Sunday, October 31, 2010

[Side Note] Halloween Night, People

It's Halloween night. Supposedly, the dead should walk again [one way or another], so I suggest you prepare a boombox with Thriller on it [just in case] before you decide to venture out. Maybe what will haunt you are the skeletons in your closet... I'm personally haunted by the fact that we don't celebrate this in my country. It's a harrowing horror, trust me.

ANYWAY, have fun and don't get eaten. I'm personally awaiting the pilot of THE WALKING DEAD, which should be hours away in the [past] USA. Here is a video to salivate over:




If interested you can check out my Halloween Art Post over at the Book Smugglers. I showcase human-bunny hybrids, smurfs eating people and a Lady Gaga Jr. talking on the phone [which is nestled in the abdomen of a huge, animated teddy bear with guts and stuff].

You thought I was hoking?

I also review the Spanish ghost movie The Orphanage over at Beyond Fiction. I can't exactly call it horror, because I didn't feel all that scared, but atmospheric and intelligent.

So this is my somewhat celebration. Not even a lantern. How will YOU mark the occasion?

[Beyond the Wordcount] Paul Jessup on Collaborating with an Artist


Do you wonder how a book is made? If you are an avid reader and the sight of a book makes you glow, then you probably have wondered about a novel’s journey from idea to hard/softcover delight on your local bookstore’s shelf. Did the author discover the story whole and intact? Did the story need countless revisions? How much is researched and how much is the product of the author’s imagination? What did the author have to go through to publish that novel you just love? Beyond the Wordcount is the feature that will give a behind-the-scene look to the story behind the story, the things that you will never guess as they stay off the pages.

In this installment of Beyond the Wordcount is Paul Jessup, of whom I had the pleasure of reading his short story collection Glass Coffin Girls, an eclectic mix of weirdness, madness and a bit of beautiful absurdity. He also penned the highly praised Werewolves, which will be the topic of his post.

Bio: Paul Jessup is a weird writer, who has lived his entire life on the haunted shores of Lake Erie. He dabbles in many genres, with Urban Fantasy and Steampunk being his two current favorites. He has three books out currently, with a fourth on the way. Open Your Eyes is a surreal space opera, published in 2009 by Apex Books. Glass Coffin Girls is a collection of short stories, published in 2009 by PS Publishing. Werewolves is an illustrated book published in 2010 by Chronicle Books and illustrated by Allyson Haller. In Autumn/Winter 2010 The Zombie Feed (an imprint of Apex Books) will publish his short zombie novel Dead Stay Dead.

Blurb:

Werewolves takes the form of an illustrated journal that plunges readers into the life of a high school girl-turned-werewolf as she makes her transformation. After Alice and her brother are bitten by what they assume are large dogs, her journal/sketchbook becomes a place for her to record the changes they start to experience her socially awkward brother falls in with some creepy new friends, and she surprises herself with new strengths and instincts and a suddenly nonvegetarian interest in raw steak.
Task: I asked Paul to write of his experience working with an artist in order to produce an illustrated book. The process as you will learn is very interesting, albeit complicated.

---

The process for doing my new book Werewolves was a fairly interesting one. I didn’t work directly with the artist, instead we worked out what we wanted to do with the story first, plot wise. Then started working on a way to tell this as visually as possible. I needed to come up with something that would inspire an interesting visual image on every single page, which was very difficult.

Not only did I have to do a diary entry per each page, but each diary entry had to be self contained, interesting as text, and contain a cool image. This got to be challenging, knowing how much to be into a section, what to leave out. How to get the plot across in a diary format without it being stiff and wooden.

I rewrote entire sections over and over again, trying to get the right emotional pitch, the right level of information, and trying to move the plot in gently and not dumping it all across the page.
I also had to refrain from detailed descriptions in the work itself, and I had to divorce the text from directly stating things that would be better off shown in the image itself. So the text had to be less description, more sounds smells and internal thoughts.

When we were done with the text I know that they picked an artist that fit the tone of the work itself, and wanted to bring in someone that not only reflected the way the character talked, but also got the high school journal feeling down pat.

I didn’t actually see any of the final art until after the novel was ready and rolling toward publication. So I had no idea what to expect at all. But I must say, the final product looked fantastic. I didn’t really have any input into the artist at all, I mostly just came up with basic ideas, notes, stuff that could work as sketches. It was interesting to see which ones the artist (Allyson Haller) used, and which ones she discarded. I could see why she used the ones she did, since some suggestions probably wouldn’t be as striking or as interesting as the ones she came up with.

All and all, it was an interesting experience. One I’d definitely do again.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

[The Interview Feature] The End: What happens after the last question?

With a lot more than four weeks, The Interview Feature has come to an end. In this final part, the charming interrogator, Theresa Bazelli, asks me questions connected with the processes that happen after an interview has been completed. What happens after the last question and before going up online? Here is the conversation.

---

TB: And so we've coming to the last part of this interview feature. It's fitting that we talk about endings. Journalists may choose to ask a series of questions during an interview, but not publish the answer to every question. Do you do any editing once an interview has finished? Do any questions fall prey to the chopping block? And does the interviewee get the last look before it gets posted?

HM: No, I don’t cut out questions [unless I ask a wrong question, which I admit I have done, when I interviewed artists]. I have had interviewees turn down one or two questions, because they felt that they were too intrusive or too revealing of their next novel [usually]. However, I do not censor my guests and allow them all they freedom they want. Just because I didn’t like or feel enthusiastic about an answer does not mean that somebody won’t, which I keep the interview as intact as possible.

Whatever editing I do is to make the answers flow better with the questions. I add a personal comment here and there to strengthen the coherence and make it all flow better, though I’m still mastering that art. As far as showing the interviewee the last look of the interview, I advise that you do that. I myself rarely manage, which is what I’m currently working on [aka time management rather than anything else].

TB: What happens after the interview gets posted online? How do you let the world know about the awesomeness you just participated in?

HM: I wait and all the comments and adoration find their way to me… Which never happens in the real world, so I have to suck it up and promote it.

I always e-mail the author with a link, who will most likely feature it somewhere. Part of the promotion comes from there. The rest I do through Twitter, which is excellent for these sorts of things. However, I would suggest that a person should tweet a thing four times at most and then cut it out, because it aggravates people. When I discovered how awesome Twitter was for shooting links into the dark I did non-stop, until I followed individuals that do the same. It showed me how annoying that was, so I stopped doing that and the promotion was dropped to a minimum there. There are other websites that one can use such as Digg and the likes, but I am rather chaotic and inconsistent with those.

I’m open to hearing more from better experts, but for now this is what I do.

TB: I want to hear a few stories! Tell me about your favorite interview (if you have one). Tell me about the most popular (perhaps unexpectedly) interviews posted on your blog. Tell me about your worst interview experience (no names mentioned of course).

HM: Popular interviews? I can’t really say which interview is most popular at the moment. I don’t keep a score of which interview fared better than the other as far as hits go. Now I do have a few interviews that got more comments than usual, but those were the early Reviewer Time interviews and the commenters where the loyal readers of said blogs. I’m not particularly interested in ranking my interviews.

I however do have favorites. Most recently I conducted an interview with Nancy Kilpatrick, which is one of the most exciting ones to make, because this is Nancy Kilpatrick after all. I’m most satisfied with the interviews I conducted with Paul Smith and Charles Tan, because they are exceptionally talented bloggers I admire. Then I think should come editor David Moore, who rocked my world with his answers about the industry [he also figured out why I asked him]. The list goes on to include authors such as Blake Charlton, Kaaron Warren and J Robert King. Basically all the newer ones.

As far as negative experiences. I’m not pleased a section of Reviewer Time. I selected guests that I did not exactly feel for and that resulted in piss poor interviews. You can probably spot the lackluster and unimaginative questions I asked.

TB: You mentioned that you hope to improve with each interview. What have you learned through the process so far? Have you made any mistakes that you've learned from? Have you made any discoveries that you're proud of?

HM: What I’ve learned is that the person you’re talking with will react in a way that you’ve not expected. I have come across questions that to me seemed perfect and simply begged to be answered with at least two fat paragraphs, but which received skinny lines instead. The opposite has also happened.

I have learned to be patient with the authors, who I am interviewing since they have all lives and I am asking of their time. Patience is valuable to have, hard to obtain.

I’m sure that they have been mistakes. Delays in my following questions. Delays with starting the interview as well. I have seen that time management and flexibility are not my strong suits, but I’m trying to compensate for those.

Discoveries… Perhaps that if you really try to speak to the person and avoid the obvious, then the magic happens.

TB: I like that - leaving a little room for some magic is an important thing. So, we've finally come to the close of this interview series. Do you have any last words for your readers?

HM: Thanks for reading [though commenting would have been nicer, just saying] and hopefully you have found this entertaining and informative.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

[Promo] Dark Fiction Magazine

FOREWORD: Behold a new podcast webzine has risen to power. Or technically it will rise along with all the ghouls and the ghosts and the dead on October 31st. I'm pretty stocked about it, so I advise you to keep vigilant!

DARK FICTION MAGAZINE LAUNCH

LONDON, MIDLANDS AND MANCHESTER, UK, 26 Oct 2010. Dark Fiction Magazine (www.darkfictionmagazine.co.uk) is pleased to announce the launch of a new service for fans of genre fiction. Beginning Oct 31st (Halloween), Dark Fiction Magazine will be launching a monthly magazine of audio short stories. This is a free service designed to promote genre short fiction to an audience of podcast and radio listeners. A cross between an audio book, an anthology and a podcast, Dark Fiction Magazine is designed to take the enjoyment of short genre fiction in a new and exciting direction.


Dark Fiction Magazine publishes at least four short stories a month: a mix of award-winning shorts and brand new stories from both established genre authors and emerging writers. Each episode will have a monthly theme and feature complementary tales from the three main genres – science fiction, fantasy and horror.

Co-founder Del Lakin-Smith said: "I love reading short stories, and with the increased uptake of mobile and portable devices this really is a growth area. But like many I find I don't have as much time as I would like to read, so I tend to listen to many podcasts on the go. The idea of replacing my podcasts with high quality, well performed audio short stories is something I find highly appealing, so Sharon and I set about making that a reality."

Sharon Ring, co-founder of Dark Fiction Magazine, said: “From technophobe to technophile in less than two years; I spend a great deal of time working online. To while away those hours, I like to listen to podcasts and drink copious amounts of strong coffee. Now, while I don’t recommend you drink as much coffee as I, I do recommend you check out what Del and I have created. We love podcasts; we love genre fiction; we built a site to bring the two together.

The theme of Dark Fiction Magazine’s first episode is The Darkness Descends and will feature four fantastical stories:

* ‘Maybe Then I’ll Fade Away’ by Joseph D’Lacey (exclusive to Dark Fiction Magazine)
* ‘Pumpkin Night’ by Gary McMahon
* ‘Do You See?’ by Sarah Pinborough (awarded the 2009 British Fantasy Society Short Story Award)
* ‘Perhaps The Last’ by Conrad Williams

Lined up for future episodes are Pat Cadigan, Cory Doctorow, Jon Courtenay, Grimwood, Ramsey Campbell, Rob Shearman, Kim Lakin-Smith, Ian Whates, Lauren Beukes, Mark Morris, Adam Nevill, Gareth L Powell, Jeremy C Shipp, Adam Christopher, and Jennifer Williams, among others.

With a team of dedicated and passionate narrators, a central recording facility and a love of genre, Dark Fiction Magazine delivers a truly outstanding aural experience.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Domino Pattern (Quadrail 4) by Timothy Zahn [Book Review]

“Murder on the Galactic Orient Express” sums up the basic plot of this Hercule Poirot story, if Poirot was a dashing former undercover operative named Frank Compton with a beautiful telepathic sidekick slash love interest named Bayta and the Orient express was a train crossing the galaxy in six weeks operated by their alien spider employers.

Add a little conspiracy, foul murder, an intelligent coral that wants to take over the galaxy and an assortment of interesting aliens and humans of varying levels of cooperation and demeanor and you have a pretty entertaining novel.

The Domino Pattern is book four in the Quadrail but works well as a standalone read. This is the first book I read in the series so I speak from experience. It is a fast paced story with lots of action, twists and turns and I do get that Agatha Christie feeling when I read it. I was so immersed in the story that I didn’t really check but it felt like Timothy Zahn used the same technique to compress the narration, making it tighter and more thrilling in the end, just the way Christie is famous for.

Another thing that caught my fancy was the world building; alien spiders facilitate galactic travel by train!

The series is about the Quadrail and how Frank and Bayta protect it and the galaxy. I am happy when I find another series to read. Good read if you like murder mysteries on trains and aliens.

Reviewer: Ove Jansson
Copy: Bought from Amazon

Rating: 8/10

Information

Title: The Domino Pattern

Series: The Quadrail 4
Author: Timothy Zahn
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor 2010

Order from: Tor | Amazon US | UK | B&N | sfbok
Frank Compton used to be an agent for the security forces of Earth, but that was a piece of cake compared to what he’s had to deal with working for the aliens who run the Quadrail, an interstellar transportation system connecting a dozen civilizations across the galaxy.

He’s been trying to end the domination of an alien lifeform called the Modhri. This enormously powerful creature wants to rule the galaxy by controlling the thoughts of all its citizens. It does so by having parts of itself “infect” others on contact, and act as agents for it without them being aware they’re being manipulated. When Frank and his assistant Bayta journey to investigate a connection between the Modhri and the Filiaelians, they come up against a conspiracy on the Quadrail.

Passengers are being murdered…but something besides murder haunts the Quadrail. A plot is brewing that even the Modhri fears. And once again, Frank and Bayta may be the only ones who can stop it.

Related Posts

Conquerors Trilogy
1. Conquerors’ Pride
2. Conquerors’ Heritage
3. Conquerors’ Legacy
Blackcollar Trilogy
1. The Blackcollar
2. The Backlash Mission
3. The Judas Solution

Sunday, October 24, 2010

[Twitter Talks] Guilty Reading Pleasues

As an early teen I had an impressive amount of time during the summer, because I usually spent it in our summer house far enough from the city to have no cable TV and computer, not to mention an Internet connection [not that at that time I had Internet at home either; I was introduced to that drug a lot later]. I had all that time and not much else to do, so I read and read and read.

At that time I knew I was into fantasy. I bought books with muscled men with swords and trademark bikini-clad women [Sword & Sorcery was my thing back then], the god-awful Pratchett covers and comically drawn monsters. I owned it. Chin up, embarrassing retro cover in hand and all that jazz.

That continued until I entered a specific hormonal summer and learned all about shame. I overdramatize a bit, it would have been a rather awkward situation for me had I needed to explain exactly why that book I was reading had a shirtless Fabio and a distraught young woman in his arms as cover art. So all the historical romances I bought [not that many to be honest] were wrapped up with newspapers and when completed, stacked in the lowest drawer in the house, where nobody looked for anything.

From then on I've lived through shorter periods of shame [when I entered the world of the comic book adventures and then paranormal romances]. Once you became self-conscious about what you read, I have to tell you it's hard not to feel a bit guilty whenever someone raises an eyebrow. Though personally I'm more annoyed that the person shuts down and plain refuses to hear why I enjoyed the books...

I turned to Twitter to seek what other people thought about guilty pleasures. I asked the following: Which is the book you feel most embarrassed about reading and why?

I got three detailed answers:

@kingrat says Mission Earth, because I was young and easily swayed by brightly colored covers. Also, Writers of the Future made me think he was legit.

@ShennandoahDiaz says probably Twilight, oh and Dr. Phil's book but I was recently "divorced" with a kid and claim temporary insanity!

Then there is @yagrrb who picked Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. The combination of incest and arsenic donuts is fascinatingly grotesque!

I have to add that Twilight does not surprise me as an entry. I knew it would be a must. It is the perfect guilty pleasure book [one which I would have to find a bunker to hide in, if I ever decided to read it].

Then the following answers all trend towards the romance [maybe the spicier kind]:

@readinasitting I reviewed a book earlier this year that I didn't want to take out in public. It was a bit suggestive!

@HiHighHigher Yikes, I have a whole 'Naughty' bookshelf in my closet, stuff I don't want my kids pulling off the bookshelf

It's funny really that people feel awkward to read about love [granted it's not very explicit like some books I have read]. Our culture celebrates love. From McDonald's I'm Lovin' It to 90% of modern mainstream music about relationships to almost 90% of all mainstream movies that simply have to insert a bit of a romance. Isn't it bizarre that the readers, who enjoy reading about love [the shared, the tragic, the forbidden, the passionate] feel as if they need to keep that them to themselves. But maybe it's the sexual undertones, which is also prudish considering that modern commercials are short softcore porn.

It's what the @booksmugglers say [though Ana is proud of whatever she reads]: Don't think so, dude I read and review romance remember? I am embarrassed by some of the covers but I own it. *grin*

Last but not least, I have an interesting opinion from @misskubelik, who is, of course, very right. She says:

I don't feel embarrassed about reading anything. Why would you? Librarians, writers, reviewers, etc. should tell ALL readers there's nothing embarrassing about ANYTHING they choose to read. From Goosebump books and comics all the way to James Patterson and romance novels. There's NOTHING embarrassing about reading, because, as a rule, we shouldn't be embarrassed about pleasure and leisure activities - and *that's* what reading should/can be.

The way I had planned this post was to gather people, who enjoyed a novel secretly. The sort of forbidden fruit, the rush of reading in secrecy the way little boys browse through their fathers' Playboys or girls browse through their mothers' wardrobes. A secret pleasure known only to you. Something innocent.

But after Angie's last comment, it has left me thinking WHY I'm guilty and WHY I allow something as fun as reading be invaded by guilt. Why do we say things like 'I wouldn't be caught dead reading that'? Is it because we are sure we will not like a book or because we know what the mass will think of us, if seen reading on a bench or in the bus or on the plane?

Thoughts anyone?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

[Magazine Review] GUD: Issue 5


GUD magazine stands for Greatest Uncommon Denominator Magazine.

In their submission guidelines the magazine states:

"Our dictionary defines literature thus: written works, esp. those valued for form and style. And that is what we are looking for—form and style, though be sure there's substance as well. Any genre, including literary or mainstream, is acceptable. We don't back away from a fight—if your work screws with convention, breaks rules, makes demands of the reader, then we're equal to the challenge. Just please, by whatever you hold dear, give us some prize at the end of the fight."


This small paragraph defines what the magazine is looking for, what it promises to the reader and gives the magazine its identity. I read Issue 5 of GUD Magazine with this paragraph in mind as I wanted to verify if GUD really had that Greatest Uncommon Denominator. I also used it to give me a sense of direction for my review as I don’t regularly review magazines.

In short, GUD delivers what it promises. In this issue I discovered stories the type of which I’m not sure I could have read in most venues, while at the same time I didn’t encounter either weak or badly written pieces. The magazine is genre ambiguous as it hosted both excellent SFF shorts as well as strong and emotional literary pieces. I'd probably need a few two-three thousand words long posts to cover all the excellent material, which is why I’ll stop on the stories that left strong impressions on me, separated by genre.

In the SFF selection, I enjoyed "Imperfect Verse" by Rose Lemberg, which read much like an uncensored Grimm Brothers fairy tale had the Brothers traveled to Scandinavian countries. Lemberg tackles the old Norse legend of how Odin steals the mead of poetry, but told from the point-of-view of the giantess guarding the mead. The result is a lyrical and authentic sounding tale of magic and betrayal.

"Nature's Children" by T.F. Davenport won me over with its complex plot structure and references to Ursula LeGuin's "The Word for World is Forest". Davenport juxtaposes two races - indigenous inhabitants and outerworlders - both of which want to cultivate the planet, but with means that imply the destruction of the other race. It's a thematic short story touching upon topics such as the environment and genocide. What especially impressed me was how both races mimic each other. The majority in both societies gears towards war, while only few individuals speak of peace.

"Getting Yourself On" by Andrew Tisbert discusses what it means to be human, when a considerable amount of one's body is machinery and your work requires you to have your personality locked away. It's a touching story about how far a father would go in order to ensure his son has a life. All this is set in an intriguing future of cyborgs and technology that allows you to wear different personalities as if they are fashion statements.

Here I conclude with the SFF section, but there are other strong entries, which beg to be read such as "The Pearl Diver with the Gold Chain" with its always speaking narrator, who has developed radio-telepathy with the help of his gold chain and "Liza's Home", a lesson in why time travel is dangerous.

In the Literary section, I was consumed by "The Tiger Man" by Geordie William Flantz. Flantz mesmerizes with a bizarre tale of a couple, which invite a complete stranger in their homes and in their lives. The bizarre thing is that the man is taller than average, hairier than average and works as a trainer of tigers in a circus. This is a tale of an over-emotional wife, a passive husband, a pug with anxiety issues and a stranger, who doesn't talk much. It's a story about how sometimes life has its own inertia and outside the norm is better for everyone.

"Birthday Licks" by Kevin Brown is a heartfelt tearjerker about home abuse, which after years of intensifying ends with a well-deserved death. It's frightening to think that a father would punish his son, because his wife died during childbirth. Even more so, when the punishments not only involve degradation, but border on lethal. Brown's prose is raw. It conveys genuine pain and torment that made me flinch while reading.

"The Prettiest Crayon in the Box" by Heather Lindsay brings bizarre bar conversation to new heights as in this piece the characters discuss beets, betacyanin -the pigment that is responsible for the beet's color - and how some people cannot break down the pigment. The result is pink and magenda colored human by-products. The character with this condition says he doesn’t like beets, but eats them nonetheless, because then the world will be less brown [I know that you get it, so I phrase it as vaguely as possible]. In its bizarre way, this is a beautiful message.

I've concluded with the fiction section and now it's time to move on the other mediums featured in GUD. The magazine has an impressive amount of poetry, which I don't feel qualified to review as I don't read poetry in general, so I’ll skip the poems at large. I'll only mention that "Dead Man on the Titanic" by Alicia Adams and "7 Ways to Fake an Orgasm" by Melissa Carroll entertained me [but I fail to explain how, so I'll leave it at that as a task for those better versed than I].

Last but not least I'd like to comment on the comics, both of which are visually stunning, but I was more taken by "Ada Lovelace: The Origin" by Syndey Padula. It’s a very successful blend of historical facts, humor, superhero fiction and alternative history, which made me chuckle. If you thought that perhaps mathematicians were boring, then you’d be gravely wrong.

As far as the magazine itself goes, I thought the spread throughout the issue poems and images [I'd especially like to praise "Bust" by Jon Adlett] act as natural breathers for readers and add a rhythm or a flow to the issue, making it easier to read.

The Verdict: GUD Magazine is what your doctor has prescribed. Get a subscription now for a concentrated those of diversity, quality and entertainment.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Case of the EMBARGO or Shouldn't Bloggers be Ethical?

Book reviewers have not been restricted to any rules. We ride the Internet and nobody can restrict the Internet, hell yeah, freedom of speech and self-expression. We can do a lot that can only happen on the Internet, but is that an excuse to forgo all ethical behavior? Shouldn't we at least consult to some set of ethical guidelines?

Case in point is the Embargo on the latest Wheel of Time novel. Bloggers, who have been lucky enough to receive an ARC of the novel, have been asked to keep to quiet till November the 2nd, the official release of Towers of Midnight. Now, considering that this is a series with massive cult following, which can be best described as the Trekkies of fantasy, it's obvious why an embargo has been issued. After all, people have patiently waited and no matter what the opinion, it's bound to spoil the experience for the others.

Now, Amanda has covered the crux of the issue in her post called EMBARGO:

My opinion is that embargoes are only given on few books - and bloggers should follow the rulings given. If a person breaks embargo, they should have their privilege stripped. It is a matter of ethics - the same as when people sell ARCs, even when asked not to by the publishers. I am angry that this is likely to go unpunished.

She is courteous to not give names, but the majority of us know that the wise guy behind this stunt is the mighty Pat from Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, who is notorious for such stunts. I am not surprised that he just could not hold it in, bend the rules and leak some of his 'thoughts', which is so not a review, even partial at that. But whatever, I mean the man is ambitious to see his blog grow.

HOWEVER, this begs the following questions:

Isn't this an example on why we should have some courtesy and do what has been asked of us? Selling ARCs, breaking such an embargo, selling autographs?

AND

Is what Pat did ever going to get punished?

I'm not going as far as to say that we need official regulations, but seriously, whenever you as a book blogger receive an ARC you are trusted by the publisher. Although it's so very often as a straight business transaction aka we give you the book and you promote it via your review, fact is that there are so many books and an impressively larger amount of reviewers wanting it.

If you get picked by a big publishing house with a book with such high celebrity status such as the Towers of Midnight, then the publisher has trust in you to remain ethical and hold off from reviewing until November the 2nd. If you don't then you betray that trust, which although earns you extra hits and controversy, effectively gives you a bad name, which may or may not reflect on the public opinion regarding the group you represent - I may be going a bit too far here, so I will stop.

Also, it sets a bad role model for new bloggers, who try to emulate what to them seems as the fastest way to get to the top.

Besides, it's not that hard to do. You just keep your mouth shut. Simple as that really. If we can't on our own follow some simple instructions out of respect for the labor that not only the publisher, but Sanderson [in this case], has put in the novel, then I do think that individuals should be sanctioned. It's only fair and you will have to agree that we need a bit of fairness on the web.

So what do you think, am I painting the apocalypse or should Pat just have done the right thing?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

[Book Review] The City and The City by China Miéville

The City and The City got me thinking of Istanbul situated as it is between two worlds, Asia and Europe. And it has much in common with the cities in China Miéville award winning novel. Located at an undisclosed location on the Balkan the two cities Besźel and Ul Qoma lies intertwined and sometimes even occupying the same place. Besźel is rundown and its people wear grey or colorless clothes, the building are dull concrete and they are still recuperating from tyranny. Ul Qoma is the opposite with a booming economy, progress and colorful people. Much like I imagine how life in Instanbul is when you compare the poor with traditional upbringings to a secular European upper class, both living in different worlds in the same city ignoring and maybe not noticing each others.

In China’s world children are thought from young ages to ignore ‘the other city’ until it becomes instinctive. They even have a special corps ‘Breach’ that handles cases when people by mistake or intent breach the mental veil between the cities. ‘Breach’ is a force in itself outside the ruling councils of either city.

I fancy China was indeed thinking on Istanbul when he wrote this story. You might even go further META into the way we behave in today’s society, living inside our own ‘bubble’ of ‘reality’ ignoring the people outside it, even if they live in the same city, state, planet as we do. That’s the setting.

The plot starts as a classic murder mystery that unravels into something significantly larger. The body of a murdered young woman is found in an Alley in Besźel and out protagonist Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad is assigned the case. He quickly becomes convinced that a breach has been committed so the case takes him into the other city where he develops a friendship with his counterpart there. The contrasts between the two worlds are made clearer by the two partners own lack of knowledge about each other’s cities.

This is my first China Miéville novel and I found it very accessible and easy to read. This is not really the usual science fiction for me. I prefer technology and space related science fiction. I still found this an entertaining and fun read. The murder mystery in itself might have been enough for a worthy novel but here the setting add both dimensions and intrigue to the story.

I can tell you I found The City and The City to be a great book, maybe even a future classic. It might not be for everyone, it seems to have a hate it or love it impact on people. I loved it but it was not the book on top of my Hugo vote (nor was the other winner).

Reviewer: Ove Jansson
Copy: Hugo voter package

Rating: 9/10

Information

Title: The City and The City

Author: China Miéville
Genre: Alternative Reality
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Del Rey 2009 | Macmillan | Pan

Order from: Amazon US | UK | B&N | sfbok
New York Times bestselling author China Miéville delivers his most accomplished novel yet, an existential thriller set in a city unlike any other–real or imagined.

When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he investigates, the evidence points to conspiracies far stranger and more deadly than anything he could have imagined.

Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own. This is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a shift in perception, a seeing of the unseen. His destination is Beszel’s equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the rich and vibrant city of Ul Qoma. With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, and struggling with his own transition, Borlú is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of rabid nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one. As the detectives uncover the dead woman’s secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them and those they care about more than their lives.

What stands against them are murderous powers in Beszel and in Ul Qoma: and, most terrifying of all, that which lies between these two cities.

Casting shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984, The City & the City is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic heights.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

[Halloween Monster] Bride of Frankenstein

With Halloween approaching and weeks ticking past, it's time for another Halloween monster on my blog. I thought long and hard what kind of monster I should showcase with images. I came up with Frankenstein, since he is the classic monster and a regular choice as a Halloween costume, but at the last second I stopped to think about shaking things up, so here is the Bride of Frankenstein. She's another regular as far as costumes go, but I thought that people would like to see more of her.

This is the classic Bride, rendered by Simon Hayag. If I am to keep thing traditional, this is what I will go with. The Bride [which I so lovingly will call Helga] is true to the character in the movie. I'm not sure whether this is a movie still turned into a mixed-media image or not, but it's certainly atmospheric.

Now, I think that what Dan Vykes is doing here is actually using the original movie poster [Elsa Lanchester never looked more beautiful] and then layers it over for effect. The result is a natural vintage vibe along with the stunning visuals provided by modern software. I especially like the transparency of the chest. Seeing the ribs makes it so much ghastlier.

Third place is for Alice, who delivers an astounding beauty shot of the Bride. She's not much of a monster in this rendition [not that she was in the others], but here she seems most human and most vulnerable, realizing what she has become. Needless to say I love the color blend and the fine lines. It's endearing eye candy.

[Beyond the Wordcount] From Self-Published to Traditionally-Published by Todd Newton

Do you wonder how a book is made? If you are an avid reader and the sight of a book makes you glow, then you probably have wondered about a novel’s journey from idea to hard/softcover delight on your local bookstore’s shelf. Did the author discover the story whole and intact? Did the story need countless revisions? How much is researched and how much is the product of the author’s imagination? What did the author have to go through to publish that novel you just love? Beyond the Wordcount is the feature that will give a behind-the-scene look to the story behind the story, the things that you will never guess as they stay off the pages.

This week my guest is Todd Newton, author of The Ninth Avatar, which has gone through two prints already. First as a self-published novel and then as a traditionally published novel. It’s no secret that I didn’t receive the self-published edition very well [review], pointing out that there is potential in the book, but only after extensive editing. Now, I do have the edited and revised book, which I hope to review soon.

Bio: I was born in 1980, had an interesting upbringing (as I'm sure we all have), and rebelled as a teenager. I have since realized I was not the only person to do this (hence previous the parenthetical statement). After ten tumultuous years I barely remember, I moved to Denver, Colorado. Things have been different ever since.

Blurb:

When the slain march, prophecy will be fulfilled. The Ninth Avatar is coming. Wizards have wondered for generations when a human would ascend to become the Ninth Avatar, and what would happen when they did. Opinions differ, but the Ninth Pillar of Magic--that of Darkness--is feared by many whether they use magic or not. When Starka, an outcast priestess of the magic loathing Cathedrals of Myst, receives a prophecy heralding this ascension, a new force rises to threaten the entire known world. The Carrion army, a race of transformed humans bearing black horns and an unquenchable thirst for blood, destroys every city it comes across. Their leader, Zion, has only one goal: to become the living embodiment of magic that is the Ninth Avatar. Aiding Starka in her quest to halt this are DaVille, a mysterious warrior bent on killing the Carrion leader; Cairos, a wizard from the betrayed city of Illiadora; and Wan Du and Lady Mayrah, a man and woman from rival nations now decimated by the Carrion. Amidst all this turmoil, Wadam, a Cardinal of Starka's faith, seeks to seize control of Myst for himself and thereby subjugate the female leaders. With the world in peril Starka must find the means to prevent these things, or die trying.


The Task: I have asked Todd to tell me of his journey from the scorned self-published ‘author’ to a traditionally published one [and I put those quotation marks in jest]. What I received from Todd was his journey with The Ninth Avatar from its genesis to long path to publication.

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The stigma of self-publishing may always exist, no matter how rational or logical of an argument you post on your blog. It is nigh on impossible to get attention (and, therefore, readers) for your self-published book. This is because the responsibility to create a quality product rests on the author’s shoulders, rather than someone with deeper pockets or a higher headcount. Frankly, if you’re not already well-known, no one has any reason to trust you.

The Ninth Avatar began as a plot for a “garage” video game project. Its first iteration was a meandering “story summary” lacking just about everything a real story needs. Many years and a lot of work later, I had a coherent and thoroughly-edited novel manuscript staring at me from the other side of the computer screen. I also had a stack of query rejections from agents and various publishers.

This is not a unique scenario, but neither is it one for which there are any easy answers. The obvious question was what to do next, and all the searching and reading I did led me nowhere. I knew I wanted to write more books, even had a second one well underway, but I had no idea what to do with this completed novel.

With the intention of “getting my name out there,” I self-published The Ninth Avatar through CreateSpace, Amazon’s Publish On Demand (POD) offering. This was a tremendous learning experience for me as far as book/cover design, manuscript formatting, and “copy” writing because I had to do it all myself. CreateSpace provided an Amazon page, which was advantageous, but my original goal still seemed beyond reach.

At the end of the day, the challenge of “how do I sell the book?” remained. Even blog-based book reviewers are loath to touch self-published books, and I know because I contacted many of them directly. Getting a reviewer to read a book (any book) is like asking someone to do a bit of overtime after working a double shift; it’s not that they don’t care, but rather that they already have a stack of titles begging for their attention. For readers it’s much the same, except that they carry no obligations toward books. Merely preferences.

So it went until my book had been available for about two months. A fellow writer informed me of Trapdoor Books, a new startup publisher based locally. I contacted the man in charge, sent him a copy of my book and, after some debate and discussion, Trapdoor acquired it to publish. Finally, I would have something larger than me to add credibility to my campaign.

The process The Ninth Avatar (and I) went through with Trapdoor could not have been more different than self-publishing. The contract and money, for starters, were new. I had no agent, so the process was quite streamlined. Of course, when the work truly began I was lucky enough to be involved in certain decisions such as the map, manuscript edits, cover art, etc. I’m told by many other authors, especially debut authors, that their hands are pried off the wheel at this point.

Regardless, the responsibility no longer sat fully on my shoulders. I was an employee now, rather than the owner & operator of The Ninth Avatar, Inc. I had someone to ask when I had questions or concerns, someone who knew the answers and solutions. I was no longer running the marathon with only a cheering section to back me up.

Of all the differences, the largest was working with others. An Editor, someone paid to read manuscripts and provide suggestions to improve them. A Book Designer, someone paid to know how to make the text look good on the page, and care about the resolution of cover images. A Publisher, someone as invested as I was, and who wanted to see my book succeed.

Eventually, the book was released with a new cover and design treatment as well as numerous edits to the text itself. Its success, of course, still relies upon all of you. It’s been a long journey, and The Ninth Avatar and I still have a quite a bit further to go.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

[Cover Art] Spellbound by Blake Charlton

I have been meaning to post this cover the moment I saw it, but it slipped my mind. But the image is so powerful and captivating that I kept coming back to it. Blake Charlton has become one of my favorite writers for his beautiful prose and complex magic system over which I gush over in my review [HERE]

NOW with Blake's post over at his blog, I am reminded that this book will come out... sooner rather than later.

The cover itself is amazing. Todd Lockwood knows how to command the attention with using the unobtrusive blue background to make the dragon pop. You can stare only at the dragon, because the dragon is supreme. The design is really something and it's no wonder why Lockwood was commissioned in the first place as his focus on dragons has made him a specialist. I couldn't be any more happier with this cover.

[The Interview Feature] Mechanics of the Interview: The How

As I have revealed earlier in September I switched to a new accomplice to help me complete my Interview Feature. Please welcome Theresa Bazelli, a writer in training [quite the treasure] with her own spot on the web, Ink Stained. She’s not from the book reviewer circles, but she’s curious to hear more about interviews and has decided to help [I did not threaten her life… or I may have just a little bit]. *clears throat*

That inappropriate joke aside, in today’s long overdue third installment of the feature I discuss the how of interviewing [specifically how I do it]. How to keep our guests talking or from the opposite, when needed. How to steer the conversation. How to sprinkle controversy and all that is in-between.

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Theresa Bazelli: You have interviewed a variety of individuals on your blog: authors, publishing professionals, book bloggers, and even the fictional character or two. How do you decide what kinds of questions that you will ask? Do the questions stem from personal interest, what you think that your readers will appreciate hearing, or do you tailor your questions to what the interviewee is interested in?

Harry Markov: Now that you ask it, I came to realize that interviewing is about pleasing everyone. I interview so that I can satisfy my innate curiosity, but I also think what would intrigue the readers. Plus, I believe that the interview should benefit the author and be relevant to his interests. This is a very summed-up answer to such a myriad of questions. It isn’t an exact science, but objective is to make it interesting and pleasurable for everybody. The trick is to be selfless, when doing one [it seems a bit philosophical] and keep in mind that you are not doing it just for you. The best interviews are the ones that make the interviewee speak loads and keep the reader’s focus and attention. I don’t think I have mastered this [as I came to the conclusion just now]. I have a more simplistic approach and it has to do on why I am interviewing a person. Factors like whether I am asking to learn, asking in order to discuss or asking just because help me guide the interview.

TB: You mentioned that the best interviews are when the interviewee's do most of the speaking. Do you have any tips for how to make your interviewees comfortable, and how to get them talking? Do you start with a few warm-up questions or offline introductions before getting to the meat of the interview?

HM: I seem to be saying a lot of things, now aren’t I? Yes, I do have a model I’m most comfortable with, but I can’t honestly offer it as a tip as I think I am stagnating sticking to the same old as far as interviewing technique goes. But here goes. There are always offline introductions to be had before an interview can be considered. As I said in an earlier part, I need a damn good reason to bother someone for an interview. In 80% of the cases I have read a novel so sharing my review with the author is my ice breaker. Once the actual interview starts I thank my guest for accepting my invitation, because to me it is always humbling for someone to hand over his or her time to me without knowing whether my interview would return the investment. But to be able to make people talk the interviewer has to be able to direct the conversation, ask with details and never let the interview wonder what the questions demand as answers. That is one of the things I learned early, but still working on.

TB: Have you ever had an interview go off track and how do you direct the conversation back onto course? Are there any topics that you consider off-limits, or that you try to steer away from?

HM: In the competitive and highly controversial world of literature and publishing, you have to ask with caution lest you step on a mine… Eh, no. Not so much really. Literature is pretty tame compared politics [lame example, but gets the point across]. There are not many taboos. I do think, however, that talking about Science Fiction’s supposed death to a SF author is probably not so tactful. I also avoid talking about the war between literary and speculative fiction. It’s very old and therefore much has been said on the matter. Those are the two major topics I like to keep away from, though I personally have issues not to trash Twilight. I just happen to slip it in from time to time. As far as ever losing control over an interview… No, this has never happened to me, so I can’t say anything on the matter.

TB: So speaking of controversy, does that mean you're with team Edward or team Jacob? I jest. What if your interviewee is not very talkative, or the questions you have asked are not getting much of a response? How do you change your approach?

HM: I am team Buffy. She kicks ass and is the natural predator of both Edward and Jacob. One can hope that she also deals with the raving and brainwashed fans. One can dream about chainsaw nun-chucks…

Ahem, but I seem to be digressing…

In the first instance, I don’t force someone to spill out paragraph after paragraph just because I want a longer interview. Perhaps the person in question is a man/woman of few words. It’d be a shame to demand more than what that person is comfortable sharing. Then again, I might be saying all this because I keep missing the magic formula that makes anyone and everyone talk and talk. Go figure. It’s all subjective, but coming from my experience such people do exist as do interviewers who have the gift to squeeze out information out of every interviewee.

As far as the second scenario goes… I keep my question and answer in the interview I post, if that is what you’re asking me. I don’t ask people for do-overs because that would be insulting. I try to avoid these downs in conversations by doing my homework beforehand.

TB: Have you ever conducted an interview on a subject that you weren't really interested in, and had hard time coming up with questions? How do you keep finding interesting questions? How do you keep from repeating yourself and keeping things as fresh?

HM: Yes, I admit that among my interviews I agreed to interview an author on request, rather than me contacting him. The result was a lack-luster and short interview that served as additional promo material for him, but to me was very unsatisfying. It was an impulse decision, because I’m rarely contacted by US publicists. I would have done a better one had I read his novel first [it is a good novel], but I was swamped and time was of the essence.

I did a standard 10-question introductory review without juicy, interesting questions that you are referring to. Those need a lot of background information to come up with. I usually end up with a lot of scratched off questions that never get send, because they are obvious. As Leo has said: ‘We need to go deeper’. And that is what I try to do everything. There is more often than not something special in each person to dig for questions.

That is my strategy for keeping things fresh as well. Part of why I closed my feature Reviewer Time [where I interview book reviewers] is because after awhile interviews boil down to the same topics and rephrasing keeps the charm only for so long. I need a new scandal, shit storm or epic news to add diversity in my questions. Repetition is an enemy, but sometimes it’s even good to have it pop up, because asking the same questions to wildly different people will get a different set of answers and give the interviewer a wider understanding of whatever topic he’s asking about.

TB: Are there any scandals, headlines, or storms that you see on the horizon? Are there any subjects that really pique your interest right now? Do you have a dream list of interviewees (alive or dead) that you would chomp at the bit to interview if it were possible?

HM: At the moment, I’m out of shape and far from tuned to the massive monster that is the blog-o-sphere. I’m interested in the upcoming zombie TV series ‘The Walking Dead’, which isn’t as book related [although I currently learned that it was optioned for a trilogy as well] as it could be. Storms happen all year long to be honest. We’re an ever-growing lot and we’re opinioned, so we step on our toes every so often and that results in what reviewers call ‘shit storms’. So far there is a sign that one may crop up soon enough… I’m not sure why I’m never involved in those [they look like fun]. I guess I’m an on-looker.

To answer the second part, I’m currently interested in how anthologies are assembled. It’s not entirely new as a topic for me, but it has held my interest so far the longest. As far as my own special list goes, I’d definitely go with the obvious: Poe, Lovecraft, Tolkien [Jane Austin as embarrassing as it is] and Angela Carter. From the living I’d pick Stephen King and the weird Haruki Murakami. I’m not good at listing to be honest. I’m sure I have way more.

TB: So you've asked a bunch of questions. How do you create on a logical conclusion to an interview? Do you factor in time constraints or interview length? Do you just cut it off, or do you ask the interviewee for a final word?

HM: In the beginning I did not use anything to mark the end of an interview. It ended and that was that. No clue or anything. After reading enough interviews I spotted how interviewers prepped their guests for the end, giving them the opportunity to say whatever they had on their mind as a final word. I rarely bother with time constraints or length. I like to talk and listen to others. I wouldn’t interview them otherwise and the e-mail allows me to go at length without bothering with time or length.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Some Reviewers Suck: Will this be a Progressive Tendency?

It seems as though these days it's a reviewer-smash-reviewer-with-a-keyboard world as posts have been cropping up, questioning the quality behind reviews. Okay, I'm referencing to just two posts, but the timing is perfect to discuss crap reviewers/reviewing.

Stomping on Yeti reacts to a review, which to him sounds as if it's a book summary and not a review. To illustrate his point, Patrick even color-coded the review, which confirms his story. I know I'm biased, but I think that he is right about this one. He says:

Now, I typically wouldn't quote whole articles verbatim but it's necessary to illustrate my point. By color coding for Opinions/Reviews, Facts about the book/author, Summary of the book, and Quotes it should be very easy to see the breakdown of this so-called review. And this is being extremely generous when labeling review statements. And I understand why Tor is promoting the article - it's basically an elevator pitch stapled to an outline of the first five chapters. But to call it a review?

Jonah, the owner of Worlds of If, has accused several of the more recognizable SFF reviewers of poorly doing their job, because he felt as if their reviews of "Way of Kings" is more about the plot rather than anything else. Though I am surprised that Larry got involved in that one as Larry is one of the outside-the-box guys, although he quotes a lot. Anyway, Jonah says:

A book review should give me something more than brief plot synopsis or some personal reaction to the selected book. If you’re going to give me a novel review, give me some specifics from the book, tell me something about other related novels in the genre, and make sure that the arc of your piece goes beyond the novel currently under review.

Whether Jonah is right or not about the book reviewers he lists, is debatable, but what he's saying is fundamentally true. This question of what reviewing should be and what a reviewer should focus on has come up, discussed until we have all turned blue and forgotten until it pops up again.

I'm not headed that way. It's not why I'm raising this. The question is whether even after all the talk, we still fall in this trap. Do we let the summary dominate and high-jack the review, thus making us suck at what we do?

Yes, we do.

I also think that we over-generalize as well. We summarize our thoughts and to a certain degree we all sound the same, because we approach reviews from the same angle. I admit to thinking the same of my work [if I was exceptional, then I would have been listed somewhere along the way], though I'm trying to think outside the box.

Just to avoid accusations that I'm senselessly trying to aggravate people. Here are the reasons behind my statement:

1) We are busy. Check Twitter to see how many books we read and how many reviews we post and how regular we are, given our stressful daily background. Relying on the summary is one heck of a coping mechanism to meet the daily quota.

[I also think that we want to stay busy, because running a blog right now is competitive and we all fight for the attention of the publishers. I have done that. I try not to do it, but it does happen from time to time. Bloggers are getting pushier and that affects the quality of what we do. We have a saying in Bulgaria to illustrate that: 'the fast bitch bears a blind brood'.]

2) We believe readers have a maximum of words, after which we lose them. The too long, didn't read syndrome. So we downsize to keep it manageable for readers, because we want to have readers to discuss the book with. Keeping the wordcount low means that we have a lot less space for a lot of the things we want to say and we over-generalize.

3) We have a cult towards the brand spanking new and another one for getting to the bran spanking new as fast as possible.

Seriously, I think that the big boom of review blogs has lead to this. We're too many and we tend to tackle the same books.

It will take a serious revolution in the way things are done, in order for complaints like these to stop coming up. Until then the majority of us, myself included, will suck.

Of course I'm speaking in overgeneralizations. I am not resorting to name calling other than to quote the two posts. Most importantly I'm theorizing as to WHY people [readers, other reviewers] accuse us of sucking and why that is probably right. Hopefully, there will be no hard feelings. I doubt it, though.

[Video] Supernatural Anime Trailer

I'm not sure whether I would have the strength to watch season five of Supernatural. For me that show died after I learned they were not going to conclude with its fifth season, but would stretch it and well, Paris Hilton made a cameo appearance. These factors and the watered down back to basics approach is far from pleasing. My angry, fat, cheetos-eating fan boy that snorts is so not pleased with this.

BUT the Japanese may rescue Supernatural with the new anime based closely to the TV series, which will air in 2011. Supernatural horror is their genre and they will know how to convey that needed atmosphere as well as scare the shit of us. Considering the intensity with which family members interact in Japanese pop culture, Sam and Dean will be in for an interesting treatment. The anime trailer so far seems promising:


Thursday, October 14, 2010

[Interview] Nancy Kilpatrick, editor of EVOLVE

After the eight parts of the EVOLVE anthology nicely stacked in my archives, I'm now taking on the master mind behind the anthology, Nancy Kilpatrick.

BIO: Award-winning author Nancy Kilpatrick has published eighteen novels, over one hundred and ninety short stories, five collections of stories, and has edited nine other anthologies. Much of her body of work involves vampires. Nancy writes dark fantasy, horror, mysteries and erotic horror, under her own name, her nom de plume Amarantha Knight, and her newest pen name Desirée Knight (Amarantha’s younger sister!) Besides writing novels and short stories, and editing anthologies, she has scripted four issues of VampErotic comics. As well, she’s penned radio scripts, a stage-play, and the non-fiction book The Goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined (St. Martin’s Press — October 2004).

Nancy won the Arthur Ellis Award for best mystery story, is a three times Bram Stoker finalist and a five times finalist for the Aurora Award.

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Harry Markov: Hello, Miss Kilpatrick and thank you for the opportunity to do this interview. It’s a pleasure to have you on Temple Library Reviews. Your anthology EVOLVE collects stories, which show the next step in the evolution for vampires. One more time for our readers, what was the inspiration behind this theme?

Nancy Kilpatrick: It’s a pleasure to be here, Harry.. Thanks for having me.

I’ve been a huge fan of vampire literature and mythology for most of my life, and a collector of books, magazines, movie posters, and general vampirobilia. I know quite a bit about the undead and have also written quite a bit on the motif.

Last year, I edited an anthology with David Morrell called Tesseracts Thirteen, horror and dark fantasy stories, and because of the way that anthology headed and also because David and I had to both agree to include a story, no vampire fiction appeared in that book. Tesseracts Thirteen was an open anthology and we had close to 200 submissions. There were seven vampire stories I thought were exceptional and which showed the vampire that we are going to be seeing in the very near future. I felt it was a shame to let these stories go, although I had no doubt that they would all find a home eventually. David wasn’t free to edit another anthology so I approached the publisher (Edge SF&F) and asked if I could edit an all-vampire anthology that included these stories and a bunch more. I wanted to call it Evolve. The publisher had only done one horror/dark fantasy book before, the anthology David and I co-edited, but he jumped right in with both feet for Evolve.

Over the years, I’ve always been asking myself ‘What next?” when it comes to vampires. A lot of my writing is slightly ahead of the curve because of that ongoing question. I’d had in the back of my mind for quite a while to edit another vampire anthology (I edited Love Bites, an erotic vampire anthology in 1995), and when everything fell into place for Evolve it seemed like the right subject, the right angle on that subject, and perfect timing.

HM: Linked to the same question, why is there a need to show evolution? Vampires have usurped the throne as the most popular creature in pop culture and don’t seem to let it go.

NK: I think it’s innate to us human beings to always want to know what happens next. Vampires have indeed jumped to most-popular-supernatural and I think that position is secure for a while, at least until the end of the Twilight movie series and True Blood TV program.

For me, because I’ve studied vampires from the first stories in English and French, and the mythologies that go back to the Epic of Gilgamesh, I have seen the evolution of the vampire over many centuries. The creature has evolved along with the humans that have envisioned it. Just as everyone is wanting to know what will happen in the future, what about 2012, and beyond?, I think the vampire also has a future and some people will be fascinated to learn more about it.

HM: Nowadays, we can’t talk about vampires without mentioning Meyer. I’ve read accusations that vampires have been officially defanged by Meyer. Same accusations claim that vamps have gone too mainstream to be considered horrifying.

NK: I see the Twilight version of the undead as just one type of vampire. This isn’t the entire picture. Twilight is not the history of the undead, and it won’t be the future. Edward Cullen has been called The Good Boyfriend, the one who is kind, understanding, and focuses on the safety and care of the girlfriend (Bella), and who possesses superior self-control. This, of course, appeals to girls and young women. What female wouldn’t want such a lover? He is the fantasy, the ideal, the dream boyfriend. For older women, Cullen is a rekindling of a girlish fantasy. This is romance fiction at its best and that’s the reader/viewer that has been snagged. Don’t forget, the publisher Harlequin is an empire with an enormous chunk of the print market--I’ve heard it said 80% worldwide. That’s a lot of romance and a lot of women are interested in romance. The romantic hero today just happens to be a vampire.

But vampires are bigger than this. They have been around a LONG time and have appeared in various forms, in many different countries and cultures, in fact almost every country and culture. Mostly, they have been super dangerous to human beings. That is the core of the undead: they are predators, we are the prey. That won’t change regardless of how they manifest currently. Anyone who wants to see the dangerous vampire should just hang on--that creature will be back in a new and more deadly way.

HM: But shouldn’t vampires remain a horror icon. The vampire started its career as a monster and it would seem logical to stay true to its roots by scaring and not flirting with its victim.

NK: Maybe in a perfect world that would be so. But if you think of various incarnations of vampires, some have been humorous—Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (the movie has Lugosi playing Dracula); The Fearless Vampire Killers; Warhol’s Dracula—to name a few. You could say that vampires (and other supernaturals) shouldn’t be humorous, it goes against the monster being scary. But they have been humorous. There are always variations on a theme, that’s part of any icon.

HM: You hinted that the vampire has not lost its edge, even despite the sex symbol status and crossover to romance. Can you name a few authors from the 00s, who write a mean and scary vampire?

NK: I think anyone who reads Evolve will fund some pretty frightening vampire stories. Check out Gemma Files’ story for starters.

HM: With so many bold writers changing the mythos, surrounding vampires, are you concerned about them losing their identity. I am referring to vampires being psychic, walk during day light, be a rare gene and suffer no harm from holy symbols.

NK: The mythos has changed with every writer since vampires have seen print.. The vampire we tend to think of as the archetypal vampire is really a Hollywood invention. Don’t forget, Bram Stoker’s Dracula walked in daylight in London. There have been many vampires who have not been harmed by holy symbols. The idea of the vampire being psychic is an old one too, and they have pretty well always had mesmerizing abilities, even if it’s only to scare their victim into a paralyzed state. Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, written in 1954, presents a world where much of the population has died from a pandemic and only one human being survives-- all other survivors have been infected by a virus and are now vampires. Fritz Leiber’s short story “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes” is a classic, written in 1949, and the vampire has the ability to create an obsession in a photographer.

I think it’s the job of writers to bend and shape and expand on mythos. We always need to push the envelope and create something new. As long as an author sets up the fictional tropes and sticks to the mythological elements he/she has created and makes them believable to the reader, the writer can change the vampire to conform to this new reality and it will work. After all, what’s the point of writing Dracula over and over?

Now, having said that, there are purists out there who are hell-bent on preserving Dracula as the be-all and end-all of vampires. But if you view the vampire as an archetypal energy, which I do, then you have to accept that the energy shifts and alters, changing with the times while still maintaining its essence, the core of what it is to be a vampire. If the vampire can’t be part of the time frame in which it is written, it has no relevance.

HM: Speaking of the psychic, what do you think of the energy vampire? These are a lot less connected with the actual vampire per se, but they share a name.

NK: If you think of vampire as predator, that predatory quality can take any form. Whatever keeps the undead alive, so to speak, is what they want human beings for. That could be blood, it could be sex, it could be energy, it could be souls. I wrote a story called “Leesville, LA” which was published in Freak Show (ed. F. Paul Wilson) that featured a vampire that stole dreams from people. And people can relate to vampires that drain our energy because we’ve all met people like that and we secretly call them vampires.

HM: Speaking of all the conceptions connected with vampires, which is your favorite? The stake through the heart? The garlic? Or maybe the no reflection?

NK: I’m not sure I have a favorite. A lot depends on how these ideas are presented in fiction and film. If the means of dispatch makes sense and is cleverly put forth in the story, then it should work for me. What doesn’t work for me is something silly and illogical, out of left-field, tossed in by a sloppy writer who can’t be bothered to make all the parts fit seamlessly in the plot.

HM: With all this empowerment and ever-growing sexappeal, can you say that people are projecting a wish fulfillment fantasy with the vampire as an ultimate human: eternal, alluring and undefeatable?

NK: Absolutely. That’s the time-frame we live in. Everyone wants to live forever, and eternal youth means botoxing your way through life, I guess, for those who indulge. Everyone wants sex appeal, so alluring is up on the want list. We all know that sex gets you a lot in this world. Undefeatable? Well, you don’t need to go far to find people who want to be all powerful, to vanquish those who would harm them. There are lots of ego-maniacs walking the streets, in case you hadn’t noticed!

There is definitely wish fulfillment in the vampire fantasy. It looks pretty appealing to be a vampire. All the benefits and just this one itty bitty drawback--you have to kill people for their blood. Of course, the modern retelling has virtually eliminated that negative so that vampires can live on animal blood, they can live on synthetic blood, they can take some blood without killing and they can even fast for ferociously long periods of time. What a win-win state of being? But this is where we have to ask the question: if the vampire is not a threat to human beings, is he/she a vampire? Personally, I think that even Edward Cullen, under the right circumstances, would kill Bella. And anyone who has read the last book in the series and/or knows what’s coming in the final films knows what he’s capable of.

HM: And wouldn’t the book be a bit more satisfying, if Edward did kill and eat Bella? A small reminder that while the vampire has learned to kiss, he always bites.

NK: It would be satisfying for some. But the readers of the Twilight books are looking for something else, aren’t they, something more than the vicious vampire? I think what we have to realize is that now, in the 21st century, the vampire has altered. Nothing lasts forever and this version of the vampire won’t go on forever, but it’s here now. And there’s a more adult approach is in the TV series True Blood, based on Charlaine Harris’ books, where you get eroticism AND blood drinking, so there’s a further evolution.

HM: Focusing on the sexappeal, vampires have progressed from nightmares to the perfected to-die-for lovers. Why was the vampire chosen as a sex symbol? It’s a corpse, after all. You are an expert on vampires in popular culture. Have you pondered on this?

NK: The vampire hasn’t looked like a corpse for almost 200 years, in fiction anyway. In the first stories in English: “The Vampyre” by John Polidore; Varney the Vampire by Thomas Preskett Prest; Dracula by Bram Stoker; Carmilla by Sheridan LeFanu, none of these vampires look like a cadaver. They don’t smell bad or reek of the grave. They are, in fact, aristocrats, cultured, moving around in society, which really is what makes them more dangerous than the mythological vampires that preceded them, who did crawl from the grave, dirt still clinging, reeking of putrefaction. The 4 vampires mentioned above are flirty. They are seductive creatures, which is how they charm victims into their realm. Said the spider to the fly! What we see today is not so different. Of course, we no longer have counts and countesses galloping around the countryside in horse-drawn carriages. Now we have special families or groupings that are often wealthy because, after all, if one lives more than one lifetime, finances are generally sorted out.

HM: The fascination with vampires has crossed into our own world with live, actual vampires, emulating the fictitious life style. Have you ever met one of these individuals?

NK: I’ve met people who dress as vampires, people who wear vampire contacts and have their eye teeth filed to points. I’ve met people who are blood fetishists who drink blood (a little). And lots of people who make the Goth/vampiric crossover in terms of clothing. All this is pretty common and has been for the last 15 years or so in most major cities. Have I ever met a real vampire, as in the live-forever, back-from-the-dead vampire? No.

HM: Also, do you believe this to be taking fiction a tad too seriously?

NK: Fiction is, first and foremost, storytelling. People live in stories. Stories capture readers and allow them to live in their imagination for a while. There’s so much about the vampire that is intriguing and it’s understandable that with the popularity of books like Interview with the Vampire, cultural imaginations were charged up, especially among teenagers and young people. And that has lasted 40 years! Youth is the time of trying things on for size, like lifestyles. It’s learning how to relate outside the familiar world of family, school, religion and community, relating to the larger world. It’s the time when the idea that there IS a larger world becomes apparent. White Wolf created Vampire: The Masquerade, a role-playing game, where the gamers could go and act out a vampire persona and interact with others acting out roles. Kind of like ad-lib theater but within the strictures of the imaginary world. I co-wrote a novel in that world, As One Dead. I see this role-playing as fun. And I see people acting and dressing like vampires as fun. Just like people who go to Formula One races dressed like the race-car drivers, or drive their own Honda fast through the streets, pretending they are competing at the Indy 500. They are pretending to be racers because that’s fun, and I think there are a lot of people right now, especially youth, wanting to be part of what looks to be an exciting and amazing world, the world of the vampire.

Are there people who take it too far? Of course. There always are. Just like the race-car enthusiast who breaks the speed limit and hits a pedestrian. There’s always a fine line and one hopes most people know the difference between fantasy and reality. But not everyone does, sadly. And that makes them a danger, often but not only always, to themselves.

HM: While you were editing your anthology did you hesitate as to which stories to keep and whether to substitute them with others? I imagine this being a normal occurrence in the making of an anthology.

NK: Evolve was an invitational anthology, so not really (an open anthology like Tesseracts Thirteen is different). I had the original seven stories and I then approached specific writers whose work I knew and asked them for stories. Partly I did this because we wanted to do a world launch at the 2010 World Horror Convention in England, and to get the book to the printer required a speedy compilation.

Word spreads and I did have a couple of stories sent to me by people I didn’t know. If the stories had worked, they would have been in the book, but sadly, they didn’t. As it turned out, because I gave the writers strict parameters as to what I wanted, and also gave them a quickie history lesson on the vampire up to what we are seeing now, the contributors were able to see where I was coming from and want I wanted and, amazingly, they came through and met my vision.

HM: As far as anthologies go, I always imagined that the editor has a certain inner rhythm, which he/she follows to arrange the stories within the pages. Did you have an exact pattern behind the order? Can you perhaps mention a few of the tricks you use to order all the stories?

NK: It’s interesting that you mention an inner rhythm. In a sense, that’s exactly how I order stories. There are, of course, more conscious factors to take into consideration, for instance, I don’t want a bunch of long stories together, or a bunch of short stories together. As an editor, I want to have a flow so that more serious stories are broken up with lighter pieces, otherwise the tone gets set too strongly and the reader can’t make the leap to a light piece. Generally I order an anthology so that it can be read from front to back. Readers don’t always read that way. Sometimes they pick out shorter or longer stories to read because of the time they have available. Sometimes they will immediately select stories from authors whose work they know. But many people do read from start to finish and that has to have a rhythm to it, a movement, so that by the end there’s a feeling that these stories do make a whole. I think a lot of the ordering is unknown until much later in the process, at least for me. As I reread stories I’ve chosen, I begin to get a feel for what the anthology is really about and I try to lay out the stories in a way that speaks to that larger idea. I generally have a good idea of which story should lead and which should end, and these are set for many different reasons but mainly because they are strong stories that set the tone or conclude the tone. The process involves a lot of thought but, at the end, it seems magical to me in that somehow, all of these stories are ordered in a way that works for me and, I hope, for readers.

HM: What is the importance of the first story in an anthology and what is the role of the last one? What did you want to convey with your choices?

NK: The first story should set the tone for what follows and tell readers, okay, you can expect stories that are generally like this one. If there is a major name in an anthology and their story fits that criteria, that story will usually go first for name recognition among readers. Most people seem to go into a store, open a book, look at the first story and read a bit, so it has to grab people enough that they will buy the book. The last story also has prominence in that it sets up a feeling that the reader will take away with him or her, that allows the reader to feel the whole was worthwhile because it led to this type of conclusion which, in fact, rounds off everything they’ve read.

HM: A last parting question. What would you do, if you meet a live vampire face to face?

NK: That depends. If they had that look in the eye that I was potential food, I’d run. If there was some sentience there and some desire for communication, I’d take advantage of this unique opportunity and learn what I could about what it’s like to be undead.

HM: Thank you for the time.

NK: It’s been my pleasure, Harry. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

[Halloween Monster] The Vampire in Art and Pop Culture

Last Halloween, I posted about Werewolves in Art, which I think remains as one of my top visited blog posts, even though it's, honestly, three pictures that I grouped together. It was Halloween and werewolves are the bomb. I had plans on that being the first in a series of four Halloween monster art posts, but never got around to doing the other three. Now, I'm thinking why not continue where I've left of, since it's Halloween and monsters are mucho fun. Imagine my surprise, when I found a wide variety of art, which I found aesthetically displeasing [crap]. Vampires are pop culture's currency at the moment, how is it possible to have so many doodles in manga tyle of this pop icon. It's beyond me.

The majority of pictures that I think are good are depictions of characters from famous shows and books and movies and comic books. So instead of random awesome art, I give you the pop culture evolution of the vampire.

The Count

The Monster

The Vixen

The Innocent Predator

It's interesting to note the transition from a monstrous visage to sexualized ideal. I purposefully did not involve Anne Rice here, because it's only Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise pictures out there and I don't deal with those very well. Conclusion: You people are sluts. Just saying...
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