Scott M. Sandridge

A Work in Progress

SpecMusicMuse: Interview W/Dan Jolley

 

DanJolleyPhoto[1018]Dan Jolley, Author of the Gray Widow trilogy is back for another interview to talk about his second book in the trilogy, Gray Widow’s Web.

Tells us about Gray Widow’s Web.
Gray Widow’s Web is the second book in the Gray Widow Trilogy, an Urban Sci-Fi story that I actually began working on back in 1996. I wrote a first draft, but ended up shelving it… wrote a second draft ten years later, but shelved it again… and finally, after I realized how to fix a major problem with the book, re-wrote it again and immediately got it picked up by Seventh Star Press. After all that time, being able to continue the story now on a timely basis feels fantastic.

The Gray Widow story centers on Janey Sinclair, a young woman in modern-day Atlanta who, as a teenager, mysteriously gained the ability to teleport from one patch of darkness to another. Janey’s life has been marked by a series of traumas—most recently when her husband was shot during a mugging and left with severe brain damage—and after years of trying to ignore this bizarre aspect of her life, she finally decides to put it to use, and attempt to prevent other people from suffering the kind of cruelty and injustice she has.

As she soon learns, however, not only is she not alone in having a mysterious “Augmentation,” but she’s also a part of a vast extraterrestrial plot that classifies humans as raw material. The trilogy starts off in superhero-flavored waters, but becomes more and more science-fiction as the enormity of the stakes reveal themselves. (There are also not-insignificant horror elements to it.)

Alien plots aside, though, it’s really all about Janey exorcising her personal demons and figuring out how to heal herself. On one hand, she’s a stupendous badass, and can break most people off at the knees. On the other, she’s very human, very flawed, and very vulnerable in a way I hope a lot of people can relate to.Grey Widow's Web_Final_1200X800[1020]

 

In what ways is writing the second book in a trilogy different from the first?
One of my primary concerns with the second (and soon, third) book is walking the line between explaining too much of what happened before, and making things clear enough so that if you haven’t read the first book, or if it’s been a while since you did, you won’t feel totally lost.

That’s just logistical stuff, though. What I’m most concerned about is allowing the characters to grow. In the first book, Gray Widow’s Walk, Janey’s in a situation where she knows, intellectually, that she needs to move on emotionally. And the way to move on is right there, right in front of her, and she knows it’ll be good for her—but she’s torn in half about it. In the second book, Janey might finally begin to give herself permission to be happy, even as she’s facing greater threats and encountering far greater danger than ever.

Likewise, Tim Kapoor, her love interest from the first book, undergoes a pretty significant change in circumstances in Book 2, one that forcibly alters the whole dynamic he and Janey share.

One thing I’ve learned and learned well is that, in any kind of ongoing story, it’s the characters that keep readers coming back far more than any plot shenanigans. So I want to take good care of my characters. Even if that means being horrible to them.

 

In what ways are they similar?
As I mentioned earlier, I wrote the first draft of what would become Gray Widow’s Walk a bit more than twenty years ago. The story has been kicking around in my head all that time, with varying degrees of focus, so now that I have the opportunity to tell the rest of it, it’s really just a matter of getting in the right mental space. Staying in the right groove, I guess you could say. Making sure the prose style matches, making sure the hearts of the characters remain true to themselves.

Of course, I would like to believe that I’ve improved as a writer over the last couple of decades, which is why I think Gray Widow’s Web is a bit better than Gray Widow’s Walk. With any luck that trend will continue, and the third book—Gray Widow’s War—will surpass the first two.

Gray Widow_s WalkCover1200X900[1019]

Did you plan for it to be a trilogy from the start, or did it evolve that way? And if the latter, at what point did you realize it was going to be a trilogy?
I think I realized I had more to say than just what was in the first book sometime around 2006. I love the cast, I love portraying our contemporary world as it really is, and there were always elements that I had left open-ended. It took ten years, but the answers to the questions posed at the end of the first book popped into my head one day, and I realized the story needed to continue past Gray Widow’s Walk.

I have a serious aversion, though, to stories that are supposed to just go and go and… go. Stories like that usually go and go right into the ground. Whenever possible, I tell stories that have a definite, planned conclusion, simply because I think it’s wise to quit while you’re ahead. Consequently, this trilogy will tell one complete story, beginning, middle, and end. If I decide to stick around in the same world after that, I’ll start up another self-contained trilogy. Sort of the Hellboy model: a series of mini-series.

 

What kind of music helped you in writing Gray Widow’s Web?
Music plays a huge role in my creative process in general, but it’s only in the stage before I set fingers to keyboard. I love getting in the car and driving around aimlessly while listening to loud, fast, aggressive music. It does something really good for my brainwaves. If I need to come up with a new idea, or if I’m stuck on a plot point or character detail, I’ll go drive around and think, and nine times out of ten, by the time I get back the problem’s solved.

Right now my favorite band is Disturbed. Immortalized is a fantastic album, followed closely by Asylum, not only for driving around, but also for when I’m doing cardio (which I don’t end up doing as often as I should, sadly).

 

Anything you want to tell your readers about what’s to come?
Gray Widow’s War, the third book in the trilogy, will be out in May of 2018, and if I can pull off what I’m seeing in my head, it’s going to be the biggest, craziest, most nail-biting conclusion I’ve ever written in my entire career.

If you’re looking for something almost, but not quite, completely different in the meantime (to borrow wording from Douglas Adams), I also have a Middle Grade Urban Fantasy series going at the moment called Five Elements. Book 1, The Emerald Tablet, is available now, and Book 2, The Shadow City, comes out at the end of this month. It’s about four best friends in San Francisco who get accidentally bound to the magical elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, and end up conflicting with a century-old sorcerer who wants to merge Earth with a nightmare version of San Francisco called Arcadia. I am told by readers that it scratches the same kind of itch that the Percy Jackson books do.

 

Where can people find you online?
I’m on Twitter, @_DanJolley, and on Facebook, facebook.com/dan.jolley1. Feel free to send me messages. I am waaay better at responding to readers directly than I am at writing blog posts.

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July 20, 2017 Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SpecMusicMuse Double-Whammy—Review of Olde School + Interview w/Selah Janel

Today I have the honor of starting off the Olde School Virtual Tour by giving you a review of Olde School and an interview with the author, Selah Janel. Enjoy! 🙂

 

OldeSchoolCoverFinal_650X433SpecMusicMuse Review—Olde School by Selah Janel

Fairy tales meet modernization in Olde School by Selah Janel. One of the most interesting aspects to this book, is that the main protagonists are trolls. One specific troll, Paddlelump, is a bit of a pushover, which isn’t a very trolly thing to be.

Janel does a great job blending old and new into her world while also paying homage to the fairy tales that the history of Kingdom City is based on. She also does a great job in blending campy humor with serious character development and even delves into the horrific in a few scenes. The plot contains many twists, but are weaved seamlessly into each other in a way the reader never has to worry about getting lost.

I enjoyed reading Olde School so much that I nearly forgot that I was reviewing it. The story pulled me in and refused to let me leave.

Oh, and a troll’s gonna troll. 😉

Best to read while listeing to: The soundtrack to Schreck mixed with some classic R&B, and a tad bit of theme music from the Mirkwood scenes in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

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Interview with Selah JanelSelahJanel-smaller

 

Tell the readers a little bit about you.

First off, thanks for having me on, Scott! I’m so happy to be here!

I consider myself a fairly typical, albeit quirky, Middle American gal with a huge imagination. I’ve worked in a lot of different fields in the theatre and entertainment industry: I’ve been on stage here and there, studied voice for about ten years, been a puppeteer, done theatre admin work, and I’ve been involved in costumes in various forms for about 14 years now.

As a writer, I have an ongoing love affair with ideas, and I consider myself a very curious personality – I love learning, and I love talking to people and finding out what their experiences are and how they relate to or differ than mine. I’m also a big defender of speculative fiction and curious about how gender roles are portrayed and perceived within them.

I love crafting and dabbling in art forms that may not be my forte, that I can just do for fun. I’m an unrepentant geek – I love graphic novels, books of all types, fairy and folk tales…and I am a HUGE music fan. I studied classical voice and musical theatre, but I LOVE classic rock, glam rock, hard rock, and I probably know way too much about it for my own good. I don’t get into everything, but what I do like I tend to be a big walking, geeky Wikipedia for.

How did you come up with the idea for Olde School?

I may or may not have been frustrated at someone I was around at the time. I tend to be very proactive and forward momentum, and the other parties were most definitely the opposite. It originally started as a short story to vent my frustration and experiment with a few concepts, like technology in a fantasy world. The scenes that were there from the beginning were the first Trip Trap sequence, and the first few Nobody scenes.

For some reason, it never occurred to me to paint myself as a put-upon princess or heroine. From the get-go I was just “ugh, this makes me feel like a troll…” and I began to wonder about what would happen if a Cinderella or other put-upon heroine was actually a conniving wreck. I’ve learned I have a very different concept of what a princess is than most people. When I hear the word I don’t think a tragic heroine or an entitled person – I think of a girl who may have power, who may have hard circumstances for some reason, but also has a lot of personal potential and can go out and have adventures. I got intrigued with playing with how people perceive fairy tale heroines, and Nobody spiraled out of control from there.

I couldn’t find a good ending for the story, so I put it away for years until I began submitting a lot of short fiction in earnest. It spiraled into a novella, then a novel, but I still couldn’t find an ending that felt right. When Seventh Star approached me for a series idea, I realized that the reason I couldn’t end it was because it was bigger than a book.

The other thing that was there from the beginning was the modern tech and pop culture in a fantasy setting. It kind of surprised me that I hadn’t read much done with that idea, so I just decided to go for it, to see what would happen if this fairy tale society modernized and treated the “old stories” the same way we did: either as legends based in history or based in fiction. Originally I wasn’t planning on making magic as big of an element as it was, but when I started remembering elements of international Cinderella-type stories that I loved, I suddenly realized how much fairy tale magic is like Lovecraftian horror. I mean, think of it! In a real-world setting, if an animal starts talking to you and wants you to kill it so its skeleton can help you, or if a tree starts giving you advice…that’s not normal in any setting, I don’t care what kind of fantasy world you live in – that is some pretty mind-bending stuff. The concept of the Olde Ones developed almost immediately from that thought process.

 

What gave you the idea for the character, Paddlelump? And how’d you come up with that name?

Hand_9X7_Illustration1Let me warn you, Paddlelump is one of two characters in the book that had a long evolution, so you may want to strap yourself in for this answer.

Names are a funny thing with me. I tend to either really fret about them, or I just assign one. A lot of the names in Olde School came so naturally, they just sort of appeared and I never really felt the need to change them. Paddlelump, though, is a subtle tribute to one of my favorite series. I wanted his name to flow more as opposed to Ippick and Uljah, who are more snarky and crass. I really love The Chronicles of Narnia – I grew up with the British versions on TV and I read the series as a teen. The Silver Chair blew my mind. I hadn’t realized how dark the series got until that book, and I loved the elements of travel and little mini-adventures that fed into the main goal. They’re staples of fantasy, but I hadn’t really noticed them as themes until reading that book. I love the character of Puddleglum the marshwiggle, and that name has always stuck with me. Padd had a few variations of his name, but all were in tribute to Puddleglum in some form.

Paddlelump as a character came from several places. I loved the idea of writing a fantasy where the main character wasn’t human, but still well-developed. I’d seen hints of supporting characters of that nature in things like Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tale series, but I really wanted to see how far I could go with it. I like trolls, and I thought it would be interesting to have a likeable one, one who really hadn’t gotten the hang of being a troll. However, it’s important to me that he’s more than a gimmick. He has to carry the book and the series, so there has to be more to him than being “nice.”

Paddlelump was probably how I felt about life around the time I started writing this in 2006. We both look younger than we are, people sometimes think we’re both a target and suckers, and I was in a position in life where it felt like everything was happening at once. Just every little thing felt like a personal offense, I couldn’t get on top of it, and it was overwhelming. Actually, when I pulled the story out for the second time in 2011, I had just gotten out of a similar place, but had grown to be able to deal with things better.

As the story turned into the book, though, I realized that I’d matured in ways that Paddlelump hadn’t. I’m a little more realistic and cautious at times because I’ve been burned, and he’s still willing to give people fourth and fifth chances, even if he knows better. We both don’t like conflict, but he runs from it more than I do. He’s wishy washy where I’ve become proactive, and he tends to embrace his innocence a little too much at times, using a lot of his personality as an excuse. This made for an interesting first half of the book, but by the last fourth it became a problem. It was hard to see him as something more than a likeable guy that I wanted to either hug or punch in the face because he didn’t move forward or stand up for himself. I didn’t want him to be so static. It became hard to resolve how he could defeat some of the larger-than-life challenges in the book, and I very much wanted him to be the one coming out ahead so he could grow and continue to evolve into a heroic character in later books.

I was attempting to redo the last fourth of the book to fix those issues when either someone sent me a link or I stumbled upon a link of Tom Hiddleston talking about Shakespeare at Comic Con. At this point I hadn’t seen any of the Marvel movies and I only knew of him as some guy who was supposed to be great as Loki. I tend to dig my heels in when everyone around me recommends something that becomes really popular really fast (especially when I ask how the story is and they all start gushing about the dudes in it. I mean, it’s a modern world and I’m not against a little well-meaning male objectification, but I’d actually like to know what a film is about).

His discussion in the link was about Cymbeline, which I’d used speeches from when I’d auditioned for schools ages ago. I was actually working on Olde School’s edits while listening to this – I’d taken to listening to interviews and British comedies instead of music to try to get a dialect and speech rhythm for the world down – and something made me pause. Not enough to really have an aha moment or something, but I realized he was way more insightful than I’d assumed. On a whim, I started looking up interviews, because I realized his voice had this really pleasant, yet interesting quality. It’s pleasing without being too neutral, and there’s a good hint of strength and flexibility to it. I really needed all the help I could get with Padd at that point, and it clicked that as a voice, I could picture my troll lead sounding like that. (And this is the point where all of his fans put my face up on a target…)

Long story short, I discovered that Tom Hiddleston is an incredibly articulate actor and insightful, multi-faceted person. I’m drawn to actors and artists like that, and I realized that I was doing to him what a lot of people in my book do to Paddlelump: I was selling him totally short because everyone around me gushed about how he was such a “cute, nice guy” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I feel like there has to be better description for good people than nice. A lot of things are nice. Kitties are nice. Sandwiches are nice. Artistically styled doorknobs are nice. I would not lump a person into the same category as a doorknob or sandwich).

I realized that Paddlelump might present this good-guy image, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not intellect there, or compassion, or an inner strength that can be developed. It wasn’t about taking him from zero to hero in one book – it was about showing that he has the potential to be a hero, just as we all do. Although I will never, ever live this down from any of my friends ever, in a convolute way Tom Hiddleston really helped the character of Paddlelump click for me, from his inner potential down to the voice. While I’m not one for avatars, I will say this is where my theatre training saved me – by having learned how to recognize what traits Padd was lacking and by recognizing them through another person’s performance, it made his character so much better.

I noticed a few “Easter eggs” in the story. Bull_6X9_Illustration2

I’m glad you did! I really love to include as many little details as possible, and it made sense to throw in a lot of little fairy tale tidbits. As a reader, I love it when authors do that. I feel like I’m in some little club when I catch details like that. I don’t often do it in my short fiction, but in my longer work, I love throwing in Easter eggs. I want people to be able to read a book more than once and catch something new each time.

There are a ton of Cinderella-type story references in this book: the trolls, to some of the characters, to the forest, to the walnuts, and I could go on and on. That being said, there are a lot of other little asides. Things like The Magic Porridge Pot fast food place, a lot of the swears the characters mutter, references to different horror movie franchises – I figured that if I was going to base a world on a fairy/folktale society, I might as well go all the way.

It was also important to me to add in the appendix at the end so that people knew it wasn’t all me – these stories are way bigger than I am – and that they would know where to look for some of this stuff if they were curious and heard of them before. While I can’t reference all the little asides, I was careful to disclaim the biggest ones.

For people who specifically know me, too, there are even deeper Easter eggs – references to Labyrinth (one of my favorite fantasy movies) are there, there’s a very garbled allusion to Hamlet, there’s a reference to an episode of one of my favorite TV shows growing up. I definitely embrace what I love, and while I strive to be original, I like paying homage to the things that have made me who I am. I’ve had readers, family, and friends contact me, asking if certain things were on purpose, or if they’d caught everything yet. I definitely challenge people to read the book and see how many hidden tidbits they can find!

Has music ever been a part of your daily writing routine, or inspired a story or scene?

Oh, definitely. This was one of the few books where I had trouble coming up with music that blended well with the story (I edited it to big band, Swing, and American standards), but I love writing to music. I have eclectic tastes, but when writing I usually do a lot of instrumentals, both classical and more modern. I love David Garrett a lot, I like David Bowie’s instrumental work, that sort of thing. In terms of character building, I love stuff like Sixx: A.M. and G Tom Mac. With books like In the Red, which is currently out of print, it was so much about rock n’ roll that I constantly wrote to bands like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Motley Crue. On the other hand, I’ve been working on plotting out a gritty post-apocalyptic story, and the thing that helps me write it best is boy band music. I’m probably the only person who listens to Backstreet Boys and NKOTB while thinking about killing zombies, but there you go. I’ve gotten back into listening to the radio more, and I like those stations that play random stuff, so it keeps things fun and interesting. I never know when some random tune will give me an idea.

 

So where on the Internet can Selah Janel be found?

I haunt a few places these days. You can usually find me at…

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Books by Selah Janel | Reviews of Selah’s Books |

 

Any future projects in the works?

I just re-released Mooner, a historical vampire story, through Mocha Memoir press on e-book, and I’m teaming up with Fortress Publishing later this year to do an issue based around my fiction. I’ve got a few things reserved for future anthologies, too. In terms of other stuff, I’m polishing In the Red, the rock n’ roll urban fantasy/fairy tale novel to shop that again, and I want to finish up a short novel that’s a mash up of the horror and chick lit genres. Beyond that, I’ve got a few half-written manuscripts that I want to develop into some short novels or novellas, and they all deal with folklore elements, but use them to explore some really deep emotional issues that people go through.

And, of course, there’s always Kingdom City! The plan is to do a collection of shorts that explain the tales of the lost dreamers in this first book a little better, and then get crackin’ on book two!

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Author: Selah Janel

Featured Book Release

Olde School

Book One Kingdom City Chronicles

May 26 to June 1, 2014

 

 

About the Author: Selah Janel has been blessed with a giant imagination and a love of story since she was little and convinced that fairies lived in the nearby state park or vampires hid in the abandoned barns outside of town. Learning to read and being encouraged by those around her only made things worse. Her work ranges from e-books to traditional print, and she prefers to write every genre at once rather than choose just one. The stories “Holly and Ivy”, “The Other Man”, and “Mooner” are available online through Mocha Memoirs Press. Her work has also been included in The MacGuffin, The Realm Beyond, Stories for Children Magazine, The Big Bad: an Anthology of Evil, Thunder on the Battlefield: Sorcery, The Grotesquerie, and the short story collection Lost in the Shadows, co-written with S.H. Roddey. She likes her music to rock, her vampires lethal, her fairies to play mind games, and her princesses to have adventures and hold their own.

 

Catch up with her thoughts and projects at

http://www.selahjanel.wordpress.com

 

 

Book Synopsis Olde School: Kingdom City has moved into the modern era. Run by a lord mayor and city council (though still under the influence of the High King of The Land), it proudly embraces a blend of progress and tradition. Trolls, ogres, and other Folk walk the streets with humans, but are more likely to be entrepreneurs than cause trouble. Princesses still want to be rescued, but they now frequent online dating services to encourage lords, royals, and politicians to win their favor. The old stories are around, but everyone knows they’re just fodder for the next movie franchise. Everyone knows there’s no such thing as magic. It’s all old superstition and harmless tradition.

 

Bookish, timid, and more likely to carry a laptop than a weapon, Paddlelump Stonemonger is quickly coming to wish he’d never put a toll bridge over Crescent Ravine. While his success has brought him lots of gold, it’s also brought him unwanted attention from the Lord Mayor. Adding to his frustration, Padd’s oldest friends give him a hard time when his new maid seems inept at best and conniving at worst. When a shepherd warns Paddlelump of strange noises coming from Thadd Forest, he doesn’t think much of it. Unfortunately for him, the history of his land goes back further than anyone can imagine. Before long he’ll realize that he should have paid attention to the old tales and carried a club.

 

Darkness threatens to overwhelm not only Paddlelump, but the entire realm. With a little luck, a strange bird, a feisty waitress, and some sturdy friends, maybe, just maybe, Padd will survive to eat another meal at Trip Trap’s diner. It’s enough to make the troll want to crawl under his bridge, if he can manage to keep it out of the clutches of greedy politicians

 

Olde School if Book One of The Kingdom City Chronicles

 

 

Author Links:

 

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/authorSJ

 

Twitter:

@selahjanel

 

Website:

http://selahjanel.wordpress.com/

 

 

Tour Schedule and Activities

May 26        SpecMusicMuse                                      Review/Interview
May 26        Vampires, Witches, and me oh my!      Guest Post
May 27        Alexx Momcat’s Gateway Book Blog      Character Post
May 27        Watch Play Read                                    Review
May 28        Fantastical Adventures in the Paper Realm     Review
May 28        Sheila Deeth Blog                                     Character Post
May 28        Close Encounters with the Night Kind      Review
May 29        Deal Sharing Aunt                                     Promo/Spotlight
May 29       Workaday Reads                                       Reviews
May 30       Exquisite Corpse                                       Guest Post
May 31      Bee’s Knees Reviews                                Review
May 31      I Smell Sheep                                             Character Post
June 1       Seers, Seraphs, Immortals and More!        Interview

 

Tour Page URL:

http://www.tomorrowcomesmedia.com/selah-janels-olde-school-virtual-tour/

Tour Badge Html:

http://www.tomorrowcomesmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/SelahTourBadge.jpg

 

Amazon Links for Olde School

Print Version

http://www.amazon.com/Olde-School-Selah-Janel/dp/1937929655

Kindle Version

http://www.amazon.com/Olde-School-Kingdom-City-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B00J4UGVIM

May 26, 2014 Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

SpecMusicMuse—A Chimerical World Round Table Interview, Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of the A Chimerical World Round Table Interview. This time ariund we have Sarah Madsen, Steven S. Long, Kim Smith,  and BC Brown sitting at the table. Enjoy! 🙂

 

Introductions

Hi! I’m Sarah Madsen.  “The Body Electric” is my first commercial publication, but I have two poems and a play in The Chestatee Review, my school’s literary magazine. I’m hoping to get my novel, Lysistrata, on shelves sometime in the near future, and it’s been getting really good reception so far. You can follow along with my adventures at unfetteredmuse.wordpress.com or find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SarahMadsenAuthor.

I’m Steven S. Long. I’m best known for my work as a roleplaying game designer and writer (I’ve written or co-written about 200 books in that field), but in recent years I’ve branched out into writing fiction as well.

You can find out more about me and what I’m up to at www.stevenslong.com

Hi, my name is Kim Smith, and I am the author of the short story “Treehouse”, in A Chimerical World: Tales of the Unseelie Court. I am the hostess of the wildly popular podcast, Writer Groupie, soon to be hosted on my blog at http://www.kimsmithauthor.com

BC Brown, author of two urban fantasy/contemporary science fiction novels – A Touch of Darkness and A Touch of Madness; contributor to multi-author anthologies – A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court, Quixotic: Not Everyday Love Stories, and Fracas: A Collection of Short Friction. And one out of print fantasy novel – Sister Light, Book One: Of Shadows.

 

Tell us a little about your story

BC: “Extra-Ordinary” is a tale about seemingly benign people and events. Those ordinary people often turn out to be portals to extraordinary things.

Sara: “The Body Electric”isn’t your typical fairy story. In fact, the only fae-like elements you’ll find in it are magic and an elf protagonist.  It’s a cyberpunk/urban fantasy story, set in near-future Atlanta. Two runners, Alyssa and Logan, are hired to steal some plans and a prototype from a former Americorp employee’s home office, and get way more than they bargained for in the process. It was inspired by old Ray Bradbury short stories and a YouTube short, Quantic Dream’s Kara, and I was trying for a good mix of classic sci-fi and modern urban fantasy.

Kim: I’ve been writing as long as I could hold a pen, and have always been a lover of fantasy. I remember as a youth hanging out around a gas station/convenience store that carried JRR Tolkien’s books. I visited it weekly waiting on the next book. It took years to finish the whole trilogy. They should have put me on the payroll.

“Treehouse” was the brainchild of wondering what would happen if a child could see faeries but no one would believe her. What if she was telling the truth? I hope I did a good job with expanding that idea.

Steven: I was fortunate enough to place two stories in A Chimerical World — one each in the Seelie and Unseelie volumes. Each of them belongs to a series of stories I’ve written that take place in Tuala Morn, a setting I’ve described in the book of the same name and now use as for fiction. It’s a Fantasy world inspired by Irish/Celtic myth and legend, with a dollop of some other Fantasy tropes thrown in.

Most of the Tuala Morn stories I’ve written so far take place in or around Killdraigan, an enchanted forest that’s often dangerous for mortals due to the faeries, trolls, and monsters that live there — not to mention other perils.

The Seelie story is “The Harpist’s Hand.” It tells how Thomasin Blythe, one of the greatest Tualan bards, has to seek the help of the faeries of Killdraigan when two contentious kings both seek her hand in marriage.

The Unseelie story, “The Rose and the Dragon,” focuses on a different character:  Sir Rhorec of Umbr, the Knight of Five Roses. When he was born, three faeries appeared and pronounced a strange prophecy. Now grown to manhood and armed with the magic sword they left him, he ventures into the deadly confines of Killdraigan Forest to seek the meaning of the prophecy — and slay a fearsome dragon.

 

 

What’s your favorite type of faerie?

Kim: All kinds, I am not discriminatory.

Sara: As in Seelie or Unseelie?  That’s a really hard choice. My gut says Seelie, simply because I love pretty masks and the pretense of civility. However, there’s something refreshing about the Unseelie…they’re at least honest about what they are.

Steven: It’s hard to pick any one type. I’ve researched faerie lore extensively for years and really enjoy it, so getting stories into the Chimerical World anthology was a real treat. I hope someday to have the chance to write a non-fiction book on the subject.

BC: I’ve always been enamored of the more mischievous fey. Basically good-natured, these shining folk embody a spirit of restlessness I can connect with.

 

Is music a part of your personal writing process, and if so what kind(s) of music do you listen to when you write?

Sara: I can’t write without music. It helps me stay centered. I tend to create soundtracks for my projects, so what I’m listening to wont’ always be the same.  If I get really stuck, I find some good instrumental music (like the soundtrack to Tron: Legacy or Deus Ex: Human Revolution for my current project) keeps me from getting too distracted by lyrics.

Steven: It is, in that I listen to music pretty much all the time that I’m awake but not watching TV or talking with someone. But I don’t really consider it a part of my “process” per se, nor do I tailor what I’m listening to what I’m writing.

Kim: I used to listen to my favorite bands, usually classic rock, but now I find that trying to sing to the songs and write conflicts each other so now it’s more nature music, strings, and crickets.

BC: I avoid music while writing. Music influences my mood and, typically, I like a clean slate, so to speak, when writing. It allows the ideas and words to flow unhindered and unbiased.

 

Has a song ever inspired a story idea for you?

Sara: Oh, definitely. I recently wrote a ten minute play called Tea and Temptation that was inspired by World/Inferno Friendship Society’s “The Evil Dance of Nosliw Pilf.”

Steven: Definitely. Among others I have an idea for what I think will be a great story inspired by the Leonard Cohen song, “First We Take Manhattan.”

Kim: Yes! I love celtic songs and Connie Dover sang “A Ruin a Siuil” (I think I spelled it right!) and it just jazzed me into writing this whole historical romance between a Fenian rebel and a Scarlett O’Hara-esque character who tries to charm the Irish out of the man.

BC: A song has inspired a title for a book. However the story itself came well before I’d ever heard the song. Once I did hear it, I felt that the title and lyrics of the song embodied the same message as my story.

 

Last but not least: who’d win a fight between Princess Toadstool and Zelda?

Sara: Psh. Zelda, for sure.

Kim: Zelda. Totally.

Steven: I have absolutely no idea — I never played any of those games. What’s the spread? 😉

BC: The princess. Hands down.

 

Where to find the books:

Amazon Links for Tales of the Seelie Court  32892-final_talesoftheunseeliecourt_650
Print Version http://www.amazon.com/Chimerical-World-Tales-Seelie-Court/dp/1937929477
Kindle Version http://www.amazon.com/Chimerical-World-Tales-Seelie-Court-ebook/dp/B00IAHTMAO  

Amazon Links for Tales of the Unseelie Court  
Print Version http://www.amazon.com/Chimerical-World-Tales-Unseelie-Court/dp/1937929493
Kindle Version http://www.amazon.com/Chimerical-World-Tales-Unseelie-Court-ebook/dp/B00IAHTVSC

May 25, 2014 Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SpecMusicMuse—A Chimerical World Round Table Interview Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of the A Chimerical World Round Table Interview. Sitting with me today are Doug Blakeslee, Michael M. Jones, Nick Bryan, Saera Corvin, and S. D. Grimm.

Introductions

My name is Doug Blakeslee and I’ve sold almost a dozen short stories in the past two years. My current project is an urban fantasy novella that I’m in the process of revising while kicking out short stories.

I’m Michael M. Jones. Not only am I a writer, I’m also a book reviewer and the editor of Scheherazade’s Façade and the forthcoming Schoolbooks & Sorcery. My stories have appeared in a number of places, including Clockwork Phoenix 4 and Jack-o-‘Spec. You can learn more at www.michaelmjones.com.

Hi, I’m Nick Bryan, London-based darkly comic genre writer, author of the weekly (and very British) crime comedy-drama webserial Hobson & Choi. Think Sherlock, but scrappier and more embedded in our reality. Details on http://www.hobsonandchoi.com

I write under the pen name S. D. Grimm. My first novelette Breathless was published last year. Since then I’ve had flash fiction pieces published in Splickety Magazine and a short story published in the anthology Pure Science Fiction and Fantasy. But I’m really excited because I recently signed a contract for my YA fantasy novel! You can check out more about that and my writing in general by visiting www.sdgrimm.com

 

Tell us a little about your story

Doug: This one [“Tamer of Beasts”] sprang to life when a friend of mine made an off-hand comment about Beauty and the Beast. He wanted to know about the flower’s POV. That dovetailed into a “what if the flower captured both of them” scenario. The Flowering Princess of Dreams is a collector of pretty things and quite harsh on her “guests” if they disappoint her. Tamer is one of her favorites and is put in charge of her latest acquisition, Beast.

Michael: “Keys” started life as a trickster piece, in which I took the idea of Saint Peter as the trickster to Jesus’ straight man (as seen in some South American storytelling traditions) and reinvented him as a Jerry Springer-esque figure, a talk show host who gets up to all sorts of wacky hijinks. Then I threw in the teens who encounter him after his latest escapade goes awry, an enigmatic musician, and a host of very furious fancies. Honestly, while it sounds complicated at first, there are layers to this story. The Fae play an unusual role, and it all ties together in unexpected ways.

Nick: My story “The Fool And His Money” stems from an idea I had a while back. I saw loads of news stories about the financial crash, explaining it in terms of bankers spending money that didn’t really exist.

And then, being a fantasy writer, I started thinking about where this imaginary cash really came from, how it would work and what the consequences might be. Faeries were the logical answer.

Saera Corvin: This story [“Gnome Games”] is something like a tribute to all those socks and underwear that get sucked into the black hole between the washing machine and the laundry basket.

S. D.: “Mark of Ruins” is about a teenage girl who lives with a secret: she has huge, pointed ears. It makes fitting in extra hard. But she’s headed to a new school and determined to hide her secret and just be normal—for once. Until she meets a secretive guy who might know more about her than he’s letting on. In order to get answers from him, she might just have to reveal the truth about herself, and hope it won’t scare him off.

 

What’s your favorite type of faerie?

S. D.: Naiads and water sprites.

Nick: Fairy cake. Or, in stories, the evil manipulative ones, as they’re just the most fun.

Saera: Norwegian Trolls. I always loved how the stories would talk about the little ones causing the most damage when they’d come down from the mountains and invade some poor farmer’s house.

Doug: Those that look fair of face but will mess up your day for a giggle or on a whim. It’s the troupe of pretty things aren’t dangerous. Many of the faeries that I write about fall into the Unseelie Court side of the equation.

Michael: I’ve always been particular to the pooka, however you want to spell it. Shapechanging tricksters? Sign me up. Little-known fact: the spelling “phouka” is apparently considered offensive by the Virginia DMV. That nixed my plan to get it as a license plate years ago. If you’ve ever read Emma Bull’s excellent War for the Oaks, you’ll understand why the pooka (phouka) is such a compelling concept.

 

Is music a part of your personal writing process, and if so what kind(s) of music do you listen to when you write?

Saera: Sometimes it is. The kinds of music I like to have on varies depending on what hits my mood at the time. Mostly, I like hard rock, blues, and the golden oldies.

Doug: I use Pandora and tune into seeds that contain the likes of Lindsey Sterling, Kodo, the Yoshida Brothers, and other instrumental only artists. These are good for setting the mood and not distracting me from writing.

Michael: Oh, music is essential for me to get into the groove. I make playlists all the time. My tastes are eclectic: pop, rock, showtunes, classical—all that matters is that it has the right sort of energy and beat to engage my subconscious and drown out the outside world. Oddly enough, iTunes says that the track I’ve listened to the most is “Breakout” by OPM from the New Guy soundtrack, followed by “Welcome Home” by Coheed and Cambria. Judge as you will.

Nick: I listen to music constantly – often ambient stuff like the excellent Spektrmodule podcast from Warren Ellis – http://www.warrenellis.com/?cat=63 – or the Gorillaz album The Fall – surprisingly good atmosphere music. I also listen to folk and indie rock, but only albums I really know back to front or it distracts me.

S. D.: It depends on the mood of what I’m writing. For “Mark of Ruins” I listened to Dark Side by Kelly Clarkson and Broken by Lifehouse—pretty much on repeat.

 

Has a song ever inspired a story idea for you?

Saera: “Ramble on Rose” by the Dead

Doug: “This is War” by 30 Seconds to Mars. I used it for a superhero themed story about a young hero fighting against a tyrant. Never sold it, but I think it has some promise.

Michael: Many times, but most of those stories remain on the back burner. I’m still waiting for the perfect opportunity to unleash tales inspired by “Jessie’s Girl” and “Safety Dance,” the latter of which sounds like a very Fae tune. Oh, you can definitely dance if you want to…

Nick: Not sure a song has ever inspired a whole story, but I do have a habit of naming my work after them. Then changing my mind later because the content has nothing to do with the song.

S. D.: Yes! I know it’s a little country, but Why You Wanna by Jana Kramer sparked inspiration for a story about a young girl whose boyfriend comes back from a tour of duty as a changed man—genetically changed (in a super-soldier-gone-bad kind of way).

 

Last but not least: who’d win a fight between Princess Toadstool and Zelda?

Doug: Zelda. She’d totally kick her mushroom highness’ butt.

Nick: I haven’t played a Zelda game since Ocarina of Time, but doesn’t Zelda turn into a ninja? Although it probably doesn’t matter if she’s still a ninja or not, I’m not sure Toadstool could take anyone in a fight. Not even Toad the tiny mushroom.

Michael: I’d rather see them team up and fight evil together. They’ve spent long enough being damsels in distress!

Saera: Neither: Toadstool and Zelda always call Mario and Link in to do their dirty work.

S. D: I’ve never played video games *gasp* so I’m going to have to go with a wild-card princess: She-Ra.

 

57d7e-final_talesoftheseeliecourt_650Where to find the books:

Amazon Links for Tales of the Seelie Court  
Print Version http://www.amazon.com/Chimerical-World-Tales-Seelie-Court/dp/1937929477
Kindle Version http://www.amazon.com/Chimerical-World-Tales-Seelie-Court-ebook/dp/B00IAHTMAO  

Amazon Links for Tales of the Unseelie Court  
Print Version http://www.amazon.com/Chimerical-World-Tales-Unseelie-Court/dp/1937929493
Kindle Version http://www.amazon.com/Chimerical-World-Tales-Unseelie-Court-ebook/dp/B00IAHTVSC

May 25, 2014 Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SpecMusicMuse—A Chimerical World Round Table Interview, Part 1

Today we have part 1 of a special Round Table style interview with the authors of both A Chimerical World anthologies.  Sitting with me tonight are Angeline Trevena, Chantal Boudreau, David Turnbull, and Nicholas Paschall.

Introductions

Angeline Trevena was born and bred in a rural corner of South West England where she still lives above a milkshake shop. She is a fantasy and horror writer, poet and journalist. Some years ago she worked at an antique auction house and religiously checked every wardrobe that came in to see if Narnia was in the back of it. She’s still not given up looking for it.

Find out more at www.angelinetrevena.co.uk

Chantal Boudreau – I’m an accountant/author/illustrator who lives in Nova Scotia, Canada with my husband, Dale and two children, Gwyneth and Etienne. An affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association, I write and illustrate horror, dark fantasy and fantasy and I have had several of my stories published in a variety of horror anthologies and magazines.  Fervor, my debut dystopian novel, was released in March of 2011 by May December Publications, followed by Elevation, Transcendence and Providence.  Magic University, the first in my fantasy series, Masters & Renegades, made its appearance in September 2011 followed by Casualties of War and Prisoners of Fate.  Learn more at my website: http://chantellyb.wordpress.com

I’m David Turnbull, a UK based writer. I’m a member of the Clockhouse London Group of genre writers who collectively have loads of published sci fi, fantasy and horror credits to their name as well as a few collaborative pieces. Recent anthologies featuring my own short fiction include ‘Breaking the Rules’ (Boo Books), Vignettes from the End of the World (Apokrupha) and Black Apples (Belladonna Publications). My short story ‘Aspects of Aries’ which appeared in ‘Astrologica’ (The Alchemy Press) has been selected to appear in Salt Publications’ Best British Fantasy anthology due for release later this year. You can find me at http://www.tumsh.co.uk/

Nicholas Paschall, horror and fantasy author. I’m a recurring columnist for Dark Eclipse Magazine and have been published in eight anthologies. I also maintain my own blog where I post stories freshly written, called the Nickronomicon. I have an upcoming story in Demonic Visions Four coming out early June that I would suggest anyone who is into the Unseelie get, as it involves them to a great degree.

 

Tell us a little about your story

Angeline: My story, ‘I’ll Watch Over You’, is a classic changeling story. It follows new mother, Ellen, in a downward spiral of superstition and paranoia, as she fights against a fae intent on stealing her baby. While Ellen’s husband believes her hormones are simply going haywire, her elderly neighbour fills her head with stories and her home with talismans. Becoming increasingly frightened and isolated, Ellen finds herself standing between her baby and the unknown world of the fae.

Chantal: I was researching Japanese mythology for a novel idea I had in mind and the research inspired my story.  I also had my thoughts focused on my friend Barb who was dying from pancreatic cancer and I think feelings of sadness and a sense of devotion to friends and family naturally transposed themselves into the story as a result.  Barb was the type of person always sacrificing for others and I think I brought some of her spirit to Sanae.

David: My story is a kind of ‘be careful what you wish for’ allegory. The farmer lusts after the thing that the boy has access to and is willing to commit murder to obtain it. He doesn’t realize the terrible mistake he has made till he gets what he desires.

The post revolutionary backdrop of the story has been one that I have used in several stories now, placing well-known fairy tale or nursery rhyme characters into a situation where society has undergone profound changes. In this case the source material was the nursery rhyme Little Boy Blue come blow your Horn. I wondered what else the boy might be calling with his horn other than sheep or cows.

The title The Wunderhorn comes from a 19th Century collection of German Folk songs Das Knaben Wunderhorn (The Boy’s Magical Horn) which was said to have been part of the inspiration behind the Grimm brother’s collection of fairy tales.

Nicholas: It’s a story about loss, and the beauty that can be found in all things, even misery. A fey of unknown species gathers the souls of singers and instrumentalists so that they can forever play for his eternal amusement. He hosts balls for his kind where his favorite specter sings a song of his native homeland. It is really a tale about how even in the most miserable circumstances, beauty can come forth. And, of course, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

 

What’s your favorite type of faerie?

Angeline: I grew up surrounding myself with the friendly fairies of childhood: flower fairies, tooth fairies, friendly little creatures that grant wishes and sprinkle fairy dust. But through my teens, I discovered there was a different side to the fae. Overall, I like to think fairies are more mischievous than downright evil.

Nicholas: Personifications of nature that have been corrupted are perhaps my favorite, like a dryad who has had her tree poisoned by human waste. The idea of flawed beauty in a creature that the idea of flaws doesn’t even exist has always brought a smile to my face.

David: The Brownie. I like the idea of a creature that makes its home under your doorstep and helps with household chores while your asleep but could cause all sorts of chaos and mayhem if you get on the wrong side of it. Anyone who likes gothic horror should read ‘The Brownie of the Black Haggs’ by James Hogg.

Chantal: I’m a seelie fan.  I especially like helpful fairies with an air of mischief and a sense of humour.

 

Is music a part of your personal writing process, and if so what kind(s) of music do you listen to when your write?

Angeline: I often play music while I write, and find that it has a significant impact on my writing. I often choose specific albums based on the story I am hoping to write. One of my go-to bands is Counting Crows, and they have been the soundtrack to a lot of my writing sessions over the years.

I also use film soundtracks because they’re so full of atmosphere and emotion. My favourites are The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Edward Scissorhands.

Chantal: Very much so – I try to match the music to the mood of the story: alternative rock, easy listening, pop, celtic, tribal…whatever suits the story.

David: There’s nothing like a good murder ballad to set the mood for a piece of dark writing. Particular favorites include the Everly Brothers’ rendition of ‘Down in the Willow Garden’ and the Nick Cave / PJ Harvey duet ‘Henry Lee’. Also, in keeping with my Scottish heritage, Euan MacColl’s ‘The Bonnie Banks of Airdie’ where the Duke of Fifes’ three daughters are dispatched one by one by a robber brandishing a wee penknife.

Nicholas: I listen to a variety of songs when I write, from dubstep versions of horror songs to country music, to J-pop. The music really influences the writing. Sometimes I’ll just listen to rain fall and write from what bubbles forth from my subconscious.

 

Has a song ever inspired a story idea for you?

Nicholas: Of course! I think every author got the starting point of their story from either a song or seeing something. For me, Maestro came from listening to Jace Everrett’s “I wanna do Bad Things to you,” a song that is by far one of my favorites in the new age variety we’ve been seeing as of late.

Chantal: I wouldn’t say any song has inspired a particular story, but it has inspired some of my content while writing.  Songs have also inspired some of my story and novel titles.

David: I have a story in the forthcoming ‘Girl at the End of the World’ anthology (Fox Spirit) which features a girl with corkscrew hair, inspired by the line in the T Rex 70’s hit Telegram Sam – I ‘ain’t no where with my corkscrew hair. I’ve also managed to get a Metal Guru into the plot as well.

 

Last but not least: who’d win a fight between Princess Toadstool and Zelda?

Chantal: My vote’s for Zelda.

Angeline: I can’t imagine these two ladies fighting one another. They’d far more likely just to go out for coffee and cake together. And why not?

David: I’m declaring Swiss style neutrality on this one.

Nicolas: That’s a tough one. Both get captured far too often to show any real fighting skills, though in recent years they’ve been added to brawler games to showcase their fighting skills, or lack thereof. I think I’d have to give it to Zelda, as she comes from a kingdom of warriors that are human, not anthropomorphic mushrooms. Hard to practice against a race of two foot tall fungus men and learn how to fight effectively.

With Zelda she would, as a princess, at least have the chance to learn archery. And with her constant kidnappings, she can probably defend herself better than the only human in all of Mushroom Kingdom.

 

Where to find the books:

Amazon Links for Tales of the Seelie Court  32892-final_talesoftheunseeliecourt_650
Print Version http://www.amazon.com/Chimerical-World-Tales-Seelie-Court/dp/1937929477
Kindle Version http://www.amazon.com/Chimerical-World-Tales-Seelie-Court-ebook/dp/B00IAHTMAO  

Amazon Links for Tales of the Unseelie Court  
Print Version http://www.amazon.com/Chimerical-World-Tales-Unseelie-Court/dp/1937929493
Kindle Version http://www.amazon.com/Chimerical-World-Tales-Unseelie-Court-ebook/dp/B00IAHTVSC

May 24, 2014 Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SpecMusicMuse Review—I, the Sun by Janet Morris

51MeX4Lp+BLI, the Sun is the story about the life of the Hittite, Tamissari, known in history as King Supiluliumas. A historical fantasy with emphasis on the historical, don’t expect high adventure and flashy magic. The magic is so subtle that it can be mistaken as coincidence…most of the time.

Morris portrays Supiluliumas in a realistic manner, flaws and all. Considering the type of person he was, even when considering him a product of his time and culture, only Morris’s masterful characterization skills make him at all sympathetic. In any other fantasy genre, he most likely would’ve been the villain, albeit a slightly more noble one…most of the time.

The narration is done in first-person POV, and Morris does a good job at taking the archaic mannerisms of the time and modernizing it enough to make it readable. One of the downsides to the first-person narration is there’s a lot more telling than showing, almost as if a diary is being written instead of a story, only without date and time. A lot of stuff which would’ve made for some epic scenes tend to get told in passing, as Morris concentrates more on the political intrigues and romantic dramas. I, for one, would’ve liked to have seen actual scenes involving the amazon.

As good as the story is, it would’ve worked better had it been a trilogy instead of a single book. Overall it’s a worthy read despite its flaws. Some readers will love the story, others not as much.

 

Best to read while listening to: the soundtracks to Gladiator and 300.

May 3, 2014 Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Writerly Update 4/20/14

Been a while since I’ve done a simple basic update.

Almost finished with a new short story, one involving Arnelda and Roland…and an alcoholic hillbilly troll. (don’t ask).

Marcon will be on May 9-11 here at Columbus, OH. I’ll be there for a few panels, even moderating one. And this is my official schedule:

FRI4:00PMUnion CLiterary-WritersI`m Making This Up as I Go Along
FRI8:30PMUnion CLiterary-Writers*m* Character Torture 2.0
FRI10:00PMUnion CJust For FunSci-Fi vs. Fantasy Character Battles 
SAT8:30PMUnion CLiterary-WritersWhere Should You Publish Your Work?
SAT10:00PMUnion CLiterary-WritersPublishing Mishaps
SAT11:30PMUnion CLate NightSex vs. Violence
SUN10:00AMRegency BallroomAutographsSunday 10:00 am Autographs

I recently got interviewed over at Heroic Fantasy .com. Here be linky link, arr!: http://www.heroicfantasywriters.com/2014/04/words-with-scott-sandridge-editor-of.html

Also, coming up for SpecMusicMuse: I’m currently reviewing two books written by Janet Morris (who wrote for the Thieves World series). WOOT! And a couple other possible reviews and interviews in the works as well.

Also, a blog tour for the A Chimerical World anthologies is coming up in may. If you like to take part in it, go sign up here: http://www.tomorrowcomesmedia.com/a-chimerical-world-anthology-urban-fantasyfantasyparanormal/

That’s all for now! 🙂

April 20, 2014 Posted by | Writerly Updates | , , , , | Leave a comment

SpecMusicMuse Double Whammy – Review of Unburning Alexandria plus an Interview with Paul Levinson

Got a nice two-in-one special for y’all today: a review of Paul Levinson’s new book, Unburning Alexandria, plus an interview with the great Lev, himself, an author who has been a mentor to many among both the big and small press. So, without further ado, on with the show!

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SpecMusicMuse Review—Unburning Alexandria by Paul Levinson

I spent the past few days trying to figure out how to write this review without sounding like a gushing fanboy. Post-biopsy, I’m no longer worried about anything that involves the word, “gushing.” And as for the fanboy part, I finally decided, “Screw it. Who cares if I sound like one?”

Those who’ve read my review of The Plot to Save Socrates, the book which Unburning Alexandria is the sequel of, knows how much I liked it. Well, Unburning Alexandria by Paul Levinson is one of those extremely rare sequels that end up better than its predecessor. It could be because it’s the second part of a pre-planned trilogy, and we all know how much better the “middle” part of a larger story can be (Cough! *The Empire Strikes Back* Cough!), or it could simply be because it’s just that damn good.

In Unburning Alexandria, our time-travelling heroine, Sierra Waters, disguises herself as Hypatia in order to save as much of the knowledge that got lost when the Library of Alexandria got burned down as she can. Any history buff knows that Hypatia didn’t have a pleasant end, so already the reader is presented with the question of “How is Sierra gonna’ get herself out of that mess(pun intended)without significantly altering history and causing those damnable paradoxes? And with the scrolls to boot?”

That situation, alone, would be worthy of the title, blockbuster, if this were a movie. But there’s also her arch-nemesis, Heron, to deal with—who has personal motivations of his own to insure the secrets in the library meet their untimely demise—as well as a few time-shattering (hehehe) plot twists for her to deal with as well. Like with the last book, you get acquainted with quite a few historical figures of the time period, none of whom get treated as cardboard cutouts, and all of whom have integral roles in the story as opposed to merely making “cameo appearances.”

This book will keep you turning the page from start to finish, twisting your brain like a paradox pretzel while keeping the action hot and heavy (and in a couple scenes, steamy!). If you didn’t fall in love with Sierra in the first book, you will in this one. Indeed, every character, even Heron, has qualities about them that make them worth caring for. Long story short, Unburning Alexandria is by far the best time travel story I’ve ever read. Levinson manages to navigate his way around the paradoxes like a seasoned pro, almost as if he, himself, has travelled through time….

Nah. Can’t be….

Can it?

Best to read while listening to: Epica’s The Divine Conspiracy, with a smidgen of the soundtrack to Gladiator.

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SpecMusicMuse—Interview With Paul Levinson

What sparked the idea for The Plot to Save Socrates and Unburning Alexandria?

The Plot to Save Socrates came from my dissatisfaction with the story in The Crito, in which Plato has Socrates refusing Crito’s good offer to escape Athens and its death sentence of hemlock.  I know that had I been sentenced to death by a corrupt government – democracy or otherwise – I would have been on that boat out of Athens in a New York minute!  Humanity as a whole, and mine in particular, come before any government.

In writing The Plot to Save Socrates, I hit up another part of history – the burnings of the Ancient Library of Alexandria – that I wanted to undo.   The loss to humanity of those manuscripts – more than half of Aristotle’s works alone – is immeasurable.  This seemed like a good problem for Sierra Waters, my time traveler, to jump into.

Where’d you get the idea for an awesome character like Sierra Waters? Also, how did you come up with her name?

I always wanted to have a woman protagonist – the heroes of my other novels are all male – and a graduate student in classics seemed like a good place to find her.  I came up with her name as follows:  someone by the name of Sierra Phillips wrote a great review of my first novel, The Silk Code.  I really liked that name.  But I wanted something a little more eternal and flowing through time.  Hence: Sierra Waters.

Time travel stories can get pretty complex. How did you keep all the paradoxes from unraveling the time-space continuum while you were writing the book?

In my first draft, I just write wherever the plot takes me.  But when I go over that draft, I get focused like a laser on making sure all of those loops and twists in the space-time continuum hold up to logical scrutiny.   On the one hand, time travel may well be impossible precisely because of all of those paradoxes at every turn.  On the other hand, if you’re going to write time travel, you’ve got to respect them and give some sort of rational explanation for the events in your story. Stories that ignore the paradoxes or just give them lip service leave me cold.  I tried to better in Socrates and Alexandria.

I have this feeling Sierra’s story isn’t yet over….

No, it isn’t.  I’m writing her third novel right now.  All I can tell you that there will be some changes in the world based on what she’s done in the first two novels.  And there will likely be a part that takes place in the Renaissance.

So, in addition to being a university professor and an author, you also do music. Anything cool out?

Donny Frankel, who played organ and accordion on my original 1972 Twice Upon a Rhyme album, has teamed up with Robbie Rist (Cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch) to form a new band called Sundial Symphony.  They’ve recorded two songs from Twice Upon a Rhyme – “Looking for Sunsets (in the Early Morning)” and “Today Is Just Like You” – both written by me, and I’ve released the first on my record label HappySad Records.  Twice Upon a Rhyme and the new Sundial Symphony recording are both on iTunes. The new “Today Is Just Like You” will be there soon.  And there’s a great new Sundial Symphony video of “Looking for Sunsets” which will be up on YouTube by the time everyone reads this.

Anything readers need to know that hasn’t already been covered above?

I’m also writing my fourth Phil D’Amato novel, in which weather is used as a weapon, and my third Phil D’Amato novel, The Pixel Eye, will be published as an ebook by JoSara MeDia any day now.  My first two Phil D’Amato novels – The Silk Code and The Consciousness Plague – are already available as ebooks. If any reads these and has any questions, I’m on Goodreads, Twitter – as PaulLev – and all the good online places.

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Paul Levinsons’s novel The Silk Code won the Locus Award for Best First Novel of 1999, and was published as an “author’s cut” Kindle edition in 2012.  His other science fiction and mystery novels include Borrowed Tides (2001), The Consciousness Plague (2002, 2013), The Pixel Eye (2003), The Plot To Save Socrates (2006; author’s cut Kindle 2012;  Entertainment Weekly called it “challenging fun”), and Unburning Alexandria (2013). His short stories have been nominated for Nebula, Hugo, Edgar, and Sturgeon Awards.  Nine nonfiction books, including  The Soft Edge (1997), Digital  McLuhan (1999), Realspace (2003), Cellphone (2004), and New New Media (2009, 2nd edition 2012) have been the subject of major articles in the New York TimesWired, the Christian Science Monitor, and have been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Polish, and eight other languages. He appears from time to time on MSNBC, Fox News (“The O’Reilly Factor”), The History Channel, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, NPR, BBC Radio  and other TV and radio programs – he likes talking just as much as writing. He’s also a songwriter, and has been in several bands over the years – one had two records out on Atlantic Records in 1960s.  His 1972 album Twice Upon a Rhyme (on HappySad Records) was re-issued on CD by Beatball/Big Pink Records in 2009, and on re-pressed vinyl by Whiplash/Sound of Salvation Records in 2010. He was listed in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Top 10  Academic Twitterers” in 2009, and review the best of television on his Infinitte Regress.tv blog and on Starpulse. Last but not least: he have a PhD in Media Theory from New York University and is Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in New York City.

February 11, 2014 Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , , | Leave a comment

SpecMusicMuse Review—Chronicles of Ave, Volume 1, by Stephen Zimmer

Having not read any of the novels, Chronicles of Ave, Volume 1, is my first introduction to Stephen Zimmer’s epic fantasy world. A collection of short stories, Chronicles of Ave provides a rich and diverse array of lands and cultures from the view of heroic characters as they partake in adventures and quests against the forces of darkness.

I greatly enjoyed the stories and loved the characters. The Trogen, Marragesh, in “Into Glory Ride,” was by far the most interesting. My only problem with “Lion Heart” was the main character’s name (Sigananda? Signanda? Siganda?) kept getting spelled differently, which almost threw me out of the story. Almost.

Of the stories, themselves, “Winter’s Embrace” bears a theme vitally important for current times as it delves into the very nature of faith, itself. It would be the best of the stories, but the Trogen in “Into Glory Ride” steal the whole show (so to speak).

Overall, Chronicales of Ave, Volume 1 is a mut-have for any fan of epic and heroic fantasy.

Best to read while listening to: Iron Maiden, Enya, and Loreena McKennitt.

November 3, 2013 Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

SpecMusicMuse – Mass Effect 3 Reflections, Part 2: Why I Chose “Synthesis” and why no Option is “Right” or “Wrong”

I like to first start out by saying that, unlike the IDers, I do not assume that my favorite option is the “right” option and thus, by default, the other two must mean Shepard got Indoctrinated. For one, it’s circular thinking, and I hate thinking in circles. I’d much rather keep it a relatively straight line, thank you very much.

Of course this also means that I won’t have to post a half hour long or longer vid trying to explain how the “Renegade” option of “Destroy All Synthetics” is actually the “Paragon” option in disguise. Mostly because, in Part I of my Reflections on Mass Effect 3, I showed how it can’t be Paragon. The Paragon Shepard wasn’t even willing to sabotage the Genophage cure (and thus doom the Krogan to eventual extinction) even when doing so could’ve given him the upper hand against the Reapers, so thinking that Paragon Shep at the end would be okay with the idea of committing a triple+ genocide just to kill the Reapers is way too much a stretch of logic to be sound. But Badass Renegade Shep? He would. Without thinking twice.  ‘Cause Badass Renegade Shep is all about revenge and “ruthless calculus,” even if he might feel bad about it later.

And if Badass Renegade Shepard was the type of character you were playing. If you had no trouble with backstabbing the Krogan, the Geth, or anyone else who got in your way, then Destroy is the “correct” option for your character–’cause that’s just how he rolls.

But my Shepard wasn’t a total Badass Renegade. Sure, she started out a little heavy on the Renegade end, but as I continued playing, my choices for her went more “middle of the road” by the end of Mass Effect 2, and by the end of Mass Effect 3 she was much more Paragon than Renegade. But despite the Control the Reapers option being the blue color, it didn’t exactly strike me as the Paragon thing to do – because Control destroys free will. And besides, the colors might reflect something more than just Paragon/Neutral/Renegade, as gamermd83 explains in her two-part “Beings of Light” theory:

Sure, the Reapers never had free will to begin with, but why continue the cycle?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. From this point on I’ll be getting a little esoteric on y’all’s asses, so be warned:

Anyone who can put 2+2 together and find out it equals 4 will have no doubt figured out why Commander Shepard’s last name is Shepard. In Mass Effect 2 he dies in a manner where there’s no mistake that he’s dead: by getting spaced out of an exploding Normandy SR1 in a damaged space suit to then get caught up by a nearby planet’s gravity well to end up a crispy critter upon re-entry as he plummets helplessly to the planet’s surface.

A later scene then shows Mr. Bac’n’Crisp getting rebuilt from scratch by Cerberus-modified Reaper tech courtesy of the LAZARUS Project ran by Miranda Lawson (an interesting set of names from an esoteric perspective, no?). It’s obvious that the story writers intended Shepard to be a Messianic archetype, hence why his name is Shepard (Duh!).  In fact, after a Death and Resurrection, the only thing missing for him to completely fulfill his Messianic fate is an Ascension.

So why, if “Control” and “Synthesis” means he got Indoctrinated, is “Destroy” the only option that either ends in him clearly dying, or surviving if you got the “perfect” ending, but not ascending? In the other two, he clearly undergoes some sort of energy-based transformation: either as a new “Catalyst” that now gets to Control the Reapers (who now has to figure out what to do with the damn things, but hey, he’s got eternity to figure that out now) or by becoming the very energy that synthesizes Organics with Synthetics at the molecular level, thus literally reshaping all life in the galaxy into something completely new – and in manner that doesn’t turn them into mind-controlled Reaper toys (As shown by the EDI and Joker scene at the end of the Synthesis, uh, ending).

So by that perspective, “Control” and “Synthesis” aren’t necessarily “wrong” choices. But neither is “Destroy.” In fact, there is no wrong or right choice, because all three come with some sort of sacrifice, and only one effectively breaks the cycle, hence why “Synthesis” only ends up as an option if your War Assets are high enough to get the “good” endings for either of the three choices–in other words, “Synthesis” is the only choice that doesn’t come with a “bad” ending.

“But yeah, but isn’t Synthesis what the Reapers were wanting all along?” you ask.

Except…the Reapers aren’t Synthetics….

Not really. The Reapers don’t “want” anything. They have no free will, remember? They only perform the function their creator(s) had created them to perform–to prevent the inevitability of Synthetics turning on their creators and destroying all organic life. They don’t care how it gets done so long as it gets done. Remember, the Reapers only harvest the species that have developed the means to create synthetic life, thus why they left the humans and other species alone in the last cycle, because 50,000 years ago Humans, Salarians, Asari, etc. were still far too primitive to do so.

And no, Shepard did not prove that synthetics and organics can coexist separately forever by his forging a peace with the Geth and Quarians. Organics have this bad habit of creating machines smarter and more powerful than they are and then assuming they can wipe said machines out (which, of course, is why the Reapers were created millions of years ago to begin with, remember?). So that damn annoying ghost kid was right that eventually the cycle would continue with or without the Reapers, only that in the “Destroy” option there’d no longer be any Reapers to stop the process before Organics get wiped out by their own creations (and not because Synthetics are evil, but because Organics are stupid enough to attack them).

And that’s why “Destroy” works best for Renegade Shep. After all, Renegade Shep doesn’t give a shit about ascending or moral quandaries or any of that trivial crap. As far as he’s concerned, the Reapers need destroyed, period. And if doing so requires sacrificing half the galaxy to do so, than that’s just “ruthless calculus.” The ends justify the means. In that way, Renegade Shep is no different than the Catalyst/Reapers, because to the Catalyst the ends justifies the means as well.

“But wasn’t the whole point from the beginning of the story about Shepard needing to destroy the Reapers?”

Yeah, at first. But have you ever heard the term plot twist?

And as for “Control”: my personal beef is the word, itself. It reflects a continuation of the Reapers remaining without free will. Also, that’s a whole lotta’ power for one person to control. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. And not even Paragon Shep will long resist that, especially now that he has an eternity to become corrupted by all the Reaper power. In other words, Control makes you no different than the Catalyst.

But at the end of the day, all philosophizing aside, there was essentially only one reason I picked “Synthesis”:

I loved EDI, I loved the romance between her and Joker, and I knew there’d be no way they could ever have cute little silver babies together without Synthesis. I knew that Shep’s time was over, whether he ascended or died. And surviving the “Destroy” ending doesn’t matter because once Joker discovered that Shep was responsible for the murder of the love of his life when other options had been available, then Shep was a dead man walking anyhow (“Hey Shepard! Long time no see! What? You did what!? Die, asshole!” *flies rebuilt Normandy into a star*).

But Joker and EDI? Their time had just begun. And their love for each other was a far better sign of hope than any peace of convenience forged between the Geth and Quarians. They deserved their chance. For they proved that love can conquer a problem that even the big bad Reapers with all their power could never completely solve.

They deserved Synthesis.

And more importantly, the cycle deserved to be broken.

The Reapers always went on and on about how the cycle can never be broken. And yet, with Synthesis, it was.

June 24, 2012 Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , , , , | Leave a comment