Friday, July 31, 2009

I've got mail too... [A new camera to be exact but still]

Since my old camera died some time ago, finances have never been in my favor before, so I put off buying a new one. That is until my mother, bless her heart of gold, decided to give me one for my birthday. Now that I have it in my possession and learned the most basic actions I decided to indulge in some book porn and show what July brought me in books, both delivered and bought. Don't mind the glimmer. I still can't find how to switch off the flash. Hah. :)

So here is the list from left to right and the top line to the bottom line:

1) I indulged myself in buying the new edition of Steven Erikson's "Gardens of the Moon" in Bulgarian, since the series was out of print for awhile and that's the reason I haven't started the it yet.

2) "Afterlife" by Guy Smith, which is a novella about life after death, supposedly from a more humorous angle. I am looking forward to it.

3) This one is an ARC of "A Mage of None Magic" by Bret Funk and is like the nostalgic fantasy with magical artifacts I am very fond of.

4) The cover of this one really grabbed me. It's a paranormal tale called "Dunraven Road" by Caroline Barnard-Smith and seems promising.

5) & 6) These are my most eagerly awaited books by Chris Evans. I was supposed to be a part of the promo blog tour on the 26th, but the books arrived two days before the date and I am super behind.

7) Paulo Coehlo with "The Winner Stands Alone". I couldn't resist buying him.
8) We conclude with Stephen King and "Duma Key", simply because it finally came out in Bulgarian and I have taken upon the task to read through his bibliogrtaphy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"Little Stories" by Jeff Roberts

Title: "Little Stories"
Author: Jeff Roberts
Pages: 108
Genre: Contemporary, Mainstream
Standalone/Series: Anthology
Publisher: Outskirts Press

As an anthology this doesn’t provide much material to munch on with its modest 100 pages, which makes it a think hardcover booklet for one rainy afternoon. My senses as a reviewer are a bit under a smokescreen as to how should I handle this title. The length of the anthology and of each individual story does not allow me to go about an individual review for each story, so I am taking back to the good old fashioned stream of consciousness technique, which would work best with this title.

Generally there comes a time, where I seek a break from people being killed, monsters lurking in every corner and a protagonist with a mission of some kind. So I look into the embrace of contemporary mainstream to search for the tidbits of regular life and to this extent “Little Stories” provides. In similar to vignettes style Roberts reveals in a slice-of-life manner random scenes in the life of people and also discusses topics, which will always pull a string in the human heart such as loss, identity and whether you really know another person. There is an autobiographical touch here and there, which brought me closer to the author. Within the validation that some of these stories are in fact a reality for someone, the reader can find life lessons or confirmation of his own experiences.

“Cosette” tops my list and closes the anthology by touching the subject of death, acceptance and closure in a saddening way. “Most Likely To Succeed” handles the topic of expectation from life, potential and the failure of realizing it, while “Relativity” exposes hypocrisy and narrow mindedness of the current century.

These, sadly, are the few highlights that I enjoyed, while the rest come off underdeveloped and confusing within their meaning. Considering the fact that the author has made a random selection from different phases of his writing career it’s natural to feel like reading unfinished or unedited work. I would have liked the author to have revised and expanded the ideas of his earlier stories, so that the maturity that came after his college year could have shown through and improved the anthology greatly.

I don’t think I would recommend this anthology to anybody, but it’s a manageable read under two hours, so it’s not too much time investment to take a dip, if one feels uncertain about it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"Blood Water" by Dean Vincent Carter

Title: "Blood Water"
Author: Dean Vincent Carter
Pages: 256
Genre: Horror, YA
Standalone/Series: Standalone
Publisher: Random House

What you should expect: “Blood Water” is labelled as teen horror and manages to stay true to its nature. As with all YA literature I have read recently I felt dissatisfaction with myself for not being able to connect with the novel, despite it being in one of my favorite genres. I do hold the view that this is an excellent title for those inexperienced with the genre as well as for the undeveloped minds of younger teens.

Pros: What made my day about this novel were the gore and death count, which were served with an unapologetic generosity. I find this quite ballsy, since we are talking YA fiction, and in that train of thought kudos to the author for not holding back and inflicting the readers the dreaded PG-13 rating.

Cons: While gore is great, I never felt like “Blood Water” tried figuring new uses to horror’s shack of tools and in that regard I am quite a picky reader. My introduction to horror came when I was still in preschool and after that I have only fuelled my phobia of poorly lit spaces, so this makes me quite prepared for almost everything. “Blood Water” remained simplistic in order to cater to its intended audience, which alas didn’t bring me the satisfaction I hoped I would receive in taking this novel.

The Summary: Considering sparse length, 256 pages, and its fast-paced and straight-forward nature “Blood Water” doesn’t require a detailed summary on my behalf. Sophistication in terms of plot is not the novels prerogative, so I see the book blurb fit to give the novel’s idea in a nutshell.

They're all dead now. I am the last one. Dr Morrow can't identify the 'thing' he found living in the lake but he knows it's dangerous ...then it goes missing ...Caught in the flood that is devastating the town, brothers Sean and James stumble across Morrow and the carnage left at his lab. The missing specimen is some kind of deadly parasite that moves from person to person, destroying its hosts in disgusting, gory ways. The death toll will rise along with the waters unless the brothers can track down the homicidal specimen and find a way to destroy it.

The Characters: “Blood Water” is told in third person point of view and divides between Dr. Morrow, Sean and the parasitic snail. When I look at the characters I see an interesting progression in quality and dimensions from Dr. Morrow to Sean and then to the parasiste. Dr. Morrow for me embodies the dictionary description of unhealthy but good natured curiosity in the name of science. He carries the responsibility for giving the deadly parasite enough consciousness and self awareness to give undertakers a busy week, but only after he realizes his grave mistake does he try to undo the damage. Staying true to numerous scenarios in this vein he fails and this costs him his life.

A bit more interesting is Sean in the regard that the author has chosen the character to be without a definite identity. Perhaps I may have read the novel wrong, but I didn't pick any cues about his exact age other that he attends school, his appearence or any special area of interest other than his participation in a marathon. This, in most cases, speaks of lacking characterization. However here I think this is done with a strategic purpose so that the reader can better identify himself with the protagonist and experience the thrill ride in this horror story. The lack of details about the character allow the reader to fill in the blank with their own personal traits far easier and thus appreciate the novel better.

Perhaps the best innovation Carter does is including the thoughts of the parasite. Considering the fact that it is sentient, possesses bodies and copies its hosts’ behavior it’s logical to ask what it aims to achieve. I found much satisfaction, glimpsing that for the parasite its adamant he remembers his past. The possession business with deadly side effects is part of its nature, the same way the snake doesn't feel compassion for its prey, but then again in a sense it has a human mind frame to a point as it grasps concepts such as right, wrong and conquering the world.

Story: There are certainly some strengths to this tale as it combines the inherent fear of humans towards insects and lower organisms like arachnids with the also so horrifying idea of becoming a nursery for their larvae, a concept turning The Thing and the Alien series into classics. Despite its inability to affect me enough as to scare me, I think “Dead Water” has found the balance between two types of horror. One, there is the horror founded in the unknown, since the protagonists had no initial idea, who happened to be the parasite’s host at any time. Then there is the horror of knowing the exact moment and the exact way your end will come and then watch it unfold helplessly

The thing about this novel that saddens me is that if it was taken and developed as an adult book and was meatier at 370-400 pages all of these things would have worked better. In its current form perhaps it will serve well for its intended audience, but for me it lacked appeal and felt stripped. If I have received this book for my 13th birthday, then my opinion would have leaned more on gushing out praise.

Verdict: Buy it for you children, not for yourselves.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Reviewer Time: John Ottinger ІІІ from "Grasping for the Wind"

“Grasping for the Wind” is from the very first generation of review websites and blogs, dating back to the year 2006, and as such it has managed to create a name, gather an audience and earn both trust and respect from readers and fellow reviewers alike. My hat of praise is low on compliments, so I am going to let the accomplishments of the man behind the blog speak for themselves.

John Ottinger ІІІ has written reviews, articles and held interviews over well known websites such as The Fix, which puts short stories under the spotlight; Flashing Swords, Sacramento Book Review, and even Publisher’s Weekly. If that is deemed insufficient for people to follow “Grasping for the Wind”, then how about if I tell you that John’s made it as far as appearing with a cover blurb. As a reviewer myself I can only admire what he has achieved only through perseverance, patience and constancy for the past three years as well as staying true to himself and his principles. “Grasping for the Wind” sets an example how a homemade Internet page, indulging into a deep passion, can gradually lead into personal realization and serve as an entryway to a bigger stage. To me, as cheesy and sickly sentimental as it sounds, “Grasping for the Wind” is an inspiration for me to aspire and know that I too can receive validation and recognition. I also think that quite a few from the second generation reviewers feel the same way or receive a similar message the very least. And just one more thought as an addition here. If authors such as Tobias Buckell and Chris Evans as well as publishers such as Orbit and PYR start complimenting you, then you know you are doing something right.

But I sidetracked for awhile and need to discuss the site and not the creator. What I like about “Grasping for the Wind” is its uncanny similarity to a vault for free fiction. On a regular basis I receive updates from “Grasping for the Wind” about new and free digital books, thanks to Edifanob my blog reading conscience. I really don’t mind reading from the screen and have a compulsive need to hoard books, so as a typical hoarder I am delighted that there is a site that keeps my addiction healthy and under a control. It also pumps my reading list on steroids, but I am not complaining.

Apart from this I love that John thinks about the community. He is responsible for the famous Book Reviewer Linkup Meme, which cause a chain reaction through the blogging scene and created a very rapid response. Despite the practicality of having most, if not all current blogs at one place, this meme also revealed how many of us, the SFF reviewers, exist on the web. The answer to that is probably hundreds, since we do cross the 100 line as a number.

“Grasping for the Wind” is pretty much like every other review site. You will encounter fun news and updates. You will stumble upon articles and interviews. And you will read reviews in different shapes and sizes. Then again though what make “Grasping for the Wind” a spot you return to is the simplicity, honesty and soundness of reasoning behind each review. When John is not penning shorter reviews for Sacramento Book Review, he writes long winded and detailed recollection of his experience with a book. He refers to his reviews as “Average Joe” reviews, though to me each review possesses a level of sophistication and class [hope I myself don’t sound pretentious with this description], which makes all the difference.

Conclusion from me, follow “Grasping for the Wind”.


HM: We usually know so little almost to none about the people behind the reviews, so I think it’s appropriate to kick off this interview with some personal questions. Who is John in the life outside “Grasping for the Wind” and what does a regular day look like for him?

I am married, have not kids, am raising a mini-dachshund, and currently am unemployed. I am actually a church mortgage underwriter by profession. Since I was laid off in April, I have started my own company, Darra Consulting ( which provides financial strategies and financing for churches and non-profits. I spend most of my day on the phone or internet making connections and seeking financing for my clients. I work from home, which is great because I have more time to devote to clients and to my own personal interests (such as blogging, reading, and reviewing). I also love swing dancing and world traveling, passions I share with my wife.

HM: In the fun spirit of list-making, please tell us three things that people would probably never ever guess about you.

A. I have a tattoo. I dress conservatively, talk conservatively, went to a religious college and move in religious circles. When people find out I have a tattoo, they are usually quite surprised.

B. I don’t always vote Republican. For the same reason above, people are often surprised by this.

C. I don’t own a TV. That doesn’t mean I don’t watch movies or shows, it just means I use my computer to do it, and even then it is not often. I don’t think TV is the devil, I just find it sucks away time I could be reading, reviewing, writing. I once was an addict, but I have seen the light.

HM: Now to go nearer known territory. What’s the origins story behind your site?

In 2004, a friend of mine who likes opinionated people suggested I start a blog on the blog hosting site he was setting up. I posted a few times, did some random posts, but didn’t really do much with it until I moved to Georgia (USA) in 2006. I started posting reviews of what I was reading, things that I had bought or that interested me. Lo and behold, people liked what I had to say. They started linking to me, I linked to them, and my popularity grew from there.

HM: “Grasping for the Wind” is an awesome name. How in the world did you come up with it and as an additional question how did you pick the lit genres you discuss?

The name is actually a quote from Ecclesiastes, a book of the Christian Bible and part of the Jewish tradition of wisdom literature.

“And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind. For in much wisdom is much grief, And he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” (Ecclesiastes 1:17-18, NIV)

I felt that this phrase encapsulated me and my outlook at the time I was choosing the name of this blog. Sometimes all our striving for knowledge is a vanity, a thing the writer of Ecclesiastes (the fabled Solomon the Wise) would certainly know first hand.

As to the second part of your question, I have been reading speculative fiction since I could turn a page. I love to read it and I love to talk about it. It seemed to be the obvious choice, because I had the historical knowledge needed to criticize new works based on what had come before, and old volumes based on new writing techniques and/or differences in culture.

HM: Now let’s rewind to the beginning in a barrage of questions. Did you feel it was easy? Was it easy to supply enough books and how were you received at first?

It came rather easy to me. Admittedly, some of my early reviews were rather slapdash and lacked any sort of true critical analysis, but I never found it hard in the beginning. In fact, I find it harder now to find something worth saying, because I do not want to repeat myself too often, and the author deserves something new, different and fresh from me as a reviewer, even if I don’t like their book.

As to reception, I don’t think anyone much cared. I got a few kind words from people who enjoyed my reviews and I just kept plugging away at it. I was enjoying myself and was happy to bring others along for the ride, if they wished. Thankfully, others did and I now have the semi-successful blog you see today.

I did do a lot of self-promotion by ensuring I ended up in various databases of reviewers and such (most of which are now defunct), but otherwise I usually let my content speak for itself.

HM: What’s your approach to writing reviews, your signature so to say that makes you different from all the others? Can you give a tip or share something insightful about the craft?

I would say that my key signature is probably the length and/or thoroughness of my reviews. The reviews I write on my own and not for other publications tend to be lengthy because I am so desperately seeking balance. I want to look at all aspects of a work and I want to make sure I highlight both the good and the bad that I see in a way that is not filled with jargon, or an attempt to impress the reader with my literary knowledge. I am an “Average Joe “reader writing “Average Joe” reviews. A review, no matter how well-crafted, is still just an opinion. What I may find detrimental in a work could be a strength to another reader. I owe it to those who read my reviews to point out what I did and did not like, and to say why. I also feel I should point out, on occasion, how something I don’t like may actually be a strength of a novel. Some may accuse me of not being hard enough on authors, but I don’t see my role as a destructive one. I want to present review readers with the facts, my assessment of them, and a concluding statement of my perceived value of the novel and perhaps its contribution to the field in general. This makes my work rather lengthy. And if you are looking for insights into the craft, re-read my answer, you’ll find all the tools you need in there to write your own worthwhile reviews.

HM: What’s your reading schedule? How do you arrange your day to find time to read and review to keep up relative activity?

As I mentioned before, I watch little TV or movies. That frees up a lot of time for reading. On average, I like to read 2 to 4 hours a day. I have no children, so I have little else to distract me after I have called it quits for the working day. I usually turn to reading almost immediately after work and then read until I turn out the lights, with a pause for dinner. I usually read two to three books a week.

I tend to post material throughout the day as I find something interesting when I take a five minute break from my professional work. RSS readers and a quickpost link make this fairly easy and takes little time. Too, as I have been writing and posting to the same blog for some time, I have learned little shortcuts, from learning basic CSS to having a definite style of layout for review posts, making it easy to replicate from post to post.

HM: In retrospect, have you ever done a negative review and how did you handle the situation? Every once in a while a book comes that doesn’t agree with a reviewer and there was a heated discussion revolving around negative reviews and what comes afterwards. Was there any fear of ruining your relationship with publishers?

I have done several negative reviews and in fact just wrote one (not yet published) of a book I was rather conflicted about. Negative reviews rarely get any sort of reaction from authors and only a few from reviewers. I think this is due mostly to the fact that what I review is material that has not been read yet by the majority of the population and there is not really any sort of feelings about the work yet. Ultimately, even my most negative review generated very little discussion. My reviews are informative, not really discussion generators. I assume that people read my negative reviews and simple choose not to read a particular book if they trust my judgment, or read it if they don’t.

I don’t fear ruining my relationships with publishers. I give enough positive reviews that the occasional negative one is not going to ruin my reputation. Some authors and publishers have worked through what I thought was a negative, and have even improved the sequel partly due to my commentary. Publishers aren’t stupid, and they rarely let a book that won’t sell or is badly written get by them. Hence the few negative reviews I write. It is hard to be negative when the publisher has already acted as gatekeeper for quality. Of course, publishers aren’t always right, and I have lambasted a few books that they published, but it didn’t harm my relationship. Actually it strengthened it, because the publisher now knows that I mean what I say and that my praise is deserved and my scorn is earned. I have credibility because of my honesty. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t scary at first to write those negative reviews, and that I didn’t fear losing a relationship, but no publisher has dropped me from their list of reviewers for a negative review as yet, and I would be surprised if they did.

HM: Now, how do you think you and your blog have grown from your first post up until now? Did the formula ever change and can you describe the path of your evolution?

I have a formula I am sure, and I know I have grown as a reviewer and writer, but it was so organic that there is really no way to trace it. By writing and writing and writing some more, I have gotten better and better and better, and each review by me is an attempt to top the quality of the last one.

HM: So as we know some bloggers that review books and know enough about literature, have writing aspirations. Do you want to stand on the other side of the business?

I’m not writer, nor do have such aspirations. I would like to write a few stories of my own more to be a better reviewer than to become a published writer. Of late, I have been bothered by the fact that I am a reviewer who has never attempted to write fiction and has little education in literature or writing. My thinking is that I should have at least some working knowledge of the craft before I attempt to critique it. I think that making my own attempts would make me better able to appreciate the difficulty of writing.

I do have some aspirations to becoming an anthologist, but have had little time to devote to it. I am currently working on a plan to release some fiction at Grasping for the Wind by authors and bloggers which would be free to read but would ask for a donation to charity if you liked the work. My hope would be to use this as a way to increase awareness for that as-yet-unidentified-charity and promote the various authors. This is still in the planning stages while I get my consulting company up and running.

HM: Whose your favorite author and why? In the same vein, there must be an author you had the misfortune of reading and will never ever approach. Who is it in your case and why?

This is dangerous territory. I don’t want to offend anyone. But in truth, my favorite author is probably the late David Eddings, who died only a month or so ago. His epic fantasies were what got me reading adult works, and although his final series was lacking in quality, the Belgariad and Mallorean series are some the best works of speculative fiction I have ever read.

Terry Pratchett is also so funny and pleasant to read that I always recommend his works to anyone, no matter their reading preferences.

There is not author I would not approach. Even if I didn’t like their work, I would still love to discuss it with them and maybe lay out my reasons for disliking the work and seeing if maybe my assumptions were wrong and needed correction.

HM: What are your personal pet peeves when it comes to the speculative fiction genres?

The circular nature of our arguments. This is especially evident whenever a “new wave” of bloggers arises. They tend to rehash some of the same old arguments. But at the same time I recognize the need to everyone to think through the argument for themselves, and this cyclical nature of topics is really just one generation of bloggers following in the footsteps of those who came before. I did much the same, and have different opinions of things than I did when I first began blogging because I was part of such cyclical arguments and learned from those who had come before. Nor does such rehashing mean that new ideas can’t crop up. So while I dislike seeing the resurgence of an argument over “race in spec fic” or “rape in fantasy” I also recognize that these arguments need to be made again and again as culture changes over time and as new minds enter the fray.

HM: Is there a tendency for these pet peeves to resolve?

No, but then again, if they did, what would we have to talk about?

HM: What do you think of self publishing? This is a very interesting topic as of late with the numbers of authors self-publishing on the rise and the treatment they receive not only from reviewers, but the whole book publishing community including readers.

I am generally against it. Though there are some gems, the majority of what is self-published lacks either quality or the necessary editing to make it quality. When I first started out, I reviewed quite a few self-published works, making myself sit through torturously long info dumps or boring characterization or inept plotting. I run into that even occasionally with published works, but in self-publishing I can be almost assured of it. I don’t want to sound snobby, as there are good books out there (Michael Hicks comes to mind) but they are few and far between.

And don’t even get me started on people who create publishing companies just to seem to have an aura of authenticity.

I get a lot of people asking me to review their self-published work, but my blog clearly states I do not take them to review anymore, and I usually politely decline after a quick Google Search shows that they are self-published. The poor quality of the query for review is usually a dead giveaway too. Here’s a suggestion: if you are in self-publishing, get your hands on a professional book press release and copy what they do. You might even fool me into reviewing your work.

HM: I have to ask how does one grow from a sole website to being featured with reviews on Publisher’s Weekly and Also how does that feel and do you have further ambitions?

Well, over time, Grasping for the Wind became known as a destination for reviews. As I built mutually agreeable relationships with publishers I got invitations of various sorts. came about because of my relationship with a most excellent publicist at Tor. She had been considering asking me on to write for Tor, but hadn’t had time to ask. When I went to her with a proposal she was pleased because all she had to do was say yes and set me up with the appropriate people.

The PW gig came about because I heard from another blogger that they were looking for reviewers. I sent in my application and a few tailored reviews and was accepted as a reviewer. I’m sure others were rejected even as I was accepted. That gig was simply fortuitous circumstance coupled with reviewing skill. I could never have gotten the gig in my early days. It took two years of reviewing and some practice of writing short reviews for Sacramento Book Review before I was ready for the big time. I am pleased and honored to be one of that select crowd of PW reviewers.

I do have ambitions beyond even where I am now. Rich Horton is one of my heroes in this field, and I hope that like him I might become a regular columnist and writer in various publications, as well as an anthologist of fiction.

HM: Do you think there are still areas fantasy has slipped that you would like to cover in other mediums? And how far do you think the fantasy/sci-fi culture will enter mainstream? This I ask because art purists denounce fantasy and sci-fi on a regular basis and yet they keep coming back full speed ahead.

SF and Fantasy IS mainstream already and has been for a long time. This is one of those circular arguments that I mentioned before. We SFers like to pretend we have been put upon by the establishment, but more and more we are becoming the establishment. We are mainstream, and we are here to stay, so lets make the most of it while still creating new and interesting subgenres that will eventually join the mainstream. I say, lets both keep our independent spirit and share our passion, feeling neither put upon nor superior.

HM: Also there has been much denouncing of urban fantasy in pretty much the same vein mainstreamers give fantasy and sci-fi the cold shoulder. Where do you stand in this matter?

SF moves in fads. Right now it is urban fantasy, in the 90’s it was epic fantasy, in the 40’s and 50’s it was galactic expansion stories and sword and sorcery. The pendulum swings back and forth, back and forth, and what was old will become new again, and some new stuff will crop up, and some new ways of doing things will become old. Any denouncement will one day be turned on its head to denounce the denouncers so we ought to be careful about speaking of any genre in generally derogatory terms. We should instead deride or praise individual works separately or comparatively to similar works, but bold statements about a genre or even subgenre as a whole is giving over oneself to hyperbole and logical fallacies. I like urban fantasy and I like epic fantasy and I like sword and sorcery. Each has strengths which make it unique from the other and allows diversity to coexist within the genre of speculative fiction in wonderful ways.

HM: I am not sure what a closing question sounds like at this topic, so you are free to some some closing words on your own regarding reviewing.

If you are a reviewer, keep reviewing. If an author, keep writing. If a publisher, keep publishing (and talk to me about my anthology ideas). And if a reader, keep on keep on reading.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Guest Spot with Author JC De La Torre

For this Saturday I have somebody else doing all the speaking for once, not that with my crazy summer schedule I had an opportunity to talk here as much as I would like. So, let's all take a step back in time and enjoy yet another trip into Greek mythology; this time with author JC De La Torre, whose fantasy thriller Rise of the Ancients - Annuna officially hits retailers everywhere on July 31st.

Adapting Greek Mythology to a Contemporary Fantasy Thriller
By JC De La Torre

There are not many people in the world that do not know the name Zeus. Most have heard of Hercules and Apollo. We have all read the great adventures and have seen countless numbers of shows and fiction attempt to take on the ancient myths.

There’s no doubt it’s a challenge. When your subject matter is something as well known as the Greek gods and as debated about as Atlantis – you know you’re going to tick someone off.

That was the challenge I faced when I decided to come up with the Rise of the Ancients series. As I wrote the first two installments of the series, Ancient Rising and Annuna (released on July 31st), I wanted to weave the fall of Atlantis with a religion that impacted the world for quite awhile – the mythology that was the Greek gods.

In fiction, you can invent your own mythology around the lost continent – but if you aren’t true to the source you get scenarios like flying cars and laser beams, while interesting to the story, may not really be plausible in the mind of your reader.

I had to dig further into antiquity, to the earliest recorded mythology – the Ancient Sumerians and their Annuna deities – gods from heaven.

It came together as a benevolent race of ascended beings planting the seeds of life on our world. It would incorporate the pantheon of religious belief, including Jewish and Christian tradition.

I know that in some ways I took some literary liberties with some of the established canon. Hera, for example, isn’t a major character at all in this series – but she was typically the cause of so much anarchy in the myths of old. At some point you have to decide what is usable and what truly isn’t.

In the end, if I was going to tie these converging religions into one, understandable hierarchy, I couldn’t possibly hold to the hundreds of gods or figures that are known in Greek mythology. I stuck to the main twelve and of those twelve only five or six become major players. I put Prometheus and Atlas on a higher level than Zeus, as they were Titans, direct descendants of Cronus and Rhea, while Zeus, Poseidon and the other Dodekatheons were a notch below.

Cronus and Rhea came from Nibiru, home of the ascended beings the Annuna – who seeded life throughout the universe. As I mentioned earlier, the Annuna were Sumerian deities – so there is your first tie in. Since my focus was in regards to the gods on Earth, I couldn’t focus on Enki or any of the Sumerian gods, which I know will disappoint some of my expert Sumerian followers (expect Enki and other Sumerian gods to appear in future installments).

It seems more complicated than it is. While Annuna may play a little loose with some of the established mythos in regards to the Greek gods, I do believe it is spun in a way that is understandable while not detracting from the action in the story.

When I first set out on creating this saga I envisioned an Indiana Jones-meets-Clash of the Titans fantasy adventure and that’s what I got with the first installment, Ancient Rising. When I began writing the next installment, Annuna, I noticed something very different. It was no longer a Dan Brown-esque search through musty dusty finds for a scarce chance at discovering Atlantis – but a full fledge knock down drag out fight to save humanity from forsaken gods. It told of the creation of life on Earth, the rise of a young prince of Atlantis and the final fall of the lost continent.

In the end, it was just a novel that drew on several different religious themes, boiled it in a pot and out came this smorgasbord of kick-you-in-the-teeth action, suspense, and drama. It may not be what mythology fans are used to – but I’m certain you’ll have fun.

JC De La Torre is the author of fantasy thriller Rise of the Ancients - Annuna, released on July 31st to retailers everywhere.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"Four and Twenty Blackbirds" by Cherie Priest

Title: "Twenty Four Blackbirds"
Author: Cherie Priest
Pages: 288
Publisher: Tor [2005]
Genre: Southern Gothic
Series/Standalone: Book 1, The Eden Moore series

What you should expect: I consider this a healthy specimen of literature, which provides a satisfactory time invested in the story. Coincidentally this has been my introduction to the Southern Gothic genre and though I personally can’t pinpoint the identifying features and characteristics that distinguish this genre from other contemporary pieces with paranormal and fantasy elements, if most titles representative of it deliver as “Four and Twenty Black Birds” then I am a fan.

Pros: Perhaps the biggest strength here at play is the writing itself, since the author possesses this quality about her prose that entrances the reader and erases all perception of time. Then I would have to add a likeable heroine that excited me and convinced me that I should care for her as an actual person. Not to mention the cover art...

Cons: I am not exactly sure what I can point out here apart from my mild dissatisfaction with the role of the three ghosts in the story. I guess it’s because it’s a first book in a trilogy and acts as an introduction, but I wished for more ghost involvement.

The Summary: Eden Moore’s life never quite fit into the statistical nuclear family mold. For one she is of mixed blood with two family sides not too keen to be related. Also she can see and communicate with the dead. In fact she has done so since a very early age and for longest has seen three sisters, who are also related to Eden. Through most of her childhood and young adult years the ghosts have warned her of danger in the face of Malachi, Eden’s cousin bent on killing her. With time Eden becomes curious about her heritage; an investigation, which leads her to an abandoned mental institution and several near death experiences. All the clues lie within her family’s past, but the answers are quite scary.

Characters: “Four and Twenty Blackbirds” documents Eden’s childhood, teen hood and early adult years and it does so through an exclusive first person point of view. Eden is likeable as well as believable, which makes reading this novel effortless. Perhaps what I liked best in her as a person was her inner strength, because it was well measured. Unlike most heroines I have followed through numerous adventures Eden realizes fully that the search for answers to her ability to see ghosts is dangerous. The ominous warnings received from her relatives, both alive and dead, undermine her confidence, yet her own life has been put to danger, because of her past. Knowing always has an unpleasant price, in this case, some dangerous consequences and yet Eden has decided, has a plan after weighing the danger and is bent on getting her way, but with due care.

Despite the POV Priest successfully fleshes out the support cast through Eden’s eyes and they are not listed and discarded as silhouettes in Eden’s life. Whatever emotional attachment this heroine feels towards her relatives, the readers are able to experience it full on. Malachi, Eden’s personal executioner, only comes off as a clumsy and non threatening figure, because Eden herself doesn’t identify him as a threat. This is what I call characterization at its highest.

Story: Digging into one’s own past is not always a pleasant task and sometimes can bring out secrets, which people struggled to mask under the layers of years. When this idea merges with the rich in legends and old wife’s tales of the American Southern an inherently creepy story can be given birth. Almost throughout the whole book the pages were tinted with a heavy air of suspense and morbidity and I accredit this to the sparse, but old school usage of ghosts as ominous messengers veiled in mystery, who leave the living at unease, rather than the more talkative versions in urban fantasy. Then again we have a story, which stretches through a series of uncomfortable places such as an abandoned mental institution, a run down motel, a century’s old family house and a cabin in the swamps. On their own these locations can heighten a normal person’s heartbeat with relative ease, yet these combined with Priest’s scenic descriptions elevate the experience to a new dimension altogether. As a non American I can’t identify myself with any of the geography, landmarks and scenery, though I can testify that through Priest’s prose I had an out-of-body experience and traveled into a very vivid and real world.

Verdict: To me gothic literature is a potion, even though I am not well read in the field, and as such utilizes its ingredients to the fullest to create a full time goose-bumps sensation. Priest is an A student at mixing concoctions and quite surprising for a debut.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Reviewer Time: Carl V. from "Stainless Steel Droppings"

Among the escalating numbers of review and book blogs, which invade the Internet, there are bound to exist the trend setters or the highlight of a movement in blogging. The same manner “The Fantasy Book Critic” stands for objective professionalism and “OF Blog of the Fallen” highlights the more philosophical approach to blogging and reviewing, I think, “Stainless Steel Droppings” captures the spirit of the Indie surrealistic aesthetics.

Carl as you will find out in his interview is not anchored to the future and the current trends. He isn’t keen on the newest or most popular titles in either fantasy or science fiction, even though he is an avid reader of both. He doesn’t place his trust solely on big company names in the publishing business and also isn’t bound to any publishers. In this sense he is independent to pursue his passions, the books and art and topics that urge him to sit down and express his reactions. But perhaps I might not have clarified what I mean in the previous sentence. What reviewers do, they do because they enjoy it, but then again in the world of reviewing there is this sense of immediacy. A reviewer has to be upbeat with his title choices and most blogs function on the principle of being an information venue for the most current directions in genre fiction and literature as a whole. Carl on the other hand does not abide these unwritten conceptions and ideas about blogging and is not afraid to venture into the past, reexamine personal favorites or classics; just follow the ever changing winds of his whims. This is his thing, his charm and frankly it has an amazing gravitational pull when it comes to me as a reader.

A regular reader at “Stainless Steel Droppings” won’t be surprised by the colorful specter of books featured, from fantasy to science fiction to non-fiction, from novels to art books and so on. My favorite experience is the discovery of new visual artists. As a visually inspired and charged person I find art as my main source of ideas and in this regard “Stainless Steel Droppings” is a treasury or better yet a wonder emporium with something magical or weird, whimsical or surrealistic, but by all means skillfully crafted and of high aesthetics.

Also what Carl manages to achieve in his reviews is not only to bring a sense of structure as a skeleton to built upon, but also echo the spirit of the story. Where most reviews provide an analytical look upon a book, which is always intriguing for me, Carl manages to bring out the essence and convey his passion for the subject on words. His language and vocabulary positively delight and I usually lose my sense of time spent reading there, no matter what it is. My respect can only grow seeming how generous he is with his reading challenges and outside. Once you begin to visit on a daily basis you will notice that the year at “Stainless Steel Droppings” is structured and has a schedule with reading challenges of great interest, which not only satisfy the materialistic needs of the participants, but also act as glue for the community.

With this commentary I think I covered the basic highlights here and even if I wish to be critical towards a website, because I don’t wish for the Reviewer Time to become a gallery dedicated to empty praise, in this case I am too much of a “Stainless Steel Droppings” fan to come with anything.

HM: We usually know so little almost to none about the people behind the reviews, so I think it’s appropriate to kick off this interview with some personal questions. Who is Carl in the life outside “Stainless Steel Droppings” and what does a regular day look like for him?


By day I dress up in one of those little French maid outfits and clean houses for rich old ladies and by night I play bagpipes in a Scottish themed restaurant.


I’m the director of a number of community-based services for a mental health center in Independence, Missouri. In that position I have responsibility over a group home, a crisis house, a semi-independent apartment complex, a foster-home type program, a large adult in-community case management program, a youth in-home case management program, a school-based program, a day treatment program for adults, a vocational rehabilitation program for adults and on and on it goes. It is a BIG job. I am a member of several committees that meet at the state and local level to try to enact changes in the mental health system in Missouri. I go to meeting after meeting after meeting. I boss a lot of people around, ha! It is certainly a challenge, but one that I enjoy. Most days.

My evenings are primarily spent with my wife and daughter. Of late we frequent the local library, checking out various British and American television series to watch. Our latest addiction is Foyle’s War. We take walks, play with the dog, read, hang out with friends…pretty much the normal stuff.

HM: In the fun spirit of list-making, please tell us three things that people would probably never ever guess about you.

Okay, here we go:

1. I bite my nails. Not because it is a nervous habit, but because I can’t be bothered to go get the fingernail clippers and clip them. Although I can be bothered to do so with my toes. I distinctly remember a day in my early 20’s where I noticed my nails were getting long (as I was driving down the road) and I decided to go ahead and just bite them down to size. Now it is what I do.

2. I’m an I, Carly fan. There, I said it. It is the only live action Disney channel show that I can stand. I am also a big fan of the cartoon The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. I love that wacky show. It cracks me up every time.

3. I’m a book lover (as everyone knows) but I have not set foot in a bookstore for 2 months. Two months!!! No, I haven’t suddenly grown sour on books. As some of you know my wife and I are following the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover plan in order to get ourselves out of debt so that we can live a much more prosperous and content life in the future. The biggest money grabber for me has always been books and my resolve to resist temptation is not easy if I am standing in a store surrounded by treasures that want to come home with me. So, for now, I stay away. The library has become my great friend and every time I hear of a new book coming out that I think I want to read I immediately pop over to the library to put a hold on it. For the time being my rare book purchases will be very special items that I save up for and pay cash for.

HM: Now to go nearer known territory. What’s the origins story behind your site?

The origins of my site are fairly simple. It began merely because of my own ignorance of the technology of the blogging world. I had a friend who began a blog and I wanted to post a comment on her site and mistakenly assumed that I had to create my own Blogspot blog to do so. I quickly whipped one up and once I had done so I thought, “Why not post some of my musings on here, now that it exists?” What began as a haphazard and stumbling effort to find my voice and find my niche in the blogging community eventually grew into the structure that Stainless Steel Droppings exists in today.

HM: “Stainless Steel Droppings” is an awesome name. How in the world did you come up with it and as an additional question how did you pick the lit genres you discuss?

When silly ol’ me thought I had to create a blog to comment on blogs, I knew I needed a name. The first things that popped into mind were my literary heroes: Poe, Stoker, Gaiman, and of course Harry Harrison, the author who caught me at an early age and helped shape my love of science fiction. The choice to me was obvious: Harry Harrison’s singular creation, Slippery Jim DiGriz, the Stainless Steel Rat, was probably the most little known of these four influences and so making my blog name an homage to him made perfect sense. Calling it ‘Stainless Steel Rat’ seemed less like a nod to Harry Harrison and more like copyright infringement and so I had to think of something else. As I hadn’t created a blog with some grand purpose in mind, I knew my early efforts would be little more than do-do, and the word ‘droppings’ (rat droppings to be exact) fell into place and thus the name Stainless Steel Droppings was born.

As for the genres I choose to discuss, I am very much a creature of whims. I knew I would never be able to be a part of the book blogging community without discussing the genres I am passionate about: science fiction, fantasy, and gothic fiction. But I read many things outside of these genres as well so it becomes impossible for me to be consistent with the genres I post about. Over the course of the year there is probably more of the above three genres than any other literature, but I certainly don’t limit myself to them. In the end I just have to write about what I am passionate about at the moment. Which is why sometimes my blog seems to follow a set pattern and theme and other times it is all over the place.

HM: Now let’s rewind to the beginning in a barrage of questions. Did you feel it was easy? Was it easy to supply enough books and how were you received at first?

Easy? No not really. I was received the way that I think many bloggers are received, and that is that few people read my posts and few people commented on them. Mostly these were very close friends and I adore them for making the effort when I began. It kept me encouraged enough to stick with it when I stumbled around for many, many months trying to figure out just what my blog was supposed to be, why it needed to exist, etc.

I knew that ultimately I wanted to post about the art and literature and music and other things that excited me. Many of these things were not things I discussed with the majority of people in my life because they were not into them. When I discovered other bloggers who were doing what I wanted to do, like Jenn See and Mysfit and oldben at Following My Fish, I began to get really inspired to build my blog around what I really wanted to write about. Neil Gaiman’s journal was also an inspiration. Discovering the book blogging community months later ended up being that final piece to the puzzle…it helped focus Stainless Steel Droppings. The book blogging community is wonderful and I consider it one of the greatest things about being a blogger. Being able to passionately discuss books with fellow book lovers is a joy that cannot be quantified.

As for supplying books, I have always had a BIG appetite when it comes to purchasing books and so, even to this day, I have far more books that I haven’t read than I may ever have time to read. I doubt I’ll ever run out of books to read!

HM: What’s your approach to writing reviews, your signature so to say that makes you different from all the others? Can you give a tip or share something insightful about the craft?

I’m not sure I go out of my way to be different from everyone else. More than anything I try to convey the experience I had with the book as opposed to merely writing a book report. I have no desire to try to emulate paid professional reviewers and so I never set out to write those types of reviews. I don’t believe in giving much, if any, of the plot away when I review a book. I do not want to spoil the reading experience in any way. What I want to do is try to convey the mood that the book put me in, the place it took me too, the adventure I went on when reading it. I like to compare books to other books, films, etc. to give the reader of my reviews a sense of what they are getting when they pick up this book. Reading is an emotional experience for me and if a book has touched me in some way I try to be passionate about it in my review. And many books are simply fun to read and if that is the case I try to emphasize that aspect of the reading experience.

The very best tip I can give is to be yourself. If you like a particular person’s reviewing style, sit down and figure out what it is particularly about their style that you like and incorporate that into a way of writing that feels comfortable for you. When I write a review, I sit at my computer and imagine myself in a conversation, rolling various words and phrases around to determine what ‘sounds’ best. If the words feel right to me I put them down and generally things just flow from there. Sometimes it is a lot of work and other times it is the easiest thing in the world. Do not think that you have to be a great wordsmith to write reviews. Just tell your audience about your experience with the book, let your passion come out through your fingers, and leave the worries and stresses of writing the ‘perfect’ review to those who actually get paid to do so. There is enough stress in day-to-day life without having to stress about writing reviews for your blog.

HM: What’s your reading schedule? How do you arrange your day to find time to read and review to keep up relative activity?

Reading is very much a mood thing for me. For example, I’ve been so focused on things in my personal life over the past month that I’ve done very little reading. That is a pretty rare thing for me though. Generally I am always reading something.

As for a schedule, I read whenever I can snatch moments to do so, be they long moments or just the time spent in the bathroom doing what nature intended for us to do when in the throne room! I always have reading material with me: in the car, in my office, throughout my house. I rarely go anywhere without having something to read. It wouldn’t seem that brief, stolen moments would amount to much but I get a lot of reading done that way. And on top of that I just make time to read. Be it early in the morning or before bed, I just love to get some reading in.

It has become more of a struggle recently to find both reading and blogging time because of some lifestyle changes I have made, the biggest being a desire to improve my health now rather than waiting until something bad happens to me. As part of that effort I am going to bed much earlier than I used to and so time that was normally set aside for reading and blogging has now become sleeping time. Hey, I guess I had to grow up at some point, and at 40 years of age it is really not in my best interests to stay up until 1 or 2 a.m. every night and try to function on 5 to 6 hours sleep. It doesn’t work anymore. As a consequence of trying to get more sleep I can see that I am much more alert, more focused, and ultimately happier during the day. The other big change being the previously mentioned effort to eliminate debt in my life and live on a budget. We have been having so much fun figuring out ways to earn and/or free up funds to pay down debt that this has taken some time away that I usually spend reading or blogging. It is well worth the sacrifice, but I am still striving to find a way to have that focus AND nurture the other important parts of who I am, like reading and existing in the blogging community.

HM: In retrospect, have you ever done a negative review and how did you handle the situation? Every once in a while a book comes that doesn’t agree with a reviewer and there was a heated discussion revolving around negative reviews and what comes afterwards. Was there any fear of ruining your relationship with publishers?

I have and it was hard to do. The one I remember hurting the most was reviewing the Neil Gaiman, Michael Reeves book Interworld. I just didn’t think it was very good. It seemed very flat and simplistic to me…not at all up to par with what I expect of Neil Gaiman. I’m not one to generally spend a lot of time posting critical reviews, however. I would much rather spend time about books I am passionate about. However I felt the need in this case since Neil Gaiman is by far one of my favorite authors. This was simply a collaborative dud in my opinion.

I rarely accept books for reviews from publishers. I have one publisher that I have a relationship with in which I can request any book at any time for review. By giving me that option to pick the books I want to review I have managed to not get any lemons from that publisher, so I’ve had no reason to put that publisher off by posting a negative review. I will say, though, that if someone is getting into the book blogging community just to snatch up free reads, I would have to doubt the veracity of their reviews. A reviewer, be they a paid professional or an amateur putz like me, should never be anything but honest with their readers when reviewing a book. Now there are ways to be kind and professional in your criticisms, and I applaud that, but I don’t think anyone should skew a review in a positive direction for a book they had problems with just so they don’t risk the publisher getting mad at them and cutting off the free book supply.

HM: Now, how do you think you and your blog have grown from your first post up until now? Did the formula ever change and can you describe the path of your evolution?

The blog has grown every year mostly because I have grown in the confidence of what I want my blog to do. I started out posting about whatever piqued my interest at the moment and as such my blog was sometimes just what I wanted it to be and other times felt forced and disingenuous. I wanted an audience to read and react to what I was writing and at the same time did not want to talk about hot-button topics like religion and politics and things that would cause my blog to be a place of heated discussion. It isn’t that I don’t have strong opinions about those things, but that was an aspect of my life that I didn’t feel like posting about.

I have a lot of hobbies and interests and I knew that was the direction I wanted my blog to take. What helped it evolve the most was figuring out which blogs I liked and taking pieces of those blogs and mixing them with my own creativity to make Stainless Steel Droppings into something I was happy with. As I mentioned earlier, the discovery of book blogs really helped me coalesce my blog into something that had definite shape and purpose. Over the years I have formed two distinct reading challenges, the Once Upon a Time Challenge in the spring and the R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril) Challenge in the autumn (and more recently the Sci Fi Challenge in January/February). These challenges anchor my blog and give it a structure built around the calendar. I like having that structure around which to build my blog each year. Within that structure I am allowed to be me and to present things to the readers that I love and want to share. My goal has never been to impress (although all of us want people to like what we are doing), it has been to be something of a host, bringing forth art, literature, music, films, and other things to share with those who read my blog. I have always wanted it to be a collaborative effort. The people who comment have as much to do with making a blog post successful as I do in writing it. The exchange of passion is what is important to me.

HM: So as we know some bloggers that review books and know enough about literature, have writing aspirations. Do you want to stand on the other side of the business?

I have always toyed with the romantic daydream of writing a book, but that is all it ever has been: a daydream. I have never shown the propensity for the kind of discipline it takes to be a successful writer. I just don’t have that in me, at least not at this point in my life. I’ve seen myself grow more disciplined in other areas of my life so I assume it is possible I could make changes and be more committed to giving writing a shot, but it just hasn’t been something I have wanted to put any great effort into. Now if I could get into the book business doing Irene Gallo’s job as Art Director at Tor Books, that would be something I could be committed to do!!! J

HM: Whose your favorite author and why? In the same vine, there must be an author you had the misfortune of reading and will never ever approach. Who is it in your case and why?

I can never really name just one. My top three, who continually jockey for position are Edgar A. Poe, Bram Stoker, and Neil Gaiman. Poe and Stoker reached me at a critical point in my development, around that pre-adolescent time when reading could have become less important and instead became more so. Their style and subject matter captured my imagination. It also helped, I think, that I grew up in Nebraska. My birthday is in November and the weather associated with October and November, that autumnal time, was always my favorite and still is to this day. Poe and Stoker are writers whose words evoke feelings of autumn in me whenever I have the pleasure of reading them and so I get so much more out of reading their works that just the thrill of the story they are telling.

Neil Gaiman’s work reached me at another pivotal time in my life, in my early twenties when I was ‘growing up’ and developing my own personal adult style. His gift with words made a profound impact on my life that remains to this day. So much of what I have come to like in the way of art and literature and the way I feel about creativity can be traced back to seeds planted by Neil Gaiman. He and his work have touched my life in so many ways, one of the most important being the deep friendships I have made in my personal life and online because of a shared love of his creations.

There are certainly other authors from childhood and in my adult life that blow me away and hover very close to those top three: Patricia A. McKillip, H.P. Lovecraft, Harry Harrison, John Scalzi, Ian Fleming, Robert Jordan, Edgar Rice Burroughs, J.R.R. Tolkien (who honestly is joining the top three to become a fourth jockeying for the top slot). But these three have something magical about them that won’t let go and so I gladly allow them to remain at the top of my list of favorite authors.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had the misfortune of reading anyone because there are authors I stay away from. And I am the first to admit that I may be staying away from them to my own detriment. I sometimes get weirdly turned off by authors who become wildly popular. For example I have never read a word written by J.K. Rowling and I have no intention to. This is not because I think there is anything wrong with her books and I obviously have no valid opinion about her as a writer. I just do not have any desire to do so. The same goes for Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer, and others who quickly become a phenomenon. There is really no rhyme nor reason why I have an aversion to these authors, but I do and there is no point being anything but honest about it. If I am missing some great reading experience by not picking up their books, then it truly is my own personal loss. I do not think that people who like these authors have any more or less taste in books than I do or anything like that. I don’t think that what I read is necessarily better. I just have no desire to read them. It is that simple.

HM: What are your personal pet peeves when it comes to the speculative fiction genres?

My pet peeves regarding speculative fiction mostly amount to being annoyed at people who claim to be SF fans who then feel the need to be hyper-critical about the genres, as if they are ashamed to be unabashed fans. There are so many people who seem to want to proclaim that there is no good fantasy being written today or that there is no good science fiction being written today. Or conversely that the older stuff is garbage and the new stuff is the bomb. Both camps are full of crap in my opinion. This year alone I have read new SF books and old SF books and in both cases I have found myself lost in adventurous, exciting stories that brought me great pleasure. Perhaps I am just a simpleton who does not know any better. But if that be the case then far be it from me to change. I do not want to be someone whose critical skills grow to the point that I can no longer enjoy the simple act of reading.

HM: Is there a tendency for these pet peeves to resolve?

They only resolve if I keep myself out of those discussions and arguments. I respect someone who can give an honest opinion about a book, even if I do not agree with it. It is not those people who bug me. It is those who feel the need to pontificate about the ills of speculative fiction and who cannot bring themselves to enjoy anything unless it is some abstract, hard-to-understand, ‘new’ concept. If I stay away from those reviewers and do not let myself get pulled in to a pointless argument then the pet peeve resolves. If I get righteously indignant and feel the need to share my two cents, then I find myself ruminating about these people for days.

So I just stay away. Most of the time.

HM: What do you think of self publishing? This is a very interesting topic as of late with the numbers of authors self-publishing on the rise and the treatment they receive not only from reviewers, but the whole book publishing community including readers.

I used to think of self publishing as more of a vanity thing, but more than ever it appears to be a great marketing tool for getting one’s work out to the public, especially when authors publish things free online. John Scalzi has done a lot to change my mind about this and to remove whatever stigma I felt was associated with it. I believe successful print authors like Scalzi will continue to help make this a more accepted and viable option for authors.

There will always be critics, especially those whose livelihood is affected by authors making their works available for free. And those pretentious critics who seem to think that the only ‘real’ writing is that which is discovered by a publishing house and offered to the public at a cost.

I am not one to go out of my way to read things online. I much prefer to have a solid book in hand as that is as much of a part of the experience of reading for me as are the words on the page. But I no longer have such a critical stance on the idea of self-publishing.

HM: Another hot topic is the crisis in the publishing industry. It’s true that the recession pretty much hit everywhere, so as a reviewer do you feel the pinch from it all and how do you see the industry shaping?

The economic climate is affecting every aspect of our lives and it is not surprising that the book industry would experience a big hit because of it. Books are luxury items, and when people are struggling to provide the necessities, luxuries are the first things to go out the window. As I’ve mentioned above, I have certainly had my own very small affect on the publishing industry by not visiting bookstores and instead visiting the library. I easily spent at least a thousand dollars, if not double that, on books every year and now I am spending little or nothing. If I am any indication on how the economy is impacting book sales then they are taking a big hit. The loss of income from many people just like me has to have a big impact.

Unfortunately I predict one result of this economic downturn is that books will even more rapidly make their way to cheaper (i.e. electronic) means. Many have predicted the eventual death of the hold-in-your-hand book and I fear that this climate will accelerate that decline. I’m old school. I want to feel that book in my hand when I read it. I want to smell the paper and gaze at the cover art. I want to appreciate the paper stock and the typeface chosen and all the little things that make a book a book. I don’t get that with electronic books and I do not welcome the change.

HM: Do you think there are still areas fantasy has slipped that you would like to cover in other mediums? And how far do you think the fantasy/sci-fi culture will enter mainstream? This I ask because art purists denounce fantasy and sci-fi on a regular basis and yet they keep coming back full speed ahead.

Art purists will always denounce fantasy and science fiction, regardless of how popular it is. In fact the more popular it becomes the more purists will remove themselves from the ‘masses’ and will sit on high with their noses in the air, denying that anything with a fantasy or science fiction theme is art. I say let them sit on high, somewhere that we can ignore them. Art is a subjective medium, to be sure, but only a true snob can look at the work of well known and respected science fiction and fantasy artists and not see the talent and skill represented. Artists like Alan Lee and John Howe, John Berkley and John Harris, Kinuko Y. Craft, Donato, Frazetta…the list goes on and on…are incredibly gifted and talented artists whose work is definitely fine art. Those who choose not to see it are living in a very close-minded place and I cannot have any respect for their opinion.

I think fantasy and science fiction will ebb and flow in popularity as it has always done. You can look back over the decades and see times when fantasy and science fiction is very prominent in literature, film, television and times when it virtually disappears. I have enjoyed the fact that more fantasy and science fiction and comic inspired movies and television series have found their way into mainstream entertainment, but what is more important to me is that what is put out there is good. Popularity has not stopped garbage from being introduced and the proliferation of garbage will eventually sour people on the genres and something else will rise up to take its place. But even then there will be those whose love of speculative fiction will keep them producing works in every medium that we fans can enjoy.

HM: Also there has been much denouncing of urban fantasy in pretty much the same vein mainstreamers give fantasy and sci-fi the cold shoulder. Where do you stand in this matter?

I think the denouncing of urban fantasy is more a product of the over-saturation of the marketplace than any real opinion on the quality of the work that is out there. As with anything, if something becomes popular, suddenly everyone is doing it. That proliferation waters down the market and ensures that you have legitimately good authors competing with those who have marginal talents. But the fact remains that there are really good books out there in the urban fantasy genre. It is popular right now to bash these books and I feel the same way I do about this as I mentioned in the pet peeve question. I don’t mind people railing against particular books or authors that they have actually taken time to read and have a well-reasoned opinion about. What annoys me is blanket criticism of a genre, or sub-genre in this case, simply because the genre is a hit with the ‘masses’. Which is why I also mentioned that I have no business and will not criticize Rowling or Meyer or Brown. How can I? I haven’t given their works a chance. Just because something about those books doesn’t spark my interest does not mean that I can sit on my throne and proclaim them to be poorly written or worthless or derivative or any of the other criticisms leveled at speculative fiction. It all becomes hot air at that point. Good books are good books, regardless of the genre they are written in and regardless of whether I or anyone else who writes about books likes them or not.

HM: I am not sure what a closing question sounds like at this topic, so you are free to some some closing words on your own regarding reviewing.

I would first off like to thank you for this opportunity. These were fun questions to answer and really gave me a lot of food for thought.

People who want to make a living at critiquing books, films or any other thing need to do the work necessary to develop a critical eye. To be really good, in my opinion, they also need to be able to hold on to the love of books, the love of film, etc. Not everyone can do that. I have chosen to write out of my passion for books and movies, etc. Not to become the next boy wonder, but because I am passionate about these things and I want to give voice to that passion. I ultimately do not care if I review a book or film or television show and people look at me and say “well I just cannot respect him if he actually liked that!”. I am honest enough to say that sometimes I just want to be entertained, and so something goofy like Spongebob Squarepants or Big Trouble in Little China can be a work of genius. Other times I need something that I can more firmly argue is a work of genius, like the linguistic skill of J.R.R. Tolkien or the short story skill of Edgar A. Poe. In the end I choose to be open and honest about my passions and share them in the most entertaining way that I know how.

I do not proclaim to be the next best thing in blogging nor do I attempt to compete to be better than this person or that person. What keeps me involved in blogging is the community. It is that sense of community that makes this all worthwhile. Otherwise, for me, it is nothing but white noise. I like sharing things that we are passionate about. I like discovering authors and artists and musicians that I wouldn’t have discovered had it not been for visiting this or that blog. I try to provide the same forum for people who come to my site. I want people to be able to come in, pull up a chair, and talk about what they like. I hope that is what Stainless Steel Droppings conveys now and I hope that it will always do that. If it does, then I am a success.

Friday, July 17, 2009

News: Conventions, A Guide to Self-Publishing and a 100$ Contest

Apart from the rare review requests my mail is also a host to quite a few intriguing notifications, which I consider might entertain and/or benefit a number of my readers. For today I have prepared three events from around the World Wide Web of interest.

1. America is the home to countless conventions and any hard core con attendee can tell you that finding the right accommodation with the right people, if one is traveling alone, can be a tedious usually maddening task. I for one have not been in such a situation, but I can imagine how aggravating organization can be with few resources and just Google by your side. Worry not, for Ryan L. Kopf has the solution just one click away. Without further telemarketing antics I present to you

New Convention Website Connects Fans With Conventions And Roommates
July 5, 2009

Summary: A new website,, lists hundreds of anime, game, comics, and science fiction conventions, and also allows users to sign up to find hotel roommates.

We are proud to announce to creation of a new fan convention resource, focused on anime, comics, gaming, and sci-fi, to help fans in a whole new way. Not only are over two hundred upcoming conventions listed with links to official websites, but users can use the website to find convention roommates, absolutely free!

Ryan Kopf, a board member for the fan organization Mindbridge Foundation, began working on and developing features in late June 2009. Kopf wanted to create a resource that would enhance fandom over multiple genres, but especially help anime fans.

“I think convention attendees have always needed a good, reliable place to find upcoming conventions,” said Kopf. “Game, Comic, and Sci-Fi conventions had seemed the most neglected.” lists conventions around the world, although most are focused in North America

The most unique feature of is easily the convention roommate system. Every year thousands of convention attendees look for people to share rooms with, to help offset the typically high cost of having a room at a convention hotel for three nights. Any fan can register for an account, go to the page of their favorite convention, and sign up to find hotel space, or to offer their hotel space for others. Other users who does the same thing will have a chance to see who else will be going to the same convention.

“We help connect the people together who might want to share rooms, but they do the communication and arrangements themselves,” said Kopf. “The listing of people attending a convention links to their profile, which contains general contact information for the person. They have to get in touch themselves and see if the potential roommates are the kind of individuals they want.”

ABOUT UPCOMINGCONS.COM: was started in 2009 as a resource for fans across the world, helping them find conventions, find convention roommates, and meet other fans. They also provide convention reviews, photo galleries, and news.

2. Self-publishing as a new development in the publishing industry has been gauging my interest as of late. And I am not only referring to the event itself, but also the public opinion thereof and techniques to make achieve success through this unconventional means. Not long ago self-published author Roland Cheek contacted me with the request to showcase his 52 week long installment series on building a successful author career through self-publishing. For those interested installments are posted on the lower left portion of Roland’s site under the title “ROLAND'S RULES OF FOUR - A WINNER'S GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL SELF-PUBLISHING”. But here is more about the series and the idea behind it from the author himself.

While it’s true anyone can publish their own book and eat a loss, even two (I know one individual who actually self-published three books at considerable economic loss before throwing in the towel), but to successfully self-publish any books, one must turn a profit. I did. Twelve times.

My decision for releasing this compendium as blogs instead of in its originally intended book form is based on the present torpor of an entire publishing industry in denial; an industry suffering laser strikes from the twin Furies of desktop publishing and internet distribution; a shrinking industry who leaves little opportunity for oncoming writing talent. In short, with major publishers disserving the reading public and headed for cutbacks and bankruptcy as a consequence, self-publishing might, for aspiring writers, be the only viable game in town—provided it’s correctly accomplished.

3. Last but not least I have a fun contest, from which one very lucky participant will cash in on 100 dollars. Author JC De La Torre has put a fun and easy Amazon contest in order to promote his latest novel ‘Rise of the Ancients’. This is what I would refer to as a winning marketing strategy. But here are the details provided by the author:

I'm running a little contest I'm calling the Tag Your It Contest. Contestants will be entered into a drawing to win $100 USD. I would love to have your readers to get the opportunity to enter.

Basically, it works like this - go to JC two novels listed on Amazon -
Rise of the Ancients Annuna -

Ancient Rising -

Scoll down to the section called "Tags Customers Associate with This Product"

Click everything you see.

Once completed, take a screenshot of your amazon page. (go here if you're not sure how to do this).

Email the screenshot to (replace AT with @)

At the end of the month, a random drawing will be held from the entries and someone will win $100 bucks for just 10 seconds of their time.

Absolutely no purchase is necessary, you just need an amazon account to participate.

This will be the first in a series of contests celebrating the launch of Rise of the Ancients - Annuna on July 31st.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"The Living Dead": Long Waited Final Commentary

I have struggled with figuring out the appropriate words to draw a summary out for the anthology “The Living Dead”, much harder than it was for me than starting with the opening post. The way I see it, the reason to keep stalling and reading bits in between weeks’ and months’ worth of pauses could be explained with my desperate need for this anthology to never finish rather than it being a burden. As far as the undead go I have developed an everlasting fascination/horror and John Joseph Adams produced one wicked volume, which pays an outstanding homage to an idea that is still picking up speed as pop culture evolves. For me 500 pages didn’t seem merely enough to cover such a simple idea for a monster, a dead corpse walking, but with a no-rules-attached attitude towards anything else regarding origins, environment and actual creature attributes.

Perhaps the subject is rather bleak and depressing to be excited about and perhaps not taken seriously enough by the general public, which has been introduced only to new generation Hollywood movies. However I think that once the zombie is translated into literature the result differs from the good scare found in the movies and leans on more to the philosophical introspective look at our culture and at society. Every cultural era has its own monster. The sexually repressed Dark Ages has the incubi and sucubi, while the late 19th had Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to portray the dichotomy that is associated with the Victorian era. For me the zombie is the spokesperson of the 21st century and the new breed of human; perfect consumer. It’s been pointed out what the zombie represents countless times and yet it’s an idea that can be reinvented countless times with new scenarios, new set of survivors, new set of zombie hordes and new sets of grim morale tales.

What John Joseph Adams successfully accomplished was to find as many as possible faces of the zombies from the dumb to the smart, from the restless to the peaceful and from the victim to the predator and arrange them into an exhibition for the reader to sample. Diversity and quality are the leading traits as far as “The Living Dead” goes with legendary names in the horror genre such as Stephen King with his chilling story “The Delivery” and Clive Barker with “Sex, Death and Starshine”, which brings an air or macabre aristocratism. The anthology however shifts into new directions with Laurel K. Hamilton representing the urban fantasy genre with her story “Those Who Seek Forgiveness” and George R.R. Martin with “Meat House” to put a fantasy spin on the concept. There is humor like in “She is Taking Her Tits To The Grave” by Catherine Cheek and there is despair as in “The Skull-Faced Boy” by David Barr Kirtley and “Dead Like Me” by Adam-Troy Castro.

It is natural for the anthology to have certain lows, where stories touched the subject in a faint manner and took a wrong direction. Nevertheless “The Living Dead” remains in my opinion one of the strongest anthologies I have had the pleasure of reading, much less reviewing.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Reviewer Time: Doug []

Due to technical difficulties and busy schedule, Doug wasn’t able to get around to answering my questions. As of right now the interview option will be unavailable although my hopes lay to only postponed. As luck would have it though for those interested in reading an interview starring Doug, check out his recent one done with author Marta Acosta on Vampire Wire. It is quite informative and enjoyable.

Nevertheless despite the obvious delay I decided to publish commentary to stay true to the purpose of the Reviewer Time event, interview or not. For fans of paranormal romance and urban fantasy, is a must-have in their Bookmarks. For one is run by a very intelligent and funny man, but dedicated to genres usually associated with women. This is a curiosity that will attract readers in order to see what opinions a man voices at stories typically discussed by female reviewers. This is the logic I am following the very least.

The blog title is a tad deceptive, but I do promise the reader will find nothing related to sci-fi as a direction and genre choice. When the site loads, the blog banner pretty much shows through a strip of covers, where the site’s interests lieu. Doug himself is an avid sci-fi fan, but his blog indulges in his love for the newest speculative fiction offspring. Comprehensive, structured and informative exceeds all expectations, considering the blog being kept and updated by a sole reviewer. I always admire punctuality as a quality in a person and every day one can find new content of interest. From weekly round-up posts of the latest news to cover announcements, press releases and previews, anything and everything urban fantasy and paranormal romance related can be found, sifted and sorted out. As of recently, judging by my irregular reading habits, loyal readers can enjoy a monthly releases list with the newest and hottest books. Another great plus that I like to push to the foreground is the meticulous schedule of author events and appearances, which is a fine idea for every reviewer to do.

Perhaps I go into repetition with my opinions regarding bloggers/reviewers, but it’s fairly easy to fall into this habit, when you speak of the institutions and when you look at, it’s basically a standout name among bloggers in this field. His reviews I can’t quite judge, since they differ in length and topic range, depending on what impact a book has left upon him as a reader. In this sense his reviews are written in a more conversational style in order to highlight most of the story’s plot and what was enjoyable and what didn’t work out. This is an approach I have grown to appreciate in times, when my mind is tired or overworked and I just want to get a basic concept and vibe about a title rather than a detailed inspection of every detail.
All in all, a good place to visit regularly.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Artist Corner: Chris McGrath

For this week’s Artist Corner I have someone real special, who has touched million of urban fantasy readers. I present to you Chris McGrath, the cover artist behind the instantly recognized Dresden Files covers as well as covers for authors like Vicki Pettersson and C.E. Murphy. With him I prod in a new direction aimed at the not-so-much-known niche of cover art and I hope you guys are satisfied with the end result.

Harry Markov: Hello and thank you for accepting my invitation. Having you here would be a major treat for my readers, since you provide UF readers with some of the best covers in the industry. So let’s start with the essentials. What was the first encounter with the visual arts to stir you in that particular direction?

CM: Actually I had no intention of doing that sort of cover art. Not that I didn’t like it, it’s just that I didn’t know much about the genre and it was still just starting to take off at the time I came in. I was doing a sci fi series for Roc at the time and the art director thought the “noir” style that I had would work well for the Dresden Files “Dead Beat” cover.
But I don’t think either one of us had a totally clear vision as to how it would look in the end.
When I had finished the cover I felt that it had been a turning point for me as an illustrator and really finding myself as an artist. The next cover I did was Night Life by Rob Thurman. After that I was pretty locked down as an Urban Fantasy guy.

HM: Another tradition with the “Artist Corner” is to share something a bit more personal, so that all nosy about the person behind the artist can be satisfied. Who is Chris McGrath in the daily routine?

CM: Nothing special really. I work at home so I can control my schedule a bit. I live in Manhattan so that's always fun (and helps with UF covers). I usually go to bed around 3am, wake up at around 10 or 11am. Go out for a cup of coffee, then sit down to work. I usually take a break before dinner and play my guitar for a couple of hours, then around 7pm I work a little more. I can’t really complain I guess

HM: Who are the artists and photographers that inspired and influenced you the most?

CM: My painting teacher Steve Assael was a huge influence on me as well as Dorian Vallejo.
But there is a huge list. I’m traditionally trained as a realist painter, so I like a lot of the 19th century painters. Odd Nerdrum is a modern favorite of mine.
Sci Fi guys, I really like Enki Bilal, Frazatta, Dorian Vallejo and so on..
I do like photography but I can’t really pick any one in paticular. Maybe Bresson.

HM: So the essence of your work involves a great mastery over Photoshop and other programs from that caliber. What I want also to know is, whether you shoot the picture material for the covers yourself as well?

CM: Yes. I shoot everything. Even when I was oil painting I still shot all of my own reference. It’s the way I was trained. I’m not really that good with photoshop in the traditional sense. I learned it by myself by just trying to get it to work the way I would do my oil paintings. The process is the same and so are the rules.

HM: Doing covers for fantasy books must mean that you are also a fan of the genre in some of its aspects the least. What attracts you to the out of the ordinary and fantasy? Different people find something entirely unique for themselves and I always like hearing a new answer on the subject.

CM: I’m actually more of a science fiction fan. My three favorite books are Dune, Hyperion, and Veniss Underground. As far as Fantasy books, I do love the Elric series.
I like this sort of stuff because visually it’s creative and in a lot of ways it’s more believable than regular action or supspense fiction. I can never buy into the mainstream action books because I live in this world and I know how things work and how rediculious those plots are.
But when you move it all into a far fetched world, it becomes much more believable because it’s an unfamilar setting.

HM: Do you have to read the manuscripts you receive to get an idea what the best possible cover might be, inclining that you have full creative freedom over the process or do you have to abide already set down standards and vision o the publishers?

CM: it’s a mix. A lot of the times I just get an outline. Sometimes a manuscript.
Some companies have more control over the cover than others.
Every publisher seems to have their own rituals as to how they work and get things out, but there definitely are a lot of people involved quite a bit.

HM: Another completely customary question would be about your work process. How much does it usually take to complete a piece from start to finish and what’s your way of doing things?

CM: Finish time really varies on the project. Sci Fi stuff generally takes longer.
The most difficult part is the sketch phase and planning. If I do that well, I have less trouble but quite often there is a bit of a struggle. Plus I’m really hard on myself and things always seem to be a disaster as I’m working on them. But Sketches can take a week sometimes.

HM: In the same line of thought, provided you are the photographer as well, how does a typical photo shoot go for you? Bringing in humans as an aspect of your work certainly contributes its unexpected bumps and turns to the whole process. Does it take long to achieve the image you require or is it strictly individual?

CM: It’s funny, everyone I know who does photoshoots and has been doing them for 10 years or more still has days where everything goes wrong. There is a lot to try and control and get right. And trying to get what you need from a model can be hard too. That's why you’ll see a lot of the same models on book covers in the stores. If you find one that is good and you know you’ll get what you want from them, they get used a lot. It’s tough getting a good model.

HM: Since your job requirement and description basically demands achieving maximum realism for a very otherworldly concept, how do you manage to layer the magical elements into your compositions? Do you get to shoot against Hollywood’s beloved green screen?

CM: A lot of stuff is made up or pieced together and repainted the way a lot of concept guys work. But it’s all painted in Photoshop.

HM: Speaking of compositions, where do you get your inspiration from? What brings out new ideas for compositions and covers?

CM: Sometimes the story dictates that sort of thing. When you begin to establish the main elements of the concept a rhythm begins to become apparent and sometimes you just follow through with that instinctively. Other times a movie or something like that will give me an idea.

HM: Also to rewind a bit, how did you get involved in the cover art making business in the first place? Your profession is extremely interesting and a small niche, so there has to be an interesting story behind your involvement with it.

CM: When I was around 12 years old I saw Frazetta’s work and that pretty much inspired me to go into doing book covers. It is a long story, but to sum it up: I finished college in 1995 and really didn’t have a portfolio finished. I was kind of into doing the fine art thing at the time and it distracted me a bit from the sci fi stuff. Plus there were a lot of other things going on in my life. Becoming an artist is not always a reality for family members to support. But I pushed on because I really couldn’t do anything else. While I worked on my portfolio I gave guitar lessons to make money. In 1999 the industry really seemed like it was headed for more digital stuff so a friend introduced me to photoshop. I didn’t want to get involved with it but soon I began to like it. In 2001 the art director at ACE books gave me my first job doing an oil painting of all things. I had showed her my digital portfolio and I had one traditional painting in the back,. I’m suspicious that my friend Dorian had called her and said to make sure that the job she gave me was done in oil not PS. At that time digital was still “evil” to painters. The cover is on my website still. Entitled “the King”. But that was my only traditional cover. The other weird thing about that cover is that I started it the morning of sept.11th. so it has a erie vibe to me.
From there work was slow. I started at 3 covers my first year. 6 my second. Maybe 10 or 12 my third. And in 2004 after I did Dead Beat I did around 16 covers. It started looking good but It wasn’t really full time until late 2005.

HM:As a final question, what are your future plans? Would you deviate from what you do right now and pursue different projects and if so, can you share?

CM: that's a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately and I really don’t know yet.
The publishing world is changing and it’s not getting any bigger. I would love to continue to do covers full time but I don’t really see that happening. Unless book sales pick up or it shifts into something else. I don’t really want to do full time concept work and I’m not sure if I want to do traditional fine art either. I honestly don’t know where things are headed but you never know. I would be happy just doing sci fi stuff.

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