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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Interview with Alison Sinclair (author of Contagion: Eyre)

Good morning, all! Joining us today in the Ruins is Alison Sinclair, author of the fantasy Darkborn Trilogy, as well as Contagion: Eyre, the second book of the science fiction Plague Confederacy series.

Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Alison. For those who haven't yet had a chance to enjoy the Darkborn trilogy, the Plague Confederacy, or your other work, please tell us a little about yourself and what we can expect.

Ask me where I’m from, and you get an itinerary; I’d moved across the Atlantic three times before I was sixteen, and have continued to wander since, mainly between Canada and the UK, but with a stint in Boston. I went from the cradle to science, first physics and chemistry, then biochemistry, then medicine, clinical research and health technology assessment. I’ve written ever since I could hold a pen, certainly before I figured out the spelling thing, or the left hand margin thing, but it took me until 1995 to publish my first novel.

The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing. In your case you've worked with multiple publishers, both small and large, from Roc to Bundoran Press. What has your ongoing journey to publication been like and how has it changed over time?

I sent my first novel (by post) to a publisher in New York (which at that age, and as a Batman fan, I conflated with Gotham city) when I was nine, and got a very nice rejection letter in return. I wish I still had the letter, because I’d be curious as to whether I recognized the name of that long-ago editorial assistant.

The world that would become Burdania, the world of Legacies was something that came to me very early. I was writing stories set in it from the time I was a young teenager, but not thinking in terms of publication. My early writing showed my early influences: science fiction and fantasy and CanLit. I barely knew that SF magazines existed, so I kept sending SF short stories to literary magazines, with predictable results. When I moved back to the UK in 1989, I was more equipped to explore the SF scene, and by then I was working seriously on Legacies. The second editor I sent it to liked it enough to be encouraging, and by the time I had incorporated her recommendations and sent it back, she had moved to the newly launched Orion. It was published three years later in hardcover and trade paperback, to good reviews and a spot on the Locus Best First Novels of the year list. That same year I moved back to Canada to study medicine, a good move for my science career, but not a good move for my writing career, since the Internet in its present form was only just getting started, and it took 18 months to sort out the distribution problems so people here to could buy the books. But I wrote and published Blueheart and Cavalcade before I finished medical school, and then Orion merged with Golancz, and they decided not to take on my fourth novel.

I finished that novel, which is the one with unsolved technical problems, then wrote Breakpoint: Nereis and Contagion: Eyre. By that time I had an agent, and she sent Breakpoint and then Contagion to editors in the US. Fantasy was dominating the market, and while I had favourable comments on the novels, the decision to buy went against them. I had been playing with the beginning of Darkborn and when I sent to my agent, she strongly encouraged me to go on with it. So I did, and it found a home with ROC in four months. I wrote Lightborn and Shadowborn while doing a MSc in Epidemiology and freelance medical writing. All of these came out in trade paperback, followed by mass market, and ebook.

Then I decided I was going to find a way to get Breakpoint and Contagion into print, and began approaching small presses. On a visit to Bakka, the Toronto specialist SF bookstore, I’d been amazed to discover that many authors I had read in the ‘90s and had lost track of now publishing with small presses. Hayden Trenholm had taken over Bundoran Press with the explicit intent of specializing in SF books, and he took on Breakpoint and Contagion. Breakpoint came out last April, and Contagion just came out this week, in trade paperback and ebook.

Genre awards have been in the news a lot lately, especially with the controversy over the Hugos. Looking back on Cavalcade’s nomination for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, what are your thoughts on the awards process and on what value they offer?

The Clarke Award nomination came utterly out of the blue—the book came out in November, and experience with Blueheart had told me that nobody would see it on the shelves until after Christmas, displaced by Christmas tie-ins. I was at work when I picked up the email congratulating me in terms that seemed to assume I knew, thought 'OK, that’s fallen through from a parallel universe" (because one does), logged off, and trotted away to run down some patient information. Needless to say, when I confirmed it belonged to my universe, I was very pleased, and still am very pleased. People who know tell me that awards do not necessarily boost sales, but they do help visibility. And there is a sense of validation, that a group of people all agree that a book is good.

I’ve also been on the other side, as a juror for the Sunburst Award, and gained an appreciation of what a challenge that is. I’ve never been so up on the field as I was that year, and I’ve never thought so hard about all the axes of measurement for quality, and about how much I can factor in my own taste.

You’ve also been very active in attending conventions over the years, both as an attendee and as a guest/panelist. How has that experience impacted your writing and your career, and what tips do you have for authors looking to maximize their convention experience?

I think I’d be going to conventions as a reader, even if I had never written a word, once I got over the initial hump of knowing nobody. In fact, I’d probably be going to more conventions, since I wouldn’t be thinking of conventions as being in direct competition with prime writing time (weekends). Since I don’t work in an arts field, and I have moved around so much, conventions are my opportunity to talk books and media exhaustively and in person with people I seldom see otherwise. And buy books. As for tips, it’s a bit like writing: I only know what works for me. Don’t over schedule (I regularly fail at this one). Avoid back-to-back paneling over lunch. If you can’t do without sleep, pay attention to where your room is relative to the party floor. Prepare for panels but recognize they are alchemical mixes and may bubble up in unexpected directions. Mornings can be a great time to get out and explore. Always check your customs allowance.

To get back to Contagion: Eyre and the Plague Confederacy series, I know you’re very interested in medicine and science fiction, so what can you tell us about his this series developed for you?

The series started out to be one book. I’ve been a Star Trek fan since getting over my terror of “The Devil in the Dark”, and wanted to write a book about a starship. So how could I work in the medical aspect? … I was taking a course on epidemiology at the time, and had the idea of having the Waiora and its sisters out to make contact with colony worlds that had been cut off for a century and a half by a plague. A century and a half was long enough for the colony worlds to have figured out how to survive by their own efforts, but not too long for them to have forgotten their origins. By the time I had finished the first novel, Breakpoint, I knew I wanted to do more of them.

Now there’s also a religious theme to the series as well, with the theocracy of the Caducean Order. How does that play into or interact with your thoughts on medicine and science, and what kind of conflict does that create in the novel?

Contagion: Eyre originally started out as a near-future dystopia. My notes don’t capture the shift, but I do know that between the original conception and the writing in 2003, 9/11 happened, which brought public religion to the forefront of political concerns and writers’ imaginations. I had already established Teo as religious, and as someone whose duty as a physician had come into direct conflict with the dictates of her own faith when the re-contact teams had arrived on her own world. One set of conflicts built out from Teo’s strong principles of faith and medicine, which set her in direct opposition to the Caducean Order. Another set of conflicts built out around Ceric. He’s a young intellectual and skeptic, extremely well-born, who nevertheless runs afoul of the Order’s attitude that skepticism is a mental illness.

For those reader who know you best from your Darkborn trilogy, the shift in genres and tone to the Plague Confederacy can be a bit jarring. Did you sit down to deliberately write something different, or did it just naturally evolve from your own interests?

As originally written, the Plague Confederacy novels were a third longer, with more description of the worlds, and more digression in my characters’ interactions. They had to be stripped down to suit the preferred lengths of midlist SF, and then small press submission limits, so relative to my first novels and to the Darkborn trilogy, they are much more spare in style. But every bit as complex, I suspect, and they show the same preoccupations.

In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to-date?

If I’m being honest, a lot of the times it’s simply that they like it. Particularly just after I’ve finished a book, all I can see is the places where my execution fell short of my ambition. Ursula Le Guin talked about the difference between the book in the head and the book on the page, and I know exactly what she means. I’m the one who knows how many times I rewrote that scene, or how that character fought with me the whole time, or how I practically had to tie myself to the chair to make myself stop running away from that difficult chapter.

Thanks again for stopping by, Alison. Best of luck with the series!

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About the Author

Alison Sinclair is the author of the science fiction novels Legacies, Blueheart, and Cavalcade (nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award). She released the first novel in the Plague Confederacy series last year, Breakpoint: Nereis. She currently lives in Ottawa where she is working on the next novel in the Plague Confederacy.

Alison Sinclair Website : Twitter


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About the Book

Contagion: Eyre
by Alison Sinclair

Eyre has survived the collapse of the galactic empire better than most of the lost colonies with a central government, a world trade network, an effective medical system - and a pathological fear of death. When the medical re-contact ship, Waiora, arrives with its dual mission of finding the plague and stabilizing surviving colonies, its crew is quickly immersed in a religious schism that threatens their mission and their lives. As a mysterious contagion threatens lives and incites revolution against the Caducean Order, the Waiorans must choose between the success of their mission and their most deeply held values. This is the second volume of The Plague Confederacy series from Alison Sinclair.

Paperback, 290 pages
Published April 25th 2015 by Bundoran Press Publishing

A to Z Challenge: Zero-G Spot

This year, I am once again taking part in the April adventure that is the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it's basically about 26 posts (we don't post Sundays), preferably on a theme, blogging our way through the alphabet from A to Z. My theme this year is all about TV Tropes, celebrating random tropes with some sort of weird, odd, unusual, controversial, or taboo element that appeals to my warped sense of literary adventure.

Continuing Concluding the theme, we have Zero-G Spot (check out the page for a complete definition, but your first guess is probably pretty close to the mark). After a quick perusal of the Literature examples provided, I've gotta go with:

"Lois McMaster Bujold's Falling Free: Inverted when a girl specifically engineered for free fall (with a second pair of arms instead of legs) wonders how 'downsiders' can have sex without bouncing apart, since they have no lower hands to grip their lovers with. Her downsider lover explains that gravity has its uses. She also points out that condoms sure beat chasing bodily fluids around the compartment with a hand-vac."

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper by David Barnett

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper by David Barnett
Expected publication: October 13, 2015 by Tor Books

In an alternate ninteenth century where a technologically advanced Britain holds sway over most of the known world and the American Revolution never happened, young Gideon Smith is firmly established as the Hero of the Empire.

Back in London, Gideon and his colleagues: journalist Aloysius Bent, airship pilot Rowena Fanshawe, and Maria, the mechanical girl to whom Gideon has lost his heart, are dragged into a case that is confounding the Metropolitan Police. For the city is on the edge of mass rioting due to the continuing reign of terror by the serial killer known only as Jack the Ripper, who is rampaging though London's less salubrious quarters.

While chasing the madman, a villain from their past strips Gideon Smith of his memory and is cast adrift in the seedy underbelly of London, where life is tough and death lurks in every shadowy alley.

With mob rule threatening to engulf London, the Empire has never needed its hero more...but where is Gideon Smith?

Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper is the latest in David Barnett's riproaring steampunk adventures about a Britain that never was...but should have been.


Looking quite a ways ahead again this week, but with David having just revealed the cover, now seems as good a time as any to celebrate the return of Gideon Smith. The first two books in the series have been a ton of fun, and the Ripper storyline is one I've been waiting for him to get back to. Can't wait to land an early copy of this!

A to Z Challenge: Your Normal Is Our Taboo

This year, I am once again taking part in the April adventure that is the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it's basically about 26 posts (we don't post Sundays), preferably on a theme, blogging our way through the alphabet from A to Z. My theme this year is all about TV Tropes, celebrating random tropes with some sort of weird, odd, unusual, controversial, or taboo element that appeals to my warped sense of literary adventure.

Continuing the theme, we have Your Normal Is Our Taboo (check out the page for a complete definition, but your first guess is probably pretty close to the mark). After a quick perusal of the Literature examples provided, I've gotta go with:

"In The Player of Games, the hero, who is from a Free-Love Future, is perceived as odd because he's fairly monogamous, is strictly heterosexual and has no interest in having a sex change."

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A to Z Challenge: Xenafication

This year, I am once again taking part in the April adventure that is the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it's basically about 26 posts (we don't post Sundays), preferably on a theme, blogging our way through the alphabet from A to Z. My theme this year is all about TV Tropes, celebrating random tropes with some sort of weird, odd, unusual, controversial, or taboo element that appeals to my warped sense of literary adventure.

Continuing the theme, we have Xenafication (check out the page for a complete definition, but your first guess is probably pretty close to the mark). After a quick perusal of the Literature examples provided, I've gotta go with:

"This is the whole point of The Princess Series by Jim C. Hines. Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty - all Distressed Damsels in the original tales - form a Charlie's Angels-esque Action Girl Power Trio who kick ass throughout the fairytale world. Other alumni includes The Little Mermaid - who is the homicidally insane warlord and ruler of the merfolk - and Little Red Riding Hood, who is a psychotic serial-killer/professional assassin."

Monday, April 27, 2015

Horror Review: Car Nex: The Evil One by E.R. Robin Dover

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. While I make every attempt to avoid spoilers, please be aware that an ARC synopsis, press release, or review request may disclose details that are not revealed in the published cover blurb.

Car Nex (Carnivore from the Nexus) is a shared world/shared monster series created by Terry M. West, who has quickly become a favorite indie author here in the Ruins. You certainly don't have to read any of the previous Car Nex tales to enjoy this (it all begins with What Price Gory), but be prepared to find the tiles mentioned in the Forward creeping into your list of upcoming reads.

First up to put his own spin on Car Nex with The Evil One is E.R. Robin Dover. Unfortunately, it's a story that never lives up to its promise. It opens with some fantastic scenes that really do well to establish the characters and establish the scenario. We're presented with a husband and wife who have a very House of Cards style relationship, complete with an admission of adultery and honest suggestion of polygamy, but with a different sort of twist on faith and culture. We're introduced to a precocious young daughter who is both older and more mature than her years, and an elderly mother who seems to be losing her grip on reality.

On top of this, the mayor is involved in funding an underground terrorist movement, one that he's betrayed, and which appears to be deeply embedded in all levels of life - from schools, to government, to big business. When those terrorists come calling, demanding revenge for that financial betrayal, the elderly mother steps in to suggest that sacrifice is needed to prevent the larger loss of life. She gives the mayor access to the Car Nex, allowing him to summon the demon, and then gives her own life to feed its hunger for blood as it comes through into our world.

It's a shame that Dover seems so impatient to get to the end. Just as it's getting really interesting, we skip over all the details that would have made for a fascinating novel or novella. In a classic case of 'tell' rather than 'show', we're told the New York is at war, but it's not clear whose side the terrorists are on or precisely how it all started. We don't get to see how the terrorists launch the conflict, we don't get to see how citizens respond, and we don't get to see how the military becomes involved. What's more, we never learn the details of 'how' and 'why' it's all happening, what the terrorists want, or what the mayor expected. Similarly, we're told that Car Nex is devouring souls across town, but we don't actually get to see it happen, except in a few snippets.

It's a shame, because it all began so well, with such potential, and because the final scene makes for such a powerful climax. There's just so much missing, so much left off the page, that the gaps and the holes overwhelm the tale.


Kindle Edition, 25 pages
Expected publication: May 8th 2015 by Pleasant Storm Entertainment, Inc.

A to Z Challenge: Weapons That Suck

This year, I am once again taking part in the April adventure that is the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it's basically about 26 posts (we don't post Sundays), preferably on a theme, blogging our way through the alphabet from A to Z. My theme this year is all about TV Tropes, celebrating random tropes with some sort of weird, odd, unusual, controversial, or taboo element that appeals to my warped sense of literary adventure.

Continuing the theme, we have Weapons That Suck (check out the page for a complete definition, but your first guess is probably pretty close to the mark). After a quick perusal of the Literature examples provided, I've gotta go with:

"The eponymous heroine of C. J. Cherryh's Morgaine Cycle wields a sword which, when unsheathed, opens up at its tip a rift in the fabric of reality which sucks up things and sends them to nothingness. Useful for blocking arrows, destroying castle gates, and killing people."

Saturday, April 25, 2015

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

A nice balance this week, with lots of reading, our usual features, and even a few special guests:
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Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

On the review front, a few new digital additions this week, the first two of which are destined to be WTF Friday reads. Car Nex: The Evil One by E.R. Robin Dover promises a NYC mayor who summons a creature of Hell to destroy the underground terrorist group he's been secretly financing, while F.U.B.A.R. by Joe King features a punk rock witch, a werewolf, a medium, a ghost, and a female Japanese ninja facing off against a globe spanning, world devouring evil.


The last addition offers up a chance chance to read an author I've been curious about for some time now. George MacDonald Fraser is best-known for his legendary Flashman series, but we're beginning our literary encounter with Captain in Calico, featuring an illustrious eighteenth-century pirate who marauded the Caribbean seas, lost his love to the governor of the Bahamas, and rediscovered his passion with famous Irish pirate Anne Bonney.


On the just-because front, I also nabbed a handful of Kindle freebies this week featuring ghosts, tentacles, elves, and archaeologists.



And, finally, I picked up my Book Outlet shipment of 'Daves' today - the Star Trek cross-over omnibus from David Mack, my missing Lord of the Isles volume, and a nice box set of first three Safehold novels.


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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

I took some time away from the new-release review schedule the past two weeks to work through my first five titles in the #SPFBO. Now that I'm back, I've decided to throw caution to the wind, ignoring release dates, and just reading what catches my eye.

• No Return by Zachary Jernigan
This is a book that somehow slipped by me when it was first released, but the blurb for the upcoming sequel caught my attention. It's a different sort of fantasy epic, a violent, sexually-charged, apocalyptic sci-fi/fantasy hybrid . . . and I'm enjoying it.

• The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán
Anybody who thought I could sit on this until closer to the release date is crazy! It's a book that gets off to a rollicking, dinosaur-laden start, with some of the most inventive battles I've ever read, interesting characters, intricate conspiracies, and a biting edge to the narrative.


What's topping your shelves this week?

A to Z Challenge: Vagina Dentata

This year, I am once again taking part in the April adventure that is the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it's basically about 26 posts (we don't post Sundays), preferably on a theme, blogging our way through the alphabet from A to Z. My theme this year is all about TV Tropes, celebrating random tropes with some sort of weird, odd, unusual, controversial, or taboo element that appeals to my warped sense of literary adventure.

Continuing the theme, we have Vagina Dentata (check out the page for a complete definition, but your first guess is probably pretty close to the mark). After a quick perusal of the Literature examples provided, I've gotta go with:

"A lengthy sequence in American Gods culminates in a succubus-like reinvention of Bilquis the fertility goddess/the Queen of Sheba devouring a man whole through her sexual organs. There is later mention of a young recently-enslaved African girl (a twin, and thereby believed to have magic powers) convincing a would-be rapist that she had this."

Friday, April 24, 2015

WTF Friday: The House of Blood by Wayne C. Rogers

Every once in a while, as the mood strikes me, I like to indulge in those titles that are a bit odd . . . a bit different . . . a bit bizarre . . . and a bit freaky. These are books that don't get a lot of press, and which rarely get any retail shelf space.



They're often an underground of sort of literature, best shared through guilty whispers, and often with embarrassed grins. These are our WTF Friday reads!

For this week's feature we are once again welcoming Sally back, this time with a very dark piece of erotic horror that so deftly captures the spirit of WTF Friday.


Deny it if you will but, somewhere, deep inside each of us, is that one secret fantasy that we long to explore. No matter how prim and proper we may appear on the surface, we all have that one fantasy that leaves us feeling conflicted and torn every time we consider it. With The House of Blood, Wayne C. Rogers explores one man's torment when those darkest of fantasies are exploited by a cruel, mysterious force of supernatural evil.

Chris is a successful horror novelist, married to the woman of his dreams, and deeply submissive to her on a level most of us cannot even imagine.This isn't 50 Shades playtime - this is a very real, very deep sort of power exchange. Their relationship is serious and intense, and occasionally borders on the extreme, but it is what they both crave. Ironically, as submissive as he is to his wife, Chris is also an unrepentant womanizer, and it is that weakness that initially leads them into their supernatural torment . . . although I think you'll agree the punishment is far worse than the crime.

Initially, it is Chris who is drawn to the creepy old mansion on Palomino Drive, which he believes presents the perfect image to his fans. Once owned by the infamous Lady Anne, a notoriously cruel dominatrix who is rumored to have whipped more than one husband to death, it is said to be haunted by more than just its tortured past. While it is not at all what Katherine had in mind, the more she learns of its history, the more she falls under its spell (quite literally). As she opens herself more and more to the spirit of Lady Anne, Katherine begins pushing the boundaries of her already unorthodox marriage far beyond any previously assumed limitations. Whereas she used to be content to leave a few temporary marks upon her husband, her punishments quickly escalate into relentless, merciless whippings and canings that leave Chris bedridden and all-but-crippled for days.

If this were just another work of sadomasochistic erotica, Chris would likely be left spiritually and emotionally broken, with the suggestion that it was his proper place all along. Similarly, if this were just another work of erotic fantasy, there would be no morning-after regrets or repercussions to their marriage. Instead, the world that Rogers has so carefully crafted here has real-life consequences for every action. It is that brutal intrusion of reality into the depraved fantasy that makes Lady Anne's supernatural evil so insidious. Those consequences serve to remind us that this is a serious horror novel, and one in which no ghost so cruel, no fiendish force so determined, is ever going to settle for anything less than the finality of death. What began as a simple marital conflict soon escalates into a supernatural battle of wills, leaving Chris its helpless victim.

The supernatural element here is superb. In a house filled with ghosts, it is often hard to tell what is real and what is imagined. As much as we might like to believe that the phantom orgies, ghostly murders, and incorporeal torments are merely the figments of a horror author's own overactive imagination, there is no questioning the blood, the bruises, and the broken bones. They may very well be the result of some kind of subconscious self-harm, or they may be evidence of Chris' supernatural submission. Regardless, his experiences are truly horrifying, and the deeper he descends into the pits of depravity, the more he fights to escape the house's control, the guiltier we feel for having enjoyed any earlier titillation at his expense.

Make no mistake, The House of Blood is for mature readers only, and is definitely not for everyone. This is a book that goes to some very dark places, but it's so wonderfully put together that you just have to let it lead you along, no matter how uncomfortable the leash. Rogers has crafted a remarkably well-written novel that superbly meshes the arousal of fetish erotica with the fear of extreme horror. It is a difficult mix to manage, but he does a superb job of getting into our heads as well as our beds. Readers who enjoy the darker, more visceral works of authors like Clive Barker, Richard Laymon, and Edward Lee, will certainly appreciate the appeal here.


Published January 24th 2013 by Smashwords Edition

A to Z Challenge: Unspecified Apocalypse

This year, I am once again taking part in the April adventure that is the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it's basically about 26 posts (we don't post Sundays), preferably on a theme, blogging our way through the alphabet from A to Z. My theme this year is all about TV Tropes, celebrating random tropes with some sort of weird, odd, unusual, controversial, or taboo element that appeals to my warped sense of literary adventure.

Continuing the theme, we have Unspecified Apocalypse (check out the page for a complete definition, but your first guess is probably pretty close to the mark). After a quick perusal of the Literature examples provided, I've gotta go with:

"Perdido Street Station series. The khepri of the Bas-Lag novels fled their native continent en masse to escape a disaster known as "the Ravening". Whatever it was, it traumatized their kind so completely that none of the survivors of their 25-year sea journey to Bas-Lag ever passed on the details of the catastrophe, or of the ancient khepri culture it destroyed, to their descendants."

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Interview with Tamara Thorne & Alistair Cross (authors of The Cliffhouse Haunting)

Good morning, all! Joining us in the Ruins today for a suitably rainy, foggy, chilly April morning are Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross, here to talk about their latest collaboration, The Cliffhouse Haunting.

Q: Thanks to both of you for taking the time to stop by today. For those who haven't yet had a chance to enjoy The Cliffhouse Haunting, The Ghosts of Ravencrest, or any of your solo works, please tell us a little about yourselves and what we can expect.

We are lifelong lovers of books, ghosts, and writing. We've come together to have even more fun scaring and thrilling ourselves and, we hope, our readers. The Ghosts of Ravencrest is a gothic serial novel that is scary, sexy, and filled with more ghosts than the Haunted Mansion. It pays homage to everything gothic from Rebecca to Dark Shadows. The Cliffhouse Haunting is a big horror novel that takes place in a mountain lodge full of strange guests, some living, some dead. In addition, a phantom called the Blue Lady has joined forces with a serial killer and together, they’re creating violence and havoc that local law enforcement - and the hotel owners - can’t even understand, let alone solve.

Q: We’ll get back to the books in a moment, but as both a horror reader and a haunted tour guide (best job I ever had), I have to ask you about Haunted Nights LIVE! How did the show come about, and what’s involved in preparing for a show?

We were asked to be guests on Authors on the Air with Pam Stack. After our interview, Pam made us an offer we couldn’t refuse: To have our own show, with her as the producer. Thorne & Cross: Haunted Nights LIVE! is a weekly one-hour walk on the dark side where we discuss horror and the paranormal with bestselling authors, renowned paranormal investigators, and even occasional crime buffs and psychics. To prepare for the show, we gather a list of questions we definitely want to ask the guest. For the most part, we try to let the show flow naturally and conversationally and enjoy seeing where it goes.

Q: You have an impressive list of guests (including Douglas Clegg, Chet Williamson, and Elizabeth Massie), with even more scheduled (including Christopher Rice, Richard Christian Matheson, and Jonathan Maberry), but is there one guest you’ve been chasing, one guest you absolutely have to land?

We’re pretty amazed by our guest list already. There were a few names we really wanted - Charlaine Harris, Christopher Moore, Christopher Rice, RC Matheson - and we got them. We haven’t actually chased anyone, but we’d love to chat with Stephen King. Who wouldn’t?

Q: Okay, as promised, back to the books! If we can begin with you, Alistair, your debut novel was published by Damnation Books, LLC in 2012, with your collaborations with Tamara beginning in 2014. What was your journey to publication like, and how has it changed with the two of you working together?

My journey to publication was much like anyone’s: Long and hard. I met Tamara just as I received my first “YES,” and by the time that book was released, Tamara and I were discussing doing a collaboration. I was honored to write with her, and we quickly found that our styles meshed in a smooth effective way, making it impossible for us to stop after just one novel together. We still have our solo projects, but we work together in our virtual office every day for at least eight hours regardless of what we’re each writing. We’ve always had more than one book in the works. That, along with fantastic interviews like this one, keeps things from getting stale. Currently, we’re juggling four projects between the two of us.

Q: Your history goes back a bit further, Tamara, with your first book hitting the shelves in 1991. What was your journey to publication like, how has it changed over the years, and how different is it publishing as part of a team as opposed to a solo author?

Way back when I began publishing under another name, I had a collaborator and that did not go well. I swore never to collaborate again; it was too draining. My solo years went just fine, but I must admit that I’m having more fun twenty years later with my new collaborator than I do when I work on my own. Neither Alistair nor I ever intended to try collaborative work again, but some things are meant to be. We have very similar natures and both despise drama in real life - we want it on the page, where it belongs! This makes for a very pleasant work environment.

Q: Together, your interests run the gamut of the paranormal, horror movies, the occult, photography, mythology, offensive books, folklore, and blaring music. Clearly you’re not struggling for ideas or inspiration, but how do you narrow down your inspirations to determine what’s going to fuel the next book?

Usually, it begins with something that gets us both excited. We begin researching that topic to see if it’s something we want to spend a lot of time on. In the case of The Cliffhouse Haunting, it was the five nights we spent investigating an allegedly haunted cabin in California. We put our current works on hold and buried ourselves in this story. There is no shortage of ideas. Currently, we have an easy half-dozen storylines that are already pretty well-rounded and waiting to be written.

Q: If we can talk specifically about The Cliffhouse Haunting for a moment, here we've got history, a haunted house, a ghost story, and a killer. How did the story come together for you, and what do each of you bring to the storytelling?

Although we’re very similar, we each bring our own strengths to the table. For example, Tamara has a deep love of atmosphere and history, and Alistair is fascinated by the minds of serial killers and these merged quite easily to create the entire tale that is The Cliffhouse Haunting.

In Cliffhouse, we wanted to touch on folkloric elemental forces (represented by the Blue Lady) and we wanted plenty of history to draw on. That makes for a richer story. The tale takes place in California, and there is a history of gangsters and movie stars canoodling among the Prohibition Era rumrunners in the San Bernardino Mountains where our own fictional town is set. We used some of that history (and that from other eras) to build our background story, which plays directly into the contemporary one. Basically, we wanted to write a very big haunted house story and bookend it throughout with the kinds of festivals the real mountain towns throw - from Civil War to Wine to the annual Oktoberfest.

Q: What’s the writing/editing experience like when you collaborate? Do you each take a chapter or a scene, run with a character, or take it in pieces?

We write our books together in the Cloud, where we can literally watch each other work while we talk via Skype. While we do occasionally find ourselves personally drawn toward certain characters, we are both fully invested in everything - and everyone - in the story. Once the first draft is done, we begin a series of read-throughs - which we read aloud. At this time, we’re looking at sentence structure, plot consistency, word choice, and character development. And we’ve never had a disagreement about the way something should be done. We have a firm respect for each other and a strong work ethic that doesn’t allow squabbling. We also take a lot of pride in our work, both of us insisting that it be the strongest story possible. This allows us to look at the book from every angle, together, and make necessary adjustments one sentence at a time.

Q: In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to -date?

It’s always amusing when people read things into a story that we never intended. Usually they’re way off, but sometimes they hit on things that are true that we hadn’t consciously considered.  We haven’t heard any crazy theories about Ravencrest or Cliffhouse yet, but years ago, Tamara wrote a short story about an old man taking vengeance on a boy who killed his dog - which was the old man's only companion. She was amazed at what was seen by readers in this simple tale. People thought the old man was Satan because he took revenge successfully. To Tamara, it was just simple human justice. The boy deserved what he got, but to others, this made the lonely old man into a demonic figure.

Q: To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?

For Tamara, it was Ray Bradbury, and to a lesser extent, Arthur Conan Doyle, Richard Matheson and Shirley Jackson. Bradbury’s prose inspired, and Dandelion Wine so transported her that she read it every June from third grade through high school - and still rereads it occasionally. Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was an early influence on her love of mysteries, and when she discovered Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House at age eleven, her course was set.

Alistair was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, and a slew of other writers, many of them contemporary. He is currently loving the works of Jeffrey Deaver and Kevin O’Brien. Also, he is a lover of Agatha Christie novels.

Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Another collaboration, or a solo novel, perhaps?

Both. Alistair’s solo debut, The Crimson Corset, will be published sometime this summer. Their collaborative novel, Grandma’s Rack, will also appear when the weather warms. Grandma’s Rack is a witchy tale and The Crimson Corset involves some of the kinkiest vampires you've ever met. The serial novel, The Ghosts of Ravencrest is ongoing and a new episode appears approximately every 6-8 weeks. Another collaboration - the title has yet to be revealed - will be published at the end of the year. It’s a very tense, fast-paced psychological thriller.  And 2016 holds more surprises.

Awesome stuff - thanks again for taking the time stop by!

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About the Authors

Tamara Thorne's first novel was published in 1991. Since then she has written many more, including international bestsellers Haunted, Bad Things, Moonfall, and The Sorority. Tamara's interest in writing is lifelong, as is her fascination with the paranormal, occult, mythology and folklore. She's been an avid ghost story collector and writer all her life.

Tamara's novels range from straight-out ghost stories to tales of witchcraft, conspiracies, UFOs, elemental forces, and vampires. No matter what topic she chooses, chances are you'll find a ghost or two lurking in the background.

Today, she and her frequent collaborator, Alistair Cross, share their worlds and continue to write about ghosts and other mysterious forces. Whether collaborating or writing solo, there is no shortage of humor, sex, blood, and spookiness.

Tamara also conducts real-life investigations of anomalous phenomena and has seen a number of odd things over the last twenty years. As an open-minded skeptic, she's spoken to many paranormal groups and has appeared on the television show, Ghost Adventures. Most recently, she and Alistair Cross went on a five-day investigation to an allegedly haunted cabin in California's Gold Country - an adventure that inspired The Cliffhouse Haunting. She has also been featured on many radio programs and in various newspapers on the topics of haunted places and local lore. A journalist by training, she occasionally writes about ghosts and hauntings for a syndicate of southern California newspapers, but her first love is, and has always been, telling ghost stories to make people scream. . . and laugh.

Tamara and Alistair co-host Thorne & Cross: Haunted Nights LIVE! every Thursday night on Blog Talk Radio.

You can also visit Tamara on Twitter, Facebook, or at her blog with Alistair.


Alistair Cross was born in a small town in the western United States. He grew up on horror novels and scary movies, and by the age of 8, began writing his own stories. He was first published in 2012 by Damnation Books, LLC. In 2014, he and acclaimed horror novelist, Tamara Thorne, released the first of several subsequent installments in The Ghosts of Ravencrest, a serialized Gothic Horror novel. Since then, they have penned The Cliffhouse Haunting, and Grandma's Rack together.

Mr. Cross' influences include, but are not limited to, the works of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Saul, Ira Levin, William Peter Blatty, and of course, Tamara Thorne. His turn-ons include horror movies, photography, offensive books, blaring music, Swiss cheese, bloodletting, leather boots, and making people feel uncomfortable.

In his spare time, he can often be found playing with fire, conquering ant colonies, flogging his friends, appearing pensive and thoughtful for no real reason, and exploring the various stages of hypnagogia on the freeway.

Mr. Cross is currently working on the next collaboration with Tamara Thorne, as well as a solo novel, which is expected to be completed in summer of 2015.

You can also visit Alistair on TwitterFacebook, or at his blog with Tamara.

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About the Book

The Cliffhouse Haunting

When the Blue Lady Walks...

Since 1887, Cliffhouse Lodge has been famous for its luxurious accommodations, fine dining… and its ghosts. Overlooking Blue Lady Lake, nestled among tall pines, Cliffhouse has just been renovated by its owners, Teddy and Adam Bellamy, and their daughter, Sara.

Cliffhouse has not always been a place of rest and respite, though. Over the years it has served many vices, from rum-running to prostitution – and although the cat houses have been replaced by a miniature golf course and carousel, Cliffhouse retains its dark history; darkest during the Roaring Twenties, when a serial killer called the Bodice Ripper terrorized the town, and a phantom, the Blue Lady, was said to walk when murder was imminent.

Death Walks With Her… 

Now, there’s a new killer on the loose, and the Blue Lady sightings have returned. The Bellamys are losing maids, and guests are being tormented by disembodied whispers, wet phantom footprints, and the blood-chilling shrieks of mad laughter that echo through the halls of Cliffhouse in the dead of night.

The little mountain town of Cliffside is the perfect hunting ground for a serial killer… and the Blue Lady. Police Chief Jackson Ballou has bodies piling up, and between the murders and the mysteries, he can hardly pursue his romance with Polly Owen. And Sara Bellamy may lose her true love before they even have their first kiss.

A to Z Challenge: Traumatic Superpower Awakening

This year, I am once again taking part in the April adventure that is the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it's basically about 26 posts (we don't post Sundays), preferably on a theme, blogging our way through the alphabet from A to Z. My theme this year is all about TV Tropes, celebrating random tropes with some sort of weird, odd, unusual, controversial, or taboo element that appeals to my warped sense of literary adventure.

Continuing the theme, we have Traumatic Superpower Awakening (check out the page for a complete definition, but your first guess is probably pretty close to the mark). After a quick perusal of the Literature examples provided, I've gotta go with:

"In Mistborn, allomantic powers only manifest themselves following an intense trauma, which is usually a near-death experience (not always, though, as Kelsier, one of the main characters, came into his powers after watching his wife get beaten to death). Noble houses often severely beat their children to try and force "snapping". In The Stormlight Archive, by the same author, it is explicitly stated that only those who are "broken" can form a Nahel bond and become a Surgebinder."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Expected publication: February 2, 2016 by Tor Books

From the editor-in-chief of io9.com, a stunning novel about the end of the world--and the beginning of our future

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn't expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one's peers and families.

But now they're both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who's working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world's magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world's every-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together--to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.

A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the apocalypse.


I've been a fan of her posts on io9 for years, and have thoroughly enjoyed her short fiction on tor.com, so it's nice to finally have a full-length novel to explore. This is a woman who knows her genre fiction, who seems to share a lot of my same tastes, and who (most importantly) knows how ot write. February is a long ways away, but with the cover just being revealed, I couldn't wait to give this one a shout-out.

A to Z Challenge: Science Fantasy

This year, I am once again taking part in the April adventure that is the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it's basically about 26 posts (we don't post Sundays), preferably on a theme, blogging our way through the alphabet from A to Z. My theme this year is all about TV Tropes, celebrating random tropes with some sort of weird, odd, unusual, controversial, or taboo element that appeals to my warped sense of literary adventure.

Continuing the theme, we have Science Fantasy (check out the page for a complete definition, but your first guess is probably pretty close to the mark). After a quick perusal of the Literature examples provided, I've gotta go with:

"David Weber's Hell's Gate series is about two human civilizations coming into contact with each other through inter-universal portals. One civilization, The Union of Aracana, is a very Magitek civilization with wizards, dragons (that are genetically engineered) and the the main fighting weapons are swords and crossbows. The other one, The Empire of Sharona, has Psychic Powers and other little things like rifles, machine guns, cannons, steam engines, armored personnel carriers, trains, battleships, etc... Neither side reacts well to the existence of the other."

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off - The First Five

With my review commitments call caught up for a couple of weeks, I finally had time to sit down, concentrate, and dedicate all of my literary attentions to the Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off.

To be as fair and consistent as possible with my evaluation, I didn't want to just sneak these in, one at a time, between other titles. My moods and tastes do change regularly, depending on what I've just read (and whether or not I enjoyed it), so ensuring a measure of consistency was key for me in my overall approach.

After having discussed it with my fellow bloggers, and seeing what's worked for those who have already posted, I've decided to break down my reading list into batches of 5 books each. For each of those titles I've committed to reading the first 50 pages (at a minimum), with the hope that one or more in each batch will be strong enough to keep me reading right through the end.


Stoo Goff – Knights of Elevar
I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It helps that it's a rather short novella, at just 127 pages, but I was well into the latter half of it before I thought to check whether I'd passed the first 50 pages. The writing was solid, and the dialogue fit the characters as well as their world, which I've found is often a challenge in self-published fantasy. The pacing was just about perfect, which makes sense given that it was originally published as 5 short stories, although the format does make for some abrupt scene breaks that were a bit jarring in places. Overall, I thought the world building was exceptionally strong for the length of the tale, especially since Goff accomplishes it without info dumping on the reader.


Blair MacGregor – Sand of Bone
For a self-published title, I have to say this was quite astounding. There were a few rough passages in the early chapters, but MacGregor very quickly comes into her style, and those rough passages are few and fewer as the book goes on. In the space of a single chapter, Raskah is well-established as a villain worthy of the reader's disgust, eliciting strong emotions even though we have yet to even begin building connections to the other characters. Syrina takes a while longer to develop, and initially I was a bit concerned by how much of her seemed defined by her status as a victim, but she quickly blossoms and develops into a heroine worthy of her own almost-arrogant ideals.

The world building was a bit weak for me, only in that I find desert settings somewhat lacking in variety and creativity. That said, I think MacGregor did a fine job with the world she established, especially in terms of politics and family. The intrigues and machinations between family members are both complex and interesting, and they all have a purpose that goes beyond mere greed or ambition. In fact, it's only because of that emphasis on family intrigue that I was able to push myself past the middle of the tale, where the pacing stumbles over its own feet and slams headfirst into a wall. It does pick up again, thankfully, but that lull turned what had been a page-turner into something I had to force myself to pick up and read.

In terms of action, this is a violent, sometimes brutal read, but never without consequences, and never at the expense of the storytelling. It's a story that both begins and ends with such consequences, ultimately defining the tale and providing the kind of narrative balance that makes for such a solid read.


Rick Chiantaretto – Death of the Body
This one got off to a rough start and never really recovered. I found the writing awkward and stilted, without any real flow, and the narrator sounded far too confident and mature for his age. In addition, there was a lot of talk about religion (especially about Christ) that kept interrupting the story and just turned me off. (DNF)


Steve Muse – Heir of Nostalgia
I'm not generally a fan of coming of age stories (they've been done to death), so it's not a huge surprise that this didn't work for me. The narration is a bit bland, with short scenes that seem to jump around an awful lot, and I never warmed up to any of the characters. Not sure if the pacing picks up later, but there didn't seem to be much more than talking in the first 50 pages, and none of it engaged me enough to keep reading. (DNF)


Lila Lestrange – Black Silk
The first thing that struck me about this is how well Lestrange sets and builds a scene. It's a very visual story, with starkly realized scenes full of smells, as well as sights and sounds. For a city-bound fantasy it's also a story with a fantastic level of world building, including history, mythology, and social evolution. The zereshi are a unique sort of race, somewhat cat-like with fangs and claws, but also with snake-like tentacles growing out of their heads. They're seen as a something less than human, a lower class of people, and Lestrange doesn't shy away from the horrors of such hypocrisy and injustice.

As for the story itself, there's a nice mix of urban fantasy, thriller, and adventure here. It's a tale of thieves, slave-traders, soldiers, merchants, prostitutes, executioners, and nobles. What begins with a heist, soon leads to a story of revenge, before expanding in scope and tension. Zîf, Kiana, Salin, Rana, Cirrin, and the rest of the characters are sharp and original, well-defined, and engaging. I'm not sure any of them could be described as particularly likable, but they are admirable.

If there's one weakness to the novel, it's in the pacing. Things start off quickly, before slowing down early on, and then picking up again around the mid-point. What ultimately redeems the pace, however, is the addition of a supernatural element that really brings out the best in the second half of the novel. Overall, it's a dark book, one with a lot of edge, but there are moments of humor to keep the story balanced. It could have benefited from a little editing, as it is somewhat longer than the story really can support, but I still came away from it having enjoyed the read.


CONCLUSION: Of the 5 titles I read this time around, I'm pleased to say 3 kept me reading right through to the end. Of the 3, I'm a bit torn as to which stands out as a clear winner, with both Sand of Bone and Black Silk impressing me, but I think I have to give the complexities of the former a slight edge over the imagination of the latter.

A to Z Challenge: Raised as the Opposite Gender

This year, I am once again taking part in the April adventure that is the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it's basically about 26 posts (we don't post Sundays), preferably on a theme, blogging our way through the alphabet from A to Z. My theme this year is all about TV Tropes, celebrating random tropes with some sort of weird, odd, unusual, controversial, or taboo element that appeals to my warped sense of literary adventure.

Continuing the theme, we have Raised as the Opposite Gender (check out the page for a complete definition, but your first guess is probably pretty close to the mark). After a quick perusal of the Literature examples provided, I've gotta go with:

"Tamir (a.k.a. Prince Tobin) from Lynn Flewelling's Tamir Triad was magically transformed into a boy at birth (long story short, the people currently in power required a male heir, but certain groups wanted a return to the country's old matriarchal ways). She didn't know she was a girl until puberty hit and weakened the spell, and had some awkwardness adjusting to being female later."