Month: September 2022
Bewitching Book Tours Cover Reveal & Excerpt: Midnight on the Manatee by D.H. Willison
Today I’m excited to be joining Bewitching Books Tours in sharing the cover for D.H. Willison’s new book, Midnight on the Manatee. D.H. Willison’s new release will feature adventure, romance, and a whole lot of humor.
How does the steamship Manatee navigate sea-monster infested waters? What sacrifices do her grand profits demand? The only certainty, is that the Manatee casts a dark shadow everywhere she makes port.
Brianna, a tough, no-nonsense human, yearns to escape stifling big city rules and a troubled past. A quaint seaside town seems perfect to start a new life—until she wakes up aboard the Manatee. As cargo.
Shard, nekojin feline of the forest, dreams of sailing to distant lands—to the horror of his friends. When his intriguing new neighbor, Brianna, disappears and all signs point to the mysterious Manatee, he’s certain this is his moment for high seas adventure. Yet with skills tailored to the forest canopy, his rescue goes disastrously awry.
Their only chance of freedom is to work together, but can their budding relationship overcome ruthless smugglers, corrupt officials, and a slew of ravenous monsters? Or are they destined to take the secret of the Manatee to a watery grave?
Midnight on the Manatee blends life-and-death adventures on a creepy fantasy world with wit, whimsy, and a generous dash of romance.
Are you ready to see the cover? Here it is!
Genre: Fantasy adventure/fantasy romance
Date of Publication: October 28, 2022
Number of pages: 182
Word Count: 33K
Cover Artist: Papaya-style
Life-and-death adventures on a creepy fantasy world blend with wit, whimsy, and a generous dash of romance.
I’ve always struggled picking out clothes. It doesn’t matter if it’s for travel, work, or a special event, I seem to hit a point where I regret my choices.
Late afternoon sun glared in my eyes, the wide brim of my slouch hat unable to shield me. Mostly because it was on the ground a dozen paces distant. It was hot, and this close to the marsh, humid too. My linen blouse was drenched in sweat, though a breeze provided a modicum of relief from the heat—that part, I’d gotten right. The leather traveling vest was well-vented, my padded breeches also a good compromise between comfort and protection. But my boots were clearly wrong. Light beige leather with flexible soles prioritizing comfort over armor seemed a good idea for the long trek between Halamar and Barricayde.
But the bog toad with its jaws locked around my right ankle seemed intent on demonstrating the error of my ways.
It was half the size of a coach, with an underbite and stubby tusks thick as my legs. I kicked it with my free foot as it shambled backwards, dragging me toward the marsh. Vision blurry from sweat streaming into my eyes, I squinted, trying to sight along the barrel of my single shot pistol.
One shot. At this range I can’t miss.
I fired, the pistol belching gray smoke and a dull wumm.
The toad lurched back, blood oozing from an apparently non-critical wound. It blinked a pair of fist-sized ruby eyes, lunged at me again, this time snapping both legs up to my knees in a maw as broad as my arm span.
How did I let a minor predator ambush me? Along a marked path! Big city’s making me soft.
No! I will not die to an oversized frog. I shoved the pistol in its holster, unfolded my collapsible spear with a metallic klink, jabbed it at the creature’s head. A head which seemed to comprise half its mass. The third strike to its thick hide found a sensitive spot: it spat out my legs, sneezed a blob of mucus and blood on me, and shambled back into the marsh.
“Oww. Filthy beast. That hurt.”
I stood, yelped in pain, collapsing to my knees again.
Those critters might not have sharp teeth, but they bite hard.
First things first: I reloaded my pistol. It may have been as effective as poking a troll with a toothpick, but it was my toothpick, and it was gonna be loaded.
I pulled off boots caked with blood and saliva to reveal a souvenir of the encounter: bruises from ankle to mid thigh.
Should have worn armored boots. Blood or mucus colored armored boots would have been ideal. But on the bright side, none of the blood was mine.
“It’s a well-traveled path. You can wear comfortable traveling clothes, no need for armor.
Owww. You’re an idiot, Brianna,” I muttered, managing to stay up on the next attempt.
“Hope they have a decent healer in Barricayde. Not to mention a laundry.”
Murky water burned my eyes as my feet sank into the mud. The caprid in my arms flailed and kicked, I could feel its chest heave in panicked breaths. “Juro, a little help?” I called.
“I am helping. I’m watching out for predators.” Juro crouched atop a low branch of a live oak tree, gaze darting between trees and clumps of reeds. He grinned. “None here. You’re welcome.”
“I meant, could you grab the other two trapped caprids.”
“Theoretically, I could.”
I waded ashore, set the waist-high, hoofed creature next to its flockmates, hoping the presence of the herd would calm it.
“At least keep the flock from panicking while I get the other two.”
Juro bounded from branch to branch, finally settling on the ground beside me. He had auburn fur, stood a tad shorter than me, his tail shorter as well, and lacking the white puffy tip he made fun of when we were growing up.
“If we leave them out here,” he said, “our neighbors might learn a valuable lesson about the merits of proper animal husbandry.”
“The creatures horns are blunted, they cannot defend themselves against predators and would most likely be devoured by bog toads before the humans were able to recover them all.”
“Which would certainly be a valuable lesson, Shard. Hurt what they value most.”
Juro didn’t need to complete the thought. We all knew what that was. “It would indeed hurt their coin purse, but caprids shouldn’t pay the price to do so. The creatures are innocent.”
“Didn’t you want to visit the bookseller this afternoon? New volume of that pirate series you’re always talking about.”
I dove back into the stagnant green-brown murk at the edge of the marsh, swam around the last two stragglers, managing to shoo them toward the herd without having to carry them.
I spat, trying to clear the taste of marsh water from my mouth. Mud, slimy strands of algae, and decaying vegetation plugged my nose, clung to my ears, obscured my normally keen senses. But I wasn’t worried, Juro was a rascal, but he’d have my back at the first hint of danger.
“Yes. It’s supposed to be out today. But after all that effort, we can’t leave the task unfinished.”
Juro shrugged, but helped guide the flock toward the shepherd’s day shed.
We encountered the herder’s daughter a few minutes later, sprinting toward us, a wooden crook in her hands, single shot rifle slung across her back.
“You’ve found them, thank you!” She huffed heavily, her armor and gear sized more for an adult human than an early teen.
“That’s the third time this month,” said Juro.
She mumbled, pointed at the creatures with an index finger as she counted. “All here. My stupid little brother needed help with…” She shook her head. “It’s not important. I’d like to thank you, but I don’t have my coin purse with me. Come with me to the day shed, maybe there’s something there.”
“It’s OK,” I said. “I’m still hoping to make it to the bookseller today.”
Juro snorked. “Looking like that? The humans won’t even let you through the city gate! You’ll be lucky if they don’t mistake you for a swamp monster and hunt you.”
“Good point.” I turned to the girl. “How about a few buckets of fresh water, some rags, and a brush?”
She smiled. “Deal.” She moved to clap me on the shoulder, hesitated, backed off half a step. “Maybe after a bath.”
About the Author:
D.H. Willison is a reader, writer, game enthusiast and developer, engineer, and history buff. He’s lived or worked in over a dozen countries, learning different cultures, viewpoints, and attitudes, which have influenced his writing, contributing to one of his major themes: alternate and creative conflict resolution. The same situations can be viewed by different cultures quite differently. Sometimes it leads to conflict, sometimes to hilarity. Both make for a great story.
He’s also never missed a chance to visit historic sites, from castle dungeons, to catacombs, to the holds of tall ships, to the tunnels of the Maginot Line. It might be considered research, except for the minor fact that his tales are all set on the whimsical and terrifying world of Arvia. Where giant mythic monsters are often more easily overcome with empathy than explosions.
Subscribe to his newsletter for art, stories, and humorous articles (some of which are actually intended to be humorous).
Newsletter signup: https://dhwillisoncreates.com/about/
How does the steamship Manatee navigate sea-monster infested waters? Brianna and Shard find out, but will they take the secret to a watery grave? Life-and-death adventures on a creepy, monster infested world blend with wit, whimsy and romance. https://dhwillisoncreates.com/
The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Woman in the Library is available now.
The thing that grabbed me and immediately interested me in reading this book was that it featured the word “library” in the title. That’s it. If there is an angle that features words, libraries, or bookstores, I’ll be almost immediately intrigued. The writing and storyline kept me reading, happily drawn into a fun mystery involving four new-found friends.
Author Sulari Gentill plays off the new-friend dynamic incredibly well. When people first hit it off, it’s easier to ignore (or not even notice) things about the other person which will either begin to annoy over time or, in the worst of cases, turn out to be major red flags. These four people met in a library reading room, brought together by a stressful event. That’s enough to form the beginnings of friendship right there, although of course someone is not who they seem.
The book’s storytelling tricks were my favorite thing about it. The Woman in the Library features an author named Hannah Tigone who is writing a novel that starts in a library. The novel is about a writer (named Freddie) who gets sucked into a murder while researching for her own book. It sounds a lot more confusing than it is. For the purpose of this review, I’ll refer to the character writing the book about the writer as the author, and the character who happens to be in the library at the time of a murder as the writer. It’s actually a ton of fun, despite my lousy attempt to explain it.
While the writer in the book builds new friendships, the author begins to be disturbed by the unhealthy relationship forming with her Beta reader. Now, that was a character that was easy to hate. Holy cow, everything he “wrote” in his letters to Hannah was absolutely awful. That it degenerated in nature from horrible to dangerous was an unexpected progression that made a sick sort of sense. The continuation of the story wavered from distracting to adding an extra layer of suspense. I’m still not sure how I feel about that whole thing, although I can’t deny that it ratcheted up the tension level of The Woman in the Library.
There were four main characters in the author’s book: the writer, Freddie, in the U.S. from Australia with the purpose of working on her own book; Whit, the laze-about whose aspirations don’t match those of his overbearing mother; Marigold, a tattooed free spirit who is also something of a genius (according to her); and Cain, an enigma who has written a bestselling book of his own. One of them is also a coldblooded killer, of course. It’s up to Freddie to figure out who.
I will admit that I figured out the whodunnit before it was revealed, although the motive escaped me. The characters were all fun to read, although I had a soft spot for nosy, stalkerish Marigold. The book raised the stakes as it went along and by the end it was hurtling at breakneck speed toward its conclusion. I liked the way the book’s pacing sped up as the mystery got closer to being solved.
There was some brief mention of attempted sexual assault, which I feel I should warn readers about. It was not detailed, but it’s always best (in my opinion) to be aware if something like that will pop up. I’m sensitive to that subject and it was vague and short enough that I was able to skip over the paragraph or so mentioning it without any issue. So, there’s that.
The Woman in the Library was a highly entertaining mystery filled with twists and unexpected reveals. I enjoyed it quite a bit and recommend it to people who want a fun suspense-ridden novel.
Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events by Brent Spiner with Jeanne Darst
I’m not a Trekkie or a huge Brent Spiner fan, although I’ve seen a decent chunk of multiple versions of the show and a previous tenant left an Ol’ Yellow Eyes cd in the garage of my apartment (possibly my favorite odd moving-in gift that I’ve found over the years). The premise of Fan Fiction appealed to me, though, and I went into it curious and hopeful.
Alas, this didn’t connect with me, although there were some positive points. The book follows Brent Spiner as he navigates death threats, twin crushes (or is it the same person?), and a mystery that needs to be solved as soon as yesterday. It also adds in a generous dose of Hollywood anecdotes and self-deprecating humor.
Brent’s narration is intriguing in that he does not hesitate to put the best and worst of himself on display. He is naive in so many ways, but also disgustingly piggish in others (really? You can’t tell the sisters you’re crushing on apart? Yuck). His inner dialogue was interesting, and his memories of his stepdad gave him an added level and explained some of who he is later on.
His personal experience and the zany things he shares are the best part of the book. Brent’s meeting with poor Gregory Peck had me laughing out loud while cringing. You can’t make that stuff up. Unless he did. Either way, it was wildly entertaining. I guess even actors get starstruck and trip over themselves sometimes.
The book gives a fun look at the other actors in Star Trek: The Next Generation through their interactions with Brent. Some of the things they said were flat-out hilarious. Each of them had such big personalities that they became almost caricatures; but that was the point, of course. I particularly enjoyed reading about Levar Burton (I’m a big fan, thanks to that butterfly in the sky).
But…there were too many things that I really didn’t like. The mystery ended up being a little unsatisfactory, with the reveal leaving much to be desired both in motive and pacing. In fact, the pacing was a little off throughout Fan Fiction in general. There was too little time spent on big plot points, and after a while the dreams and flashbacks became redundant.
I feel like I’m being much harsher than I generally am, but I suppose I’m ticked off about a certain part of the book and it’s affected my overall opinion. Big breath–now to touch on my biggest complaint.
I absolutely loathe insensitive remarks about mental health, doubly so when they’re couched in terms of “praise” as was the case here. I could try to sum up my issue with a certain part, but I’ll just quote some of it here instead.
“You know, I have been said to suffer from Asperger’s myself, but I think that overstates it. I’d say I’m an honorary Asperger. I’m also an honorary Tourette because I tend to jerk and occasionally I suddenly say something loud. And I’m an honorary bipolar. I suspect we all have a bit of everything inside of us.”
This is only the tail end of about a page and a half of offensiveness. Now, I fully admit that I may be sensitive regarding mentions of mental illness seeing as I have bipolar myself, so take my opinion with the proverbial grain of salt. But it really upset me. In fact, I’m getting frustrated all over again just writing about it, so I’ll just warn you that this lovely tidbit is in the book and move on.
Fan Fiction had potential. It did. But at the end of the day, I set my phasers to “nope”, knowing that I’m not the right reader for this book. I am sure that many readers will enjoy what didn’t work out for me.
Small Angels by Lauren Owen
Small Angels is engrossing, a haunting tale that gave me shivers. The shivers were half because of the eeriness that drips from every page, and half because of the beautiful writing. The past and the present melded into a single story, one that kept me glued to my seat.
There once were four girls growing up at the edge of Mockbeggar Woods in a small town. No one went into the woods- except for them. These four knew the rules of the Woods and they knew what would happen if they didn’t follow them. There was something angry residing in Mockbeggar, something that only played nicely if they followed the rules.
The four girls helped their mother keep the history of Mockbeggar at bay, protecting the town (even though the people living there looked down on the family and avoided them). But when four becomes five, Mockbeggar takes notice. The history of Mockebeggar is a circle, and what goes around comes around.
That is one narrative. The story of the girls and their life, how everything revolves around the mysteries of the Wood and how it affects their characters and relationships. The second narrative takes place in present-day when a bride decides to have her picture-perfect wedding in a church that belongs to the Woods (at least, to the thing residing in the Woods). There is no way I can be vague enough to avoid spoilers for that part of the storyline, and it’s best to go in unknowing. Suffice it to say, it’s creepy as all get-out. Which is, of course, the point.
Usually, I can pick out one aspect of a book that I enjoyed most: the setting, the characters, etc. With Small Angels, though, it was a perfect marriage of characters, setting, tone, and plot development. The story behind Mockbeggar Woods, and the way it developed slowly throughout the book, lent an aura of uncertainty and a sense of paranoia that the best horror writers would envy.
The setting was perfect: eerie but believable. It’s easy to picture a quiet, wooded area hiding something less than benign. The descriptions were beautifully done and given in a way that felt like the sort of story told in the dark on a gloomy night. I loved how one character saw a quaint beauty to the church (known as Small Angels), but their viewpoint changed throughout the book until Small Angels resembled something threatening to them.
And the characters! They each added something to the book, although the four daughters reminded me in some ways of the sisters in The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, so cut off from anything resembling a normal life that they almost seemed unreal (for those wondering, there is no suicide in Small Angels). My favorite character was Lucia the Bad. She was headstrong yet fearful and was inadvertently the catalyst for the events in the book.
The book, while never slow in pace, ramped up at the end, giving a sense of urgency that was breathtaking in a way. I loved how it ended. Small Angels never quite crossed into horror territory, instead remaining an eerie ghost story, the sort I love to read toward the latter half of the year (I have no idea why Fall becomes the creepy read season for me; it doesn’t get cooler where I live, just goes from “hot” to “hot with a chance of hurricane”).
Small Angels is lyrical and uncanny, a perfect spooky read. Grab a hot drink and give it a go.
Dragonlance Side Quest: Kindred Spirits by Mark Anthony and Ellen Porath
I have a habit of reading multiple books at once. I cycle back and forth between them, usually switching it up a couple times a day (I know, I’m strange). While I’m vastly enjoying my first-time books, I thought it would also be fun to go back and reread some of the many Dragonlance side novels.
“It’s like folks are, my mother used to say,” he explained to his shop at large, which was as familiar to him by now as a close friend. “Some folks are like this metal, she’d say,” and he displayed a metal flower brooch to the deserted room. “They can be forced into line. They’ll adapt. Other folks are like this wood,” and he held up a tiny squirrel, carved from softwood. “If you force them, they’ll break. You have to work slowly, carefully, to see what’s within.” “The key, my mother said,” he intoned gravely to a stone bench near the door, “is to know which is which.”
The nostalgia is strong with Kindred Spirits. This was the first side Dragonlance side novel that I ever read, and I’ve read it a fair number of times since (in fact, one memorable Christmas when I was a teen, the lovely tree in my living room slowly toppled over, encasing me- and this book- in a cage of pine needles). This will be an odd review, with a mix of nostalgia-colored lenses and my recent impression.
First, the good. Kindred Spirits takes us to the genesis of Flint’s relationship with Tanis, one which will forge the bedrock of the Companions during the War of the Lance. I’d suggest reading the Chronicles before reading this book. After all, this is meant to be an add-on to the original storyline, not a starting point.
I really love seeing Flint’s heart and what led a grumpy old dwarf to befriend an angst-ridden half-elf. His friendship/mentor role with Tanis has always been interesting to me and it’s cool to see how much he helped shape Tanis into a (still moody) thoughtful leader. Watching his friendship with Tanis grow is always fun. There’s also an explanation to how a certain “betrothal” came about, and it really cracks me up.
The characters match what you see in the Chronicles, which is important to me. I can’t stand it when an already established character acts completely differently in a separate novel. Character growth is great, changing a character’s core nature is annoying. The authors know the difference and manage it beautifully.
The description of both Qualinesti and its customs is well done, interesting and detailed. The political side of things is also rather intriguing and there’s not enough of it to become tedious. However, someone experienced with the lore of Dragonlance will notice discrepancies between books and events. For example, there’s a certain magical item that makes an appearance, despite it not being possible, according to events in Krynn’s timeline. These are small niggles, which can be ignored in the enjoyment of the novel. It is clear, though, that this is a secondary book meant only to add to a character’s background.
There is a sort-of mystery to Kindred Spirits. Tanis is accused of murdering multiple people, and it is up to Flint to prove Tanis’ innocence. It’s entertaining, especially since it’s obvious that Flint is way outside his skill set. Of course, the “mystery” is far from mysterious so don’t expect any big twists or shocking revelations. The motive is also flimsy at best. So, there’s that.
At the end of the day, I still enjoy this book immensely simply because I love seeing Flint and Tanis grow from strangers to family. Also, any book in which Flint calls someone a “doorknob” is going to be one I enjoy. There are some side-splitting moments as well as some heartwarming ones. If you’re looking for more about how the Companions met, Kindred Spirits is a book to pick up.
The Oleander Sword (Burning Kingdoms 2) by Tasha Suri
Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Oleander Sword is available now. You can find my review for The Jasmine Throne (The Burning Kingdoms book 1) here.
The Oleander Sword is beauty with teeth. It’s a gorgeously written, breathtaking tale of manipulation, revenge, cruelty, and the things sacrificed in the quest for power. As with book one, The Jasmine Throne, I was immediately sucked in and held in thrall.
Malini is so close to getting what she wants. She now has an army at her back, and she’s on her way to hopefully crush her brother Chandra’s forces under her feet. But war is rarely straightforward. Her followers would rather fight for someone else and when Chandra seemingly pulls a miracle out of nowhere, she realizes her grip on her vision is tenuous at best. Malini is willing to use every weapon she can to wrest power from her brother, and that includes Priya.
There’s something incredibly coldhearted and bloodthirsty about Malini. The face that she shows Priya and the one that her army sees are two very different sides to the same coin. I was left wondering if the manipulative mask was really the true face, with the affection she showed Priya the true mask. In some ways, she is just as dangerous as Chandra. They are both sure that they are the rightful ruler and that no one is better suited to the throne.
I love Malini so much! She’s scary, all sharp edges and secrets. We see a less calculated version of her only in her interactions with Priya. Priya has also grown more powerful, but also more vulnerable in some ways. She is in danger of losing herself, but to her power, or to Malini? With Priya, it might be one and the same. I love how multifaceted her character is.
Bhumika’s storyline diverges from Priya and Malini’s. While they are fighting a desperate battle with Chandra, Bhumika is experiencing an even bigger loss. The Yaksa, whom she has worshipped, have returned and they are not at all what everyone hoped they were. Instead, their coming signifies the beginning of a new and brutal war, one that doesn’t seem winnable. Poor Bhumika loses everything she cares about and then some.
The Oleander Sword introduces new points of view, although Priya, Malini, and Bhumika remain the three main POVs. Despite their paths diverging, the story still envelopes the three women, the threads of the narrative loosely weaving together to form a full tapestry. The world grows ever larger, the religion becomes more explained, and things are shown from a new- and terrifying-light.
The Yaksa full-blown freaked me out. The human resemblance that they wore like masks, their uncaring cruelty, and their absolute certainty in their power all combined to give me the shivers. As intimidating as Chandra was, he’s a petty minion in comparison with them. If they get their way, everyone will be crushed. They probably wouldn’t even notice.
The Oleander Sword ramped up to an astonishing conclusion. By the end, I was on the edge of my seat. Tasha Suri wields words like a sharp knife, using them with devastating and fascinating effect. I have no idea what will happen in the next book, but I can’t wait!
The Battle That Was Lost by Michael S. Jackson
Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Battle that was Lost is a novella that takes place in the world of the Ringlander series.
Novellas are an intriguing medium. Sometimes I find them to be too short, choppy in their attempts to fit more within their pages than the length can hold. Other times, they can feel superfluous. In the case of The Battle that was Lost, however, the length was perfect. The writing was skillful, each word placed to further a story that packed a punch.
Brutal and smart, The Battle that was Lost wasted no time in establishing an atmosphere that pulsed with desperation. The line between life and death could be crossed at any moment, and the characters knew it. The stakes were high, and tension dripped from each word. This isn’t a happy-ending sort of book. In fact, the ending is more of a beginning, the novella serving as a cutthroat introduction.
Qor and Staegrim are mercenaries, doing anything they can to survive and hopefully somehow come out ahead. Their relationship is a brilliant one. It’s the sort of complicated mix of annoyance and something akin to affection that is fascinating to read. Of course, the book is about higher stakes than the fates of two thugs, although they are the pieces that make The Battle that was Lost so compelling.
I’ve always been a little lost when it comes to tactical decisions in fantasy books, but I was able to follow along well here. When you have two armies going at each other, knowing that the entire fate of the continent hangs in the balance, I like to see a personal aspect. It gives me a reason to be invested in the outcome. The judicious use of flashbacks provided this personal aspect, fleshing out characters and backstories and expanding the world even more.
I’m gob smacked at how much was packed into such a short novella. The Battle that was Lost was fantastic. I highly recommend picking it up.
An Interview with Author CM Kerley
Today, I’m excited to be able to chat with C.M. Kerly, author of the Barclan series, epic fantasy at its finest. You can find my review for book one, The Hummingbird’s Tear, here.
Thank you for joining me to talk about the Barclan series and epic fantasy! Will you introduce yourself?
Hi, I’m Caroline, I’m from London but grew up in South Africa. I’m from a small town surrounded by farms, and at night I used to think the noises I could hear were ghosts at war with each other and the lights in the sky might definitely maybe not be stars but somehow magic. I suppose the noises might have been sounds from the neighborhood, and the stars were just stars, but I still prefer to think it was magic.
Can you talk a little bit about the Barclan series?
Okay, just the opener because it’s too vast to summarize easily. The series is set in an imagined world, in the kingdom of Barlcan. It starts with the reign of a very inept and timid king in a time when magic has become something rare which is to be feared and there are very few people alive who remember or know enough about it to believe it even exists. There are omens and very real-world signs that something is starting to move against the kingdom, but the king chooses not to see it. So, it is left to the prince, who does believe, to pull together the people whom he believes will give him a chance to fight back this threat that only he can see, that others think he is imagining.
Yes the story is fantasy, but it isn’t about magic and creatures and spells or vampires and dragons and cackling villains or magical maps and destiny that comes to those who least expect it.
My story, at its core, is about Control; do we really have control over ourselves, what are we willing to give it up for, and who are we willing to give it to.
What were some obstacles to writing the Barclan series?
In part, one of the hardest things writing a series of books like this, with that 80s Epic Fantasy feel, was knowing that they aren’t very popular right now. Knowing that the fantasy scene is dominated by specific names and if you aren’t part of the echo chamber of the style or type, you’ll never ‘make it’.
Which can sound crazy, right, but if you’re like me and your dream of talking to people about the stories, not making all the folding money, it can be daunting and when you spend six years writing three books, keeping motivated can be an obstacle.
What are some successes?
The limitless art of fantasy is the landscape for the story I’ve crafted, and is full of unique characters that are believable, plausible, and face situations that the reader can empathise with, creating that real connection between the page and the person. The characters are not clearly ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – there is more nuance within the characterisation. They are written so they each carry the overall theme of the story, but there are opportunities for the reader to themselves consider if what they are doing is good or bad.
The use of magic is not the driving force of the story. It isn’t spelled out to the reader and doesn’t overly feel cumbersome to the narrative. It is a device used to enhance the characters, not a tool to explain wildly ridiculous events put there to make the story stand-out. There is romance, adventure, deep relationships, sadness, joy, and laughter all set out, with something to satisfy even the most critical fantasy fan, in a thoroughly good, and complete story.
In The Hummingbird’s Tear, we meet two siblings who have very different characteristics which lead to two very distinct story arcs. How did you go about weaving the two separate storylines together?
It was a challenge. With Calem, who starts mute, I made the conscious decision to only give him two defining characteristics, the fire he can conjure and his silence.
I then had to flesh out Brennan, his complexity took months to develop into a real persona.
Then, it was using Brennan to tell Calem’s story at first, while doing it in such a way as to also give him his own spotlight. Using one character to tell the story of two, from the omnipotent writing perspective, is something I am quite proud of as it takes, in my opinion, quite a lot of craft.
One thing I did do was I kept detailed notes of each character, everything about them, even their habits, and I had personality charts drawn up and stuck to my wall in from of my machine of all the characters and I had their personal values listed out, their motivations, even a bit of origin stories for each of them. I had that on my wall for over six years, and that was to ensure I was always writing them truthfully, developing them and their arcs in believable ways that the reader could follow and empathize with, and making sure they were distinct.
The mythology and world history in The Hummingbird’s Tear is amazing. What came first in your series: the world or the characters?
I still have the first drafts of all three books, partly to remind myself just how wildly different the stories were before I finally settled on what needed to be told and picked which parts of all the versions to pull into the final book to tell their stories.
I started with Calem, the idea of writing a book about a character with no voice; how do you tell someone’s story when they can’t tell it themselves? I sat down and started writing. I didn’t really dwell on too much more than that, I knew it would be a fantasy story because all my really good short stories up to that point had been fantasy and that is my favorite genre. I was expecting it to be one book, I had no intention of writing three, but by the time I was halfway through writing it I had lived the whole thing out in my head and knew that it was too big, too vast, and too complex to be a single book. I wanted to do justice to all the characters I had created and that meant giving them a story worth telling.
The Barclan series has been called epic fantasy. Can you explain what epic fantasy is?
It is Epic but perhaps more 80s Epic than today’s Epic. What I mean is, there is a style of Epic fantasy which is giving time to establishing the world in which the characters share their story. It’s a style which I love, and I write what I love to read so my books have a definite type of pacing.
I don’t borrow from real world mythology or start with frantic bloodthirsty battles to shock and hook the reader; for no reason other than those tools aren’t what I’ve chosen for my story. I know they are all the rage at the moment and very popular, so I’m maybe doing myself no service by going against that current, but the heart wants to write what the heart wants to read I suppose.
I’ve created my own world, my own creation mythology, the Gods, the magic system, the geography, all of it, it took all in, maybe two years to craft it all as I was writing and rewriting The Hummingbird’s Tear, and all that had to be woven through the series. I have about 1,000 pages of content I wrote and created as I was building the world, my own archive if you will.
So, Epic because all the kingdoms are created and unique and have their own beliefs and customs and cultures and that finds its way into the story to enrich it. I move my characters across the kingdoms so I can bring the world to life. I have them comment on and have the Gods and mythology impact their lives, so it brings context to everything I’ve decided to include form the prologue all the way through. And I start each prologue with a little more of the mythology and world building, so the timeframe for the story is literally, since the world was created, so even the timescales are epic.
I’ve heard the terms “epic fantasy” and “high fantasy” used interchangeably. Do you see them as two separate subgenres?
They are different, but it’s an almost irrelevant difference and one that doesn’t, I think, give or take anything away from the genre and a distinction that doesn’t’ mean much to a reader or would have a large impact on their book choice. That sounds like a bit of a pretentious assumption on my part, but what I mean is, the differences are fairly limited, and fantasy readers tend to be open minded so the difference I don’t think is important and the two can work together.
If so, how is epic fantasy different from high fantasy?
High Fantasy is set in an imaginary place, and Low Fantasy, is an alternate version of a real place. So, because Barclan isn’t real, it fits into High Fantasy. I think that is the basic difference but while that’d be my answer on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, google probably knows more than me.
As for the Epic part, that falls to the scale. Epic fantasy in my understanding is on a grand scale, the story is set across multiple geographies and characters must travel or are set in distinct locations doing ‘things’ that advance the plot. Think questing stories.
I tend to think of the Barclan books as Epic High Fantasy because you start in one part of the kingdom, but you’ll go to towns, cities, a mine in the mountains, the bottom of the ocean, high mountains, and a desert to name but a few.
What drew you to writing epic fantasy?
I’ve always lived ‘somewhere else’ in my mind in part thanks to my dad who was a sailor and would tell me the most amazing made-up stories when he would come back from being at sea. He is an amazing storyteller and was never tight with his sea monsters, his outlandish characters, or his embellishments. But what used to keep me hooked, was how believable it all was.
As a child I was surrounded by books of all types at home and was never told whether a book is for adults or children, so as young as seven I can remember trying to read Lord of the Rings because our copy had the most amazing book cover and so I was curious, but it was too much for me at the time but I knew I’d come back to it. I was also reading things like The Faraway Tree, and Jack and the Beanstalk, and The Worst Witch, and the Narnia books so I’ve always gravitated toward the ‘other’ places, that feel comfortable.
We used to have a rickety old typewriter in the house, you know the type that you break your fingers hitting the hold metal letters that strike a ribbon and barely print the word? Well, that was what I started on, aged about eight, thinking that although I loved reading these stories, I had some pretty good ones of my own in my head and so it started.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I am embarrassed to admit I had to google pantser.
I am neither, or am I both? Put it this way, I try to be a plotter, and I plot, but when I sit down to write the plot, it’s as if the very act itself of plotting means I can’t use those ideas anymore and I just write.
I try to take a planned and methodical approach to it, but it’s a waste of time for me honestly. I do it in the hopes it means I will finish a book quicker, but no. A story takes as long to write as it wants, I have little control.
I sit, start writing, and entirely zone out and when I am finished have no concrete memory of the process of writing, and have written something completely unplanned.
The last third of The Hunchback’s Sigh was written in one night. I sat down about 7pm, looked up just after 5am the next morning, realized I had finished writing the book, and the series, and then had something to eat and got ready for a day at work.
That’s a lot of words to say, pantser.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the Dragonlance books are fantastic and Raistlin is one of the most well developed characters I’ve ever loved. The books are so cleverly written to be effortlessly accessible and enjoyable to anyone.
David Eddings, his Belgariad books are some of the best I’ve ever read and I reread to this day.
Melanie Rawn, I adore her pacing and her style of writing captivates my imagination.
Janny Wurts, because everything.
And Raymond Feist, for writing the books I have been reading and coming back to my whole life.
What/who inspired you to start writing fantasy?
This sounds so bad but, I don’t think anyone truly inspired me. I’ve always wanted to write ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a writer because that’s how I wanted to tell stories.
But if there was one person who really pushed me, believed in me, and told me every day that I can do it, it’s my best friend Maddy who has read every piece of writing I’ve ever done and to this day never skips a chance to talk about the books.
Do you have anything on the horizon that you would like to share?
I am working on a collection of short stories set in Barclan, but not centered on any of the main characters from the three books. They pop up but as peripheral characters and only for a second.
For example, in the second book I write about a place called Phenly, and there are a few stories set there.
A story about what happens in a silver mine which weaves into the back story of the man who raised Calem and Brennan.
And I’m introducing some new places and new characters as a tie in to the next book in the series which I am writing at the same time which will take place about a year after the events that end The Hunchback’s Sigh but is not a direct continuation of the story. So I am branching out in the Barclan world and will be moving into stories set in the other kingdoms, specifically Vaden to the north.
And when I am not in the mood to work on either of those, Cotta’s backstory is a self-indulgent story I am writing just for me.
The Hummingbird’s Tear
The Giant’s Echo
The Hunchback’s Sigh
Duckett & Dyer: The Mystery of the Murdered Guy by G.M. Nair
The Duckett and Dyer: Dicks For Hire series is seriously funny. It takes being funny very, very seriously. It is intimidatingly funny. I would even go so far as to say it’s scary funny. Ah yes- and it’s brilliant.
In The Mystery of the Murdered Guy, Duckett and Dyer are back and in fine form. Stephanie Dyer continues to be the Energizer Bunny of disasters and Michael Duckett (at this point, I think his middle name is “Murphy’s Law”) tries his best to survive both Stephanie’s zest for chaos and his own inability to stay out of trouble. I always picture Duckett a little bit as Dante in Clerks (“I’m not even supposed to be here today”), but I think he secretly loves the nuttiness. This relationship between Dyer’s chaos incarnate and Duckett’s weary resignation is one of my favorites.
Dyer and Duckett balance each other out perfectly. Just like Costello isn’t funny without Abbott, Duckett and Dyer are an excellent pair. Michael Duckett brings just the right amount of normalcy to the book, which gives the reader enough time to pause and appreciate all the ludicrous things happening to the characters. And there is a lot happening: attractive Frankenstein’s monsters, gender fluid reverse werewolves, heists that aren’t, and run-ins with the Santa Slayer (my hat’s off to Stephanie for fixing his moniker) are only the tip of the iceberg.
I love this series so very much. Somehow G.M. Nair also has a through-line in the zaniness and characters that grow and develop from book to book. I honestly don’t know how he does it. He also keeps things fresh by changing up not only what’s happening, but how it’s being relayed. There’s even a story told entirely in court transcript, which had me cackling.
Do yourself a favor: don’t go to work, ignore your responsibilities, just go ahead and drop everything to read the Duckett and Dyer: Dicks For Hire series. These books are the best sort of disaster.