My Bookish Ways

Interview: Chaz Brenchley (Ben Macallan), author of Pandaemonium

I’m very excited to have Chaz Brenchley on the blog today! Chaz (under the name Ben Macallan) is the author of Pandaemonium, out this month, and has also authored more than 10 novels in crime, fantasy, and children’s fiction. He was kind enough to take time out of his busy scheduled to answer a few of my questions.

Please welcome Chaz to the blog!

Chaz, your new novel, Pandaemonium, (under pen name Ben Macallan) comes out this month. Will you tell us a bit about it?
Pandaemonium is the sequel to Desdaemona. Both books deal with people who’ve been on the run for a long time, finally having to turn and face their greatest fears. In the first book, Jordan is tracked down by Desdaemona – Desi – with devastating results for them both. Pandaemonium is Desi’s book, where she has to face the consequences of her own choices and actions. All this takes place in an England sodden with myth, where their personal histories are played out in a landscape of risen legend.

Do you plan on writing more books about Desdaemona, or will you just see where it takes you?
I have one more book in my head – I actually try to avoid trilogies, but sometimes they’re forced upon you. This series started with three titles, in a triangle. I really need to write Daemonogamy, just to make that structure work. That said, though, “seeing where it takes me” is actually the way I work, so who can tell? What happens next depends on a lot of factors not under my control. Inspiration is not the least of those, but not the sole criterion either.

Your writing runs the gamut from urban fantasy, to fantasy, crime fiction, and even children’s books. Do you have a favorite genre?
Usually my favourite is the next thing that comes along, just because it’s new to me. I guess I’m a flibbertigibbet. My early novels were contemporary crime, and many of the friends I made then are still working – very successfully – in that genre, a quarter of a century later. Apparently I can’t hold still that long. There’s always somewhere else I haven’t been yet, another kind of story to be explored. Right now, I’m playing with steampunk. On Mars. Old Mars, Lowell’s Mars, with canals and atmosphere and Martians, overlaid with a little of what we actually know now.

What are some of your biggest literary influences?
I always used to say I read the best of everything. I love style as well as storytelling. I’ve just had to abandon two-thirds of my library, in a move from England to California; the books I’m shipping across the Atlantic include Peter Straub and Patrick O’Brian and John le Carré and Rudyard Kipling and Mary Renault and Tolkien and Theodore Sturgeon and Dorothy L Sayers and Georgette Heyer and Elizabeth David and M F K Fisher and and and. I’ve probably borrowed something from all of those and more.

If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Heh. That’s a really interesting question – partly because I’m a great re-reader, and part of the pleasure of revisiting a book lies in knowing the shape of the story already. I’m not sure I’d actually want to give that up. On the other hand, the first time I read The Lord of the Rings, I don’t believe I did anything else but read it, for twenty-four hours cover to cover. I’d like to recapture that, perhaps – but I was a kid then, and I think it’d be a very different experience reading it for the first time as an adult.

What are you reading now?
Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. For the first time, as it happens: people have been pressing these books on me for 35 years, and I’ve only just succumbed. I’m in the last quarter of the last book now. You’re interrupting me, damn your eyes…

In the spirit of the season, what’s one of the scariest books you’ve ever read?
Heh. That would be Stephen King’s The Shining. Which I very sensibly read late at night, by firelight, in a remote country cottage all alone. Yup. Good choices, all of those. Lord, but I was spooked…

On a personal note, you’re described as a notorious foodie. What’s one of your favorite dishes (to prepare or to eat)?
In a rather boringly traditional male macho kind of way, I love hot and highly-spiced foods; given a free hand, I tend to play with curries and dishes from further east. On the other hand, I also adore making bread. I have a sourdough loaf that I bake every week, with a mix of white, wholemeal and rye flours and just a touch of malt, which may be my single favourite thing to cook.

I read that you enjoy travel. Where would you like to go that you haven’t yet been?
Anywhere in mainland China, but Sichuan particularly (for the food, of course). Now that Burma is coming out of the cold, I’d love to go to Rangoon; my mother was born there. Hong Kong. Japan. All my thoughts are easterly, always.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
Steampunk!Mars – but I said that already. In a wholly different steampunk project, my wife and I wrote a story between us – The Airship Towers of Trebizond, by Mr & Mrs Brenchley – which will be coming out in Gears and Levers 2. I have various other short stories heading towards publication, and I’m slowly bringing my backlist back into print through Book View Cafe ( Dispossession is the next in line. Amnesia and a fallen angel, how can you resist? That’ll be out by the time this interview is published…
Keep up with Chaz: Website | Twitter
Pre-Order Pandaemonium: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

About Pandaemonium:
Desdaemona has done a thing so so terrible that she has to run away from the consequences. Again. Where better to look for shelter than with the boy she was running from before?

But trouble follows. And if it’s not Jacey’s parents who sent the deadly crow-men, the Twa Corbies, in chase of her, then who is it? Deep under London, among the lost and rejected of two worlds, answers begin to emerge from Desi’s hidden past. Answers that send her north in a flight that turns to a hunt, with strange companions and stranger prey. Dangers lie ahead and behind; inconvenient passion lays traps for her just when she needs a clear head; at the last even Desi has to beg for help. From one who has more cause than most to want her dead…

Scare-a-Thon Top 5: Paul Weimer, on Lovecraft and Carpenter

Since I joined the gang at SF Signal, I’ve gotten to know fellow contributor Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin) a bit, and not only is he one of the smartest folks I know, he’s also one of the nicest (his encouragement prior to my first podcast was much appreciated.) While Scare-a-Thon has focused on the scary in traditional horror, I thought Paul could also bring a sci-fi sensibility to the event, so without further ado, here’s Paul’s Top 5, which focuses on gems from Lovecraft and John Carpenter!

Five Frights from Lovecraft and Carpenter
-Paul Weimer

I don’t consume a tremendous amount of horror, although sometimes a turn into the dark side of horror is the only thing that will do, especially when the nights grow long and the air grows cold and fall turns into winter. There is a human need that I share to be frightened, but reassured afterwards that the fright was a passing thing, and that we have survived it. The adrenalin rush of the scare, or the cerebral creeping of impending doom are an experience exhilarating in the moment, and are then survived. Is it any wonder that visual and aural media are often much more effective in invoking that sense of horror in me than a book?

My taste in horror is much more toward the horror of the alien and the other, rather than the horror and fears of a serial killer or a murderer. I am not a fan of Saw movies or splatterpunk. I do not like the Friday the 13th series with Jason; however Freddy Krueger and his ability to manipulate dreams pushes my buttons far more effectively. That is the sort of fright that sends chills down MY spine. The integrity of my sleeping mind under threat is far scarier to me than a guy in a mask or a sadist who wants me to cut a leg off in a sick sense of social darwinism. The scene in the fourth Nightmare movie where Freddy transforms one of the kids he is tormenting into a cockroach, traps her in a roach motel and then crushes it and her gets me every time.

The idea of alien and eldritch entities, or the very boundaries of reality breaking down, or the prospect of being catapulted into a dimension that might as well be called hell are the frights and fears that get my pulse racing, get my fears rising, and give me that sense of relief when the roller coaster of existential horror is done. The works of John Carpenter and the works of H.P. Lovecraft, together, scratch that need for visual and aural frights that bring the alien, the other, the existential. And, most importantly, entertain.

So, here are five of the Lovecraftian and John Carpenter films I go back to again and again when I want the visceral feel of being frightened and scared, especially at this time of the year.

1. Dagon
Dagon is a 2001 Spanish horror film heavily based on the H.P. Lovecraft story “The Shadow over Innsmouth”. The story transplanted to the Spanish coast and the modern day, the story features a successful entrepreneur and his girlfriend, vacationing with their major financial backers on a yacht near the town of Imboca (“In mouth”, in the Spanish-like language of Catalan. Get it?). A storm wrecks the boat, injures the investor friends, and drives the young couple to the town to find help for their friends, only to discover the horrific rites that the town partakes in. Even more frightening, the entrepreneur discovers a hitherto unknown connection to the not so human inhabitants of the town.

2. Event Horizon
Continuing with the Lovecraftian elements and theme, Event Horizon brings those elements to a haunted, derelict space craft. The crew of the patrol and rescue ship Lewis and Clark have been sent to Neptune, where a long thought lost ship, the titular Event Horizon, has appeared in a decaying orbit around the gas giant. With the crew of the Lewis and Clark is Dr. Weir, the original designer of the Event Horizon, played by Sam Neill. The goals of the designer and the crew are relatively straightforward: determine what happened to the Event Horizon, and salvage the ship. The fact that Dr. Weir’s wife was one of the crew adds an extra incentive to the Doctor to want to explore the shop and learn its fate.

Sounds simple, right? However, once aboard, the aura of malevolence and malice aboard the Event Horizon slowly rises, and stranger and stranger things start to happen, until the horror of what has happened to the Event Horizon and what the ship intends is inescapable. And I just can’t resist a movie which has a plot twist based on a translation of Latin.

3. The Thing
The 1982 Thing by John Carpenter starts what has been called the Apocalypse Trilogy. The Apocalypse Trilogy is a set of three films by Carpenter that are really three end-game situations for the human race. In the Thing, an isolated polar base comes into contact with a murderous, shapeshifting alien, and the movie turns into a locked-room mystery of sorts, with the identity of the alien always a fluid and uncertain thing. Questions of trust and reliability are intermingled with action as the alien is seemingly flushed out again and again. The nihilistic ending is very much in keeping with the bleak existential horror of the movie as a whole. And the acting, starting with Kurt Russell,is top notch. We believe in these characters, even and especially as they start to turn on each other. And who wouldn’t be scared by the idea that your friends and colleagues are anything but human?

The new remake isn’t quite as potent as this one, but is worth seeing as well.

4. Prince of Darkness
Next up in Carpenter’s Trilogy, Prince of Darkness is a 1990 horror film that explores quasi-gnostic ideas of God and the Devil, pitting faith and science against an Anti-God seeking to return to our world. Like The Thing, it really works the angle of the characters being trapped in a small space with a malevolent force. In this case, instead of an isolated base in the Antarctic, the main characters find themselves trapped in a church as the Anti-God prepares to manifest itself, and the Anti-God has plans for those trapped in the church with it. Throw in a weird subplot involving messages from the future and you get a potent mix of science, fantasy, and horror.

5. In the Mouth of Madness
In the Mouth of Madness is a 1995 horror film that rounds out the aforementioned trilogy and combines the direction of John Carpenter, and Lovecraftian elements. John Trent, played by Sam Neill (yes, again!) is an insurance fraud investigator who is tasked to find the missing sensational horror writer Sutter Cane, a Stephen King with an emphasis on eldritch and alien entities more than simple small town horror. When Trent discovers that a fictional town from Cane’s stories is real, and that Cane is living in that town, his horror and troubles only begin, as reality itself seems to fray around him. The questions of what is reality and how it might be manipulated are juxtaposed against more traditional and threatening horror elements, to very visceral effect.
Keep up with Paul: Twitter | Blog

About Paul:
Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota for the last 9 years, Paul “PrinceJvstin” Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for longer than Shaun has been alive. In addition to pitching in at Skiffy and Fanty, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, SF Signal, the Functional Nerds, Twitter, Livejournal and many other places on the Internet.

Scare-a-Thon Interview: Gary McMahon, author of the Concrete Grove Trilogy

Please welcome UK author Gary McMahon to the blog, as part of the October Scare-a-Thon series of interviews! Gary is the author of 7 novels, including the Concrete Grove Trilogy and the Thomas Usher series, and his newest book Beyond Here Lies Nothing, just came out!

Gary, you’re the author of numerous novels, all of which delve into terrifying territory. Did you always want to write? Will you tell us a bit about how you became a writer?
I’ve actually only had seven novels published, but, yes, they all examine dark themes. I didn’t always want to write: I did always write. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing, even if it was just scribbling scenes or character descriptions on scraps of paper when I was a child. It’s something I’ve always done, and I never stopped hoping that one day someone would pay me to do it.

You just wrapped up your Concrete Grove Trilogy with Beyond Here Lies Nothing. What did you enjoy most about writing the trilogy?
Finishing it! I spent so long in that world, living with those characters in my head, that it was a relief to finish writing the third book and leave it alone for a while. There was a sense of loss, too, but that was tempered by the joy of being able to write about something new.

You’re known for your talent for writing chilling stories. What’s something that truly terrifies you?
Growing old. Losing my mental faculties. Losing my wife or my son. Dying. Pretty average fears, I guess, but that’s what terrifies me.

What, in your opinion, is one of the biggest differences between American and British horror?
This is a tricky question, and one that I’ve thought a lot about. To me it seems that a lot of English horror fiction is rooted in the traditional form – there’s a slow accumulation of detail, a focus on atmosphere and the psychology of characters. I’ve found that a lot of American horror is more situation-and-plot-based, and doesn’t spend a lot of time generating an atmosphere of dread. Neither style is right or wrong; both are valid. Also, this isn’t the case with all English and American horror – but it’s a handy generalisation to make because it illustrates a valid point.

What are some of your biggest literary influences?
Ramsey Campbell, Dennis Etchison, Joel Lane, Rupert Thomson, Charles Bukowski. Cinema. Music. My life.
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski. Reading that novel for the first time was a revelatory experience.

What are you reading now?
I’m reading A Book of Horrors, edited by Steve Jones, Boneland by Alan Garner, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, and a few books and essays about Victorian mediums and Victorian social advances as research for a project.

When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I don’t really have what I’d call free time. I’m either working the day job, spending time with my family, running, practicing karate, or writing. I do watch a lot of movies – I’m a big cinema buff. But that’s part of my routine; I see it as research rather than a way of filling spare time, and I write film reviews for a couple of websites.

What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects and events?
I’m currently working on a novel called The Quiet Room, which is a haunted house story. Next year will see the release of a short apocalyptic novel called The End. I’ve also been commissioned by an award-winning US publisher to write a supernatural horror novel, which will be called The Bones of You. And, as always, there’ll be more short stories.
Keep up with Gary: Website  | Goodreads

Giveaway: The Earthsea Series (6 books) by Ursula K. Le Guin

I’m so excited to offer you (courtesy of the wonderful folks at HMH Kids) a chance to win the entire Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guin! You can check out the announcement page for the new editions, read the giveaway details below, and good luck!

About A Wizard of Earthsea (Book 1):
Originally published in 1968, Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea marks the first of the six now beloved Earthsea titles. Ged was the greatest sorcerer in Earthsea, but in his youth he was the reckless Sparrowhawk. In his hunger for power and knowledge, he tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tumultuous tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.

1. You MUST fill out the form below
2. Giveaway is for The Earthsea Series (6 books) by Ursula K. Le Guin to 1 winner.
3. Giveaway is open to US addresses only (No PO Boxes)
4. Must include a valid email address with your entry (no need to leave it in the comments, just include it when you fill out the rafflecopter form)
5. You must enter on or before 10/26/12
6. Giveaway book courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
7. Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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Bram Stoker Award Spotlight Interview (& Giveaway): Joe Landsdale, author Of Edge of Dark Water

I made no bones about how much I adored Joe Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water, so when I got a chance to ask Joe a few questions, I was beyond thrilled! Joe is a busy guy, a wonderful writer, and if you haven’t discovered him yet, he’s got a tremendous backlist, so you’ve got quite a lot of awesome to choose from. He just won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writer’s Association (among more than a few Bram Stoker’s), so I thought he’d be a perfect spotlight during my Scare-a-Thon event.

Also, courtesy of the lovely folks at Mulholland Books, we’ve got a copy of Edge Of Dark Water up for grabs, so be sure to check out the details at the bottom of the post.

Please welcome Joe to the blog!

Joe, thanks so much for joining me for my October feature! As the winner of nine Bram Stoker Awards (and many others), you’re no stranger to the rush of your work being recognized on an international scale, but recently, you won the Lifetime Achievement Award, along with Rick Hautala. Did you ever imagine you would be this successful as a writer? Will you tell us a bit about how you started writing?
I never imagine that. I just wanted to write for a living because it’s what I love. It was always my dream job. Still is. I’ve been doing it since I was a child, placing articles, stories, novels, screenplays, etc. for forty years, and its still my dream job. I was a comic book nut in the late fifties and all through the sixties, but they led to my reading all manner of books and stories. I was also a fan of movies, just about any form of written entertainment. I don’t think I really had a choice. I never finished college, but I started teaching myself how to write by reading. I’m still teaching myself how to write by reading. Once I started selling, I just kept at it. I worked all manner of jobs, the last being a janitor, and then I was able to go full time. I’ve been at it ever since.

Your most recent release, All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky (Sept 11th, 2012), is your first young adult novel. What made you decide to write a book especially for young adults? Was it a challenge to make the switch?
Actually, I had written another Young Adult titled THE BOAR. I was fond of it. It was done for a small press, and then reprinted by another small press. I liked doing it so much I planned to do it again. In many ways, a lot of my adult fiction is really young adult fiction, in that young adults are the protagonists. It’s a kind of story I love a lot. I enjoy coming of age stories, stories where young people are experiencing the mysteries of growing up, the good and the bad.

You’re well known for your noir/crime novels, but also have some horror titles under your belt. What things do you find truly scary?
People. That’s what’s truly scary. Even supernatural horrors are symbolic of realistic horrors. People do some pretty awful things.

How do you think horror in fiction has changed from its heyday in the 80s to more recent offerings?
It’s more frequently contemporary, and it’s a lot more about the evils that humans do, and with less disguise about it. It’s also more graphic, though not exclusively. I like graphic and non-graphic. It depends on the story for me. I think it has also embraces the mainstream, or rather the mainstream has embraced it. I think the eighties started those trends and they have continued. There are now a lot of blending of romance, tons of vampires and zombies. Nothing wrong with any of that, but there’s so much of it, it’s not all that engaging anymore. There are exceptions, and they make it worthwhile. They are usually much more character driven pieces, better written material.

What do you consider “pushing the limits” when it comes to your writing?
I try not to think about that when I write. I don’t want to do it consciously. I let the story decide.

When looking for a good scare, who are your go-to authors?
I’m at the point where in the horror field I’m reading backwards. I’ve gone back to Machen and M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, Poe, E.F. Benson. I love a lot of contemporary stuff, but my head has been there lately, which considering I’m thought to be one of those that kicked a few doors down, with a lot of assistance from other writers, I might add, it would seem I would be all about the modern approach. I am for the most part, but lately I’ve been rereading the old classics and writing a few stories in that vein.

What are a few of your favorite scary films?
I loved THE HAUNTING, from one of my favorite horror novels, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. I really loved the recent THE WOMAN IN BLACK. I liked the novel, the play, which I saw in London, as well as the BBC film, and the recent film version. I love NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, a lot of the drive in horrors. My friend Lee Lankford just directed a film, CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEAD, based on a story of mine with a script by my son, Keith Lansdale. It stars Damian Maffei and Brad Maule, and my daughter, son-in-law, and friend and horror writer Chet Williamson have roles in it. I love films.

Is Halloween an event at your house? If so, how do you like to celebrate?
I love Halloween, but we usually keep it simple. A horror movie, or I read a fine horror story. Our kids are grown, so we don’t have trick’r treating anymore. It seems I’m often on some kind of trip, doing an event on Halloween. Couple years back in New York, my daughter was with me. She went to a Halloween extravaganza down town, and I stayed in the hotel anticipating watching a good horror film. There was one on. Not one. Limited cable, I like to think. I did, however, have a horror story with me, so I read that and wrote a piece on a writer I was asked to do. So, it wasn’t perfect Halloween, but it was something. This year I’m giving out an award for a Halloween Writing Contest, which, by the way, my daughter is one of the judges. Then I hope to come home and watch a Halloween movie. I teach class on Wednesday night at the University, but I let my students off to have a work day, and, to have Halloween. Class would have been mostly empty anyway, so I let them loose to have fun, and not waste my night by not showing up. And you know what. I don’t blame them.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
I have the paperback edition of my novel EDGE OF DARK WATER coming out from Mulholland Books. It’s still available in hardback, but comes February there will be the paperback. It has a readers guide in the back, and an interview with me. I’m going to be with Lee Lankford in Torino, Italy for a showing of CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEAD at the Torino film festival. I love Torino. I love Italy. I enjoy seeing the movie. It’s a win, win, win.
Keep up with Joe: Website | Twitter

1. You MUST fill out the form below
2. Giveaway is for Edge of Dark Water by Joe Lansdale to 1 winner.
3. Giveaway is open to US addresses ONLY (No PO Boxes)
4. Must include a valid email address with your entry (no need to leave it in the comments, just include it when you fill out the rafflecopter form)
5. You must enter on or before 10/27/12
6. Giveaway book courtesy of Mulholland Books
7. Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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Interview: Rob DeBorde, author of Portlandtown

Portlandtown, the brand new book by Rob DeBorde, comes out tomorrow, and the author was kind enough to answer a few of my questions (and give us his recipe for Beer-Steamed Mussels), so please welcome Rob to the blog!

Rob, your shiny new book, Portlandtown: A Tale of the Oregon Wyldes, is out tomorrow!!! The premise is pretty awesome and includes outlaws, zombies, and booksellers in the 1800s. Will you tell us a little bit more about it? Teasers always welcome!
I’d be happy to share! Portlandtown tells the story of the Wyldes, a curiously talented family living in Portland in 1887 who face off against an undead outlaw and his horde of living-challenged brethren. That’s studio pitch. For the reader I’d also offer this: it’s not just about zombies. Yes, more than a few slack-jaws stumble their way through the pages of Portlandtown, but the book is as much about the adventure as it is the horror. Plus there are voodoo cowboys, steam-driven totem poles, and a tent-full of Old West circus freaks. Yes, I just promised you oddities versus zombies. Step right up!

Your first book, Fish On A First Name Basis, was a nonfiction guide to catchin’ the swimmy critters, skinnin’ em, and cookin’ em up. What made you decide to embark on writing a supernatural novel?
Actually, the supernatural side of things was always more my style. I found my way to the Food Network, and later the fish book, by way of an animated cooking show I developed online (I’ll explain later). Prior to that I was writing stories about talking skeletons and time-traveling monsters. Thus, a book about outlaws and zombies is simply a return to form. Also I got tired writing about fish. Seriously, there’s only so many ways to cook a flounder.

Why do you think zombies are so popular all of a sudden (other than for their good looks)?
I think the real question is why are zombies still popular after almost a decade of high-profile pop culture exposure. Most “monsters-of-the-week” fade after a few seasons, but not zombies. You can’t kill ’em! I suppose the answer—to both questions—probably has something to do with zombies being the perfect analog for our own mortality. You can run, you can hide, you can take vitamins every day of your life, but eventually death is going to catch up with you…and eat your brains. That’s the Psyche 101 answer, anyway. Could be we just dig zombies because they’re dangerous and funny at the same time. Die laughing—what a way to go, eh?

Any personal zombie favorites (books or film)?
World War Z, Shaun of the Dead, Plants Vs. Zombies, the original Resident Evil videogame, and ParaNorman. Oh, and Portlandtown.

How about books in general? What are some of your favorite authors or novels?
Stephen King, Warren Ellis, Jim Butcher, Sarah Vowell, Garth Ennis—to name just a few. As for novels, I don’t even know where to being. Actually, I do: It. That’s the first time a book gave me chills. Twice! I’ve read a lot of great books since, but I’ll mention just a few for readers to seek out: King’s 11/22/63, Christopher Moore’s Lamb, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston, Ellis’s Transmetropolitan, and Ennis’s Preacher. (Yes, the last two are comic books. It’s my list. Leave me alone.) And if you haven’t read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, you should—especially if you grew up anywhere near the 1980s. It’s a blast.

If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Besides It? Harry Potter. I’d like to erase all knowledge of the stories, hype, movies—especially the movies—and start on page 1 not knowing a thing. That would be a joy.

I hear you have an online cooking show? Care to, um, dish?
That would be Deep Fried, Live! With Tako the Octopus, an animated cooking show starring an accident prone eight-legged chef. It’s a real cooking show, with recipes and food science and explosions. I think there’s even a few zombie clams on the menu in one episode. Fun stuff. Also the reason why I ended up in the food business. Apparently, Alton Brown got tired of people asking if he was behind the show so he asked me to write for him, which I did for five years. Tako is still kicking around, although I’m not producing new shows at the moment. If you’re curious the whole series is still available at There are also a few shows on YouTube (for those who aren’t on a Flash-enabled device).

Speaking of dishes…what’s one of your favorites?
I only get one? Hmmm…okay, mussels and beer. That’s not a cheat, by the way. I’m cooking the mussels in the beer, so any unused brew gets put the table. Be sure to get a bomber (more beer), probably a pale or an amber—nothing too hoppy. Penn Cove mussels are the best, if you can find them. No cracked shells, no dead mussels—cook them alive!

What do you love most about living in your neck of the woods (the wilds of Oregon)? I’ve heard it’s beautiful…
It is beautiful, and thanks to the weather it stays that way year round. (Yes, it rains a bit, but not as much as you’ve heard.) As to why I love it, I’ll mention three Bs: books, bistros, and beer. There are a lot of bookstores in Portland, including the city block-sized Powell’s, which is just amazing. Want to get lost among the stacks? Go to Powell’s. Even better, the food scene in Portland is awesome. Restaurants, farmer’s markets, food carts, Voodoo Donuts—yes, I’ve put on 20 pounds since moving to Oregon, but it’s happy fat. And then there’s the beer. There are 50 different breweries in Portland, about 150 in the state, and more styles of microbrew on tap than you can imagine.

Need I say more?

What next? Anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events (guilty pleasure, the best way to skin a fish, anything at all!)?
Next will either be the sequel to Portlandtown or an unrelated novel call Pumpkin Eater. The later is about ghosts, skeletons, and Halloween. Yeah, more dead things.

And just for kicks, here’s a recipe for Beer-Steamed Mussels. Enjoy!

If you’ve never made mussels at home you’re in for a treat. Few things are as easy or as flavorful. Don’t worry if a few mussels refuse to open, even if all their brethren have already yawned. Remove those that have opened and give the stragglers a minute or two on their own. If they still won’t open, toss ‘em.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large garlic clove, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup beer (pale, amber, or ESB)
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 pounds live mussels
baguette, sliced and lightly toasted

Scrub and debeard the mussels, tossing any that are cracked or remain open after handling.
Place the butter and garlic in a large saucepan (or pot) over medium heat. Season with pepper and cook until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the beer, parsley, and mussels, cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Steam until the shells have opened, 4 to 6 minutes. (If you don’t have a large enough pan, cook in batches so as not to overcrowd.)
Transfer mussels and cooking liquid to a large bowl. Serve immediately with bread for dipping. NOTE: if liquid seems gritty, carefully pour into a separate bowl, leaving the grit behind, and then pour over mussels.
Serves 3 to 4

Keep up with Rob: Website | Twitter | Facebook
Pre-order Portlandtown: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

Dark Currents: Agent of Hel by Jacqueline Carey

Dark Currents: Agent of Hel by Jacqueline Carey
Roc/Oct. 2nd, 2012
Urban Fantasy
Agent of Hel series
Kind thanks to Roc for providing a review copy

The Midwestern resort town of Pemkowet boasts a diverse population: eccentric locals, wealthy summer people, and tourists by the busload; not to mention fairies, sprites, vampires, naiads, ogres and a whole host of eldritch folk, presided over by Hel, a reclusive Norse goddess.
To Daisy Johanssen, fathered by an incubus and raised by a single mother, it’s home. And as Hel’s enforcer and the designated liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, it’s up to her to ensure relations between the mundane and eldritch communities run smoothly.
But when a young man from a nearby college drowns—and signs point to eldritch involvement—the town’s booming paranormal tourism trade is at stake. Teamed up with her childhood crush, Officer Cody Fairfax, a sexy werewolf on the down-low, Daisy must solve the crime—and keep a tight rein on the darker side of her nature. For if she’s ever tempted to invoke her demonic birthright, it could accidentally unleash nothing less than Armageddon.

Daisy Johanssen is the goddess Hel’s enforcer, in the tiny resort town of Pemkowet and consults with the Pemkowet Police Department on all things involving the eldritch community. The product of a human mother and a lesser demon/incubus father, Daisy has a knack for seeing through supernatural glamours and sensing when magic is near. She also has a tail (and a demonic birthright), but it’s a little one, and an occasional cat named Mogwai.

Pemkowet is a hotbed for paranormal denizens and actively encourages outsiders to come experience their supernatural oddities, but the darker side isn’t discussed quite so much, and that’s where Daisy comes in. When a college boy “accidentally” drowns in the river, Daisy is called to the scene to help. Most people would take it for drunken fun gone wrong, but the Chief knows better. The victim’s friends have mismatched stories, and it’s increasingly obvious to Daisy that something else is going on, and she’s determined to get to the bottom of things. It doesn’t help that she has to work alongside Cody Fairfax: cop, werewolf, player, and hottie that she’s nursed a crush on since they were kids and he defended her against bullies. With the reputation of the town at stake, Cody and Daisy must find out if the drowning was an accident or something more sinister, and fast.

Jacqueline Carey is known for her extremely popular Kushiel series and is already a seasoned author, so I was excited to see the first book of a new series promising supernatural hijinks in a small town. Dark Currents is told in Daisy’s voice and at first I thought it was going to be a relatively light urban fantasy filled with fairies, vamps, all things furry, quirky characters, and of course, plenty of magic. Well, it is, for a little while, then it gets rather dark, but this isn’t a bad thing. Mystery wise, the “accidental” drowning of an obnoxious college kid wasn’t enough to rev me up at first. Now, I have a feeling the author did this on purpose, because when the truth about the drowning actually comes out, it smacks you in the head and you most certainly take notice, and it’s not pretty. In fact, it’s very tragic, dark, and even pretty relevant to current world events. On the lighter side, Dark Currents has very much of an early Sookie Stackhouse feel to it and a highlight was when a Frost Giant picked Daisy up in his dune buggy to visit Hel under a huge tree called Yggdrasil II. Mustn’t forget to feed the guard dog (more like guard beast) while you’re at it!

Daisy is a tough girl, but she also struggles with the normal things that a single girl in her 20s does. Guys, friendships, not succumbing to the Seven Deadlies or accidently invoking her birthright which could cause Armageddon, her demonic father… Oh, well, I guess those aren’t normal girl things, but you get the picture. Plus our gal gets to carry a seriously ass kicking dagger and flirt with hot cop Cody and sexy biker ghoul Stefan. Speaking of ghouls: Jacqueline Carey’s ghouls come in the form of a motorcycle gang called the Outkasts and are not the rotting, shambling things you’re probably picturing. They feed off of human emotion, and her mythos for these creatures is complex and fascinating. It was one of my favorite elements of the story (especially Stefan, but I digress…) Mythology, all forms of supernatural creatures, small town life, mysticism, and magic all intertwine wonderfully in this rich, charming, and yes, at times very dark, urban fantasy. You’ll fall in love with Daisy, and her supporting cast, and you’ll most definitely want to come back for more. Can’t wait for the next one!


Purchase Dark Currents: Amazon |B&N | Indiebound

Scare-a-Thon Giveaway: Dead City by Joe McKinney

If you love zombies, and you haven’t read the post by Joe McKinney that went up earlier this week about his world of zombies, you’re in for a treat, and I thought a giveaway of the first book in his Dead World series, Dead City, would be especially appropriate considering the season (and The Walking Dead premier tonight!). I can personally vouch for the awesomeness of this book, and it’s a guaranteed fun read!

So, check out the book and the details (it’s international), and get your zombie on!

Dead City by Joe McKinney:
Texas? Toast. Battered by five cataclysmic hurricanes in three weeks, the Texas Gulf Coast and half of the Lone Star State is reeling from the worst devastation in history. Thousands are dead or dying-but the worst is only beginning. Amid the wreckage, something unimaginable is happening: a deadly virus has broken out, returning the dead to life-with an insatiable hunger for human flesh.The nightmare begins… Within hours, the plague has spread all over Texas. San Antonio police officer Eddie Hudson finds his city overrun by a voracious army of the living dead. Along with a small group of survivors, Eddie must fight off the savage horde in a race to save his family.Hell on Earth.There’s no place to run. No place to hide. The zombie horde is growing as the virus runs more rampant. Eddie knows he has to find a way to destroy these walking horrors…but he doesn’t know the price he will have to pay.

1. You MUST fill out the form below
2. Giveaway is for Dead City by Joe McKinney to 1 winner.
3. Giveaway is open Internationally (wherever The Book Depository ships)
4. Must include a valid email address with your entry (no need to leave it in the comments, just include it when you fill out the rafflecopter form)
5. You must enter on or before 10/21/12
6. Giveaway book courtesy of moi
7. Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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A Q&A with John Hornor Jacobs, author of This Dark Earth

Please welcome one of my favorite authors to the blog. John Hornor Jacobs has written Southern Gods and This Dark Earth, and his first young adult novel, The Twelve-Fingered Boy, will be out in 2013!  I got him to dish on that, and more, so please welcome him back to the blog!

John, you’ve written two of my fave books of all time, Southern Gods and This Dark Earth, and Twelve-Fingered Boy is coming in 2013! Will you tell us a bit about it? Help a girl out, I’m squeeeing here:)
The Twelve-Fingered Boy is a young adult novel about a fast-talking juvenile delinquent named Shreve who discovers that his quiet new cellmate in the Casimir Pulaski Juvenile Detention Center has twelve fingers – supernumerary post-axial polydactylism – and also might have superpowers. Soon both Shreve and Jack (the kid with all the extra fingers) are being visited by the mysterious Mr. Quincrux from the Department of Health and Human Services who wants to know more about the boy than any state employee should.

The Twelve-Fingered Boy is an adventure story and, at its root, a dialogue about the nature of brotherhood and the commonality of all mankind. It worries at the problem of the physical versus the spiritual. It’s dark, for a YA novel, but one of the most hopeful novels I’ve written. I’ve recently completed Incarcerado, the second novel in the series.

But other than all that fancy talk, it’s a fast, fun, adventure novel. It’s like Escape from Witch Mountain meets Jumper meets X-Files and they had a baby that then mated with a gibbon monkey, for kicks.

What made you decide to write a young adult novel?
I love young adult novels. From Harry Potter to Delaney’s The Last Apprentice to John Bellairs to Stephen Gould’s Jumper, I’ve always been drawn to the YA novels – probably because I’m not a very mature adult and I’m still dealing with a lot of the issues I’ve had since adolescence. Sad, but true. But also, there’s a honesty to young adult novels that quite often you don’t find in books for adults. Adolescence is a boiling cauldron of confusion, ostracism, rage, sexual frustration, explosive urges, internal conflicts about who you are and who you will become and who you want to be. It’s really one of the most fertile grounds for literature which is why the bildungsroman – the coming of age novel/movie/story – is and has always been so popular.

In the spirit (pun intended) of October, with Halloween just around the corner, what are a few of your favorite scary reads?
1. Salem’s LotStephen King
I read this when I was 17 and my folks were out of town. Alone at home, I kept checking the windows and the locks on the front door.
2. DraculaBram Stoker
This one, I read when I was really young at my father’s urging. We’d watched the Bela Lugosi film – which I enjoyed but didn’t find particularly frightening, so my pops gave me the book. It succeeded frightening me where Bela Lugosi failed.
3. Ghost Story Peter Straub
I love stories where the past comes back to haunt you.
4. House of LeavesMark Z. Danielewski
This is the only book in a long while that seriously gave me the creeps. Like skin crawling creepy. I’d thought I’d become inured to scares – there’s just nothing new out there – but this book and the central enigma in it, seriously affected me. While reading it, I kept having dreams of being lost in a massive house. This book is fantastic.
5. The Rising Brian Keene
When I read this, I had a zombie nightmare. On the run, with the family, fearing my kids would be eaten. Maybe I ate something bad that night, but this book seriously messed up my sleep.
6. A Christmas CarolCharles Dickens
When I was a kid, this book (and the many film adaptations) always gave me delicious chills, especially Jacob Marley. “Mankind should have been my business!”

What’s something that you find particularly terrifying?
You know when you’re walking down stairs that have no back? Like the open steps of a deck? Man I hate those things. Because anyone standing below the stairs – anything – could just reach out and grab your ankle.

I am also not a fan of walking over grates on sidewalks. What if they broke and I fell into the sewer and then an evil spider clown tortured/ate me?

How about movies? Any scary faves?
The scariest movie EVER is The Exorcist. That book is horrific as well. But, shit, The Exorcist terrifies on all levels – visual scares just scratch the surface. In the course of that movie, you begin to believe in malevolent forces.

Do you and your family do anything special for Halloween?
I have young daughters, so we go trick or treating. I don’t usually dress up for a few reasons. At my size, the only costumes I can pull off are sasquatch, Hagrid, or Walter from The Big Liebowski. When I was younger (and slimmer) I had a Darth Vader costume, which was cool, but it was homemade and would look pathetic compared to all the cosplayer’s duds nowadays. So, no. Halloween rolls around, we go to my parents, cook homemade pizza, while the kids run around the rich neighborhood and get the good candy. Rich fuckers have the best candy.

What’s next for you? Anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
Nothing that I’ve not already touched on. The Twelve-Fingered Boy will be out next February, and Incarcerado and The End of All Things will follow in consecutive years. I have to write The End of All Things so that will be on my plate soon, once I get back my editorial notes on Incarcerado.

I have one other book, The Incorruptibles, which is the start of a new series. It’s a weird mashup of all the stuff I like. It’s an alternate Roman history/fantasy/western/demonpunk thingy. After a few near misses at publishers, it’s out on a wide submission right now and – fingers crossed – we’ll sell it this year, or the next. Maybe. But it’s my baby and I want to see it well taken care of.
Keep up with John: Website | Twitter
Pre-Order The Twelve-Fingered Boy: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

About The-Twelve Fingered Boy:
Fifteen-year-old fast-talking Shreve doesn’t mind juvie. He’s good at dealing contraband candy, and three meals a day is more than his drunk mother provided. In juvie, the rules never change and everyone is the same. In juvie, Shreve has life figured out.

So when he’s assigned a strangely silent and vulnerable new cellmate, Jack, Shreve takes the younger boy under his wing. But all Shreve’s plans and schemes unravel when he discovers Jack is different. For one thing, Jack has six fingers per hand. For another thing, he just might have superpowers.

Soon Jack has drawn the attention of the cellblock bullies as well as the mysterious and chilling Mr. Quincrux—who claims to be from the Department of Health and Human Services. But when Shreve feels Quincrux invade his mind and shuffle through his darkest memories, he knows Quincrux’s interest in Jack is far more sinister. Mr. Quincrux means to take Jack away. For what purposes, no one knows.

But Shreve has another plan: escape.

About John (via his website):
John Hornor Jacobs has worked in advertising for the last fifteen years, played in bands, and pursued art in various forms. He is also, in his copious spare time, a novelist, represented by Stacia Decker of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. His first novel, Southern Gods, was published by Night Shade Books and shortlisted for the Bram Stoker Award. His second novel, This Dark Earth, will be published in July, 2012, by Gallery/Pocket Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. His young adult series, The Incarcerado Trilogy comprised of The Twelve Fingered Boy, Incarcerado, and The End of All Things, will be published by Carolrhoda Labs, an imprint of Lerner Publishing.

Interview (& Giveaway): Christopher L. Bennett, author of Only Superhuman

Please welcome Christopher L. Bennett to the blog! Christopher is the author of the upcoming sci-fi novel Only Superhuman (Oct. 16th), and was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Also, I’ve got a copy of the book up for grabs, courtesy of Tor, so be sure to check out the giveaway details at the bottom of the post!

You’ve written over 10 novels, many of them set in the Star Trek universe, and your newest novel, Only Superhuman, will be out on the 16th! Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about your journey?
I always liked to daydream and make up stories, and my parents instilled a love of reading in me at an early age. When I was thirteen, I had a set of building blocks for making futuristic cities and populated them with homemade toy aliens, and one day I told myself a whole story about them entirely in my head, and that was when I realized I was a writer. The first time I tried to write something for other people was for the junior-class play in high school, but that went badly awry because some of my collaborators took writing a lot less seriously than I already did. I didn’t start writing with intent to publish until I was in college, and like most writers I spent years getting rejection letters from magazines, learning from the rejections, and trying harder to raise my game. I owe a lot to former Analog editor Stanley Schmidt, who saw enough potential in me to give me guidance and advice in his rejection letters, and who eventually bought my first published story, “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” in 1998, as well as an indirect sequel, “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele,” in 2000. After that I didn’t have much more success until I became acquainted online with the editors of Pocket’s Star Trek novels, which eventually led to an offer to pitch to the Starfleet Corps of Engineers e-book series, and that led in turn to more Trek work including novels. My main Trek editor for those first five years, Marco Palmieri, helped me improve a lot as a writer, and I’m glad that he ended up at Tor and served as an assistant editor on Only Superhuman. My years in the Trek writing community also let me get to know Greg Cox, a fellow Trek novelist who’s also a freelance editor for Tor, and so he was willing to take a look at Only Superhuman and liked it enough to acquire it.

Will you tell us a bit about Only Superhuman?
Only Superhuman is a hard science fiction take on the idea of superheroes—or, if you like, a work of transhumanist SF with a superheroic flavor. It’s set in a 22nd-century Asteroid Belt civilization where humans have embraced genetic and bionic modifications to thrive in the harsh conditions of space, and many have taken it far beyond basic survival and acquired superhuman abilities. With few historical role models, many of theses “mods” look to the superheroes—and sometimes supervillains—of classic fiction for inspiration. My protagonist Emerald Blair, the Green Blaze, embodies multiple facets of mod society. She’s a child of the Vanguardians, who were the first generation of superhuman champions, but then had a falling out with the rest of humanity; some say they grew too ambitious for power, others that they were persecuted and grew bitter. Emerald had her own falling out with her Vanguardian father due to a childhood tragedy, leading to an adolescent career as a superpowered delinquent and some bad choices she came to regret deeply. Now she seeks to atone by joining the Troubleshooters, a corps of mods who use their powers to keep the peace in the chaotic Belt, embracing the trappings of superheroes to win the people’s trust. But the Vanguardians are back and making a new play for power, and Emerald is sent in to use her family ties to discover their real agenda. But she learns that it may be the Troubleshooters who have been corrupted. Emerald is torn between loyalties and identities and must try to distinguish the true heroes from those who crave power for their own ends.

What do you love most about writing science fiction?
I love the ability to create whole new worlds and universes, to explore them and figure out how they work. I like to create futures that are better than the world today, closer to how I wish the world would work, but with enough complications and challenges to keep things interesting. I believe we can make the world better, but that it would take a lot of hard work and diligence to keep it from going wrong, and I like to explore that process in my work. I think science fiction can be a powerful tool for inspiring people, offering them a road map for possible futures, and so we need more science fiction that offers positive visions of the future to work toward, rather than just dystopias to avoid.

What are some of your favorite novels?
Some of the novels I enjoy the most or have been most influenced by include Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Rendezvous with Rama, and The Fountains of Paradise, Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun, Carl Sagan’s Contact, Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, Diane Duane’s Young Wizard and Feline Wizard novels and her first Star Trek novel The Wounded Sky, and two classic Superman novels by Elliot S! Maggin (yes, that’s supposed to be an exclamation point), Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday.

If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
I can’t think of just one. It would have to be something with a really striking and delightful twist whose impact is lessened onc e you know it—perhaps a great mystery novel or something of the sort.

What’s one of your favorite popular super heroes, and why?
I’m a big fan of Spider-Man, whom I was glad to get the opportunity to write in the novel Drowned in Thunder for Pocket Star Books. There’s so much to like about him. He’s a wish-fulfillment figure for nerds and social outsiders like me, he’s a hero who relies as much on his intellect and determination as his physical prowess, he’s a great comic hero with a rich sense of humor, and his story is a powerful statement about responsibility and the importance of wielding power wisely and selflessly. He actually has a lot in common with Only Superhuman’s Emerald Blair; when I wrote Drowned in Thunder, I realized I was using a lot of the same creative muscles to write Spider-Man that I’d used to write Emry.

When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
These days I spend far too much of my time on the Internet, often to the detriment of my other preferred activities, which include going for walks, reading, or listening to my collection of TV and movie soundtrack albums.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
Aside from being at New York Comic-Con this weekend, I’ll be at the Books by the Banks festival in Cincinnati on October 20. As far as projects go, I do have a new Star Trek novel in the works, but I’m not yet able to specify what it’s about. I’m also shopping a new original novel to agents.
Keep up with Christopher: Website
Pre-Order Only Superhuman: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

1. You MUST fill out the form below
2. Giveaway is for Only Superhuman by Christopher L. Bennett to 1 winner.
3. Giveaway is open to US addresses only (no PO Boxes).
4. Must include a valid email address with your entry (no need to leave it in the comments, just include it when you fill out the rafflecopter form)
5. You must enter on or before 10/20/12
6. Giveaway books courtesy of Tor
7. Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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