Wednesday 29 July 2009

Things Quest Stories Don't Mention About Hiking in Mountains

Last year I did the last 140km of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage in Spain. This stretch starts in the mountains from which you gradually descend to reach the city. Here are a few things I learned from hiking farther in a shorter period than any sane person should. I started light, about 8 km the first day. The second I walked 27. My hardest day was the third, at 35 km, after which the distances to my hostels got shorter 25, 25 & 20 km. Or thereabouts. Now, I'm a fairly fit person. At the time I worked 4 days a week, walking around the store for 8 hours. I also walked to the grocery store, library, friend's houses, etc. And some of those trips could take upwards of an hour - each way. But as 'prepared' as I thought I was, the real deal - walking all day for several days - is different. Here are some things I learned.

1. Blisters come. They're formed by a mixture of heat and friction (ie, if your shoes aren't on tight enough). And they make walking painful.
2. The path crosses little rivults of water all over the place - not rivers or creeks, but rivults of water from rain/ice melt that flow straight down the mountain. This can make the path slippery and you wouldn't want to camp near them.
3. It's cold. I was there in May and we had snow. A blanket under the stars won't cut it when it comes to keeping yourself warm. I was in a building with a sleeping bag and I froze.
4. Carrying food and water makes your bag heavy. You'll unburden yourself of things you packed and REALLY don't need. And you'll discover pretty quickly what things you do and don't need.
5. After several hours of straight walking your feet KILL. Resting for an hour won't help that, it will simply dull the pain for a while. After a day or two sleeping won't dull the pain either. It waits for you to try walking again and then jumps out at you. At that point, the first 10-15 minutes are hellish, after that you almost don't notice the pain - until you sit down again.
6. Not every watering hole has clean drinkable water. And the consequences of drinking unclean water can last for days (luckily I didn't experience this myself though I did come across others who did, and I found a well where the water tasted too metallic to drink safely).
7. (Which is really just a side point of #5) If you start walking at 7am and only take short breaks you can cover 35 km by 4pm - provided you walk quickly (on city streets I can cover 1 km in 10 minutes). Note - though there's still daylight, you'll be in too much pain to walk any further unless someone's trying to kill you, and even then it might not be worth it. By the time I reached Santiago though, the pain had lessened. So maybe seeing a 'learning curve' in fantasy quests would be worthwhile.
8. The more days you walk the less inclined you are to wake up early and start walking again (because you'll be tired and hurting).
9. The more days you walk the more time it takes to cover the same distance. You won't be going as fast the more your feet hurt - but you'll learn the 'one foot in front of the other' chant that keeps you moving, even when you don't want to move anymore.
10. When you get to your nightly destination you'll be too tired to move. Even things as necessary as eating and showering don't seem that important to the all powerful desire to SIT and not move.
11. Gulping water only makes you more thirsty. Take a sip, swish the water around in your mouth, swallow and then take a second sip. This moistens your mouth and makes it seem like you drank more. (Ie, your mouth won't feel dry the way it will if you simply sip or gulp the water.)
12. You can pass all sorts of terrain - from mountainsides, to swampland to one street villages all within a few hours. And shepherds still exist.
13. Hiking in the rain is unpleasant. But so is hiking in heat (due to sweat and blisters), and cold (because parts of you will be hot and other parts freezing).

I'll be incorporating some of this knowledge into my own fantasy writing, and wanted to throw it out there in case others had the idea of making their quests a little more realistic (without wanting to actually go on a quest themselves).

If anyone has questions about my experience, feel free to ask.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Tony Ballantyne - Author Interview


Twisted Metal


> Pitch your latest novel

The robot inhabitants of the planet Penrose take a piece of wire and twist it into a mind. As the sole intelligent inhabitants of the planet, they seek out metal to make children, and, when resources are short, they fight for it. Twisted Metal follows the robots of the State of Artemis as they seek to control the entire planet. It is the story of robots that are capable of thought, creativity and emotion, and of anger, hatred and irrationality, each with a mind made up of nothing more than a piece of metal
twisted into shape by his or her mother.

> What are your favourite three books?

Diana Wynne Jones, Fire and Hemlock
J.L. Carr A Month in the Country
and just about anything by Pat Mills.

> What character is most like you?

Kavan, as both of us plan to lead robot armies across the surface of the planet, conquering all who stand in our way. Also we both wear shabby, inconspicuous bodies.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?


> If you could live in your fantasy/sf world, would you? Would you live in somebody else’s?

It depends. Obviously, there would need to be good transport links so we could get back to visit relatives, and a decent school nearby for the kids. Oh, and a reciprocal health insurance arrangement with the UK would also be a plus.

> What is your university degree in?

Maths. Or Math if you prefer.

> Do you think it is easier to write fantasy or science fiction?

I'd probably say fantasy, but that's because I've never really written that much. As they say, everything seems easy until you try it.

> When and where do you write?

I write either at my desk (my preferred workplace) or on a laptop. I write whenever I get the chance...

> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

The best thing is that you release the pressure of whatever it is that builds up inside you that forces you to write. The worse thing is the point when you are proof reading a novel for what seems like the thirtieth time.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Three things. 1) Keep practicing, you get better the more you write. 2) Keep submitting, people who give up after one rejection are not writers. 3) Join a writers group. Writers need feedback.

> Any tips against writers block?

Keep yourself in shape by writing short stories, but always have a novel on the go at the same time. If you're blocked on one, you can always turn to the other. Also, I find the more I write, the more ideas I get.

Friday 17 July 2009

"Literary" Vampire Novel Reading List

Like all my reading lists, this one is not meant to be comprehensive, it's just to make you aware of new titles. I chose books that were (for the most part) older and considered 'literature' rather than 'horror' or 'urban fantasy'. And no, Dracula's not on it, though it's the quintessential vampire book. I figure everyone knows that one. My thanks to my co-worker, Morticia, who advised me of several of the older titles on this list.

As a side note, there's a Stoker family approved sequel to Dracula coming out in October: Dracula the Undead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt. Not to be confused with a second Dracula the Undead coming out in December by Freda Warrington.

Here's the list in no particular order:

The Vampyre - John Polidori
Carmilla - Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Flowers of Evil - Charles Baudelaire (poem)
Anno Dracula, The Bloodry Red Baron, Dracula Cha Cha Cha - Kim Newman
The Vampyre, Supping with Panthers, Deliver us from Evil - Tom Holland
Society of S, Year of Disappearances - Susan Hubbard
Vlad: the Last Confession - C.C. Humphreys
The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova
Fat White Vampire Blues, Bride of the Fat White Vampire - Andrew Fox
Let the Right One In - John Ajvide Lindqvist
Nymphos of Rocky Flats, X-Rated Bloodsuckers, Undead Kamasutra, Jailbait Zombie - Mario Acevedo
Bloodsucking Fiends, You Suck - Christopher Moore
Touched by a Vampire - Mallory Hoffman
Vampire Vow, Vampire Thrall, Vampire Transgression - Michael Schiefelbein
Secret Life of Laszlo, Count Dracula - Roderick Anscombe
Vamped - David Sosnowski
Vampires of Hollywood - Adrienne Barbeau & Michael Scott
The Hunger - Whitley Streiber
Fever Dream - George R.R. Martin
Agyar - Steven Brust
Sunshine - Robin McKinley
Already Dead, No Dominion, Half the Blood of Brooklyn, Every Last Drop - Charlie Huston

As a bonus, here are some new urban fantasy and horror novels involving vampires you may not have heard of yet:

Bloody Good, Bloody Awful - Georgia Evans
The Last Vampire, Vampire Agent - Patricia Rosemoor & Marc Paoletti
The Betrayal - Pati Nagle (regular fantasy)
Wicked Game - Jeri Smith-Ready
Dying Bites - D.D. Barant
Staked, Revamped - J.F. Lewis
Skinwalker - Faith Hunter
Once Bitten, Twice Shy; Another One Bites the Dust; Biting the Bullet; Bitten to Death; One More Bite - Jennifer Rardin
Vicious Circle - Linda Robertson

Friday 10 July 2009

Leviathan - Book Review

For readers 12 and up who want some fantastic elements to make their history more palatable, there's Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, coming out in October of this year. It's an alternative history steampunk, a sub-genre that is becoming very popular.

The book begins with two characters in very different circumstances. One is a girl, dressing up a boy, in order to join the British airforce. The other, Alek, is an Austro-Hungarian prince who's just been orphaned. The death of his parents sparks a war (World War I) and that's when things get interesting.

The book shows many different things. There's the ideological differences of nations (Germany & Austro-Hungary on one side, France, England and Russia on the other) and religious/technical differences (Darwinists vs 'Clankers' - those who use machines). The Darwinists have created creatures from the lifethreads of various animals to perform jobs that machines do in nations that consider such tinkering abominable.

Scott Westerfeld does a great job of realizing the steampunk machines on one side of the war as well as the more interesting 'beasties' on the other. My only complaint here is that the description of the airship Leviathan isn't as detailed as I would have liked. It was hard for me to picture some of the aspects of the beast. Maybe a cross-section diagram of the ship would have helped in this respect.

Speaking of diagrams, the gorgeous artwork throughout the book by Keith Thompson really brings the story to life. Seeing the beasties, the mechanical walker and the characters helps one better enter this world.

Beyond that, the story was tight and fast paced, though I found Alek a little tiresome as the book wore on. He never seemed to learn from his mistakes - always acting first and thinking later. Which isn't out of character as he's only 15. As an adult I simply wanted him to smarten up a bit.

Be prepared to wait for the sequal. This is a great beginning, explaining the background to the war, the people and all of the technologies involved. There's definitely more to come.

And the coup de grace? Westerfeld has an afterward explaining the actual history vs his imagined one - so kids can have a fun story and learn what was true and what wasn't. And it's an interesting mix.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

From Publishers to Bookstores

As a bookseller I get an insider's perspective on several aspects of the book industry through publisher previews, book expos and newsletters.  But I'm constantly learning new things about the industry.  For those of you who are like me and are interested in how publisher's get books into the chain stores (including co-ops, etc) check out literary agent Nathan Bransford's blog. His guest blogger, Eric, shares a lot of otherwise 'privileged' information - from the publisher's point of view, something you don't see often enough. He's also answering questions in the comments.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

The Adamantine Palace Book Review

The Adamantine Palace, by Stephen Deas is a novel full of plots, poison and dragons. Part of the fun of the novel is trying to figure out who is betraying whom and why. With some characters double crossing their partners, it's not clear until the very end what everyone's goals are.

Though all of the characters had logical reasons for their actions, I found it hard to like any of them and cheer them towards their goals. There was no 'good' character. Just a bunch of people trying to achieve something. Normally that would kill a book for me (I like at least one person I can empathize with). But Mr. Deas has created such an intriguing set of plot twists that I couldn't stop reading. Is Jehal really poisoning his father? Is Hyram going to honour his clan's agreement to make Queen Shezira the next speaker (and thereby ruler of the Nine Realms)? Who attacked the white dragon's entourage and what happened to it? Who are the mysterious Taiytakei people and what do they want? And what's in the bottle the sellswords Kemir and Sollos stop a group of dragon knights from selling in the prologue of the book?

It reads like a Joe Abercrombie novel, only with less swearing and fighting and more political scheming. The book does end in a way that suggests there will be a lot more warfare in the sequel.

Well written, often surprising, and definitely worth picking up.

Thursday 2 July 2009

Faith Hunter - Author Interview






Q. Pitch your latest novel, the first of your new series.

A. Jane Yellowrock is the last of her kind—a skinwalker of Cherokee descent who can transform into any creature if she has sufficient genetic material, and hunts rogue vampires for a living. She’s hired by the vampire council of New Orleans and Katherine Fontaneau, one of the oldest vampires in New Orleans and the madam of Katies’s Ladies, to bring down a powerful rogue vampire who’s hunting and killing other vamps, tourists and the local cops. Amidst a bordello full of real “ladies of the night,” and a hot Cajun biker with a panther tattoo who stirs her carnal desire, Jane must stay focused and complete her mission—or else the next skin she’ll need to save just may be her own…

Q. What are your favorite three books?

A. I read a *lot,* so my faves are always changing. Right now, my current faves are: White Witch, Black Curse by Kim Harrison, Turn Coat by Jim Butcher, Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris. Love these worlds!

Q. In the books you’ve written, who is your favorite character and why?

A. I totally love Jane Yellowrock. She is tough, gentle, in control of her life (well most of the time) and can dance, fight, and rides a wicked Harley! Jane hunts down rogue vampires when they go insane (which seems to be happening more, lately, in her world) and brings them down. And she has another soul within her, her Beast, who has ideas of her own.

Q. If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

A. Nope. I love to whitewater kayak, and so far, none of my characters do! Hmmm. I need to write a kayaking fantasy novel! I do, however, love Jane Yellowrock’s friends. I’d take them in a heartbeat!

Q. If you could live in your fantasy/sf world, would you?

A. Yes! I’d love the world of Skinwalker. Jane is my kinda gal, and her pals are sooo…interesting, sexy, scary, magical. Of course, her enemies are equally interesting, sexy, scary and magical, and some are not quite sane. Maybe I’ll stay home and a read a good book…

Q. What was the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

A. I wrote an as-yet-unpublished novel 20 years ago. I am currently rewriting it, and with what I’ve learned, perhaps now I’ll find a pub. But it doesn’t have a name!

Q. What was the hardest scene for you to write?

A. Sex. I always have trouble writing sex scenes. My mind constantly is asking: Is it too graphic? Is it too bland? Is it done to death? Do my characters have too many hands? Is it physically possible???? Sigh… So I usually throw out the sex scenes. The few I do keep are hot!

Q. What is the strangest question you have ever been asked by a fan?

A. “Can you see my mother?” On the surface, it was an innocent question. But her eyes were asking something much deeper, and darker, and needy. I discovered that her mother had died years before, and she couldn’t let her mom go. She wanted her mother to be standing right behind her, a guardian angel. Because I’ve seen some things that reside outside the physical human world, she hoped I could see her mother. And no…her mother wasn’t there.

Q. What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you’ve attended and why?

A. I totally love ConCarolinas. It is a small con, only 1,000 people, but it gives a writer a chance to really meet and get to know fans. And the writers gather each night in the bar and chat, which is really nice!

Q. If you still have one, what’s your day job?

A. I work in a hospital laboratory two days a week, for 16 hours each day. I could quit, but I need several things in my life that I can’t get anywhere else. 1. Benefits. 2. The opportunity to help people. 3. Science that is pretty cutting edge. 4. Away from the current story. My minds needs a break sometimes, and when I return, I am focused and ready to write.

Q. Do you think it is easier to write fantasy or science fiction?

A. Fantasy, hands down! Sci-Fi is awfully binding and my future-science is somewhat lacking.

Q. When and where do you write?

A. Five days a week, eight to ten hours a day. I have a writing room that looks out over woods and a creek and I tend to get distracted with the wildlife!

Q. What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

A. It isn’t an editor’s or agent’s job to tell me what is wrong with my book so I can sell it—unless they intend to buy it. They just don’t have time to be nice for free.

Q. Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

A. I have a writing blog with three other writers. Come to and see what we do. It’s fun and you’ll learn a lot!

Q. How many rejection letters did you get for your fist novel or story?

A. That would be the one I am currently rewriting, from 20 years ago. I have no idea. I kept only the interesting ones and I have about a hundred of them. But I really believe it will be published one day!

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming in August 2009


Jasmyn – Alex Bell
The Return – Ben Bova
The Child Thief – Brom
A Princess of Landover – Terry Brooks
The World of Shannara – Terry Brooks
Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Abyss – Troy Denning
Consorts of Heaven – Jaine Fenn
Grandville Gazette V – Eric Flint
Land of the Dead – Thomas Harlan
The Winds of Dune – Brian Herbert & Kevin Anderson
Prospero Lost – L.J. Lamplighter
Nine Gates – Jane Lindskold
Nights of Villjamur – Marc Charan Newton
Flight of the Renshai – Mikey Reichert
Vanished – Kat Richardson
The Sheriff of Yrnameer – Michael Rubens
The Dame – R.A. Salvatore
The Sunless Countries – Karl Schroeder
Hitler's War – Harry Turtledove
Elfland – Freda Warrington
Dragon Lance: Dragons of the Hourglass Mage – Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman
Order in Chaos – Jack Whyte
Ace of Skulls – Chris Wooding
Forgotten Realms: Dragon War – James Wyatt

Trade Paperback

Mammoth Book of Mind-Blowing Science Fiction – Mike Ashley, Ed.
City at the End of Time – Greg Bear
Magic Kingdom of Landover, vol 1 – Terry Brooks (reprint)
Magic Kingdom of Landover, vol 2 – Terry Brooks (reprint)
Five Hundred Years After – Steven Brust
The Last Theorem – Arthur Clarke & Frederik Pohl
Belisarius III: The Flames of Sunset – Eric Flint
The Path of Razors – Chris Green
The Red Tree – Caitlin Kiernan
Star Trek: SCE: Out of the Cocoon – Willian Leisner
Republic of Thieves – Scott Lynch
The Storm Witch – Violette Malan
Cold Kiss of Death – Suzanne McLeod
Beowulf's Children – Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle & Steven Barnes
Haunting Beauty – Erin Quinn
Necrophenia – Robert Rankin
Toxic Planet – David Ratte
Bleak History – John Shirley
Spider-touched – Jory Strong
Wolfbreed – S. Andrew Swann

Mass Market Paperback

Bitter Angels – C.L. Anderson
Penumbra – Kerri Arthur
Merlin's Dragon – T.A. Barron
Harmony – C.E. Bentley
Ariel – Steven Boyett
Hunting Ground – Patricia Briggs
High King's Tomb – Kristen Britain
Watermind – M.M. Buckner
Cape Storm – Rachel Caine
Patriots – David Drake
Eifelheim – Michael Flynn
Quofum – Alan Dean Foster
EVE: The Empyrean – Tony Gonzales
Paul of Dune – Brian Herbert & Kevin Anderson
The Internal Darkness – Kevin Hosey
Conan the Destroyer – Robert Jordan
Forgotten Realms: The Edge of Chaos – Jak Koke
War Hammer 40K: Salamander – Nick Kyme
The Phoenix Endangered – Mercedes Lackey & James Mallory
War Hammer 40K: Empire – Graham McNeill
Heroes at Risk – Moira Moore
In the Blood – Adrian Phoenix
Exile - - & Glory – Jerry Pournelle
Another One Bites the Dust – Jennifer Rardin
Underground – Kat Richardson
Very Hard Choices – Spider Robinson
Redemption Alley – Lilith Saintcrow
Fortune & Fate – Sharon Shinn
Retribution – Jeanne Stein
Dragons & Dwarves – S. Andrew Swann
Heardland – Mark Teppo
Crystal Healer – S.L. Veihl
The Summer Palace – Lawrence Watt-Evans
Decay Inevitable – Conrad Williams
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed – Sean Williams