Rachel Kadish

Aug. 20th, 2017 12:05 am
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Posted by Marshal Zeringue

Rachel Kadish is the award-winning author of the novels From a Sealed Room and Tolstoy Lied: a Love Story, as well as the novella I Was Here.

Her latest novel is The Weight of Ink.

Recently I asked Kadish about what she was reading. Her reply:I’m a huge James Baldwin fan, but somehow until now I’d never read The Fire Next Time. It’s riveting—and Baldwin’s bracing view of America is particularly

Edgar Cantero

Aug. 17th, 2017 12:05 pm
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Posted by Marshal Zeringue

Edgar Cantero is a writer and cartoonist from Barcelona who works in Catalan, Spanish, and English.

He is the author of The Supernatural Enhancements and the newly released Meddling Kids.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Cantero's reply:I recently moved houses (actually, moved cities, from Barcelona to New York), and I was forced to leave all my books behind. All of them.
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Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

When the late, unlamented Tate Publishing & Enterprises went belly-up a few months ago, I started hearing from Tate authors who were being contacted by self-publishing companies and other for-profit enterprises looking to recruit new customers. Some of these were straightforward, reasonably reputable (if overpriced) businesses. Others...not so much.

Very active trying to snag Tate authors was Legaia Books.

Here's how Legaia describes itself (bolding and errors courtesy of the original):
Legaia is a book publishing company created to aid writers in seeing their works in prints. Whether you’re a beginner or a published author, and whatever is the genre of your work (memoirs, fiction, non-fiction, children’s book, or even poetry collection), it is always our pleasure to be working with you. Legaia has no reservations to anything in particular other than those that contradict what is in the terms and services. With the application of new technology and information, we are able to accommodate our clients and are maintaining this accessibility for a better relationship.
The whole website is written like this, which should be a gigantic clue that things aren't kosher. If that's not enough, consider the eye-poppingly expensive publishing packages (which don't offer anything that's not available elsewhere for much less money), the hugely overpriced "online media publicity campaign" (based largely on cheap-for-the-provider services that can be sold at an enormous markup), and the nebulously-described "Online Retail Visibility Booster", which costs $6,499 and wants you to believe that's a fair price for something called a Booster Tool that supposedly gets you more reviews on Amazon.

You can also buy advertising in Paperclips Magazine, which among other "opportunities" encourages authors to pay $1,999 for a book review or $4,999 for a "Paperclips Author Article." According to the Legaia website, Paperclips is "a social online magazine that showcases books and author experiences in the publishing industry"; according to email solicitations like the one above, it has "over 2 million subscribers worldwide" (a bit hard to believe, given the mix of terrible writing, puff pieces, and ads that make up most of its content).

What both website and solicitations fail to mention: Legaia and Paperclips are one and the same, a fact Legaia admits on its LinkedIn page. This is the kind of profitable closed loop that allows an author-exploiting enterprise to hit up its victims multiple times.

As for Paperclips Magazine, it's...interesting. Not just for the amount of money that must have been generated by all the author articles and ads. Not just for the insanely awful writing by the "Editorial Team" (screenshot at left).

No. For the plagiarism and the intellectual property theft.

The Paperclips website includes numerous short articles with the byline Chloe Smith. Much of this content actually belongs to other authors. For instance, a piece called 7 Active Reading for Students: here it is at Paperclips, under Chloe's name. Here's the original, attributed to the real author: Grace Fleming. How about 10 Keys to Writing a Brilliant Speech? Here it is at Paperclips. Here's the original, by Bill Cole. Ditto These Are the 8 Fundamental Principles of Great Writing. Here it is at Paperclips. Here's the original (with a different title), by Glenn Leibowitz.

I could go on. There are lots more examples. And that's just the Paperclips website. The magazine also includes stolen content. At least Why Print Books are Better than eBooks, and Ways to Improve eReaders bears the name of its true author, Greg Krehbiel...but Greg has confirmed to me that Paperclips published it without his permission. (It originally appeared here.) (I also reached out to two other authors included in the same issue, but as of this writing I haven't heard back.)

Any bets on whether Paperclips got permission to use images of Dr. Seuss characters on the cover of its latest issue? Or asked George R.R. Martin if it was okay to re-publish his August 2016 blog post--complete with original artwork from the illustrated anniversary edition of Game of Thrones?

A bunch of other things don't add up.  Legaia/Paperclips has a North Carolina address, but it's a virtual office. Legaia's LinkedIn page claims the company was founded in 2008, but its domain wasn't registered until late 2015. Similarly, Paperclips' LinkedIn page says it started up in 2012, but its domain wasn't created until November 2016 (I also couldn't find any issues of the magazine earlier than December 2016). I've been able to locate only two actual human staff members (neither website includes staff names, and the two names I've seen on Legaia's author solicitations, Emily Bryans and Serena Miles, appear to be wholly imaginary); both are based in the Philippines, and one formerly worked for Author Solutions.

Between these things, the English-as-a-second-language writing, the overpriced and exploitive "services", the plagiarism, and just the general sleazy feel of it all, I'm strongly reminded of LitFire Publishing, which has a very similar business model and M.O, and was established by Author Solutions call center alumni in the Philippines as a sort of low-rent Xlibris-AuthorHouse-iUniverse-Trafford clone. Are LitFire and Legaia the same operation? Probably not. But it wouldn't surprise me if Legaia has the same provenance.

"Emily Bryans" is currently soliciting authors for something called Paperclips Magazine's Author Circle, which is supposedly arriving this October and will feature "celebrity authors and multi-awarded literary contributors" (wonder how many of them know they're included?) No word on how much it will cost to join up, but I bet it's a bundle.

Writer beware.

James Abel

Aug. 16th, 2017 08:05 am
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Posted by Marshal Zeringue

James Abel is the pseudonym for Bob Reiss, an accomplished author and journalist who has written extensively on the Arctic. He lives and works in New York City.

Abel's new novel is Vector.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:Just now I've got three books on my table, all written by favorites, all there for different reasons, all there so I can

Bill Crider

Aug. 15th, 2017 06:05 am
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Posted by Marshal Zeringue

Bill Crider is the winner of two Anthony Awards and an Edgar Award finalist. An English college professor for many years, he’s published more than seventy-five crime, Western, and horror novels, as well as a number of children’s books.

Crider's newest novel is Dead, to Begin With, the 24th Dan Rhodes Mystery.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Crider's reply:I
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Posted by The Reader

Kristi Charish’s The Owl series is a series that has mixes the fun of urban fantasy along with the rollicking action of adventure thrillers. Kristi Charish & Fantasy Book Critic are glad to be giving away two copies of Owl And The Electric Samurai to Two Lucky Winners!!! 

There are two copies up for grabs. The trade paperback copy of Owl And The Electric Samurai is open for everyone in USA & Canada. The Audible version is open internationally to all folks.

To enter, please send an email to fbcgiveaway@gmail.com with your Name, Mailing Address, and the subject: OWL. Giveaway will end on 12:01 PM, 27th August 2017 and will be open to participants in the US/CANADA (paperback) & WORLDWIDE (Audiobook) regions! 

Thank you for entering and Good Luck! 

1) Open To Anyone WORLDWIDE  
2) Only One Entry Per Household (Multiple Entries Will Be Disqualified)  
3) Must Enter Valid Email Address, Mailing Address + Name  
4) No Purchase Necessary  
5)Giveaway will end on 12:01 PM, 27th August 2017
6) Winners Will Be Randomly Selected and Notified By Email
7) Personal Information Will Only Be Used In Mailing Out the Books To The Winner 

Glen Duncan

Aug. 14th, 2017 12:05 am
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Posted by Marshal Zeringue

Saul Black is a pseudonym for Glen Duncan, the author of By Blood We Live, I, Lucifer, and many other books. He was chosen by both Arena and The Times Literary Supplement (London) as one of Britain's best young novelists.

His new novel is LoveMurder.

Recently I asked Duncan about what he was reading. His reply:It’s a relief to be able to write this post. Or at least to be able to write it

Anna Stephens

Aug. 12th, 2017 12:05 am
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Posted by Marshal Zeringue

Anna Stephens is a UK-based author of gritty epic fantasy debut, Godblind, the first in a grimdark trilogy about a religious, political and ideological war, the people caught up in its midst, and just what, exactly, they are willing to do to win – is the cost ever too high when the fate of an entire people is at stake? She lives with her husband, Mark, an enormous book and movie and music

Natural Language

Aug. 11th, 2017 12:07 pm
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Posted by monbiot

If we want people to engage with the living world, we should stop using such constipated terms to describe our relationship to it.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 9th August 2017


If Moses had promised the Israelites a land flowing with mammary secretions and insect vomit, would they have followed him into Canaan? Though this means milk and honey, I doubt it.

So why do we use such language to describe the natural wonders of the world? There are examples everywhere, but I’ll illustrate the problem with a few from the UK. On land, places in which nature is protected are called “sites of special scientific interest”. At sea, they are labelled “no take zones” or “reference areas”. Had you set out to estrange people from the living world, you could scarcely have done better.

Even the term “reserve” is cold and alienating – think of what we mean when we use that word about a person. “The environment” is just as bad: it’s an empty word, that creates no pictures in the mind. Animals and plants are described as “resources” or “stocks”, as if they belong to us and their role is to serve us – a notion disastrously extended by the term “ecosystem services”.

Our assaults on life and beauty are also sanitised and disguised by the words we use. When a species is obliterated through human action, we use the term “extinction”. This conveys no sense of agency, and mixes up eradication by people with the natural turnover of species. It’s like calling murder “expiration”. “Climate change” also confuses natural variation with the catastrophic disruption we cause: a confusion deliberately exploited by those who deny our role. (Even this neutral term has now been banned from use in the US Department of Agriculture). I still see ecologists referring to “improved” pasture, meaning land from which all life has been erased other than a couple of plant species favoured for grazing or silage. We need a new vocabulary.

Words possess a remarkable power to shape our perceptions. The organisation Common Cause discusses a research project in which participants were asked to play a game. One group was told it was called the “Wall Street Game”, while the other was asked to play the “Community Game ”. It was the same game. But when it was called the Wall Street Game, the participants were consistently more selfish and more likely to betray the other players. There were similar differences between people performing a “Consumer Reaction Study” and a “Citizen Reaction Study”: the questions were the same, but when people saw themselves as consumers, they were more likely to associate materialistic values with positive emotions.

Words encode values, that are subconsciously triggered when we hear them. When certain phrases are repeated, they can shape and reinforce a worldview, making it hard for us to see an issue in a different light. Advertisers and spin doctors understand this all too well: they know they can trigger certain responses by using certain language. But many of those who seek to defend the living planet seem impervious to this intelligence.

The catastrophic failure by ecologists to listen to what cognitive linguists and social psychologists have been telling them has led to the worst framing of all: “natural capital”. This term informs us that nature is subordinate to the human economy, and loses its value when it cannot be measured by money. It leads almost inexorably to the claim made by the government agency Natural England: “The critical role of a properly functioning natural environment is delivering economic prosperity”.

By framing the living world in this way, we bury the issues that money cannot measure. In England and Wales, according to a parliamentary report, the loss of soil “costs around £1bn per year”. When we read such statements, we absorb the implicit suggestion that this loss could be redeemed by money. But the aggregate of £1 billion lost this year, £1 billion lost next year and so on is not a certain number of billions. It is the end of civilisation.

On Sunday evening, I went to see the beavers that have begun to repopulate the River Otter in Devon. I joined the people quietly processing up the riverbank to their lodge. The friend I walked with commented, “it’s like a pilgrimage, isn’t it?”. When we arrived at the beaver lodge, we found a crowd standing in total silence under the trees. When first a kingfisher appeared, then a beaver, you could read the enchantment and delight in every face. Our awe of nature, I believe, and the silence we must observe when we watch wild animals, hints at the origins of religion.

So why do those who seek to protect the living planet – who were doubtless inspired to devote their lives to it through the same sense of wonder and reverence – so woefully fail to capture these values in the way they name the world?

Those who name it own it. The scientists who coined the term “sites of special scientific interest” were – doubtless unwittingly – staking a claim: this place is important because it is of interest to us. Those who describe the tiny fragments of seabed in which no commercial fishing is allowed as “reference areas” are telling us that the meaning and purpose of such places is as a scientific benchmark. Yes, they play that role. But to most people who dive there, they represent much more: miraculous refuges, thronged with creatures that thrill and astonish.

Rather than arrogating naming rights to themselves, professional ecologists should recruit poets and cognitive linguists and amateur nature lovers to help them find the words for what they cherish. Here are a few ideas. Please improve and add to them.

If we called protected areas “places of natural wonder”, we would not only speak to people’s love of nature, but also establish an aspiration, that conveys what they ought to be. Let’s stop using the word environment, and use terms such as “living planet” and “natural world” instead, as they allow us to form a picture of what we are describing. Let’s abandon the term climate change and start saying “climate breakdown”. Instead of extinction, let’s adopt the word promoted by the lawyer Polly Higgins: ecocide.

We are blessed with a wealth of nature and a wealth of language. Let us bring them together and use one to defend the other.


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Posted by The Reader

Order The Crimson Queen HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Crimson Queen 

Alec Hutson's The Crimson Queen was our first SPFBO Semifinalist and as you can read in my review yesterday, it's really apparent why. Alec was kind enough to answer a few questions while preparing for his marriage. I owe him more than just a thank you for his time.  In this interview, you'll learn more about his beginnings on the writing path as well as how The Crimson Queen came into being. Read ahead and get to know more about Alec and  be sure to grab a copy of The Crimson Queen. You won't be sad when you do.

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To begin with, could you tell us a little about yourself, your background & your interests?

AH: Hi! Thanks for the questions! I grew up in a small town on the north shore of Massachusetts (the setting for one of HP Lovecraft’s short stories, actually). My aunt owns a rather large independent bookstore, and I was surrounded by books from a very young age. I always loved fantasy and have a memory of lugging Ed Greenwood’s Spellfire into my third-grade classroom for show-and-tell. 

I went to Carleton College and studied mostly history, majoring in political science. Up until my senior year I thought law school would be my route, but as graduation hurtled closer I realized that I didn’t really want to be a lawyer - it just seemed like a natural path for my skill-set (high school debate captain, good with the words, etc). So instead I applied to writing programs, and was accepted into the one at NC State run by John Kessel, the eminent science fiction author.

About this same time, I’d started dating a girl who was working at the same bookstore as me. Before we’d even met she was planning on going to Shanghai to teach English with her sister, and she convinced me to defer my writing program for a year and join her in China.

That was fifteen years ago, and I’m still in Shanghai (though the girl I arrived with is now happily married to a doctor in New York). The interval has been an exciting and fun time, to be sure, but I do wonder how my life would have been different if I’d taken the other branch back in 2003 and gone off to get my MFA.

Q] Can you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, what experience you went through in finishing your book, & why you chose to go the self-publishing route?

AH: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I remember writing, illustrating and binding a book in the first grade based off of the old King’s Quest computer games. I published fantasy stories in my high school’s literary magazine. I loved creating and having written, but I can’t say I have the same compulsion to write that some writers speak of. The act of writing isn’t enjoyable for me. It’s like a wrestling match, and while I do feel tremendous satisfaction when words I’m happy with are on the page, it’s also exhausting.

During my twenties I tried several times to write a book. I always got 50k words in or so, and that nagging little internal critic would convince me to throw it aside. For The Crimson Queen, I joined the story-sharing site Wattpad when I’d hit the word count where self-doubt usually came crashing down hardest and started posting chapters. The reception was quite good, and honestly it was the readers there that pushed me to finally finish.

After I had a first draft done I started researching the query process. For those who haven’t done it, it’s pretty horrible. Slaving away over a hooky blurb, then dispatching these queries to literary agents, most of whom will only glance at what you send them and dash off a form rejection (if they reply at all). My initial batch of 15 queries or so fizzled, though I did get asked for two partials – from the two biggest agencies I’d queried, actually.

One of my writer friends on Wattpad suggested I look into self-publishing. I hadn’t even considered this route, but I started reading articles by Hugh Howey and lurking on kboards. It quickly became very apparent to me that this was the future of publishing. I loved that I had absolute control over the story and its rights, and that my book’s success or failure would rest on my shoulders, not some faceless marketing department.

I began preparing my book for self-publication. It took me about two months to make The Crimson Queen, and I hit publish in early December, 2016. The response really floored me. My initial goal was to make back in 2017 my investment in putting the book back together, which was about 2k dollars. By the end of December, I’d already done that. Then in the middle of January a really fantastic indie author – Will Wight – was handed my book by a reader of his blog. He loved it and raved about it on Goodreads, Amazon, Twitter . . . . The Crimson Queen sort of exploded after that. At the end of January, I received an e-mail from the huge fantasy agency I’d queried 9 months before. They wanted the full manuscript of Queen, which I believe is a big step on the way to representation. I explained to the agent that I’d already self-published, and he said that that was okay, but I’d have to take down my book, it wouldn’t return to print if he took it on for at least 18 months, and he couldn’t guarantee an advance of more than 10k dollars (which I guess is sort of standard?). By this time – 6 weeks into self publishing – I was already fast approaching that number.

Q] Please elaborate how the genesis of The Crimson Queen occurred. How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea (if any)?

AH: Elements of the book began gestating back in my twenties, and several characters and scenes were taken from previously failed versions. I really wanted to write a classic fantasy story set in the kind of world I loved to read about, but without the Manichean duality that in my opinion renders a lot of fantasy kind of simplistic. I wanted to do a less-dark version of Game of Thrones. The characters of the Crimson Queen herself and Alyanna – and their conflict – were always there in previous iterations, as was Jan. Keilan – who became the viewpoint character – was a late addition.

When I finally set to writing the book it took me about 18 months to finish.

Q] Many writers have a muse, who directs their writing, and others do not seem to be affected the same way. Which group do you fall into? What is your main motivation and source of inspiration?

AH: I wouldn’t say I have a muse, unless it’s the writing of authors that I really love, like Mieville or Martin. My motivation, I suppose, was chasing that emotion I always loved when I read fantasy novels – kind of an upwelling in wonder, that feeling of being transported to a different realm. If I can create that same emotion in readers, then I’ll consider my book a success.

Q] The Crimson Queen is the first volume in the Raveling series. Could you give us a progress report on the next book, offer any blurb details about the sequel and outline your plans for the series as a whole?

AH: I’m about halfway through the second book in the series. I’m aiming to release it this winter, but I also won’t put it out until I’m completely satisfied, so that might be the spring. I can’t imagine it’ll take longer than that. In the second book – The Shadow King – the threat to the world becomes clearer, and in some ways the series settles down into a more traditional fantasy story.

Q] One of the things I noticed in your debut was a good mix of mythology that seem inspired by East, Central & North Asian legends. Could you tell us about the research which you undertook before attempting to write your debut? What were the things which you focused upon and any fascinating things that you found amidst your research?

AH: I’ve lived in China for fifteen years, so I have a familiarity with East Asian culture and history. I’m also in general just a bit of a history nerd, so bits and pieces of my own interests worm their way into certain cultures in my books. The Shan and their Empire of Swords and Flowers are very obviously based off of Tang dynasty China. Menekar is a more classical-era civilization. The Gilded Cities are similar to Italian city states, or perhaps more of a Hanseatic league-type merchant federation.

Most research I did was related to particular events – like when Nel begins to teach Keilan knife-fighting, I researched the basics of that. The last thing you want to do as a writer is break immersion by completely misrepresenting something that readers might be passionate about.

Q] Another curious bit about your debut was the presence of the mythological creature designs within TCQ & TMS (at the start of chapters and in the start). Is there any particular reason for their presence in these volumes? Also why those particular designs (dragon, manticore) for each volume?

AH: The internal formatting of my books is done by Colleen Shaheen of Write Dream Repeat book design. She’s wonderfully talented, and I love what she’s done with the books. She presented me with an assortment of designs and images, and I simply chose ones that I liked. The manticore obviously made sense given that my short story collection was named after a flash fiction piece inside called The Manticore’s Soiree – the rose and dragon design in The Crimson Queen I just thought looked great.

Q] I thoroughly enjoyed how your debut presented your own twist on several fantasy tropes. Particularly the titular character whom you kept sort of hidden from the POV characters as well as the reader & is only revealed in the last fourth quarter of the book. I liked how you subverted reader expectations by purposefully keeping The Crimson Queen as an enigma? Was this planned? Will we ever see what makes her tick and how she rose to power?

AH: I did want her to be an enigma. Mysteries keep readers reading. I’ve found it interesting how different readers have come away with very different impressions of her, from benevolent to ruthless, to both good and evil. I do plan on getting deeper into her character and her motivations – I have a backstory all primed for when it makes sense in the narrative to explore it.

Q] Talking about POV characters, you have written both mortal & near immortal ones. How do you get in the mindset for writing them? Do you write them one at a time? or do you write them all together?

AH: I wrote the chapters as they’re laid out in the book, so sometimes alternating points of view, sometimes the same character again. The most difficult POV for me to write was Keilan. I had to be true to the fact that he’s being thrust into a situation he doesn’t fully understand, and goes through much of the book in wide-eyed wonder at what’s going on around him. Some readers have remarked about a lack of agency with him, but for me, I couldn’t imagine a scenario where a fifteen-year-old boy seizes control of the situations he finds himself in. He’s an effective vehicle for exploring and explaining the world, I suppose. Alyanna was the most fun to write. She’s confident, arrogant, and powerful. A lover of beauty and life. Also extremely selfish. Just a fun character to explore and write about.

Q] Your book has an intriguing world mixed with some different geographical countries. What was your inspiration for the setting and what are your thoughts on world-building in general?

AH: Like a lot of fantasy books and worlds, the inspiration came from our world’s history. Most of the cultures are vaguely analogous to something familiar. I don’t think I broke new ground with the setting, but it’s exactly the kind of world I love to explore as a reader, so I was hoping others would find it compelling.

There’s also a certain way to present a fantasy world – in the language used, and the way far-off peoples and locations are referenced – that I think really deepens the fantasy reading experience. Let me give a few examples. Here’s one of my favorite openings, from The Phoenix and The Sword, one of the first Conan stories:

Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars - Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west.”

This is a world I want to explore. I get those little flutters in my stomach when I read about the ‘towers of spider-haunted mystery’ or ‘Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold.’ With The Crimson Queen I tried in parts to do the same thing – here’s a section from the very beginning, when Keilan is describing what he knows of the world beyond his village:

His mother had taught him so much. While most of the other villagers only knew about this tiny sliver of the world, their homes and the nearby town of Chale, the waters of the bay and the dun hills to the east, his mother had told him stories of the vastness that unfurled in every direction. Farther east, over the Bones of the World, lay the ancient cities of Menekar, where white lions curled at the feet of ruling satraps; to the far north was a frozen waste pocked by crumbling holdfasts locked in ice and sorcery; to the west the Gilded Cities glittered on the coast; and to the south, beyond the sea, was where the mysterious Shan ruled in their Empire of Swords and Flowers.

Or another example would be how I introduce the city of Menekar from the perspective of the Shan advisor to the emperor:

The peach rains had finally come.

For weeks now Menekar had been swaddled in a shroud of late summer heat, heavy and suffocating. Along the Aveline Way, in the shadow of the aqueduct that channeled water from mother Asterppa to the cisterns and gardens of the city, the bare feet of children had slapped the marble as they ran shrieking to play in the crowded fountains. Past them matrons and maidens alike had walked swaying to market, their jokkas unbound and bared breasts gleaming, hair coiled atop their heads so that the faint breath of a breeze might cool their necks. And elsewhere in the city, in shaded villas along the banks of the sluggish, silty Pandreth, the painted wives of satraps summering in the capitol had reclined on velvet couches, fanned by great feathers held by the hairless men of the Whispering Isles.

As summer had waxed, the days had lengthened, becoming more languorous, colors slowly seeping from a city bleached by the heat.

Then the spell had broken. As happened every year, something in the swollen air had burst, and the peach rains had finally come, sweeping over the city in lashing torrents. The patter of children’s feet had given way to the sound of falling raindrops; the hairless men of the Isles had set down their fans and bent to rub oils into the legs of their mistresses. The dust and filth of the hot dry summer months had been swept into the suddenly overflowing canals.

Menekar had been reborn, cleansed – for a short while, at least.

There’s a trend in fantasy toward realism and grit, and that’s really not where my writing leads. I’m going for that sense of wonder – I want to make the reader want to strap a sword to his or her side and go out to explore these places and have adventures.

Q] Please tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination and inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right. Similarly, are there any current authors you would like to give a shout out to?

AH: My conception of fantasy changed when I pulled A Game of Thrones off my bookstore’s shelf in 1996. It was probably the most formative reading experience of my life.

For the quality of their sentences I really respect Cormac McCarthy, Vladimir Nabakov, Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon, David Mitchell, China Mieville, Lucius Shepard, R Scott Bakker, John Crowley, and KJ Bishop, to name a few off the top of my head.

If I was to make a list of my favorite fantasy books they would be:

A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin

The Scar by China Mieville

The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Etched City by KJ Bishop

Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link (short stories)

The Jaguar Hunter by Lucius Shepard (short stories)

My exposure to self-published books is somewhat limited – before this spring, I’d never picked one up. Now I have a to-be-read list a mile high, and I’ve been extremely impressed with the quality of what I’ve tucked into so far. There’s a few indie gems I’ve picked up that I’d love to steer readers toward:

The Cradle series by Will Wight, starting with Unsouled. Will gave my book a tremendous boost soon after I published – I had never read him before that, but I devoured the (now three) books in his Cradle series. Incredibly inventive and accomplished fantasy. So much fun. If this series was picked up by a big 5 publisher it would be a NYT bestseller.

I love sword and sorcery, so I read The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble’s Braids by Michael McClung. It’s a wonderfully written adventure that I read in about two sittings.

And one science fiction plug – if you enjoyed The Hunger Games or Red Rising, try Age of Order by Julian North.

All three of these books I thought were better than the average title put out by New York publishing.

Q] Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?

AH: You’re welcome, and thank you for the wonderful questions! I guess I just also want to say thank you to all the readers who have read The Crimson Queen. I never imagined my book would be so well-received, and it’s great motivation to keep writing and improving my craft.

David Burr Gerrard

Aug. 10th, 2017 12:05 pm
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Posted by Marshal Zeringue

David Burr Gerrard is the author of The Epiphany Machine and Short Century. He teaches creative writing at the 92nd Street Y, The New School, and the Sackett Street Writers' Workshop. He lives in Queens, NY with his wife.

Recently I asked Gerrard about what he was reading. His reply:I was asked at a Q&A for my new novel The Epiphany Machine recently why I write speculative fiction rather than
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Posted by The Reader

Order The Crimson Queen HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Alec Hutson was born in the north-eastern part of the United States and from an early age was inculcated with a love of reading fantasy. He was the Spirit Award winner for Carleton College at the 2002 Ultimate Frisbee College National Championships. He has watched the sun set over the dead city of Bagan and rise over the living ruins of Angkor Wat. He grew up in a geodesic dome and a bookstore, and currently lives in Shanghai, China.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Long ago the world fell into twilight, when the great empires of old consumed each other in sorcerous cataclysms. In the south the Star Towers fell, swallowed by the sea, while the black glaciers descended upon the northern holdfasts, entombing the cities of Min-Ceruth in ice and sorcery. Then from the ancient empire of Menekar the paladins of Ama came, putting every surviving sorcerer to the sword and cleansing their taint from the land for the radiant glory of their lord.

The pulse of magic slowed, fading like the heartbeat of a dying man.

But after a thousand years it has begun to quicken again.

In a small fishing village a boy with strange powers comes of age...

A young queen rises in the west, fanning the long-smoldering embers of magic into a blaze once more...

Something of great importance is stolen - or freed - from the mysterious Empire of Swords and Flowers...

And the immortals who survived the ancient cataclysms bestir themselves, casting about for why the world is suddenly changing...

CLASSIFICATION: The Crimson Queen showcases the best of Robert Jordan’s worldbuilding skiils, laced with Terry Brooks’ fluid characterization and topped off with a pinch of David Gemmell’s heroic fantasy escapades.

FORMAT/INFO: The Crimson Queen is 422 pages long divided over forty-three POV titled chapters with a prologue and an epilogue. Narration is in the third person via Keilan Ferrisorn, Janus Balensor, Alyanna, Holy emperor Gerixes, Xin, Senacus, Wen Xenxing the black vizier, and Cein d’Kara. This is the first volume of the Raveling series.

December 3, 2016 marked the e-book & paperback publication of The Crimson Queen and it will be self-published by the author. Cover art and design is by Jeff Brown.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Crimson Queen by Alec Hutson is at first appearance a book that might cause your eyes to glaze over it. Its cover has an unusual shade of yellow in its background along with a generic appearance of an old city. That however would be your first mistake. This book since its release in late 2016 has been slowly making waves and was slotted in to the 30 books afforded to us. Of the first batch of books that I read, it was the best and hence was our first semi-finalist.

The story blurb again talks of an old cataclysm which shaped in the world into what it is currently. The main story opens in a very Wheel Of Time fashion with the prologue showcasing someone or something that is old, possibly immortal and talking of events that will change the world. The story then opens us by showcasing the life of Keilan Ferrisorn who lives in a small fishing village and has a sorrowful past that impedes his village life. Janus Balensorn is a person who we quickly learn has more to him than just a honeyed voice and an arresting manner. Senacus is a paladin of Ama and one of the Pure, a sect of Templar-like knights who have powers and seek to stamp out magic. Senacus’ path brings him in conflict with certain wielders of magic and his path to Ama will be sorely tested. There are a few more characters but that’s the gist of the protagonists who power the main plot threads.

The book has a strong mystery to almost every aspect of it. Firstly there’s the mystery of the world itself which is mentioned in the blurb. Secondly there’s the two characters Keilan and Jan (as he refers to himself constantly). Both these characters have mysterious tragedies in their past which fuel their behavior and there’s also the titular character who’s as slippery as they come. In fact the author builds up her mystique by not introducing her until the last quarter but at the same time we are constantly hearing about her exploits and her fame. Then there’s the other characters in the book who take on POV roles and are as intriguing as our two main protagonists. Even though it’s his debut, Alec Hutson has managed to write some solid characters. Sure they stick to fantasy tropes (orphan village boy, unknown traveler, and deadly warrior) but he writes them with a fresh perspective and make sure that they don’t seemed jaded. Case in point the book’s main protagonist (at least by POV chapter count) Keilan who is a half-orphan and pretty soon discovers how ignorance plays out among the scared rural populace. While this seems very generic in the fantasy landscape, Alec Huston has imbued enough freshness in to Keilan that you want to root for him and get invested in his past.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Alec has a real solid knack for writing engaging characters. Be they villains, heroes, or merely misguided ones, nearly all the folks we meet are fully formed personas who act and behave with their own agendas in mind. The book also has female POV characters and in fact they are the real mysteries of the story. One of them is the titular character and the other one, well you’ll have to read the book to know more about her. I must point out that at this point I’m very, very curious to know more about Cein d’Kara the noted Crimson Queen. Plus kudos to the author for presenting her  as a multi-faceted person who depending on which angle you view her from,  can be a tyrant or a savior or both. So very much like Dany if she had already conquered Westeros and now was eying Essos & Southros.

What I also thoroughly enjoyed about this book was the way the author introduced the world. There’s a solid mystery afoot about what happened over a millennia ago and how it has impacted the world that we are currently introduced to. The world map showcases the different regions and most fantasy readers will be easily be able to recognize the real-world facsimiles. Plus the author makes sure to slowly unveil aspects of the world and there are no big infodumps that threaten to derail the plot or the pace of the book. The story also visits quite a few locations listed in the map and while that seems very trope-ish, it doesn’t feel forced at all. The author also mentioned in his interview with us (to be posted tomorrow) about where he got his influences from but the world he creates is his own with touches of our world here and there.

In our current atmosphere of solidly grimdark books, this fantasy debut takes route less soiled. Alec Hutson’s world isn’t necessarily grim but neither is it a bed of roses. He doesn’t really take the gritty route but manages more of a traditional heroic fantasy route. This works to his favor as I believe writing a grimdark story just for the heck of it, would certainly fall flat. Here I believe the author set to write a fantasy story more in line with the late 80s & 90s fantasy titles which were epic in content, but not grimdark as the current trend is. I can’t exactly say that Alec Hutson’s writing is like certain author X or writer Y but what I can surmise is that he brings to the table certain elegant qualities.

Imagine the best of Robert Jordan’s worldbuilding skiils, laced with Terry Brooks’ fluid characterization and topped off with a pinch of David Gemmell’s heroic fantasy escapades. Then you get an indication of the fun that awaits when you crack open The Crimson Queen. I’m sure Alec Hutson might disagree with my estimation but honestly it’s very clear that he’s his own writer and wants to write a certain kind of story. Were there any drawbacks to this story, yes there are some flaws. Plot wise this story doesn’t offer anything new that fantasy readers haven’t seen so far. The author incorporates lots of fantasy tropes and that might be a turn off for certain readers. One can even make a premise that the book’s pace falters a bit in the middle but it’s only a mild stumble and then picks up the pace as it hurtles towards its conclusion. Another point might be that there’s a lot of unexplained things introduced but since this book one of the Raveling series, I can’t really hold the author to that.

CONCLUSION: Alec Hutson's The Crimson Queen is a rare indie gem, sure nowadays we are unearthing more and more of them than say 4-5 years ago but it doesn’t take any sheen off the efforts that have gone into completing this one. The Crimson Queen is a fantasy debut that will have the reader rooting for its main characters, enjoying the plot mysteries and wanting the next book desperately. That is a hallmark of a true winner and I don’t think there’much more to say beyond that.

Michael F. Haspil

Aug. 9th, 2017 01:05 pm
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Posted by Marshal Zeringue

Michael F. Haspil is a geeky engineer and nerdy artist. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, he had the opportunities to serve as an ICBM crew commander and as a launch director at Cape Canaveral. The art of storytelling called to him from a young age and he has plied his craft over many years and through diverse media. He has written original stories for as long as he can remember and has
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Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

This post has been updated.

It's been a while since I wrote about America Star Books, née PublishAmerica, one of the most prolific author mills in America (also the subject of scores of author complaints, and the recipient of an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau). So what's been going on?

In May 2015, ASB/PA co-founder Larry Clopper filed suit against PA/ASB, co-founder Willem Meiners, and several others, alleging breach of contract, among other causes, and demanding dissolution of the company and appointment of a receiver. After over a year of legal maneuvering--which included the appointment of an appraiser, a counterclaim by Meiners/PA/ASB, and the issuance of subpoenas by Clopper to various PA/ASB banks and creditors--the parties agreed in July 2016 to stipulate to dismissal with prejudice.

I don't yet know what was in the settlement--I've put in a public records request, and will report back when I get the documents--but over the duration of the lawsuit and afterward, things have changed at PA/ASB.

Sometime after September 2015, ASB's About Us page--which previously had touted its founding "by book publishers with a long history of publishing experience"--began to reference the "new" America Star Books: "Run by its employees, from the bottom up....The company has a management, but there's not much top-down going on at America Star Books." (Here's what the page looks like today.)

At some point after September 2016, all mention of the translation program with which PA/ASB launched its 2014 name change was removed (here's what the website used to say about that, courtesy of the invaluable Internet Archive; here's what it says now). And in November 2016, PA/ASB put a hold on submissions "throughout [sic] the end of 2016."

That hold appears to have become permanent. Here's how the submission page looks today:

And here's what was briefly posted at a now non-working ASB web address:
America Star Books no longer accepts new authors. ASB Promotions will morph into Paperback Services in the near future....Paperback Services works side by side on location with Paperback Radio, America's only live 24/7 station about books and writers.

Left unsaid is the fact that Paperback Radio and Paperback Services are both owned by PA/ASB co-founder Willem Meiners (Paperback Services has a web address that goes nowhere at the moment). In the kind of feedback loop that's common with vanity publishers, items from Meiners' Paperback Radio (ads"experts lists"), along with a variety of "promotional" and other services from Meiners' Paperback Services, were offered for sale to PA/ASB authors in the Meiners-owned PA/ASB webstore.

That's not all. More signs of change/trouble at PA/ASB:

- According to Amazon, ASB was issuing books pretty regularly through the beginning of 2017, albeit at a reduced rate from previous years (around 10-15 per month). Since mid-May, it has issued just two titles.

- ASB currently has three open liens against it from the Maryland Dept. of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, totaling $50,754.

- As of this writing, some ASB URLs are disabled: www.americastarbooks.net no longer works, nor does www.store.americastarbooks.pub, which used to host the PA/ASB bookstore and promotional "services" store (here are some examples of those services, courtesy of the Internet Archive). ASB's Facebook page also appears to be defunct (unless they've blocked me, which is possible). The PublishAmerica URL, which used to re-direct to America Star Books, now directs again to the old PA website (which hasn't been updated since 2013, but still has an open submissions portal).

- There's a bookstore link on the ASB website, but it doesn't work. PA/ASB books are still for sale at online retailers, but the PA/ASB bookstore doesn't appear to be online anywhere at any web address.

Is this really the end of America Star Books / PublishAmerica? Hard to say. There are rumors of bankruptcy, but I've searched on PACER and I've found no sign of any bankruptcy filings.

Questions remain. If ASB does disappear, what will happen to the books and authors currently under contract? If ASB Promotions, or Paperback Services, or whatever it winds up calling itself, survives as a separate entity, will spammer-in-chief Jackie Velnoskey continue her prolific program of email solicitations and comment spam?

Stay tuned.

UPDATE 8/14/17: ASB's one remaining web address now returns an account suspended message.
As far as I know, ASB/PA hasn't sent out any notifications or communications as to what's going on.

Authors, if you get any kind of notice or email from ASB, would you please contact me? Thanks.

UPDATE 8/19/17: I'm getting emails from authors wondering what to do. What happens with their books that are under contract? If ASB is really dead, can they take their books and publish elsewhere?

Right now, in my opinion, that wouldn't be wise.

All signs point to ASB being gone. Its website has vanished. Phones aren't being answered. Emails are bouncing. Putting those things together with the signs of trouble that I've discussed above, if I had to guess, I'd guess that ASB is history.

But...there's been no official announcement of a closure. I just checked again and there's still no sign of any bankruptcy filings, either under the business names or the owners' names. And ASB/PA books are still for sale new at online booksellers. I think there's at least the possibility that ASB might find a way to sell or otherwise transfer its huge catalog to some other entity (which many of the ASB/PA contracts I've seen allow it to do without asking authors' permission). Another possibility: ASB/PA books might somehow be folded in with Willem Meiners' Paperback enterprises.

Bottom line: we don't actually know what is going on, or what will happen. Until we do, it would be risky to take books that are under contract with either ASB or PA and try to re-publish them. The issue isn't just the possibility that ASB/PA or its successor might come after you, but that any new publisher or self-publishing service will require you to have full power to grant publishing rights. If you're currently under exclusive contract to a different publisher, and it's not clear that publisher is out of business, you don't have that power.

I'm also hearing from ASB authors who've paid for services they haven't received. My advice would be to immediately file a dispute with your credit card company or with PayPal (depending on how you paid). I've heard from a number of Tate Publishing authors who got money back this way. Feel free to use this post as justification.

Keep watching this blog for updates.

Candace Ganger

Aug. 8th, 2017 07:05 am
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Posted by Marshal Zeringue

Candace Ganger is a mother, blogger, as well as a contributing writer for sites like Teen Vogue and Hello Giggles. She's also an obsessive marathoner and continual worrier. Aside from having past lives as a singer, nanotechnology website editor, and world’s worst vacuum sales rep, she’s also ghostwritten hundreds of projects for companies, best-selling fiction and award-winning nonfiction


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