I’m so happy to have Mike Underwood on the blog today! Mike is the author of Geekomancy, the brand new urban fantasy out on July 10th, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Please welcome Mike to the blog!
Mike, you hold a BA in Creative Mythology and East Asian Studies and an MA in Folklore Studies (whew!). Have you always wanted to be a writer? Can you tell us a bit about your journey?
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to tell stories. I spent many hours as a kid and teen playing tabletop role-playing games and learning the nuts and bolts of stories. In undergrad, I designed my individualized major of Creative Mythology, which let me dive into the craft of writing as well as learning about world cultures so I could create imagined worlds that feel real and lived-in.
Also in undergrad, I was adopted by a critique group of writers who were also members of my live action drama troupe, and they helped me learn the ropes.I leveled up again at the Clarion West workshop in 2007, and after a couple of years of writing and re-writing a New Weird Superhero novel, I started on Geekomancy (as a break from a YA epic fantasy), and had so much fun that I couldn’t stop.
When the first draft was done, I put an excerpt up on Book Country (www.BookCountry.com) as I started revisions. In late January of 2012, Adam Wilson solicited the manuscript after reading it on Book Country…and the rest was history.
Your first novel, Geekomancy, comes out next week! Marie Lu said “If Buffy hooked up with Doctor Who while on board the Serenity, this book would be their lovechild. In other words, GEEKOMANCY is full of epic win.” Is that a pretty accurate description in your opinion?
I think Marie did a great job of capturing the feel of the book – Geekomancy, among other things, is a love letter to the geek culture I grew up with, and takes joy in juxtaposing elements from those properties to create a coherent world. The major influences I’d identify for Geekomancy are Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Clerks, The Dresden Files, and The Middleman, but I am also a Browncoat and love the Doctor Who that I’ve seen (not nearly enough).
Geekomancy is very much a product of combining elements of geekdom and re-considering the texts that bring so many of us together in shared passion. I wanted to create an urban fantasy that was about geeks, about fandom, more than being the kind of urban fantasy I was seeing on the shelves (much of which I love!). I wanted to do something different while also being very personal. In that, I think I’ve succeeded.
What was your favorite part of writing Geekomancy?
Creating and refining Geekomancy itself, a magic system powered by fandom. When I started, I just had the ideas of using props to do what they were supposed to do in their films/TV shows, and the idea of genre emulation. As I wrote, I got to build a whole magical community around those styles and dig into the way that emotional investment in pop culture could be the fuel that powered a magical style.
Who did you enjoy writing more: Ree or Eastwood, and why?
Eastwood is fun because his motivation is very complicated and he’s got a lot of demons in his past that I get to show in various degrees. But Ree is more fun for me, since I get to spend time in her mind and get her reactions to things. She’s a very genre-aware character, which means I get to create a heroine who intimately knows the tropes of fantasy and science fiction.
And then I get to confound her by presenting a world that hits her genre knowledge at a crooked angle. So instead of werewolves, she gets people in rubber wolfman suits that channel the archetype of the Werewolf. Instead of a hierarchical secret order of magicians, she finds a loose assortment of mages in affinity groups and a secret society that’s more like the Browncoats than the Masons.
What do you love most about fantasy?
I love the chance to create new worlds – either entirely new ones in secondary fantasy, or worlds within worlds in urban fantasy. With my folklore & mythology background, I’ve grown very fond of the method of taking ideas or elements of culture and history from our own world, tweaking them and mixing them around, then putting them in a new context somewhere very very different.
In fantasy I get to do things like ask: What happens if you take a group very much like Tokugawa era samurai nobility with clan pride and martial infighting and then put them into a setting where there are many other cultures and civilizations to fight with nearby instead of just spending centuries in-fighting on the islands of Japan? Also, how about some magic in the setting while we’re at it?
What are some of your favorite writers?
My favorites would include China Mieville (especially the Bas-Lag books), Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler (I loved her story “Speech Sounds” so much that I taught it at a writing workshop), George R.R. Martin, and Neil Gaiman. As for writers who have hit the scene more recently, I’m loving the work of N.K. Jemisin (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Killing Moon, specifically), Bradley P. Beaulieu (The Winds of Khalakovo and The Straits of Galahesh) and Marie Lu (Legend).
What is one of your favorite lines from a book?
I have a deep, hearty heart for “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel” from William Gibson’s Neuromancer. It’s efficient, evocative, and very specifically placed in time. The book was very predictive in some areas (it presages most of the Cyberpunk genre and a fair bit of how the Internet panned out) but very much placed in its own time. These days, most TVs in the U.S.A. are electric blue or just black when tuned to a dead channel – you have to know that at the time, TV tuned to a dead channel looked like visual static, mixtures of flowing greys.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
In my rapidly-vanishing free time, I study renaissance martial arts, specifically La Verdadera Destreza, an Iberian martial science. I love how much Destreza flows in with my knowledge of Argentine Tango, and the way that the science is useable with a variety of weapons (rapier, longsword, greatsword, etc.) I do most of my study through the Society for Creative Anachronism, which means not only do I get to study swordplay, I do it while wearing cool clothes.
Is there any advice that you can offer struggling writers?
I had a lot of trouble with revision for several years. What started really making a difference for me (on top of practice) was learning to prioritize and focus. Instead of just re-reading the manuscript for the fifteenth time trying to “make it better,” I identified specific weaknesses and areas to change, with the assistance of critique partners, and worked on one thing at a time, just trying to fix the big problems first, then working my way down to the little issues. Once I’ve made my way through the list, I read through again and see what I’ve broken by fixing something else. And eventually, all that’s left are little issues to fix with a line edit.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!!)?
I’m doing a small book tour this summer, coinciding with my day-job travels. Readers in the Midwest can check out my website for details. I have events scheduled in Petoskey, MI, Morehead, KY, and Bloomington, IN.
Currently, I’m working on the sequel to Geekomancy, which will be coming out in 2013. I’ll also be attending WorldCon and World Fantasy this fall.
You can find me at my website and on Twitter.
Snag Geekomancy: Kindle | Nook
About the author:
Michael R. Underwood grew up devouring stories in all forms: movies, comics, TV, video games, and novels. He holds a B.A. in Creative Mythology and East Asian Studies from Indiana University and an M.A. in Folklore Studies from the University of Oregon, which have been great preparation for writing speculative fiction. Michael went straight from his M.A. to the Clarion West Writers Workshop and then landed in Bloomington, Indiana, where he remains. When not writing or selling books across the Midwest as an independent book representative, Michael dances Argentine Tango and studies renaissance martial arts.
Ree Reyes’s life was easier when all she had to worry about was scraping together tips from her gig as a barista and comicshop slave to pursue her ambitions as a screenwriter.
When a scruffy-looking guy storms into the shop looking for a comic like his life depends on it, Ree writes it off as just another day in the land of the geeks. Until a gigantic “BOOM!” echoes from the alley a minute later, and Ree follows the rabbit hole down into her town’s magical flip-side. Here, astral cowboy hackers fight trolls, rubber-suited werewolves, and elegant Gothic Lolita witches while wielding nostalgia-powered props.
Ree joins Eastwood (aka Scruffy Guy), investigating a mysterious string of teen suicides as she tries to recover from her own drag-your-heart-through-jagged-glass breakup. But as she digs deeper, Ree discovers Eastwood may not be the knight-in-cardboard armor she thought. Will Ree be able to stop the suicides, save Eastwood from himself, and somehow keep her job?
This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
Publisher: St. Martins Press/June 19th, 2012
Kind thanks to St. Martins Press for providing a review copy
It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?
This Is Not a Test is my first read by YA contemporary author Courtney Summers. I’m not a reader of contemporary, but I’m certainly aware of how popular she is. This Is Not a Test is her first “zombie” novel, however, it’s probably not what you’re used to when you think of “zombie lit”. In fact, it’s not a book full of gory zombie noms at all. It’s a look at a group of very different teenagers as they hole up in their high school and wait for help to come. There is a plague turning folks into shambling people eaters, but that’s really secondary to the story. It serves as a background for narrator, Sloane Price, and her makeshift family to navigate their own secrets and individual pain while the wolves circle outside. The wolves in this case, of course, are zombies. Before the full impact of zombie apocalypse hits, Sloane is dealing with the pain and betrayal of her 19 year old sister Lily leaving her with their physically abusive father. She’d always told Sloane that Sloane couldn’t survive without her, and now she’s gone. Sloane, now thrown in with this group of survivors, really isn’t surviving, she’s waiting to die.
This Is Not a Test unfolds over a number of weeks, and told in Sloane’s present tense narrative, is very immediate and gripping. What got my attention was the author’s ability to paint a picture of how young people would probably actually behave in this kind of situation. Cliques form, alliances are made, and of course, enemies forged, all with the promise of (almost) certain death looming outside. As you can guess, they can’t stay in the school forever. Will they leave the relative safety of the school to chance finding help elsewhere? Is help even there to be had? Inevitable comparisons will be made to Lord of the Flies, and that’s fair, but they really are two very different stories, although fans of one will like the other. I will point out that if you’re looking for constant zombie killin’ action, this is not the book for you. It’s really about the characters and how they interact with one another. You’ll find yourself taking sides, and you may be surprised with who you side with. Sloane’s voice is perfect for telling this story, and this one will tug at your heart and make the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Criminal (Will Trent #6) by Karin Slaughter
Publisher: Random House/July 3rd, 2012
Kind thanks to Random House for providing a review copy
Will Trent is a brilliant agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Newly in love, he is beginning to put a difficult past behind him. Then a local college student goes missing, and Will is inexplicably kept off the case by his supervisor and mentor, deputy director Amanda Wagner. Will cannot fathom Amanda’s motivation until the two of them literally collide in an abandoned orphanage they have both been drawn to for different reasons. Decades before—when Will’s father was imprisoned for murder—this was his home. . . .
Flash back nearly forty years. In the summer Will Trent was born, Amanda Wagner is going to college, making Sunday dinners for her father, taking her first steps in the boys’ club that is the Atlanta Police Department. One of her first cases is to investigate a brutal crime in one of the city’s worst neighborhoods. Amanda and her partner, Evelyn, are the only ones who seem to care if an arrest is ever made.
Now the case that launched Amanda’s career has suddenly come back to life, intertwined with the long-held mystery of Will’s birth and parentage. And these two dauntless investigators will each need to face down demons from the past if they are to prevent an even greater terror from being unleashed.
Will Trent, agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (and one of my favorite Karin Slaughter creations), to a duty that no agent wants. Meanwhile, his boss, Amanda Wagner, seems determined to keep him away from the case of a missing girl. Amanda is nothing if good at keeping secrets, and Will has just about had enough, but of course that doesn’t stop Amanda from doing her best to close him out. Amanda Wagner is one of the most infuriating characters in this series, but in Criminal, we get a look into what made her who she is, and it was absolutely fascinating. Amanda became a cop in mid-seventies Atlanta, and it wasn’t a good time for women in general, much less women in the boys’ club that was law enforcement. Mostly relegated to secretarial work, women had to put up with near constant verbal abuse, and sometimes physical abuse, and were never taken seriously as investigators. In fact, according to the author, during her research she found out that many calls were made claiming that women were stealing squad cars, because the thought of a woman being a cop just didn’t enter anyone’s mind. The narrative of Criminal goes back and forth between 1975 and present day, and the bodies are piling up. Prostitutes are being killed in horrible ways, and Will is connected to the case very intimately.
I am a huge fan of this series, and it just keeps getting better. Criminal is Amanda and Will’s story, and it’s a surprising one. The author paints a very sympathetic portrait of a character who, so far, has not garnered much sympathy. Her attachment to Will is explained, and her tumultuous beginning in law enforcement is nothing short of fascinating. Will is just as frustrating as always (but you can’t help but love him), and his tragic past is also explored here. Sara Linton has a hand in Trent’s emotional progress, and their romance is very tender and sweet. However, Ms. Slaughter is no stranger to darkness, and Criminal is one of her darkest books yet. The crimes are unspeakable, and sometimes difficult to read, but there is never anything gratuitous about these stories, and they only serve to highlight the humanity of her protagonists, as they fight to stop the most gruesome of criminals. If you love crime novels with characters you’ll fall in love with and stories that will keep you riveted, start with Blindsighted and work your way through. You won’t regret it!
Stalking the Others (H&W Investigations #4) by Jess Haines
Publisher: Kensington/July 3rd, 2012
Kind thanks to Kensington and the author for providing a review copy
Vampires, werewolves, mages—the Others are very real, and wreaking havoc in Shiarra Waynest’s life. But now, she’s returning the favor…
Once, she was one of the good guys—or as close as a New York P.I. can get. Then Shiarra Waynest was drawn into the world of the Others. Every faction has its own loyalties and agenda. And Shia’s recent betrayal by her ex-boyfriend means that she may be on the verge of becoming a rogue werewolf at the next full moon…
Of course, with all the threats against her, Shia’s not sure she’ll live long enough to find out. The enigmatic vampire Royce wants her back in his clutches, as do two powerful werewolf packs, along with the police. Instead of going into hiding, Shia is enlisting the aid of her enchanted hunter’s belt and every dirty P.I. trick she knows. If she’s going down, she’ll take out as many of her enemies as she can—and hope that in the process, she keeps whatever humanity she has left…
REVIEW (No spoilers, but if you haven’t read the series yet, you may want to read my review of Hunted by the Others)
The Sunstrikers must be taken down before the next full moon, and Shiarra Waynest is determined to do just that. Still unsure if she herself will go furry, she’s on a desperate hunt for the werewolves (and the ex-boyfriend, Chaz), that have quite possibly ruined her life, and those they turned without consent. Unfortunately, Shia has to ask for help from the most unlikely of allies, the White Hats, and hope she’s not making a terrible decision.
In Stalking the Others, the 4th installment of Jess Haines’ H&W Investigations series, Shia is almost completely without a tether. Her boyfriend has betrayed her, she’s not sure if she’ll turn into a werewolf, she’s still fighting off advances from hottie vampire Royce, and she has to go to her arch nemesis, Jack of the White Hats, for help. It’s humbling for Shia, but she’s determined to help in any way she can to stop the rogue werewolves that have been turning people without their consent. Heartbroken at her family’s abandonment since finding out about her involvement with the Others, she’s also found herself becoming more bloodthirsty and aggressive lately. Are these symptoms of her impending change, the stress of all that’s happened, or something else? The spirit infused belt she’s been wearing certainly provides the super strength that’s aided her in plenty of recent scrapes, but she’s finding herself more and more at its whim. There’s quite a lot of action in this one, pretty much from the get go, and Shia has become one badass babe. A confrontation with Chaz is inevitable, and it may not be what you think. Trust me, I hated this guy in the last book and wanted to see him get a butt kicking that he wouldn’t soon forget. Our girl has grown emotionally quite a bit, and her ideas of what’s right have certainly been challenged. Ms. Haines has brought the fun (and the sexy) in this dark and action packed treat, and the series hasn’t disappointed me yet! Can’t wait for the next book!
Rasputin’s Bastards by David Nickle
Kind thanks to ChiZine for providing a review copy
They were the beautiful dreamers. From a hidden city deep in the Ural mountains, they walked the world as the coldest of Cold Warriors, under the command of the Kremlin and under the power of their own expansive minds. They slipped into the minds of Russia’s enemies with diabolical ease, and drove their human puppets to murder, and worse. They moved as Gods. And as Gods, they might have remade the world. But like the mad holy man Rasputin, who destroyed Russia through his own powerful influence, in the end, the psychic spies for the Motherland were only in it for themselves.
It is the 1990s. The Cold War is long finished. In a remote Labrador fishing village, an old woman known only as Babushka foresees her ending through the harbour ice, in the giant eye of a dying kraken– and vows to have none of it. Beaten insensible and cast adrift in a life raft, ex-KGB agent Alexei Kilodovich is dragged to the deck of a ship full of criminals, and with them he will embark on a journey that will change everything he knows about himself. And from a suite in an unseen hotel in the heart of Manhattan, an old warrior named Kolyokov sets out with an open heart, to gather together the youngest members of his immense, and immensely talented, family. They are more beautiful, and more terrible, than any who came before them. They are Rasputin’s bastards. And they will remake the world.
Alexei Kilodovich, KGB agent, has been pulled out of the water by a ship full of criminals. Specifically, criminals specializing in the trafficking of children, and using them in various money making schemes. Holden Gibson, head honcho, is bad news, but he’s nothing in comparison to the people that Kilodovich is used to dealing with. Kilodovich had been serving as a body guard to a supposed “business woman”, but who is, in fact, involved in a much greater conspiracy. Meanwhile, his handler, Kolyokov, festers in a total immersion tank in New York, casting his psychic net, gathering together his “children” for motives beyond anything you can imagine. He’s not the only one calling to these exceptional children, though, and a showdown is on the horizon. City 512 has been churning out psychic manipulators for quite some time, and now its most ambitious operatives yet are on the move, and no longer want to be under the thumb of a puppet master. They are the “beautiful dreamers.”
I honestly had no idea what to expect from Rasputin’s Bastards. ChiZine is known for its thought provoking fiction, and this is certainly no exception. It’s the 90s, and the Cold War is over, but you wouldn’t know it to read this. Putting in mind the diabolically evil human experimentations of Nazi Germany, Rasputin’s Bastards gives us City 512, a breeding ground for psychic espionage (usually known as astral projection.) Children have been bred to be puppets and puppeteers, but this new batch of kids is just a bit different. No longer will they be used by a group bent on world domination, and they’re ready to take their freedom, at any cost. But the mother of them all has sent out a call, and is gathering all of her sleepers and dreamers together for what has been dubbed The Rapture. Long of tooth and chock full of characters, there’s lots to digest here, but it offers up lots of goodies for those willing to go the distance. The author has a talent for spinning a phrase to make it much more than the sum of its parts, and surprisingly, there’s quite a lot of humor as well: clever and dry, popping up just when things start to get really serious, but never disrupting the flow. The author dives deep into his main characters and paints very complete pictures, weaving the stories together amidst a surrealistic landscape of dream walkers and mind control. This reminded me very much of Dan Simmons’ Carrion Comfort (one of my all time favorites), and it’s been quite a while since I’ve read a book with this much teeth. Lovely, rich writing only serves to make the creepy bits (of which there are plenty), well, even more creepy, and fans of subtle horror will find much to like in Rasputin’s Bastards.
Here are the new releases for July! However, this is by no means a comprehensive list (just ones that I especially have my eye on.) If you have any new releases that I didn’t include, and that you’d like to direct me to, please list them in the comments. Thanks!
***You can print this list HERE!***
July 3rd, 2012:
This Dark Earth by John Hornor Jacobs (Horror)| REVIEW
The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross (Sci-fi)
The Night Beat by Gini Koch (UF)
Tainted Night, Tainted Blood by ES Moore (UF)
Blood Before Sunrise by Amanda Bonilla (UF)
Criminal by Karin Slaughter (Mystery/Thriller)| REVIEW
Wake of the Bloody Angel by Alex Bledsoe (Fantasy)
In a Witch’s Wardrobe by Juliet Blackwell (Paranormal Mystery)
Spin the Sky by Katy Stauber (Fantasy/Scifi)
Advent by James Treadwell (Fantasy)
The Asylum Interviews: Bronx (novella) by Jocelynn Drake (Paranormal)
Alliance Forged by Kylie Griffin (Fantasy)
The Girl is Trouble by Kathryn Miller Haines (YA Mystery)
Up Jumps the Devil by Michael Poore (Fantasy)
The Sleeping and the Dead by Jeff Crook (Mystery)
Grave Memory by Kalayna Price (UF)
Tin Swift by Devon Monk (Fantasy/Steampunk)
Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues by Diana Rowland (UF) REVIEW
God Save the Queen by Kate Locke (Sci-fi)
Chemickal Marriage by Gordon Dahlquist (Fantasy/June 5th)
Hands of the Ripper by Guy Adams (Horror/June 5th)
Thieftaker by DB Jackson (Historical Thriller)
Dark Companion by Marta Acosta (YA Fantasy)
The Hollow City by Dan Wells (Thriller)
Dark Destiny by MJ Putney (YA Fantasy)
July 10th, 2012:
The Last Policeman by Ben Winters (Fantasy/Mystery) REVIEW
Albert and Adelaideby Howard Anderson (Fantasy)
House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier (Fantasy)
Year Zero by Rob Reid (Sci-fi)
Geekomancy by Michael Underwood (UF) | REVIEW
Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (Fantasy)
V Wars by Jonathan Maberry (Sci-fi)
A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King (Fantasy)
Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth (Mystery/July 12th )
Hell or High Water by Joy Castro (Mystery/July 12th)
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (YA Fantasy)
Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce (Fantasy)
City of the Dead by Daniel Blake (Thriller)
Harry Lipkin, Private Eye by Barry Fantoni (Mystery)
Suzy’s Case by Andy Siegel (Thriller) REVIEW
Lost Things (enovella) by John Rector (Suspense)
One Ghost Per Serving by Nina Post (Mystery/July 13th)
July 17th, 2012:
The Unquiet by Jeannine Garsee (YA Suspense)
Queen’s Hunt by Beth Bernobich (Fantasy)
21st Century Dead (anthology) by Jonathan Maberry (Horror)
The Fear Artist by Timothy Hallinan (Thriller)
The Coldest War by Ian Tregallis (Sci-fi)
Creole Belle by James Lee Burke (Mystery)
Fallen Angel by Daniel Silva (Thriller)
Sharps by KJ Parker (Fantasy)
Spark (Sky Chasers) by Amy Kathleen Ryan (YA Sci-fi)
Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez (Thriller/July 19th)
July 24th, 2012:
Cuttlefish by Dave Freer (YA Fantasy)
Alex Van Helsing: The Triumph of Death by Jason Henderson (YA Fantasy)
Old Gold by Jay Stringer (Mystery/Thriller) REVIEW
Thirteen by Kelley Armstrong (UF)
Broken Harbor by Tana French (Mystery/Thriller)
Endlessly by Kiersten White (YA Fantasy)
Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard (YA Fantasy)
Energized by Edward M. Lerner (Thriller)
July 31st, 2012:
Monster in My Closet by RL Naquin (UF/July 30th) REVIEW
The Wanderers by Paula Brandon (Fantasy)
Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews (UF)
Odd Apocalypse by Dean Koontz (Thriller)
The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires by Molly Harper (UF/Paranormal)
Carry the Flame by James Jaros (Thriller)
Demon Hunting in the Deep South by Lexi George (Paranormal)
An Officer’s Duty by Jean Johnson (Sci-fi)
Kitty Steals the Show by Carrie Vaughn (UF)
Darklands by Nancy Holzner (UF)
Sins’s Dark Request by Tracey O’Hara (UF)
All Seeing Eye by Rob Thurman (Thriller)
Blood and Feathers by Lou Morgan (Fantasy)
Dare Me by Megan Abbott (Mystery) REVIEW
Moonglow by Kristen Callihan (Paranormal)
vN by Madeline Ashby (Sci-fi)
Shadow Rising by Kendra Leigh Castle (Paranormal)
Devil in the Dollhouse (Sandman Slim short story by Richard Kadray (UF)
The Bad Always Die Twice by Cheryl Crane (Mystery)
Devil’s Wake by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes (Thriller)
Night Forbidden by Joss Ware (Paranormal)
Otherkin by Nina Berry (Paranormal YA)
Here are some other titles that look great, but may not fall into the above categories:
Gangster Squad by Paul Lieberman (Nonfiction) Secret police, mafia, LA? Yes, please!
Spy the Lie: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Detect Deception by Philip Houston, Susan Carnicero, Don Tennant, and Michael Floyd (Nonfiction)
What new books are you jonesin’ for this month?
I’m very excited to have Paul Tobin on the blog today. Paul’s brand new book, Prepare To Die!, just came out in May, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book, and more! Please welcome Paul to the blog!
Paul, you’re an accomplished comic book writer and also have a few short stories under your belt. What made you decide to take the plunge and write a novel? Did you want to be a writer from a young age?
Working on novels was a chance for me to have more freedom, in a couple of different ways. First, I could exactly tell the story that I wanted to tell, with my own characters, my own methods of characterization, etc, all without marketing or editorial constraints from above. And, also, working in comics is such a huge collaborative effort. I write a script. Then a penciller brings it to life. An inker gets it next, then a letterer, a colorist and more… all working together around the script that I’ve written. I really enjoy the process, and some GREAT work can come out of the method, but it also means that each step of the process inevitably veers a bit (or a lot) away from the story that I was trying to tell, so I decided to expand into novels so that I could have projects where I kept the purest form of my story. And, yes… I’ve wanted to be a writer all my life. I’m not sure I realized it at first… it was just one of those unplaceable longings… the type where you have a certain taste in your mouth and you’re not sure what you want… but you DO know that you WANT.
When it comes to your new book, Prepare to Die, I can’t help but think of Toxic Avenger. Of course, you took that basic premise and made it awesome, where Toxic Avenger is…not so awesome. Anyway, I digress… How would you describe Prepare to Die in two sentences?
It’s a superhero story about a common man, where he needs to find a way to be both the superhero he’s become, and the boy he used to be, all while finding a way to give a damn about being either. It’s a response to weak characterization in most comics, because what most fascinates me about heroes and superheroes is the regular person, and the regular life, that’s being affected by all the chaos.
Was it a natural progression for you to go from writing comic books to writing a novel?
Not at all. They’re two very different styles of writing. At first, it could take me a day or more of transition time… so that I could really only work on comics or novels at one time. It’s hard to switch between the two, so I would be, for instance, working on comics and then move over to my novel, and suddenly have to explain the scene, rather than just have an artist draw it. And I’d be able to work more with the inner thoughts, the day to day life, of characters, where in comics that’s not really how it goes. In time, I learned to transition fairly quickly between the two crafts, though it was still a bit like speaking two languages, and intermixing the words now and then.
What do you love the most about writing fantasy?
The ability to go anywhere the story takes me, and therefore being able to keep the reader (and, frankly, myself) from being able to guess what’s next. Literally ANYTHING can be beyond the next door in the story, and I find that to be endlessly intriguing.
What are some of your favorite novels?
I love a lot of Dashiell Hammett’s work. And Raymond Chandler. Some early books by Chuck Palahniuk. Harry Crews was an amazing writer, and Angela Carter. Geek Love was a fantastic read. I’m a fan of Steven Brust and Jim Butcher, and a few hundred other writers as well.
How about comics (besides yours, of course)?
I tend to read a lot of European material. Torpedo by Abuli and Bernet is a favorite. Hugo Pratt’s “Corto Maltese” books may well be my all time favorites. Recently read and really enjoyed the “Miss Don’t Touch Me,” books by Hubert and Kerascoet. The Tintin graphic novels. Depuy & Berberian’s Monsieur Jean stories are amazing, as well. I also really enjoy an online webcomic named Oglaf, which is amazingly humorous, and Not At All safe for work.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which would it be?
I’m going to cheat and pick two, because it would depend on the mood I’m in. Either To Kill A Mockingbird, or Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.
If you could have a super power, what would it be?
Super healing. It’s the most pragmatic of powers, and would allow me to be a reckless bastard.
When you find yourself with some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Bicycling, or hanging out with friends talking about art and writing. Going to burlesque shows. And writing. Writing is my day job, I suppose, but I also write for a hobby.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!!)?
I’m finishing up a novel called Agatha, which I’m really excited about. It was an exhaustive work, but well worth it in the end. I’ll be attending the San Diego Comic Con this year, as well as the New York convention, and Heroes in Charlotte, and a few others. I’ll be doing a reading of Prepare To Die! at some of them, and also at Powell’s Bookstore in Portland Oregon on the 2nd of August. And… you can follow me at my website or follow me on Twitter where you’ll find me musing about Godzilla, or girls on bicycles, or why I deserve a jetpack.
About Prepare To Die! | Purchase: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound
Nine years ago, Steve Clarke was just a teenage boy in love with the girl of his dreams. Then a freak chemical spill transformed him into Reaver, the man whose super-powerful fists can literally take a year off a bad guy’s life. Days ago, he found himself at the mercy of his arch-nemesis Octagon and a whole crew of fiendish super-villains, who gave him two weeks to settle his affairs–and prepare to die. Now, after years of extraordinary adventures and crushing tragedies, the world’s greatest hero is returning to where it all began in search of the boy he once was . . . and the girl he never forgot.
First the asteroid would come, slamming into the earth just north of the Montana border, followed by earthquakes, tsunamis, and unending night.
And after that . . . Hell.
Astronomer Marty Chittenden is the first to recognize the approaching doom—a discovery that makes him a marked man.
Green Beret Jack Forrest knows the catastrophe is inevitable, and begins stockpiling an abandoned missile silo with supplies while gathering together a small community of men, women, and children he prays can survive the apocalypse.
Then disaster strikes. In an instant the world they know ends forever, transformed into a nightmare realm of eternal darkness. Soon the few remaining humans are transformed as well, becoming savage things—raping, pillaging, and devouring their own.
And the time is approaching when Forrest and his people will have to leave their underground “Noah’s Ark” to face a shattered world and the unspeakable terrors that dwell there—in desperate pursuit of one slim hope of survival . . . called Hawaii.
Jack Forrest and his crew of former Green Berets are preparing for the end of the world in an abandoned missile silo, gathering a group of 50 men, women, and children in hopes of riding out the disaster to come. An asteroid is on its way towards Earth, and threatens to kill everyone within thousands of miles of impact, and kill millions more as the earth plummets into nuclear winter and ashy darkness. Meanwhile, astronomer Marty Chittendon knows it’s coming, and implores the only woman he’s ever loved to take the news public. Will Earth survive, or fall in a sea of death and destruction?
Well, from the title you can already tell that after the asteroid hits, things certainly aren’t coming up roses, but it’s hard to imagine just how awful things do become. In Cannibal Reign, the author has taken a familiar post apocalyptic scenario and turned it into his own creation of terrifying adventure and characters to root for (and fall in love with.) The narrative weaves among three separate storylines, eventually bringing them together to explosive effect. Jack Forrest is tough and very capable, but doesn’t take himself too seriously, which I loved. Quietly nursing his heartache over losing his son, the people in his care are in more than capable hands, and his core of humanity and loyalty runs very deep. Marty Chittendon starts as a geeky astronomer who’s inner strength gets to shine after the disaster. Shannon Emory, perhaps my favorite character, is a soldier that abandons her team after it becomes clear that they may have certain plans for the women of the group. She’s got the heart of a warrior and the skills to match.
The world post-asteroid is absolutely terrifying (to put it mildly.) People are succumbing to their baser instincts, including, but not limited to, rape, human slavery, and cannibalism. The food is running out and the weak are no match for those strong of will and evil of heart. Don’t worry, there are some shining souls in this blasted world, but they’re few and far between. The author is very good at the little details, which sometimes get lost in a book of this scope and length, and he obviously did his research into group dynamics and the psychology of post traumatic stress syndrome. The action is nearly nonstop and the fight scenes are choreographed to the hilt. I never lost my place, even when the action got particularly frenzied.
Cannibal Reign is not for the faint of heart, and even though things never get gratuitous, the author doesn’t pull any punches here. What makes things even more terrifying is that the horrors are perpetrated by thinking (I use this term lightly) humans that have devolved into vicious animals. To be sure, things are very, very dark and heartbreaking, but underneath it all, there are glimmers of hope, and the author never loses sight of that. Where there is hope, there is light, and our heroes (and heroines) will do anything to find it for those they love. Cannibal Reign is a scary, nonstop thrill ride into the dark hearts of man, shot through with the souls of those that refuse to surrender to the dark. I loved this book, and fans of post apocalyptic fiction and thrillers should not miss it! I can’t wait for the next one!
Today I’d like to welcome Thomas Koloniar to the blog! Thomas is the author of Cannibal Reign (out today), a terrifying look at a postapocalyptic world! Thomas was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, and I’ve also got one copy of Cannibal Reign up for grabs to one lucky winner, so check out the details at the end of the post.
Thomas, your first novel, Cannibal Reign, just came out today! Have you always wanted to be a writer? What made you decide to take the plunge and write a novel?
I’ve actually been writing since high school. I have a degree in English Literature from the University of Akron with a minor in creative writing. Cannibal Reign is the 5th novel I’ve written, but it’s the first to be published. I don’t know that I always wanted to be a writer. I think I just was one … in that I’ve always felt the urge to write on a very visceral level. Probably much the same way a painter feels the need to paint. I’m not sure if anyone ever consciously makes the decision to become an artist. I believe they’re probably born, and then they’re either afforded the opportunity to express themselves or they are not.
Cannibal Reign focuses on a group of people (military and civilians) that band together to survive an asteroid that is hurtling toward earth. In a sea of apocalypse scenarios that feature zombies, it was a bit refreshing (no offence to the zombies). What kind of research did you do in order to paint a realistic picture of doomsday preparation, and its aftermath?
As a kid I was always fascinated by films like the Omega Man and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. The idea of small bands of survivors marooned on a planet full of crazed humans was both frightening and thrilling to me at the same time. The genre began to rapidly evolve after the turn of the century with films like 28 Days Later in 2002, and the remake of Dawn of the Dead in 2004. As you point out, it wasn’t long before maniacal human beings were everywhere. It wasn’t until after I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy in September of 2006, however, that I realized there was a place for this genre in mainstream literature.
I was intrigued by McCarthy’s use of the bomb shelter in his novel, and though I understood entirely why his characters had to leave the shelter and stick to the road, I never stopped wondering how the story might have turned out if they had stayed in the shelter until the supplies ran out. In the end, I dropped my other projects and decided to explore the idea for myself.
Zombies are of course thrilling and frightening, as are rabid killers infected with a bizarre brain virus. But cannibals are still completely human—they can still think—and when they come after you it’s a very personal attack. This not only makes them more dangerous, but I believe it also makes them more frightening.
The bulk of my research was on missile silo construction. I keep the silo pretty accurate in the novel, but I did make a few minor changes to the installation to fit the needs of the story. Hardcore Romero fans will likely spot one such modification right off the bat. It was also necessary to do some research on shortwave radios and code-breaking. Other subjects of research were asteroids, astronomy, performance capabilities of certain military vehicles, Chinese and American naval vessels, snow cats, certain weapons, aircraft, alternative energy sources, hydroponics, diseases and treatments, even how many tomato plants would be required to provide enough oxygen to sustain a single human being. (The answer is at least 300, btw.)
Did anyone in particular inspire the character of Jack Forrest?
You know what? I don’t think so. I’ve certainly drawn inspiration for other characters, but I think Jack’s a product of the asteroid itself. You see, I wrote this story in my head while driving round-trip from Akron, to Atlanta, to Los Angeles—and then back again. Over the course of 2,400 miles or so, the story took shape, and Jack evolved naturally to fit the entirety of the circumstances. Most of my characters I know extremely well. But Jack is still something of an enigma to me, even three years later, as I begin to write the sequel. I’m never entirely sure what the hell he’s going to do until after he’s done it, and I think this is probably due to the organic nature of his birth.
For a lot of writers, the main character was not necessarily their favorite to write. Which character did you enjoy writing the most?
Good follow-up question! Shannon Emory was my favorite to write, and she was inspired by an actual living person. She was inspired by my best friend who is a female combat veteran of the Iraq War. She’s someone whom I admire very much.
Did your experience as a sheriff’s deputy help you in writing some of the psychological aspects of the story (since dealing with the public is an everyday occurrence for law enforcement?)
I believe my experiences in law enforcement must have had a subconscious impact on the psychological aspects of the story, but I can’t cite any examples from the top of my head. Nearly all of my experiences in law enforcement were bad, and they cost me an awful lot, so I don’t spend much time dwelling there. This is probably most apparent in the way that Jack deals with challenges throughout the story. You’ll notice he has a very low tolerance for injustice at any quarter.
If we were facing a doomsday scenario, and you were presented with the same opportunity as your characters, which five items would you take to the silo with you? One has to be a book
Assuming the food, water and medicine are already below? I would take an M-4 carbine, a .45 semi-automatic pistol, a Kabar survival knife, the photo album of my German shepherd … and a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls—which isn’t necessarily my favorite novel, but it’s right up there, and I think it would provide the kind of emotional escape that I would crave. (You may have noticed one of my charaters agrees with me on this point.
On a more personal note, when you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I’m incredibly fortunate to be retired and living in Mexico, so my life is very laid back. When I’m not writing, I prefer to spend time with my dog, my girlfriend and her two little girls. (And I never miss a UFC match if I can help it!) I keep my life as simple as I possibly can these days.
Is there any piece of advice that you would give to struggling writers?
I should have anticipated this question, but I didn’t! Giving advice on any subject is tough. I can only speak from my own experience, but I’m going to be brutally honest on one point: If the only reason you write is to become a published author, you may want to think about finding another way to spend your time. This industry requires a certain amount of luck, and so many fine novels will never be published because of it. That being said, a good friend of mine, Lisa Cron, has a great book coming out in July, Wired for Story. She’s an industry insider, and her book is about capturing your reader’s attention from the first line … and how to keep it. The advice she gives is far more comprehensive than any I can I hope to offer.
Do you have anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
Well, I’m still waiting to hear from Harper Collins about another novel that I’ve written entitled 13 Violent Days in May. I’ve also begun work on the sequel to Cannibal Reign entitled Cannibal Rise. Before either of these works will see the light of day, though, we’ll probably need to see how well Cannibal Reign is accepted.
Also, I expect to soon be entering into a collaborative work with one of Harper Collins’ best-selling authors on a series of action thrillers. The ink on the deal isn’t yet dry, so I can’t be more specific than that at the moment, but cross your fingers for me, if you would, and keep an eye out for my name in the months and hopefully years to come! :o)
Keep up with Thomas: Website
**GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER AND WINNER HAS BEEN CONTACTED. THANKS SO MUCH TO EVERYONE THAT ENTERED!**
I’m thrilled to have David Nickle on the blog today! David’s brand new book, Rasputin’s Bastards (my review), is officially out tomorrow, and he was kind enough to answer a couple of my questions, including what really scares him (plus a horrifying personal experience), how he celebrated winning the Bram Stoker Award, and much more!
Please welcome David to the blog!
David, you’ve published numerous short stories as well as two novels, and your third novel, Rasputin’s Bastards is out in the U.S. tomorrow! Will you tell us a little about your road to publication? With your journalism experience, one would assume that can sometimes lead to fiction writing. Was it a natural transition for you? Were you writing at an early age?
It was a pretty long road to publication, because I was indeed writing from an early age: really, from before I could write. I started out writing Captain Scarlet fan fiction in the late 60s, or rather, dictating them to my mother, who would write them down in little stapled-together books that I would later illustrate. Those stories, alas, never made it past the slush pile. But I kept at it, learned to write and then type, and then be a reporter—and in the course of that, really learned how to write.
For me, a big part of learning how to write fiction came through learning how to critique it. Before I started publishing, I joined a Toronto-area science fiction writers’ workshop, the Cecil Street Irregulars. We’d meet once a week, initially in the Cecil Street Community Centre in Toronto’s Chinatown, and read and critique one another’s work. The method is a good one, and this particular workshop is gold. It was founded by sf writer/editor Judith Merril, and attracted some pretty fine writers. They taught me how to write, and as the meetings haven’t stopped in nearly 25 years, they still do.
Will you tell us a bit about Rasputin’s Bastards?
Rasputin’s Bastards is a bit of a departure for me, in that it’s not, particularly, a horror story. It’s novel about psychic espionage—or perhaps better, it’s a novel that jumps off from the idea that psychic espionage (remote viewing, astral projection, mind control) might’ve actually worked. It tells the story of a disparate group of Russian psychic spies in the late 1990s (nicknamed Rasputin’s Bastards by those in the know), some few years after the Cold War has ended, trying to make a place for themselves in the world—often quite aggressively. It’s a big book, with a great many characters, and in the tradition of both Russian novels and spy stories, it is a tale of shifting loyalties, intricate conspiracies and existential conundrums. It is also filled to busting with giant squid.
Which character did you enjoy writing the most?
I enjoyed writing all of them for various reasons: Alexei Kilodovich, the ex-KGB-agent who opens the novel faking amnesia after being hauled onto a boat full of criminals; Stephen Haber, a young gay man who escaped with his life from his midwestern home, when his sleeper-agent parents were “retired” at the end of the Cold War; Amar Shadak, a Turkish arms dealer with an anger management problem; Mrs. Kontos-Wu, a stone cold killer with a fatal weakness for the Becky Barker series of girl detective novels…
I’ve got a real soft spot for Fyodor Kolyokov. He’s an aging former psychic spymaster, or “dream walker,” and when we meet him, he is operating a mafiya-like empire out of a hotel room in Manhattan, where he has installed his personal Soviet-built sensory-isolation tank. Kolyokov wants to make right the many horrible things he has done in service of the KGB. It is his greatest hope to reunite his kin and build a proper family around himself. Of course, it’s not that simple; the Bastards have some ideas of their own. And Kolyokov has an additional problem in the person of an old lover, come to take what she sees as her due.
So yes, I probably most enjoyed writing about old Fyodor. So of course, I made sure he had the worst time of it.
Along with Edo Van Belkom, you won the Bram Stoker Award for your short story “Rat Food.” How did you celebrate when you got the news?
Well we got the news at the HWA banquet where the awards were being given out. It was in Manhattan, in a swanky hotel, and we celebrated in a rooftop party that was straight out of a Sex in the City episode—except with a bunch of horror writers. It was actually my first visit to New York City, so I spent a lot of time during that visit just taking in the sights and revelling in Manhattan.The hotel I stayed in (not the one with the banquet) was my model for the Emissary Hotel where Fyodor Kolyokov lives in Rasputin’s Bastards.
Most of your work has been characterized as horror. What do you consider truly scary?
It’s never one thing. I’m definitely susceptible to the tricks of the genre; I jump at the “jump scare” in a haunted house movie; I cringe at well-wrought body horror; I hide in the closet at tax time.
Ultimately, nothing scares me more than real jeopardy. A few years ago, I and my partner at the time survived a burglary. A young man with a knife had forced his way in through the back door of the house, helped himself to some valuables – including a 10 inch kitchen knife – and made his way upstairs to the second bedroom at about five a.m. I woke up, confronted him, and was ordered to my knees.
I stepped back into the bedroom, did so, and when he turned away, I closed the door and held it shut. The dude was stupid, and deranged. He was stupid, in that he didn’t think to take a phone off the hook downstairs so we couldn’t call the police. He proved he was deranged by driving the knife through the door.
We called the police, and they came, and after a house-to-house search, they caught the guy without injury to anyone. Everything was fine in the end.
But man. That was truly scary.
What are some of your biggest literary influences (horror or otherwise)?
In terms of horror, writers like Stephen King, Richard Matheson, H.P. Lovecraft, Peter Straub, Joe R. Lansdale – particularly Lansdale – are serious influences. As a novelist, it’s a more disparate group. I’d cite Neal Stephenson, Ian Fleming, Mervyn Peak, John Irving, Stephen Millhauser, Lucius Sheppard, Timothy Findley. There are more – there are always more – but those are the ones who come to mind.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Hmm. I’ve got so many books that I haven’t read for the first time yet that I’m reluctant to give up any ground by going back and doing it again. I’m going to say maybe Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peak. For the joy of discovering his over-the-top prose style all over again.
What makes you want to stop reading a book?
A loss of tension. When characters are spending their time foot-shuffling, waiting for the next thing to happen, it’s really hard to stay engaged. I expect a writer to keep me going with suspense, jeopardy and just unanswered questions.
I think a writer also has to work very hard to keep me going if they’re retreading standard tropes: vampires, zombies, creepy old houses with terrible secrets… if it’s clear the writer isn’t doing something new with that stuff, I’ll find another writer that will.
And I can’t go very long reading clumsy prose. I’d rather I didn’t have this particular tic, because there are many good books – particularly in genre fiction – where the prose is not, shall we say, the primary draw – but it’s a writerly thing. If the prose doesn’t at least hum along efficiently, I’ll get off the ride.
When you’re not juggling writing and work, how do you like to spend your free time?
Well let’s see. I bike and run (although not enough these days) and have developed a serious affection for Skyrim (which I probably indulge in far too much these days).
If someone were to visit you in Toronto for the very first time, where would you take them?
There are a few places. I would probably start at Toronto City Hall – if only because photographs of the iconic building were used in various Star Trek episodes back in the 60s when it looked futuristic, and I run with a crowd that’s impressed by that sort of thing. Also, I’ve been covering the place as a journalist for more than a decade, and there are stories…
After that, we’d probably stop by the World’s Biggest Bookstore (at one time, it was), the venerable Bakka-Phoenix science fiction bookstore, Toronto Public Libary’s world-famous collection of speculative literature, The Merril Collection, and then, someplace to eat.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
Well let’s see. Next up is another novel, called The ‘Geisters. It is about poltergeists, the modern marriage, and very bad men. It’s in progress. I’ve got a story coming out in Chilling Tales 2, Michael Kelly’s Canadian horror anthology. And my story from the first Chilling Tales, Looker, is out in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year 4.
Keep up with David: Website | Twitter | Goodreads
About Rasputin’s Bastards | Purchase
They were the beautiful dreamers. From a hidden city deep in the Ural mountains, they walked the world as the coldest of Cold Warriors, under the command of the Kremlin and under the power of their own expansive minds. They slipped into the minds of Russia’s enemies with diabolical ease, and drove their human puppets to murder – and worse. They moved as Gods. And as Gods, they might have remade the world. But like the mad holy man Rasputin, who destroyed Russia through his own powerful influence, in the end, the psychic spies for the Motherland were only in it for themselves. It is the 1990s. The Cold War is long finished. From a suite in an unseen hotel in the heart of Manhattan, an old warrior named Kolyokov sets out with an open heart, to gather together the youngest members of his immense, and immensely talented, family. They are more beautiful – and more terrible – than any who came before them. They are Rasputin’s bastards. And they will remake the world!