5 Things I Adore About Goodreads
I’ll admit it. I’m a Goodreads addict. I compulsively check the site, read all my reviews – yes, even the negative ones – and stalk my friends’ updates. I love Goodreads! As a reader, I peruse the reviews to make sure a book is something I might like. As a writer, I feel like I did back in high school and college, when I turned in a paper and received feedback from a teacher or professor. Did I pass the test? What can I improve on? What did I do well? (Um, yeah, I was a total nerd in school!)
But Goodreads has a few features aside from just the reviews that makes it so much better than other review sites. Below are the 5 things I adore most about this site.
1. “Liking” reviews: I get an email notification every time someone likes one of my reviews. I love this! Not only does it tell me that other people sometimes read my reviews, but they enjoyed something about the review. Considering that most of my reviews are blathering lovefests, I’m sure many of the likes I get are because other people just like the book I reviewed but still, I get happy when I get those email notifications. As of today, my most liked review is of Amanda Bonilla’s SHAEDES OF GRAY.
2. Status Updates: I was on Goodreads for years before I noticed the tiny “Status Updates” link at the top right of my home screen. When people read books, they sometimes update their status, noting that they’re on page 162 or 52%. Sometimes, when they make these updates, they even add comments. I love this so much! I check it nearly every day because it’s pretty damn awesome to see when a book moves someone enough (either in good ways or bad) to comment. Occasionally, readers will write things like, “Noooooooo!” and when I look at the page or percentage, I can guess what just happened in the book. A recent example from THE SHATTERED DARK: at a little over 50%, someone wrote “Woah, didn’t see that coming!” I grinned because I knew what the surprise was.
3. Quotes: Readers can add their favorite quotes to Goodreads! This is another one of my favorite features. When you click on a book’s profile, the list of quotes shows up in the right sidebar. Even if a reader doesn’t add one herself, she can click on one someone’s already added and “like” it. In THE SHADOW READER, the *quotes people have liked are the quotes that I loved so much when writing this book. Writing is such an isolated endeavor; I never know if the scenes and words that move me will move others, but the quotes section of Goodreads is proof that they do!
4. Comments on reviews: This feature is similar to the status updates, but the comments are separate from them, and usually occurs after someone finishes and rates a book. Oftentimes, I’ll get a comment from someone saying they also loved the book or that they now want to give the book a try. I love that! Some Goodreads users get into long, thoughtful discussions on what they loved and hated about books, and I think it’s great. I won’t comment negatively about a book, but I think it’s fine for others to do so. Yes, this can get out of hand, but for the most part, people are just talking passionately about books. There’s something awesome about that. My most commented on review? My MOCKINGJAY review.
5. My shelf: I love having one place to go to see all my favorite books! Quickly glancing through my online bookshelf always puts a smile on my face. Every so often, I read the reviews I wrote, reminding myself of what I liked about a book. I write some sort of review for every book I put on Goodreads (I only put up books I’d recommend to others). Most of those reviews are, like I said, blabbering lovefests – nothing like the awesome, more professional reviews on this blog and others! – but they’re great for taking me back to that happy moment when I finished reading a great story.
Goodreads is one of my favorite and most frequented sites. The people who designed it have done almost everything right – they’ve made it a community!
Sandy graduated from TexasA&MUniversitywith a double major in political science and history. She thought about attending law school. Fortunately, before handing over her life’s savings, she realized case studies weren’t nearly as interesting as novels and decided to get an MA in Library Science instead. She worked as a librarian until her husband whisked her off to Londonon an extended business trip. She’s now back home in Texas, writing full-time, raising newborn twin boys, and squeezing in time to play geeky board and card games like Settlers of Catan, Dominion, and Runebound.
Please welcome Brenda Cooper to the blog! Brenda is the author of 6 books, including The Creative Fire (Book One of Ruby’s Song), which is out today, and she was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer a few of my questions!
I’ve also got a copy of The Creative Fire up for grabs, courtesy of PYR, so be sure to check out the giveaway details!
Brenda, you have 5 novels out (one with Larry Niven!) already, not to mention numerous short stories to your credit, and your new book, The Creative Fire, is out this week with Pyr! You’re also a futurist who gives talks on the future, technology and writing! Whew! You’re a busy lady. So, my first question is have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about your journey?
I have always been a writer. As a child and a teenager I wrote poetry. I became a single mom at 19, and while I was pregnant I submitted my first-ever science fiction story to Asimov’s. That yielded a personal rejection that went something like “Your idea is hackneyed but your writing is interesting. Please send more.” Motherhood and school distracted me except that I did journal and write more poetry, and I went back to writing when my son turned 18. At that point, I decided if I really wanted to be a published author, I needed to get to it. By then I had been lucky enough to meet Steven Barnes, who was teaching Lifewriting at that time, and I learned some of what I needed to succeed from him. I also met a great poet, Joseph Green, who was teaching a creative writing class which I took. And thus I learned enough to start publishing. That was fourteen years ago, and now I’m six novels and a number of stories into a really fun career.
When I saw the cover of The Creative Fire, I couldn’t help but think of Kaylee from Firefly (it’s a great cover.) She’s holding some heavy artillery, and looks like she might be able to kick some butt if she needed to. Will you tell us a little about Ruby Martin?
Ruby is loosely based on Eva Peron. She comes from the underside of society and uses a combination of singing, fighting, love (some of it misguided) and sheer guts to help run a revolution. Ruby’s not a perfect character – she’s flawed and yet strong. The society she is fighting her way up through is patriarchal and rigid, and she has to find ways to succeed in spite of that. Because she’s young, she’s naïve. She grew up in a brutal society and has street smarts that help her navigate. So you get to see her both make mistakes and figure her way through them. In some ways, she’s a counterpoint to the perfect kick-ass female heroines that are sleeping and fighting their way through a lot of really enjoyable urban fantasy right now.
Do you think recent sci-fi has been better about featuring strong women? What is your take on that?
There are a lot more women writing SF than there were before, and that has improved the female characters. It has also resulted in more women readers, so most science fiction writers are paying more attention to their female characters. The same thing has happened to racial diversity. There’s not enough, but that, too, is getting better. As groups get more power in society, they gain visibility and power in fiction. That’s a good thing. That said, I think that the SF readership and list of successful writers remains more white male than society at large. We haven’t attracted women readers as well as we perhaps could. When I meet women in the non-geek parts of my life and say that I’m a writer, they perk up until I mention that I write science fiction. Then they change the subject. This is a problem I don’t have the answer for, other that that we should just keep writing great science fiction.
If someone were just now dipping their toes in the sci-fi genre, where would you suggest they start?
As readers? To some extent that depends on taste. But I would suggest that people pick up Robert Sawyer’s “Wake” which is very accessible, Allen Steele’s Coyote series, and just about anything by Nancy Kress or Connie Willis or Louise Marley. I also love Kim Stanley Robinson, and I think his global warming series is pretty darned relevant right now. It starts with Forty Signs of Rain. I’d suggest they read some of our classics, such as Dune and Ursula LeGuins’ wonderful short story “The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas.” I guess I’ll stop there, but there are hundreds of our books I would recommend.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
Heinlein. Niven (Which made writing with him later pretty fabulous). Nevil Shute. Frank Herbert.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished vN by Madeline Ashby (a female sf writer and futurist who I just discovered). I’m three degrees through Six Degrees, which is a climate change book, and about half way through David Brin’s Existence. I’m about to start Apocalyptic Planet by Craig Childs, and I’m hoping to start Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, although I have a few books I promised to look at to blurb and am feeling like I need to get to those as well.
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Frank Herbert’s Dune.
When you manage to find some time to yourself, how do you like to spend it?
Exercising. Mostly, I like riding street bicycles (I did one 204 mile ride this summer). And of course I love time with family and walking my dogs. Generally, moving. I don’t get nearly enough time to move.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
I’m working on the sequel to The Creative Fire, which is called The Diamond Deep. It’s been a blast to write, and now I’ve got the daunting task of cutting it since the manuscript insisted on coming in long. I’m also finishing up a YA called “Post” that is a near-future adventure story of discovery for a young woman named Sage.
Keep up with Brenda: Website | Twitter
Sealed With a Curse (Weird Girls #1) by Cecy Robson
Publisher: Signet Eclipse/Dec. 31st, 2012
Kind thanks to Signet Eclipse for providing a review copy
Celia Wird and her three sisters are just like other 20-something girls—with one tiny exception: they’re products of a backfired curse that has given each of them unique powers that make them, well, weird…
The Wird sisters are content to avoid the local vampires, werebeasts, and witches of the Lake Tahoe region—until one of them blows up a vampire in self-defense. Everyone knows vampires aren’t aggressive, and killing one is punishable by death. But soon more bloodlust-fueled attacks occur, and the community wonders: are the vampires of Tahoe cursed with a plague?
Celia reluctantly agrees to help Misha, the handsome leader of an infected vampire family. But Aric, the head of the werewolf pack determined to destroy Misha’s family to keep the region safe, warns Celia to stay out of the fight. Caught between two hot alphas, Celia must find a way to please everyone, save everyone, and oh yeah, not lose her heart to the wrong guy—or die a miserable death.
Because now that the evil behind the plague knows who Celia is, he’s coming for her and her sisters. This Wird girl has never had it so tough.
Celia and her 3 sisters find themselves in vampire court and Celia is terrified at what might happen. Misha Aleksandr has requested the presence of the Wird sisters after charging them with the murder of one of his family members. Today is their lucky day however, since evidence proves the dead vamp in question had a virus that caused uncontrollable bloodlust, and it seems to be spreading. People are dying at an alarming rate as the vampire virus spreads and infected vamps go on the rampage. In desperation, Misha Aleksandr appeals to the sisters to help him fight whoever is spreading the infection and weakening his power. Taran, Emme, and Shayna are horrified at the deaths, but they also don’t want to get involved. Celia sees it a bit differently and decides they should help the Master vamp fight the rival master that is causing the carnage. Not only does Misha want the sisters’ help, but he seems to have a bit of a thing for Celia, much to her chagrin, since she has her eye on a werewolf hottie, Aric, who also gets involved in the fight. So much for the Wird sisters laying low in lovely Lake Tahoe, huh?
The Wird sisters aren’t your usual supes. As the result of a childhood curse, they each have very unique powers, but consider themselves very much outside the supernatural community. All they want to do is carry out their day jobs as nurses and live in peace in gorgeous Lake Tahoe. However, Misha and the rampaging vampires don’t plan to let the sisters off so easy, and Celia’s interest in the gorgeous Aric definitely throws a huge wrench into things.
Sealed With a Curse has just about everything I want in a really good urban fantasy. Strong lead characters? Check. A sexy romance brewing on the side? Check. Vamps, weres, witches, and more? Check!! The story is told in Celia’s voice, and what I simultaneously love and hate about her is her vulnerability. Most men are very intimidated by her tigress (yep, Celia can change into a tigress, among other things), so she’s closed herself off to men, and yet she’s so very lonely and insecure. She berates herself more than once, and if you’ve ever wanted to hug a character from a book, you’ll want to hug Celia and shake her until she stops doubting herself. It’s also important to point out that while the romance element is strong in this book (lots of hotties running around, trust me), I swear there are kick ass fights every 3 or 4 pages. The author just doesn’t let up, and if you think you’ll be reading about the same old supernaturals, think again. The baddies are really, really bad, and the author never shies away from the ick factor. Cecy Robson has a very, very fertile imagination when it comes to the scaries, and she’s not afraid to use it. Celia and her sisters are a great fighting team and if you like books with plenty of girl power, you’ll love this one. I also really enjoyed Celia’s sense of humor and the “triangle” between her, Aric, and Misha. I swear this book has some of the funniest one-liners in urban fantasy. These nurses are good at their jobs, but don’t mess with them. Seriously. If you mess with one, you mess with all four, and the person/creature doing the messing is probably going to get the bad end of the stick (or blade, or claw…you get the picture.)
So, can the girls track down the source of the vampire infection and take care of business? Will Celia find the love she deserves? Will these poor girls ever get some much deserved peace? Probably not, well, at least the peace part. But that’s good for us, because that means there will be plenty of adventures with the Wird girls to come. I really enjoyed the prequel novella and was hoping Sealed With a Curse would live up to my expectations. It did. This is an exciting and refreshing debut and I can’t wait to see what’s next for this series!
Pre-order Sealed With a Curse: Amazon |B&N | Indiebound
***Hey, check this out! Courtesy of Cecy Robson, I’ve got another bundle o’ swag (water bottle, lip balm, and a magnet) to give away to one lucky winner, so as long as you’re a US/Canadian resident, you’re good to go. Just leave a comment on the review and I’ll choose a winner on 11/15! Make sure you go visit Cecy at her website!
Halloween is over, but that doesn’t mean the scary stuff must go away! I have brand new copies of Dark Shadows: The Salem Branch and Dark Shadows: Angelique’s Descent by Lara Parker to give away, so check out the books and the giveaway details, and good luck!
About Dark Shadows: Angelique’s Descent
The dashing heir of a New England shipping magnate, Barnabas Collins captures Angelique’s heart amidst the sensual beauty of Martinique, her island home. But her happiness is doomed when Barnabas becomes engaged to another. With this betrayal, Barnabas unleashes an evil that will torment him for all time. For Angelique is no ordinary woman. Raised in the mysterious art of witchcraft, she pledged her soul to darkness and became immortal. Vowing to destroy Barnabas, Angelique damns him to eternal life as a vampire—to accompany her forever. But little does Angelique understand the depth of Barnabas’s fury….
About Dark Shadows: The Salem Branch
Freed from his vampire curse, Barnabas Collins is ready to embark on a new life and marriage with his savior, the virtuous Dr. Julia Hoffman. But when Antoinette, a beautiful flower child with a shocking resemblance to the immortal witch Angelique, rebuilds the Old House, his past returns to haunt him. Discovering a grisly corpse in the basement—where his old casket once lay—Barnabas realizes another vampire has invaded his domain. His fight to protect his family from this new threat will take Barnabas back through time to an evil moment in America’s history: the corrupt witch trials of old Salem.
The Dead of Winter by Lee Collins
Publisher: Angry Robot Books/Oct. 30th, 2012
Kind thanks to Angry Robot Books for providing a review copy
When the marshal of Leadville, Colorado, comes across a pair of mysterious, bloody deaths out in the badlands, he turns to Cora to find the creature responsible. But if she is to overcome the unnatural tide threatening to consume the small town, Cora must first confront her own tragic past.
Cora Oglesby is handy with a .35, a natural on horseback, and creatures of the night don’t do much to scare her, so when she and her husband Ben must tackle a creature stalking the citizens of Leadville, Colorado, it’s all in a day’s work for the twosome. Bounty hunting is Cora and Ben Oglesby’s stock in trade, but their specialty is in things that no human wants to deal with. Dispatching a lone creature is one thing, but something else has taken up residence in the silver mines right outside of town, and the threat has grown much, much bigger. Cora is tough, and Ben is smart, but can they take on a pack of monsters so dangerous they could decimate a whole town?
On the cover, The Dead of Winter is described as “True Grit Meets True Blood”, which isn’t a bad comparison, per se, but the vampires in The Dead of Winter aren’t particularly sexy, instead going with the more classic (and scarier, for me) form of the nosfaratu. The True Grit comparison does, in fact, apply and I love the gritty, snowy, Wild West atmosphere that the author has set up, because it’s a perfect environment for dread (picture 30 Days of Night.) Cora is also not your usual heroine. She describes herself as “not pretty” with crooked teeth and stringy hair, but she also doesn’t linger on such things (there’s monster killin’ to be done, folks.) Although, there’s a particularly poignant moment when she talks about how Ben looks at her with longing, seemingly not to notice her (self-perceived) shortcomings.
The duo actually remind me a little bit of Sam and Dean in Supernatural. Ben is bookish and shy, and Cora is a winner-take-all, both pistols blazing kind of gal, and I really like that about her. She’s like a particularly fierce force of nature and she blazes through the pages of The Dead of Winter, kicking ass and taking names. Hard drinkin’, hard gambling Cora is certainly the star of this book, but there are plenty of other interesting characters populating the landscape.
This is a fairly quick, fun read, and there’s a twist that you may not (or may…) see coming, and plenty of vampire killin’ mayhem to satisfy any urban fantasy reader, with lots of Old West flavor thrown in. I’m anxious to read the next book in the series “She Returns From War.” The Dead of Winter is a rollicking good debut!
Purchase The Dead of Winter: Amazon |B&N | Indiebound
I’m thrilled to have Paul Crilley on the blog today! Paul’s brand new steampunk adventure novel, The Lazarus Machine, is out on the 6th from PYR, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
Please welcome Paul to the blog!
Paul, your brand new book, The Lazarus Machine, comes out in just a few days! Will you tell us a bit about it?
It’s a steampunk mystery-adventure in the vein of Dr Who, Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones, and James Bond.
Sebastian Tweed and his father are conmen, and are currently making money by conducting fake séances for the rich and gullible. Octavia Nightingale is a junior researcher at The Times, and is trying to find out what happened to her mother, a reporter who went missing about a year ago.
During a séance that goes spectacularly wrong, Tweed’s father is kidnapped by a group of masked villains led by Professor Moriarty. When Tweed tries to find out what his father has gotten mixed up in, he comes into contact with Octavia, and they both realize their problems are linked. They decide (reluctantly) to team up, uncovering a conspiracy that is much, much larger than they first thought.
I read that you always wanted to be a writer. What’s one of the very first things you remember writing?
The first thing I wrote was a “novelization” of a Judge Dredd comic called The House of Death. I think I’ve still got it somewhere, handwritten and stapled together.
What do you love most about writing fantasy?
The fact that you can make everything up. There are no real limits. As long as it makes sense within the context of the world you’ve invented, the only thing stopping you is your own imagination. You can have cities built on the backs of massive dragons that fly across a water world. You can have people descended from the survivors of shipwrecks that have been swallowed into the gut of a colossal killer whale, living in a town made from the ruined boats. (If you wanted to.) You just have to come up with how they live. What they eat, that kind of thing. That’s where the fun lies.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
I started out by reading The Hardy Boys when I was about nine. (Perhaps that’s why I love mysteries so much.) After that I moved on to Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, then I pretty much read anything I could get my hands on. Besides Pratchett and Adams, my other influences are writers who have a real poetry to their writing, like Neil Gaiman and William Gibson. Let’s see. Who else? I love Elmore Leonard’s writing. His dialogue has a real zing to it. Plus Colin Dexter for his amazing Inspector Morse books.
Steampunk as a genre has really come into its own in recent years. Why do you think it’s so popular?
I’m not sure. Maybe because it’s still fresh enough that everything hasn’t been done yet. There are still so many variations within the genre that it doesn’t feel like everyone is treading on everyone else’s feet.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Probably The Lord of the Rings. I read it when I was 13, and I remember it opening my mind as to what you can do in a book, how free you can be to create.
What are you reading now?
I read lots of book at the same time, and I pick up whatever I’m in the mood to read. Right now the pile by my bed consists of: A Storm of Swords, by George RR Martin. Breverton’s Phantasmagoria by Terry Breverton. London Lore by Steve Roud .The Hobbit (I’m reading it to my seven year old daughter, and she’s loving it). The Hydrogen Sonata, by Iain M Banks. Retribution, by Val McDermid. Restoration London, by Liza Picard, and How to Write a Damn Good Thriller, by James Frey,
In your bio, it says you were born in Scotland, moved to South Africa, moved back to Scotland, and now you’re in South Africa to stay. If someone were to visit you there for the first time, where would you take them? What do you love most about living there?
It’s a beautiful country. Really stunning. There’s a game park about two hour’s drive from where I live. A real, out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere park. No modern amenities. You take your tents and your food and you camp there, and hope you don’t get disturbed by lions.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Reading to my kids, watching movies, reading books, and playing computer games, and going to gym.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
I’m currently working on Tweed and Nightingale book 2, and it’s going well. The relationship between Tweed and Octavia has changed somewhat, as they are now quite good friends. So there’s more teasing and banter going on between them. I’ve also written another series set in Victorian London, called The Invisible Order. It’s about all the creatures of the Fae, (faeries, gnomes, and piskies and the like), fighting a thousand-year old hidden war in the streets of London, and the secret society of humans who are trying to stop them taking over. I’m really proud of the first two books, so if your readers happen to like The Lazarus Machine, Rise of the Darklings, and The Fire King are out there on the shelves to tide them over till next year.
Keep up with Paul: Website | Twitter
About The Lazarus Machine: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound
An alternate 1895… . A world where Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace perfected the Difference Engine. Where steam and Tesla-powered computers are everywhere. Where automatons powered by human souls venture out into the sprawling London streets. Where the Ministry, a secretive government agency, seeks to control everything in the name of the Queen.
It is in this claustrophobic, paranoid city that seventeen-year-old Sebastian Tweed and his conman father struggle to eke out a living.
But all is not well. …
A murderous, masked gang has moved into London, spreading terror through the criminal ranks as it takes over the underworld. As the gang carves up more and more of the city, a single name comes to be uttered in fearful whispers.
When Tweed’s father is kidnapped by Moriarty, Tweed is forced to team up with information broker Octavia Nightingale to track him down. But he soon realizes that his father’s disappearance is just a tiny piece of a political conspiracy that could destroy the British Empire and plunge the world into a horrific war.
About Paul (via his website):
Paul Crilley was born in Scotland in 1975 and moved to South Africa when he was eight years old. He was rather disappointed to discover that Africa was not at all like the Tarzan movies he watched on Sunday afternoons and that he would not, in fact, have elephants and lions strolling through his back yard. (Although he does have plenty of monkeys who raid his kitchen for fruit and bread.)
His parents being of a rather fickle nature, they decided to move back to Scotland in 1986, only to return once again to South Africa in 1988, where Paul has remained ever since.
Paul has always wanted to be a writer, and luckily for him his parents didn’t think it too strange that he spent every available moment reading. In fact, they pretty much encouraged it, making sure he always had new books to read, so a lot of what you see or read here is probably their fault.
When he was eighteen he met Caroline, and they have been together ever since. They have two children – a five year old daughter and a two year old son. They live in a village called Hillcrest, which is on the east coast of South Africa. They have two dogs and seven cats.
Although Paul loves writing Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction, he also likes to work in as many other fields as possible. He writes adult fantasy for Wizards of the Coast, (The Chronicles of Abraxis Wren, a crime/noir/fantasy mashup featuring the acrebic Abraxis Wren and his long-suffering assistant Torin). He spent most of last year working as a freelance writer on the Bioware/Lucasarts MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic, something of a dream come true for Paul, as he has always been a Star Wars geek. (His earliest movie-going memory is going to see The Empire Strikes Back when he was five years old.) Paul also writes for South African television.
Here’s my roundup of book news (and other fun stuff) around the web for the week! Sometimes I add stuff throughout the day on Friday, so be sure you check back over the weekend too!
Interviews and more:
Excerpts and such:
Fun stuff (some book-related, some not):
Here are the new releases for November! However, this is by no means a comprehensive list (just ones that I especially have my eye on.) If you have any new releases that I didn’t include, and that you’d like to direct me to, please list them in the comments. Thanks!
November 13th, 2012:
The Curious Steambox Affair by Melissa Macgregor
Knife Sworn by Mazarkis Williams
The Inexplicables by Cherie Priest
The Future We Left Behind by Mark Lancaster
I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus by SG Browne
Reached by Ally Condie
Silhouette by Dave Swavely
The Colony by AJ Colucci
Renegade by JA Souders
Execution by Alexander Gordon Smith
Truency City by Isamu Fukui
Black City by Elizabeth Richards
River Road by Suzanne Johnston
November 20th, 2012:
Red Country by Joe Abercrombie
Awaken the Curse by Alexa Egan
Spirit’s End by Rachel Aaron
Elemental by John Antony (Nov. 21st)
Blood Bond by Sophie Littlefield
Notorious Nineteen by Janet Evanovich
Snuff Tag 9 by Jude Hardin
Hair Side Flesh Side by Helen Marshall
Mannheim Rex by Robert Pobi
The Black Box by Michael Connelly (Nov. 26th)
I’m thrilled to have James Lovegrove on the blog today! James is the author of over 35 (35!!) novels for adults and children, and his newest, Redlaw: Red Eye just came out from Solaris! He was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, so please give him a warm welcome!
James, you’re the author of over 35 books, with your new one, Red Law: Redeye, just out! Did you always want to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about your journey?
I always wanted to be a rock star, but when that didn’t pan out I turned to writing. Actually, that’s not completely true. I think I always knew I was going to write stories for a living, since it was something I did a lot as a kid and found easy and fun. I even chose to study English at Oxford because I felt it would be good preparation for a literary life. It was only as I was about to graduate, however, that I realised I didn’t want to follow any other career path than fiction. So I sat down and banged out my first book, The Hope, in six weeks, sold it to a publisher, and haven’t looked back since. Well, I have looked back occasionally and wondered whether I should have tried being a rock star instead, but then, if I had, chances are I’d be a washed-up junkie by now, living on benefits and dreaming wistfully of the glory days. All in all, I think I chose wisely. And it’s 42 books at the last count. I just finished a new novella, Age Of Satan, yesterday.
Will you tell us a bit about the Redlaw series, and your hero, Captain John Redlaw?
I wanted to have a go at writing a series featuring a recurring main character, and John Redlaw had been sitting around in my back-brain for several years, since the mid-1990s in fact, when I first came up with the idea of a cop who polices vampires. Back then the idea was a pitch for the comic 2000AD, and I worked on it with an artist friend, Adam Brockbank, whose credits include the amazing graphic novel Mezolith. Redlaw the comic strip didn’t happen, sadly, but I couldn’t let go of the character and when I dusted him off a couple of years back, I realised he still had huge potential. He’s a sardonic hard-bastard, equal parts Judge Dredd and John (Die Hard) McClane, with a touch of Solomon Kane thrown in. He’s a devout Christian undergoing a constant crisis of faith. He has few friends, but the ones he has, he cares for deeply. In the series, vampires are a social problem, a blight that human civilisation is finding hard to deal with. They’re ghettoised, marginalised, resented and feared. They’re immigrants, the “other”, misunderstood but also potentially dangerous. Redlaw, toting holy water grenades and a gun loaded with ash-wood bullets, has to tread a difficult path between protecting us from the vampires and the vampires from us.
What made you decide to write a series featuring vampires?
All monsters are metaphors, and the vampire is the most metaphorical monster of all. It is protean. It can be taken to represent anything you like, and that is why it has persisted all this time in fiction. It can be the aristocracy, leeching off the poor. It can be the charismatic sexual predator, a literal lady-killer. It can be the capitalist elite, sucking the lifeblood of the workforce. It can be the alien cuckoo creature, like us but just different enough to be repellent. It can be – ugh – a mopey emo teen (“Nobody understands me!”). It can be all these and more. I felt, with Redlaw, that there was still mileage to be had in vampires, a new angle to be found, a new approach, and went with it. I use vampires in the series as an ironic counterpoint as much as a plot device. I try and show that, however monstrous and vile these creatures seem, there are always humans who are worse.
When you started Redlaw, did you already have an idea of how many books you’d like to write in the series, or did you just decide to see where the series took you?
I originally envisioned it as a series of three books – not a trilogy, because I’m going to leave it open-ended, with room for further sequels – but I certainly could see, when I began, that I had three separate ideas, three stories to tell, which together form a larger story. After Redlaw and Redlaw: Red Eye, there is a third volume planned, Redlaw: Red Sun, which will round things off, but as to when I get time to write it, I’m not sure. I have work commitments up to spring 2014 and a new series I want to start that year, so readers may have to wait a while yet for the conclusion. Sorry.
Why do you think vampires have become so popular recently?
I think vampires have been perennially popular. They go out of fashion every now and then, but not for long. Sooner or later someone comes up with a new way of telling a vampire story and it starts another cycle of vampires rising to the cultural forefront. I suppose the Twilight series must take some credit for the recent resurgence of the bloodsucking undead, but like I said, I don’t think they’ve ever really been out of vogue. They just like to lie low sometimes, gathering their strength before their next return.
What are a few things that really inspire you in your writing?
Nothing inspires me more than getting up in the morning with a vague idea of how the next few pages of a book are going to turn out, sitting down and starting to write, and seeing a few random thoughts turn into a piece of coherent storytelling. I’ve been doing this job long enough that the mechanics of plotting and prose are well ingrained and I don’t really have to focus too hard on those. Instead, what I enjoy is surprising myself with a plot twist or achieving some verbal or narrative effect that I haven’t managed before. To be honest, it’s quite hard work turning out 1,500 to 2,000 words a day, but it’s worthwhile if I feel that, by the end of the day, I’ve done something new or learned something or pushed myself in an unfamiliar, exciting direction.
What are some of your favorite scary reads?
I’m not that much of a horror fiction fan. I grew up loving Stephen King’s work, but with him it’s more about the storytelling sweep and the narrative voice than about the horror tropes he uses. Likewise Ray Bradbury, who strayed into the horror field from time to time. It was the poetry of his language that engaged me, more than the scary stories themselves. I can’t recall the last time a horror novel really scared me. I would read ghost stories as a kid, people like M.R. James, but I found something like The Hound Of The Baskervilles far more chilling, even though it’s only a “pretend” ghost story. I have a soft spot for zombie novels, but again, they don’t really scare me and I don’t even get off on the gore. I just like the genre, and always have, ever since I saw Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead on video. I used to love the Marvel horror magazines of the 1970s, and the Warren Publishing magazines too, Creepy and Eerie. Funnily enough, the last time any story on paper raised the hairs on the back of my neck was Alan Moore’s Lovecraftian comicbook miniseries Neonomicon. Truly unsettling and sinister, that. I honestly had to look over my shoulder a couple of times while reading it, convinced there was something weird and uncanny going on behind me.
What makes you want to put a book aside in frustration?
Bad prose, first and foremost. People who can’t write or who over-write. Books that are too long and take ages to get going. Too much narrative trickery, i.e. an author playing endless metatextual games or buggering about with tenses and voice. Dumb plotting, as when a character withholds valuable and useful information for no good reason other than to allow the hero to stumble into trouble (Dumbeldore, I’m looking at you). Lots of things, basically. I have a very short attention span as a reader. Partly that’s because there are so many books I want to read, partly it’s because I have very little spare time to read – a fatal combination. If I’m not gripped by page 50, it’s thanks very much, so long, on to the next book.
What are you reading now?
Mainly a bunch of comics, because I’ve got a huge reviewing stint coming up (for the magazine Comic Heroes). The novel Amped by Daniel H. Wilson is sitting by my bedside, his follow-up to the wonderful Robopocalypse, but I’ve barely managed ten pages of that. I’m sure it’s good but there are so many other demands on my time that I’ve not been able to settle down with it and do it justice.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Ideally I’d just loll around all day on my backside gradually whittling down my to-read pile and feeling absolutely no guilt about it whatsoever. Most evenings I’ll catch up on my TV shows or a movie on DVD. Once in a while I get out to the cinema. I try and keep in shape, so that’s at least three decent exercise sessions per week. I like to goof around with my kids. That’s about it.
You live in Eastbourne, on the south coast of England. Where would you take a first time visitor? What do you love most about living there?
Eastbourne’s seafront promenade is beautiful: the beach, the floral displays, the grand old buildings. It’s more or less unspoiled, remaining much as it was back in Edwardian times, which was when the town first became popular as a seaside resort destination for Londoners and people from further afield and started to flourish. Most of the land round here is owned by the Duke of Devonshire and he has prevented it from becoming over-developed and cheapened. There are also spectacular chalk cliffs just a few minutes’ walk from my house. It’s a natural beauty spot, although notorious, too, as a place for suicides. Seriously, we have on average one suicide per month here, someone leaping off the cliffs. There’s a chaplain whose full-time job it is to patrol the area and talk people out of killing themselves.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events?
I’m just about to start work on the first of two Sherlock Holmes pastiches for Titan Books. It’s a dream project for me. Since the age of 11, when I first got into Conan Doyle, I’ve wanted to write a Holmes story. I’m not doing straight detective tales, I’m giving them an SF/fantasy twist, but I plan to include all the familiar phrases and devices, because it would be foolish and wrong not to. After that there’s the sixth book in my Pantheon series, this one to be called Age Of Shiva, and next autumn will see physical-copy publication of my three Pantheon ebook novellas, collected in an omnibus edition entitled Age Of Godpunk. And then there’s that future project, a space opera series, about which I can’t say much, as it’s still in the tentative, formative stages, embryonic, not yet ready to see the world.
Keep up with James: Website
Please welcome Benjamin Kane Ethridge to the blog! Benjamin won the Bram Stoker Award for First Novel with Black and Orange in 2010 (along with Lisa Morton’s Castle of Los Angeles) and his newest novel, Bottled Abyss just came out in June from RedRum Horror. Benjamin was kind enough to answer a few questions and also, we’ve got a SIGNED copy of Bottled Abyss up for grabs to one lucky winner, so be sure to check out the giveaway details at the bottom of the post!
You won the 2010 Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel with Black and Orange. Have you always wanted to write? Can you tell us a bit about how you became a writer?
For much of my life I’ve wanted to be a writer. Around ten years old I wanted to be a veterinarian, but then the thought of seeing animals suffer changed that. I then wanted to be a jet pilot, but after seeing Goose die in TOP GUN,
I said to hell with that business! In the meantime, I’d always enjoyed telling stories and typing on the typewriter, so it went hand-in-hand, and I’ve been doing it since those early years.
Black and Orange is very appropriate to the season with Halloween on the way. Will you tell us a bit about it?
BLACK & ORANGE is a dark fantasy with a new spin on Halloween. It’s an action driven novel for the most part, but in many ways it is also a character story about love in all its different forms. The main premise is about two nomads with a life-long quest to guard a sacrifice every October 31st. The sacrifice, named the Heart of the Harvest, changes every year and these nomads, driving from place to place, are directed by mysterious letters that given them vital info.
The Church of Midnight and Morning, the villains of the novel, have another idea about the Heart. If they can make the sacrifice on Halloween, a gateway to a nightmarish dimension called the Old Domain cracks open wider and allows more evil things to cross over. This year, the sacrifice is so potent, they might be able to keep the gateway opened permanently, thus merging our world with the Old Domain. It’s up to the Nomads to prevent this from happening, but the monster of the gateway, Chaplain Cloth, is relentlessly after them and the Heart of the Harvest.
What are some of your biggest inspirations (literary or otherwise)?
James Joyce and Stephen King for literary. My family and friends for otherwise.
How about a few of your favorite scary reads?
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR by Jack Ketchum, THE SHADOW AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD by Thomas Ligotti and THE CELLAR by Richard Laymon
What’s something that you find truly scary?
Deranged people. I’ve known a couple, so I can attest to their scariness.
What are you reading now?
STARFISH by Peter Watts, a dark SciFi novel. Very good so far.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Most free time is writing and reading time, but other than that I love to play with my children and still quite enjoy playing videogames.
Does your family do anything special for Halloween?
My parents used to have a party, but that has tapered off over the years. Now, me, my wife and kids usually do a Trunk or Treat thing near our house. It’s easier to visit a parking lot full of cars than having walk through a neighborhood and guess what houses are “putting out” when it comes to treats. Plus, my kids are so young they don’t know the difference yet.
What’s next for you? Do you have anything else to share about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
Well, at the end of this month I have a dark science fiction novel called DUNGEON BRAIN coming out from Nightscape Press. I’m currently co-editing a shared world anthology called MADHOUSE with the very awesome writer Brad Hodson (check out his new novel DARLING; I am sure you will be as impressed as I am). After all this, I’m also writing a trilogy. The first book is entitled NIGHTMARE BALLAD and should be published by JournalStone books in February 2013.
Keep up with Benjamin: Website | Twitter