Wednesday 29 February 2012

Science Fiction and Fantasy Events in Toronto, March 2012

These events are from the science fiction & fantasy calendar I run.  If you have an event that's not listed, email me ( and I'll put it on the calendar and add it here.  While I try to get the details correct, always check the links to confirm event information. I'll be updating this post as I learn of more events.

Thursday March 1

Dr Who Information Network (DWIN) Pub Night

There is a regular Doctor Who Tavern/Pub gathering in Toronto on the first Thursday of each month
Where: Paupers Pub, 539 Bloor Street West (near Bathurst). We meet up at the back near the dartboards.
When: People usually start to arrive around 8:00pm.

Saturday March 10 to Sunday March 11 


Where: Metro Toronto Convention Centre, South building hall F & G
(222 Bremner Blvd.)

When: 11 - 6
Cost: $20 single day / $30 weekend

Tuesday March 13 

George R. R. Martin Signing copies of his book A Dance With Dragons.

Where: , Indigo, 55 Bloor W, Toronto
When: 7 pm
Admission: Free

Wednesday March 14

Chiaroscuro Reading Series Presents Andrew Pyper, Alyxandra Harvey & David Clink!

Where: Augusta House (152 Augusta Avenue)
When: 8 pm - 11 pm

Andrew Pyper was born in Stratford, Ontario in 1968. He is the author of Kiss Me, a collection of short stories, as well as the five novels to date (Lost Girls, The Trade Mission, The Wildfire Season, The Killing Circle, and The Guardians). Lost Girls was an international bestseller, and is currently in development for a feature film adaptation. His new novel, The Demonologist, will be published internationally in late 2012 and early 2013. Andrew Pyper lives in Toronto.
Alyxandra Harvey lives in Ontario, Canada. She studied Creative Writing and Literature at York University and has had her poetry published in magazines like The Antigonish Review, Room of One’s Own, OnSpec and CV2. When not writing, she is a bellydancer and jewellery maker. She has published a number of vampire novels including My Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Feud, Out for Blood, and Haunting Violent. In Stolen Away, published by Bloomsbury in March 2012, Alyxandra Harvey enters the world of faery in another irresistible dark romance.
David Clink is the Board President of the Rowers Pub Reading Series. David’s poetry has appeared in The Antigonish Review, The Dalhousie Review, The Fiddlehead, Grain Magazine, The Literary Review of Canada, and in over ten anthologies. He is a member of three writing groups. He was co-publisher, along with Myna Wallin, of Believe Your Own Press, which published twenty quality chapbooks in its five year history. His poem, “Falling” was nominated for two awards: the Rhysling Award and the Aurora Award. His poem, “Copyright Notice 2525” placed second in the 2007 Asimov’s Reader’s Poll. His first book of poetry, Eating Fruit Out of Season was published by Tightrope Books in 2008.  He edited the poetry anthology A Verdant Green (Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2010). His second book, Monster, from Tightrope Books, was released in Fall 2010. His third collection of poetry, Crouching Yak, Hidden Emu will be published this Fall from the Battered Silicon Dispatch Box.

Sunday March 18 

Space-Time Continuum SFF Discussion Group

Where: Bakka Phoenix Books, 84 Harbord Street
When: 1 pm
Topic: The Aleph short story By Jorge Luis Borges in Ficciones

Thursday March 22

Launch party for Leah Bobet's novel ABOVE!

Where: Hotel Ocho (195 Spadina Ave)

When: 8pm - 2 am

Yes, people: it's time for the best part of the writing process.

The party.

Join Bakka-Phoenix Books, Scholastic Canada, and author Leah Bobet on Thursday, March 22 for a night of reading, chatter, cocktails, snacks, tunes, and fabulousness to launch her debut novel, ABOVE. Three-piece suits encouraged; spirit of adventure mandatory!
Matthew has loved Ariel from the moment he found her in the tunnels, her bee's wings falling away. They live in Safe, an underground refuge for those fleeing the city Above—like Whisper, who speaks to ghosts, and Jack Flash, who can shoot lightning from his fingers.

But one terrifying night, an old enemy invades Safe with an army of shadows, and only Matthew, Ariel, and a few friends escape to the world he knows as Above—the streets of downtown Toronto. As Matthew unravels the mystery of Safe's history and the shadows' attack, he realizes he must find a way to remake his home—not just for himself, but for Ariel, who needs him more than ever before.

"ABOVE pulls off that rare trick of being convincing and utterly magical at the same time." - Emma Donoghue, NYT bestselling author of ROOM

"Leah Bobet's ABOVE is that rarest of creatures, combining the outspoken honesty of a good first novel with the craft of a seasoned professional." - Elizabeth Bear, Hugo Award-winning author of DUST
Doors at 8:00 pm; stay until you're tired, or happy, or in love. Look forward to seeing every one of you!

Tuesday 28 February 2012

Books Received February 2012

Last month's format of linking to the plot synopsis rather than telling it here seemed to work well, so I'm going to use that from now on when my lists get long.

Count to a Trillion - John Wright (space opera)
Arctic Rising - Tobias Buckell (climate change disaster)
Swipe - Evan Angler (dystopian)

The Alchemist of Souls - Anne Lyle (Tudor age swordsman)
Grave Mercy - Robin LaFevers (Assassin and handmaiden to Death)
The Man From Primrose Lane - James Renner (crime fiction for 231 pages, then SF)  I've read this one already and, while it's got some gruesome moments, the ending is absolutely brilliant.  I'll be posting my review soon.

The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating-Heart Cadavers -- How Medicine is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death - Dick Teresi. (non-fiction)
The Allow of Law - Brandon Sanderson, audiobook read by Michael Kramer (see my review here)
Halo: Glasslands - Karen Traviss, audiobook read by Euan Morton

How Firm a Foundation - David Weber, audiobook read by Charles Keating
The Thirteen Hallows - Michael Scott and Colette Freedman, audiobook read by Kate Reading
Shadows in Flight - Orson Scott Card, audiobook read by Stefan Rudnicki and Cast

Monday 27 February 2012

Ebook Review: Synthetic Dreams by Kim Knox

Pros: good pacing, tense moments, intricate plot, hot romance

Cons: limited worldbuilding, stereotypical characters

Vynessa Somerton grew up in N-District, a privileged member of society, who fell from grace for selling illegal glamor.  Now she lives in S-District and struggles to survive.  When the government starts vanishing other highly skilled programmers, she discovers she has a protector, an incredibly handsome man, who wants her to save his brother, who vanished and was replaced 7 years earlier, in return for saving her life.

As a novella Synthetic Dreams is necessarily fast paced.  Once the action starts, it doesn't let up.  The romance is also fast, but doesn't feel forced, getting hot at times and maintaining a nice simmer throughout the action. 

The plot is intricate, with a series of revelations at the end you won't predict.  It's necessarily linear, with no deviations.  Even the romance serves to heighten the action rather than as a plot device itself.

While there are no info dumps, there is some stilted conversation as important information that the characters should already know is dealt to readers.  It's mostly unobtrusive, as the author does a good job of keeping these to one lines at a time.  The worldbuilding is unfortunately limited and makes the ending a little confusing, as the nature of the Halls and Tiers of the Mind are never fully explained.  Still, it's surprising how vividly Knox paints her world, given the limited description.

The characters don't have time to develop from stereotypes into three dimensional characters.  Vynessa has physical scars and low self-esteem when it comes to her attractiveness.  And while she's good with tech, she quickly realizes she needs Paul's help to survive what's coming for her.  Paul, meanwhile, is tall, dark and handsome with a perfect physique and the need to rescue his lady in distress. 

Negatives aside, given the length of the story you don't really notice the problems until after you're done.  Though the ending could have been slowed a bit so as to explain a few things more thoroughly, it was a quick, intelligent read.

Out today from Carina Press.

Sunday 26 February 2012

Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience

In preparation for seeing the show my husband and I watched all 8 Harry Potter films this past week.  It was a lot of fun and reminded me why I enjoyed the series so much.  Turned out to be unnecessary for enjoying Potted Potter, but I don't regret doing it.

Potted Potter was hilarious.  I haven't laughed so hard in ages.  It's a great performance by the two writers/performers, Daniel Clarkson and Jeff Tuner, and does tell the plots of all 7 books - if not all the surrounding fluff.  And their Quidditch match!  Honestly, if you liked the books or the movies and want a good laugh, it's a brilliant show.  There's a lot of audience interaction involved and it's kid friendly.  

As Once Upon a Bookshelf said in their review of the show, some of the jokes don't quite translate to Canada, but they actors rolled with it well when a joke didn't get the laughs they were expecting.  They also rolled well with unexpected occurrences, like when the young seeker they pulled from the audience brought the snitch down in an overly enthusiastic manner.

You can see an interview with Daniel and Jeff here that includes a few short clips from the performance.

Saturday 25 February 2012

Obama's Young Adult Novel Plan

A hilarious College Humor video about saving the US economy by making all Americans write bestselling YA novels.

Friday 24 February 2012

New Author Spotlight: Myke Cole

New Author Spotlight is a series designed to introduce authors with 3 books or less in the different SF/F subgenres.

Today's spotlight shines on Myke Cole!

Myke's debut novel is Shadow Ops: Control Point published by Ace.

Here's the cover copy...

Lieutenant Oscar Britton of the Supernatural Operations Corps has been trained to hunt down and take out people possessing magical powers. But when he starts manifesting powers of his own, the SOC revokes Oscar's government agent status to declare him public enemy number one.
Check out his book if you are a fan of high octane stories with super-powered characters, like these:

  • Those Who Walk in Darkness by John Ridley (Aspect)
  • Mind Storm by K.M. Ruiz (Thomas Dunne Books)
  • Blaze of Glory by Sheryl Nantus (Samhain Publishing)

Thursday 23 February 2012

Book Review: Mind Storm by K. M. Ruiz

Pros: lots of psionic action, complex post-apocalyptic world, political intrigue 

Cons: little character development, repetition

Roughly 250 years after the nuclear war that destroyed the world, humanity is still picking up the pieces.  DNA clean humans run the World Court, governments and businesses, while unregistered humans struggle to survive.  Out of the radiation fallout rose a new race, those with psionic abilities.  Those the government controls with an implanted kill switch are called the Strykers Syndicate.  They fight against unregistered psions and a well organized group called the Warhounds.

Nathan Serca is head of the Serca Syndicate and unknown to the World Court only one of two triad psions.  The other triad is his eldest, now renegade, son, Lucas.  For two years his other children have been unsuccessful in tracking and killing Lucas.  Nathan's patience is running out as important plans come to fruition.

Meanwhile Lucas is amassing a team of psions to help him with his own plans.

The action is plentiful and varied, showing the various powers off.  While relegated to a handful of powers (telepaths, telekinetics, teleporters, empaths, pyrokinetics, psychometrists, precognitives and elctrokinetics), the characters use their powers in creative ways.  The limit on their powers (the more they use them, the sooner they die) was a nice touch.  

Action scenes are offset by political intrigue between several groups of players, all of whom think they know everything that's going on, none of whom actually do.

The world is realistically complex and detailed: from the towers and bunkers where rich humans live to the slums of the poor and uninhabitable deadzones.  The characters are a mix of colours and nationalities, denoting the chaos and integration after the Border Wars.

Give the number of characters it's impressive that there was never any confusion as to who the reader is following at any given time.  Having said that, there's little opportunity to get to know characters, so the reader is constantly told things about each character with no opportunity to see the truth of these statements in their actions.  The book takes place over a short period of time, making character development a moot point.

As with James Knapp's Revivors trilogy, you have to pay close attention to what's going on.  Ruiz repeats several important points which, given your frame of mind, are either helpful or irritating over time.  Similarly, if you liked the action and spunk of Those Who Walk in Darkness by John Ridley, you'll love Mind Storm.

This is the first book of the series and is ultimately merely set-up for what comes next.  But what a set-up!

Like X-Men, only more brutal.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Female Armour Done Right

I was wandering the aisles looking at book covers a few days ago and it hit me how many books are getting female armour right nowadays.  Yes, there are still submissive covers and covers with highly impractical armour, but there's also a surprising number of covers with really good female armour.

Here are some examples I found for fantasy.  Notice how, though several of the women look sexy, they also look competent and are mostly covered by their armour, which is either metal or leather depending on the book.

And for military SF.  Sure, none of them are wearing helmets, but aside from the woman on the cover of Ragnarok (who has a headset and thereby might not get a helmet) it's easy to imagine them putting helmets on before heading off to the fight.  Whatever army outfitted these women so practically will have helmets for them too.

I found the military SF covers alternated showing women (and quite often men) in tank tops and in armour.  I can't imagine anyone going into battle wearing a tank top, so it's nice to see some properly outfitted women heading off to war.

If you want to see more pictures of good fantasy armour, check out Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor.  The guy who runs the site realizes that armour isn't entirely for practical purposes (something Una the Blade points out with regards to the often impractical armour worn by men in ages past).  For more information on what goes into making female fantasy armour, here's a post by an armorer.

And for anyone who hasn't seen this yet, because it's awesome, College Humor's "Female Armor Sucks".

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Audiobook Review: Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer

Pros: fantastic narration with individual voices, good pacing, lots of action and intrigue, highly visual

Cons: characters keep fighting despite serious injuries

Waxillium Ladrian has been called back to the metropolis of Elendel from the Roughs to take over his deceased uncle's business.  No longer accustomed to life in the city, after spending so much time as a law keeper in the Roughs, Waxillium tries to subvert his natural tendencies in order to be a good lord.  But those intentions fall away when the latest in a spree of robberies and kidnappings hit too close to home.  Joined by his former partner Wayne and a clever young woman studying law at the university, Wax is determined to solve this case.

Sanderson has created a fantastic world.  The Alloy of Law takes place some 300 years after his Mistborn trilogy, but you don't need to read that in order to enjoy this novel.  A cross between fantasy and western - with a little steampunk thrown in - it's helped usher in a new subgenre of fantasy (others that do the same thing would be Gemma Files's A Book of Tongues, Christine Cody's Bloodlands and Mike Resnick's Buntline Special).  The mythology is touched on briefly, but the real treat here is the 'magic' of Allomancy and Feruchemy, both ways to manipulate metals.  Wax is a twinborn, meaning he can do both forms of magic - using his metal minds he can manipulate his weight and as a coinshot he's able to push on steel.  These abilities, combined with a steady hand and sharp wits make him a formidable lawman.

Wayne acts as necessary comedic relief from Wax's melancholy and seriousness.  Wayne's abilities are to create a speed bubble in which time flows faster for him (allowing him to dodge bullets and have private conversations in a room full of people) and the ability to heal himself quickly, provided he has health built up (done by being sick for an equivalent amount of time in advance).

The audiobook narrator, Michael Kramer, does an amazing job.  Not only is the narration crisp and clear - properly enunciated and easy to follow - but he does voices too!  Each character, when speaking has their own individualized voice.  And Wayne, who uses disguises throughout the book, is voiced with various accents.  It's absolutely remarkable and made listening to the book such a pleasure.

The book is well paced, with downtime and action all culminating in a great showdown.  And so much of the story is easy to visualize.  When Wax flies through the mist in his billowing mistcoat, guns blazing...  This book would make a fantastic film.

The only real 'complaint' I had, was that Wax managed to keep fighting even when subject to multiple injuries.  Given that he has no healing abilities (unlike Wayne) it seemed a bit far fetched that getting shot wouldn't faze him beyond a little bit of pain.  But that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book at all.

If you want a different kind of fantasy, like westerns or just good storytelling, pick this one up.  It's the first in a series but wraps up nicely so if you don't feel like continuing you don't have to.  Though, the fantastic writing and fun characters will probably have you waiting impatiently for book two.


The last time I listened to an audiobook I was 16 on a road trip with my sister's family.  We listened to Embraced by the Light by Betty Eadie and Rainmaker by John Grisham.  I remember them being a good way of passing the time, even though I no longer remember much about the books themselves.

So when a publicist for Macmillan Audio contacted me, asking if I'd like to review some audiobooks, I wondered if I was qualified to do it and if I'd have the time to listen to a book (when I read I can speed up if I want or need to, but an audiobook requires a set time to get through).  After some thought I decided to give it a try.

Here are a few things I learned. 

Audiobooks require a fair amount of attention, so you have to choose your activities carefully.  I thought I could do some art projects and listen... yeah that didn't work out well.  Cooking worked better as long as I didn't have to measure ingredients.  Listening while doing the dishes was great as it's a purely mindless task.  My commute to work was the best as it was a decently long amount of time I could devote to the book and worked perfectly, aside from the noise of the subway entering the station, which drowned out the audio track if the volume wasn't as high as it could go. 

That wasn't the only noise that could drown out the track.  Walking to the library should have been a great opportunity to listen to a few chapters, but the noise of the cars - normally ignored - was so loud that at times I couldn't hear the audiobook at all.  I eventually realized I'd have to turn the volume up all the way - something I was resisting as I'd like to maintain my hearing into old age - if I wanted to hear the book over traffic.  I don't think we realize how loud our world is.  Either that or the earbuds I used somehow amplified outside noises at the same time it piped the book into my ears.

I also 'read' the book in a much more disjointed fashion than usual.  It was impossible to know when page breaks would occur, so stopping when I reached my destination or finished my task, involved waiting a moment or two until a sentence ended and then turning it off, regardless of where in the chapter I was.  The one time I got to the next audio chapter, it turned out to still be the middle of the scene so I had to turn it off.  The Alloy of Law - the book I chose - was great in this regard.  For the most part it was easy to turn off (until the climax, then I was a bit annoyed that I couldn't keep listening) and very easy to get back into when I turned it on again. 

I considered sitting in my 'reading chair' and listening to the audiobook, but decided against that as staring at the wall in the dark would result in an unscheduled nap rather than listening to the next few chapters.

I also had to watch it as I've trained myself to tune out music for the most part.  It only happened a few times, but I did have to rewind some tracks because my mind wandered and I missed something important.  I can't entirely blame the audiobook format for this as it happens enough when I'm reading, but it's pretty easy to tune out the audiobook so I had to remind myself to concentrate on the story when it was playing.

Another unexpected problem that I stumbled across half way through the book was the difficulty I'd face when reviewing it, in terms of getting character and place names spelled correctly.  In the end I copied down what I'd need from the physical book at work.  I also like being able to flip through the pages to find specific references, which of course I couldn't do with the audiobook.  On the other hand, I remember the text much more clearly than I sometimes do when reading.  As I was forced to pay attention to every word (whereas with reading you can skim over boring passages, etc.) I've retained a very clear image of the story and had little problem writing the review itself.

The Alloy of Law was such a success that I'm getting ready for my next audiobook review.  Now that I've learned a few tricks, the listening process should be easier.  Which is good, as my next book is more of a thriller and will probably not appreciate being stopped and started in odd places.

Sunday 19 February 2012

Gone Reading International

I heard about Gone Reading several months back and thought their mission was pretty awesome:

Gone Reading International, LLC was founded to bring the magic effect of reading and books to places where they don’t exist. We believe that when people have open access to great reading materials, life always changes for the better. When libraries and reading materials are made available, entire villages, communities and their citizens achieve unprecedented levels of self-sufficiency.

That’s why Gone Reading International donates 100% of after-tax profits to fund new reading libraries and other literacy projects in the developing world. By purchasing GoneReading brand gifts and merchandise, you’re treating yourself and the world at large to a wonderful gift. All purchases from GoneReading – from our book lights to our book club gifts – help contribute to our philanthropic work.
Gone Reading sells various book related products: book lights, bookmarks, book ends, book journals and t-shirts (men's and women's).  And for the next month, if you use this code: SCIFIFL25 you'll get 25% off your purchase of anything other than book ends (sorry if you only want the book ends).  They've also got free shipping for orders over $25 in the US.

Their designs are cheeky and fun and the products practical for the readers on your gift list.

You can read more of their mission statement here if you're curious who they donate the proceeds to.

Friday 17 February 2012

Author Interview: David Tallerman

Novel: Giant Thief

Lots of short stories, listed here.


> What is Giant Thief about? 

Giant Thief follows the misadventures of down-at-heel petty thief Easie Damasco, who's narrowly saved from hanging at the story's start only to be press-ganged into the army of the invading warlord Moaradrid - an army poised to do battle with Damasco's own countrymen.  Narrowly surviving the ensuing conflict, Damasco escapes by kidnapping a monosyllabic, homesick giant named Saltlick, who's been similarly forced into Moaradrid's service.  Soon both Damasco and Saltlick are on the run, and Damasco - who wants nothing more than to keep his own skin intact - finds himself drawn into a desperate resistance effort.

> Thieves are popular protagonists right now.  What makes yours different?

Truth be told, I didn't pay much to attention to what anyone else was doing when I was writing Giant Thief.  You can tie yourself in knots worrying about whether your story's too similar to what's popular, or whether you've gone too far the other way and written something there's no market for, but in the end, you can't control any of it.  So I'm ashamed to admit that, although I'm conscious there are some great books out right now with thieving protagonists, I haven't actually read any of them.

Funnily enough, though, the fantastic and much-better-read-than-me Adrian Tchaikovsky happened to sort of answer this very question on his blog, 
Shadows of the Apt.

> You've written a fantasy novel and a large number of short stories in several genres.  What is your favourite genre to work in and do you plan to write books in genres other than fantasy in the future?

I think Fantasy is my favourite, by a slight margin.  I'm starting to get a sense of the scope of it, the range of what can be done, and I'm thrilled by those possibilities.  Horror seems to come most naturally, which perhaps is a little worrying.  I wish I could be a great Science-fiction writer, I think a lot of my best short fiction is Sci-fi, but in the end I just don't know enough science to really go there.

But yes, I definitely hope to write novels in other genres.  The one I wrote between Giant Thief and its first sequel, Crown Thief, is mostly Horror with a little Science-fiction and a hefty dose of Crime thrown in.  The project I was planning when the Giant Thief deal came through is probably best described as Sci-Fantasy.

> Beyond the matter of length, do you find it easier writing short stories or novels?

A year ago, I'd have said short stories without hesitation.  Now, I think I'm definitely drifting towards novels.  More than either though, I've really gravitated to screenplays over the last year.  Screenplay writing is a lot of fun, especially when you're collaborating with another writer.  That's an interesting process, and something I hope to do more of.

> What made you want to be a writer?

I don't know that there was any one thing.  I suppose a love of books when I was growing up must have played a big part.  Ever since I was little, writing just seemed like a sound career choice.  I remember trying to write and illustrate a Pratchettesque fantasy novel in my early teens, although I think I only managed about four chapters.  When I was growing up I was always torn between writing and drawing, and I don't remember a time when I didn't think I'd end up doing one or the other.

I remember very clearly when I realised I seriously wanted to be a writer though.  I was living in a crummy bedside, doing a crummy, low paid job, and it finally struck me that I'd been in love with the idea of being a writer rather than the struggle of actually getting on and doing it for far too long.  I had to start making concrete steps towards making writing my life, and through that, my career.

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

No, I don't think so.  I'm pretty horrible to my characters as a rule.  Maybe, just maybe, Doc from the story Dancing in the Winter Rooms.  He ends up in kind of a hopeful place.  Then again, if I'd written on, something profoundly nasty would probably have happened to him.

> What's the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

Well strictly speaking, my first novel is Giant Thief.  But my first attempt at a novel length project that I actually finished - but that fell short by about five thousand words - was something called Omerta.  It took me six years or so, I think, and it's pretty awful.  There are bits and pieces in it that I like, but writing a Kafkaesque literary novel heavily influenced by the music of Leonard Cohen was probably never going to be a winner.  Looking back, though, the basic plot reads like the basis of a cracking Philip K Dick-style Sci-fi novel.  So who knows, it may be I'll go back to it one of these days.

> When and where do you write? 

Anywhere and everywhere.  Crown Thief has been written over four permanent addresses, any number of hotel rooms and countless trains.  When you have a year to write a book in, you learn pretty quickly to write wherever you can set up a laptop.

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

Over the last few months, the worst thing I've been finding is what a low opinion many people have of the profession.  It's amazing how often the first response on hearing I had a book coming out was, "So how much did that cost you then?"  It's like the idea of the mid-level author is vanishing in most people's perception.  You're Dan Brown or you must be self-publishing and there's no inbetween.  

Meanwhile, the best part will always be the writing itself.  The more it becomes a career, the more just sitting down and creating becomes a luxury.  I've been almost exclusively editing and redrafting and planning since last summer, and I love those aspects too, but it'll be nice to get back to the bare bones work of crafting a story out of nothing. 

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

I didn't know that cover artists charge by the character.  Who'd have thought? 

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

For anyone looking to make a career as an author, I'd offer two very contradictory-seeming pieces of advice.  Treat writing like a job, and learn not to think of it as work.

It can take a huge amount of time to write a short story, let alone a really good story, let alone a novel.  Then there's the business of selling your work and self-promotion and networking and editing and getting a website and keeping up a blog and everything else that comes with the territory once you start selling your fiction.  The more seriously you take writing, the more it takes over your life.  And like anything, if you go into it half-heartedly then it's unlikely that any amount of talent will be enough to get you through on its own.  It comes down to the slog of trying to do your best day after day after day and not getting disheartened or compromising.  In that sense, it's best to think of it as a job.  Don't give yourself the luxury of saying "I'll write when I feel like it" or waiting for inspiration to strike.  Whenever you have some remotely free time, use it to write.  Write every day, even if it's only a few words, and build up over time.

On the other hand, it's vital to remember why you're doing it.  After a tough eight hours of mind-numbing day job, it's all too easy to think of an hour in front of the computer as a chore.  But writing should be where you let your subconscious out of the box, where you can let your brain off its leash.  It's not something you do instead of having a life, its where you get to live flat-out.  Think of it as a luxury, and feel a little sorry for your friends who are stuck in front of the telly while you're tucked away doing something you genuinely care about.

> Any tips against writers block?

I'm not sure I believe in writer's block as such.  As other people have pointed out before me, you'd be pretty quick to fire your plumber if they started complaining about "plumber's block", wouldn't you?  But it's true that writing takes a lot of mental endurance, especially when you're working in long stretches, and it's easy to hit a point where something's not flowing and then fixate on that to the detriment of everything else.  

Thing is, it's easy enough to avoid.  If you get really stuck, move on to something else.  If a line or a story or an idea isn't working, let yourself back off from it and concentrate your efforts elsewhere.  If you can't write the start of a story, skip on to a scene you feel more comfortable with and write that instead.  Meanwhile, keep a little bit of your subconscious busy chipping away at that wall you've hit and come back when you're ready.

So I guess the tip is, train yourself out of thinking that writing means starting at the beginning of a story and carrying on linearly to the end.  The brain's an astonishing tool for creating, and for multitasking.  But trap it in a narrow alley and it'll never get past the first obstruction.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

I remind myself that it's what I want to do more than anything else. 

> How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

That's actually trickier to answer than you'd think.  According to my records, the first short story I dared send out (which was by no means the first story I wrote) was rejected about eighteen times.  Then, due to a bizarre mishap, two markets accepted it more or less simultaneously.  As for the novel ... I think I clocked up about fifteen rejections on Giant Thief.  I was very, very lucky in that.

Thursday 16 February 2012

Sh*t Book Reviewers Say

A great video by Ron Charles showing a lot of stereotypical book reviewer phrases.  I've used a few of these myself...

He's got some other great videos, including, Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers, which is quite funny.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Book Review: City of Hope and Despair by Ian Whates

Pros: interesting characters, get to see the outside world and learn some of the world's history

Cons: powerful creatures are defeated with surprising ease (which may be realistic but it's also a bit disappointing)

The City of Hope and Despair is a novel about two quests.  The first involves Tom's first time outside Thaiburley as he, the assassin Dewar, Kohn, a sightless giant and the Thaistess, Mildra, journey to find the source of the goddess Thaiss's river.  A demon doesn't want them to succeed and has alerted another assassin to stop them.

Back in the city, Kat and her sister postpone their fight to the death in order to hunt down the returned Soul Thief, the monster that killed their mother.

It's nice to see Tom grow up a bit and realize that street smarts won't cut it in the real world where dangers are many and varied.  It's also fun to see him falling for the unobtainable priestess.  Seeing more of the world Whates has created as well as learning why Thaiburley has isolated itself was great after the very contained (in terms of worldbuilding) City of Dreams and Nightmare.  The Prime Master has more of a role in this book, and as he's a character much like the Patrician in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, that was a welcome addition.

Both quests encounter a number of difficulties, which keeps the book moving at a fast pace.  It was surprising how quickly the protagonists managed to overcome some of the obstacles in their path, and while they faced tragedy, their triumphs seemed easier won than expected given the power of their enemies.

The book ends on a double cliffhanger, with both quests leading to something new, to be picked up in the final volume of the series.  And given the quality of writing in the first two books, that's a book worth picking up.

Potted Potter

My husband is awesome.  I hadn't even heard about this 2 man Harry Potter parody and he bought us tickets to see it for a Valentine's Day present!  :)  I am so excited!!!  

From their website:

All seven Harry Potter books in seventy minutes!

Watch CBBC’s Dan and Jeff take on the ultimate challenge, with the help of endless costumes, brilliant songs, ridiculous props, and a generous helping of Hogwarts magic. This fantastically funny show features all your favourite characters, a special appearance from a very frightening fire-breathing dragon, and even a game of Quidditch involving the audience!

This brilliant show was first seen in 2006, and is playing an international tour in 2012. A must-see for Potter addicts, and a great introduction to the series for anyone who’s ever wondered what all the fuss is about.

And here's a very short clip from their show:

Tuesday 14 February 2012

ChiZine Offers Subscriptions

Angry Robot Books does it, as does Cemetery Dance Publications.  Now ChiZine is offering it as well.  What is it?  It's the subscription model for books.  From their press release:

ChiZine Publications has announced it is offering subscription packages, allowing customers to buy all seventeen of its 2012 titles at a 40% discount.

The subscriptions come in three options: signed, limited edition hardcovers, trade paperbacks and ebooks. As with individual purchases of trade paperbacks, both the trade paperback and hardcover subscriptions also include the ebook versions. Due to shipping costs, the hardcover and trade paperback packages are only available to customers in Canada and the United States.

"Since we started, we’ve said if you liked one of our titles you'd probably like them all," explains Co-Publisher Sandra Kasturi. "We have a large group of dedicated fans and this makes it simpler for them to get our books. For those who've tried a few, it's is an easy way to try us out at a deep discount."

"At conventions and book fairs, we're constantly being asked if we'd do subscriptions . . . usually by people with an armload of our books," adds Co-Publisher Brett Savory. "We're now at a place as a business to have the infrastructure and staff to make it happen."

Subscribers will receive the hardcover and trade paperback titles in two batches—eight titles in spring 2012 and nine in fall 2012.

Subscriptions will be accepted throughout 2012, though the hardcover package is subject to availability since only a limited number of hardcovers are produced.
Check out their website to order and for more information.

Friday 10 February 2012

Author Interview: Myke Cole

Novel: Shadow Ops: Control Point

Short fiction and non-fiction article listings can be found here.



I like to hearken back to Peter V. Brett's blurb of "Blackhawk Down meets the X-Men" to which I always add "Harry Potter joins Delta Force." The core description would be that it's about a special operations unit that uses sorcery. The longer description would add that it is asking the tough question about how the military confronts sudden and dramatic social changes and how rigid bureaucracies shift paradigms when they feel themselves threatened. But the bottom line is that I think it's really damn cool to have SOF operators casting fireballs and I've always wanted to pit a tank against an ogre.

> How has your military experience affected your writing?

It has colored every aspect of it. On one level, being in the military (and being a mercenary and paramilitary civilian in war zones) unquestionably built the discipline and persistence I needed to finish and refine my novels to the point where they could sell in the first place. On another level, working inside a military bureaucracy got me very interested in the inherent rigidity of culture in big organizations. They move slowly and change slowly, and are thus ill-equipped to deal with major, earthshaking societal shifts. The sudden emergence of magic into that scene gives you have a perfect recipe for the kind of cool conflict that drives great stories. 

> If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

That's easy. To read, write and speak all languages with perfect fluency. The ability to communicate clearly with anyone, anywhere, at any time would revolutionize my ability to do my job, both as a writer and a coast guard. The writing implications are obvious. On the military side, I would be able to deescalate tense situations with ease and aplomb. So much of operations nowadays cover "human terrain" and involve interaction with civilians who don't speak English. I would have a much better chance of knowing when I was being lied to, or walking into an ambush. I could detect linguistic-cultural nuances that would tip me off to when something bad was going to happen. In short: I could *talk* my way out of situations without having to pull a trigger. When you're in the military, that's a very good day. 

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

It's a tough call, but no. Obviously, having the ability to fly, or summon fire, or raise the dead, or freeze anything solid, would be pretty damn cool. But in the world of CONTROL POINT, those abilities put a person permanently outside mainstream society. Even when a Sorcerer is sanctioned, trained and trusted by the government, even when the public is grateful to that Sorcerer for protecting them, those abilities keep him/her apart from the normal world for the rest of his/her life. Anyone who has met me knows I'm intensely social. I love people. I need to be around them. Isolation is rough on me. I don't think I could handle being magically Latent, no matter how cool my abilities were. 

> Beyond the matter of length, do you find it easier writing short stories or novels?

Novels, hands down. Short stories don't give me the latitude to fully explore the ideas I want to, and I have a tough time arcing the plot with sufficient oomph without more space to do it. I've sold some short stories in the past, and I still write them from time to time, but they are much more challenging for me. Novellas are easier, but still challenging.

> What made you want to be a writer?

If you had asked me what made me want to write fantasy, I'd have given you a different answer. As for why I wanted to become a writer: this is kind of sad, but it was the only thing I was ever any good at. I like success. I respond to praise and attention. My family was math/science averse, and from the moment I could read, my family drilled into me that the world of letters was where our strengths lay. As my ability to write developed, I was rewarded by institutions (A's in English class, etc . . .). I naturally gravitated towards my strengths. Later on, I discovered that it's really REALLY hard to make a living as a writer. By then, I'd developed the military ethic of cold anger and a need to charge down and choke into submission any challenge that daunted me. People always told me I couldn't be a professional writer. Go ahead, tell me what I can't do. Then stand back while I do it.  

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

The first novel I ever finished was LATENT, an early version of the book that you now know as CONTROL POINT. It took me about a year or two to write it, and I finished it in 1998. But it's kind of a trick question, because I'd been writing pretty much all my life up to that point. LATENT had some nice points (and the core concept obviously worked because it's what got me a book deal), but I put it aside and wrote two more novels, CLOUD SOWER and TEA ROAD, before finally writing LATENT all over again. That final version became CONTROL POINT. All in all, I think I've been seriously trying to write professionally in genre for about fifteen years.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

It's always tough for me to step into belief systems and perspectives that are not my own. I have worked really hard all my life to cultivate a sense of empathy with others, especially those whom I'm charged to fight/bring to justice. It's still tough. When you work in the military/law enforcement (the Coast Guard is both), you become hardened against those you are taught to perceive as "the enemy" or "the bad guys." This attitude will KILL you as a writer, because you can't make compelling characters if you don't empathize with them. There are recalcitrants, weaklings, cowards, whiners and just plain jerks all over the SHADOW OPS series (wait'll you meet Fitzy, or the "No No Crew"),  and fleshing them out with the attention and complexity they deserved was seriously challenging for me. 

> When and where do you write?

Normally, I set my alarm for exactly 8 hours from when I turn off the lights (but I'm lucky to sleep for 4 of those. I have intense insomnia). I get up, PT (Physical Training), shower, then grab my laptop and walk to a nearby coffee shop. I listen to movie soundtracks (lyrics distract me) and write until the late afternoon. Then I head home, do my errands and writing-business-that's-not-actual-writing and get back to more real writing after dinner in the evening. I mentioned before how social I was. Even though I'm not talking to people (headphones are in), being around people helps me a lot. I can write a little at night in my apartment alone, but doing it all day would seriously depress me. My existence is solitary enough as it is.

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

The best thing is precisely what you'd think it is: watching your work succeed. I just finished up doing a panel and book signing at New York Comic Con and I am still coming down off the high. [Editor's note: Mr. Cole answered these questions in November, just after Comic Con.] Genre nerd fans are the best, because they establish a direct intimacy with the author in a way that no other group of fans does. This is because most fantasy authors come up out of fandom (I certainly did), so we all have the same secret handshakes and inside jokes. It was like being in a convention center with a hundred thousand of my closest friends, some of whom were actually there to see me, and were getting jazzed by what I was doing. That is priceless. 

The worst thing is the uncertainty and the pressure. Professional writing (especially genre writing) is incredibly financially uncertain. If it weren't for the reserves, I'd have no health insurance, no steady income, and would probably be homeless. As it is, I still can't rest on my laurels. As soon as one series is under contract, you have to be thinking about what your next writing gig is going to be, even as you work on completing the one you sold. I don't need to tell you that publishing is facing a unprecedented period of uncertainty right now, and sometimes books go out into the marketplace and fail for reasons nobody understands. Being an author is also rather public. Being successful (again, especially in genre writing) depends on making strong connections with fans. If you go to a convention or write a blog post and come off as a jerk, you've blown it. We have a saying in the military: "one hundred atta' boys are undone by a single aw' shit." Add that to the pressure to make EVERY book the best book ever written, and you are in an environment that's unforgiving to say the least. Mess up at a day job, and you may get a scolding from your boss. Mess up as a writer? You're done.

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

(I've actually blogged about this too)  How much I would be responsible for on my own career. I had this crazy notion that a big, New York publishing house would swoop in, take over, and the only thing I'd have to do is write and turn in my writing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even with a major book deal, a writer is largely responsible for their own editing (and I mean from the creative right down to the proofing), marketing and publicity. Publishers bring a LOT to the table (I don't thumb my nose at self-published authors, but neither do I think it's a particularly good idea), but in the end, it's YOUR book and YOU have to be willing to put in the attention and hard work necessary to make it a success.  

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

It's all about the quality. A lot of beginning writers (and I was guilty of this) put the cart before the horse. They focus on image, or social media presence, or networking at conventions. All of that is important, but it is the sizzle. The steak is a dynamite book that people can't put down. The only way you're going to write one of those is by focusing on your craft and writing and editing and writing and editing until you want to drop dead. Go to conventions infrequently (still go, just not all that often), make your connections and do your grip-n-grinning, but be sure to be talking to pros about how they tackle character development, plot problems and narrative arc. If you have to be better at one thing in writing, make that one thing character development. People are at the heart of every story, and understanding people is the most important skill a writer can have (see my concerns about empathy above). 

> Any tips against writers block?

Yes, cowboy up and get to work. Writers block is crap. It doesn't exist. Sit down and write. You wrote crap? Too bad, so sad. Chuck it and start fresh. Lather, rinse, repeat until you are producing good work. All writers have uninspired days. But writing is just like PT. I've said this in other blog posts. Your body is binary, it knows 0 or 1. It either gets the exercise it needs to develop like you want it to, or it doesn't. It doesn't care if you're tired, or unmotivated. Your novel is the same way. Blocked? Write anyway.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

I have an internal drill sergeant who screams at me, tells me that I'm a worthless failure, and that if I can't cut it he's got a line of people around the block waiting for my job. I know, I know. It's neurotic and weird, but it works. Brandon Sanderson has a famous quote where he imagines a cubicle chasing him - the consequence of failing as a fantasy writer. I keep that in my head too. But the bottom line is that this is where the military background helps tremendously. I've spent years in an environment where my needs don't matter. Everybody has a job to do - you suck it up and do the job, even when you don't want to, or you suffer the consequences. You're not special. You're not precious. You're here to work. Well, my job is to write. I bite down and get it done no matter what. 

> How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

My first ever short story was rejected by every professional market I sent it to (I limited myself to SFWA pro-paying markets - just $0.03/word at the time). Even back then, I think there were only 10 or so markets around. I think I amassed a total of around 200 short story rejections before I started focussing on novels. Each of my novels that didn't sell received only a single rejection, from my agent. By then I was serious, and knew that if it wasn't impressing him, then it wasn't ready for prime time. I didn't bother sending them to other agents (I didn't want anyone else to represent me), and I didn't bother revising them unless he felt it was fixable. This is because by then we had become dear friends and I had developed an unshakable faith in his ability to make good calls on manuscripts. That faith was ultimately rewarded by his selling my SHADOW OPS series.