A blog showcasing Indie and Small Press books and authors

The publishing world is changing and the boom in e-publishing has allowed both small press publishers and self-publishers to gain greater exposure than ever before.

The Roaring Mouse aims to bring you the best selection of those books as reviews, interviews and features. You don't have to look to the Big Six for quality literature, you can look towards the little guys.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Emeline and The Mutants by Rachel Tsoumbakos

One of the great upshots of the surge in paranormal fiction during the last decade has undoubtedly been the re-emergence of the zombie genre. Emerging from the Romero classics have come a more 'realistic' swathe of books and comics and films mixing the post-apocalyptic vibes of I am Legend with a viral zombie survivalist mash-up. Even my ten year old lad is big into it--Charlie Higson's The Enemy series is on my TBR list for 2013, and the Walking Dead comics are not far after.

Rachel Tsoumbakos's book Emeline and the Mutants takes the genre and gives it a curious twist. We have a post-devastation storyline, with humans scraping together an existence following the outbreak of a virulent virus. The virus, however hasn't just created zombies, rather it has mutated most of the population into quasi-mythical creatures. So we now have a world populated by vampires, trolls, faeries, mermaids, and so forth--infective and deadly to the humans whose genetic code gave them some resistance to the initial strain.

Emeline is a great hero, and she appeals to the kick-ass Lara Croft/ Buffy/ Hit-girl fab-boy in me. She's a crack shot, tough as nails, but has a gentler and vulnerable side that is exploited at various stages in the book. Emeline is dragged into a conspiracy-murder mystery within her compound that ultimately leads to revelations and confessions about how the whole viral outbreak began. The action is full-on, and the setting of rural Australia perfect for the story. Rachel introduces some excellent characters, many of them female, and many of them memorable.

When it ended I was chomping for a sequel, although it is a stand-alone work at present. I pitched a few questions to Rachel....

Me: When did the idea for writing Emeline and the Mutants first come into your mind?
RT: Believe it or not, the idea started forming because of a block of units being built across the road from me! The block of land had been vacant for ages and is high and right next to a train line. The builder was attempting to cram as many little buildings into the block as possible and the whole effect was bleak. I wondered who might live there and the character of Emeline evolved from that one single thought.

Me: The world you've created in EATM lends itself to further adventures. Is this something you want to develop?
RT: I've been asked this a lot. Yes, there is the possibly of further development there. I certainly have a couple of ideas in the pipelines and purposely left little nooks and crannies in Emeline and the Mutants in which these ideas could grow. Unfortunately, I haven't had the chance to get anything down on paper yet.
Me: Zombies and vampires always used to be purely the remit of pure horror films/books, albeit with occasional humour. Why do you think they've crossed into the mainstream so effectively?

RT: Personally, I think it is because we now live in a constant Nanny-state. Everyone is expected to do and say the right things all the time. There is no room for the Benny Hill's and Porky's of yesteryear. Everything we say and do is watched closely by the PC police. Zombies and vampires (and now Fifty Shades of Grey) are a way to escape this and just think the way we want to without fear of reprimand (unless you're REALLY into Fifty Shades).
Me: I know you are a huge fan-girl of True Blood, and that you interviewed some of the stars recently. Tell us more about that.
RT: Oh golly! Have you got all day? Seriously though, I write for one of the major True Blood fan sites (TrueBloodNet.com). While my job there mostly entails writing articles, reviewing episodes and editing the articles for other writers on the site (I am also a senior editor there), occasionally there are perks.
Recently, I got to attend a True Blood Halloween party here in Australia. Thanks to TrueBloodNet, HBO and Seamus O'Tooles(who were running the event), I scored an exclusive interview with two of the cast members of the show. While there were originally plans for four cast members to attend, Hurricane Sandy stepped in at just the wrong time and two cast members were stuck in the States without a ride. But that was okay, since I've never interviewed anyone before, and I got a chance to speak to Tara Buck (Ginger the screamer) and Marshall Allman (Tommy Mickens) which turned out to be an absolute hoot.
The funny thing was, I had to interview them the day before the event and I wore mostly normal clothes (ie. my non-bloody Merlotte's T-shirt). The next night, when I was chatting to them in the VIP area, they had no idea I was the same person because I was fully costumed up. And then Marshall kept freaking out at the people wearing masks and kept photo bombing people - it was truly the best night out I've had in AGES!
Can I blatantly plug here?

Me: What do you find the most challenging part of the whole writing process?
RT: Editing! This is because I don't plan my novels. Normally I start off with a character, a vague idea of a complication or plot and the genre. Then I write frantically for a month and see what happens. Mostly it turns out to be a novel filled with a pile of possible plot tangents. I then have to go back and erase all evidence of them (except for the winning plot line).

Me: Fun question- as an Australian, which do you think was the best Mad Max film?

RT: You know what? I have never seen ANY of the Mad Max movies. Although the song Thunderdome by Tina Turner is one of my favourites. How un-Australian am I?! I will probably need to find a dark hole in which to hide after this interview goes live :P
Me: Shameless plug time! Tell us about your current WIP and your literary plans for 2013.

RT: Okay, I have just finished a complete rewrite of the very first novel I ever wrote. It was originally titled Indiana Meets A Vampire and I wrote it because I figured if a Mormon could write about a sparkly vampire, then so could I! Needless to say, the novel was horrible, but there were a few hidden gems in there and I have dragged it back out into the light of day in an attempt to make it better. It now goes by the title Unremembered Things and will eventually be a trilogy. The story follows Indiana Shamira who wakes up one morning with no recollection of her previous life and a vampire hanging upside down in her cellar. The only thing she knows for sure is that she must keep her memory loss a secret. It everything goes according to plan, this book should be ready for release later in the year.
Thanks for the great interview, Rachel. If you want to check out Emeline and the Mutants then click below:

In the UK
and in the US and Oz


Thursday, 29 November 2012

A Dream of Storms by William Kenney

Shortly after I took up Jeremy Laszlo's invite to join the Skulldust Circle I decided the read what my fellow authors were writing. Gary's Ashenclaw work and Jeremy's Blood and Brotherhood debut were featured on the Roaring Mouse, and so now it's William Kenney's turn.

William is one of those astonishingly talented types that you meet very so often that thrives in his creativity. As well as his great writing he also excels at artwork and muisc. In fact it was through admiring his covers that I first connected with him on Twitter, well before the Skulldust Circle formed. His covers grace the books of Gary Vanucci, as well as his own work and they evoke the superb fantasy art of the sixties and seventies which adorned the fantasy and sci-fi novels most of us grew up with,

Dreams of Storms is the first book of the 'In the Shadow of the Black Sun' series. It's a high fantasy series with a distinctly dark edge to it, not perhaps to the degree of Martin or Abercrombie, but enough to tell you it ain't for the little ones. It tells the story of Hagan, a former hero, now trying to live a life of refuge away from the lands and city that made him famous. However crisis returns to the lands and an old comrade (the awesome stone troll, Gorin) is dispatched to convince him to return. The pair set off with Hagan's younger brother, D'Pharin, in tow. On the journey to the city of Harquinn, they meet Vasparian, an Elven veteran and Windenn, a Woodwarden (kind of like a ranger-druid). But things are not quite as they expect- the evil Malhain is at large and has dispatched his sinister Inquiti after the companions.

There are all the hallmarks of good heroic fantasy in here--the quest, the interplay between human and non-human races, excellent world-building. In many ways William draws on the traditions of Tolkien, Brooks and Eddings, with the multi-skilled group and their dialogue. But what made the book for me were the more original touches-- the hostile and decaying city of Overbrook; the mystery of the seer, the Wisp; the guilt and ruminations of the troubled hero, Hagan; and the Inquitis, probably the scariest opponents since the Nazgul got drowned by Elrond's daughter. The dark atmosphere is there but it never overpowers, rather it bolsters the authenticity of the work, and makes you nervier as you're never sure that all the comapnions are going to be all right or not.

I took the chance to throw a few questions at William the other day:

Me:   I was (pleasantly) surprised by how much 'dark' fantasy mixed with your traditional high fantasy story. Are you a fan of the darker end of the genre?
WK: Absolutely. I've always felt that the evil element in the story should be as dark and nasty as possible. The reader should fear them, loathe them and want them defeated. The reader is walking in the characters shoes and should feel the ultimate desperation of facing the bad guys. The good guys will only truly shine in the presence of absolute darkness, right?
Me: There's a definite feel of DnD in your work. I know our friend Gary is a big gamer, is it something you've done/do and does it influence you?
WK: I played quite a bit when I was a teenager. We had a group of guys that would play all-day marathons, sometimes getting so involved that we would forget to eat. I'm sure my mother remembers us taking over the dining table with maps and hardcover rulebooks. Eventually, a friend and I built a custom DnD table to play on. It was divided into four sections with a built-in box at the center with a lid. We kept dice and figurines in there. DnD and role-playing games in general really spark the imagination. I use to be the DM (GM now) back then and really had to think quickly while taking the others through the adventures. The DM is essentially a storyteller after all.
Me: Your covers are simply astounding. If you had to choose which one you enjoyed more- writing or painting/design- what would it be and why?
WK: Thank you very much for the compliment, Ross. That would be a difficult decision. I've done both since I was a boy and both feel very much like a piece of the same thing. To me, they are both art. I'm also a musician and treat it in the same fashion. I start with a small idea and continue to add pieces until I have a cohesive finished product that hopefully creates some sort of emotional response in people. Of course, painting is more immediate than writing, but they are both rewarding to me.
Me: I'd just noticed you also write a YA series. Tell us a little about that.
WK: I created the Tales of Embremere series as a break from the In the Shadow of the Black Sun series. I was writing such a complex dark fantasy story, that I wanted to create something more relaxed for a change. I wanted shorter stories that could be read in one sitting and I plan to do more in the future. The characters in the story are teenagers living in the Under. Beneath the city of Embremere, which is constructed on an immense platform above the surface of a lake, the less fortunate have built their own city from the discarded refuse tossed away by the city-folk above. The main character, Grivvin is the last of the Wychan, the wizards of the world. During the opening of the first book, he is cast out and into the dark world of the Under.
Me: Fun question- who was your favourite author and why?
WK: I would have to say Tolkien. Reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when I was young changed my life without a doubt. From there, I devoured as much fantasy as I could find. My literary diet consisted of Terry Brooks, Michael Moorcock, Stephen R. Donaldson, Robert E. Howard, etc. Fantasy created such a magical atmosphere for me that I immediately wanted to tell my own stories. I still have pieces of novels that I started when I was roughly 15 years of age. No one will ever see them, of course. Very crude, but still some interesting ideas.
Me: What are your feelings about the increasing popularity of the fantasy genre with the success of Game of Thrones and Peter Jackson's Tolkien adaptations?
WK: I love seeing so much fantasy on television and in the theaters. When I was young, it was so hard to find anything like that. Any new fantasy-related film or series was a godsend to my friends and I. I didn't care how cheesy or ridiculous it was, I would watch and re-watch it. The Sword and the Sorcerer, Krull, Hawk the Slayer, Dragonslayer, Conan the Barbarian. I loved them all. We can only hope that with the added exposure, people that have never been exposed to it, will give fantasy novels a try.
Me:  How excited are you about the Hobbit?
WK: Well, I can't wait to see it. What Peter Jackson did with the trilogy was truly mind-blowing. Those are some of my favorite movies without a doubt. So much detail, it's insane. I'm hoping the magical feeling of The Hobbit, which definitely has a different atmosphere than the Lord of the Rings books, translates to the screen. I keep waiting for someone to bring a decent Elric movie to the screen or the Shannara stories.
Me: And, finally, what's the current work in progress?
WK: Currently I am writing the third book of my In the Shadow of the Black Sun series. I've just scratched the surface with it and am feeling a certain amount of pressure. I feel that the first two books in the series are great fantasy tales. I am my biggest critic and hold my stories up to a pretty high standard. I spend a lot of time thinking through different possibilities for the storyline. What if I took the story this way or that? So many ways for the tale to go. Which works best? I've got so many stories to tell, some fantasy and some not. There is simply not enough time to get them all written.
Check out William's amazing work and excerpts from stories at http://authorwilliamkenney.blogspot.co.uk/
If you wanted to check out A Dream of Storms then click here for Amazon UK and here for Amazon US
Next time on the Roaring Mouse we're going 'down under' for a date with True Blood devotee and Mistress of Mutants, Rachel Tsoumbakos.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Crown Phoenix: The Night Watchman Express and The Devil's Kitchen by Alison DeLuca

Amongst the avalanche of books that came my way when I first started dabbling in social media, self-publishing and overloading my kindle there were a few that stood head and shoulders above the rest. For me the mark of a truly excellent book, like a truly excellent record, is something that afterwards I think ‘Nah, I couldn’t have written that!’ If you are an author, you’ll know what I mean.

Alison DeLuca’s ‘Crown Phoenix: The Night Watchman Express’ is one of those books. I loved it when I first read it, and when I found that Alison was re-formatting and re-issuing it on a new label I was thrilled. So thrilled that I offered to draw the maps for the book! I suppose I should also declare that Allie is the editor of my YA book, The Infinity Bridge too, and her steam-punk touch on it has been invaluable.
Oh, steampunk! Yes, had to mention that early on! The Night Watchman Express is an Edwardian fantasy, the first of a series of books collectively called The Crown Phoenix, after a mysterious typewriter. The book oozes style—from the richly described settings, to the marvellous characters that inhabit it. There is a real traditional adventure feel to the book—you can almost see the BBC Sunday tea-time series now. There is an underlying mystique to the plot, capturing the macabre air of Victorian sci-fi perfectly, without becoming too sinister or dark.

The first book introduces us to our key characters. Miriam is an orphan, who falls under the guardianship of the Marchpanes, former partners of her deceased father. It’s clear that they are bad ‘uns from the onset, struggling with the wilful Miriam. Then a mysterious governess arrives, Mana, who helps Miriam in many ways and also facilitates her friendship with two boys, Simon and Neil. Simon is the son of the Marchpanes, and initially clashes with Miriam. Neil is a friend from school, staying at the mansion over the holidays. The plot thickens when the sinister Cantwells arrive at the house, and it’s clear they are looking for something hidden there.
Book two, The Devil's Kitchen, follows directly on from the conclusion of TNWE and features all three of the children as they tackle the Cantwells and the fearful Devil's Kitchen. The second book has a real pace to it, extending some of the mysteries of the first book (such as the Crown Phoenix typewriter) and wrapping up story arcs from book one. It has a very stylish feel to it, and wonderfully drawn characters, especially the ones who inhabit the workhouse of the Kitchen.
So with book three now out, I took the opportunity to interview Alison about her books:

Me: Easy one to begin with- tell us briefly about your trilogy.
Alison: Hello, and thanks for having me on the blog!
My trilogy is The Crown Phoenix, named after a quantum typewriter that can bend time and space. Some very nasty villains are after it, and it’s up to Miriam and Simon to stop them. Unfortunately, they don’t like each other very much at first, so that complicates things. Plus, their character flaws get in the way – Miriam is very angry at her situation (she’s an orphan) and Simon falls for Barbara, one of the villains, since she is breathtakingly beautiful.
Me: Which of your characters do you empathise most with?
Alison: All of my characters have a little bit of me in them. I started by liking my main character, Miriam, the most. As I continued with the books, I really began to sympathise with Simon. Mana, Miriam’s magical governess, appeals to me as a former teacher, and even Barbara, the beautiful villainess, has a softer side. It’s hidden deep beneath the surface, but it’s there.
In The Lamplighter’s Special, the third book of the series, the main character is Lizzie. She is very near-sighted and can’t afford glasses, so she has to negotiate a world that is out of focus. I’m a four-eyes myself, so I can really relate to that plight.

Me: I've read your first book, The Nightwatchman Express, and especially loved the atmosphere of the novel. What attracted you into writing in the 'Steampunk' genre?
Alison: I loved books by Conan Doyle, Wells, and Verne when I was young. Adventure driven by technology that depends on clockworks and gears is very exciting to me, and it leaves loads of scope for the imagination.

My technology depends on quantum physics and some impossible things that create adventures for my characters. I love magic, but I think that the fantasy must have a reason for existing, and the magical powers must come from somewhere. In my books, both are caused by the Crown Phoenix Typewriter.

Me: With the success of movies like Hugo, and books like Clockwork Prince, do you see the genre taking off a bit more? Or is it still a bit eclectic?

Alison: I think we’ll have lots more steampunk in all types of media, as long as the genre doesn’t get bogged down in the usual airships and automatons. I love both, but an airship can’t rescue a book that doesn’t have a killer plot.

I’m fascinated by the rise of ethnic steampunk – Brazilian authors, in particular, are doing some very interesting things – as well as different “punks” such as dieselpunk.

Me: Do you find being an editor impairs your writing or augments it? Namely can you flip easily from one to the other?
Alison: Great question! Yes, it really is easy for me to switch hats. The funny thing is that errors that leap out at me when I’m editing run and hide when I write. Like all authors, when I’m in the middle of the story, typing out the movie that I see playing in my head, I don’t see the words. Since I’m too close to the story, I have to rely on my own excellent editors for feedback.

Me: You are a Twitter maestro. What impact do you think social media has had on authors, and is it a useful medium?

Alison: I love the immediacy of Twitter, and Facebook has introduced me to many, many talented writers. Social media is a blessing and a curse, however. There are beautiful people out there, but there are wolves as well. The difference isn’t always apparent at first.
However, for the most part the impact has been very positive. Instead of scribbling away in a garret, secluded from the rest of the world, now writers can interact every day. In my own publishing group, we do betas, edits, and covers for each other. We critique and support, and we make each other laugh as well. I can’t imagine being without those online relationships.

Me: What projects have you got cooking next?
I have almost finished the final book in my series, The South Sea Bubble. It’s set in an Edwardian hospital, much like Downton Abbey, so I read up on Edwardian medicine and the history of nursing in England. That was really fascinating.

Along with four other authors, I’m going to release a Christmas collection soon called Christmas O’Clock, to raise funds for third world countries. My contribution is Magic Coal for the Naughts, a novella about two very naughty children who get coal from Santa Claus. However, coal from the Big Man simply must be magic…

After that, I can turn to a dieselpunk book, The Gramophone Society, that I have on the back burner. It’s the story of a girl who goes back in time to experience what being a London refugee was like during World War II. And of course, there is diesel tech and loads of fantasy adventure involved. I really look forward to getting back to it.

You can find Alison De Luca's books on Amazon UK right here!

And on the other side of the Atlantic in the US just here!

And this is the video trailer for her CRown Phoenix series. OMG!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

HeartSearch: Loss by Carlie Cullen (interview)

Those who follow the Roaring Mouse will have already read my review of Carlie Cullen’s Heart Search: Lost last week. Now reviews aren’t always a big aspect of the blog, as I tend to feature books I love rather than ones that make me go ‘meh.’ Rather I prefer doing features, telling you why I like a book and why it might be worth your while reading it. And I love this one!

Heart Search: Lost is the first book in a new paranormal romance series. It takes an interesting approach in its evaluation of a couple who are torn apart, days before their wedding, when one becomes a vampire. Josh, the newbie in the vamp world, has been targeted by the leader of a coven of vampires who hang out down in t’South of England. This leader, Samir, has an ability to sense vampires and communicate with them, as well as sensing which humans will make good additions to the vampire covens.

We follow two parallel stories through the book. Josh learns about becoming a vampire, discovering his own unique powers, and coming to terms with the loss of his prior life. Remy, his fiancée, resolves to track Josh down by visiting all the places that they had been together before the split. This is a great literary device, both to build Remy’s character, but also to flesh out the details of their relationship in retrospect.

The book is an entertaining read. It was the first paranormal romance book I’ve read (although my wife’s side of the shelf is replete with black covered vamp books), and I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it. I really connected with Remy, found the plot intriguing, and was hooked enough to want to follow the series and recommend it to the missus.

Heart Search: Lost represents Carlie Cullen’s debut on the author collective group Myrddin. I asked Carlie some questions about her work and her plans:

Carlie: Hi Ross! I’m excited to be talking to you today and on our side of the pond too! Thanks for inviting me.

Me: I really surprised myself by how much I enjoyed the paranormal romance of your novel. Why do you think it has taken off as a genre? What is it about vampires?

Thank you, Ross. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

Apart from pure escapism you mean? Every young woman has dreams about finding her ‘perfect man’ and the way vampires are generally portrayed makes them desirable. I think the idea of having a romance with a man who is handsome, charismatic and immortal is attractive to readers. They can fantasise about how they could be swept off their feet by this dashing man, romanced by him and making him fall in love with them so maybe he would not want to lose them thereby becoming immortal themselves. Let’s face it, although we all know we’re going to die at some point in our lives, there are an enormous amount of people who’re really scared by it and the idea of finding the ‘Fountain of Youth’ or being bitten by a vampire and made immortal is a way of dealing with that fear. In case you’re wondering, I’ve used the male vampire here because it’s primarily women who read novels in this genre.

The other thing about vampires is the air of menace and mystery that surrounds them. A lot of women are naturally attracted to this type of person, even if they know these characters are wrong for them. Some men too dream of finding a dangerous and enigmatic woman – it’s not just women who are drawn in to the myth. Some people live ‘safe’ and often boring lives and wish they had the gumption to find some adventure. Fantasising about vampires is a way of fulfilling that need in them.

Me: As a fellow Brit, I loved the locations in your book. Did you visit the places that Remy went to?

Carlie: Quite a few of them, yes. My daughter attended university in Lancaster which isn’t far from the Lake District and we visited Ullswater and Windemere. She visited Dove Cottage on a uni field trip and told me about it. I’ve been to the Peak District on business and some of the other locations were passed through, visited or stayed at during family vacations when my daughter was younger.

I did do some research for some of the places I didn’t know very well to find out a bit more so I could then write about them as if I’d really explored the areas though.

Me: How much have the more famous Paranormal books like Twilight, Vampire Diaries etc influenced your writing? Are you a big fan of theirs?

Carlie: Famous books in this genre have opened my eyes to more possibilities and allowed my imagination to think out of the box a bit more than perhaps it might have done, but I wouldn’t say they’ve influenced my writing a huge amount. I think it was your review of Heart Search: Lost which pointed out a couple of similarities between my novel and the Twilight saga yet you also said my story was sufficiently different so as not to be compared to it. The funny thing is, I’d planned and started writing Heart Search before I read some of the Twilight books and the ‘resemblances’ to Stephenie Meyer’s books were in the outline prior to my reading most of her work and therefore, totally coincidental.

I do enjoy paranormal books and readily admit that yes, I’m a Twilight fan (no booing from the sidelines please). There are areas of her books, particularly the first two, where Bella comes across as totally boring, living a shell of a life without hobbies or anything to interest her except Edward. That, to me, was a little unrealistic, but apart from that they are entertaining and I do like the story. I’ve never read Vampire Diaries and only recently began reading Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood series. Although maybe I should read more in this genre, I don’t because I want my work to be as unique as possible and don’t want to be influenced too much by the other vampire novels on the shelves.

Me: If you had to pick a character you enjoyed writing the most who would it be?

Carlie: Hmmm, I enjoyed writing all my characters for different reasons, so this is quite a hard question to answer. If you’d asked me which one was the most challenging to write I’d have an answer as quick as a snap of my fingers.

I really enjoyed writing Remy’s character, but if you’re going to pin me against the wall and make me pick just one then I would have to say Joshua. It was exciting to write his journey into immortality and all that entailed. I loved writing the coven scenes, especially when he became embroiled in a power struggle. It was also interesting to marry his new status with the vestiges of humanity which came from his enduring love for Remy.

Me: What's top of your To Be Read pile at the moment?

Carlie: It’s The Ring of Lost Souls by Rachel Tsoumbakos. She’s a fabulous writer and I can’t wait to feast my eyes with it.

Me: Crystal ball question: do you think print books are on a steady decline now, consigned to libraries and collectors, in the way that vinyl on records went?

Carlie: Actually, no I don’t. Recent figures show that more paperbacks are read than e-books! This isn’t my only reason for thinking this way. Digital books are still in their infancy. There are generations of readers around the world who’ve grown up reading print books and will continue to do so. Whilst I appreciate the portability of e-readers, I personally prefer to read from a print book and would pick that in favour of an e-book any day, despite the additional cost.

I think there will come a time when print books go on a major decline, but I don’t believe it’ll be in my lifetime and maybe not even in my daughter’s.

Me: What's up next for Carlie Cullen? What's the next project?

Carlie: Well, I’ve started writing book two of the Heart Search trilogy and plan to have the first draft finished before the end of the year. I’d like to get it published mid to late spring next year, if not before and then I’ll be onto the final one in the series. After that, I’m leaving vampires alone for a little while and am planning a fantasy novel based around the lovely lady I use as my avatar. That project will take a while as I’ve got some serious world-building to plan and magic systems to create.

Thanks so much for having me here today, Ross. I’ve really enjoyed our chat! Now where’s that cuppa you promised me?

Thanks very much Carlie- a great interview. If you want to check out Carlie's book it's available via Amazon in both the UK and US.

Amazon US http://amzn.to/OLwU59

Amazon UK http://amzn.to/PhC0Gu

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Heart Search: Loss by Carlie Cullen (review)

Although this is the first ‘paranormal romance’ novel I’ve had the pleasure of reading, my wife’s dedication to the genre and its celluloid/TV derivatives have given me some familiarity. And if I were to choose a book to kick off my reading of the genre then Heart Search: Lost would be a great choice.

Unlike most books in this genre this one is a distinctly British affair. Set in England and, due to the nature of one of the character’s searching, it provides us with a wonderful range of scenes in our (seemingly vampire-rich) nation. There’s a definite ‘British-ness’ to the characters and the dialogue too, notably amongst the vampires and their coven, and their (initially) polite and formal discourse.

But before you consider you’ve wandered into Merchant-Ivory does Twilight, let me explain the premise of the book.

Joshua and Remy are a happily engaged young couple eagerly awaiting their imminent wedding. Whilst Remy is in the US, Josh gets bitten by a vampire, Samir, and begins a transformation process which continues as Remy returns. During this time he inadvertently hurts her and, wracked with guilt, decides to leave her (Dear John letter and all).

The book follows our two main characters through their separate journeys. Joshua is drawn by his ‘maker’ to join a coven of vampires in the South-East of the UK. Josh’s story introduces us to the vampire sub-society, with their etiquette and traditions, through the coven. Although initially a happy little group of vampires, munching their way through the population, the cracks in the coven begin to show when two of the members begin to clash. Joshua finds himself embroiled in the conflict, as well as coming to terms with his new ‘life.’

Remy’s journey is less dramatic, but in many ways more poignant and interesting. After the tears and heartache she resolves to seek out Josh by revisiting the places they have stayed together over the years. It’s a clever plot device—I was initially struggling to warm to the couple and their relationship as the split-up happens so early in the book that you don’t really know either character when it happens, so can’t empathise with their distress. But by building the relationship retrospectively by the end of the book I had a definite emotional link with both characters and their break-up.

The two main characters evolve nicely over the book, Cullen drawing realistic and likable personas. Remy, once she stopped crying every paragraph, really shone out for me. She fluctuated between vulnerable, strong, needy, independent and resourceful in a fascinating manner. The mysteries she unlocks are bound to make the further books very exciting.

Joshua, undoubtedly the more exciting character and storyline, didn’t resonate as much with me until the latter part of the book where I got a real sense of his trauma and dilemmas. He seemed initially to simply accept his new status and new life in an unrealistic fashion, but that is explained later as a coping strategy, as a method of ‘boxing up’ his emotions. His handsome, slightly dark, moody and impulsive character is very much the stuff of this genre—I can see him alongside a guilt-ridden Edward Cullen, or a troubled Stefan Salvatore. I hope in the future books we see him evolve as much as I felt Remy did within the first book.

One of the difficulties in writing in such a saturated and popular genre is introducing new ideas. There are traces of other paranormal books in here: the coven feels very much like the ‘family’ of Cullens in Twilight; we have vampire venom, which pops up in a few places in other works. The vampires have magical powers—Joshua has several—in addition to their super fast speed and strength. The societal structure has traces of the Volturi, although in a far more pleasant way. It is tricky to do different things with vampires—you go darker you end up with ‘Being Human’, ‘Vampire Lestat’ or ‘True Blood.’ You go lighter, it’s beautiful teen vamps in ‘Twilight’ and ‘Vampire Diaries.’ So it’s really all the more important that the story you are telling has verve, given that vamps are vamps are vamps.

And Cullen’s story is suitably different and very well told. It’s a tale of love, a tale of dedication and a tale of passion. I felt reaffirmed by Remy’s quest to find Josh, that she wouldn’t take this lying down, that she didn’t believe someone she cared about could change so abruptly that he’d just dump her and run off. She does what we all would want to do, would want to have the courage to do—to cast our lives aside and not take it passively—to fight for what we would want.

The style of the book is very readable, and the dialogue bounces along well. The diction of the vampires feels almost unrealistically polite at the start, like an undead ‘get along gang’, but when they all start squabbling it gets some hairs on its porcelain-white chest and bites nicely. The descriptions of scenes and places are lavishly detailed and draw you deep into the book. My only grumble was the tendency to flip between multiple points of view in scenes—I found it quite distracting and often unnecessary.

Heart Search: Lost is a great debut for a series and leaves you with a smorgasboard of teasers and plot threads for the next book. I was left pondering which ones are going to play a big part in book two, and which ones will mull like a good wine until book three.
You can check out Carlie Cullen's book here:
Carlie has agreed to do an interview on the Roaring Mouse in two weeks time, so I'll look forward to finding out more about the book and how it was written.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Banned Underground Series by Will Macmillan-Jones

A triple wammy this week on the Roaring Mouse. Last year,when I was digging around forums on the Authonomy website, I met a UK author WillMacmillan-Jones, who contributed far more frequently than I on the (infamous)Alliance of World Builders. Will had just been signed up by Safkhet Publishing,a small press based in Cambridge and now London. His first two books, The Amulet of Kings and The Mystic Accountants, have since been released and I had the pleasure of reviewing the second for Fantasy Book Reviews earlier in the year. With the third Banned Underground book hovering in the ether and ready to materialise any day I thought it a great time to badger Will for an interview.
The Banned Underground books follow the misadventures of a rock band whose member include a bog troll and several dwarves. Associated with the band are two human children, the nephew and niece of a rather cranky witch called Griselda. The first book is set in the Lake District, in the current day, wherein the home of the dwarves (the Helvendelve) has come under attack by sinister sorcerers (Caer Surdin, who happen to be accountants). What follows is a witty and chaotic adventure which rapidly establishes the bizarre hidden magical world in which the protagonists live.
The second story shifts the action to Wales and introduces us to an alcoholic dragon called Dai (of course). We see more of the beer loving Tuatha (drunken faeries) and the Edern (High Elf managers who talk about CEOs and the Board all the time).
I’d always been touchy about fantasy humour. Unlike many people I know I’ve never read Pratchett—it just never appealed. I think, common to many fantasy fans, I’m rather protective of the genre. There just seems so many things to take the piss out of in it. But Will has a definite love and respect for fantasy which shows in his work. His characters are well written and funny, and his wit shines in the dialogue. The gags range from double-entendres to astute satire of teenagers, corporations, music and, of course, accountants.
Book three, The Vampire Mechanic, is coming very soon and I look forward to reading and reviewing it. In the interim, go and treat yourself to a copy of The Amulet of the Kings—it’s a perfect antidote to the gloom of George RR Martin and the current wave of dark fantasy.
Me. Hi Will. Thanks for joining us. Where did you first dream up the idea of the Banned Underground?
Will: Hi Ross, the hard questions first, eh?  I love fantasy, and have one ever since I can remember.  It was just a natural progression to want to write a fantasy novel myself.  And when I did, it was awful!   I mean truly dreadful.(Hands up who said ‘No Change there, then’! No sweetie for you afterwards.)  But in the writing of that book, the characters that would form the basis of my series came to life inside my head.  It wasn’t long before they had taken over, and forced me to completely rewrite the whole book from a new perspective.  Their perspective. The Banned Underground were born…and already rocking.
As to where, well there was only one place for me to set the start of the series.  The Lake District.  Possibly my favourite place in the world.  A lot of the ideas for the first book started to arrive whilst walking there on the high places.  It’s no surprise to me that lots of writers have found their inspiration in the Lakes, and it’s an ambition of mine to one day be able to spend a lot of my time there, writing…
Me:  Is this a series which will run and run, or do you have a finite number of books in mind?
Will: I’m a very, very, lucky boy.  I’ve got a publisher who loves what I am doing, and has signed me for a whole series of eight books.  EIGHT! Some days that’s a terrifying idea, on others it is an exhilarating prospect.  The third book, The Vampire Mechanic, is about to be released, and I’m trying to finish the fourth book –Sax & Thugs & Rock N Roll as we speak. The submission deadline is November. The fifth book – The SatNav of Doom - is planned and started, and I have the concepts for the sixth and seventh books now.  The pressure really is to try and make each book better than the last.
Me:Anyone who writes fantasy and humour will inevitably face comparisons to Pratchett.Are you a fan of his work?
Will: Ah, the brilliant Sir Terry.  With a friend, I was privileged to hear the great man speak at the Hay Literary Festival this year.  How can anyone not be a fan of his writing?  He is warm, witty and so very human.  His books shine out like a beacon to those of us aspiring to write comedy of any sort, as a perfect example of it should be written. And more to the point, how to write a series. Look at the Discworld books.  Each is a complete story in itself, and if you read them out of sequence, it doesn’t really matter that much does it?  And THAT means that if the shop you are in doesn’t have them all, well that doesn’t stop you buying one does it?
Me:  What's the current work in progress? And feel free to tell us about new book!
Will: Right at the moment, I am very, very excited by the imminent release of The Vampire Mechanic. Yes, my take on the vampire stories so popular at the moment.  And, to kill two birds with one stone, the festive season gets a few knocks too as Santa’s Sleigh gets borrowed by His Little Helpers to get them to a gig by The Banned Underground.  But on the way, they crash into a hillside.  Now, they need some help getting The Sleigh fixed, and The Banned get dragged into another adventure.  All the usual cast of my characters get involved, and a simple situation quickly gets complicated.   Sax & Thugs & Rock N Roll (thanks to the great Ian Dury for the title!) is well in progress for the release date of next April.  Girls always get in the way,don’t they lads?  And this time there’s agirl who is determined to get in the way. She’s got something to prove, and a big bass guitar to prove it with…This one is a bit more about the characters,and a bit less of the usual wild romp. But a wonderful new character gets a cameo, and book Seven to himself!  Fear not, the Dark Wizards get the fifth book to themselves when they get sent on a dangerous quest to recover The SatNav of Doom…
Me: Ever considered a graphic novel of the Banned Underground?
Will: I’ve never considered a graphic novel, to tell you the truth.  They have worked well for Neil Gaiman though, haven’t they?  Actually,thinking about it, the books could do well in that medium.  A lot of the humour is quite visual really,and would translate easily.  Any offers,anyone?
Me:  Your love of music shines through in the books. Put together your seven song dream soundtrack for the movie of your book.
Will: I’ve been a music fan all my life, and I have music playing almost all the time. I work from home, so the stereo is always on,playing blues, jazz, and Rock.  To pick so few songs is a real challenge, as mood plays such a huge part of my selection on any day.  Well, here goes.
Jailhouse Rock. (Elvis) Classic Rock N Roll. Elvis will always be the king, and Scotty Moore – his guitarist – knew everything about timing a groove.
Johnny B Goode. (Chuck Berry) Every band worth anything can play this.  And do.  Why? Because that riff is hard wired into the heart of Rock N Roll.
Rock N Roll.  (Led Zeppelin) From the moment Bonzo hits the skins this one takes off, and the greatest Rock Band ever are flying.
Jumping Jack Flash (Rolling Stones) Yes.  Just yes.
Back to Black  (Amy Winehouse)  Such a talent, such a loss.
Whole Lot Of Rosie (AC/DC) And a classic riff from Angus.One for my funeral play list.
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? (Dusty Springfield) A voice to melt chocolate. And me.
Me, Myself, I (Joan Armatrading ) Because it says a lot about where I am personally at the moment.
There you go.  Problem is, if you ask me tomorrow, you will get a different list.  I’m presently learning The Green Manalishi,and that would make the list, as would…
Of course, that’s rather my current list.  At heart, the guys are a blues based dance band, and that’s what they would play. Can you see a bearded, slightly drunken dwarf crooning ‘Will you still Love Me Tomorrow?’ convincingly?
Me:  For the newbies in the world of publishing have you any sage-like words of wisdom on how to get your book out there, or even garner a publishing deal?
Will: How to get your book out there?  Well there’s more choice than ever now, isn’tthere?  If you listen to traditionally published authors, a lot of them are extolling the virtues of self publishing.  The ‘snobbery’ that used to be attached to self publishing has been eroded, especially by the emergence of the ebook and the way Amazon and Smashwords have made it so easy for anyone to produce a book.  And everyone wants to see an actual copy of their own book on a bookshelf, and again CreateSpace and Lightning Source have made it possible for anyone to have that at a reasonable cost.  Before going down that route though, everyone is going to research agents and publishers and try to get a traditional contract.   But you need to have the right book, and be in the right place at the right time…I’m not going to pretend that my books are way better than anyone else’s.  I was just lucky with my publisher.  They are a small house, yet they get over 80manuscripts sent to them every week…
The advice I’d give a prospective author is this: select your  publisher or agent carefully, then read everything you can about them: then follow TO THE LETTER the submission guidelines they post.  If you do not, you will be rejected with your work unread, however good it may be.
Me:  You're published by Safkhet publishing- tell us a bit about them and how things are going there.
I think I’m really lucky with Safkhet Publishing.  They share my sense of humour and we share the same ethics and goals.  They are committed to getting some really great fantasy and rom-com books published in a professional manner, and have made a brilliant start in their first full year of operations.  We get on really well as people too, and that is important.  If you can talk to your publisher as a friend as well as a business partner, then the relationship is going to be fruitful for both parties.
This is going to be a really exciting second year for Safkhet Publishing, and I’m pleased and proud to be a part of that.
Thanks again for an awesome interview there, Will. Here are some of the links to check out Will,his website and his books!

The Banned Underground website
Safkhet Publishing
Will's Amazon author page in the US of A
Will's Amazon author page in the UK

(Banned Underground band image (c) Sam Dogra. Used with permission)


Saturday, 15 September 2012

Heart Search by Carlie Cullen

One of my good friends, Carlie Cullen, is releasing her new book in a few weeks time (October is going to be such a good month... Carlie's book, Alison De Luca's re-issue , and my new one too). The book, Heart Search, is already down for a definite Roaring Mouse slot... with the mandatory questions, of course. In the interim, Carlie has been good enough to let me have a taster of her new cover and also the blurb for the book. Just to whet the appetite!

One bite starts it all . . .
When Joshua Grant vanishes days before his wedding his fiancée Remy is left with only bruises, scratch marks and a hastily written note. Heartbroken, she sets off alone to find him and begins a long journey where strange things begin to happen.
As Joshua descends into his new immortal life he indulges his thirst for blood and explores his superhuman strength and amazing new talents while becoming embroiled in coven politics which threaten to destroy him. But Remy discovers a strength of her own on her quest to bring Joshua home.
Fate toys with mortals and immortals alike, as two hearts torn apart by darkness face ordeals which test them to their limits.

Sounds excellent! It'll be released in association with Myrddin Book Publishing, which is a new indie author collaborative, which Carlie, Alison De Luca, and me. are involved in. Exciting time ahead...