Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Six-Shooter Interview with Justin Gustainis

Hello, and welcome to the special New Year Six-Shooter interview with author Justin Gustainis. Tuesday, December 30th, marked the official release date of "Evil Ways", the second novel in the Quincey Morris Paranormal Investigation series [Promo Post Here]. One day later we have Justin to answer some basic questions to poeple, who have yet to be introduced to the series. Now before we start, here is the blurb for Justin's first novel "Black Magic Woman":

"Occult investigator Quincey Morris and his partner, white witch Libby Chastain, are called in to help free a desperate family from a deadly curse that appears to date back to the Salem Witch Trials. To release the family from danger they must find the root of the curse, a black witch with a terrible grudge that holds the family in her power.

The pursuit takes them to the mysterious underworlds of Boston, San Francisco, New Orleans, and New York, stalking a prey that is determined to stay hidden. After surviving a series of terrifying attempts on their lives, the two find themselves drawn inexorably towards Salem itself—the very heart of darkness."


Harry: Justin, here is the first question to set the tone and get a reader in the loop. How was “Black Magic Woman” received? What was the general vibe from readers and had you had any contact with your readers in terms of what they wish to see incorporated as themes in further installments?

Justin: Well, Harry, I should note that writing a novel isn’t really a cooperative venture. I don’t mean that I don’t get information, and even ideas, from others while I’m writing, but the readers, bless them, don’t determine the contents of the books. True, if I saw the same concern cropping up over and over, whether in fan mail or reviews, then I’d have to pay attention, but nothing like that has arisen, so far.

I suppose you could say that the readers vote with their wallets. And the true test of that will be sales of “Evil Ways.” I assume those who liked “Black Magic Woman” will pick this one up, as well. I sure hope they do, and I hope they tell their friends. And I hope they have a LOT of friends. Still, if as many people buy “Evil Ways” as purchased “Black Magic Woman,” I’ll be a pretty happy little writer.

H: Now judging from the blurb in the promo post and the excerpt “Evil Ways” will team up Libby and Quincey again on a new case together, but this time their mission seems a bit heavier. Both have their guns out and ready to shoot. Can you hint how Evil Ways extends and evolves the formula?

J: Walter Grobius, the crazed zillionaire who was largely behind the scenes in “Black Magic Woman,” occupies center stage this time. Just because his plans for a “super ritual” of black magic were frustrated by Quncey and Libby (and others) in the first book, doesn’t mean he has given up. He’s a persistent old bastard.

Quincey and Libby are drawn into the case from different places, not realizing the connection at first. Quincey is blackmailed by the FBI into investigating another series of ritualistic child murders – but this time it’s on a grander scale than in “Black Magic Woman.” In the meantime, Libby is nearly killed by a team of professional assassins, and yet she has no idea who could have sent them, or why. Quincey and Libby agree to help each other out, and they eventually realize that they’ve been holding opposite ends of the same rope.

Then it gets REALLY interesting.

H: I remember from a previous interview that they will have to save the world. That tension must bring out both the rest and the worst in people. What are the readers to expect from the characters? What character traits did you find yourself exploring in the character this time around?

J: Quincey and Libby have some conflicts this time out. Quincey hires a professional bodyguard whom Libby strongly disapproves of, and Libby is unable to pull off some impromptu magic when she and Quincey need it badly. Of course, you also get to see how much affection the two of them have for each other, which makes the conflicts resolvable. There are also conflicts between FBI agent Fenton and his partner, a lady with some unusual abilities of her own.

H: Quincey has been seen talking to agent Fenton, an old face from “BMW”. Will we see any familiar faces like agent Van Dreenan? And on an opposite note who will be the new faces included in “EW” and will they remain permanent figures in the series? What are your plans?

J: Van Dreenan puts in a brief appearance – a cameo, really. And I’ve already told you that Grobius is back. New characters include Pardee, an evil, powerful wizard in Grobius’s employ, and I’ve already mentioned Fenton’s new partner – an FBI agent named Colleen O’Donnell who, like Libby, is also a “white” witch. And Fenton doesn’t know.

Then there’s Hannah Widmark, occult bounty hunter – although, when it comes to “Wanted: Dead, Alive, or Undead,” Hannah much prefers “dead.” For a fee, this deadly lady will hunt down any supernatural creature you designate. She charges a lot, but, truth be told, she’d probably do it for free. Hannah’s got issues.

As for who will be back for the third book, that’s just a sneaky way of asking me who lives and who dies in this one, isn’t it, Harry? Shame on you. Let’s just say that not everyone will die whom you might expect, and not every character you think will survive is still standing when it’s over. There are casualties – on both sides.

H: I see that “EW” will involve quite the travelling. Iraq is one of the countries the action will take place. Is this the only stop on road and what geographical surprises are we to expect?

J: Actually, Iraq is the only really exotic location in the book – unless you count Cleveland, Ohio, which some people from Akron probably consider exotic. The climactic scene in the book is set in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. It’s not exactly a thriving metropolis, but that’s where Grobius has a huge estate, out in the middle of nowhere. It is there that the battle lines are ultimately drawn. And in this battle, there will be no quarter given -- by either side.

H: Last, seeing how Libby and Morris will be together again the question pops by itself due to the genre of the series. Will there be a romantic relationship? Somehow urban fantasy always leads there…

J: Yes, but as you’ve pointed out elsewhere, I don’t write typical urban fantasy -- do I?

Monday, December 29, 2008

“The Perfume: The story of a murderer” by Patrick Süskind

Title: "The Perfume: Story of a Murderer"
Author: Patrick Suskind
Pages: 272
Publisher: Vintage

Originally published 1985 “The Perfume” has been slipping through the decades with one mission only and namely leaving you speechless. Or at least this is how it happened with me once I read the novel. Extravagant, visual and surrealistic the story spins out of reality’s control, demolishes the rules with a bulldozer and show like a grand theatre hall how the least likely things happen.

During my German class years I had the misfortune to sample firsthand literary works written by German speaking and have been bored out of my wits. The reason behind this is because Germans never really incorporate emotions in what they right and go along the lines of a philosophical essay. Intelligence in a novel is something I value, but it can’t support any story on its own. Needless to say “The Perfume” came as a pleasant surprise and a dark fairy tale taken from the Brothers Grimm, left to mature and evolve and then served with an actual historical background.

Süskind has woven a creepy tale, which dissects the human heart, spirit and essence so boldly, into our own time line in such a way that you begin to wonder what part is fiction and what is not and whether or not this is based on a true story. The protagonist’s name is Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, whose life is almost identical to most of the children in France during the 18th century. Left for adoption, then cast off into child labor and an unsure future. But what separates him from all the rest is his superhuman sense of smell. This is the first step into a new world for the reader as Süskind give smells a whole new dimension to play with. Jean-Baptiste can identify any solid, liquid or gaseous substance in all of its nuances. He can memorize them, mix them any way he wants and then use them as a map to guide himself without using his sight.

Naturally this talent saves him from a low paying job as a leather worker and launches him straight in to the perfume business under the wing of perfumer Giuseppe Baldini, who is only interested in profit. Either way Jean-Baptiste soaks in all the knowledge and techniques from Baldini before leaving for Grasse. There he plans to learn new ways to isolate smells from inanimate objects, but after spending seven years into a cave to rejoice the absence of human smells his quest changes. Suddenly he realizes that his own body doesn’t emit any odor of its own. Now he sets off to create the finest human body odor there can exist and from then on the story progresses into a bizarre tale of murder and planning to create the ultimate perfume. A flask, which is filled with the scent of the 25 most beautifully smelling teenage girls.

The nutshell version is the first hook in experiencing “The Perfume” and it doesn’t stop here. But be warned that this is a book for the people, who aren’t satisfied with the normal and would like something more daring, more surreal and sometimes if necessary vulgar. Süskind offers all. Every human relationship is being translated through the world of smells. The motherly connection with a baby, the way society recognizes and treats you, love and the concept of right or wrong are all a game of smells.

Mix the right ingredients and you possess the power to make women fall faint from admiration, outwit and deceive the harshest law enforcer that you are as innocent as a lamb and if the circumstances require, turn invisible. This statement is proven in the novel with heavy scenes of a group festive orgy and an act of cannibalism that transcends the concept of love and twists it to portray the ugly extremes sowed in the human instinct. In the ultimate end with the right perfume you can test the morale of the human spirit, as proven there is none or at least it’s rather flexible; you can overcome limitations in communication and you can change identity with a simple spray. In the case of Jean-Baptiste, the freedom to forge any identity is what leaves him with none whatsoever, instantly detaching from the human world. He is an outsider, who is only allowed to observe.

Of course another fun part is to perceive the world through the eyes of Jean-Baptiste, who is the epitome of all sociopathic anti-heroes to be created. His character is forced through another extreme, where it thrives and you wonder how in their inner world a human being can in reality never be part of the race. There are no attachments to the people in his life or around him. What ties him to the world is the abundance of smells, smells, which no one else can sense. Thus it leaves Jean-Baptiste a one of the kind character in a state of loneliness, some might relate to, but the majority will find too new and with different dimensions to connect.

As a conclusion I want to add that “The Perfume” has done quite a lot to impress various artists, siring several songs, two of which are “Scentless Apprentice” by Nirvana and “Du Riechst So Gut” by Rammstein. A 2006 movie also appeared starring Dustin Hoffman, which earned a total 135$ Million in Europe. The story did quite well I think. A real rarity.

“Death and Suffrage” by Dale Bailey

Author: Dale Bailey
Title: “Death and Suffrage”
Anthology: "The Living Dead" [Title Post]
Position: 3
Length: 30 pages

Third in the anthology “The Living Dead”, “Death and Suffrage” has an unlikely title for a zombie story and takes an unlikely angle to zombies. Dale Bailey says it himself in his bio that he likes to write weird stories and “Death and Suffrage” fits the category perfectly.

The undead have risen. Scary, silent and blank and they don’t eat people. They don’t cause mayhem in the apocalyptic sense, nor have they any intention to. The puzzling thing is that all they want to do is vote Grant Burton for president. The presidential election is a field day for the American politicians and as each four year mandate comes to an end, campaigns rise as bulky giants to cast their shadows across the nation in order to win over more votes. Robert has fully emerged in the neck-to-neck race to support Burton until a talk show fiasco triggers a Romero effect. In this new situation the people in politics have to reevaluate the rules, the system and values such as justice and the morality of society. At least this is how I perceive the thought-provoking usage of the undead.

Politics originally served the purpose to govern over a nation, constructing a firm frame for society to prosper. Ideals such as conscience, responsibility and civil duty towards the people were the gravitational center of how the system operated. Needless to say from the drawing board to modern reality politics aren’t highly viewed upon. I don’t understand anything as far as the actual mechanisms behind politics go, but share a fairly negative opinion. To be in position as a politician to acquire power is to find the second best use of system: making money. Election Day in any country is like Halloween for politicians and they spend a great amount on pretty costumes and then get all the goodies for artistry.

“Death and Suffrage”, to get back to the point, portrays a torn up shaded in grey picture of the politics. One way we have the grotesque need to lead at all costs in all states. The whole run seems like a great business negotiation and dirty fighting is allowed. As the story progresses the protagonist Robert films a TV add with footage of Dana Maguire, a girl, who has been killed by a fellow in kindergarten with a pistol the child has found at home. The length of which the campaign goes to cut the competition is somewhat gruesome, but here comes the controversial.

As voiced in the story, the add is sickening and feels like violating the dead, using this death as an advantage. But the fact remains the same. Dana is a victim of the government’s irresponsible attitude towards firearms. Whatever the people want is the motto politicians use to achieve high placed positions and people like their guns. “If there’s any justice in the universe, Dana Maguire will rise up from her grave to haunt you,” is essentially what Robert said about justice and the promise to melt every gun in the country. As shown politics have the power to undo injustice, change the path of a whole and achieve its original potential. The power to affect people on a national scale is strengthened by the undead, which have come to haunt and as mentioned act as society’s conscience. This is why the story is so grey. If you win, you don’t make things better, if you try to, you lose. But this is life and nothing is simple. Everything is a complicated maze with conscience and guilt as the restraints to your actions.

There is also the matter of how personal guilt builds shared conscience, but that is reaching past the point and an experience, which is left for the reader to live through and interpret. The point in this horror tale is that zombies have one other purpose than to freak you out in your own grave. They can make you reflect on your past, the choice made in life and reevaluate the moral state of yourself and the world around you.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Promo Post: "Evil Ways" by Justin Gustainis

The year 2008 marked the debut of a new writer in the urban fantasy genre, courtesy of British publisher Solaris Books. His name is Justin Gustainis, and the book was Black Magic Woman -- a novel that plays with the classic paranormal conventions, instead of simply dusting them off. A male protagonist (Quincey Morris, descended from a character in the original Dracula), the absence of love intrigue as a central element, and two parallel stories that intertwine into one explosive culmination set the first book in the "Quincey Morris Supernatural Investigations" series apart from current urban fantasy trends. [Review and Interview can be found here] Now the sequel “Evil Ways” is due December 30th and here is what we can expect.

“Supernatural investigator Quincey Morris and his partner Libby Chastain, investigate a series of murders where white witches are being hunted and killed - and Libby may be next on the list. From Iraq to America, a trail of clues is pointing to eccentric billionaire, Walter Grobius, a man fascinated with a devastating evil that can be traced back to biblical times. What's more, it seems he may well be involved in a sick scheme for white supremacy across the USA, and Morris and Chastain find themselves in their most epic case as they look to prevent the apocalypse from being released.”


BookSpotCentral is to be thanked for the exclusive chapter sample, which is also made available for the curious to sample what “Evil Ways”:

Libby Chastain, white witch extraordinaire, was naked, wet, and horny.

The first two conditions were due to the fact that she was in the shower. The third stemmed from her break-up, a week ago, with her lover, Nancy Randall.

“I don’t see why you won’t do a threeway with me and Mike,” Nancy had kept saying. “I mean, you told me you like guys, and I know you like girls. Come on, Libby, have some fun.” Mike was Nancy’s former boyfriend, and Libby had begun to suspect that he wasn’t as “former” as she’d supposed.

“Being bi doesn’t make me a skank, Nancy,” Libby had told her. “Threeways, fourways, moreways—as one of my favorite TV characters used to say, Homey don’t play dat.”

But Nancy wouldn’t leave it alone. Finally, Libby’d had enough, and told Nancy to pack her stuff and leave. Just as well. She probably wouldn’t have quit until she had us as the main attraction in one of those Tijuana sex shows—just me, Nancy, two dwarves, and a burro.

Libby didn’t regret her decision, but a week of celibacy was starting to take its toll on her ability to concentrate. Consequently, she was giving serious thought to using the shower massage gadget for a purpose its manufacturers had never intended. Then again, maybe they did.
She was reaching for the nozzle when she heard, very faintly, a sound made by the people who had come to kill her.

She didn’t know for certain that they had lethal intent, but the magical wards on her condo’s door and windows would have stopped an everyday crack addict or rapist, as well as raising one hell of a ruckus. The fact that Libby had heard nothing meant that whoever was out there had sufficient magical know-how to overcome her protections—and in near-silence, besides. People with that kind of skill don’t just stop by to borrow a cup of sugar.

It might be coincidence that they had caught Libby at her most vulnerable, but she doubted it. She sensed a malign intelligence behind this invasion, and its agents were probably going to take her life in the next few seconds unless she found something to do about it right now.

All the rooms of the condo were charged with magical energy; some of this was deliberate on Libby’s part, and the rest simply stemmed from the fact that she lived and practiced magic there. As a result, she could work some basic spells in her home without the equipment and materials that she would need to make them viable elsewhere. Libby quickly whispered the words of a simple levitation spell, and a few moments later found herself floating gently upward until her body was stopped by the high ceiling, her naked back pressed lightly against the textured paint. That would buy a few seconds when the killers came for her, but no more.

Libby darted her gaze around the room, seeking something, anything that could be used in her defense. But she found no inspiration in the towels, shampoo, cosmetics, and other paraphernalia that occupy a modern woman’s bathroom. Libby found herself shivering, even though the water in the shower had been running warm verging on hot when she’d left it a few moments ago.

Water.

Libby heard someone try the bathroom door quietly, only to find that it was locked. Most people don’t bother to lock their bathroom doors when home alone, but Libby had gotten into the habit during the seven months that Nancy had stayed with her. If the bathroom door was left unlocked while Libby showered, she could usually count on a naked Nancy slipping in there with her, in hopes of starting something. It had been fun and exciting the first few times, but Libby usually took a shower in order to get clean, not be groped by a sex maniac, even a friendly one.

The locked door gave Libby enough time to chant, softly but very fast, a conjuration spell that she hadn’t used in years. She hoped that she still remembered it correctly, and apparently she did, because in the stream of the shower below her, a shape began to appear. The shape was female in form but smaller than a human woman, and it appeared to be made of water. The creature spread its liquid hands and looked upward toward Libby. Why have you called me? a mellifluous female voice said, inside Libby’s mind. Do you want to play a game?

Water sprites, like most of the fey, are gentle, playful creatures.

Unless they are attacked.

The bathroom door burst open in response to a hefty kick, and two men stumbled in, each holding some kind of automatic weapon with a sound-suppressed barrel. Amped up with adrenaline and the urge to kill, the men opened up at the first human-looking form they saw. Their bullets passed harmlessly through the water sprite and buried themselves in the tile of Libby’s bathroom.

Which is not to say that no harm was done.

After firing one long burst apiece, the men stood gaping at the translucent fairy that was occupying the shower stall. But they did not stand there long.

With a screech of rage that only Libby Chastain could hear, the water sprite flung itself at the two hit men. But the watery form did not soak them. Instead it quickly divided in two, each half forming a long thin stream—that instantly shot up each man’s nose.

The streams went on and on, drawing substance from Libby’s still-running shower. The men staggered back into Libby’s living room, dropping their weapons as each desperately tried to draw a breath that contained air, and not water.

Libby allowed herself to drift slowly down from the ceiling. Once her feet were solidly on the floor, she grabbed a bath towel and began quickly to dry herself. But she did not turn the shower off.

Although white magic cannot be used to harm people, it does not prevent evil people from, essentially, harming themselves. Libby did not think that her practitioner’s oath required her to save people who had just tried to kill her. In any case, if she tried to interfere with the water sprite’s vengeance, it might well turn on her. Libby had no desire to share the fate of the two killers who were now, she was sure, in the process of drowning while on dry land.

She was not looking forward to seeing with what would be lying on her living room floor, but Libby knew she would have to go out there sooner or later, and sooner would be better.

She had telephone calls to make.

#

The man from the FBI was a compact, wiry-looking black man who had placed one of the room’s easy chairs so that it faced the doorway. He sat there as Morris came in, both hands conspicuously in sight, one of them holding open the small leather case that contained his badge and ID card.

Morris stood in the doorway, very still, then took a slow step into the room, and let the door swing shut behind him. He glanced over his shoulder to see if anyone was standing behind the door. He thought those kinds of adolescent shenanigans might still be in the FBI’s playbook, but the man with the badge seemed to be alone.

He stood up and took a couple of steps toward Morris, still holding out the ID folder, as if he thought Morris would want to examine it. “Special Agent Fenton, FBI,” he said. “Although I guess you figured out that last part already.”

Morris was still holding his room’s card key. Now he put it back in his pocket, his movements slow and careful. Some of these guys were always waiting for an excuse to show off one of the fancy moves they’d learned at Quantico—or worse, demonstrate just how fast they were on the draw. Morris had no desire to have his liver ventilated by a 9mm slug because some fed overreacted to an innocuous movement.

“To what do I owe the pleasure, Agent Fenton?” Morris said evenly.

“Answering that one is gonna take us a while. Maybe we should both sit down.”
Morris didn’t move immediately. “Am I under arrest?”

“No, you’re not,” Fenton said, and resumed the chair he’d occupied when Morris arrived. “Yet.”
Morris looked at him for a moment longer, then moved to sit down himself. There was another armchair in the room, but he chose the side of the king-size bed. In the unlikely event that things got physical, Morris figured he could get off the bed and into action a lot faster than someone sunk into a big, overstuffed chair.

“You know,” Morris said, “I do have an office in Austin. No secretary, but there’s an answering service that makes appointments, and they’re pretty reliable. All you had to do was call.”

“I’m aware of that,” Fenton said. “Thing is, this can’t wait, and I had no way of knowing when you’d be coming back. I mean, you have to go see Carteret first, don’t you? Or were you just planning on a phone call to let him know that the job was done?”

Despite himself, Morris blinked a couple of times. “I’d sure be interested in knowing how you got a warrant to tap my phone,” he said. “Or did you just decide that I was a terrorist, and skip the warrant entirely, probable cause be damned?”

Fenton gave him a satisfied-looking smile. “We didn’t tap your phone, as a matter of fact,” he said. “But we were able to get a warrant to look at some records. Your phone calls, both sent and received, for instance. And your bank records, which showed a recent wire transfer to your account from one James Tiberius Carteret. Southwest Airlines confirmed your booking of a flight to Los Angeles shortly thereafter. I was interested to see that you bought a one-way ticket. Didn’t quite know when you were coming home, did you?”

“Maybe I was hoping to meet some honey over on Rodeo Drive,” Morris said. “Hook up with her and spend a week at her place in Palm Springs, playing house the way the rich folks do. You ever think of that?”

Fenton ignored the sarcasm. “You were under surveillance from the moment you deplaned in L.A., of course. We noticed your intense interest in a certain residence on Mulholland Drive—which is currently the subject of a three-alarm fire, I understand.”

“That right?” Morris said. There was no expression in either his face or voice.

“Yep. It’s quite a conflagration, they tell me. Just a second.” Fenton produced a complicated looking phone, opened it, and began to use his thumbs on the keyboard. Then he waited about half a minute, looked at the screen again, and put the thing away. “Don’t worry, looks like they’ve got it contained. It won’t spread to the rest of the neighborhood, most likely.”

“I’m sure that’s good news for a number of people.”

“It surely is. ‘Course, arson isn’t a federal crime, unless you burn down some federal property, and Mister Fortner’s place certainly doesn’t qualify. Interesting fella, that Fortner. Did you know he spent a year with Skorzeny, back in the Eighties?”

There was silence in the room then, broken only by the distant sounds of rush-hour traffic nine floors below. It went on for a while, until Morris broke it.

“You’re an interesting sort of FBI agent,” he said. “Did you say you were with the L.A. field office?”

“No, I didn’t, because I’m not. I’m with the Behavioral Science Unit at Quantico.”
Morris nodded, as if this didn’t surprise him. “Behavioral Science. Well, now. I used to know somebody, worked for your outfit years ago, fella name of Will Graham.”

“Before my time,” Fenton said.

“Uh-huh, I expect it was. So what does Behavioral Science want with me? I’m not a serial killer, and I don’t chase them down, either.”

“I know the first part of that’s true, but I’m not too sure about the second.”

“Not sure I follow you, podner.”

“What I mean is, you’ve been involved from time to time with people who were suspected of a variety of crimes, including serial murder.”

“I don’t associate with criminals, Agent Fenton. Given the choice, I don’t associate with FBI agents, either.”

“Just as well I didn’t give you a choice, then.” Fenton stood up, but not like he was in any hurry about it. “You mind if I take my jacket off? I’ve had it on all night, and I’d like to feel the full benefit of the air conditioning in here.”

“Be my guest.”

Fenton slowly removed the jacket of a gray suit that, Morris estimated, must have cost him the better part of a month’s salary. Once the suit coat was off, Morris could see Fenton’s sidearm—some kind of plastic automatic, like a Glock or Sig Sauer, worn in a holster just behind the right hip. Morris wondered if Fenton was displaying the hardware for intimidation purposes, but decided that guys from Behavioral Science were a little more subtle than that. At least, he hoped they were.

Fenton placed his carefully folded jacket on top of the room’s writing desk and sat back down.

“I didn’t mean to suggest that you hung around with serial killers, Morris. But you’ve had dealings with a few, I know that for certain. There was Edmund Zaleznik, for instance. Remember him? St. Louis?”

Morris replied with a noncommittal grunt.

“Zaleznik, way I understand it, was supposed to be some kind of a wizard. Hired himself out to the St. Louis mob, as sort of a collection agent. He wouldn’t actually do the collecting himself, of course. But if one of the local loan sharks, or maybe a bookie, had a guy who owed a lot of money and refused to pay, they’d give the poor bastard one more chance, while mentioning that something real bad was going to happen if he didn’t come up with the cash in, say, forty-eight hours. And if he still didn’t pay, then something bad would happen. Something nasty, painful, and fatal. Sometimes it would involve the whole family. That was Zaleznik’s job, to make it happen.

That makes him a serial killer, in my book.”

Morris had sat up a little straighter. “A wizard, you say.”

“Yeah, not first-class or anything. But certainly capable of working basic black magic. Enough to harm quite a number of people. Until somebody sent you after him.”

“I wouldn’t have thought the word ‘wizard’ gets used a lot, down there in Quantico,” Morris said slowly. “Not a real scientific term, like psychopath, or paranoid schizophrenic.”

Fenton sat there looking at him for a bit, before finally saying, “How’s that friend of yours, Libby Chastain?”

It was Morris’s turn to sit and stare. Then he said, “Libby’s fine—or she was last week, when we spoke on the phone. Do you two know each other?”

“No, not personally. But we have a mutual friend: Garth Van Dreenan.”

“The South African cop.”

“That’s the guy.”

“Works for the Occult Crimes Unit over there.”

“Yep. You know him?”

“We met once, a while back. Seemed like a nice enough fella.” Morris snapped his fingers.

“Fenton. I thought that name rang a bell. You and Garth were working those child murders, the ones where the poor kids’ organs were removed while they were still alive.”

“Yeah, that was our case.”

“I was kind of busy at the time, but I heard later that you solved it, the two of you.”

“Solved?” Fenton suddenly looked tired. “Well, there was a resolution, anyway. Maybe even some justice, I don’t know.”

“What the hell are you, Fenton? And don’t keep saying ‘Behavioral Science.’ Guys from Quantico don’t use words like ‘wizard’ and ‘black magic.’ Not with a straight face, they don’t.” Morris shook his head impatiently. “Who are you really with? The damn X-Files?”

“The X-Files Unit does not exist, and has never existed,” Fenton said, as if quoting somebody.

“It is a myth, perpetrated by rumor and popular culture. The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigates crimes against the United States committed by living, breathing people, and does not acknowledge the existence of the so-called paranormal.”

“Okay, I gotcha,” Morris told him. “Now, what’s the real story?”

Fenton ran a hand over his face. “Look, Morris, until fairly recently, I was a normal FBI agent—well, as normal as Behavioral Science gets. There are people in the Bureau, you know, who figure that, to investigate and apprehend psychopaths, you’ve got to be a little nutty yourself.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that one,” Morris said. “All that ‘gaze into the abyss’ stuff, right?

“‘He who fights monsters must take care that he does not himself become a monster. For when you look deeply into the abyss, the abyss is also looking into you.’ Old Fred Nietzsche, damn his soul.”

“I can see you’ve given this some thought.”

“Hell, yeah. Therapy and everything. And, you know, I never thought I’d find myself quoting that racist bastard George Wallace, but he did say one thing once that I kinda like: ‘I got me a piece of paper says I’m not crazy—what’ve you got?’”

“Okay, you’re not crazy,” Morris said. “Duly stipulated.”

“Well, last year they assigned me to work this series of child murders. The signature was pretty distinct, and as soon as the perp appeared to have crossed state lines, the Bureau was sent in. Or, more precisely, I was, since my partner had retired and I was working solo for a while.”
Morris nodded. “Prepubescent kids, abducted, murdered outdoors near water, organs removed before death. Garth told me about it, that time I met him.”

“Okay, so you know there were definitely ritualistic elements to the crimes. I was doing my job as best I could, liaising with local law, working up a profile, all that. But then the newspapers got ahold of it. You can imagine the stories.”

“Hell, I even remember one of them: ‘Cannibal Killer Strikes Again.’”

“Fuck, yeah. Even though there was no evidence that any of the organs were consumed by the perp. But that kind of crap got people excited, especially in the states were the kids had been killed. So they started bugging their reps in Congress, which means pressure on the Bureau.”

“Pressure on Behavioral Science, you mean.”

“You got it. So my boss had this bright idea of calling in a ‘consultant’ from overseas.”

“And that was Garth. All the way from South Africa.”

“And over my objections. I’d never even heard of this Occult Crimes Unit, and didn’t see what good a fucking consultant was going to do the investigation, anyway. But my boss wanted to be seen doing something above and beyond the usual investigative routine, and maybe shut the damn politicians up for a while.”

“Uh-huh. And you’re telling me all this why, exactly?”

“Because during the course of that investigation, I saw some stuff that shook my assumptions about the way the world is, about what kind of shit really goes on, sometimes.”

“Black magic, you mean,” Morris said.

“Yeah, and the other kind, too—white magic, the kind your girlfriend practices.”

“Libby’s not my girlfriend. We work together, that’s all.”

“Whatever. Thing is, that case changed the way I look at the world. And when it was over, I took a chance, a big one. Wrote up a confidential, “Eyes Only” report for my boss, and told what really happened. It was pretty different from the official report I’d already turned in.”

“I can imagine,” Morris said. “Is Jack Crawford still in charge over there?”

“Nah, he died a few years ago. Heart attack. I work for Sue Whitlavich now.”

“Really? I’ve heard of her. Read her book on serial killers when it first came out. Seems like a real smart lady.”

“Like a whip. And a good thing, too. All those brains means she’s more open-minded than a lot of people at the Bureau, even some in Behavioral Science. So, she read my confidential report, called me in, and we had a long talk.”

“And the fact that you’ve still got your shield means that she didn’t decide you were crazy.”

“It means more than that, Morris. It means whenever the Bureau stumbles across something real hinky, they give it to Behavioral Sci. And Sue usually gives it to me. And she doesn’t ask too many questions, long as I get results.”

“Sounds like we’re finally getting to the heart of the matter,” Morris said. “So you’re here, in L.A. and in my room, and you’re in a big hurry, because…”

“Because somebody’s killing kids again. Only this time, it’s worse.”

#

Gunther Krause slipped into the abandoned house through the back door a few minutes before sunrise. There were stories that the undead could take the form of mist that could be directed anywhere they wished to go. If that were true, Krause had yet to figure out how to manage it, which was a pity. It would have made his existence much easier.

Still, he had little cause for complaint. He had been using this place as his daylight refuge for two months now, and it had served him very well. The structure had been condemned as unsafe, so no one came here, even stupidly adventurous children.

Krause would not have minded a visit from some children—but only after dark, when he was able to receive them properly.

As he made his way through the decrepit living room, Krause glanced down at his shirtfront. Damn, bloodstains again. And I thought I was being so careful tonight. Well, looks like a new shirt for Gunther. Maybe I’ll take it from my next meal, before I open him up to feed.

Krause was four paces from the basement door when he suddenly realized he was lying on the floor. A moment later, the pain hit him—a searing, merciless agony at the base of his spine that only one thing could have caused. Silver.

He heard them then, the sounds of boot heels crossing the uneven wooden floor. A few seconds later, the owner of the boots came into view. Krause didn’t really need to breathe anymore, but he gasped, nonetheless. He had in an instant taken in the black hair, the pallor, the scar along an otherwise beautiful, if hard, face. The woman’s shirt and pants were black, to match the boots. In one hand she held the still smoking, silenced .25 automatic that she had used to fire a silver bullet into his spine.

Through teeth clenched tight in pain, Krause managed, “They say you don’t… exist. A legend… a myth, no more.”

The woman let a tiny smile appear on her face. “And now you know better,” she said, in a beautiful soprano voice that sounded like angels singing. “Pity you won’t get the chance to spread the word.”

“Who… who sent you?”

“The family of your second victim. The second in this town, anyway. You didn’t disguise your work quite as well as you thought. They figured out that it was one of you leeches who killed him.”

Her boots tapped out another slow rhythm on the floorboards as she walked over to the nearby window. Miraculously, its shade was still intact. She moved it aside a few inches and glanced outside. “Sun’s almost up,” she said, conversationally, and walked back to where the wounded vampire lay.

“What are you… waiting for?” Krause moaned. “Finish it.”

“In due time,” she said. “Which will be very soon, now.”

“Just… because your first shot… missed…”

She laughed with what sounded like genuine amusement. “Missed? Oh, dear gracious me, no.
That bullet went exactly where I wanted it.”

“Why maim… not kill?”

“Because I wanted to spend a few minutes having this little chat with you, Gunther. You don’t mind if I call you Gunther, do you?”

A few minutes later, she sauntered back to the window and peered out again. “Ah, sunrise!” she said. “Looks like it should be a beautiful day.”

She turned back toward Gunther Krause again, and for a moment there was something in her face that would have frightened half the demons in hell. Then she reached down slowly and grasped the bottom of the window shade.

“Any last words?” she asked pleasantly.

“Fuck you… you twisted fucking… cunt.”

Hannah Widmark, known in some circles as Widowmaker, smiled broadly. “Well, those will serve, I suppose.”

She yanked the bottom of the shade down hard, then released it.

She stood there for a full minute longer, watching impassively and listening to the screams.

Then she left, her boots crunching as they walked over the gray ashes that lay strewn across the floor in the shape of a man.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

“Some Zombie Contingency Plans” by Kelly Link: Story 2

Author: Kelly Link
Title: “Some Zombie Contingency Plans”
Anthology: "The Living Dead" [Title Post]
Position: 2
Length: 18 pages

“Some Zombie Contingency Plans” is placed as the second story in the anthology “The Living Dead” and acts as a raw contrast to the first story in both themes and pacing. Kelly Link’s piece isn’t straight in the face horror with survival elements, but more of a mainstream philosophic short story with some elements of the bizarro genre. The story itself is shrouded in several veils of interpretation and in that regard I have had some mixed feelings towards it.

Main topic in “Some Zombie Contingency Plans” concerns the ambiguity of identity and the ease in the modern world to be anyone with no one understanding the reality behind you. The characters Soap and Carly meet up on a party at Carly’s house, where Soap is an uninvited guest and both engage into a conversation, during which both hide and change their identities. The borders between fake and real are long erased and by the reader begins to question the validity of what is going on and whether anything mentioned by Soap has actually really happened.

Kelly Link utilizes a simplistic almost monotonous storytelling technique in present simple tense, which creates universal anonymity. This feel ties in with the frequent reappearances of zombies in Soap’s head. He tries to figure out what zombies would do and wouldn’t do, how one can defeat zombies and essentially what a zombie is. Very subtle of course another border fades slowly and Link makes subtle hints that the reason why people are preoccupied with the living dead is mainly because zombies exist among humans. They are hollow with no identity and not necessarily dead on the outside, but dead in the inside.

My issues with the story concern understanding what the author has deposited as idea in her work. Whatever I extracted as thinking material can be very well be 100% wrong. When it comes to works of fiction I prefer to grasp fully what the ideas behind a literary work are. As far as “Some Zombie Contingency Plans” goes such an access was unavailable. In my case this is unfavorable, but of course I don’t rule out the possibility that there are readers, who enjoy connecting the dots for themselves. Either way it is great to note that Kelly Link has presented an innovative way in portraying zombies as criteria to judge and identify ourselves if that is possible.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Interrogate the Artist: Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

For the first time in TLR we have an artist to take up the spot on the virtual chair and hopefully this will set an everlasting tradition on the blog as well. My first guest from the art guild is Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, whose art I am 100% you have spotted around the net, if of course you love fantasy and mythology. So give a warm welcome applause to the Stephanie. I am extremely grateful for her contribution to the blog with her interview. I have been a very addicted fan of her work and I think I have mentioned it on my personal blog that whatever comes out from her brushes is magic and inspirational for the fiction I am writing.

Harry: But shall we start with the questions right away. What attracted you to art? What can you say was the first encounter with the art form to inspire you to become and artist?

Stephanie: I have always wanted to be an artist from as early as I can remember. I was drawing constantly as a kid, and never got bored because I just would grab a pencil and paper and be entertained for hours. As soon as I found out what the fantasy genre was when I was introduced to the fantasy/sci-fi section of my local public library, I was hooked on that.

H: To continue the thread of thoughts. Who do you think is the most inspirational artist to have a strong influence on you? And what trends and movements in fantasy art do you find enjoyable and would like to try?

S: When I was younger, I loved comic book art – the inking styles, and the bold compositions. I would dig through my younger brothers’ hand-me-down collection (from our cousins) of X-Men. Larry Elmore was another major influence as I discovered fantasy books at the library. As I got older my tastes and influences expanded to include Renaissance painters, Victorian fairy artists, Surrealism, Art Nouveau. In particular Magritte, Alphonse Mucha, Michael Parkes, Edmund Dulac, Alan Lee, Charles Vess, Dave McKean, and Daniel Merriam.
I don’t know about trends and movements – if anything it would seem the current trend these days is towards digital art. I enjoy watercolors, and ironically traveled the opposite direction from that trend – I started with digital about 10 years ago and switched to watercolors.

H: World Mythology is the center and base of all your pieces so far. What drew you to fantasy and mythology and can you please share what was the myth you enjoyed portraying most and what was the myth that you had the hardest time portraying?

S: Again, it was a subject that always fascinated me from as early as I could remember. I enjoyed the heavy volumes of illustrated fairy tales when I was young. I had a Hans Christian Anderson book that I was always rereading. My uncles loved buying books as presents for my brother and I whenever they came to visit, and I guess they noticed my interests and supplemented my collection with books on Chinese legends and more contemporary anthologies like those put together by Jack Zipes. I didn’t appreciate the contemporary commentary found in the latter so much until I got a little older, but I still enjoyed the stories themselves.
One of my favorite mythological creatures to paint are fox spirits. The fox in the east and the west is a trickster creature. Clever and cunning in Aesop’s fables, and in China they are capricious beings who can take the form of fox, or beautiful woman. They are a bit like the faeries of Europe: they toy with and are fascinated by humans, yearning for humanity and mocking its mortality.

H: Working with watercolor and pencils are somewhat traditional techniques opposed to the new digitalized art techniques. How much time must one invest into an illustration before it is finished? And consequently what are the danger zones with working with watercolor that many artists came most mistakes?

S: The time it takes really varies from piece to piece, depending on the size and the complexity of the details. I have spent anywhere from a couple of hours on a painting, to upwards of 50 hours. Generally I start brainstorming ideas in my head a week before putting pencil to paper. I’ll do this while working on another painting simultaneously. By the time I start sketching out ideas, I have a pretty good concept in my head of what I want. It’s just a matter of working out the specifics. This takes a day. I then scan it and work out size, placement of elements and composition. When I am satisfied with that, I print it out and transfer to my final surface, at which point I’m ready to paint. I think the most common error and frustration people have with watercolors is just not waiting long enough for layers to dry. Without waiting, the colors all blend into a muddy mess. Also, you have to have a reasonable plan in mind before ever picking up the brush, because watercolors are transparent, it’s a matter of working up the dark zones, and retaining the white areas as the paper showing through.

H: People certainly have recognized your work on book and magazine covers, card games and different RPGs. As a freelance artist you certainly have managed to be involved in different projects. How did you land these jobs and how does a freelance artist fight their way through the business world? How do you find your assignments?

S: I’ve put a lot of effort into my website and promoting it, and gaining visibility for it. I would say that was key for me, and it’s something that earlier artists didn’t have the advantage of. I can reach my audience directly in a way that didn’t used to be possible. Additionally, I started attending fantasy/game/anime/sci-fi conventions and talking to other artists and publishers. I would go to bookstores and game stores and look to see what products I would like to see my art on, then go home and look up the information for those companies, call them up to find out their art submission policies, and send in my portfolio. Freelance work is constantly marketing yourself and pushing your art and being proactive.

H: Since June 2004 all the fans of your art have been waiting for the fabled tarot deck, which should be released in the stores as of the year 2009. Can you share some interesting information about how the project started, was it a project you finance yourself and what have been the ups and downs during these four years?

S: It’s been an amazing experience. I look back on all the cards and I can’t really believe that I’ve managed to do 76 (2 more left to go) paintings on this theme, with work that I am proud of. I’ve been able to challenge myself during the process, by pushing myself to paint some subject matters and compositions that I would not have thought to do before, so I feel like it’s been one of the best things I could have done to expand my artistic and technical skill.

For years before I started the project, I had people telling me constantly that I should do a tarot deck. I wanted to, but 78 images is a lot – I didn’t want to start a deck and then find at the end of the road that the earlier pieces were no longer up to a personal standard. As you can see it has taken 4 years. And artist should grow during such a span of time and improve. When I started in 2004 I suppose I felt that my skill had at least reached a baseline standard that I would still be happy with when I came to the end of the road; and yes, this has proven to be the case. I can see things that I might have improved upon in the earlier work, but I’m still happy with it.

As for the why of a tarot deck – as you’ve noted, I have a fascination with world mythology. The major arcane in particular is filled with archetypes. These are all concepts and figures that under lie the human experience, and which are the basis of mythologies and folklore. For example, “The Empress” is the embodiment of all the queens found in stories of disparate cultures. She is Guinevere, Mab, Titiania, The Queen of Heaven. “The Sun” is Apollo, Amaratsu, Eriu; and so on for all the cards. Mythologies are from the universal subconscious, distilling common experiences and yearnings down into these principle figures and stories that are repeated over and over in cultures across the world.

H: Your bibliography also features several books of illustrations and a non-fiction tutorial book called “Deamscapes”. Was it hard to create compilations of art and how were the books received? Regarding “Dreamscapes” can you reveal whether it was hard to create such condense and full description of the elements in drawing what you draw?

S: I really enjoyed creating Dreamscapes. It was not too hard to break down my processes, and I appreciated the change of pace it was from most of the other work I do.

H: You are also a jeweler… I am thrilled about the few pieces you have in your shop and have to ask out of sheer curiosity how do you maintain so many creative projects and do you have a workshop for making jewelry?

S: The jewelry is more of a hobby. For the most part in the past I’ve just created pieces for myself and family, but it’s something I’m working on expanding.

H: Since arts are connected to one another, do you use another medium such as music or dance for instance to draw inspiration and enhance a piece you are currently working on?

S: There aren’t really any specific ties, but I am a flamenco dancer, and I do believe that the flow of dance and music is permeated into my art. I think of the flow of my compositions in the same way a dance moves, or like the phrasing of music.

H: Now to drop the more serious questions, what character from any medium would you enjoy to draw fan art of?

S: I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, but honestly there isn’t really any. There are so many concepts and ideas out there for brand new personas and figures; and I don’t even have enough time to get to all of those ideas that I really want to paint!

So this was the amazing Stephanie Pui Mun Law. I hope everyone reading this had a blast as much as I had doing the interview.

© All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner. The artwork in this post has been used according to the rules listed by the artist herself or at least I think I have.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

“This Year’s Class Picture” by Dan Simmons: Story 1

Author: Dan Simmons
Title: “This Year’s Class Picture”
Anthology: "The Living Dead" [Title Post]
Position: 1
Length: 17 pages

Chosen as the first story in the anthology “The Living Dead”, “This Year’s Class Picture” is an exceptionally strong introductory story to the world of horror to unravel in the 500 pages and break the ice or better yet deep freeze your spine in chills. Horror fiction has a different effect than any motion picture from the genre. While a movie can inject horror and chop off the breath in your lungs, fiction is like a crippling poison. It starts with fidgeting discomfort, vibrates into a blanket of goose bumps, entrances you and before you know it you are drowning in horror.

Dan Simmons doesn’t pull back and has landed some heavy punches. Every line is ominous in multiple aspects and brings something to make your heart skip a beat. This is a story to break the stereotypes about surviving zombie attacks and establishes a solid and grim reality to something as unrealistic as zombies. The character in the story is Ms. Geiss, a middle school teacher, who happens to be the sole survivor in a city ravaged by zombies. Considering the isolation, constant quiet, absence of life and a constant threat that zombies might target her base, the middle school, she has sought protection in what made sense all her life, teaching children. However all she has to make do with are the dead ones and this is the first disturbing moment in the story. Chains, rubber gloves, protective gear, capture poles, pliers and handcuffs have become a normal ritual in handling her pupils; a long routine, which has been going on for 38 years. Sanity is a fragile shell that protects the human psyche and throughout the story the reader experiences the cracks in that shell, the fear, the paranoia, the jadedness with haunting proportions.

But this is just the undertone of the story. There is far more to it than the human tribulations. There is also the human resourcefulness, which sets us apart from any other species and which in these conditions and need of survival, has excelled. Ms. Geiss has managed to level almost the whole town around the area of the school; to transform the school into a military basis with a moat and defenses and survive for so long due to her intellect and the books in the library. A woman in her late years operating a bulldozer and shooting with firearms is likely to a make a strong impression and a strong point about human survival instincts. Of course her devotion to bringing back humanity to all the zombie children in her class and that flickering hope are the fuel ingredients to her strength. It is that desperate meticulousness that pacts the most punch.

On the zombie front, things pretty much look the same. Disturbing. Usually when it comes to children people are always uneasy and overly protective. Any tragedy that can happen to a child causes triple the reaction out of anyone and showing adolescent zombies sounds like breaking an unspeakable taboo, it makes the readers even more shocked and uneasy, but considering the positive message built up throughout the whole story, they are the best choice possible. Even though soaked with tragedy “This Year’s Class Picture” gives a faint hope that humanity can be revived even in the embodiment of the ultimate end for humans. But I shall remain silent as to not reveal too much and spoil the experience.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Interrogate the Author: Starring Jocelynn Drake

Tonight we have the pleasure to bathe in the moonlight presence of Jocelynn Drake, a new priestess of vampire fiction. I was excited to take the opportunity to dissect the secrets of yet another author. As it turned out Jocelynn was willing to thrust the scalpel in my hand and guide me along the path of all her confessions. There is pretty much nothing she doesn't discuss with flare and great detail and this is exactly how we like our authors... chatty, not dissected. So let's give a warm welcome to Jocelynn, without whom I wouldn't have been able to interrogate yet another person.

Harry: I thank you whole heartedly for taking a seat in my virtual chair this evening and will be answering some of my questions. Shall we cut to chase and begin immediately? As we all know “Nightwalker” has been released several months ago. First how does it feel to be the newest in the new generation of UF writers and does the experience amount to your expectations?

Jocelynn: How does it feel? Thrilling, exciting, overwhelming and more than a little intimidating. To be included in such a fun genre is both thrilling and exciting – like being invited to an exclusive party. Yet, at the same time, I’m following in the footsteps of some amazing writers, forcing me to live up to some extremely high standards if I want to please my readers. So far, the experience has surpassed my expectations. Nightwalker received a very warm welcome from both readers and reviewers. I hope that I am able to maintain this kind of excitement through the rest of the books in the series.

H: So let’s dig a bit in your writing career and start at the very beginning. What motivated you to pursue writing as a career and what was your first encounter with the art form? Also how did your family and friends receive the news of your decision that you wrote and planed to make money off it?

J: I started writing when I was about 12 years old. I spent one summer rewriting the story of Robin Hood so that it now included a strong female lead to match Robin Hood. That officially got me hooked. From there, I have been constantly writing, jumping from one genre to the next, following whatever caught my attention at that moment.

In college, I reluctantly changed my major from engineering to English when my parents had a talk with me about pursuing what would make me most happy in life. To me, engineering insured that I had a solid financial future, while writing did not. However, after a single miserable semester of calculus, I decided it was time to pursue my dream of writing. I was terrified that I would spend the rest of my life as a starving artist since I was already aware of exactly how hard it was to get published.

But the novelist part of my life came several years after college. For the past 8 years, I have been a stock market analyst and financial writer, which has allowed me to write every day about the craziness of the stock market. If I can’t spent my day with my vampires, I have no problem spending it with Wall Street, as long as I get to write.

H: Was “Nightwalker” your first manuscript and if not can you describe what you have been writing before that? Did you take any courses or classes in creative writing during your days before getting published?

J: In college, I graduated with a degree in English with a minor in journalism, with a focus on creative writing. I’ve also attended the University of Iowa summer creative writing program (which I highly recommend). I’ve also toyed with the idea of going back to school to get my MFA in creative writing. Even after getting published, there still more things that I could stand to learn.

Nightwalker is not my first full manuscript, but it is the first one I ever tried to get published. Prior to publication, I wrote whatever occurred to me. In high school, it was silly romantic tales of high school love. By my senior year, I had moved on to traditional fantasy, which I am hoping to return to some day. By college, I was onto poetry and short stories in the Raymond Carver vein along with some more contemporary literature. The vampires didn’t really start to show up until about 5-6 years ago, and they appeared in all forms – short stories, poetry, and finally novels. Happily, I think the vampires are here to stay for a while.

H: As we trod into the matters at hand, can you share why did you choose vampires as the leading species in the Dark Days series? What was the quality for you that set them apart from all the rest for you? Hopefully that won’t involve Anne Rice or sexy aura.

J: Ha! I read Anne Rice. I read Laurell K. Hamilton, and Kim Harrison, along with Charlaine Harris, Christine Feehan, and dozens others. Naturally, I also read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I liked the darker vampires the most, those where their humanity was just a veneer. For me, the fun part of the vampire is taking something that was once human with human memories, but giving them super-human powers and the instincts of a deadly predator. You end up with a creature in constant turmoil as it struggles to reconcile the two sides. Is it still human? Is it more animal? Is it something else above what is human? It’s something that Mira struggles with, particularly when she is around others of her own kind.

H: Your Mira is quite the contradiction. How did it occur to you to add her fire powers and does it stand as a symbol for you hidden from the reader? Also doesn’t there exist the threat she can get herself burned by the fire she manipulates?

For some reason, Mira was always the Fire Starter in my mind. It was how she was born in my brain. I’m not exactly sure of the “how” beyond that. I know the “why,” though. It is linked to her lineage, which will come up in more detail in later books.

Can she get burned? Not while she’s conscious. Unconscious? I’m honestly not sure.

H: To what degree did research get involved in constructing you vampire society, its ties between one another and the hierarchy and what was fiction? Due to the Triad I think it was hinted that vampires have some sort of other magical skills, perhaps even their own vault of spells based on their peculiar nature. Can we expect some spell casting power from vampires?

J: I didn’t do any specific research for my vampire society. I just tried to imagine how they would act according to the destruction of their human morals, and the general need for control within the chaos. You will meet more of the vampire hierarchy and its working in Dayhunter. The Coven, which rules the nightwalker world, is a dark, manipulative group.

My vampires will never be major spell casters. There will be the occasional spell and some are very specific to their race. Others are just powers they gain with age. Jabari, my oldest nightwalker, can disappear and reappear over vast distances. Sadira can use telekinesis and fly.
H: Speaking of making up things your new races naturi and bori are the hot topic among reviewers. What are your plans for them and will we be able to witness more of their power, magical and their history? How did you decide to involve these races, are there any guidelines you are following or reinventing the whole archetype and how did their names come to be?

J: The naturi and the bori will remain major plot topics for quite some time within the series, even though there are a few other things that I would like to tackle. We will be able to see more of their history and their abilities with each book that is released, but I’m reluctant to give away all my secrets here. Dayhunter will give you a closer look at Rowe and his abilities along with his past with Mira. Meanwhile, Book 3 will give a closer look at the naturi hierarchy.

I created them because I needed a powerful villain for the nightwalkers and I didn’t want their natural enemy to be the shapeshifters, so I essentially had to come up with my own race. Furthermore, I believe in keeping things in balance. The naturi were created first, but they needed a polar opposite to keep them in balance, so I also created the bori. The naturi name was created because I needed a creature linked to nature. The bori name was taken from some old mythology out of Africa.

H: Danaus is one of a kind man and has captivated me with his unusual scent as Mira has described it, his mysterious part, origins and power. Quite frankly I have been using boiling blood in a project of mine, so I am very interested to know what intentions lurked in your head to give him such an ability and whether there are other like him as type of being?

J: And I thought I was the first to use boiling blood! Just teasing. I needed a creature that could stand up to Mira and put a little fear in her. Why not a creature just as deadly from a distance as her? I can say with complete confidence that there are no other creatures like Danaus. I promise you find out about his unique heritage in Dayhunter.

H: As you know great minds think alike, so boiling blood shouldn't be an issue. *grin* “Nightwalker” left the two mortal enemies, Mira and Danaus, closer as allies. I can feel the budding seed of something more than an alliance. Could you confirm any actual romance in the following novels or is it just going to become a strong friendship?

J: Ha! You do want all my secrets! I am building the book so that it can actually go in either direction. The characters have a lot of respect for each other’s sense of honor and sense of duty, which I think is important for any kind of relationship. However, there are still some pretty massive barriers standing between them. IF they do end up more than friends, it is undoubtedly going to be a rocky road for them.

H: From your blog stats I see that you are working intensely on new titles in the Dark Days series. How far do you think the series will reach, how many books is your contract for and how many do you think you can keep writing for the coolness of the world? Do you have any other ideas for series?

J: I recently was offered a second contract for another 3 books by HarperCollins, so the series is looking at least 6 books, but I would like to go much farther than that. It’s hard to say how many books, but it will be a while before I tire of Mira and Danaus.

I do have an idea for a shorter series that would run parallel to the Dark Days series. It would involve the same world, but completely different characters – though there would be the possibility for Dark Days character to make cameo appearances. However, it may be a few years before I can get about to working on that series. I have a few other books in other genres that I would like to finish first.

H: Your day job involves close work with the stock market. With the recent crisis over at Wall Street how are things developing to handling the crisis and do you have any involvement in saving the financial world as we know it? I can already hear the puns “Financial Woman is here to raise your economic benefit”.

J: LOL. No, I’m not currently in a position to save the financial market, but at least I can also say that I am not the cause of our problems either. I am just an observer of the market. I write my observations for a website and I am pleased to say that that is the extent of the damage I can cause.

H: Now around the Black Wednesday that the publishing industry is suffering, how much in danger are new authors such as yourself? It is true that you had a really strong debut, a debut that turned in an instant bestseller at position 117 from 150 spots is quite an achievement, but do you have to fear anything regarding your books.

J: I am pleased to report that I appeared on both the New York Times and USA Today Bestseller list, and stayed there for 4 weeks, positively stunning my publisher. I think that helped to win me a second contract. But even with that second contract in hand, there is always that fear that you will be next on the chopping block. I think most writers have that fear right now as book sales slow. It just forces you to make sure that your next book is better than the last. It demands that you are more aggressive in your self-promotion. For me, the greatest fear is being forgotten between books. Luckily, 2009 will be a busy year with the release of Dayhunter, the anthology short story, and then Book 3 in the fall. In the end, you just keep plugging along, being the best writer that you can be.

H: So let’s cut with the more serious questions. How does one writing day pass for Jocelynn Drake with maintain both a professional and personal life?

J: Typically, I’m in the office before 7:30 in the morning, reviewing the market news and beginning to prep my stories for the day. I work straight through until about 5. I’m home again by around 6:30 in the evening. I try to give myself about an hour to eat dinner and relax a bit. Then for the next few hours, it’s catching up on email, blogging, and a little light writing until bed. My heaviest writing days tend to be on the weekend, where I work all day with little to distract me.

H: Who would you like to have Mira or any other character from your book fight in a death match, if you could choose from all popularized characters from all mediums, meaning games, comic books and etcetera?

J: Wow! That’s a good question and a hard one. For fear of showing my geekiness, I would love to see Mira in an all out death match with Sephiroth from SquareEnix’s Final Fantasy 7 video game. He probably one of the best villains – and best conflicted villains—ever created. He also has some mad skills. I would love to give Mira the opportunity to just get into a fight and totally get dirty and violent, which is what Sephiroth would offer.

H: Oh, I did watch AdventChildren so I know that one. He would be an interesting one to fight and be killed by Mira. Can you tip young writers all around the world with some writing advice that has been accumulated through your own experience? Reading and writing and then some are all very fine and dandy, but there is a lot more to the craft to expect in the advice department.

J: For me, the devil is in the details. And I mean that mostly when it comes to characters. Know your characters inside and out. Their motivations, their hopes, their fears, their dreams, and their naughty, naughty thoughts. You have to know things that will probably never hit the written page. That kind of depth makes your characters so real and so alive to the reader. Give them faults that you know all too well. Make them fallible and broken. It’s something every reader will be able to understand.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"The Duchess"

Title: The Duchess
Running time: 109 minutes
Rated: PG-13
Cast: Keira Knightley,Ralph Fiennes, Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell
Director: Saul Dibb

My information on new movies pretty much runs out with either a fleeting poster on the net or a cleverly posted trailer on some websites, the ones I download movies from usually. Because of that little was known to me about Keira Knightley’s newest personification in the movie “The Duchess”. All I did know after watching the minute long trailer was the insatiable need to watch this movie as soon as possible. The premiere and cinema round have already passed this autumn and after several months it was available to watch in Bulgaria as well. To put my experience in one sentence I would say that my expectations were met, satisfied to the fullest and then surpassed.

Lady Georgiana Spencer (Knightley) marries at the tender age of seventeen to the wealthy, well known and respected William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire (Fiennes). According to the rules behind marrying off daughters in the 18th century such an arrangement can be considered as a major success for the Spencer family. Georgiana elevates in society as the Duchess of Devonshire, earning prestige for herself and her family. However as the story progresses she finds that the world belongs to the men, who can do whatever they please, with disregard to their wives as they have only one duty: giving birth to a male child. Georgiana’s fantasy revolving around family idyll is inevitably lost due to William’s frequent affaires and her inability to give him a son. The turning point on her life is Georgiana’s friendship with Lady Foster (Atwell), who becomes William’s mistress and life in the Devonshire estate becomes a very absurd marriage relationship between three people. Georgiana decides to strike back and results in several dramatic situations, until she can find peace within herself.

I have saved all the roller coaster rides for the viewer to experience and their number is satisfying enough to make this movie one of the top historical dramas in your rank lists. Interesting enough to mention is that “The Duchess” has confirmed historical roots, so it is not entirely fiction, but more like a biographical look over the life of the Duchess of Devonshire, who according to Internet has blood relations to the deceased Princess Diana. As far as my movie genre tastes go, I am always drawn to this time period, because I know I will expect something worth watching and with class. The emotional issues in the 18th century as well as the moral aspects in London’s elite have always intrigued me deeply. In this regard “The Duchess” doesn’t fail to deliver the intricate web sticking and entwining relationships together as well as the loss of privacy and most social events involve playing charades and secretly signal people behind your back.

Music created the perfect atmosphere. Costumes created a strong visual spell and every small detail contributed to the movie by grabbing the viewer’s attention. Strong performance is also promised. Keira Knightley has clearly had some practice in titles such as “Pride and Prejudice”, “Silk” and the Pirates of the Caribbean series, so as we see she is in her forte. Ralph Fiennes hasn’t landed a single bad enough role to damage his reputation as a precise and talented enough actor to bring any character to life. Among these veterans so to say in the industry come Hayley Atwell from “Brideshead Revisited” and Dominic Cooper from “Mama Mia”.

Even though I find it as one of the strongest British productions of the years, the movie lacks in certain areas. The director Saul Dibb could have dealt with the pacing in the movie far better and to create a more dynamic progress, upon which the emotions to avalanche and smite the viewer. Instead there are zones, where all emotional tension is diminished and I was left bored. Gladly enough this didn’t occur to frequent. The second flaw of the movie would be the ending itself as it was too vague, it never really built to it and left one of the major plot lines unsolved, namely the Lady Foster issue, which persists throughout the whole movie.

But aside all the minor glitches, “The Duchess” will leave a very strong impression or if not that you will know that the two hours of viewing time haven’t been wasted.

What Others are Saying: USA Today ~ Chicago Metromix ~ San Francisco Chronicle ~ The New Republic ~ The Philadelphia Inquierer ~ The New York Post

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"The Living Dead": Title Post

Title: "The Living Dead"
Editor: John Joseph Adams
Pages: 500
Publisher: Nightshade Books

Anthologies are these entities on their own that create a certain suicide notion in a reviewer, because as reviewers we strive to convey the maximum impact and experience from a story and an anthology is a rich and powerful arrangement of stories. The usual question is “How the heck am I going to do justice to all the authors’ work?” and the answer for me is “You won’t review the anthology as a whole, but story by story”. I am not sure whether any reviewer has done this, but readers be prepared for the longest review that may stretch into months. The target this time is “The Living Dead”, the 500 page mammoth anthology of zombie fiction, edited by the anthology guru John Joseph Adams, whose hands have compiled “Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse” and “Seeds of Change”.

Now let’s move on to the topic at hand aka Zombies with the necessary capital Z. As the press release in September and the Introduction to the anthology stated the zombie has been the center of attention for quite awhile. From ancient to up till now, the resurrected corpse has been a fantasy, spinning in the human for quite awhile, until Romero raised their existence to a cult. Zombies have crossed over from mythology and found an empire in popular culture with movies, video games, comic books, novels, badges, posters, cups, other merchandise and not to mention the Halloween costumes. But what exactly attract us to the zombies, why do we insist to get high on adrenaline by watching zombies?

My opinion is focused on two points. One, the zombie is a twisted metaphor and reassurance that life after death doesn’t just simply go away, it can stay and it can return. What happens after we are dead has given birth to many theories on the afterlife. The zombie states it simply, in order for people to return to their bodies, even though like a monster, they must have been somewhere to come back. Plain and simple. Second, the zombie is the purest form of fear for me. Other monsters in culture have been showed as complex and a complex system of characteristics, where the human aspects linger. Zombies on the other hand are just an unstoppable force that cannot be reasoned with, that does not register fear towards its weakness and has one goal in its existence, namely to devour. According to authors featured in the anthology zombies are our own worst enemy, the clearest version of human society turned into a mass with no individuality and with only one purpose that drives them: consumption.

Here is how the review will take place. This is the list of all the 34 stories featured in the anthology and as I move from story to story. I will link the story to the main post and the story’s title in the main post to the actual review, so that they can remain connected to one another. Hopefully the experiment will benefit the publisher as much the readers.

1. This Year’s Class Picture — Dan Simmons
2. Some Zombie Contingency Plans — Kelly Link
3. Death and Suffrage — Dale Bailey
4. Ghost Dance — Sherman Alexie
5. Blossom — David J. Schow
6. The Third Dead Body — Nina Kiriki Hoffman
7. The Dead — Michael Swanwick
8. The Dead Kid — Darrell Schweitzer
9. Malthusian’s Zombie — Jeffrey Ford
10. Beautiful Stuff — Susan Palwick
11. Sex, Death and Starshine — Clive Barker
12. Stockholm Syndrome — David Tallerman
13. Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead — Joe Hill

14. Those Who Seek Forgiveness — Laurell K. Hamilton
15. In Beauty, Like the Night — Norman Partridge
16. Prairie — Brian Evenson
17. Everything Is Better with Zombies — Hannah Wolf Bowen
18. Home Delivery — Stephen King

19. Less Than Zombie — Douglas E. Winter
20. Sparks Fly Upward — Lisa Morton
21. Meathouse Man — George R. R. Martin
22. Deadman’s Road — Joe R. Lansdale
23. The Skull-Faced Boy — David Barr Kirtley

24. The Age of Sorrow — Nancy Kilpatrick
25. Bitter Grounds — Neil Gaiman
26. She’s Taking Her Tits to the Grave — Catherine Cheek
27. Dead Like Me — Adam-Troy Castro
28. Zora and the Zombie — Andy Duncan

29. Calcutta, Lord of Nerves — Poppy Z. Brite
30. Followed — Will McIntosh
31. The Song the Zombie Sang — Harlan Ellison® and Robert Silverberg

32. Passion Play — Nancy Holder
33. Almost the Last Story by Almost the Last Man — Scott Edelman
34. How the Day Runs Down — John Langan

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Nightwalker" by Jocelynn Drake

Title: "Nightwalker"
Author: Jocelynn Drake
Series: Dark Days Series, Book One
Pages: 384
Publisher: Eos
Misc: Jocelynn's Blog

Urban fantasy has been the vault to host all the vampire lore in the world. Novels in the genre always rotate around the gravitational centre called vampires. Even though people complain to have reached a saturation point with vampire trivia, I can’t help myself but indulge in new titles. For me every author adds a new nuance to the infinite mythos and play a completely new chess game. I find that “Nightwalker” by Jocelynn Drake has something going on as a first installment in the Dark Days series. But before I delve into the more analytical aspects regarding the review, shell we start with a small synopsis from the cover blub.

“For centuries Mira has been a nightwalker--an unstoppable enforcer for a mysterious organization that manipulates earth-shaking events from the darkest shadows. But elemental mastery over fire sets her apart from others of her night-prowling breed...and may be all that prevents her doom.

The foe she now faces is human: the vampire hunter called Danaus, who has already destroyed so many undead. For Mira, the time has come to hunt...or be hunted.
But in a dimension just beyond the world's boundaries, a banished race stirs dangerously, hungry for power, for domination, for vengeance.

Already a protective seal has been breached: already blood flows like a river through the world's great cities.

And only the collaboration of two sworn enemies can save humankind...and its feral brethren.”


Considering the fact not many readers enjoy their reviews to be filled with spoilers I will try to refrain from too many details. What separate “Nightwalker” from the majority of other vampire novels are the scope and the stage, upon which the story develops. As far as urban fantasy novels go the biggest area combed for an story has been some interstate traveling from what I have gathered, even if there have been trips to other dimensions. Drake knows that to have a world threatening situation, saving it should involve traveling around the world. Eventual scenery for fighting scenes becomes Savannah, US; Egypt and England, while flashbacks involve the island of Cyprus and Machu Pichu. The diversity and the constant motion create a different brand of excitement that enhances the suspense the story brings to the table, not to mention that is a breath of fresh air in the genre.

To move down the positive checklist, we have a controversial main character in sense of vampire biology. As it turns out Mira has the ability to manipulate fire, which is one of the fastest ways to erase a vampire from the face of the Earth. In terms of behavior, Mira can be tough and physically primal, but relies on intelligence. Due to her nightmarish past suffers from a very powerful state of psychosis, which leaves her vulnerable to certain enemies.

Unlike other heroines she doesn’t desire to be the center of attention, take matters into her own hands and let pride take her body’s steering wheel. Such a calculative aspect rooted into her characters makes her easier to be identified with and much more likeable, because she has obvious fears that she is quite aware of, much like most people in their common lives.

While we are still in the character department it is worth mentioning the hunter Danaus, who is a magical being unlike any other in Mira’s world. Abiding the urban fantasy formula for novel writing Danaus is the mortal enemy number one from the human world and Mira shares with him a mutual I-want-to-kill-you relationship, even that seems to change over the course as both explore each others’ worlds. Proficient at hand to hand combat and with the ability to boil a victim’s blood, while it is in the veins, he is a mysterious figure and another reasons to stay tuned with future installments in the series.

To continue with other successful bull’s eyes Miss Drake has hit, probably the best would be the existence of the naturi and the bori. These two new races give a new dimension to the human world and add new shades of mythology. The naturi is a race divided in five clans: the Animal, the Light, the Earth, the Water and the Wind, and despite its closeness to nature, they are everything else but peaceful. Sole purpose in “Nightwalker” is to obliterate the existing world and wish away humanity like it never existed along with the vampires. Something that Mira doesn’t want to come to fruition.

I personally enjoyed how the accent falls on the relationships in vampire society to masters and subordinates. Vampires can be cruel to their “children” and a fight for survival inside their numbers and the desperate battle for independence are top priorities on the daily agenda. As the story progresses, the reader is well assured that even if a certain moral code exists in the vampire society, there can hardly exist trace of real connection to one another as it is demonstrated with treacherous back stabbing, while what seemed a sadistic dominance was meant to protect. These ripples in behavior pattern turn vampires into more complex predators. Something I thoroughly enjoyed.

However not everything was executed perfectly. I compliment Miss Drake for not turning Mira and Danaus into love birds in the first book, but the overall hints point to that direction, even though all those two want to do is to save the world so that they could each other in peace. A statement made too many times to not elude me as repetitive. The element of him actually changing his opinion about vampires at this stage of human history, considering that he is a bit immortal and present since the Roman Empire is also unbelievable. He has lived more than most First Bloods and yet he has to encounter vampires as more complex right now. Maybe vampires have evolved since then in their feeding manners, but it’s not mentioned with great detail either. As far as I get it one of the timeless principles in vampire etiquette is to leave the donor living, so this is another controversial point for me.

And even though the idea for the naturi is quite captivating, I wished they would be more involved in the story as enemies wielding the elements at a higher state. The novel creates a controversial imagery of them. First they are the amazing spell casters that can free their queen using dangerous magic and can eradicate vampires and vampires really fear them, but yet when it comes down to it they die pretty easily. Maybe they aren’t spirits that can control the elements. Maybe they only exist thanks to the elements. Whatever the explanation the first book doesn’t do them justice enough.

However one must note that this is a first installment and aims to set the stage for a promising bloodshed. Jocelynn Drake has arrived and she has brought the whole Apocalypse on a leash.

What Others Are Saying:
1) Darque Reviews [instituation for Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance]
2) Dear Author [the sensitive towards all literary romance novels Janes]
3) Musings of a Bookish Kitty [friend and reviewer Wendy R. and her broad tastes]
4) Blog Critics Magazine [the eloquent opinion in the field]
5) Love Vampires [the new discovery in love with vampire fiction]
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