray is a writer to watch. Brilliant stuff. My full review can be found here, and you can pick up a copy of the book here (Just be mindful that the publisher is currently switching distributors. Updated entires should be up soon).

8 - The Mirror's Truth by Michael R. Fletcher

Like Grimdark? Well it gets no darker than the work of Michael R. Fletcher. Fletcher burst onto the Grimdark scene last year with his book Beyond Redemption, which had me in a frenzy with his incredibly original world building and hellishly dark storyline (check out my full review of BR here). Fletcher continues with the mayhem in The Mirror's Truth. Brutal, uncompromising, and even more fucked up than Beyond Redemption, I loved diving back into this universe! I can't wait to see what comes next from Fletcher.  

9 - American Nocturne by Hank Schwaeble 

I rediscovered my love for short stories this year, and this collection was the book that started that it all. Dark, evocative, and utterly addictive, Schwaeble writes a power and precision that is honestly astounding. There are so many twists and turns in this collection that I didn't know left from right at times, and his take on Lovecraftian horror left me chilled to the core for months afterwards (and it has the best line about goats I've ever read). A masterful collection. Check out my full review here, and you will be able to buy a copy of it online again soon (Cohesion Press, the publisher, is currently switching distributors and putting everything back up with updated information). So keep an eye out for it. 

10 - Vigil by Angela Slatter 

I've been a big fan of Slatter's work for a few years now, and Vigil further cements her standing in my eyes. A powerhouse of a book that is filled to the brim with brilliant action sequences, jarring twists and thrills, and a universe that is both fantastical and grounded at the same time. Vigil was the kick up the arse urban fantasy needed, and I absolutely adored reading it from start to finish. I can't wait to read the next instalment! You can check out my full review here, and it can be purchased here

Honourable Mentions - 

I'd feel terrible if I didn't take the time mention the following entries that I loved as well. 2016 really was a magnificent year for speculative fiction, and I really did struggle to pick a top ten. All of the following books are brilliant in their own right, and they just missed out on a top ten entry. You all should definitely check them out:

Tallwood by Amanda Kool, Leviathan's Blood by Ben Peek, The Angel of the Abyss by Hank Schwaeble, A Shattered Empire by Mitchell Hogan, A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay, Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones, The Children of Old Leech edited by Ross. E Lockhart and Justin Steele, Fathomless by Greig Beck, Children of Lovecraft edited by Ellen Datlow, Crooked by Austin Grossman, Armageddon Bound by Tim Marquitz, Cthulhu: Deep Down Under edited by Steve Proposch, Christopher Sequeira, and Bryce Stevens, SNAFU: Black Ops edited by Geoff Brown and Amanda J. Spedding, The Warren by Brian Evenson, X's for Eyes by Laird Barron, Jade Gods by Patrick Freivald, The Stars Askew by Rjurik Davidson, Disappearance at Devil's Rock, The Lure of Devouring Light by Michael Griffin, The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley, My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier, Suspended in Dusk edited by Simon Dewar, Squid's Grief by DK Mok, The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence, Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie and Black Jade by Kylie Chan. 

So there you have it. 2016 has been a stellar year for speculative fiction, and I'm already very excited by what I'm seeing on the release calendar for next year. I wish you all a happy and safe holiday over Christmas, and I look forward to sharing the book love with you in 2017. Keep being good to each other people. 

Matt

Disclaimer -

In the spirit of honesty and full disclosure... I have included titles here from my employer Cohesion Press. I want to point out that Into the Mist and American Nocturne were both rated and reviewed BEFORE I started working for them, and are in my top ten on their own merit. The other Cohesion Press titles (Fathomless, SNAFU: Black Ops, Jade Gods, and The Angel of the Abyss) that I have listed in my honourable mentions are all also wonderful and brilliant in their own right, but they were published AFTER I started working for Cohesion. I wanted to prevent any accusations of bias being levelled against me or Cohesion Press. I highly recommend that you check them out also. 

Friday, 18 November 2016

Review - Crow Shine by Alan Baxter

Writing this review was hard. Damn hard. 

Not because Crow Shine is a bad book. Rather, it was hard because it was so damn good. I've been a fan of Alan Baxter's work for a number of years now. I adored his Alex Caine series, and I've consumed most of his short fiction work with gusto and glee. So when I heard he was releasing a short fiction collection that included some new and original stories I was beside myself with excitement and anticipation. 

Fast forward a few months, and after turning the last page of Crow Shine I found myself sitting and pondering the immensity and power of what I had just read. 

I was still there thinking an hour later. 

Crow Shine is an amazing ensemble of rich and powerful dark fiction that, to put it simply, blew me away. The book opens with the title story "Crow Shine", an intoxicating and heady tale of magical brews, dark choices and soulful music. I adored the imagery in this story, and its exploration of whether or not we are fully in control of our choices was enthralling. The next story, "The Beat of a Pale Wing" was also brilliant, with Baxter injecting dark and ritualistic magic into a story about disposing bodies, revenge, and gangsters. He follows up this brutal and dark story with a short that damn near broke me. "Tiny Lives" is a powerful and heartbreaking account of a toymaker who creates clockwork miracles for customers in order to raise money for his sick daughter. A tale of a father's ultimate sacrifice and love for their child, I openly wept after reading the ending. Baxter continued to tear at my mind and soul with "Old Promise, New Blood", a story about family, pacts, and blood magic, and "In the Name of the Father", a creepy account of a priest whose ministry leaves a path of victims in his wake. This pattern continued as Baxter explored the concepts of justice and death in "Shadows of the Lonely Dead". "The Chart of the Vagrant Mariner" then took me to the depths of madness in what was an incredible tale of pirates and cosmic horror, and "The Old Magic" broke my heart all over again as a witch watches her loved ones die around her as her longevity comes back to bite her. A truly poignant and gut wrenching tale that left me staring at a wall and pondering my own mortality for ages afterwards. 

All in all I couldn't find one weak story in this collection. I savoured reading it, and will read it all over again soon. Baxter is a masterful storyteller whose ability to pull apart the membrane of reality and explore the voids in-between marks him as one of the best dark fiction writers in the world today. His work has breadth, scope, and intensity, and it prompts readers to ask questions of themselves and of life itself. It delves into places that are uncomfortable and terrifying, and it delights in the shades that form the basis of our lives and the decisions we make.  

The human condition lies at the beating heart of this book, and it's a testament to Baxter's skill as a writer that he handles this with both subtlety and power. Crow Shine is raw, and it is incredibly emotional. It is dark, and at times it is even darker still. There is, more often than not, very little light at the end of the tunnel. And it is, most of all, truthful and honest about our existence. Sometimes, as Baxter writes in his afterward, the dragons do win.  

Hands down one of the best collections I've ever read, and a book that will take pride of place on my shelves. Formidable storytelling. 

Get in people. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

Crow Shine is available now online at all good book retailers. Go here for more information, and to check out some of the amazing writers who have blurbed this brilliant collection. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Interview - Devin Madson

Hey Everyone!

I'm delighted to bring you the next instalment in our ongoing interview series we have running here at Smash Dragons. This week I had the amazing opportunity to chat to Devin Madson, an author whose work has blown my mind in recent months. Devin kindly took time out of her hectic schedule to chat about things such as the craft of writing, the publishing industry, and giant penguins! 

I hope you enjoy. 

Devin Madson, welcome to Smash Dragons. 

Thank you! How super fun to be here.

First up, tell me a little about yourself. Just who is Devin Madson?

Well, I am! To be official, Devin Madson is an Australian fantasy author and vlogger. I live in the middle of nowhere with my partner, three kids, the dog we named after the Greek muse of epic poetry and Lilly the blue-tongue lizard. Sadly it isn’t the name I was born with. My parents weren’t thinking ‘fantasy author’ when they named me.

When did you start writing? Can you remember the first story you ever wrote? What was it about?

I started writing waaaay back in my very first year of primary school. The teacher wanted us to write a single page story and I was SO upset it wasn’t allowed to be longer. I actually still have the first story I ever wrote at home where it could be as long as I liked. It’s called The Little Sad Christmas Tree and it proves even seven year olds can be cruel to their characters…

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Or was it something that evolved organically as you got older?

Always. Always. Always. Well initially (when I was seven) I wanted to be a writer and illustrator, but MAN do I suck at drawing. Even my stick figures look wrong.

Tell me about the genesis of The Vengeance Trilogy. Was there one particular moment that started the ball rolling, or was it the culmination of lots of different things? 

The original idea, way back in 2007, came from a conversation with a friend about what it would be like to be an Empath, because it wouldn’t just be like ‘Oh, that person feels sad’. It would be far more absorbing, to a debilitating degree in a lot of cases. So I wrote a story about that. It was a shit story and bears very little resemblance to what you are reading now, but years later when I came back to it again I was able to extract some good from it.

The new story came partly from conversations with my mentor at the time, and partly from a pair of Confucian sayings. Firstly that ‘Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves’ and secondly ‘When two tigers fight one limps away terribly wounded, the other is dead.’ I have to thank the wonderful Alan Baxter for the last one, which I gleaned during one of his fight writing workshops at WorldCon in 2010. It left quite an impression on me.

What was the reasoning behind originally crowd funding (via Pozible) your books? What were the positives and negatives of choosing to do this? Would you go down that path again in the future?

Hmmm… my reasoning was that if I was going to produce a book as professionally as a big publishing house then I was going to require funds to do that. Crowdfunding was so vogue at the time and I, rather naively, thought it would serve as a good way to get some promotional traction for my books, too. It doesn’t really work like that. If you start out as a nobody you’re pretty well guaranteed to end as a nobody. The best I can say of it is that it was an experience, but no, not an experience I ever want to have again.

One of the most remarkable things that I loved about your first book The Blood of Whisperers (I'm about to start the second one) was your ability to weave beautiful prose and narrative into what is a large and incredibly detailed fantasy universe. Was this something you were very conscious of when writing, or does it come naturally to you? 

It sounds terribly arrogant to say it comes naturally to me, but while my brain darts all over the place while I’m writing, that isn’t one of the things it focuses on. I don’t pre-plan any details, they just seem to be there, fully formed when I need them as though there’s a separate world-building department in the back of my head that throws things at me when I need them. I often feel like I’m just coaxing information from the characters about the world they live in.

What was the appeal of setting your story in a world inspired by Feudal Japan? Why do you think we haven't seen more Eastern inspired speculative fiction? 

I’ve always found the Asian asthetic to be very beautiful and inspiring, and perhaps because there are a lot less eastern inspired fantasy novels out there my hands didn’t feel as tied. It allowed me to create my own world, to carve out my own space, without feeling caught to that sense of western medieval realism so prevalent in speculative fiction at the moment.

As to why we don’t see it more, this is probably because authors feel they would have to be more accurate in their depiction and do more research to get it right, but really it’s just the same as everything else. Unless you’re writing historical fiction you’re just pulling inspiration. Perfect accuracy is not required.

How much research did you undertake before constructing the vivid and amazing world of your Vengeance trilogy?

I research in bursts. I’ll go looking for the answer to a specific question and end up reading about something only slightly related for an hour, so it’s quite hard to say how much research I did. In general I research very specific things, like how high blood spurts from the neck when someone is decapitated, and how one folds a kimono correctly. Mostly the research is never used as is, just all gets smashed together so I can pull the finished world from my brain. Rather like a bunch of choc chips held together by made up cookie dough. Mmm cookies.

Characterisation is incredibly important, and it is something I feel you've nailed in books. What makes a good character in your opinion? What are some of the most common mistakes people make with characterisation?  

A good character has to be a real person. They need to be flawed and contradictory, they need to have goals and dreams and fears and they have to live all of this constantly, on the page, like a real person, not just sit back and let the author tell us about them.

The most common mistake people make when writing characters is hedging them in with a pre-planned plot. If you’ve already planned what is going to happen and are fitting your character into the story like you’re casting for a play, then an actors is all they will ever be. They can be good actors, but they are still actors. There’s no such thing as plot-based stories and character-based stories, there’s just a story, because plot IS character in action. What happens next at any point in a story shouldn’t be dictated by the plot but rather by what the characters would do next if they were real people. The best piece of advice I have for writing good characters is to let them breathe. Let them write the story, not you.

I'm going to echo a few different people here... why do you keep killing and hurting the characters I love? 

Sorry! I don’t generally set out to kill and hurt characters, because I don’t plan, so really they are killing and hurting themselves. Once you choose to write in a world where humanity is portrayed honestly, where people are as capable of cruelty and anger as kindness and love, then unfortunately these things are going to happen. Characters want different things and are willing to go to different lengths to get what they want. Something, or rather someone, has got to break.

Do you have a favourite character in The Vengeance Trilogy? 

No, I don’t actually have a favourite character. I have favourite relationships. I know Darius is a big favourite with a lot of people, but for me it isn’t him I love, but rather his relationship with Malice and his relationship with Emperor Kin. There’s always been something magical about having Endymion and Hope in the same room as another example. If I had to pick a single character I would have to say that Hana grew on me the most, but again it isn’t her, but her development that I love, so I guess I’m just really bad at this question.

Every writer has a process that they follow. I'm curious, what's yours? Are you a plotter or pantser? Do you write in a particular space, or use a particular program (like Scrivener for example) when you working on your stories? 

Pantser. I am 100% a pantser because plotting messes with my characters. That doesn’t mean I have no idea where things are going. Generally I say “I have a sneaking suspicion that X is about to happen,” and I might note that down so I stop thinking about it, but if it doesn’t eventuate then that’s ok too. As for space, I write wherever I can. I carry my laptop from couch to desk to kitchen bench. I’ve had to learn over the last seven years how to write even when my kids are killing each other. And I write in Word so it’s just about the words. Give me the option to keep notes and character profiles and shit in my file and you’re just asking me to procrastinate. I have notebooks for notes and don’t make character profiles.

You've recently started a new online series where you offer writing advice and publishing tips to new writers. What was the motivation behind creating this series? What's your take on publishing and the industry at the moment? What does the industry need to do better? 

I found that I was spending a lot of time talking… ok fine, ranting about writing and the simple mistakes that so many new authors make that are really easy fixes. It seemed not a day was going by without my editor complaining about something or other in the various manuscripts she was working on, and I realized that so much of it is ignorance. I was really fortunate in my writing mentors, but not everyone gets that, so I decided to talk about it and make the information more easily accessible to those who need it without them having to ask questions of scary authors and editors or get the wrong answer from a well-meaning writing group.

The publishing industry is still in a state of flux, but as a whole I think we need to strive for a greater level of quality. And this is across the board, not just big publishers or self-publishers, but for everyone. There is such a huge glut of books it is becoming hard to find something good to read now. People avoid a lot of self-published work for this reason, and self-publishers need to work harder to change that perception. But being published by one of the Big 5 is no longer a guarantee of quality either, because just like the self-publishers they are often throwing things out before they are ready. The Big 5 are huge beasts of companies that have the turning circle of an aircraft carrier and struggle to keep up with change. So they cut the same corners as everyone else and we get books with poor covers, books with less editing, a lot of the same thing over and over again, and promotion starts to fall by the wayside unless you’re one of the premium authors keeping them afloat.

You mentioned that you’re a pantser when writing. In your opinion, what are the positives and negatives to this approach?

The best thing about it is that it makes writing first drafts exciting, because I have no idea what is going to happen from line to line most of the time. It’s a bit like reading a book for the first time, except that you have to type it down as you go and take procrastination breaks. It also means that my characters are free to entirely be themselves and I don’t run the risk of forcing them into actions they wouldn’t normally take. Obviously the biggest downside is the amount of rewrites that are often necessary, because by the time I reach the end of a book the beginning usually doesn’t quite work anymore. But as much as I hate doing rewrites, they have never failed to improve the story, and I often continue to uncover hidden secrets in the story as I go. There’s a particular discovery at the end of The Gods of Vice I didn’t uncover until one of the last rewrites and it totally changed the course of the story from there. A character was being very recalcitrant about sharing that one.

What's the most important piece of advice you've received in relation to your writing?

There are so many, but the most important is probably to not treat your readers like they are stupid. The more work you make them do the more they will love your writing. Don’t dictate to them, instead let them step into the role of a partner and take ownership of the story they are reading.

What's the most cherished book in your library? Why? 

That’s a tough one. I would probably have to say my signed copy of The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett. It is tattered and worn and all the more beautiful now than it was when he signed it for me. It is not only an awesome book, but it reminds me that I had better get a move on with my work because, like him, I’m not going to live forever.

Your third book, The Grave at Storms End, comes out soon. What can readers expect from the final book of your trilogy?

The whole book takes place over eight days, the eight days that will define the fate of Kisia, so it’s not messing around. And even though my editor had to read it many times in editing passes, she still cries. Sorry.

What do you think are your greatest strengths and weaknesses as a writer? 

This has to be the hardest question you’ve asked yet! On the whole writers aren’t that keen on talking themselves up because it feels all too much like lying. But if you must have an answer I guess a strength is that I don’t often struggle for words, especially in first drafts. The fact that I’m a perfectionist is both a strength and a weakness. While the fact that I groan and fuss and throw tantrums over the writing of action scenes is definitely a weakness. Action scenes and I have an interesting relationship.

If you could spend the day with one other writer (dead or alive) in order to pick their brain who would it be and why?

So many hard questions! I don’t really have one hero writer that I venerate above all others. There are plenty of amazing authors I would love to spend a day with, but to pick one? That’s hard. I think I’m going to have to say Scott Lynch of Locke Lamora fame. He is a master of unexpected twists and turns, of vivid world building and writes the greatest dialogue of any author I think I’ve ever read. And even more than that he’s had to deal with divorce and depression that nearly derailed his career for good. I was a complete nobody when this happened to me, unlike Scott Lynch, but being able to pick the brain of someone who has been there too would be invaluable. How do you keep writing in those situations?

You’ve been very outspoken (rightly so) about the importance of having a good editor and team behind you in order to produce the best book possible as an author. What should new writers look out for when looking for an editor?

I do shout about editors a lot, yes. But I must admit that the finding of a good editor is not always easy. I was ridiculously fortunate and happened across my gem quite by chance and over the years we’ve become great friends as well as having a professional relationship. But I know I’m in a minority. There are a lot of people out there who offer editorial services, but they aren’t properly trained and have little experience. The SFWA have some great information on how to avoid getting scammed in their Writers Beware pages. It pretty much comes down to making sure they are qualified. Making sure they have experience. Making sure they aren’t overcharging you (or undercharging you because that’s a sure sign they aren’t a professional service). But the very best way to find yourself a good editor is by word of mouth. Ask around. Get in contact with a few, get quotes, send a sample, see if you’re a good fit. Don’t just take the first one you find.

What do you want to see more of in future speculative fiction releases?

More diversity of settings (another reason I adore Scott Lynch) as well as people, and continuing to push for strong female characters. I don’t mean strong here in the ass-kicking sense of having a female doing the man’s job and acting like a man, but rather strong as in well-written. We need less of the tight leather clad warrior woman and more REAL women, who run the full spectrum. Give them moments of great strength and agency, but also allow them true, honest, human weaknesses. Allow them to make mistakes. We seem to get caught up on making sure they are strong and capable and forget the other half.

Oh and giant penguins. Can we have more giant penguins?

Where can readers pick up copies of your books?

At the moment the best place to buy my books is from my website, where you can get all three, but as of this week the first book, The Blood of Whisperers, is heading out into the world and will soon be available in print everywhere! The Gods of Vice should be joining it within a few weeks, and The Grave at Storm’s End a few weeks after that. You can also find the ebooks in all the usual places and an audiobook of The Blood of Whisperers is currently in production, so if you prefer to hear your stories keep an eye out for that.

What are you working on right now? Can you give us a little sneak peek? 

Right now I am working on what I call my ‘Epic’. It’s a massive story I’ve been writing off and on for over ten years. It has gone through so many incarnations I couldn’t count them if I tried, but though I wrote The Vengeance Trilogy in that time I never truly shook these characters from my head. So I’m finally going to get their story down properly so they leave me alone. It’s a bit like creative exorcism. And sadly no, I can’t share, because I’m a pantser and am not entirely sure what I’m doing. So everything I have might end up getting entirely changed and rewritten. There you go, biggest downside to being a pantser - you have to keep it all to yourself until it’s finished. Except for beta readers of course, I shout a lot about needing those too.

Devin Madson, thanks for stopping by!

You can buy all of Devin's books over at her website, or online at all good book retailers. I implore you all to make them your next book purchases. I'm halfway through the series, and I've already come to the conclusion that they are amongst the finest fantasy novels that I've ever read. Devin Madson is set for big things, of that I am sure. Also make sure you check out her Youtube series Storyworks. The first one can be found here. They are great! 

Until next time, be good to each other and keep on reading!

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Interview and Giveaway: P. C. Cast

Hello Everyone!

I'm delighted to be a part of the amazing blog tour celebrating the release of P. C. Cast's Moon Chosen. Check out the blurb and cover below:

An Epic Fantasy set in a world where humans, their animal allies, and the earth itself has been drastically changed

Chosen to embrace her true identity. Chosen to follow her destiny. Chosen to change her world.

Mari is an Earth Walker, heir to the unique healing powers of her Clan. She has cast her duties aside, but when she is chosen by a special animal ally, her destiny is altered forever. 

When a deadly attack tears her world apart, Mari reveals the strength of her powers and the forbidden secret of her dual nature.

Darkness is coming, and with it, a force more terrible and destructive than the world has ever seen. Forming a tumultuous alliance with Nik, the son of a leader from a rival clan, she must fight to save her people. 

MOON CHOSEN is the first book in the stunning Tales of the New World trilogy. 

Cast kindly took time out of her hectic schedule to answer a few questions for Smash Dragons. 

P. C. Cast, welcome to Smash Dragons. 

What was your inspiration behind the incredible universe you have built in Moon Chosen?

PC: Thank you for asking!  The idea of animal allies and the bonds formed between animals, at first specifically canines and humans, was inspired by my bond with my working dog, Badger.  I had something scary happen in my life about four years ago, and I decided to invest in a personal protection canine.  I’ve always had a menagerie of dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, etc., etc., but I had no experience with working dogs or German Shepherds. They delivered Badger, my personal protection canine, and the moment he and I met we had an immediate connection.  It was like nothing I’d ever experienced, and was so profound that I knew it must be the foundation for a new adventure – for me and for my readers!  I, of course, had to include other fabulous canine familiars, as well as a variety of felines, equines, and many other surprises. 

The physical setting was inspired by my move to the northwest.  The beauty and wildness of the landscape surrounding me set my imagination on fire, and as usual, I turned to my brilliant father who helped me extrapolate what might happen to our world if it had survived a series of massive solar flares that changed the atmosphere, topography, flora and fauna – as well as humans.  Then I added a big dose of goddess magick! 

How many books will be in the Tales of a New World series?

PC: Right now I have 5 books planned in the series.

How long was the writing/planning process?

PC: Almost two years!  I brainstormed and plotted for almost a year, and it took me another year to write Moon Chosen

P. C. Cast, thanks for stopping by!

Smash Dragons has a paperback copy of Moon Chosen to giveaway to one lucky reader. In order to be eligible all you have to do is share or retweet this post online. You must also be based in Australia (sorry, but the postage is just too costly to send it overseas). Happy hunting! And stayed tuned for my review of Moon Chosen in a couple of weeks. 

Moon Chosen is now available from all good book retailers. Check out Pan Macmillan's website for more information.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Happy Release Day for The Angel of the Abyss by Hank Schwaeble.

It's Halloween! You know what that means. Costumes... candy... blood sacrifices upon the altar of the Prin... err... maybe not that last one. 

It also means The Angel of the Abyss is here! 

IT'S FINALLY HERE!

You have no idea how long I've waited for this book to be released. I work for Cohesion Press (full disclosure), and have seen this book creeping up on my radar for months now in our pending releases. To see it finally fly out into the big wide world brings a bloody tear to my eye. 

You guys are going to love it so much. Honest truth. 

Not convinced? Check out this plot summary and see if it tickles your fancy: 

Never one to leave well enough alone, ex-special forces interrogator and demon-magnet Jake Hatcher went looking for trouble, and found it.

Finally able to be with the woman he truly loves, his bank account swollen beyond proportion, life for anyone else would seem charmed. But Hatcher’s good fortune came at a steep price. Two years after witnessing former lover Vivian Fall disappear into perdition, he may finally have been offered a way to free her. But the forces determined to stop him are hidden, and a deal with the Devil cannot easily be trusted. 

Hatcher must discover for himself if he has what it takes to survive a battle of wit and wills with both an unknown contender for the Throne of Damnation and the being that has been its occupant since the dawn of Creation – The Lord of the Underworld, the Father of All Lies, the Great Deceiver…

The Angel of the Abyss.

Still not convinced... look at that cover! 

Still not convinced? What is wrong with you!? I'll sweeten the deal and give you a chance to win a digital copy of The Angel of the Abyss (see below for entry details). Hank also kindly dropped by on a whirlwind visit to answer a few questions about his new release:

Mr. Schwaeble, welcome back to Smash Dragons!

The Angel of the Abyss is finally here! What can readers expect in this latest Jake Hatcher adventure? 

Glad you asked! After the events of the first two books, Hatcher finds himself unable to really enjoy being with the woman he loves, despite having inherited the luxury of a small fortune, thanks to the guilt he feels over the fate of Vivian Fall. His tenacity in pursuing any avenue that might provide a chance to save places him in the middle of a power struggle for the throne of Hell--due to an instability for which he is largely responsible--and in navigating those treacherous waters he must face the prospect that very little of what he presumed to be true actually is. All while battling demons and other nefarious forces, I might add.

2) Jake is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting characters in dark fiction right now. I’m curious, how did you come up with his character? How much of Hank Schwaeble is there in Jake Hatcher?

Many years ago, I read about how one research study concluded that what separates societies that are hopelessly corrupt and societies where bargains and agreements tend to be honored is a prevailing belief in some sort of "hell," the idea being that a belief in consequences in the form of judgment in an afterlife has the effect of making people refrain from cheating or swindling or purloining from others. Whether that's true or not, it got me thinking about whether someone inclined to "do the right thing" would still do so if they were assured they would be punished with an eternity in Hell, regardless. So I began musing about a character, a warrior, who was "damned" and had no real hope of salvation, but who through events beyond his control becomes the only hope to save the rest of mankind from sharing his fate. I thought it presented both a powerful character premise and a fabulous backdrop for a supernatural thriller.

3) What can you tell us about this unknown contender for the Throne of Damnation? Any hints? 

Only that Hatcher, out of his depth and desperate, effectively makes a deal with the devil to find the would-be usurper in exchange for a promise regarding Vivian's fate--and, of course, everything goes according to plan without any surprises. And if you believe that, I have a quick way for you to make millions buying undeveloped Florida real estate on the cheap.

4) The cover art for this release is outstanding! Did you have much input in its design and configuration? 

For this one, I think I vaguely mentioned to my publisher that I'd like a representation of Hatcher, with a looming demonic shadow behind him. While I wasn't thinking specifically of the cover it has, once again Dean Samed nailed it, in my opinion. He always seems to exceed expectations. As does Cohesion Press.

5) Finally, what can fans expect in the future from Hank Schwaeble?

I've already signed a contract for my next novel, THE EMPEROR OF SHADOWS, coming from Cohesion Press next year. So, I'll be busy with that for a while. In the near future,  I have a Jake Hatcher novella appearing in the SNAFU: Black Ops anthology, due out in December from Cohesion. Sharing the billing with some great authors for that one, so it should be a treat. And I'll be teaching a Horror University seminar at StokerCon 17 this spring, so I'd love to get the word out for anyone planning to attend to make sure they sign up.  

Hank Schwaeble, thanks for stopping by!

In order to be eligible to win a digital copy of The Angel of the Abyss all you have to do is share or retweet this post online! Get in! The winner will be announced in three days. Also, if you haven't read any of Hank's work I highly recommend that you do. His short story collection American Nocturne (also published by Cohesion) is magnificent, as are his novels Damnable and Diabolical (book 1 and 2 respectively in the series that The Angel of the Abyss is a part of). All of Hank's work is available from all good book retailers.