Cover Reveal for THE CURSE MERCHANT

Today’s the day, my friends! Today I reveal the brand new cover art for the upcoming release of THE CURSE MERCHANT.

I’m not going to spend endless paragraphs burying the lead, so without increasing ado… I give you Dorian Lake:

The Curse Merchant: Book 1 of the Dark Choir series.

When I tell you that Dorian Lake is the best damned hex-peddler in Baltimore… I mean that in every literal sense.

What we have in this cover is a focus on both the mood of the novel, and the city itself. Curse Merchant is “urban” fantasy more than a simple genre nomenclature. For me, the city of Baltimore is as much a character of the book as anyone else, and I hope the readers agree. I’ve tried my best to situate the book as indelibly in its setting as has Richard Kadrey for the city of Los Angeles in his Sandman Slim novels.

The Curse Merchant will be available for purchase on September 15th. Spread the word, if you would, and feel free to join me for an online release party on Facebook from 5pm – 6pm on the 15th. Details forthcoming!

Go and tell others, my friends, and keep your karma shiny!

#MyWritingProcess Blog Hop

Holy cats… I got tagged by the illustrious 2014 Kindle Book Awards nominee Sharon Bayliss to participate in the MyWritingProcess Blog Hop. It’s like some kind of social media contagion… I’m a carrier. I’ve been infected. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, Put me down before I turn!

Seriously, though, thanks to Sharon for tapping me to participate. I have plenty of opinions, and it’s rare that I’m actually invited to voice them. So… when I devour your brains, you all can thank her on Twitter @SharonBayliss.

Here’s a quick blurb of what this blog hop is all about:  “We writers share these things, but informally during workshops and at conferences (and, for a handful of established writers, in printed interviews), but not so much through our open-forum blogs. With the hashtag #MyWritingProcess, you can learn how writers all over the world answer the same four questions. How long it takes one to write a novel, why romance is a fitting genre for another, how one’s playlist grows as the draft grows, why one’s poems are often sparked by distress over news headlines or oddball facts learned on Facebook…”

Here are my responses to the four questions:

1) What am I working on?

Right now, I’m roughly 38,000 words into a horror/western stand-alone novel with the working title of YEA THOUGH I WALK. It’s a creature feature set in the Wyoming Territory during the frontier expansion. In a nutshell, it’s vampires vs. wendigo vs. cowboys, with some serious mind-fuckery sprinkled throughout.

Meanwhile in the back of my head, I’ve been tossing around a rough skeleton for the third Dark Choir novel, THE CURSE MANDATE. I have larger points which will land, but it’s like trying to stitch together a dinosaur skeleton without knowing if the bones you’re sifting through all belong to the same dinosaur.

2) How does my work differ from others in its genre?

The genre of the Dark Choir series is categorized as Urban Fantasy. From my experience reading in the genre, The Dark Choir books play their magic way closer to the vest than some of the more visible properties out there… The Dresden Files, for example. The magic is far more subtle… you’ll never see Dorian Lake launch a plume of fire from the end of a staff, nor will you find vampires lurching around in feeding dens. The feedback I received from THE CURSE MERCHANT upon its initial self-published release seemed to echo the sentiment that it makes suspension of disbelief easy and immediate. This is precisely what I wanted… a world-building experience that was more similar to the recognizable real-world Baltimore than some parallel universe with witches and giant panda-bats.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I write the kinds of stories I’d want to read. Well… not ALL of the stories I’d want to read. I leave some of the next-level extreme science fiction to others better equipped. At least for the time being. I enjoy the atmosphere of the Dark Choir series. It’s a world into which I enjoy escaping, filled with fine liquors, engaging femmes fatale, and a protagonist I’d spend real time with in the real world.

And as for YtIW, it’s an ambitious novel… perhaps my most ambitious to date. It’s a period piece, and there are some storytelling conventions which require LOTS of attention and fore-planning. It’s rather like going to the gym for a nice, solid workout.

I write what I write because it’s an utterly immersive experience for me, and it’s a blast!

4) How does my writing process work?

Ho HO… glad you asked. Actually, loyal readers of the Fistful are pretty well-versed in my anal, left-brained system of spreadsheets and outlines. In case you’re new, here’s a flurry of links for you to check it out:

- I begin with an idea. I have enough story ideas to fill up an entire Word document, so I can’t expressly say how it works. They just come. I tend to bat the idea around in my head for several weeks before I can tell whether it has legs.

- Then I make a plot outline.

- Then I take the plot, flesh out bullet points into a list of scenes, and then make individual scene worksheets for each.

- Then I take each major character in the story, and cook up an extremely long and thorough character worksheet for each.

After that, I simply start drafting. By the end of the exhaustive pre-writing phase, sitting down to bang out word counts isn’t that difficult. The keys are to keep writing without stopping to edit, leave the polishing for a day after the first draft is complete, and spend “down time” (usually in the car during my commute) hashing out dialogue out loud. If anyone were in the car with me, they’d assume I was having a psychotic break.

When the first draft is complete, I let it age like a smelly piece of horrifying cheddar. When all emotional bonds between me and the manuscript have withered on the vine, I pick it up for a ground-up reread and revision pass. The first pass is spent hunting down plot holes, testing believability, pruning abandoned leads, and shoring up weak characterization.

On my second pass, I test for readability… pacing, dialogue, prosody. Yep… prosody. I end up reading quite a bit of the manuscript out loud. I’m surprised at how many people don’t do this. At the same time, I hammer it with a course editing mallet, catching the really glaring typos and misspellings.

With that entire process complete, I farm the manuscript out to my alpha reader (spoiler: it’s my wife). When she gives me all of her notes on plot and characterization, I tidy up the manny with a third pass, then send it out to my beta readers. I give them a month or two to really hash through it, wherein I tend to launch into my next project. Yep! These overlap.

When my betas come back with their notes, it’s time for the final plot revision pass and edit. Following this, it goes out to acquisitions… or at least it will when I get around to wrapping up YtIW.

There you have it. I try to write every evening after my boy hits the hay, and usually get between 1500 and 2000 words in per day. I tend to finish first drafts in the space of three months, not counting pre-writing.

ALRIGHTY, BUCKAROOS! I can feel the virus necrotizing my flesh, and the hunger for brains has become all-encompassing. Time to tap some people to spread the contagion, and share with the world their writing process. First on the meat-train:

HEATHER MARIE, YA Fantasy author. She’s always posting up “for reals” Tweets, and I bet she’ll be highly forthcoming with regards to her writing process. She has a pretty sweet novel coming out soon…

DEBRA DUNBAR, urban fantasy and paranormal fiction author, horse owner, and critique group partner. Debra is prolific with a capital FFFFFFFfffffff…. Her ragingly successful Imp series has garnered a legion of fans, and she just keeps pumping out the awesome. I bet her writing process includes way more Gatorade than mine.

SAM CURTIN, self-published author of paranormal horror, student of anthropology, and advocate for pagan interests. She’s got quite the full plate between work, study and her recent nuptials. I’m curious how she continues to make the word counts rain.

And of course… COURTNEY SLOAN, author of horror, sci-fi, urban fantasy, and my wife. I know her writing process… but YOU DON’T!!! So there.

Off to chew brain stems, kiddos… om nom nom…

 

Author Support Blog Hop – Making the Time to Write

This blog post is primarily for all of you practicing and aspiring authors out there who struggle to make the word counts rain while holding down a day job, a family, one or more hobbies, pets, world domination, an illegal panda trafficking ring, co-ed slip-and-slide tournaments, or whatever the hell else you horrible people are into.

Welcome to The Fistful for the Author Support Blog Hop. I’d like to walk you briefly through my life as a writer.

To start off with… I’ve been at this for ten years, plus or minus. To be more specific, that’s when I started writing for the purpose of getting published. It wasn’t until I’d wrapped revisions on my seventh novel, The Curse Merchant, that I decided I was ready to put it forward for consideration by industry professionals. I spent a year querying before deciding to self-publish. I then went on to write the sequel, The Curse Servant. Just prior to releasing Servant, I was put in touch with the literary marauders at Curiosity Quills. One thing led to another, and they ended up signing the entire Dark Choir series. In the space between then and the re-release of Curse Servant, I’ve been busy hammering out short stories and a new stand-alone novel which has me pretty damn excited.

But…

How do I do it? How do I find time to write?

I’m not a full-time writer (yet). I do, in fact, have a day job. For those of you who are interested, I work in the city of Baltimore for an office furniture manufacturer. My boss is aware of my aspirations to transition into full-time writing, and he supports that… which is pretty amazing in itself.

Nonetheless, the day job is an hour away from home. That’s two hours each day sacrificed to the gods of commuting. On top of that, I have a wife and a son who take priority over everything else in the entire Universe. I’ve resolved long ago never to crimp my family’s well-being in the pursuit of a writer’s lifestyle.

We work out at the gym three to four times a week. That’s another two hours (including the drive to the gym, workout, shower, etc.) committed to that.

I’m also a homebrewer… regular followers of this blog know that already. I commit to semi-regular beer-related events, meetings, gatherings, festivals, etc. at least three times a month. On top of homebrewing, I’m a National-ranked BJCP beer judge, which means I find myself dedicating Saturdays to beer competitions every so often.

Then there’s the dog. She has to eat, drink, pee, poop, and play an amount of Frisbee-fetch that borders on obsessive.

Cram a lot of that into one day, and when Homeslice Jr’s bedtime rolls around, you’ll find me sitting at my laptop, a single bead of drool tracing a line from the corner of my mouth to the space bar.

"Oh look, it's Pass-the-Fuck-Out-Thirty."

“Oh look, it’s Pass-the-Fuck-Out-Thirty.”

Energy drain… it’s the biggest obstacle this writer faces. How do I manage to find the will to write after reaching the point of bone-wearying exhaustion?

Answer: sometimes I don’t.

Oops… this was supposed to be miracle blog post to show you the secret to writing success, wasn’t it? Well, hate to break it to you, but there is no miracle cure for having a life. As a wise man once told me back when I first started writing: “You’ll never find the time to write… you have to MAKE the time to write.”

So I do. From eight-thirty to ten at night I tend to hammer out between 1500 and 2000 words. I don’t make it every night, though I feel like King Failure of the Failure Tribes of West Failure when I do. Sometimes I scrape for motivation. Sometimes it comes easy. Sometimes it sits on my computer like a spectral catball and glares at me until I go away.

When I do manage to muster the will, I do find it helpful to bear the following in mind:

1. It’s possible I might never earn enough from my writing to quit my day job. However, if I don’t commit to as much writing as I can now… it’ll be an absolute certainty. I keep my eyes on the prize. I know what I want. And instead of wallowing in uncertainty, I kindle the hope. Hope that I’ll succeed.

And the only way out is through.

2. I have to stay connected to others who are going through the same thing. I have a critique group I attend once a month, and beyond the advice and manuscript deconstruction we offer one another, we tend to lend an ear for our peculiar bellyaches. Writers have a specific set of anxieties which only other artists can really understand. If I didn’t have other writers to vent to, either in person or online (NETWORK, PEOPLE!!!), I’d easily buy into the assumption that this was a pointless endeavor.

3. There’s always going to be someone who’s better at this than I am. It’s like going to the gym. I know I’m only bench pressing 115 pounds, and if I looked to my right and saw Stafford Manchisel pounding out 300 pounds without breaking a sweat, I’d assume I was a noodle-armed slackard and give up. But just because someone else is successful, that doesn’t mean I won’t be… or even that I’m not already. Once I stop comparing myself to other writers and start focusing on the quality of what I have written, it’s easier to improve.

4. I must write what I enjoy reading. Writing outside of my comfort zone is fine… writing outside of what I find appealing? Not such a great decision. Anything born from a miserable writing experience tends to become a miserable reading experience. Which means…

5. I must keep reading. I must read widely. I must read successful, quality works within my chosen genres. If I don’t, then I’ll never know a cliche or a tired trope when I see it. I won’t know quality prose when I write it. My advice to my critique group won’t be as valuable. Those inner demons will be more effective in their needling. Just gotta keep reading.

Well, these aren’t cure-alls. They’re just thoughts. These thoughts have kept me going, and going strong. But I do happen to have a secret weapon that not everyone has access to.

My wife.

See… she’s a writer, too. And generally speaking, when the boy’s in bed and I’m cracking out the manuscript, she’s pulling hers out, too. When one of us is feeling tired, but the other is ready to write, we get positive peer pressure. Hell, it’s positive spousal pressure. She’s available as an alpha reader, as I am for her. She never begrudged my pursuit of publication, and was the first to celebrate with me when I signed my contracts… as I was when her short story was published in the Burial Day anthology.

Writing is a family value in our household. It’s a focus. Neither of us allows it to define our family, but it certainly helps that it’s a welcome and familiar presence in our lives.

So… aspiring author. Do you have any questions or comments? Feel free to float them my direction in the comments section below. I’m available on Tumblr and Facebook as well. I try to be flippant and distracting, but honest as well.

Just don’t ask me about pandas. Big Tony hates it when I “go public.”

~~~

Other sites on the Author Support Blog Hop:

 

Image courtesy of stockimages | freedigitalphotos.net

Author Interview with Ryan Hill, THE BOOK OF BART

Happy June to all my loyal readers!

I have a special guest today on the Fistful of Fiction… Ryan Hill, author of the newly released THE BOOK OF BART from Curiosity Quills Press. If you’re a fan of cheeky, irreverent humor, read on!

~~~

"Trust me."

“Trust me.”

JP: First off, give us your elevator pitch for THE BOOK OF BART.

RH: THE BOOK OF BART is Fletch meets John Hughes, with a demon running the show instead of Chevy Chase.

JP: That’s quite the passel of 80’s zeitgeist! Is this a dark comedy akin to American Psycho, or something a little less pointed?

RH: Good question. I don’t really see it as a dark comedy, just a comedy with a lot of snark. It’s asking a lot to ask a reader to spend 280+ pages inside the head of a demon, so I tried to keep things fun more than anything else, since I’d imagine most readers would get bored spending time with a demon doing typical demon things.

JP: For those not familiar with your work, is comedy your regular gig? Or was this something new for you?

RH: I’d say silly is my regular gig. My favorite writer is Christopher Moore, who sort of owns the silly genre right now. If you’re not familiar with him, he’s written Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, Fool (which is King Lear from the POV of the jester), and You Suck (the funniest vampire novel I’ve ever read). The combination of silly and fantastical really appeals to me, and I feel that’s more my wheelhouse. I do try to “stretch my muscles” and go in different directions, like with my upcoming zombie novel DEAD NEW WORLD, which is Black Hawk Down with zombies.

JP: Outside of Christopher Moore, which other authors would you say inspired you, or whom you say the style of Book of Bart resembles?

RH: Book of Bart resembles Moore’s work, as well as Gregory Maguire, who wrote the Fletch series. Also Douglas Adams. I’ve just always been fascinated with stories involving otherworldly beings, and I love books that don’t take themselves seriously. I feel it provides more of an escape, I guess. I don’t know. Stop trying to confuse me!

JP: I’m getting a real Stone-Parker “Book of Mormon” vibe from the book cover, by the way. One thing about those guys, as well as Adams and Moore if you dig deep enough… their light-hearted fantastical whimsy has roots in social commentary. With a demon as your main character, one expects The Book of Bart to have a sprinkling of that as well. Is there any social satire at play for your readers?

RH: There was a bit of social satire in earlier drafts of the book, but a lot of it was cut out in the editing process. There’s still some in there, but I’m a big believer in something Alfred Hitchcock said, which is (paraphrasing) focus on the plot, and let the audience decide the themes for themselves.

JP: So what’s next for you as a writer? You mentioned you have a more on-the-nose zombie action novel coming out soon… what’s on the horizon after that?

RH: Quite a bit, actually. DEAD NEW WORLD is coming in October, and I’m putting the finishing touches on another bonkers book called The Conch Shell of Doom. I’ve started writing a sequel to THE BOOK OF BART, which is going to be absolutely insane. I’ll probably write stories about Bart for the rest of my life. DEAD NEW WORLD is planned to be a trilogy, so we’ll see if that happens. I also have a 1984-esque story that’s still in the incubation phase.

This is all on top of pimping out my books as much as possible, of course.

It sounds like a lot, but you have to take it one at a time. I will say it’s kind of reassuring to know I don’t have to really worry about what book to write next for a few years!

JP: Sounds like you’re insanely busy… so I’ll just float one more question before I let you get back to work. It’s a question I tend to ask everyone because it’s hard to answer and I’m kind of a dick. Here’s the question: How would you define “evil?”

RH: Hmm. In terms of writing, I try to avoid writing straight up “evil” characters. I like to think of my villains as more misguided than anything else. But in real life, evil comes in all shapes and sizes. Killing someone is obviously evil, but I’d say if you do something that intentionally hurts someone solely for your own personal benefit is pretty evil. Actually, it’s kind of like porn. You know it when you see it.

~~~

You can find THE BOOK OF BART on Amazon. Here’s a blurb to wet your whistle:

Only one thing is so powerful, so dangerous that Heaven and Hell must work together to find it: the Shard of Gabriel.

With a mysterious Black Cloud of Death hot on the shard’s trail, a desperate Heaven enlists the help of Bart, a demon who knows more about the shard than almost anyone. Six years ago, he had it in his hands. If only he’d used it before his coup to overthrow the devil failed. Now, he’s been sprung from his eternal punishment to help Samantha, an angel in training, recover the shard before the Black Cloud of Death finds it.

If Bartholomew wants to succeed, he’ll have to fight the temptation to betray Samantha and the allure of the shard. After an existence full of evil, the only way Bart can get right with Hell is to be good.

What I’m Doing About Misogyny

This past weekend has been like watching a nightmare unfold in real time. A man guns down women in Santa Barbara after posting a bone-chilling manifesto actually titled “Retribution.” This man targeted sorority girls, planned his attack, and his rhetoric shared the same DNA as many Men’s Rights “Activist” groups. It’s an unspeakable act, and it’s more than just a spree killing.

It’s the bloody wound that lies beneath a scab which most men are choosing to ignore. That scab has been peeled back this week, and we’ve been given an opportunity to have a renewed conversation on male privilege in our society.

I’m a cis-gender white-middle class male. I’m swimming in privilege. I was born into privilege (on more than one front), and I know this. The cards have been stacked inordinately in my favor. I haven’t had to share the same concerns, disadvantages, or outright fears of women, people of color, or LGBT Americans. I choose not to deny, overlook, marginalize, or lean upon these privileges. I benefit from them, indeed… but I refuse to allow society to haze the lens for me. I refuse to allow myself to re-scribe our modern existence as one that is actually equal. Though I often feel frustrations and fears in life, I refuse to believe that my specific frustrations are universal.

I do care that women have to run scenarios through their minds when encountering men. These scenarios are not the same scenarios men have to process when dealing with women. I can’t honestly say I’ve ever worried that a woman was likely to lash out against me in violence. The precious few times this has actually happened in my life, I’ve been able to ride out those moments without feeling as if my life were in jeopardy. When I’m alone in public, or even at home, I don’t put much thought into my sense of personal safety.

The notion of a madman driving past me on the street and gunning me down is so remote in its feasibility, I invest zero emotional energy into such a possibility. My friends who are women, however… they can’t afford such blithe nonchalance.

Because this has happened. And though these were the acts of a madman… they weren’t “simply” the acts of a madman. They were the lashings of a vicious, toxic beast that has festered in the sewers of our societal myopia. We as a whole have fostered a world in which men feel as if they are entitled to access of a woman’s body. They are encouraged to disregard the person of a woman, instead seeing them as objects. What’s worse… men are trained in a specific kind of doublethink which not only denies the existence of misogyny, but turns their generalized frustrations into a fantasy of victimization at the hands of women. It’s sick, and it has created a nightmare in Santa Barbara.

The most bone-sickening aspect of this latest event has been the outpouring of support for Elliot Rodger. Beyond that, men have stepped onto as many public and online platforms as is humanly possible in order to exempt themselves from what they feel is a personal indictment from women at large. These women who have had to play against a stacked deck their whole lives, who have labored under an entire spectrum of oppression, victimization, and brutalization to the point of outright murder, are fully entitled to their anger. And though it’s understandable that an individual would want to feel as if they are not being accused of the deeds of others… they lack that pause of consideration wherein they realize that adding another voice whispering “not all men” becomes a low and menacing growl that drowns out the burgeoning conversation, robs these angry women of their platform, and hooks them with the all-too-familiar message bullhorned through the media: “You Don’t Get To Feel This Way!”

They do get to feel this way. They’ve felt this way for a long, long time. And now that the Internet is giving a larger signal boost to the outrage, the same Internet is giving voice to those who actually believe in what Rodger has done. It’s an alarming mirror to hold up to oneself. This isn’t comfortable. It’s not supposed to be. Let’s not rush toward comfort. Rather, let’s take that pause of consideration and process what is being said.

Now, I’m not really adding anything to this conversation that hasn’t been said more eloquently, succinctly, passionately, or widely by greater voices. But I can add my single voice to the whisper of allies who are saying “too many men.”

So, lacking a more direct means of salving the pain, I can tell you what I plan to do about misogyny.

I have a son.

His mother and I have spent his entire life fostering a sense of universal respect for all people. We have encouraged a view of the person instead of the body. As he ages and comes into manhood, the conversation will become more direct. It will deal with emotions, sex, consent, and how to deal with his peers who have had been fed the doublethink. And as brilliant and amazing a mother as my wife is, I do, in fact, have a means to reach my son that she does not. I can be a model of male behavior for my son. He sees how I treat his mother. He sees how I interact with his teachers and principal. He hears how I describe women in leadership. He watches as I share joys and pain with my friends who are women.

This is what I plan to do about misogyny. It’s the best I can do. I intend on rearing a young man who will not buy into the rhetoric shared by those who support Elliot Rodger. I will add one more ally to the next generation. And I’ll urge all other fathers to do the same.

Option Zero, or Why I Never Review Other Authors

Lately I’ve become somewhat outspoken in my refusal to review or rate another author’s work. This stance has drawn some questions from my fellow authors, so I thought I’d take the most appropriate platform to air out my thinking on the subject.

To me, it’s a no-win situation. Let me outline some very basic scenarios:

Option 1… you read a book and you like it. You might have a criticism here or there, but overall you’d give it a four or five-star rating. You post up said rating/review, and people thank you… warm fuzzies all around.

Option 2… you read a book, but you don’t like it. There were issues with pacing, plotting, characterization, fat rabid pandas swatting at vampires with steak knives… whatever. You have to decide whether to a) post up the lackluster rating and/or review, or b) don’t post up anything at all.

Swell.

Here’s the problem.

When authors adopt option 2a, holy shit is there drama! I’ve seen it. And sure, we all like to think we’re grown-ups, and that we can handle criticism. Some of us actually can. But there are levels of butthurt at play, here. You have a typical Defcon 1 Author Drama, where the abused author launches a scorched Earth campaign against you, rallying swaths of Visigoths to swarm Goodreads in their name.

Pictured: a typical Goodreads message board.

Pictured: a typical Goodreads message board.

But there is also the passive-aggressive flavor of chapped ass. This is where, when it comes time to reciprocate the rating/review (and this is, indeed, the implicit contract among indie authors who rate one another), they remember that blistering review you left about their steak knife panda army. They remember. And even without attempting to do so intentionally, their reviews are tainted by that memory.

So what about option 2b? Seems fitting… that whole “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?” Well, we aren’t stupid. When an author gives Mary, Sue, Jane, and Bertha all five-star reviews, but poor old Gertrude gets no reviews at all… Gertrude knows what the score is. And she defaults back into the whole option 2a drama.

So, what about Option 1? Why don’t we just swallow our negativity and leave only good reviews, whether or not we feel the books deserve it? After all, aren’t we really here to make each other look good?

Uh, no. No, we’re not. It’s nice to help one another, but when we start leaving positive ratings when they are undeserved, we not only further dilute the entire review system and thereby reduce its effectiveness for both reader and author, but we also betray the trust of our readers. Let’s face it… sometimes a book isn’t that good. And if we huck a five-star review at said book, and our readers jump on it only to discover it’s more like a two-star novel… they’re going to think twice about trusting our judgment in the future.

So, I get it. We’re all human. We all get butthurt from time-to-time. Hell, it’s the hip thing to do now. Butthurt is the new black. But here’s the problem with butthurt.

It’s none of our readers’ business. They deserve to choose what they read without our extra baggage attached. And thus I have adopted what I’ll call Option Zero:

No ratings or reviews.

It is my humble opinion that reviews ought to be the sole purview of readers… not the authors. They’re the only ones equipped to render an honest review without having to coddle the admittedly fragile egos of their fellow writers. We authors don’t have that option. We’re always going to consider how every word we say publicly will affect our careers (if we’re smart, anyway).

And I do understand that authors are also readers. But we aren’t “strictly” readers. We have considerations that filter what we say. Why not leave the ratings to the ones we’re really trying to sell to, and help our fellow authors out in other ways.

So how can we help one another out without violating Option Zero? We can share one another’s news and release events and cover reveals and any other kind of bias-free announcements. We can grant honest input in private. We can offer words of encouragement, a shoulder to cry on, and a high five when needed. These are honest, constructive ways to benefit both the author community and the readership at large.

So much of our author branding has to do with honesty. Readers have very little time for pretense, misdirection, or our sewing circle nattering. I suggest that Option Zero helps to save the readers from all of that. That said, we truly do need reviews and star ratings from our readers. Let’s hand the ball off to them, and get back to writing new work for them to review!

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici | Freedigitalphotos.net

Interview with Sharon Bayliss – Destruction Blog Tour

Good morning, urban fantasy aficionados! I started this blog post with my hand one key to the right, and thought I was typing in French. For one glorious moment, I assumed that I had inherited some kind of alien mutant translating power, but realized my mistake. As I am now distraught over my own mediocrity, it’s time for an interview with Sharon Bayliss, author of the newly released Destruction.

~~~

 

JP: First off… give us your elevator pitch for Destruction.

 

SB: Destruction is a dark wizard family drama. When David’s missing children are found, they claim that their abuser had been a dark wizard.  He believes they use this fairy tale to cope with their trauma, until David discovers that dark magic is all too real.

 

JP: A father dealing with his children’s trauma… sounds like this is targeted for an adult reader, as opposed to Young Adult or even “New Adult.”

 

SB: Yes, that’s right. It’s just a regular old adult book. :) Although, the book is written in dual perspective between the father and his teenage son, so people used to YA will enjoy it too. I’m sure I’m offending the genre police with my odd blend.

 

JP: Did you find it challenging writing a POV from a male protagonist?

 

SB: No. I don’t like writing characters that are too much like me. I think my voice is stronger when I step outside of myself. Or, I have deeply seeded gender issues. Who knows? In any case, so far all my books have had male protagonists.

 

JP: Unlike high fantasy and far-reaching science fiction, urban fantasy benefits from a universe set in a world more similar to reality. What part of your world-building do you feel is the most unique versus other settings in the genre?

 

SB: As opposed to creating a detailed fantasy world, I worked very hard to make my setting as realistic as possible. In many ways, the story was based on the question, “If wizards were real, what would they be like?” My wizards are a reasonably normal family living in the U.S., so they do things like make jokes about Harry Potter and wonder how their magic fits in with their Christian upbringing. Although I love dramatic wand fights as much as the next guy, the magic in The December People Series is more subtle. It’s about bending the fates to the wizard’s will. If you want someone dead, you don’t just say, “avada kedavra.” A killing spell would cause your victim to get in a car accident or have a heart attack. My intention is to make the reader feel like these people could be their next door neighbors or their own family, and easily imagine how they could realistically blend with our real world.

 

JP: Let’s talk about your publisher, Curiosity Quills Press. How long have you been with them, and how would you describe your experience with this “hybrid” publisher?

 

SB: I actually signed my first book with Curiosity Quills Press almost two years ago! Whoa, time flies. I have certainly enjoyed working with them. They have a supportive, helpful network of authors, editors, and marketing types, and some kick-ass cover artists. I am proud to have a publisher that’s willing to invest in me and stand behind me and my stories.

 

JP: Destruction is the opening salvo in your December People series. How far along are you with sequels? Do you plot out entire overarching plot trajectories, or do you take these book-at-a-time?

 

SB: I’m currently writing book 3! Sometimes I can’t even believe it myself. Book one started out as a stand-alone, so I wasn’t thinking of larger plots at the time…until I started writing the end. I knew that there was no way I was stopping there! I loved my characters way too much.

 

However, for a while now I’ve known there would be four books in the series, one for each season. So, I have been working off a larger plot arc for the series. However, I only plan out major plot points. I leave the rest to the characters. I love just putting them in situations and see what they do. They always offer up surprises and plot twists I don’t expect. Sometimes I can’t stop writing because I want to see what happens next!

 

JP: So would you describe yourself as a “plotter” or a “pantser?”

 

SB: I’d describe myself as a “plontser”.

 

JP: As your series deals with morality and ambiguity, for my last question I’m going to toss a heavy philosophical grenade directly into your lap. How do you personally define “Evil?”

 

SB: Wow, that is a heavy question. Fortunately, I’ve had plenty of time to think about this while writing the series. If I had to define “evil,” I would say that it is any choice (an act or an inaction) that harms another person for selfish purposes. Obviously, that definition still includes a lot of gray and variation in severity. I believe there are some acts that are always evil regardless of situation or intent, like abuse, rape, and violence driven by hate, or anytime someone powerful knowingly harms someone less powerful just to see them suffer, as in bullying.

 

As you can probably guess from just a basic understanding of the story, The December People Series is intended to overtly defy the black and white conception of good and evil that you find in most traditional science fiction and fantasy. In the series…as in life…evil is about what you do, not who you are. And although some characters certainly do more evil than others, all of them are capable of both evil and of good, and you can expect them all to do a little bit of both, regardless of what type of wizard they are.

 

Thanks for the enjoyable interview!

~~~

On a personal note, I wanted to host Sharon during her blog tour because her universe is my particular brand of vodka… an urban fantasy that holds its cards close to the vest of reality as we know it. So, scoot on over and get your copy of Destruction.

 

Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:

~~~

David and his family plus Samantha stood in a circle around a small pile of unlit firewood in the backyard. They stood arranged by age: David, Amanda, Jude, Patrick, Xavier, Samantha, Emmy, Evangeline, and then of course, David again, all twice as thick with jackets and scarves. The air felt hard with cold, a determined cold that seeped through all of David’s layers. They held candles—but no matches—in their gloved hands. The family had gone through the house turning off lights. All of the lights. They even turned off the red lights glowing on electronics. They had unplugged the entire house. However, David could see easily. An orange haze of light peeked up from the trees. Millions of lights lit up the world all around them. Darkness didn’t exist in the middle of Houston.

As soon as they had managed to arrange themselves into a circle, the kids got quiet without David or Amanda instructing them to. Wizards standing in a circle felt significant to David. When they got in that position, they snapped into place. The air became denser around him and he was rooted to the spot, as if with extra gravity. But he didn’t feel confined. He felt powerful. He plugged into an energy source he didn’t even know existed. His fingers had an itchy, tingly feeling. He knew he could do magic.

The paper in Amanda’s hand crinkled loudly as she held it close to her face. She had done her research, which David found endearing and impressive. She had talked to Samantha and Evangeline and some of the witches Penelope’s mom knew, and had created a ritual designed specifically for them, as the matriarch of the family should. The matriarch of the family always directed group spell casting, because she understood her family’s magic, the purpose of each family member, and knew how to keep them in balance—a tall order, since Amanda didn’t know much about some of the newest members of her family and knew even less about magic. But, David had never known Amanda to say she couldn’t do anything, so why start now?

Amanda owning this task shocked the kids, but not David. He knew her better than anyone did. Thus, he knew her mind and the rest of her often disagreed. Her left brain dug her feet into the ground and wouldn’t budge. That part of her would say things such as, “We’re not practicing magic,” and “We’re divorced,” until kingdom come. She would say it. She’d believe it. And she’d do the opposite, because occasionally the parts of her not governed by her left brain would break free. David may not be able to sway the left-brain side of her, but he could influence her other side, and he thought that maybe he had actually convinced her of something, for once.

And, part of Amanda had really wanted to be convinced, because wizards stayed wizards, no matter how many years they’d been indoctrinated otherwise. They listened to forces that had nothing to do with logic or reason, making them stupid, reckless, destructive, and exciting. And they liked to play with fire. Literally and figuratively.

“How I am supposed to read this in the dark?” Amanda asked. “How do people do this?”

“You’re supposed to have it memorized,” Evangeline said.

“Your eyesight is terrible,” David said. “Let me see it.”

She thrust the paper out of his reach. “Back off.”

“Why don’t you just let Evangeline or Samantha speak?” David said. “I’m sure they have some stuff memorized.”

“No,” Amanda said. “It’s supposed to be me. My words.” Amanda let out a shivery sigh. “I’m sorry. I know I’m not supposed to do this.” She took her phone out of her pocket and turned it on. She illuminated her paper with the dim blue light.

“First we honor the darkness,

For in darkness, our eyes are not distracted by the flash and flare of Mundane sights

So, only in darkness can we truly see.

In the silence of the deepest night, our ears are not assaulted by Mundane sounds

So, only in darkness can we truly hear.

In darkness, we are unable to see danger and are rendered vulnerable

So, only in darkness can we truly feel.

We do not believe that light exists in spite of darkness. We believe that light exists because of it.

Darkness is the only fertile ground for light. It is the only garden where light can be sown.

So, now we experience the darkness. Use this time in the dark and quiet to use your deeper senses. Experience what you are called to experience. The answers wait for you in the darkness. Do not deny them.”

And then, she fell silent.

David couldn’t hear the cars on the highway anymore. He couldn’t hear the music playing down the street. He could hear only the breathing of the others in the circle. And the sky…the orange haze disappeared and the sky reminded David of the one over Big Bend. Millions of stars set against a perfect pitch black. The moon cast a crisp, blue light on the scene. With her words, or perhaps with some other magic deeper than words, she had called the darkness. David pictured it as a bubble around them.

The quiet didn’t feel as awkward as David would have expected. No one giggled or even coughed or sighed. His lungs felt larger. He could breathe. This darkness didn’t feel frightening. In fact, David couldn’t remember ever feeling so safe. The darkness was the foundation that everything else was built on. The garden where the universe grew. The simplest, most basic thing in existence. And it was spectacular.

He supposed that was the answer that waited for him. That darkness in itself was not evil. Darkness was peace. Potential. Home.

 

 

 

How the Stars Have Become My Church

I was sitting out by the fire pit on my backyard patio with my wife the other day, warming my knees against the flickering flames and staring up at the starry sky above. We noted a couple bright spots above us and whipped out our smart phone night sky apps (because we’re ENORMOUS geeks like that) to find out those spots were Jupiter and Mars. The following night I pulled my son’s telescope out of the basement and zeroed in on the two planets. As I got the disk of Jupiter locked in, I kept bouncing back and forth between the magnified image and the bare-eye view. The sense of scale landed for the barest moment… that point in the sky, that sphere in the eyeglass… that’s a real planet right there. A neighbor. A particularly large and impressive-looking neighbor.

I had a moment.

It was a similar moment as when I first visited the Lincoln Memorial and gazed up at the huge sculpture of the Great Emancipator. I was temporarily staggered, as if I had touched a moment of Truth.

Which brings me to another conversation I had recently with my mother-in-law, in which we discussed religion and science. Lately I’ve been catching up on Cosmos, the Seth MacFarlane-produced homage to the original Carl Sagan television program. This generation is hosted by Sagan’s heir-apparent, Neil DeGrasse Tyson… a man who had already garnered my six-year-old’s respect from Nova Science Now. Cosmos is an outstanding show… I highly recommend it.

That said, there’s a group of people online… a highly vocal group… who have come out against Cosmos with all the venom they can muster. Why are these people so angry? Because the program spent fifteen solid minutes deconstructing the notion of Intelligent Design. And that, my friends, was a declaration of war.

At least in their mind.

Why are certain people of certain specific faith systems so threatened by Cosmos? Or for that matter, the assertion of any scientific theory outside of the narrative they have constructed around their interpretation of religion? Why are science and faith seemingly mutually exclusive?

They aren’t, first of all. Let me just get that out of the way. It is my assertion that this false dichotomy of science and faith is serving to unravel some of the structure of our society. Why must we be forced to choose between evolution and Genesis, accepting one while aggressively rebuking the other? Why are we required to believe in one strictly-defined interpretation of Biblical Creation? Why do the fringe element snap their own spines while bending over backwards to prove their faith, when that very concept is a contradiction of terms?

Because people are confusing Truth with Fact. I know that’s something of an arbitrary semantical conceit, but let’s roll with it for a second. Science is the net understanding of the pursuit of observable fact in an attempt to better understand the Universe around us. Truth, if you’ll adopt my conceit, is when we attempt to discern our place in the Universe. Fact occurs all around us, and exists (to borrow Mr. Tyson’s words) whether we believe in them or not. Truth, on the other hand, exists solely in the human mind, and has a completely distinct purpose and appearance from person-to-person.

Many choose to believe in a higher power towards making sense of our place in the Universe. The Universe is pretty big. That’s a fact. How we respond to how very small we are when we have the kind of “moment of scale” I mentioned above? That’s the pursuit of Truth. If it soothes a person to embrace God, and therefore feel as if the Universe has embraced them, I can’t object.

Likewise, if a person chooses to revel in the dizzying moment of scale, sitting by a fire pit, looking up at constellations which are at the same time utterly familiar, yet ancient. Being light which spent millions of years to reach one’s eyes for that micro-second of observation… realizing that everything we see above us is a three-dimensional snapshot of eons… and taking comfort in the Fact as Truth rather than feeling small because of it? I contend this is no different than Church.

The names are different, but the feeling's the same.

The names are different, but the feeling’s the same.

It’s the human condition to resist insignificance. It’s written into our survival instincts. I’ve read recently that specific brain structures are different between atheists and theists… that we may not, in fact, have much choice in whether we believe in God or if we rely on an objective view of the Universe.

But do you know what we do have a choice in? Whether we fight over it. Whether we impose needless insignificance over one another based on a difference in the Truth we’ve adopted.

Now, I’ve been speaking from a position of atheism here, as evidenced by my capitalizing Universe the way one capitalizes God. I delight in Fact. I’ve also found a way to stitch together observable fact into an embracing Truth, and my sense of significance doesn’t suffer from a lack in the belief in a higher power. It’s taken me a long time to arrive at a place where I cease judging others because they deny observable fact, choosing to replace it with their Faith Narrative. I may not respect the Narrative, but I feel it’s my responsibility to make a place for the person if not that person’s Truth.

Because honestly most people don’t adhere to the false dichotomy. They have found a way to make room in their lives for faith without denying science. In the words of one person, “I just don’t worry about it.”

I’m choosing to devote myself more fully to the joy of that dizzying moment of scale; that sense of Wonder I had as a child when I discovered magnets and microscopes; that thick, intoxicating sense of discovery which draws out the hope and ideals from my chest and fills my mind with moments of magic, fear, elation, and satisfaction that pierces through the cynical brain of a modern adult.

That’s my Church.

Image credit: idea go|FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Cover Reveal – VIRTUAL IMMORTALITY by Matthew Cox

Greetings programs…

I have a sexy, sexy piece of art for your eager eyes this morning. Fellow Curiosity Quills author, Matthew Cox, has a cover reveal today for his forthcoming novel VIRTUAL IMMORTALITY.

Check it out, right….. here:

Virtual-Immortality-Print

A quick blurb about the book:

“Nina Duchenne walked away from a perfect life of wealth and ease to pursue a noble idea. Unfortunately, her hope of becoming a forensic investigator drowned in two years of mandatory street patrol. After one tragic night shatters her dream, she finds herself questioning the very nature of what it means to be alive.

Joey Dillon lives at the edge of a perpetual adrenaline rush. A self-styled cyber cowboy that chases thrills wherever he can find them, he is unconcerned with what will happen twenty minutes into the future. Lured into a dangerous region of cyberspace, he soon has the government of Mars trying to kill him. After fleeing to Earth, he takes refuge in places society has forgotten.

When two international agents threaten the security of West City, Nina gets command of the operation to stop them. Joey just wants to find his next meal. Voices from beyond the grave distract Nina from her pursuit, and send Joey on a mission to find out who is responsible. His suspicions lie grounded in reality while she hopes for something science cannot explain.

The spies prove more elusive than expected, convincing her they have help from a master hacker. Joey falls square in her sights with the fate of the entire West City, as well as Nina’s humanity, at risk.”

Keep your eyes peeled for this one!

On a personal note, this cover art has a specific tie-in to yours truly, but that’s news for a different day… and I’ll be posting about that in the coming days.

And on that bombshell, I’ll be checking back in with you voracious readers soon!

Cover Reveal for DESTRUCTION by Sharon Bayliss

Howdy, dark fantasy readers!

One of my fellow Curiosity Quills authors, Sharon Bayliss, is set to release her latest novel, DESTRUCTION, on April 14th. Today she unleashes the glory of her novel cover upon the world.

No Ashton Kutchers were harmed in the making of this book cover.

No Ashton Kutchers were harmed in the making of this book cover.

Here’s a message from Sharon Bayliss:

“The butterfly will show up on the cover of all four books in the series, as a symbol of redemption, hope, and re-birth. Despite the dark themes in the series, I believe that the most important themes of the series are hopeful ones, such as love, family, and triumph against adversity, which is why the butterfly is in the center.

The broken glass surrounding the butterfly rather obviously symbolizes the concept of destruction, which is also a central theme. The title Destruction refers to the fact that dark magic is inherently destructive, but also refers to how a person can be destroyed, in body or soul.

One thing I was sure of, I wanted the word, Destruction, to be in ‘pretty’ letters. I loved the contrast of having a dark and violent word look beautiful. This also fits the theme, as I wish to show the beauty in darkness and destruction, and the good in people who are supposed to be evil.”

Inherently destructive magic… sounds familiar! Want to know more? Here’s the blurb…

“David Vandergraff wants to be a good man. He goes to church every Sunday, keeps his lawn trim and green, and loves his wife and kids more than anything. Unfortunately, being a dark wizard isn’t a choice.

Eleven years ago, David’s secret second family went missing. When his two lost children are finally found, he learns they suffered years of unthinkable abuse. Ready to make things right, David brings the kids home even though it could mean losing the wife he can’t imagine living without.

Keeping his life together becomes harder when the new children claim to be dark wizards. David believes they use this fantasy to cope with their trauma. Until, David’s wife admits a secret of her own—she is a dark wizard too, as is David, and all of their children.

Now, David must parent two hurting children from a dark world he doesn’t understand and keep his family from falling apart. All while dealing with the realization that everyone he loves, including himself, may be evil.”

If you’re an urban fantasy/dark fantasy reader, and this sounds like your particular brand of vodka, let her know. She’s looking for reviewers and blog hosts for her book release event. Have some time and are interested in an ARC? Got some blog space and have an interest in making a stop for her blog tour? You can contact her HERE. I recommend that you require a bribe of Girl Scout cookies. Thin mints, or samoas in a pinch. Tagalongs are for chumps.