Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Plz read these new releases cuz I can't

Dude! There is a lot of brand-new (very probably) excellent stuff out in the land of speculative fiction. But because I'm spending most of my time tending to a sick family member (she's recovering, and she's gonna be okay; this is just time-consuming for all of us), I haven't really been able to read much lately. Here are four books I've bought in the last month and am *itching* to read but can't, so click 'em and let me know what you think:

Cara Bristol's latest Intergalactic Dating Agency SFR, Caid: Dakonian Alien Mail Order Brides #3, released November 8 and is sitting purchased but unopened on my Kindle. Cara started out writing erotic spanking stories but bloomed on the science fiction romance scene with Breeder, which is awesome and the first book I rec to folks who have read a lot of romance and are considering a jaunt on the spec-fic side. She wields language with sophistication and ease, pays a lot of attention to details in her worldbuilding, and bundles it all up with charm. I have no doubt this one will be as fun as her previous books.

Chanta Rand's brand-new Androids and Anarchy (Intergalactic Huntress Book 1) looks super tasty. I mean, intergalactic bounty hunter facing mutants and rebellions and an evil aristocrat villain and she is a badass gal with superpowers? Yeah, this one presses all my buy-this buttons. Sadly it has no reviews yet, so please, if you do read it, put some stars upon thars.

I've been reading Rebecca Royce for years. She started out writing shifters, but she's gone in several fun directions since, including SFR. Her latest co-written piece with Ripley Prosperpina, Lightning Strikes, is a post-apocalyptic zombie reverse-harem adventure, and I have no idea how Rebecca and Ripley have made that work, but they are both accomplished writers and I trust I'm gonna like this one.

And that's about all.. Oh, wait. I actually have read one new release in the last few weeks. Well, okay, I listened to it. Does that count? John Scalzi's The Consuming Fire (The Interdependency Book 2) came out back in October but was released simultaneously in audiobook, so I spent an Audible credit on it and enjoyed the hell out of it. It's short, especially considering the price tag on the ebook (whoa), but it's crammed with tropes I adore, excellent pacing, and that signature Scalzi irreverence, so I'd rec it, despite the fact that I'm pretty sure it broke records for Most F-bombs Ever in a Book Not Actually About Fing. Or maybe they were just more noticeable in the audiobook? *shrug* Fair warning for pottymouthness.

Anyhow, that's my recent-release reading to-read list. I could tell you loads of others in genres that aren't spec-fic, but here on SFF Seven, if we do nothing else ever, we FOCUS!

(Which is totally why I whiffed on my Wednesday post the week before last. Not that you noticed, probably/hopefully. But still: sorry 'bout that.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Fans of Urban Fantasy: If You Were Imbued with Power of a Single Tarot Card...

A magical whodunnit against a backdrop of Tarot brought to life sums up the new series from Jenn Stark featuring Sara Wilde as the recently ascended Justice of the Arcana Council. With appearances by The Magician, The Devil, The High Priestess, and Judgment; Justice Wilde is learning the hard way the price of evolved powers and dangerous responsibilities.

Wilde Justice: Book 1

New world order, new job, new mission.

As the first Justice of the Arcana Council in two hundred years, Tarot-reading Sara Wilde is tasked with taking out the most dangerous magic-wielding criminals on the planet. Her first assignment? A killer known only as the Red King, who’s systematically picking off the world’s most gifted magicians in the rollicking streets and storied canals of Venice, Italy, on the eve of Carnevale.

Amidst the festival’s music, masks, and brightly colored costumes, Sara must unravel the truth about a brutal murderer from Venice’s own murky past, navigate the twisting political currents of magicians who seek to rival her own Council, and keep one costume change ahead of a conjurer whose lethal spells could end Justice—permanently. Good thing the diabolically sexy and deeply powerful Magician of the Arcana Council has Sara’s back…if only he didn’t hold so much of her heart as well.

The canals of Venice will run with blood when you deal in The Red King.

BUY IT NOW: Amazon | iTunes | Nook | Kobo

Monday, November 19, 2018

Map of Moments and more

This week we're supposed to blurb a friend/ I'm doing two for the price of one.

So Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon are friends of mine and they have collaborated several times in  the past.
A truly spectacular series of books they did came out a while back. The first book out in the series was THE MAP OF MOMENTS, which has been re-released recently. In December the second book in the series MIND THE GAP is being re-released. The other two, THE CHAMBER OF TEN and THE SHADOW MEN will be coming out soon after

Do yourself a favor: READ THESE BOOKS! They are brilliant. Each novel stands by itself as a story worth reading but when they are put together they are something even more spectacular. How good are they? I'm damned jealous of the gents in question. I rather wish I'd written them myself.

The four  books, when put together, make the picture you see below.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Blurb a Buddy? Seasons of Sorcery!

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is: Blurb a Buddy: Have an author-buddy with a recent/soon-to-be released book? Promo them!

What can I do? All my besties DID just have a new release - but with me! So I'm sharing SEASONS OF SORCERY, with amazing stories by Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven, and Jennifer Estep. I've read them all and they're each delightful, as varied as the seasons we all selected.

Oh, and there's one from me too. And we finally have All The Buy Links!

An assassin at a renaissance faire. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, if you’re Gin Blanco. This Spider is trapped in someone else’s icy web—and it seems like they don’t want her to leave the faire alive . . . 

The stretch of sea known as The Gray rules the lives of those in the village of Ancilar, including widow Brida Gazi. In the aftermath of an autumn storm, Brida discovers one of the sea's secrets cast onto the shore—a discovery that will change her world, mend her soul, and put her in the greatest danger she's ever faced. 

A malevolent spell strangles the kingdom of Leathen in catastrophic drought. Prince Daric must break the curse before his people starve. A once-mighty goddess trapped in a human body might be the key—but saving his kingdom could mean losing all that he loves. 

As unofficial consort to the High Queen, former mercenary Harlan Konyngrr faces a challenge worse than looming war and fearsome dragons. His long-held secrets threaten what he loves most—and he must make a choice between vows to two women.

As a bonus, our Saturday Siren Veronica Scott also had a new release this week! 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Even When Not Writing Are You Writing?

Not the Author

“Even when you’re not writing, you’re writing.”

Hmmm, looks at this week’s theme backwards and forwards, diagrams the sentence, searches for inspiration…

OK, here’s how it works for me, which is all I can speak to:

Writing, or telling stories, is as necessary to me as breathing is, and has been an integral part of my being since I can remember (wrote my first book at age 7). I have a vivid imagination.
A Muse. Not the proper one for writing perhaps but I like her
light hearted spirit
 I’m very superstitious about my Muse and how she works (you may groan now if you’re a regular reader of this column and have seen me address this before!). If I think too much about a story, then my brain or my Muse or whoever/whatever is in charge up there in the Creativity Module says the story is done. Complete. No need to write that one down. And I NEVER will be able to.

I used to have a very long commute to the day job. I like to ponder plot issues while I’m driving, especially with loud music, BUT one day the commute took an extra long time, I told myself a fabulous Halloween type scifi tale – it was so good I got goose bumps! – and then…it was done. I never did write it down in any form at all. Just no creative push to transfer the story from my brain to the paper. I don’t even remember all the aspects of the story any more.

I’m not one of those authors who soaks up the people and places around me and puts them into my stories either. If we’re out for lunch or dinner I’m not also busily making notes of cute things people have said, or interesting real life vignettes to stick in my next novel. Doesn’t work for me. I can only remember a few times when I’ve drawn upon an actual life experience of my own to put into a book and that was chiefly atmospherics from climbing a pyramid in Mexico and another time the definite evil I felt emanating from a statue of the Aztec god of death. Or the general impressions from being surrounded by the marvels from King Tut’s tomb…but in all those cases, I waited years to pull on those experiences and add them to the plot mix.

On occasion a news story will trigger my imagination and I take off in a mental riff about it, or enlarge upon it, or grab one aspect to use in a novel.

Sometimes the first conscious thought in my head in the morning – even before “feed the cat” – will be the answer to a plot problem, or a neat twist for the current book I’m writing. Clearly the Muse/subconscious/creativity module has been working away overnight to come up with that. This is the only time I guess I could truthfully claim to be “writing when I wasn’t writing.” But I can’t take any credit for the achievement since I have no idea what triggers the serendipity and it doesn’t happen every night.

So I guess a part of me is always alert and pondering creatively, possibly synthesizing a lot of varied inputs that will hit the page when I do sit down to actually write, but it’s not necessarily a conscious process.

I do keep a huge folder of plot ideas, clippings, notes etc., for possible stories that came to me at odd moments but you know what? I almost never even open that file. It's a one way funnel. When it's time for me to write a new book, there's always a bright and shiny idea waiting and I can't wait to get to the keyboard to start telling the story.

And in case you somehow missed the new of GABE, my new release this week, plus I love these covers!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Sneaking Out the Back to Write

Even when I'm not writing, I'm writing.

Always. I mean, I assume everyone has felt like a stranger in a strange land in this life at some point. I cop to having felt that way most of my life, but I cannot be the only person who feels like a tourist to this planet and the guidebook omits some really critical information regarding the habits of the natives.

So I stroll the edges examining, observing, and taking field notes. It's what a writing teacher told me once. Our jobs, she said, are to see all of the things most other humans either couldn't take the time or couldn't bear to look at. And then we had to put it all on paper in some form or another. It does mean that no matter where I am, no matter what I'm doing, I'm observing. Cataloging. Parsing emotion from verbal content, shaking it all out, and mounting each nuance very carefully on well-labeled cards so I can rifle through them later looking for that single emotional response that's perfect for a scene.

If we're hanging out and you feel like I'm not entirely present, you're probably right. There's that part of me that always sneaks out the back to ideate. I don't mean it. Never do. Ask my long suffering family.


Watching is part of the process, I cop to that. But there's nothing quite like doing. I'd rather be writing.

For those following along, the boys are 10 weeks old now. Here's Corvid suffering from a nap attack. Those gray lips slay me.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

New Release: GABE A Badari Warriors SciFi Romance from Veronica Scott

I was thrilled to release the fifth book in my award winning Badari Warriors scifi romance series this week!

Here's the blurb:
Gabe Carter, hotshot pilot and exSpecial Forces soldier, is far from his home in the human Sectors, kidnapped by alien scientists to be the subject of horrifying experiments.  Shot down by the enemy over desolate territory far from his Badari allies and gravely injured, Gabe’s only hope is a mysterious woman on the run herself.

Keshara has to decide whether to abandon the human to die of his injuries on a windswept mountain top or give up her own quest for freedom and take him to a place he can be helped. The undeniable spark between them complicates matters.
His attraction to her is off the charts but when she betrays him to the Khagrish enemy, Gabe doesn’t know what to believe. Trapped inside an alien lab bursting with mysteries and lies, his only hope may be to trust her…again.

Because the renegade alien scientist running her own private experiments wants to use him to accomplish her goals and perpetuate the evil, no matter what she has to do to ensure his compliance. Keshara’s life hangs in the balance and Gabe has to make a choice.

This is the sixth book in the Badari Warriors world (and the fifth book in the series) and each novel has a satisfying Happy for Now ending for the hero and heroine, not a cliffhanger. Some overarching issues do remain unresolved in each book since this is an ongoing series but romance always wins the day in my novels!

Buy Links: Amazon      Apple Books    Nook     Kobo     Google Play

TIMTUR (issued under the In the Stars Romance banner)


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Writer brain: the perpetual machine

“Even when you’re not writing, you’re writing.” That’s our topic this week.

Thing is, I’m not always writing. But I am always writer-braining (totally is a verb).

Example: This morning over coffee, hubs and I were talking about the new Stephen Hawking book and how in it the (sadly, late) professor laments the current glut of published research. Fifty years ago, you could read everything that had been published on a slice of science. Now, though, even if you narrow your field strictly, it is impossible to consume every scientific paper published on the topic. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day… for a human person.

And just that easy, I slip into writer-brain/questions mode: For a computer, though, what if it was possible to process every bit of information, to hold it all in sacred data storage and constantly analyze it? How long would it take the computer to realize it knows more than the humans? I mean, if it was doing deep learning, I’d give us, what, ten years? Twenty? Maybe not even that long.

Would the (omniscient, if not omnipotent) computer, knowing also everything of human psychology research, be kind to us? Or would it judge us? Or would it just let us run on our little hamster wheels while it—the real intelligent species now—went on and took over the world and colonized space because clearly we are too limited a creation to participate in the Big Projects.

What if there is already a computer right now doing the Big Projects while we run furiously on our political WTFery and social media and vapid entertainment hamster wheels?

And poof, there’s a story seed. Right there in my brain.

I will never write that story. There are literally hundreds of similar “what if…?” files on my computer and in my Things Of Coolness spreadsheet. They might inform pieces of the stories I write someday, but mostly they are the cogworks that make up the squeaky, rusty, slow-moving machinery of my writer brain.

I bet you have those, too. Yours may be shinier.

The point is that you can take a writer’s fingers off the keyboard, but you can’t really stop a stop her brain from iterating. So let it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Release Day: Seasons of Sorcery (A Fantasy Anthology)

Congratulations to Jeffe on her short story in the Seasons of Sorcery Anthology, out today!

A Fantasy Anthology
by Jeffe Kennedy, Jennifer Estep, Grace Draven, Amanda Bouchet

An assassin at a renaissance faire. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, if you’re Gin Blanco. This Spider is trapped in someone else’s icy web—and it seems like they don’t want her to leave the faire alive . . .

The stretch of sea known as the Gray rules the lives of those in the village of Ancilar, including widow Brida Gazi. In the aftermath of an autumn storm, Brida discovers one of the sea's secrets cast onto the shore—a discovery that will change her world, mend her soul, and put her in the greatest danger she's ever faced.

A malevolent spell strangles the kingdom of Leathen in catastrophic drought. Prince Daric must break the curse before his people starve. A once-mighty goddess trapped in a human body might be the key—but saving his kingdom could mean losing all that he loves.

As unofficial consort to the High Queen, former mercenary Harlan Konyngrr faces a challenge worse than looming war and fearsome dragons. His long-held secrets threaten what he loves most—and he must make a choice between vows to two women.

BUY IT NOW: Amazon | Nook  |  Kobo

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Writing Never Ends

Simple fact of life number seven: The writing never stops.

When I'm reading s comic book, a short story, a novel or watching a TV show or a movie, I am always looking critically at what is going on. its not because I want to, mind you, but it has become the nature of the beast.

I cannot look at a story without going over the basic plot, the twist, the writing, the grammar and the characterization. I can no more do that than a mechanic can look at a car--jalopy or high octane, high performance vehicle--without automatically wanting to pop the hood and see what is what.

There are remarkably few authors that I can read simply for the sake of reading. In most cases there's a compulsion to look over sentences that ring true (or that feel like lies) and make sure I understand why those sentences evoke those emotions Magicians study each other's work and writers do the same.

Simply put, it's part of getting better at your craft. If you don't look at the work of others and examine the minutiae either you are sublimely confident or a fool. Possibly both.

Let me give an example: A few years back--more than I care to think about, actually, I had a publisher come up to me and as if i was interested in writing a big, fat juicy vampire novel for him. I had no desire whatsoever, Seriously. I'd worked for White Wolf Games on their World of Darkness books for some time, really and I'd written all i wanted to say about vampires.

That feeling lasted exactly 2.3 seconds. By the time the feeling was fading I was already in negotiation about what sort of prices we were talking for an advance and what formats the book would come out in. In this case it was cooing out as a signed limited edition in numbered and lettered formats. Maybe 550 copies all told.

First rule: If you are a freelancer and someone offers you a reasonable deal you say "Yes." I was and am a freelancer. I said yes.

Then I did my research. I read every vampire book I could get my hands on. That means THEY THIRST, by Robert R. McCammon, I AM LEGEND, by Richard Matheson, 'SALEM'S LOT by Stephen King, DRACULA, by Bram Stoker, LOST SOULS by Poppy Z. Brite, THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES by Anne Rice, VAMPHYRRIC by Simon Clarke, ANNO DRACULA by Kim Newman, THE TOMB OF DRACULA comic books by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, everything and anything vampire related that I could find. And then I did the same thing with the movies and TV shows. I studied as much lore and legend of vampirism from around the world as I could, making sure to note the differences as they came around. I bathed in the stuff like it was blood and I was the Countess Bathory. I might not have a doctorate in vampire fiction, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

Why? Because if you are going to walk in familiar territory, you want to make that territory your own. I wanted to make sure I wasn't rehashing what had already been done as much as that is possible in a genre like vampires. Because, by God, I wanted MONSTERS, not sparkly things that claimed they were creatures of the night.

I read, and I read, and I read, and while I certainly got some enjoyment from the act, I also studied every story I could find from VARNEY, THE VAMPIRE, by James Malcom Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest to FEVRE DREAM by George R. R. Martin. It's how we learn, isn't it? We study much, we see much. We make sure we are doing our best to be original in an area inundated by vampire tales.

The end result was BLOOD RED, a novel carefully studied and examined and then written faster than any NaNoWriMo novel ever was. I had an editor going over every chapter with me seconds after it was written, to correct typos and keep me on track. 127,000 words, give or take and finished with the first draft in three weeks. It's a personal record though I know others have beaten it.

A few years later I repeated the process to write the sequel, BLOOD HARVEST and I'll be doing it again, soon, when I start the last book in the series, BLOOD TIES.  I do these things because I must. Because, really, I need to make sure I'm not copying something I only vaguely recall reading from years ago. I don't want to make the mistake of attempting to rewrite Dracula. Bram Stoker did a much better job than I ever will with that character, but I must confess, I still love vampire stories, even after all of these years.

Monsters, not tragedy, that is my goal. I'm finishing one novel now and then, almost immediately thereafter, I'll be starting BLOOD TIES. It's due in a few months, you see, and I hate being late, regardless of how often I find myself in that state of delinquency.

I will read many books. I will watch movies new and old. I will absorb them all and I will enjoy them, but make no mistake, I'll be working very hard at the same time.

That is, of course, before the first word is typed in the manuscript.

James A. Moore
The covers for BLOOD RED and BLOOD HARVEST by Edward Miller. from the Earthling Publication Limited Editions.

And HERE is a link to the short story that started it all. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Why Building a Writing Habit is Essential

WARRIOR OF THE WORLD, which comes out January 8 2019, is being featured in a Goodreads giveaway until November 27! Great opportunity to win one of a hundred free copies! Kensington has also started a reader Facebook group called Between the Chapters. Lots of great giveaways on there - along with author chats. I'll be doing one in January, so join up and enjoy the party!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is one I suggested, on the idea that “Even When You’re Not Writing, You’re Writing.”

It's a good one for NaNoWriMo month, because there's so much fierce focus getting words on the page - which is something I absolutely believe in. NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month, for the uninitiated) is fantastic for building a writing habit, something that's essential for being a writer. There's a lot of reasons for this - as it's something I talk and blog about frequently - but one of the things that building a writing habit does is it allows your mind to work even when you aren't.
This can get dicey because people can be so good at denial. I can't tell you how often someone has said to me "I've got the entire book written in my head - I just need to write it down."

If you have written books, you know very well how much is packed into the space of that hyphen. If you haven't written a book, and revised it, preferably several of them, then you might not realize what a huge disconnect there is between those two ideas.


Seriously. It's hard. So difficult that most people never make it to the other side of that hyphen. Or they start and never finish.

Writing the story down, getting it right, is where all the craft, skill, dedication and perseverance of being a writer come in. You can market your little heart out, but if the story isn't there, if you haven't gotten the words down and refined to the utmost agree, you've got nothing to sell readers. 

This is why authors build and maintain writing habits. You don't get better until you write A LOT. Some say a million words to get there and I think that's probably a reasonable number. That means that even if you "win" NaNoWriMo and write 50,000 words in the month of November, you've still got 95% of the work to do to get to the point where your writing begins to hang together and actually be *good* - or, put another way, do NaNoWriMo for 19 more months.

Ouch, right?

By that I don't mean you have to write 50K/month for two years, but if you spend two years writing consistently - whatever works for you, whether every day or not - then you'll be getting somewhere. That can be offputting, but every successful writer I know has some version of that as part of their story.

The best part is, once you build that writing habit, something magical happens: the story really does begin to write in your head. Even when you're not actually putting words on the page, part of yourself is brewing the story, so that when you go to write, it's there for you and flows out.


This is a really huge BUT -

Remember that this is on the OTHER SIDE OF THE HYPHEN. If you think the story is all written in your head, but you've never written and *finished* an entire book, you're very likely kidding yourself. There's just no way around that.

So cheers to all in the middle stretch of NaNoWriMo! This is when it starts to feel grueling. Remember that you're building a great habit. Keep it up!

Friday, November 9, 2018

No Crossing the Streams

This is what wildly inaccurate reviews feel like. You press the publish button, something goes clunk, a review for a book that bears remarkably little resemblance to yours comes in, you blink, and you wonder what the hell just happened.

In this case, an aged Cuisinart lid gave up its seal, and here I am, wearing a gritty, smelly slurry of chicken liver and feline supplements. The only option for this was a washdown of the kitchen and a shower.

Recovering from a review that deliberately twists, misreads or otherwise misinterprets your writing is a little harder. On one hand, you want to correct the misconceptions, but holy cow. Where to even start?? Not to mention that it's thankless. On the other hand, there's that pesky truism about the book being the purview of the author and reviews being the purview of the reader and ne'er should the twain meet. It's sort of a Ghost Busters quote. "Don't cross the streams."

Am I saying you just have to sit on your hands when someone butchers your story in a review or blog post? Yep. Do not respond at all. That way lies madness. Your only real option is detachment. Develop the means to convince yourself that the moment you hit publish, your book is no longer yours. You've flung it out to the wide world and it now belongs to anyone and everyone who reads (or misreads) it. 

Remember this vital fact: a review says as much or more about the reviewer than it does about your story. Someone ripping up your story when all the other reviewers seem to like it? It's because you wrote the idea that reviewer has been nursing, but not writing, for decades. Someone assigning events to your story that aren't there? Reflection of the crap storm of their lives when they read.

A few of us on this blog have seen what happens when an author engages a reviewer who got the facts of a story dead wrong. Never, ever, ever have I seen it end well, no matter how respectfully the author approached the conversation. So just don't. If inaccurate reviews twist you up, DON'T READ YOUR REVIEWS. Not even kidding. Know your limits. 

And then, finally. Trust your readers. In the single instance when someone confused one of my books with -- I don't know -- a hallucination maybe and wrote a review based thereupon, other reviewers called them out in their reviews. You can't count on that, of course, but plenty of reviewers hate seeing factually inaccurate reviews, too, and will take pains to correct the misunderstandings. And that's super complementary, I think. 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Embracing the Hostile Read

There's an old saying, "No text can survive a hostile read." 

I also like this exchange from the West Wing, when Sam Seaborn is told that a passage from a speech given by the First Lady has angered an activist group.
SAM: I don't see it.
CJ: You have to want it to see it.

Here's the thing about writing anything: everyone is going to come at it with their own biases, their own take.  Once you send it out into the world, you have no way to control how people are going to take it.  And, more specifically, if people are going to want to misread your text, bring their hostile read to you, you really have to just take it.

I'm not saying this to address any specific or recent review-- in fact I've been quite pleased with the recent reviews for THE WAY OF THE SHIELD-- but more as a sort of zen reminder that people will find the things that they connect to, that they can interpret with their own biases, and even though it doesn't match my intentions... that doesn't matter.

I'm kind of arguing for "the death of the author", I know, but the point is, all I can do is put it on the page.  If the reader finds something there I didn't intend, that's how it is.  In fact, I think it's great to embrace that, and see what I can learn.  Isn't that what it's about, after all?  Constantly trying to learn, grow and improve?

That's my goal, at least.
Hey, are you in the northeast?  What are you doing next weekend?  Me, I'm the Special Guest at PhilCon!  If you can, come on out, and come say hello!   

Tuesday, November 6, 2018


It's Tuesday, November 6th. Here in the US, it's Election Day. 

Whatever your political opinions, go VOTE. 

(Yes, I recycle this image every year. Yes, it's always relevant.)

Sunday, November 4, 2018

When Reviews Get It Wrong - *Really* Wrong

This was my view from the bed this morning when I woke up. The mountain bluebirds love this water fountain - and they always feel like a good luck visitation to me!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Dealing with an almost willful misinterpretation of the text."

It happens to every author. Probably to other artists, too. Hell, I even remember this sort of thing happening in the corporate world. Someone points to a problem in a document you produced, explains how it's wrong and why. And then you sit there, blinking at them, and wondering how on earth to respond since they ENTIRELY MISUNDERSTOOD AND IT'S NOT INCORRECT AT ALL.

It's kind of bizarre when it happens in a book review - and can be super upsetting when the reviewer pans the book because of it. I'm not talking about the reviews where the reviewer misspells the characters' names or gets some nuance wrong. Those are irritating, but whatever.

This is this kind of thing where they say "I hated this book because in the end it turned out to be all a dream and that kind of thing kills the story for me." An understandable critique in most circumstances.


It DIDN'T turn out to be all a dream and they misread.

Or misunderstood.

Or willfully misinterpreted?

Sometimes I wonder. And it's not just with my books. I've seen willful misinterpretations of classics or famous books that have me shaking my head. Sometimes I wonder if they're trying to gaslight people - give wrong information to create confusion.

When it happens with my books? Yeah - I often *really really really* want to explain. Not even to refute the negative review, because whatever, but to clear up their obvious confusion. But, the author rule of thumb not to respond to reviews unless invited to holds true.

Also, I do believe that most interpretations of a story belong to the reader. If the story lives in their head in a certain way, that's up to them.

BUT... I do have a little trick for dealing with stuff that feels like willful misinterpretations. At my next opportunity, I blog about or otherwise discuss that plot point or character, explaining something about it that refutes the misinterpretation, or explains that aspect of the story as I intended it. Just my little way of fact-checking and putting the good information out there, in case anyone wants it.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Scary Books? Read Bird Woman!

To close out our scary books week, I first have to say that I don’t read horror as a rule, or watch scary movies. As others have said, with my vivid imagination, the images and the scares stay in my brain wayyyy too long after I’ve finished the reading or watching experience.

I could give you a list of non-horror books that I found to be scary in other ways, on the topics of climate change, ebola-like viruses and the like, but that’s not really what we were going for with the theme, not in a week that included Halloween. (I wore a rainbow colored wig with a unicorn horn and purple ears BTW, to the delight of my toddler grandson….I also may have eaten a few too many Nestle Crunch bitesize bars…)

There is one scary book that always comes to my mind immediately when the topic arises and that would be Jeffe Kennedy’s Bird Woman. Here’s the very terse blurb: A psychological thriller set in the Pacific Northwest, the true story, told in essay form, of an encounter with the paranormal: a vengeful goddess in the Pacific Northwest.

It scared me to death when I first read it a number of years ago and I still remember it vividly. If you haven’t read it, go forth and do so!

I used to be able to read Stephen King and enjoyed his books quite a bit. Not all of them – some were totally not to my taste but for example, The Shining was one of my favorites. If I had to pick a second scariest book I ever read, it would probably be something by him, except I had to stop reading him years ago. I don’t know if he got even more ‘horrific’ in his writing or if I just got older and less able to shed the horror after reading it like most people do, but there was one novel of his (the title of which I’ve blocked from my brain frankly) where I spent an entire night having nightmares and couldn’t get his imagery out of my head. So I was done. Kudos to him for being such a powerful writer but I can’t even crack open any of his novels any more.

I do re-watch the TV movie version of “Langoliers” on occasion. For some reason I quite like that one…

Another book that stayed in my memory was Barbara Michaels’ The Crying Child. That one still gives me goosebumps. Not that she was writing horror, per se, but the power of some of the scenes really got to me. Ammie Come Home was another of her books that I read and re-read. She could spin a good tale with romance and an HEA, but scare me a bit in the process!

I think the common elements that scare me are a small group of people (maybe even just two people as with Jeffe's book), stuck in an isolated locale (islands seem to terrify me in this regard) and an eerie, threatening otherworldly presence bent on doing evil.

I don't write horror obviously but here's a snippet I shared last week for Halloween from one of my books, Mission to Mahjundar, where I took the Aztec god of death and adapted him to becoming an alien deity and then made my characters confront him. I'm pretty sure I wrote this particular sequence to get said deity off my mind because when I stood in front of a statue of him myself, in a museum in Mexico, the pure evil that radiated from that effigy was breathtaking. This scene is just the beginning of their encounters with the alien god...

Friday, November 2, 2018

Scariest Inside My Head

You want to know what's truly terrifying? Moving for the second time in one year. Seriously. The moving truck shows up tomorrow morning at 9AM. And I'm still stuffing shit in boxes. Does anyone else think inanimate objects breed overnight? Cause I'm pretty sure my stuff is propagating. There's no other explanation for why I'm still not done packing.

Okay. Seriously. Books. Scary books. Oh my dear friends. I am so amused you believe I can be trusted with frightening material. I can't.

Reason: I'm a wuss. Fact 1. I have mental health to guard. So I have to curate what gets fed into the mental systems cause those gears are kept turning by a trio of geriatric hamsters. They faint easily. 2. If I wanna get the crap scared out of me, or suddenly decide I want to peer unrepentant into the darkest soul of humanity, I need only turn on the godsdamned evening news. 3. I have an obsessive brain. Give me a single terrifying image and it will be seared into my grey matter for all my days.

Is anyone old enough to remember the movie An American Werewolf in London? Very opening of the movie (SPOILER ALERT) our heroes are attacked on the moor. One of them is killed. The final image of the attack is the dying man, torso torn open, rib cage exposed. I STILL SEE THAT SHOT. D'you know how old that movie is?? I didn't sleep for three nights after that nonsense.

Worse. I can still describe to you the scenes from shows that terrified me as a child. They weren't even supposed to be horror films. They were science fiction. In the 1960s. When science fiction meant that someone was going to die horribly. I was five when The Omega Man came out and ensured I would refuse to walk into a dark room until well after I was 10 years old. So yeah. There are things I don't need carved into my brain, thanks.

But hey. If you're a wuss like me. Try The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper. YA. One faintly creepy scene. Kept me up half a night. But it was fun.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The book that scared the crud outta me

Once upon an autumn, I was a lone weirdo in a gothic Texas family. Like, I read a lot of Stephen King and J.R.R. Tolkien, and everybody else in my family went bow-hunting and two-stepping and listened to Merle Haggard. My parents clearly didn't know how to shop for me, and my newspaper route paid crap money, so I supplied my book habit at yard sales and the public library five-bucks-for-everything-you-can-fit-into-a-paper-sack sale.

I wasn't old enough to stay at home on the long weekends when the family all went deer hunting, so I got hauled along to leases out west of San Antonio, usually some rocky windswept ranch, usually to murder wildlife, which was very much not my thing.

On one such trip, I brought along one of those library-sale paper sacks full of treasures books.

One of those books was called The Amityville Horror.

The rest of the camp went out on a hunt right before twilight, because deer come out to forage at sundown, and that's apparently the best time to kill them. If someone "got" a deer--i.e., shot one-- they had to wait until the hunt was over to go out and find the unlucky creature and, if it wasn't dead yet, put it out of its misery. Sometimes the search-and-finish could last for hours, long after dark.

I almost always stayed behind in the camper. And read books. It was glorious.

Except that one time. With that one book. 

I didn't know it then, but the evening hunt was pretty successful. Several deer were "got," and several searches ensued. I was alone in the camp with only the wind for company for miles and miles of dark Texas night. Just me and my delicious readable.

I considered myself fairly brave as far as books went. At least, I hadn't read one that stopped me from reading others. King and Koontz and Poe and Susan Cooper, not to mention all those collections of ghost ship stories and unsolved mysteries, had inured me to losing my shit over a book. I mean, they were just books. Just in my mind. All made up, fantasy stuff. 


So I snuggled down in a sleeping bag, cracked open The Amityville Horror, and read blithely, bravely, decadently.

For those who haven't read the book or seen the movie (movies?) this starts off innocently enough. Normalish family moves into a house. It's a nice house, kind of fancy even, with a boat house. But (SPOILERS!) it's haunted as hell, and freaky stuff starts happening, and the dad goes a little crazy, and suddenly there's a demon pig in a rocking chair up in the attic. 

Which was when something scratched on the side of the camper. 

I kid you not. Something was out there. Scratching. Low, near the ground. Right below my camper window. A sound that was not the wind. It was close.

Scratch, scratch.

Remember, every human person was out in the night wilderness killing Bambi.

So what was scratching out there?

I sure as hell wasn't going to go outside and investigate. And I could not, could not just keep reading.

Demon. Pig.

That was totally a demon pig outside.

I closed that book, shoved it way, way down the sleeping bag, and huddled there in the camper, listening. Terrified. For hours.

Family got back eventually, skinned their kills, and iced down the meat, and then we all went to bed. Next morning, after I slept not at all, I woke up and checked out the side of the camper.

There were scratches on the side. True fact.

Never did finish that book.

(Happy Halloween, y'all.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Scariest Books I Ever Read...

The scariest books I ever read were...

The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy

Your doctor gives you medical advice. Your mother buys you baby clothes. But who can give you the real skinny when you’re pregnant?

Your girlfriends, of course—at least, the ones who’ve been through the exhilaration and exhaustion, the agony and ecstasy of pregnancy. Four-time delivery room veteran Vicki Iovine talks to you the way only a best friend can—in the book that will go the whole nine months for every mother-to-be. In this revised and updated edition, get the lowdown on all those little things that are too strange or embarrassing to ask, practical tips, and hilarious takes on everything pregnant.

What really happens to your body—from morning sickness and gas to eating everything in sight—and what it’s like to go from being a babe to having one.

The Many Moods of Pregnancy—why you’re so irritable/distracted/tired/lightheaded (or at least more than usual).

Staying Stylish—You may be pregnant, but you can still be the fashionista you’ve always been (or at least you don’t have to look like a walking beachball)—wearing the hippest designers and proudly showing off your bump.

Pregnancy is Down To a Science—from in vitro fertilization to scheduled c-sections, there are so many options, alternatives, and scientific tests to take that being pregnant can be downright confusing!

And much more! For a reassuring voice or just a few good belly laughs, turn to this straight-talking guide on what to really expect when you’re expecting.

What To Expect When You're Expecting

This cover-to-cover (including the cover!) new edition is filled with must-have information, advice, insight, and tips for a new generation of moms and dads. With "What to Expect’s trademark warmth, empathy, and humor, it answers every conceivable question expecting parents could have, including dozens of new ones based on the ever-changing pregnancy and birthing practices and choices they face. Advice for dads is fully integrated throughout the book. All medical coverage is completely updated, including the latest on Zika virus, prenatal screening, and the safety of medications during pregnancy, as well as a brand-new section on postpartum birth control. Current lifestyle trends are incorporated, too: juice bars, raw diets, e-cigarettes, push presents, baby bump posting, the lowdown on omega-3 fatty acids, grass-fed and organic, health food fads, and GMOs. Plus expanded coverage of IVF pregnancy, multiple pregnancies, breastfeeding while pregnant, water and home births, and cesarean trends (including VBACs and “gentle cesareans”).

Dear readers, when my sister announced she was expecting her first child, being the supportive sort of gal I am, I co-read these books with her. I...I...
~runs shrieking off into the sunset~

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Two books for shivers.

Okay. I read a LOT of horror. let me clarify that for you. A. LOT. OF. HORROR. BOOKS.

Guys, seriously, I've been writing the stuff professionally for over twenty-five years. it's my comfort zone.

The thing is, I don't scare easy. Hell, I don't even squirm easy. I'm not made uncomfortable by much not even what most people consider "taboo" because, frankly, I've read it all.  That's not really an exaggeration.From Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker to Stephen King and Anne Rice and Robert R. McCammon. there's remarkably little that gets past me without being read, assessed and catalogued in my mind.
And only a handful of the books have ever actually unsettled me.

First up, I give you Stephen King's PET SEMETARY. The misspelling is deliberate and the story has a powerful, deeply unsettling note to it. A great deal of King's work is creepy, but that's the one that unsettled me the most.  Not surprising, really, as King himself shelved the book for several years before deciding to go ahead and publish. Why? He thought it was too grim. He's not wrong.

The premise is simple enough: new doctor in a college town discovers a dark miracle of sorts n his backyard (well, a few acres into the treacherous woods behind his yard, but still). That dark miracle takes place past an animal cemetery set up by the local kids and added to over the decades. As the catch phrase for the movie says, and as the book proves true: Sometimes Dead Is Better.

The second book I look at for this is BALTIMORE: Or The Steadfast Tin Solider And The Vampire, by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola. The two gents in question had a wonderful ay of working together and their first serious collaboration, the aforementioned Baltimore is a brilliant tale of revenge set against a backdrop of World War One Europe. There are many moving parts here, including takes within tales and the rich fabric of the story is worth savoring.

There you have it. Two of the very finest works of horror I can recall. Let me reemphasize this. HORROR. As in scary stuff. Grim stuff. Don't expect happy endings.

Have a happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Two Books that Freaked Me the F*ck Out

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is, appropriately enough, our favorite horror or scary book.

Now, I don't really a lot of horror or scary books, because I am a fragile flower. I've never really gotten the point of reading something to be frightened or horrified. So, when I thought about what my favorite books in this genre would be, I could think of exactly two. 

But it's cool because they're by friends - which is the only reason I read them.

I really loved them, too, even though they freaked me the fuck out. 

A HUMAN STAIN, by Kelly Robson - who most usually writes SFF, is a wonderful story that starts with low-level dread that gradually builds to a truly freakifying conclusion. Read it if you love gothic slow-burns. Avoid if you have a tooth phobia. You can read it in BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR, Volume 10, which I'm sure is fabulous, since Ellen Datlow edited it. I, of course, *won't* be reading that!

Megan Hart started out writing erotic and nuanced romance, but has moved into more horror lately. LITTLE SECRETS is a haunted house story that also plays on the insecurities of pregnancy and the strain that - and moving into a freaky house! - puts on a marriage. Read it for the subtle build of terror and rich story. And don't worry - the cat's okay. 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

A Very Different Ghost Story for Halloween!

Happy Halloween in just a few days! Next week we’re going to talk about favorite spooky or scary books written by others but I thought it’d be fun to lead into the week talking about a very unusual, award winning ghost story I wrote a few years ago.

(I’m ignoring our actual topic of this week, which is Point of View because I’ve written about it here before on SFF7, I’m not a fan of anything written in first person, Halloween is coming and there – I’m done with the subject.)

Ghost of the Nile is one of my “Gods of Egypt” paranormal series set in ancient Egypt. For quite a while I’d been fascinated with the idea of writing a story set on an estate in the 1550 BCE era. One of the interesting things about Egypt was that for literally hundreds of years the climate and the daily life stayed pretty much the same. Pharaohs came and went but the more ordinary folk had quite an unchanging routine, linked to the Nile’s floods. I felt my ghostly hero could return from the Afterlife and fit right into his old home, although as a guest, not a resident. I thought the challenges for him could be intriguing.

The Egyptians of 3000 years ago believed that unless you were buried in the soil of Egypt and had all the proper rituals recited for you, as well as your name preserved, you couldn’t enter the Afterlife. So my hero Periseneb, who was murdered and didn’t receive the rites at the time of his death, has been condemned to roam the fringes of the Afterlife and wage endless battles against demons and giant snakes.

I’m always fascinated with the goddess Ma’at, who represented truth, balance, justice…and who happened to be the goddess of second chances. I’m a Libra myself – scales, balance…. She was one of the Judges who weighed the heart of a dead person, to see if they deserved the Afterlife. So I decided she’d need a champion to accomplish some task in Egypt, and selects Periseneb, who she believes deserves a second chance at entry to paradise. A favorite old movie of mine is the 1963 version of “Jason and the Argonauts”. I love how the goddess Hera tells Jason she’ll help him three times along the way. I decided Ma’at would help Periseneb, and you’ll see in the book how he has to call for her assistance.

The next intriguing concept this novel allowed me to play with was the ancient Egyptian idea of the terrifying nature of ghosts, or akhs. They believed that a person's soul was split into various parts, anywhere from three to five. Each part of the soul had different powers and concerns. For my novel I simplified the situation and concentrated on the 'intellect as a living entity' portion of the soul and selected those aspects which worked for the story.

According to Wikipedia, the akh  “could do either harm or good to persons still living, depending on the circumstances, causing e.g., nightmares, feelings of guilt, sickness, etc. It could be invoked by prayers or written letters left in the tomb's offering chapel also in order to help living family members, e.g., by intervening in disputes, by making an appeal to other dead persons or deities with any authority to influence things on earth for the better, but also to inflict punishments.”

The hero of my book, Periseneb, is uncomfortable with being an akh returned to Egypt, and worries a lot about inadvertently loosing the evil powers he now possesses on the innocents around him.

And last but not least, there’s the terrifying goddess or demon Ammit the Destroyer, who was part lion, part hippo and part crocodile, and known as Devourer of the Dead. I’ve wanted to find a way to incorporate her into a novel in a meaningful way because she’s so intriguing.

The story:
Betrayed, murdered, and buried without proper ceremony, Egyptian warrior Periseneb is doomed to roam the gray deserts of the dead as a ghost for all eternity.

But then the goddess of truth offers him a bargain: return to the world of the living as her champion for 30 days. If he completes his mission, he’ll be guaranteed entry into Paradise. Periseneb agrees to the bargain but, when he returns to the living world, two hundred years have passed and nothing is quite as he expected.

Neithamun is a woman fighting to hang onto her family’s estate against an unscrupulous nobleman who desires the land as well as the lady. All seems lost until a mysterious yet appealing ex-soldier, Periseneb, appears out of nowhere to help her fight off the noble’s repeated attacks.

Meanwhile, Periseneb’s thirty days are rushing by, and he’s powerless against the growing attraction between himself and Neithamun. But their love can never be. For his Fate is to return to the Afterlife, and Death cannot wed with Life…

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