Weston Ochse is the author of nine novels and was the winner of the 2005 Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel (Scarecrow Gods)! Weston has a brand new book out in November called SEAL Team 666 and was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. There’s also an excerpt of Seal Team 666 at the bottom of the post, so make sure you check that out!
Please welcome Weston to the blog!
Weston, you won the Bram Stoker Award for your first novel, Scarecrow Gods in 2005. How did you celebrate your win?
The adulation was instantaneous. I wasn’t present for the ceremony, so Mike Arnzen accepted for me. He said that when they announced my book the winner, the entire first row stood up and flashed their breasts, including Tom Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson, and J.K Rowling. Since then, it happens to me at least once a day. I also have a golden ticket to Disneyland (not –world) that gets me in free whenever I want; then there’s the free book subscription to the American Soap Opera Diaries; and never forget the lifetime supply of pimento cheese. Truly, the Stoker is the award that keeps on giving.
Okay, so maybe none of that is actually true. The Bram Stoker Award doesn’t convey any special benefit. Not really. But it is nice to know that for one fine literary moment my peers felt that my work stood above the rest. We all work so hard. It’s nice to be singled out once in a while.
When you were young, did you imagine that you would become a writer?
I did. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. For a long time, I dreamed of writing works that other people would read. I never knew it would be as simple as just doing it.
On your website, you mention that your literary influences are constantly changing, since you read quite a bit. What are some of your recent favorites?
Michael Chabon, Cormac McCarthy, Adam Neville, Sarah Pinborough, and P.F. Kluge.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
What are you reading now?
Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue.
You’re considered a master of the scary. What do you find truly frightening?
In movies, what scares me is what I don’t see. In the original black and white 1963 version of The Haunting, based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House, Julie Harris lies in bed staring at a wall, while all hell seems to break loose in the hallway outside. We never see what it is making the noise, but squarely in Julie’s POV, we begin to imagine terrible things. Never underestimate the ability of the human mind to create something scarier than any SFX creator can invent. I use this lesson when I write scary stories.
In horror fiction, what, if anything, do you consider off limits?
Nothing. The story dictates the limit.
What makes you want to set a book aside in frustration?
I don’t usually set them aside. I usually hurl them across the room. Lack of editing first; especially if it’s a small press or self-published. Writer’s need editors and editors need to have the curriculum vitae or experience. Don’t hire an editor who hasn’t worked on the professional level, and by professional, I mean mass market.
I’m very excited about your upcoming book, Seal Team 666! Will you give us a bit of a teaser?
Me too! (See excerpt at the bottom of the post!)
You speak at schools and libraries quite often and also ran the Guerrilla Fiction Writing Workshop. What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to struggling writers?
Don’t look at the length of a novel or the length of a book and be intimidated. You don’t eat a whole pizza in one bite, do you? You eat it piece by piece. It’s the same with writing. For a short story write one page a day, then at the end of two weeks. You’ll have a finished story. For a novel, write five pages a day, then at the end of three months you’ll have a novel. Basically, keep your eyes off the horizon and watch the road in front of you.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
I have a short story I’m rather proud of in the John Skipp anthology PSYCHOES. The story is called Righteous and takes PTSD to the next level. It’s a pretty daring story. I also have a story coming out in Cemetery Dance #68. This one will leave people stunned.
Keep up with Weston: Website | Twitter
EXCERPT for SEAL Team 666
Subic Bay. 1985. He waited in the pile of trash. The liquid from banana skins, coffee grounds, and rain-soaked rags seeped through his clothes, making him shiver. His teeth chattered. Beneath the soft skin of his bare chest he felt what could have been gravel or hardened chunks of dog poop. A piece of rubber he’d seen thrown away by the hookers on Llo-Llo Street in Barretto Bario rested like a deflated sausage two inches from his nose. A wasp crawled inside, causing the skin of it to wriggle and jump. He felt rats scurrying along the backs of his legs. When they sniffed at his skin, he fought the urge to jerk as their whispers tickled the soft underskin of his knees.
Like a pig.
Or like a dog.
He was wild and eager to gnaw on something that screamed.
Twice old men shuffled by, coming home from a day spent at the dump.
Each time he screamed like a dying cat. “Hoy! Hoy! Tanda! Halika. Sayaw tayo.” Hey! Hey! Old man. Come and dance with me.
Whenever the men would look over, he could barely contain himself with glee. Although they looked right at him, he knew they didn’t see him. He was invisible. He was like the air.
But then came the old cripple, pulling himself along with one withered arm, a hand gnarled like the fingers of a twisted branch, his skin the color of old chocolate. He had a few hairs on his face and even fewer on his head. His eyes were the color of olive pits and were sunk into craters of wrinkles.
Jackie could barely contain his laughter as he leaped free of the trash and high into the air. Pieces of banana and coffee grounds sprayed the cripple. Jackie screamed like a beast. He picked up an old hubcap and swung it as hard as he could. He caught the cripple in the side of the head. The slick metal front slid off without doing much damage, so he brought it around again, this time coming straight down with the hubcap on the crown of the cripple’s head. Blood exploded outward, the sight of it fuel for another swing of the arm. This time it came around in a flat arch, catching the old man beneath the eye.
“Hoy! Hoy!” he cried. “Dance with me you fool!”
The cripple fell to his side, his mouth twisted into a curl of fear and loathing.
Jackie growled and peed on the man’s withered arm. Then he turned and ran, giggling all the way to wherever he was going, his bare feet slapping at the ground, all the way down La Union Street.
About SEAL Team 666:
Halfway through SEAL training, Cadet Jack Walker, still green but showing incredible promise, is whisked away to join four SEALs—and their dog—for a special ops mission. Walker soon finds himself in a whirlwind of otherworldly creatures and events as he finds out the true nature of this “special ops” team: SEAL Team 666. Battling demons, possessed humans, mass-murdering cults, and evil in its most dark and primeval form, SEAL Team 666 has their work cut out for them. And it’s not long before they realize that the threat isn’t just directed against the U.S.—an ancient and deadly cult has bigger plans, and Walker is at the center of a supernatural conflict with the entire world at stake.
I’m thrilled to have Mark Pryor on the blog today! I just reviewed Mark’s brand new book, The Bookseller, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, so please give him a warm welcome!
Mark, your first novel, The Bookseller, comes out tomorrow! How did you celebrate when you found out the novel sold?
Actually, it was a weird evening because I’d already planned a party at my house. You see, the CBS show 48 Hours was screening a murder case I tried a few months previously and thirty or so people were due to arrive and watch the show. I was on my way back from a famous Austin BBQ place, Salt Lick, with food for everyone when my agent called. She actually said three publishers had made offers, but one offered the largest advance and a three-book deal. Easy choice. Anyway, when I got home with the food I phoned my wife Sarah from the driveway, telling her to come out and meet me. I wanted her to tell her in private, away from everyone so she’d be the first to know but she dashed out of the house thinking something was wrong! Then I gave her a massive hug and told her the news. So my first national TV appearance and three book offers all in one night, it was crazy. In a very, very good way.
Will you tell us a bit about The Bookseller?
Sure. The story revolves around the disappearance of some booksellers, called bouquinistes, who operate their somewhat iconic stalls alongside the River Seine. My main character is Hugo Marston who is a former FBI profiler and now the head of security at the US Embassy in Paris. The first bouquiniste to go missing is a friend of his, Max, and Hugo actually witnesses his kidnapping. The cops don’t seem interested, for some reason, so Hugo starts looking himself.
What he discovers, though, surprises him. His old friend Max has a much more colorful past that he’d ever imagined. Hugo also hunts for two books Max was selling at the time of his kidnap, and checks out several other leads that pop up along the way. He has help from his long-time and extremely irreverent friend, Tom, who has connections to the CIA that he won’t even share with Hugo.
I hope that anyone who reads it and doesn’t know Paris gets a powerful urge to visit!
As a former crime reporter, and now an attorney, you have plenty of experience to draw from in your writing. That said, how much do you think your experience has helped in your writing, and what do you enjoy most about writing mystery?
I’ve had a life-long interest in crime, which maybe led to my two careers in that field: reporter and now prosecutor. So I’ve read about all kinds of crimes from over the centuries but I’ve also seen first-hand a number of crimes and crime scenes. So I’m lucky (if lucky can be the right word in this context!) because I have a deeper well of personal as well as second-hand knowledge to draw from.
But it’s a funny thing, those two jobs have actually hindered my writing in some ways. As a reporter and attorney, one’s writing is very factual, stripped down to the bone with no room for flights of fancy or the use of clever (but relevant!) metaphors. I’ve had to learn to loosen up and give myself permission to write a little from my imagination, have some fun with the language rather than just plonk down a factual, sequential narration of events.
As for what I enjoy about writing mysteries, I just love putting together a puzzle, creating a kind of riddle and making it easy to follow but hard to crack. It’s a real challenge but I love it.
Is there anything in particular that helps you write, gets the creative juices flowing?
Yes, I have to have just the right amount of distraction! I do almost all of my writing at the local library where there is enough background noise for me. There’s something about being in a library, too, a lot of inspiration or motivation being around all those books and readers. If it’s too quiet, I don’t know, little things distract me. Likewise, I don’t write at home because I have too many potential distractions (three, very cute little ones as well as TV, the internet etc).
In terms of story ideas, though, they tend to come to me as I’m walking or hanging out in the hot tub. I know, maybe that’s weird, but what can I say?! I write them down in a little notebook as soon as I can but some of my best ideas have come while walking the dog. And every time I take a vacation the ideas flow freely. I have two non-Hugo books I want to write when I can find the time, one of which came to me while at the beach this past summer.
Paris is a rich, historic setting, and where The Bookseller takes place. For you, how important is setting to a story? Are there other locations you’d like to write about in the future?
For me it is important. Or, for my stories it’s important. I’m sure the importance of location varies according to the writer and the particular story but I like to give people a real feel for the city, if I can. The River Seine, for example, really reflects Hugo’s moods and emotions – one minute it’s giving life to the city, through the traffic and tourists and the water itself. Then it becomes colder and more menacing as bodies start to pop up.
Absolutely, I’ve talked with my editor about having Hugo move around Europe. I think it’d be fun to have him (and therefore the reader) get to visit and experience different cities. I’m happy to take suggestions, too, if your blog readers have a favorite. I’m thinking London, of course, but maybe Barcelona, Prague, Berlin… so many choices. Of course, I’d have to do in-person research, right?
Do you outline before a project, or just start writing?
A bit of both. I start a book knowing who dies, why, and how they’re caught. Roughly. I do need a goal in mind and maybe an idea for a twist or two but I’m not good at detailed planning so once I have the basics in my head I’ll just sit down and start writing. The story inevitably changes, too, as new ideas pop up. I have to be a little bit organized though because I do like to keep the reader guessing. It’s almost a game for me because when I read I try and solve the mystery so I know people will do the same with mine. I hope to foil as many of them as possible and flying by the seat of my pants is a tough way to do that!
Who are your biggest literary influences (classic or contemporary?)
I suppose it would have to be the mystery writers I loved growing up. Agatha Christie for her incredibly clever plots. Likewise, Conan Doyle for his. And who doesn’t love Sherlock Holmes? About ten years ago I started reading Eric Ambler and I think I’ve gone through every one of his — now there’s a writer who can create tension and atmosphere without car chases and explosions. More recently, I have become addicted to Alan Furst’s pre-war spy novels. He’s very much in the Ambler tradition of dropping a regular guy into a tough spot, then making it tougher. He, too, is a master with words, with place and atmosphere. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we’re so lucky in the genre right now with people like William Landay, Tana French, and Gillian Flynn putting out great books.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Great question! Catch-22. My favorite book of all time and I remember the first time I read it, my eyes just got wider and wider. I’d be fine with that happening again.
What do you enjoy in a good mystery?
I like more than action, and I suppose that makes me more of a mystery reader than a thriller reader, though the distinction can be blurry. I like someone who can create characters I care about, and story lines I can wonder about. Some authors are great at putting you alongside their hero, as if you’re in the book helping them figure stuff out. I just reread this answer and it’s horribly general… I suppose in my view there are several necessary elements: memorable characters (be they good or evil), a fun puzzle for me to help solve (aka “plot”), and something extra… maybe a fun location? Can’t beat an English country house for a mystery setting. Oh wait, my books are set in Paris, I shouldn’t say that!
What makes you want to put a book aside in frustration?
One-dimensional characters who are served up as foils for non-stop action. I threw one aside recently for that exact reason. Car chases and fights are hard to recreate on paper and the excitement, for me personally, is the tension before the fight or the fall-out after the car chase. But I’m pretty selective about which books I pick up so it’s rare for me to start something and find I don’t enjoy it. Thank heavens for friends and the Internet, right?!
I imagine balancing a writing schedule with being an Assistant DA and wrangling twin toddlers is demanding! How do you do it?
I snatch moments where I can. My schedule at the moment gives me Fridays off so I try to spend two hours on Fridays and two on Saturdays at the library. When I’m writing a book I spend almost every waking minute thinking about it so that when it comes time to write, I can get straight to it. I write quickly and because I plan each step out in my head, I don’t tend to do too much rewriting. Mostly, though, it’s thanks to my wife who not only takes care of the kids and house while I’m writing, but actively encourages me to go and write.
You grew up in England and are now living in Austin, TX! As a Texan, I’d say that makes you an honorary Texan.;) What did you love most about growing up in England, and what do you enjoy most about living in Austin?
Hey, I have the boots to prove it! I was very lucky, I grew up on a farm and had a best friend living nearby, so we had a giant playground to roam, woods to poke through, even a ramshackle, crumbling cottage on a dark country lane to explore. I’d tell you what we found in it, but I swore a blood oath…
And now, Austin is fantastic. So much to do here, and now that the kids are a bit older we’re starting to get out and about more. Obviously, the music scene here is huge but so is the film industry and the other arts, some great restaurants…. The weather’s great, too, apart from about ten weeks in the middle of the year – but after 25 years of rain and drizzle, I swore I wouldn’t complain about overly hot days. We’re very happy here, I can’t really imagine a better place to be a writer (maybe Paris?!) or raise a family.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Find what, now? Free time?? Actually, I do have a few moments here and there. I play soccer in a league every Sunday, and I also play squash and hit the gym several times a week. I also try to read a lot, which isn’t exactly a hardship. Otherwise, it’s about spending time with my wife and kids. We take trips when we can and at home we like to play card games in the evening, and have ‘movie night’ every Friday.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
Sure, thanks. I suppose I’d like to let people know I have a true-crime book coming out in January, about the ‘cold’ murder case I tried last year. It’s called As She Lay Sleeping. I think it’s as much a memoir as a traditional true crime story, as I aim to let people into how detectives and prosecutors go about trying and proving such a hard case. An inside look at the process, which I hope people will find interesting.
After that, for those who enjoy The Bookseller, the second in the Hugo Marston series will be out in the Spring, May I think. It’s called The Crypt Thief, and focuses on several mysterious break-ins at two of Paris’s famous cemeteries. Hugo has to figure out who’s stealing the bones of long-dead Cancan dancers, and why.
Also, I want to say: thank you for having me!
Keep up with Mark: Blog | Twitter | Website
About The Bookseller:
Hugo Marston buys an ancient book from his friend Max, at the old bookseller’s stall beside the River Seine. Moments later, Max is kidnapped.
Hugo must now connect the old man’s bizarre history with the ancient book, and solve the mysterious disappearance of other booksellers.
Then, as he himself becomes a target, Hugo uncovers a conspiracy from Paris’s recent past that leads him deep into the enemy’s lair.
Just as the killer intended.
About Mark Pryor:
Mark grew up in Hertfordshire, England, and now lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and three young children.
Over the years, he has been many things: ski instructor, journalist, personal trainer, and bra folder (he lasted one day: fired for giggling at the ridiculousness of the job. If it’s any excuse, he was just nineteen years old.)
His first real career was as a newspaper reporter in Colchester, Essex. There, he covered the police and crime beat for almost two years. He also wrote stories on foreign assignments, including accounts from Northern Ireland while with the British Army, and from Romania where he covered the first-anniversary celebrations of that country’s revolution.
Mark moved to America in 1994, mostly for the weather.
He attended journalism school at the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill, and then law school at Duke University, graduating with honors and a lot of debt.
He is currently an Assistant District Attorney with the Travis County DA’s office. Or, as he tells his kids, “I help catch bad guys.” Simplistic, yes, but you try explaining the judicial system to six-year-old twins!
He has prosecuted a Mexican Mafia enforcer, murderers, rapists, robbers, and a transvestite prostitute. (He felt bad about the last one.) A cold case he prosecuted in 2011 was featured by the CBS news program 48 Hours. Here’s a link to the show. He is currently writing a non-fiction book, AS SHE LAY SLEEPING, about that case.
“I write fiction because I can’t help myself, and I set my stories in Paris because I love the city and its people. And, of course, its food — snails are a direct (if slow) route to my heart.
“And if you’ve ever sat in a Paris cafe, watching the world pass by with a carafe of red wine in front of you, then I’m sure you can understand why Hugo lives in Paris. And if you haven’t done those things, well, I encourage you to do so. Just be sure to invite me along.”
The Bookseller (Hugo Marston #1) by Mark Pryor
Publisher: Seventh Street Books/Oct. 9th, 2012
Kind thanks to Seventh Street Books/Prometheus for providing a review copy
Who is killing the celebrated bouquinistes of Paris?
Max—an elderly Paris bookstall owner—is abducted at gunpoint. His friend, Hugo Marston, head of security at the US embassy, looks on helplessly, powerless to do anything to stop the kidnapper.
Marston launches a search, enlisting the help of semiretired CIA agent Tom Green. Their investigation reveals that Max was a Holocaust survivor and later became a Nazi hunter. Is his disappearance somehow tied to his grim history, or even to the mysterious old books he sold?
On the streets of Paris, tensions are rising as rival drug gangs engage in violent turf wars. Before long, other booksellers start to disappear, their bodies found floating in the Seine. Though the police are not interested in his opinion, Marston is convinced the hostilities have something to do with the murders of these bouquinistes.
Then he himself becomes a target of the unknown assassins.
With Tom by his side, Marston finally puts the pieces of the puzzle together, connecting the past with the present and leading the two men, quite literally, to the enemy’s lair.
Just as the killer intended.
The Bouquinistes of Paris ply their second hand book trade along the banks of the Seine from the Pont Marie to the Quai de Louvre, continuing a tradition that started in the 16th century. In the late 1800s, the bouquinistes were allowed by the government to establish themselves at fixed points, from sunrise to sunset, to 10 metres of railing at a fixed annual fee and licensing charge. Now there are over 200 stalls set up along the river, and they are considered an important part of Paris’s cultural and commercial heritage.
When Max Koche, an elderly bookseller and friend, is kidnapped right before Hugo Marston’s eyes, Hugo feels helpless and outraged. What could someone want with the elderly bookseller that would lead them to kidnapping? Hugo is sure that the police will follow up on this. After all, he’s got some clout, as a former FBI agent and now head of security for the US Embassy, so his word should offer at least some urgency to the investigation. He finds out, however, that on the word of a few other stall owners, that claim that Max went willingly with his captors, the investigation is put to rest. Hugo knows Max didn’t go willingly, though, and is determined to find out what happened to his friend. His investigation could put him at odds with his job, but being on vacation offers him a measure of freedom, and the help of a beautiful journalist and his friend Tom Green, an (ex?) CIA agent, will certainly come in handy. Turns out Max has a history as a Nazi hunter, but he’s not sure if that’s the reason for his kidnapping. He hopes that Max is still alive, but the disappearance of other booksellers makes that increasingly unlikely and sets Hugo on a trail that will lead him through a maze of drug czars, rare books, and of course, murder.
The Bookseller is the first of a series that will feature Texas native (who proudly wears his cowboy boots) Hugo Marston and offers up a protagonist that is sharp, understated, tenacious, and decent to the core. Twice divorced (one fairly recent), Hugo isn’t necessarily looking for a serious relationship, but Claudia Roux proves to be not only an intriguing love interest for Hugo, but is also a valuable asset in solving an increasingly labyrinthine case. Hugo never takes Claudia’s smarts (and connections) for granted, even though his instinct to protect her is put to the test more than once. I also appreciate that the author made Claudia a fully fleshed out part of the story, with secrets of her own, and she’s never presented one dimensionally. Hugo’s boss, Ambassador Taylor is a boss that anyone would love to have and offers Hugo his unwavering trust and also his help whenever possible (within reason of course, being the US Ambassador is a delicate job.) Probably one of my favorite characters, however, is Hugo’s foul mouthed, razor sharp, (semi) retired CIA agent friend, Tom Green. Tom is a bit on the soft side, physically, but his skills are immediately evident and without it being said, you always get the distinct feeling that Hugo, without question, trusts Tom with his life, and vice versa. Mark Pryor successfully combines a fascinating mystery, a setting (Paris) that’s a character in and of itself, and wonderful characterizations with a bit of old fashioned style to create a first novel that will appeal to mystery and thriller readers alike. The Bookseller has made an instant fan out of this reader, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next Hugo Marsten mystery.
It’s a Scare-a-Thon giveaway with Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Tales! This one is guaranteed to get you in the mood for Halloween, and I’ve got one copy up for grabs courtesy of World Weaver Press, so check out the giveaway details, and good luck!
About Specter Spectacular:
Spirits, poltergeists, hauntings, creatures of the dark — Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Tales delivers all these and more in thirteen spooky twists on the classic ghost story. From the heartwarming and humorous to the eerie and chilling, this anthology holds a story for everyone who has ever been thrilled by the unknown or wondered what might lie beyond the grave. Step inside and witness ghosts of the past, tales of revenge, the inhuman, the innocent, the damned, and more. But be warned — once you cross the grave into this world of fantasy and fright, you may find there’s no way back out.
Featuring work by Amanda C. Davis, A. E. Decker, Larry Hodges, Sue Houghton, Andrea Janes, Terence Kuch, Robbie MacNiven, Kou K. Nelson, Jamie Rand, Shannon Robinson, Calie Voorhis, Jay Wilburn, and Kristina Wojtaszek.
Angel’s Ink (Asylum Tales #1) by Jocelynn Drake
Publisher: Harper Voyager/Oct. 16th, 2012
Kind thanks to Harper Voyager for providing a review copy
Buyer beware . . .
Looking for a tattoo—and maybe a little something extra: a burst of good luck, a dollop of true love, or even a hex on an ex? Head to the quiet and mysterious Gage, the best skin artist in town. Using unique potions—a blend of extraordinary ingredients and special inks—to etch the right symbol, he can fulfill any heart’s desire. But in a place like Low Town, where elves, faeries, trolls, werewolves, and vampires happily walk among humanity, everything has its price.
No one knows that better than Gage. Turning his back on his own kind, he left the magical Ivory Tower where cruel witches and warlocks rule, a decision that cost him the right to practice magic. And if he disobeys, his punishment—execution—will be swift.
Though he’s tried to fly under the radar, Gage can’t hide from powerful warlocks who want him dead—or the secrets of his own past. But with the help of his friends, Trixie, a gorgeous elf who hides her true identity, and a hulking troll named Bronx, Gage might just make it through this enchanted world alive.
After a tattoo gone wrong, Gage Powell finds himself at the receiving end of a gun barrel. Seems a good luck tattoo’s ingredients weren’t up to snuff, but it didn’t help that the customer wasn’t willing to shell out more than $50. A misfiring tattoo is bad enough, and after taking care of the disgruntled customer (with his fist), Gage is visited by his warden, Gideon, who is determined to catch Gage practicing unsanctioned magic. Gage left the life of an Ivory Tower warlock a long time ago, but he’s on probation, and if he gets caught using serious magic, the punishment will mean death. The fact that his old nemesis Simon Thorn is also on his trail is just icing. Simon considers Gage a blot and means to wipe the blot that is Gage out. Gage can hold his own, but is only able to use magic in self-defense, which isn’t always convenient. When he’s visited by a dying girl who wants a pair of wings tattooed on her back he decides to put “a little bit extra” in the tattoo, to simultaneously wonderful and disastrous effect.
Poor Gage. He just wants to live his life, run his tattoo shop, The Asylum, and work a little magic, preferably to help people, but the warlocks he does his best to avoid make his life a living hell, and he must find a way to correct the tattoo that was supposed to save a dying girl’s life, but ended up doing much more, or his very soul will be in jeopardy. He’s allowed to use magic in self defense, but never to kill, or he will lose a year of his life (which would be spent in the underworld and not without pain.)
Warlocks and witches are universally feared and he never wanted to be cruel and heartless like so many of his kind. He was taken away from his family at a very young age, when he began showing magical promise, and for their safety, hasn’t contacted them since. Makes for a pretty lonely existence, but it’s not all bad. For example, he has good friend in Bronx, the big hearted (and just plain big), troll that tattoos in his shop, and Trixie, the beautiful elf that’s hiding a secret of her own, and who he’s been nursing a crush on from the moment he laid eyes on her. All the magic in the world won’t save him if his friends get hurt because of him, and that severely hinders him in what he can and cannot do.
Gage reminds me a little bit of Harry Dresden, and although this isn’t (yet) quite as good as that series, it certainly shows promise. It’s always refreshing for me when we get a new male protagonist to root for in urban fantasy, and Low Town is a wonderful world to escape to for a while if you need to get your fix of fey, vampires, weres, etc. I enjoyed this first book in a new series, and the author also has e-shorts out about Bronx and Trixie if you’d like to know more about those characters. Gage is a great new UF voice, and his devotion to his friends (who he considers his family) is partly what makes this such a fun read. Fans of urban fantasy should enjoy this one, and will certainly look forward to the next installment.
Continuing on with the October Scare-a-Thon, I’m thrilled to welcome author David Moody! David is the author of the popular Autumn series and also the Hater series, both guaranteed to get you in the mood for Halloween. David was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, so please give him a warm welcome, and be sure to check out his books!
David, you have two popular series out with Autumn and Hater, and your newest novel, Trust, just came out! Will you tell us a bit about how you became a writer?
I’d never really intended to write for a living. When I left school my ambition was (and still is) to make films, but that was in the late eighties/early nineties, and getting into a creative vocation like filmmaking was tough back then. Film school courses were hard to find where I am and even harder to get onto, and we’re talking about the very early days of the digital revolution, so the physical act of making a film was in many ways more involved and restricted than it is now – I think things might have been very different if I’d had access to a HD camera and a copy of Final Cut back then!
I ended up working in a bank – I just fell into the job really – and it actually wasn’t as bad as I first thought. Sure, it was all about sales and profit, but I got to meet a lot of interesting people and I learned a huge amount about business which has stood me in good stead since. But I had all these stories – my un-filmed films – rattling around in my head and I had to try and tell them. So I started writing. I finished my debut novel (Straight to You) in 1995 and it was released through a very small UK publisher the following year. Unfortunately, it didn’t set the book world alight!
Undeterred, I kept writing, and in 2001 I had another book – Autumn – ready to release. Rather than jump straight back onto the submission>rejection merry-go-round, I decided to try something different. I was resigned to not making a huge amount of cash out of my writing, so I thought I’d cut my losses and give Autumn away free online, because what good’s a book if no one’s reading it? Back then it was a pretty radical thing to do (hard to believe now, when just about everyone’s giving their work away online). It was a real success and was downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. I went on to write a series of sequels, as well as a few other novels which I published through my own publishing house: Infected Books. In 2006 I sold the film rights to Autumn to a small Canadian filmmaker (who went on to make the movie which starred Dexter Fletcher and David Carradine), and then I sold rights to another novel – Hater – to Mark Johnson (who produced the Chronicles of Narnia films) and Guillermo del Toro. On the back of that deal, my Autumn and Hater books were acquired by Thomas Dunne Books of New York.
It’s interesting that you mention Trust. For that release I’ve gone back to my independent roots and published it through Infected Books. The market has changed so dramatically over the years, and I wanted to see how the book would do without the backing of a major publisher. Folks can find out more about it at www.trustdavidmoody.com.
Your books deal with post-apocalyptic scenarios and in Autumn in particular, 99% of the world’s population is gone in a period of 24 hours. Why do you think post-apocalyptic stories are so popular recently, especially those involving zombies, contagion, or some form of “living dead?”
From a personal point of view, I find the end of the world incredibly interesting to write about. I’m an avid people-watcher (I know that sounds dodgy, but it’s not!). I’m fascinated by the way we react and interact together, by the way human behavior can be altered by the extreme situations people find themselves in. Post-apocalyptic scenarios are ideal for examining those kinds of behaviors because, at the end of the world, everything is on the line, and people will, I think, behave in a far more honest and direct way than they do at present in the regulated, ‘civilized’ world. When people are facing the ultimate decisions in life – to fight to survive or to give up and roll over, for example – things become less clouded by all the restrictions and niceties of the world we know today.
As a reader, I think post-apocalyptic tales have a nightmare appeal. They’re the worst case scenario. I think they’re particularly in favor right now because there seems to be such a fine line between fact and fiction today. Turn on the TV news and you’re hard pushed to hear anything other than reports about wars, uprisings, famines, epidemics, natural disaster and all manner of other grim headlines. People tend to drift through the day-to-day as if they’re immune from all of this, and that’s frightening. Anything could happen in the next few hours to completely turn your world upside down…
Zombies are particularly fashionable right now, and I’m not complaining about that having been writing about them for so long! I think they’re a wonderful creature to write about, not least because you can superimpose so much on a zombie story. When you think how one-dimensional the living dead often are, it’s amazing how adaptable they are in literary terms. I guess there are all manner of reasons why they have this appeal (if appeal is the right word!). For my money, I think we remain frightened of them because they’re so close to us in so many ways. There’s a desperately thin line – be it a solitary germ, a dose of radiation, a voodoo spell or something similar – preventing us from becoming them, and that’s terrifying!
Infections and diseases go hand-in-hand with the living dead. By their very nature, zombies are horrible, dirty, germ-filled creatures which disgust us. And the more of them there are, the more our fear increases. So I guess, taking that one step further, you could say our fear of contagion might stem from the sheer number of other people we’re surrounded by every day, and how interconnected we’ve all become.
What are some of your biggest influences, literary or otherwise?
From a literary perspective, I always cite John Wyndham and HG Wells as perhaps my biggest influences. The War of the Worlds and The Day of the Triffids are undisputed classics of post-apocalyptic fiction. Another name I’d add to that list is James Herbert. I’m not sure how well known he is elsewhere, but here in the UK he’s ranked alongside Stephen King. He’s sold more than fifty six million books and has kept horror in the mainstream here for more than thirty years. Last month I had the pleasure of hosting the only two events he held for the release of ASH, his first novel in six years. To be able to talk to him candidly about the business, and to watch him at work with the public who’d come to see him, was truly inspiring. Both of the events had audiences in excess of two hundred people. James took time to talk to every single one of them, and was as warm and generous with his time with the very last person in the queue as he’d been with the first. I read a lot of his books when I was younger. Domain, in particular, was a huge influence on me, and it was a real thrill when he signed my old, tattered, yellow-paged paperback copy.
I talked about my love of film, so I should mention a few directors who’ve also influenced me. It goes without saying that George Romero is on that list – would there even be a zombie genre without George’s films? I’d also add John Carpenter and David Cronenberg who, in the early part of their respective careers, produced a stream of groundbreaking horror movies.
How about favorite films?
I guess I almost just answered that! I think I’d have to select Romero’s original Dead trilogy (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead), along with Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly. Another favorite – which deserves a place on the list for its sheer atmosphere – is The Old Dark House, a Universal horror movie from 1932. The most terrifying film I’ve ever seen, however, is a BBC TV movie called Threads which is a dramatization of a nuclear strike on Sheffield. That’s one I think every scholar of horror should watch at least once. Absolute, total, unrelenting horror.
What are you reading now?
I’m way behind with my reading. I’ve just finished re-reading a number of James Herbert novels in preparation for interviewing him at the events I mentioned earlier, and I’m about to dive into Night of the Triffids – an authorized sequel to the original by Simon Clark. It’s out of print at the moment, but I managed to track down a copy. I’m going to be talking to Simon in the near future and putting together a feature on the Triffids for my website.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
To be honest, I don’t get much free time right now! As I’ve already mentioned, I’m an avid film watcher, so there’s nothing I like more than to sit and watch a good movie. Unfortunately my family doesn’t share my taste in horror, so I often have to wait until the rest of them have gone to bed! Apart from that, I’m a (very slow) long distance runner, so I’m out training several times a week. Bizarrely, I do a lot of good work when I’m running. It’s just about the only time I don’t get interrupted, so when I’m out pounding the streets is a great time to think about ideas and work through plot points.
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 at quite a strange point in my career right now. The Autumn and Hater series have both come to an end and I’m in the process of putting together several new projects. First up is a novel called 17 Days which is very different to everything else I’ve written, not least because it’s not about the end of the world! I’m also working on a straight-forward horror novel called Strangers (which is the closest I’ll ever get to a vampire novel), and I’m in the early stages of writing a five (or six) book horror/science-fiction series called The Spaces Between. Think Children of Men meets Quatermass, and you’ll be getting close to the tone I’m going for. I’m also going to continue re-releasing some of my old works (and possibly serializing them like Trust) and, finally, I’ve written a short film called Isolation which we’re hoping to produce in mid-2013.
Oh, and I’m on tour! I’m working my way around the UK with fellow zombie author Wayne Simmons. It’s the ‘Never Trust a Man With Hair’ tour! Current dates are available on www.djmoody.co.uk, and I hope we’ll be announcing plenty more events in 2013.
Keep up with David: Website | Twitter | David’s Amazon Page | Facebook | Goodreads
Iced, the first book in the Dani O’Malley series,will be out on the 30th, but in the meantime, you can win the first 5 books in the Fever series, courtesy of Random House! So, check out the details, and good luck!
About Darkfever (Book 1)
MacKayla Lane’s life is good. She has great friends, a decent job, and a car that breaks down only every other week or so. In other words, she’s your perfectly ordinary twenty-first-century woman.
Or so she thinks…until something extraordinary happens.
When her sister is murdered, leaving a single clue to her death – a cryptic message on Mac’s cell phone – Mac journeys to Ireland in search of answers. The quest to find her sister’s killer draws her into a shadowy realm where nothing is as it seems, where good and evil wear the same treacherously seductive mask. She is soon faced with an even greater challenge: staying alive long enough to learn how to handle a power she had no idea she possessed – a gift that allows her to see beyond the world of man, into the dangerous realm of the Fae…
As Mac delves deeper into the mystery of her sister’s death, her every move is shadowed by the dark, mysterious Jericho, a man with no past and only mockery for a future. As she begins to close in on the truth, the ruthless Vlane – an alpha Fae who makes sex an addiction for human women – closes in on her. And as the boundary between worlds begins to crumble, Mac’s true mission becomes clear: find the elusive Sinsar Dubh before someone else claims the all-powerful Dark Book – because whoever gets to it first holds nothing less than complete control of the very fabric of both worlds in their hands…
I’m so thrilled to have Daniel Marks on the blog today! Daniel is the author of the brand new YA fantasy Velveteen, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
Also, check out the giveaway details at the bottom of the post, because Daniel has offered up a signed copy of Velveteen to one very lucky winner, and trust me, you want this one!
Danny, you’re brand new young adult novel, Velveteen, comes out in a few days! Will you tell us a bit about it?
Let’s see if I can sum it up right quick: In the midst of a purgatory-shattering uprising, a soul-retriever must juggle her responsibilities to her team, her self, and the future victims of the man who killed her—not to mention a newly deceased (and very hot) boy’s fixation.
What made you decide to write a young adult novel?
I had the idea for a middle grade novel from the beginning—mind you, the beginning was only about eight years ago. I wrote a novella length treatment of a similar purgatory story featuring Luisa as the protagonist. After receiving the kind of feedback a writer loves to hear (gah, too depressing, too gruesome, way to old for the age group), I scrapped the then-titled THE TROUBLE WITH THE LIVING and wrote something really gruesome instead…for four years. After those other books (we shan’t speak of them here) tanked, I dusted off TROUBLE and gave it the protagonist it deserved and upped the age target. Voila!
Velveteen is definitely heavy on the creepy. What things seriously creep you out?
I’m creeped out by where my mind will go if I let it. I have a tendency to dwell, so just about anything can get me going. Throw-in the dark, and unfamiliar place, or a creaking floorboard and I can seriously trigger a panic attack.
Did you have any particular influences for Velveteen?
Back in 2007, I visited MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York while visiting my agent and editor. I should preface this by saying that I minored in art history and would have majored in it, if I’d had anything more than an admiration for the work (no interest in curation or sales). Anyway. They were hosting an exhibition of George Seurat’s charcoal sketches. Primarily known for his unassuming pointalism—think Le Grande Jatte—his drawings were a completely different monster. Grim, often brooding portraits of performers, drunks, awash in a beautiful grayscale. I really think that’s where VELVETEEN’s Purgatory was born.
Any recent YA faves?
Ooh. So many. I love A.S. King’s PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ, so strange and beautiful and really gut-wrenching. Dia Reeve’s BLEEDING VIOLET was a revelation in how weird YA could be and I loved it. There are so many layers in that book, I don’t think people realize. BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray was pretty fantastic and hilarious and had some really interesting things to say about feminism and consumerism. I devoured it.
What are you reading now?
It’s October, so I’m getting in touch with my horror roots and reading John Hornor Jacob’s soon to be classic zombiethon THIS DARK EARTH. It’s pretty fantastic. If that weren’t enough, I’m on book 3 of THE WALKING DEAD. But I only read that at bedtime. It’s important to pad the dreams with a little rot.
What do you like to see in a good book?
Great consistent characters. They don’t have to be likeable, just real. I’m perfectly happy to follow a jerk all the way to hell if they are written well. (see Chuck Wendig’s BLACKBIRDS)
What makes you want to set aside a book in frustration?
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
THE STAND. I’d love to know if it would enthrall me now as it did when I was a teen. Interestingly, I had never read a book twice until this year, when I reread PERSEPOLIS by Marjane Satrapi. Brilliant stuff.
When you’re not writing, and manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Cooking and hiking. Actually, if I’m being honest, I spend more time cooking and hiking than I do writing anyway. I love nothing more than cooking, I could spend all day in the kitchen and was this close (you can’t see me but my fingers are very close to touching) to entering culinary school to pursue a career as a chef. The thing about cooking and hiking, they lend themselves to writing because I plot in my head rather than on paper so solitary activities work for me.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
None. I feel very little guilt. It’s an only child thing. But if I did, it’d be around drinking Starbucks so much. I’m from the Seattle area and we are NOTORIOUS coffee snobs, and while I agree that Starbucks is shit coffee and they roast their beans at crematorium levels, I still drink it. ::waits for the coffee Gestapo to haul him away::
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
I’d just love for everyone to get out there and pick up a coffee of Velveteen for your favorite YA reader—or your least favorite, for that matter. I’m hoping to write a couple of more books set in Velvet’s world, but that’s not where my editor and I are headed currently. The next book is most definitely something very different. All horror. All. The. Time. Prepare yourselves.
Keep up with Daniel: Website | Twitter
Here’s my roundup of book news (and other fun stuff) around the web for the week!
Interviews and more:
Excerpts and such:
Also, I kicked off the October 2012 Scare-a-Thon this week, so be sure to check out what we’ve got going so far,and keep an eye out for spotlights on more horror authors and Bram Stoker Award winners in the coming days!
I’m always thrilled to host Merrie DeStefano, and she was kind enough to stop by to talk a bit about her new YA, Fathom! I’ll have a review for you soon, but in the meantime, you can check out Jo’s review over at Vampire Book Club and I’ve got buy links at the bottom so you can snag a copy for yourself!
Creating a new monster
All story ideas begin somewhere. Mine usually begin with a character in an unusual setting. The idea for my young adult novel, Fathom, was born from a single scene: A mother telling stories to her two young daughters, all three of them nestled in a tree house. The whole story unfolded from that one scene idea, although in the end, I removed that scene from the book.
The mother was telling her daughters myths and legends from their homeland, Ireland.
The concept of myth played a strong part in this novel. In the process, I did a lot of research—especially when it came time to create the monster. Somewhere along the way, I came across the legend of a lake in Canada, where the local people believe that if you take anything from the lake, the lake will come after you and kill you. Unfortunately, I later lost all my notes and couldn’t find any mention of this lake or the legend in any of my reference books or online.
At that point, I had to do what writers have done for thousands of years.
I just made stuff up.
In a way, losing my notes was the best thing that could have happened. I was then free to create my own legends and my own mythical beast. With each chapter, my monster—which lives in the ocean, but can also come on land for short periods of time—became more wicked and more dangerous. I was able to give this beast a mysterious back story and a nefarious purpose. As creepy as this thing was, it fit perfectly into the well-knit weave of Fathom’s mythology, just like a natural predator who serves a purpose by maintaining the balance of nature.
The monster became the dark note in the book’s score, but there are light notes as well. One of the main themes is that of coming of age. The main character, sixteen-year-old Kira Callahan, leaves childhood behind as she gains the courage to stand up to the bullies at school, and as she begins to fall in love for the first time. The mysteries of her past slowly unfold throughout the book as she discovers that her past isn’t what she thought it was.
At its heart, Fathom is book about courage and love and hope—and never giving up, no matter how fierce the monsters in your life are.
Turning sixteen can be hell, especially if everyone in town thinks your mother killed herself and your sister. All Kira Callahan wants to do is swim, hang out with her best friend, Sean, and ignore the kids who torment her at school. That is, until one day when she gets invited to a party. For three minutes her life is wonderful—she even kisses Sean. Then somebody spikes her drink and some girls from out of town lure her into the ocean and hold her underwater.
Kira soon discovers that the group of wild teenagers who have come to visit Crescent Moon Bay are not as innocent as they seem. In fact, nothing is as it seems—not the mysterious deaths of her sister and mother, not her heritage, not even her best friend. And everything seems to hinge on the ancient Celtic legends that her mother used to tell her as a child.
Purchase: Amazon | B&N
CURRENTLY A FULL-TIME NOVELIST with HarperVoyager, Merrie Destefano’s second novel, FEAST: HARVEST OF DREAMS, released in June, 2011. In a previous life, she was the editor of Victorian Homes magazine, founding editor of Cottages & Bungalows magazine, and contributing editor of Romantic Homes magazine, and as such, she wrote for a combined circulation of approximately 250,000.
With 20 years experience in publishing, she worked for a variety of publishing/broadcasting companies that include Focus on the Family, The Word For Today, and PJS Publications (now Primedia). Besides editing and writing, her background includes print buying, writing/producing radio promos, directing photo shoots, developing new products, writing jacket copy for books, creating sales media packets and organizing direct mail campaigns.
Born in the Midwest, she currently lives in Southern California with her husband, two German shepherds, a Siamese cat and the occasional wandering possum. Her favorite hobbies are reading speculative fiction and watching old Star Trek episodes, and her incurable addiction is writing. She loves to camp in the mountains, walk on the beach, watch old movies, listen to alternative music—although rarely all at the same time.