Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events by Brent Spiner with Jeanne Darst

Brent Spiner’s explosive and hilarious novel is a personal look at the slightly askew relationship between a celebrity and his fans. If the Coen Brothers were to make a Star Trek movie, involving the complexity of fan obsession and sci-fi, this noir comedy might just be the one.

Set in 1991, just as Star Trek: The Next Generation has rocketed the cast to global fame, the young and impressionable actor Brent Spiner receives a mysterious package and a series of disturbing letters, that take him on a terrifying and bizarre journey that enlists Paramount Security, the LAPD, and even the FBI in putting a stop to the danger that has his life and career hanging in the balance.

Featuring a cast of characters from Patrick Stewart to Levar Burton to Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, to some completely imagined, this is the fictional autobiography that takes readers into the life of Brent Spiner and tells an amazing tale about the trappings of celebrity and the fear he has carried with him his entire life. (Taken from Amazon)

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.

Dragonlance Side Quest: Kindred Spirits by Mark Anthony and Ellen Porath

When Flint Fireforge, dwarf and metalsmith, receives a wondrous summons from the Speaker of the Sun, he journeys to the fabled elven city of Qualinost. There he meets Tanis, a thoughtful youth born of a tragic union between elf and man. Tanis and Flint, each a misfit in his own way, find themselves unlikely friends.
But a pompous elf lord is mysteriously slain, and another elf soon meets the same fate. Tanis stands accused, and if his innocence cannot be proven, the half-elf will be banished forever. Solving the mystery will be a perilous task. Time is on the murderer’s side, and he is not finished yet. (Taken from Amazon)

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.

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? 

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.

Purchase Links:
The Hummingbird’s Tear
The Giant’s Echo
The Hunchback’s Sigh

A Mirror Mended by Alix E. Harrow


Zinnia Gray, professional fairy-tale fixer and lapsed Sleeping Beauty is over rescuing snoring princesses. Once you’ve rescued a dozen damsels and burned fifty spindles, once you’ve gotten drunk with twenty good fairies and made out with one too many members of the royal family, you start to wish some of these girls would just get a grip and try solving their own narrative issues.

Just when Zinnia’s beginning to think she can’t handle one more princess, she glances into a mirror and sees another face looking back at her: the shockingly gorgeous face of evil, asking for her help. Because there’s more than one person trapped in a story they didn’t choose. Snow White’s Evil Queen has found out how her story ends and she’s desperate for a better ending. She wants Zinnia to help her before it’s too late for everyone.

Will Zinnia accept the Queen’s poisonous request, and save them both from the hot iron shoes that wait for them, or will she try another path? (Taken from Amazon)

A Mirror Mended is the continuation of the Fractured Fables series. You can find my review of book one, A Spindle Splintered, here. Both books are available now.

A Mirror Mended continues the story started in A Spindle Splintered, with Zinnia traveling into various versions of the Sleeping Beauty tale to save the princess from her own story. It’s obvious that Zinnia is creating as many happy endings as possible because she feels she has no control over her own fate. She knows that her illness will catch up to her (sooner rather than later) and she will die. As far as avoidance techniques go, it’s a pretty creative one. It’s also alienated her from her best friend, Charm.

After one night of a particularly zesty victory celebration, Zinnia finds herself traveling into another fairytale- except for the first time ever, it’s not another version of Sleeping Beauty. Instead, she comes face to face with the Evil Queen from Snow White.

I’ve never been a big fan of Snow White (especially the Disney version) and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it dumped on its head. Since Zinnia meets the Evil Queen first instead of Snow White, she’s treated to an opposing view of what really happens in the story. Doubly interesting is that this villain knows she’s the bad guy and even knows her own fate (which is really rather grisly).

Just like Zinnia, Eva (short for “Evil Queen”) is looking for a way to escape her story. The book focuses mainly on their changing relationship and how they learn from each other. Now, before you think “boring” and write the book off- there’s also a fair amount of fairy tale shenanigans, including battles, magical witches, and romance. At the end of the day, though, the relationships and character growth were what kept me interested.

I was a little concerned at first because Charm is in very little of this book. I was worried that it wouldn’t give Zinnia the chance to continue to grow as a character without having someone who understood the entire situation. Fortunately, Eva is a quick study and more than made up for the missing Charm (weak pun intended).

Zinnia was in fine form, her snarkiness shining through, but Eva stole the show. Her mix of naivety and condescension made her a blast to read! She was always a force to be reckoned with, and it didn’t go well when people forgot that.

Author Alix E. Harrow packed a ton into such a short book. Every now and again I wished that more time could have been spent on a particular part (especially when a certain character helps raid a castle), but such is the nature of shorter books. I just enjoy Harrow’s writing so much that I’m always eager for more.

Is A Mirror Mended my favorite Alix E. Harrow book? No. But’s it’s well written, added a new facet to the Fractured Fables storyline, and kept me highly entertained.

Dragonlance Reading Order 2022

Logo Credit: Wizards of the Coast
Image Credit: Larry Elmore
Banner Credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

The Dragonlance world is one I happily revisit every year. Rich in detail and huge in scope, the series itself boasts over one hundred novels, and the first book in a new trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, titled Dragons of Deceit, has just released.

If you’ve never read the series before, you might be wondering where to start. I’ll admit, it can be pretty daunting. Here is my own reading order suggestion. Keep in mind, it is my opinion only, and I haven’t listed every single book, rather sticking to the “main storyline” with side suggestions along the way.

First things first: The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of Autumn Twilight
Dragons of Winter Night
Dragons of Spring Dawning


These are the basis of the entire world. Without these books, you won’t understand much of what happens after. You won’t be able to fully appreciate the books that take place before (that were nonetheless written later on). This is where you’ll meet some of the best characters ever written. Yup, I mean ever.

Continuing on: The Dragonlance Legends by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Time of the Twins
War of the Twins
Test of the Twins

The Legends trilogy is meant to be read right after the Chronicles, despite later books being published that take place in-between the original Chronicles. Trust me, do not sandwich those books (the Lost Chronicles) in the middle of the original Chronicles trilogy! I promise, there’s a place for them later on.

Connecting the old to the new:

The Second Generation 
by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of Summer Flame by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Now, at this point, after being emotionally devastated, you have a few choices: you can continue on with the “main storyline”, OR you can explore the world a little bit. There’s so much to see, after all! Keep reading the post to see where I would suggest going next in the main storyline. I’ll add some book suggestions at the bottom of this post for those who want to wander around Krynn a bit.

Fleshing out the original books: The Lost Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of the Dwarven Depths

Dragons of the Highlord Skies

Dragons of the Hourglass Mage

These technically don’t further the storyline, as they are meant to take place in-between events covered in the earliest books. They make the original story much bigger, though, and we get to see more of my favorite characters, which is always a plus.

Time to see what happens next: Dragons of a New Age trilogy by Jean Rabe

The Dawning of a New Age

The Day of the Tempest

The Eve of the Maelstrom

To be honest, the Jean Rabe books are probably the Dragonlance books that I’ve read the fewest amount of times. However, they do connect what came before with what comes next.

The Dhamon Saga by Jean Rabe:

Downfall

Betrayal

Redemption

Carrying on: The War of Souls trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of a Fallen Sun

Dragons of a Lost Star

Dragons of a Vanished Moon

Now, it’s on to: The Dark Disciple trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Amber and Ashes

Amber and Iron

Amber and Blood

The first book in a new trilogy, Dragonlance Destinies by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman has just released!

Dragons of Deceit (Dragonlance Destinies book 1)

You could technically start reading Dragonlance here as the authors have given important information and history throughout the book, while avoiding the dreaded info dump (that they were able to do this speaks of their excellent writing abilities). In order to truly appreciate everything that happens, though, I would suggest at least reading the Chronicles and The War of Souls. But that’s just me.

Now, you’re technically more or less caught up on the main storyline. However, here’s where it gets interesting: you’ll notice that this is less than 100+ books. That means you get to pick and choose any side novels that catch your eye. I personally am a huge fan of the Meetings Sextet (which explain how our original companions met), the Preludes, and the Raistlin Chronicles. Honestly, anything written by Margaret Weis or Tracy Hickman is going to be gold. I’m also a big fan of the books written by Douglas Niles and Richard A. Knaak.

Time to gather up your maps, grab your hoopak, and head off for adventures!

Let’s Talk About: Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week

Banner Credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I have been lucky enough to read many indie/self-published. I love the creativity and uniqueness often found in self-published books. Last year was the first ever Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week, during which I was joined by many amazing bloggers, podcasters, and Youtubers, all sharing their appreciation for great self-published authors. Well, guess what? We’re doing it again this year!

This year Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week will run from July 24th-30th. How can you get involved? Read self-published books, review self-published books, shout about great self-published authors. You’re welcome to use the above banner (created by the awesome Fantasy Book Nerd) and if you tag my Twitter @WS_BOOKCLUB, I will add your posts to a blog hub and share those posts on my Twitter. On Twitter, you can the hashtags #SPAAW, #SuperSP, and #IndiesAreAwesome.

For those of you who would like to see some of the amazing pieces published during last year’s SPAAW, you can find them linked here: Self-published Authors Appreciation Week Hub.

I hope it will be even bigger this year. Let’s shout about self-published authors!

Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy Featuring Jamie Jackson

This year I’m doing a new series on my blog: Fantasy Focus. Each month, I’m focusing on a different fantasy subgenre. Fantasy is such a broad genre with so many different things to offer. So far, there have been focuses on Comedic FantasyRomantic FantasyGrimdark, and Epic/High Fantasy.

Today, I’m privileged to talk with Jamie Jackson, author of the Adventures of a Villain-Leaning Humanoid series.

Hi Jamie! Thank you for joining me to talk about urban fantasy!

First, will you tell readers a little bit about yourself?

So, I’m basically Doug from Up.  I’m easily excitable, loud, and often distracted.  I love fantasy and science fiction but will read any and all genres I can get my hands on.  I’ve worked backstage in theater and behind the scenes documentaries about movies and TV shows are my favorite things to watch.  I’m also married to an awesome and supportive man, have three kids, and two dogs.

Will you talk a little bit about Fear and Fury?

So, it’s the first novel in my urban fantasy superhero series, Adventures of a Villain-Leaning Humanoid.  It has a 4th wall-breaking 1st person narrative, Greek mythology retelling, and a cast of ruthless, morally grey heroes going up against some epic villains.  The first book is essentially Meg’s “origin” story, when a previously unknown villain makes her his next target, she has to turn to the heroes she’s spent her life trying to avoid for help.

I love that your main character, Megaera, is a “self-described not-a-hero”. How did you get in the “zone”, so to speak, when writing a more self-centered character?

I’ll be honest, I have no idea.  I like to think that I thought about if I was hero, what kind of hero would I hope to be, and then wrote the opposite of that.  But she just showed up as a petty, and somewhat self-centered person to start with.

Your book is considered urban fantasy. How would you define that subgenre?

I would say urban fantasy is anything occurring in a modern setting that has fantastical elements, either magic, superheroes, the paranormal, etc.

What first drew you to writing urban fantasy?

I wanted a world that had cell phones.

In truth, it’s a genre I enjoy reading, and for my first real novel I wanted to write something where there wasn’t going to be an overwhelming amount of world-building.  When it’s a universe like ours, we already know most of the rules for how things work, so for a project I was attempting while involuntarily homeschooling it was the ideal genre to write in.  And the idea for Meg had been knocking around in my head for a while already. 

What are some difficulties with writing urban fantasy?

Realism! You have to balance the line of what could realistically occur in our world with modern elements like technology and still being able to exaggerate it without losing your readers benefit of the doubt.

What are some strengths in this subgenre?

I think one of the strengths is that since it occurs in the modern world, it can be easier for readers to relate the situations the characters get into.  And as a whole I think we would love for there to be magic in the modern world, and urban fantasy gives that to us.  It’s also flexible with the amount of creatures, mythology, and magic you can put into your story. The genre runs the gamut from werewolves and vampires to the fae and gods and goddesses being a part of those worlds.  And it tends to blend sci-fi, fantasy and horror.

Who are some of your go-to authors?
Craig Schaefer, Rachel Aaron. I’ve read the majority of Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series. Right now I have a huge backlog of indie author books I’m working through, but the authors of the ones I have read are all on my instant buy list.

Purchase links:

http://mybook.to/FearandFury

http://mybook.to/TormentandTarnish

http://mybook.to/ScornandSorrow

The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston

Never stake more than you can afford to lose.

When failed magician turned cardsharp Valen Quinol is given the chance to play in the Forbearance Game—the invitation-only tournament where players gamble with secrets—he can’t resist. Or refuse, for that matter, according to the petty gangster sponsoring his seat at the table. Valen beats the man he was sent to play and wins the most valuable secret ever staked in the history of the tournament.

Now Valen and his motley crew are being hunted by thieves, gangsters, spies and wizards, all with their own reasons for wanting what’s in that envelope. It’s a game of nations where Valen doesn’t know all the rules or who all the players are and can’t see all the moves. But he does know if the secret falls into the wrong hands, it could plunge the whole world into war…(taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Knave of Secrets is available now.

The Knave of Secrets was a bit of a mixed bag for me. The premise immediately had me thinking of a fantasy-meets- Ocean’s 11, which sounded like a blast. However, while the concept looked entertaining, parts of the book just didn’t seem to quite pan out.

The beginning of the book dropped you right smack into the middle of intrigue and a rather abrupt exit, which I loved. I was excited about the pacing and looked forward to a fast-paced con with twists and turns aplenty. Alas, ’twas not to be. The pace slowed quite a bit and just seemed a bit choppy to me. The sections on card games that were scattered throughout might have contributed to that; while they were interesting, they added pauses that sometimes took me out of the narrative.

I did like the magic system and how it figured into so many aspects of the book and its characters. The concept of the tower being held together by magic was a creative one as well. I feel like the author had a lot of really good ideas that just didn’t necessarily belong all in the same book. Or maybe the book needed to be a little longer so he could fully develop them all?

My biggest quibble were the characters, particularly how they interacted. They were supposed to know each other well, but I didn’t get that feeling at all. The way they communicated (or didn’t) felt jilted and a little awkward. At this point, I’m beginning to think it’s a matter of “it’s me, not you”. I think that I was the wrong reader at the wrong time, which makes me wonder if I would have loved The Knave of Secrets had I read it at another time.

At the end of the day, The Knave of Secrets just didn’t work for me. The concept was a cool one, but the execution just didn’t seem to pay off.

One Foot in the Fade (A Fetch Phillips Novel) by Luke Arnold

Welcome back to the streets of Sunder City, a darkly imagined world perfect for readers of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.

In a city that lost its magic, an angel falls in a downtown street. His wings are feathered, whole—undeniably magical—the man clearly flew, because he left one hell of a mess when he plummeted into the sidewalk.

But what sent him up? What brought him down? And will the answers help Fetch bring the magic back for good?

Working alongside necromancers, genies, and shadowy secret societies, through the wildest forests and dingiest dive bars, this case will leave its mark on Fetch’s body, his soul, and the fate of the world. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. One Foot in the Fade is available for purchase now.

This is the third book in the Fetch Phillips series, so there might be some spoilers for the first two books. You can find my reviews for those books here: The Last Smile in Sunder City and Dead Man in a Ditch.

I knew from about twenty pages into book one that I’ll read anything by Luke Arnold, up to and including a pamphlet on beige paint. His writing is that good. I obviously had ridiculously high expectations for this latest installment in the Fetch Phillips novels, and One Foot in the Fade more than delivered. Buckle up, folks: this is going to be a rave. Or you could save yourself the trouble and buy the entire series now, which is the better option.

One Foot in the Fade continues on where Dead Man in a Ditch left off, with a much more motivated and slightly more capable Fetch taking the small bit of hope he’s seized and holding onto it for dear life. Thanks to a friend of his, Fetch’s sign has gone from an advertisement for a P.I. to a declaration: “Bringing the Magic Back”!

After sniffing the slightest possibility of a return to before everything went to crap, returning magic has become Fetch’s driving goal. He’s following every lead and hunting down any hint of a way to make that happen. Which is how he ends ups embroiled in what is either an almost-miracle or a very grisly murder. The answer leads Fetch on a journey both physical and emotional.

One Foot in the Fade takes the series from a grimy noir-fantasy to something completely new and different. I didn’t know what would happen next and I loved it. From duels (aka fights with self-important rich men who hold all the cards in life) to a not-quite-a-corpse, to an unfortunate encounter with a monster of legend, there was plenty of danger and action to be found. However, the heart stopping action scenes weren’t what held me enthralled. Rather, it was the incredible character growth to be found in Fetch.

Fetch Phillips has become one of my favorite characters in fantasy. Ever. His staunch refusal to give up, even when he’s convinced himself that he has, is heartbreaking. His grasp at the smallest glimmer of hope is relatable. And his palpable loneliness and the way he slowly learns to open himself up to the possibility of friendship is amazing and a privilege to read. Despite this being a fantasy setting, or maybe because of it, Fetch is one of the most supremely human characters I’ve read.

One Foot in the Fade has everything I want in a fantasy book. The story is engrossing, the descriptiveness of the writing is brilliant, the characters are all wonderful, and the ending made me tear up. A perfect blend between fantastical creativity and fascinating character development, One Foot in the Fade hooked me from page one.

Fantasy Focus: High and Epic Fantasy Featuring Jason & Rose Bishop

This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, there have been fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy, grimdark and romantic fantasy. I’m excited to be talking about high fantasy and epic fantasy this month.

I’ve been privileged to chat with Jason and Rose Bishop, authors of the Storm’s Rising series.

Thank you for being willing to talk about high fantasy and epic fantasy with me!

Thank you for having us! It’s one of our favorite topics.

Will you introduce yourselves?

Well, we’re Jason and Rose Bishop, a husband-and-wife team, married twenty-seven years and currently co-authoring the Storm’s Rising epic fantasy series. We met in college, and quickly discovered we both had a passion for fantasy stories and role-playing games such as AD&D and Pathfinder. In fact, it was during our gaming sessions that we unwittingly began building the world of Cyrradon, created some of the historical figures that became the basis of the saga, and thought up some of the pivotal events leading to the story we’re writing now.

On the personal side, we’ve taken on a wide variety of interests and hobbies over the years, including bicycling, motorcycling, guitar playing, fly fishing, home brewing, making mead and cider, and all kinds of home meat production (sausages, salamis, smoked/cured meats, etc.). We had a long phase of very near homesteading, where we raised much of what we ate, including a huge garden, a sustainable greenhouse with some hydroponics, chickens, ducks, geese, goats, pigs, and horses (we didn’t eat those). We found we love those primitive DIY skills, like canning and preserving, fermentation (kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, sourdough) and we think a lot of that goes into our stories and contribute to their complexity.

Can you talk a little bit about the Storm’s Rising series?

The Storm’s Rising series is our reach for the kind of story we would want to find on the shelf to read for ourselves. It’s a tale that begins with several young folk who had some serious drama in their past they were never fully aware of. And as in real life, eventually that drama comes along and sweeps them into it. But the story itself, as we’ve hinted at, began way before page one of book one. It’s somewhat of a “coming-of-age” story, somewhat of a “chosen one” story, and somewhat of a lit-RPG. We think the best thing about the books are its characters. Some of them we created on our own, others were inspired or outright created by our kids when they got old enough to game with us. But all of them have become like family to us, and they surprise us just as much as real people do with the things they say and the decisions they make. We’re not really in control here, we just document what they do! We even have songs we’ve attributed to many of them, that sort of capture the essence of each character for us!

Overall, the series tells the story of a group of heroes known as the Five, whose formation occurred centuries ago following an event called the Great Reavening. Their purpose is to somehow undo the damage that was done to Cyrradon, and to the nature of life, death, and time in that horrific event. Each member of the Five bears an amulet, handed down from generation to generation, one of five powerful artifacts that mark and aid them as mortal champions of the five gods who oversee the elder races of the world. There are dark powers both mortal and immortal vying to take advantage of the brokenness of the world to dominate all life. And believe it or not, our villains are as complex and relatable as our MCs (with theme songs of their own). But of course the MCs don’t know any of this at the beginning, and that’s the beauty of the epic fantasy: the reader is right there alongside them, learning things piece by piece as they do, puzzling it out one shattered fragment at a time.

The best part of the story for us is the way the MCs grow. At first, they know nothing of each other, and very little about themselves or their past. They come from different cultures with lots of preconceptions about the other races and especially mixed breeds. So seeing them grow into their own potential, learn to trust each other (or not), learn to work together (or not), and learn that the world they live in is so much bigger and more deadly than they’d ever known, is really a privilege for us to witness. 

What were some obstacles to writing The Call (book 1)? I know you have had an interesting journey into the world of indie publishing.

It’s been a long road, and one we didn’t actually know we were on for a long time. As you know, we started building our world and our story long before we ever thought it would be a book, much less a massive series of books! Rose, who was usually our DM when we gamed, had an extensive pile of notes, maps, story ideas, character bios, etc., from our gaming sessions, so that gave us a great start. Then I (Jason) used some of my spare time working night shifts to dream up a lot of the histories of Cyrradon, and that ended up being a huge resource, bigger than we planned. So the first obstacle was really deciding how to put it all together. We knew there was no way our story could be told in just one book, so our first concept was a five-book series. Five heroes, five amulets, five gods, right? But by the time we got the first draft of book one down, we knew even five wasn’t going to be enough. 

The next obstacle came gift-wrapped in all the preconceptions of what a debut novel should look like according to the big names in publishing. Around 80,000 words, a complete novel in one volume, professionally edited and published, amazing cover art, etc. And it was about this time we got neck deep in the churn of query letters and rejections. At that time, our perception of indie authors was not complimentary. We were led to believe that self-publishing was for folks who just didn’t have what it took, and we were beginning to wonder if that was us. Then, fortunately for us, a certain steamy romance novel began making headlines and we learned it had originally gained popularity as an independent work, then got picked up by one of the big five, topping the charts internationally and even becoming a series of movies, despite being by most accounts rather terribly written. We knew our writing was better, beyond any doubt. We had to reevaluate our definitions of what was “worthy,” and whether we wanted to allow the ‘big five’ to determine that for us. We decided we did not.

Of course, there was another obstacle of the “elephant in the room” variety: the whole notion of a man and wife writing a story together and avoiding divorce in the process! We had to learn a lot about each other. How to communicate, how to manage our expectations, how to concede to one another in some regards and let go of our own “darlings” to move forward in others. In a lot of ways, we changed how we write as we realized where our strengths lay. We developed our roles and became much more comfortable in them. In the beginning, we both would write scenes independently, then hand them off to the other to go through and edit or critique. This was fraught with pitfalls, because as any writer knows, no matter how you plan out a scene, it always develops legs and arms you didn’t anticipate. We began finding these appendages fighting with one another and creating conflict in the story and in our relationship. Over time, we shifted to what could be called a “framer and painter” format. Rose is the architect (in our writing, and coincidentally as a profession); she puts the framework together and makes sure the plotlines and the critical elements of the story stay true. I’m the fluff guy (Rose says ‘artist’); I put all the pretty stuff on the outside, write the dialogue, develop the characters, and so on. So, when we’re crafting a new scene, Rose takes the lead until we have the mechanics figured out, then I take the stage for the drafting. It’s been an exercise that has strengthened not only our story writing, but our marriage as well.

What are some successes?

[JASON] I’d say our successes are built in right after our failures. Like the example with our thoughts toward indie authors, that failure led us to the success of being primed to accept some formative advice we received one day in early 2020 from a wise gentleman named Paul. He said two things we wouldn’t have been ready to hear prior to that smutty bestseller hitting the news. The first was, “There are over seven billion people in the world. All you need to be successful is 200-300 thousand of them to like your story.” This was like a light switch, flooding my brain to the very darkest reaches and making all the little doubting critters scamper off. Then he followed up with, “Now, just throw your story up into outer space and see what happens.” And that was it. We went through the book one last time, an out-loud reading at home with the family, and when we were done, we hopped on Kindle Direct Publishing and hit ‘submit.’ Then we cracked open a bottle of a massive Belgian style ‘dubbel’ homebrew we save for special occasions and celebrated!

There have definitely been more successes along the way. Getting positive reviews are always a success that has us on cloud nine for days. Finishing each new novel, getting that author proof in the mail and getting to hold it, smell it, flip through the pages and see all the hard work in our hands! Sending “thank you” copies to our beta readers. Every new follower on social media, everyone who reaches out just to say hi, or tells us something about how the book affected them or prods us for when the next one might be coming, these are all the successes that matter the most to us. We’re proud to be part of the indie tribe because it means we did it on our own. That’s a success in and of itself.

[ROSE] Jason found a great cover artist company, JD&J Cover Artists, who took our ideas and made them real. We also have a fantastic group of beta readers whose input helped us to fill in some blanks and remember that our readers don’t know the world as intimately as we do. Formatting the books was difficult, but doable. It taught me a lot of patience.

I know Storm’s Rising is considered epic fantasy. Can you talk a little bit about what epic fantasy is?

It’s a high fantasy that’s bigger than the books. The story has its origins way before chapter one. And throughout the reading of the story, the reader is overwhelmed with a grandness of scale, depth, complexity, and history that transcends the words on the page. Like scenes from a movie, the characters are right there in the foreground moving the story along, but all the while there is a complete, mature world behind them just begging to be admired and explored, and crying out of a history so rich nearly all of it has passed out of memory and become legend or perhaps even myth. 

Some conventional sources assert the terms ‘epic fantasy’ and ‘high fantasy’ as interchangeable. We don’t believe that for a second. In our mind, a high fantasy world (i.e., a world separate from our own, where realities are a bit different, and everyone carries a blade or uses magic) is where an epic fantasy tale can occur. But simply being high fantasy does not make it epic. Convention would also have us believe to be an epic fantasy it must (1) be a massively voluminous story, (2) about an orphan or outcast who grows up to be the chosen one to save the world, from (3) an unavoidable, unescapable evil. And further that the story (4) be the type of tale that is told and retold through generations, so old that you and your parents and grandparents even cannot recall a time when the story did not exist. So why then do we call ours epic? Okay, maybe we’re jumping the gun a little on number 4, but we have the first three dead to rights! The last one is up to our readers and time to tell. But we don’t have any doubts that lovers of classical fantasy sagas who read our story won’t dispute the label.

What drew you to writing that sort of, really, vast type of book?

No surprises here, it was having read fantasies of the epic variety before and knowing that’s what we wanted to craft for ourselves. We’ve never been satisfied with ‘garden variety’ anything. An epic fantasy requires a hero; we have multiple. An epic fantasy requires a villain; we have three pretty consistent bad guys you might choose to hate, with a handful of other minor villains for flavor. An epic fantasy requires an artifact of rare and mythic power; depending on your take on this, we either have five (the amulets) or we have none at all (we don’t exactly have a quest to find all the McGuffins, horcruxes, etc.) We’re okay with whichever you decide is the case.

One thing that differentiates our story from the traditional epic fantasy is that even though our MCs have skills they hone and lean on through the story, they’re not necessarily prodigies in the making. The typical epic starts with that orphan or outcast youth who has incredible fighting or magic using potential that ends up being the key to resolving the conflict. We veered away from that, preferring instead to show how heart, courage, and sacrifice could be the keys rather than puissant skill at arms or the magical equivalent.

Regardless, we wanted to take the time needed to tell the story completely, to lay it out with broad strokes so the reader can look forward to a journey they’ll enjoy start to finish. We wanted to delay as much as possible the inevitable moment when the reader is forced to turn that final page and decide what to do with the rest of their lives. That’s what we would want as readers. There’s nothing worse than just getting to the point you understand what’s going on and you love the characters, and then the story wraps up and you’re done. Or worse, you buy the next book in the series and all the characters you just met aren’t even mentioned again! What even is that? (If you know, you know.)

Perhaps the best part of writing epic fantasy is the allure of the world, in spite of all its flaws and dangers. Yes, there’s an overarching threat that promises to snuff out everything good, with nowhere to go and no way to escape it. But despite all that ugliness on the surface, it’s still a place you find yourself wishing you could go.

Are you more pantsers or plotters?

This is a tough one! It’s the classic argument of predestination versus free will. Are they mutually exclusive, or can they coexist? 

Any good writer, we think, needs to be a bit of both, pantser and plotter. While we love the planning phase (see our blog post on the ‘sticky note’ story boarding method we use), once we start actually writing we often see our characters making some pretty wild choices! Sometimes even choices that send our plotline off in directions we couldn’t have predicted. Or we’ll throw in a minor character for flavor in a certain scene, and then watch that character somehow grow into someone far more significant than we had designed. But you know, once it happens and Rose and I look at each other and say, “Oh, he definitely would have said that,” or “That’s so perfect!” then we’re committed and we just have to figure it out. So at that point, I suppose we become pantsers! Until the next scene, when we have it all planned out like before, and it happens again.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Top of the list goes J. R. R. Tolkien, for pretty predictable reasons. He defined the genre for us and set the bar for world-building so high we will likely never reach it. Despite having a world-building file nearly big enough now to publish as its own novel, and even despite having created our own elven language, we doubt we’ll ever get to the Silmarillion level. He’s the godfather of epic fantasy, and always will be. 

Others well-deserving of praise in both our minds include David Eddings, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman (and many others of the Dragonlance and Ravenloft sagas), Joe Abercrombie, Terry Brooks, Tad Williams, John Flannagan, Simon Hawke, John Gwynne, Warren Murphy & Richard Sapir, Leo Tolstoy, Judith Tarr and David B. Coe. All of these authors had some formative effect on us in terms of what we enjoy reading, and how we write our own stories.

About the authors:

Epic Fantasy Authors at Legends of Cyrradon

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Latest release: Storm’s Rising Book 4: Eye of the Witch

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