Writer Wednesday – Emmie Mears

1. Who are you? I’m Emmie Mears! In theory, anyway. For now.

2. What type of stuff do you write? I like to have my fingers dipped into just about every SFF pie. Lately I’ve been tending toward more broad speculative fiction, second world alt history and second world in general, but I’m looking forward to digging into some science fantasy and more straight sci fi as well as epic fantasy soon. (I have a hankering to write a first contact story, but we’ll see.)

3. What do you want to pimp right now? I have a rather grueling release schedule lately. A HALL OF KEYS AND NO DOORS just came out, which is a contemporary magical realism, and I’m certainly proud of that. LOOK TO THE SUN comes out 15 November and is available for preorder right now, and that is a book that feels almost too timely — I’ve pitched it as Les Miserables meets Shadow of the Wind. It’s a second world novel with a Gothic feel about generational tragedy, love, and fighting against fascism.

4. What’s your favorite book? This will likely come as no surprise if you read the preceding paragraph, but Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It is absolutely stunning, and the moment I finished it for the first time, I picked it up and read it again. A more recent read was Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, which was phenomenal (and, combined with a non-fiction thing I read recently, inspired my next project).

5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat? I’ve been very privileged to be able to write full time for the past year. I have a part time job as a banquet server as well. Besides writing, though, the full-time-ness of that job encompasses PR, marketing, accounting, finance, and enough emails to form an avalanche. I also manage a small contingent of ninja cats in my home.

6. Where can we find you? I am virtually omnipresent on the internet, it feels. You can find me on Twitter @EmmieMears, or you can find me on the Book of Face. I’m also on Instagram if you like cat spam and a parade of homemade food. If you like short stories and want to help support my writing, you can find me on Patreon, and for the eminent pragmatists among you, my general home on the interwebz is simply emmiemears.com.

Expect the Unexpected – 5 Tips for Writers

By the time this goes live, I will have finished my twelfth full length manuscript. That’s some novels, and with seven-soon-to-be-eight in the wild, I’ve arrived at a point where I get emails from people asking me to kick them in the butt. “Kicking internet folks in the butt” was not something I was entirely prepared for when I went into this career with the idea that maybe one day I could make a living doing the only thing I think I’m good at, but it’s something I’m being asked to do.

In the spirit of sharing hard-won wisdom and lessons, here are five things I didn’t expect from writing when I started:

5. Writing books doesn’t really get easier.

It hasn’t. In fact, books 10 and 11 were some of the toughest things I’ve done. Writing is a constant evolution of figuring out exactly how much you know and don’t know. It’s about trying something that has worked for you before (or that has worked for someone not-you) and finding out that lo, suddenly it worketh not. That can be…frustrating.

I’ve heard it said that writers don’t know how to write books. We have to learn each time how to write this book. In my experience of the past decade of finishing books, that is very, very true.

4. Writing is a lot easier when you can leave the business out of it.

I think in a lot of our minds when we start out, writing is like that internet meme.

Step 1–Have idea
Step 2–Be said idea’s miraculous conduit onto the page
Step 3–???????

Yeah, nah.

It doesn’t work like that. Whether you traditionally publish or do it independently (I’ve done both), two words will dictate much of your success: bottom and line.

In trade publishing, that bottom line can be the difference between your book getting acquired and your book getting trunked. (Or, as I have personally experienced, an entire imprint getting trunked and every book it publishes going down with it.) In indie publishing, it can mean you’re spending more on your packaging, marketing, editing, etc. than you are making. That is not sustainable unless you are one of the mythical humans for whom money is not the difference between your pet iguana starving to death or not.

Having to factor in making art with the reality of making money is not an easy web of tightropes to walk. But it can be done.

3. On that note, if you don’t have it, money can be a massive systemic barrier.

As in all careers, having money to start with means that you have access to networking opportunities, career development, and the more esoteric bits, like automatically being taken a bit more seriously. Conferences and conventions, where heaps of connections are made, are decidedly not cheap. Tax write off, yes, but you still have to spend the money up front.

The same goes for indie publishing–you have to put money in on the front end there, for a great cover if absolutely nothing else.

That said? Slush works. Both of my agents, I’ve gotten through the slush pile. I’m a hybrid author, which means I’ve had trade deals and have indie published both. If you are seeking to go the commercial trade publishing route, you don’t need to know anybody (and no matter how much your friends love you, even if you have connections, they are never a guarantee).

2. There is never Only One.

Books are not like Highlander. Sure, we see the highly publicised unicorns like Twilight and Wool, that One Book that propelled its author to fame and fortune. But we have to remember those stories are unicorns. There is an immense amount of luck in the writing business that boils down to this: the right eyes hitting your work at the right time.

It can happen on the first book you write (I suppose, since it has to very few folks). But more likely there will be many books. The first that you publish, whether trade or indie. The first that earns you a five star review–or the first that earns you one star. There will be a book that someone will email you to tell you they desperately needed. A book you look back on and cringe. Because for most of us, this career is about building a mountain, not about being airlifted to the top of it or shot out of a cannon.

Which brings me to the last tidbit…

1. Your craft is the barre.

In ballet, the barre is the place you turn to re-orient yourself. To find balance and return to the basics that make the pro jumps possible. That is craft to the writer, but you have to build it. There is a general mythos around writing that suggests that the ability to do it well is this ephemeral thing called “talent.” But the truth is, it’s something we have to learn and hone. Everyone can get better at it. Sometimes when we start out, our barre is crooked and falls off when we lean on it too hard. We have to bust out the level and learn some physics and engineering and figure out how it best works for us, and even then we have to replace the screws that fall out and the bits of mirror where the silver wears away.

It takes effort and practice, and there is never a guarantee of being that unicorn. There is just the story, just the barre that holds us up and directs the flow of our movements.

But here’s the other bit–you can surprise yourself. If you’d asked me when I was 20 how many books I thought I could write, I don’t know what my answer would have been. At nearly 32, I’ve written twelve. Everyone’s mountain looks different.

And I’m just getting started.

Book Review – Nanotecture

TITLE: Nanotecture: Tiny Built Things
AUTHOR: Rebecca Roke
FORMAT: Hardcover

Nanotecture is supposed to be, according to the book’s own description, a book about architecture/small houses  (including bird/dog/cathouses).  I got it because I thought it would be a really interesting book about tiny houses, which I would never on any planet live in (where would you put books?!), but which I think are fascinating.

The book is small – slightly smaller than a traditional hardback – and each page features a full color photo and then a description and block info that includes who made it, where, when, why, etc…  It’s arranged in five categories from smallest to largest, and features icons that tell what materials were used in the building project.

So, for starters, the book isn’t quite what it’s billed to be.  A lot of the book (like half of the book) is sculpture and the like and not anything useful in any way, meaningful or not.  “This sculpture was done for an art show and lasted forty-seven hours before we took it down!” (Okay, I’m exaggerating.  But barely.)  The reason I wanted the book was to see DWELLINGS – their word – and not just plain artwork.  Nothing wrong with artwork, but that wasn’t what I was going for.

Also the photo was nicely in full color, but it was a single, exterior shot for each thing.  When the outside of the space is a square and the inside is supposed to hold an entire house, the almost windowless square is the most boring camera area possible.  I’m sure they were going for the small format to keep in theme (oh, a tiny book about tiny houses!), but it lost a lot of potential with only the one image.  I know that not everything could have multiple photos – there was a bird house that could be installed as a roof tile, for instance – but a lot of them had designs that were *about* the inside of the piece.

The book was thorough, but it wasn’t what it said it was, and it lacked a few things that would have made it stellar.  I’ll give it 3/5.  Look at it for what it is – an art book – and not at all a book about tiny houses.

Book Review – Beyond Redemption

Title: Beyond Redemption
Author: Michael R. Fletcher
Format: Paperback
Written: 2015

A dark and twisted fantasy story, Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher is one of the rare stories that succeeds at creating a gritty fantasy world while still giving us an intriguing story. It is a world full of Geisteskranken, men and women whose delusions and psychoses twist into reality, and the theocratic government that would use them for their own malicious intent.

Fletcher’s world is one driven by faith and corruption, calling to question the very nature of belief, religion, and power, and which drives which. It is the story of a young boy, destined to Ascend and become the God of a new religion, founded by the malignant High Priest Konig–a man who is quickly losing his grip on reality as the story progresses. However, the actions of a Slaver Geisteskranken and a gang of degenerates–an aging warrior, a kleptomaniac, and the self-proclaimed Greatest Swordsman alive–throw Konig’s careful plan into chaos.

Fletcher’s world is a truly intriguing one, and his view of religion and it’s use in Beyond Redemption, combined with the delusions and magic of the Geisteskranken, make for a thought-provoking story with an unexpected ending. It is a story about perseverance and determination in the face of terror and the crushing weight of a broken, dystopian world, which drags the reader along through the grimness if for no reason other than to see how it could possibly end.

The story does starts at a painfully slow pace, with a waterfall of information dumped on the reader to establish this world, the characters, the faith, and the Geisteskranken. The pacing issues continue throughout the book, with some chapters whisking by with high action and intensity and others trudging through waist-deep mud, which, combined with cliched characters and increasingly bizarre Geisteskranken make it hard for the reader to stay immersed in the story.

The story itself is a gripping one, and one that will continue to pull you back each time you put the book down. If you are looking for an original fantasy story, it’s worth the read. Overall I would give it three out of five stars.


Book Review – An Artificial Night

Title: An Artificial Night

Author: Seanan McGuire

Format: eBook

Year Published: 2010

An Artificial Night is the third Toby Daye book, and a heart-wrenching ride from start to finish. Somebody is stealing children, both Fae and human, and the children of some of toby’s best friends are taken. In order to get them back, she must travel into a magical realm reachable only by three roads, and where dangers rest round every corner.

Toby is sharper in this book than she had been in the previous stories – the mistakes she makes aren’t ones that make you want to shake her, and even when events get the best of her, you mourn with her, rather than have a little voice going “well, it’s nothing more than you deserved” in the back of your mind. (Or is that just me?)

Not only does Toby have to find the missing children, she has to face the fact that her Fetch – the harbinger of her death, has shown up and made herself comfortable in Toby’s life. While in some cases this makes her reckless, it’s not something that is maddening – every mistake has a base where you can see how the decision was made. And the ending feels satisfying and well-earned – it doesn’t come cheap or easy, but it is what needed to happen.

(One of the things that this was story does is set up threads that are paid off several books down the line – in looking it over again, I see how the seeds have been sown. Some of these are ones that I enjoyed – others, not so much.)

Quentin remains one of my favorite characters – he’s a teenager, but he behaves believably not only as a teen, but as one who is growing up and maturing.

May, Toby’s Fetch, is a fun character – a glimpse of who Toby could possibly have been if all of the tragedies in her life hadn’t happened. even though her role should have been clear-cut, she’s allowed a chance to grow and develop over the course of the book.

Overall, a very good book.4 /5 stars.

Writer Wednesday – Linda Watkins

1. Who are you? (A name would be good here)
Linda Watkins

2. What type of stuff do you write? (besides shopping lists!)
Contemporary Gothic Fiction

3. What do you want to pimp right now?
My three novels are a series, so pimping one, pimps all! I would pimp primarily the first novel, MATEGUAS ISLAND, A NOVEL OF TERROR AND SUSPENSE

4. What’s your favorite book? (Okay, or two or three… I know how writers are as readers!)
All time favorite:
THE MAGUS by John Fowled (original version)

Other favs:
A WALK IN THE WOODS by Bill Bryson
THE STAND by Stephen King
SHADOWLAND by Peter Straub

5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
I am the caregiver, and loving mom, for two very geriatric dogs, both with multiple special needs.

6. Where can we find you?
I’m all over the place!
FB: https://www.facebook.com/LindaWatkins.Author/
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Linda-Watkins/
Twitter: @splatland
Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+LindaWatkins123/posts
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7754966.Linda_Watkins
My blog: http://lindawatkins.biz/
My website: http://mateguasisland.com/


Let’s Talk About Gothic Horror/Mystery

Having been accused of writing contemporary Gothic fiction (MATEGUAS ISLAND, RETURN TO MATEGUAS ISLAND, and GHOSTS OF MATEGUAS), I thought I’d take a moment to discuss the genre and some common elements that make a novel Gothic.

However, before I begin, let me first state that this is by no means meant to be a scholarly treatise on the genre. No, I will leave that to those more schooled in literature than I. This is merely a blog post. It is meant to be slightly informative and, hopefully, fun.

Gothic fiction has been around since medieval times.  Sir Horace Walpole’sTHE CASTLE OF OTRANTO, published in 1764,  is often credited as being the first English gothic horror novel.

But what makes a novel gothic? There are numerous  subtleties that go into creating a novel of this genre and even more when you consider all of its sub-genres (horror, mystery, romance, etc.).  However, I’m just going to touch on some of the most common elements of gothic fiction here.

All right, let’s begin. First of all, we must consider the setting. Gothic fiction is usually played out in a place that is dark and gloomy, conjuring up an atmosphere of horror and dread. For example, inTHE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, Poe calls the estate ‘melancholy’ and a ‘mansion of gloom’. In Shirley Jackson’s classic novel, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, the house is described as ‘holding darkness within’.  In my novel, MATEGUAS ISLAND, when seeing the island for the first time, Bill remarks that while it is beautiful, it looks ‘cold’. And, then there’s The Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s THE SHINING and the ruined castle where Jonathan Harkness first meets the Count in Bram Stoker’s classicDRACULA Need I say more?

All right, we have our setting, what next?  Most gothic novels involve the appearance of supernatural beings – ghosts, specters, vampires, zombies,  and other things that go ‘bump in the night’. In THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, it is the house itself that is suspect, whereas in MATEGUAS ISLAND  it is a malevolent Native American spirit that plagues the Andersens in their new home. In Henry James’ classic, THE TURN OF THE SCREW, the governess sees the ghost of Peter Quint and in THE SHINING there are numerous ghosts, most notably those of former caretaker, Delbert Grady, and his murdered daughters.

Okay, we now have a dark and gloomy setting that is the home to some ghosts or specters. What do we need next to move the plot along?  How about some dark curses or prophesies? In Walpole’s THE CASTLE OF OTRANTO there is an ancient prophesy that  Manfred, the lord of the castle, seeks to avert by marrying his dead son’s betrothed. In  THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, Roderick  believes his family to be cursed by incurable madness. And in REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier, the unnamed heroine must come to grips with a dark and terrible secret being kept by her husband.

So, now we have a dark and dismal setting haunted by ghosts and subject to a terrible curse or prophesy. But what about the human characters? Often we find the pivotal character in a gothic novel to be a woman in jeopardy. For example, in MATEGUAS ISLAND, it is Karen who finds herself strangely transported to a dark and dangerous trail leading deep into the woods. Wendy Torrance in THE SHINING, Lucy and Mina in DRACULA, and the governess in THETURN OF THE SCREW all find themselves facing mortal peril at the hands of supernatural beings. In THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, it is Eleanor who tends to experience dark phenomena to which others in the house are oblivious. And, in REBECCA, the narrator finds herself living in the shadow and mystery of her husband’s former wife.

But is gothic fiction only peopled by damsels in distress? No! To counterbalance the ladies, the gothic genre often employs characters who can be seen as heroes or antiheroes. In the final chapters of THE SHINING, the clairvoyant cook, Hallorann, comes charging through a blizzard on a snowmobile to try to rescue Wendy and Danny. Dex Pierce inMATEGUAS ISLAND sees himself as Karen’s  knight errant and rushes to her side when she collapses in the backyard. In Emily Bronte’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS, Heathcliff enacts the role of both a Byronic and demonic hero. In DRACULA, it is Van Helsing who eventually saves the day.

Okay, now we have a beautiful woman transported to a dark and dismal setting haunted by ghosts and subject to a terrible curse or prophesy who may, or may not, be saved by a dashing or not-so-dashing hero.   So, what comes next?

Romance, of course! In gothic novels, romance can take many forms. It can be a powerful love, heart-stirring, and intense. Or, it could be an unrequited  or illicit love. Basically, anything goes! An example of a  powerful love can be found MATEGUAS ISLAND when Dex realizes he has fallen deeply in love with Karen and vows to do anything necessary to protect her.   In WUTHERING HEIGHTS, we have both powerful and unrequited love in Heathcliff’s desire for Cathy.  In Charlotte Bronte’s JANE EYRE, the heroine falls head over heels for the brooding and moody, Mr. Rochester.

So what have we put together with all these elements? We have a story of beautiful woman living in a dark and dismal place, haunted by ghosts, and subject to a terrible curse or prophesy who meets and, may fall in love with, a dashing or mysterious man who may, or may not, save her! And with that, my friends, we have laid the groundwork for a gothic novel!

Now, for some fun and amusement,  check out the first and last  lines from some classic, and, not-so-classic, novels in the genre.

REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier:  
First Line: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
Last Line:   “And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.

DRACULA by Bram Stoker:
First Line: “3 May, Bistritz – Left Munich at 8:35 P.M., on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late.”
Last Line: “Later on he will understand how some men so loved her, that they did dare much for her sake.”

First Line:   “I see…” said the vampire thoughtfully, and slowly he walked across the room towards the window.”
Last Line: “And then, stuffing the notebook quickly in his pocket, he gathered the tapes into his brief case, along with the small recorder, and hurried down the long hallway and down the stairs to the street, …”

FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley:
First Line: “You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.”
Last Line:  “He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.”

MATEGUAS ISLAND by Linda Watkins:
First Line:  “She rolled over to check the clock.”
Last Line: “Oh, so very afraid….”

First Line:  “1801. – I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.”
Last Line:  “I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how ….”

First Line:  “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.”
Last Line:  “While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened–there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind–the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight–my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder–there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters–and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the “House of Usher.”

First Line: “She stood in the middle of the lawn, arms outstretched, her face turned toward the sea.”
Last Line:  “For what seemed an eternity, he stood that way, silent, his eyes wide open in wonder until the owl, in all its majesty, disappeared back into the fog.”

First Line:  “Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of rugged countenance, that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary, and yet somehow lovable.”
Last Line:  “Here then, as I lay down the pen and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end.”

THE THIRTEENTH TALE  by Diane Setterfield:
First Line: “It was November.”
Last Line:  “He opened a cool green eye, regarded me for a moment, then closed it again.”

GHOSTS OF MATEGUAS by Linda Watkins:
First Line: “The fog embraced the coast like a desperate lover, clinging, refusing to let go.”
Last Line:  “Oh Mateguas, grand pere de la mort, entend my priere….”

Book Review – Mandie and the Seaside Rendezvous

TITLE: Mandie and the Seaside Rendezvous
AUTHOR: Lois Gladys Leppard
FORMAT: Paperback

I was first turned onto the Mandie series in third grade, which was <mumblemumble> years ago, by a friend of my mother’s who gifted me the first book.  Somehow, I missed the last ten or so books, and I’ve decided to go back and read them.

In Mandie and the Seaside Rendezvous, Mandie, Cecilia, Mrs. Taft, and Snowball have ventured to Senator Morton’s house for a short visit.  But Mandie doesn’t trust somebody, weird things keep happening (like her clothes being turned the wrong way in the wardrobe), and is that the woman from the cruise?!

Honestly, folks, I want to have more to say about this book, but there just isn’t much to say at all.  I think of all the Mandie books, this one might be the weakest.  There’s little mystery here, Mandie and her friend spend way too much time talking about her cat, and it just felt boring and repetitive.  I finished it because reasons, but if I wasn’t setting out to read the series, I doubt I’d care much. Also, I knew the answer like as soon as the mysterious guy was introduced to the book.  Usually with these, you at least get partway in the book before you know.

Unfortunately, I have to give the book a 2/5.  I think this suffered from being so late in a series, and I was glad when it was finished so I could move on to something else.

Book Review – Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Title: Tomorrow and Tomorrow
Author: Thomas Sweterlitsch
Format: Paperback
Written: 2014

Thomas Sweterlitsch’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a truly haunting take on the near future, as it is one that strikes as not only bleak and disconnected, but also truly possible. It’s the story of John Dominic Blaxton, a poet who lost everything when an explosion destroyed the city of Pittsburgh, claiming the lives of millions, including his wife and unborn child. Yet John continues to live in Pittsburgh–emotionally, at least–through a fully immersive virtual reconstruction of the city called The Archive, which taps into a visitor’s memories and video records of the cities to recreate their lost city.

When he’s not reliving every recorded moment with his wife in an endless cycle of desperation and despair, Dominic works as an Archivist, investigating cold cases within the virtual Pittsburgh for insurance companies. However, his latest cold case involves the murder of a woman whose very existence is somehow being deleted from the Archive. Dominic’s obsession with uncovering the truth behind the woman’s fate takes him down a path that begins to blur the line between physical and virtual reality, as he digs deeper into the illusions and the remnant threads of his own sanity.

Sweterlitsch tells the story beautifully, using his own intimate knowledge of Pittsburgh to paint the city in such a grounded, intricate way that the reader easily finds themselves immersed in the Archive. His use of Dominic as a narrator, tapping into his grief and despair, and his persistent instability, adds the factors of an unreliable narrator to the mystery, leaving the reader at times questioning what is really missing from the Archive and what is truly just the delusions of Dominic’s detached obsession with solving the mystery of the lost girl.

This story also provides a great reflection of technology itself and how we use it today. The Archive serves not only as a great plot device but also as a mirror on our own dependence on digital interaction, the escapist mentality of digital culture, and our need to constantly relive the past. Sweterlitsch not only paints a detailed science fiction landscape, but does so while yearning for a more analog age, with real human interaction in a tangible world.

Overall, Thomas Sweterlitsch’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow is an immersive, thought provoking, and very fun read. I would give it four out of five stars, and would recommend fans of the science fiction or mystery genre give it a good read.

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