Monday, 20 June 2016
The Lynchman's Owl, by BY Yan
There's a glorious pulp fiction feel to this collection from BY Yan.
From the covers, through the monthly publication in that old-fashioned magazine style, the design and feel of The Lynchman's Owl is right up there with the classic old serial movies of years gone by.
This anthology brings together several short stories investigating the legend of the Lynchman's Owl, a figure from years gone by whose shadow still falls across the murky criminal underworld two decades on.
The obsessed investigator Bailey is determined to get to the truth of who the Lynchman's Owl really is, his path mirrored by fellow snooper Madine, who discovers different facets of the owl's identity in her own probe.
Is the Lynchman's Owl a single man? Is he a legion of different individuals, each adopting his legend for their own purposes? The set-up is intriguing.
However... and I wish there wasn't a however... the writing lets the premise down. I don't know if it is deliberate choices that don't fit with me, or if the monthly schedule has prevented any meaningful editing, but it is incredibly hard going to get through the book.
There's a dense forest of sub-clauses, filled with dangling commas, more than a few of which are ripe for the plucking. An over-reliance on spellcheck rather than proper line editing also leads to some errors, such as bought being used instead of bout. It leaves you puzzling as you try to figure out what sentences are trying to say, and that takes away from the flow. While the rest of the package has the air of a two-fisted pulp thriller, the writing is far removed from the short, sharp, quick-punching style you might expect to go with that.
I'd love to love this, but in the end, I really had to push myself to get to the finish.
For those who do enjoy it, there's a cool bonus at the end - the first five chapters of BY Yan's fantasy novel. If you get on well with the author's style, that's a hefty preview of his other work.
For me, though, I just couldn't handle having to untangle the plot from a fistful of convoluted sentences.
AI rating: 2/5
Thursday, 16 June 2016
Love, Lies and Hocus Pocus - Vol 1: Beginnings, by Lydia Sherrer
There's an easy, warm charm to this magical little tome from Lydia Sherrer - though I discovered it has an alarming ability to disappear into the hands of my wife just when I'm trying to read it.
A chapter in and cruising along then BAMF, it's gone, and my wife is shooing me away and telling me it's her turn with the book now. Harrumph.
The story - once you can lay your hands on the book itself - tells the tale of Lily Singer, an Atlanta archive manager and, by the way, a wizard. Not a witch, as she sternly points out early on, but a wizard. And it's up to her to... well, do quite a lot actually. Between the scrapes her more outgoing friend Sebastian keeps getting into - when she'd quite frankly rather be at home with a nice cup of tea rather than tagging along with him in his gadding about - and the obligations she finds herself agreeing to, life isn't at all easy for the girl wizard about town.
Still, her powers come in handy, from dodging dates with churlish chaps to uncursing curses that oughtn't have been wrought, Lily can barely keep up with her day job and her sorcerous studies.
Sherrer's writing is fabulously sweet, with playful dialogue between the long-time friends at the heart of the story. It's the kind of book to put a firm, happy smile on your face, and there's frankly not enough of those in this world. In fact, I'm going to pick it up right now to have another read through episode two, Mobius Strip, which I really loved and... hey! Where's the book gone again?!?
AI Rating: 5/5
Altered Instinct previously interviewed author Lydia Sherrer here. Love, Lies and Hocus Pocus is available on Amazon.
Tuesday, 14 June 2016
We welcome JD Cunegan to the blog – to chat about his Jill Andersen mysteries, superheroes, murder mysteries – and the odd bit of NASCAR.
Hi, JD, and welcome to Altered Instinct. I think it would be fair to say that your Jill Andersen mysteries are your calling card – combining superheroes and murder mystery. What brought those two together in your mind?
First of all, thanks for having me.
Jill’s origin dates all the way back to a now-defunct comic book series that debuted when I was in high school called Witchblade. It starred NYPD homicide detective Sara Pezzini, who was chosen as the host for a mystical gauntlet called the Witchblade. I liked the idea of a cop as a superhero, an interesting dichotomy for me to play with as a writer. So from there, Jill was born.
Ahh Witchblade, loved that - always wished it had gone on longer! So Jill is a military veteran, a police officer and... a full-on cyborg. Where did she spring from as a character, and what do you most love about writing her?
I wanted Jill to have actual superpowers, but the supernatural/fantasy element didn’t quite fit with what I was going for. By giving her the military background, that opened the door for me to introduce the cybernetics. The conspiracy behind that, which is somewhat reminiscent of the Weapon X project that gave Wolverine his adamantium skeleton, was touched on in Bounty and will be re-visited in a major way in coming novels.
There's two books in the series so far – with the second book delving into the family history of Jill. Are there more brewing, and where does Jill go from here?
I’m currently putting the finishing touches on Behind the Badge, which will be the third novel in the series. It’s currently set for a June 1 release, and it puts Jill in the awkward position of solving a murder that winds up being a case of police brutality. It’s the first time I’m sort of ripping a plotline out of the headlines, but it felt like the sort of story I had to write. It will probably rub some people the wrong way, but it will shift directly into the fourth book, Behind the Mask, which will release in January and will change the face of the series forever.
(editor's note - Behind The Badge is now available, having launched earlier this month!)
Now, I understand you're quite the fan of Castle. And that in your fantasy casting of Jill Andersen, Stana Katic would be right up there. I'll make a confession here – not living in the US and with streaming versions of Castle (I think on Amazon) not being available here, I've actually seen very little Castle... (pause while I wait for the gasp of horror) so what is it about Katic that makes you see her fitting the Jill Andersen role?
When I started watching Castle, which is constantly being shown in syndication now on one of our cable channels, I quickly noticed that Katic’s character – Detective Kate Beckett – shared a lot of similarities with Jill. Their sensibilities as a cop were almost identical, and I liked that Beckett had the same soft side I wanted Jill to have. I didn’t want Jill to be the stereotypical Strong Female Character ™, so stumbling upon Katic’s most famous role gave me a better idea of how to strike that balance, and it really inspired me to sit down and finally finish the first novel. At the risk of typecasting, I would love for Katic to take on the role on the off-chance my work ever wound up on the screen.
I should explain this chat is way, way overdue as we've both been fiendishly busy. What have you been working on lately that's been keeping you so hard at work?
Well, there’s my day job; I work in collegiate athletics, which keeps me beyond busy from September through March every year. On top of that, I’ve been writing and editing the next two books in the Jill Andersen series – Behind the Badge and Behind the Mask – as well as working on two separate novels: Notna, a supernatural/fantasy epic that will probably wind up being the longest novel I’ve ever written, and The Pen is Mighty, a first-person political thriller that’s unlike anything I’ve ever tackled.
Away from the Jill Andersen books, let's talk about that supernatural fantasy book in the works – Notna, which you say is steeped in comic book lore. Tell us a little about that and how it is influenced by comic traditions.
I actually created Notna before I created Bounty, way back when I was in high school. Those two have always been my pet projects, even when I switched from wanting to be a comic book writer and artist to simply writing novels. My writing far out-classed my art over the years, and it’s been interesting to see how something I original created for panels and word balloons has made the transition to prose. Notna is full of prophecies and high fantasy and gods and monsters and… for as much as comic books have influenced its creation, I would be remiss if I didn’t also credit the TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel for their influence as well.
That's due out next year, I believe? How far along is it in production?
I’m roughly 30 percent done with the first draft; if all goes to plan, Notna will be out in late 2017.
Talking about comic lore – what are your influences there?
I was a Marvel kid growing up; if it wasn’t Marvel (or, more specifically, X-Men), it didn’t hold my interest. But as I got older, my tastes began to vary, and I became more willing to try new things. One of my favorite things about comic books has always been how the medium pulled off the massive, multi-chapter storylines that spanned over multiple titles. Age of Apocalypse and Civil War are among my favorite such storylines, and I loved the beginning of Top Cow’s Artifacts because of the world-building and the lore it established. The way the medium combines the mundane (like, say, homicide cop) with the fantastic (like, say, cybernetic implants) has always fascinated me and colored my writing.
A quick word about your covers – I really like the covers for Blood Ties and Notna - while the Behind The Badge cover is, no word of a lie, awesome. Not to say I don't like the ones for Bounty and Boundless, but I think as your books have progressed, the covers look more polished. Do you do your own covers or is there an artist that you make use of? If so, how did you find them and what was that experience like?
Covers have definitely been a learning experience for me. When I first published Bounty, I put almost no effort in the cover; it was an afterthought. My sales reflected that. The current cover for Bounty is the third one for that book. Because of my relatively limited budget, I get my covers from SelfPubBookCovers.com; they’re premade, but I’ve been incredibly fortunate to find covers that match what I’m writing. Boundless was a cover I created on my own, thinking I could rely on my art skills to create something. Let’s just say that, for the time being, I’ll be sticking with that website.
You get to go for pizza with one of your characters – who do you choose and why?
Detective Earl Stevens (a side character who debuted in Blood Ties)… because writing his dialogue is some of the most fun I’ve ever had as a writer. There’s no telling what’s gonna come out of his mouth at any point, and I bet he’d have some really funny stories from his days playing college football at Nebraska.
Away from books for a moment, you're a self-confessed sports nut – and I think anyone following you on Twitter would be in no doubt about that! NASCAR, I believe, is your obsession of choice – how often do you get to live events? Or with racing do you prefer it on TV to get the overview of the whole thing?
I go to about five races a year, and like I always tell people who say they don’t get what the big deal is with NASCAR – you have to be there to truly get the experience. TV only gives you so much; unless you’re standing there, feet away from the cars as they roar by at full speed, taking in the sights and the smells and the sounds, you’re not gonna see the allure.
I don't know if it's even possible to try to sum this up – I'm a football (as in soccer) fan and I would struggle to describe the passion and despair that comes with that – but why does NASCAR draw you in so much?
The intensity and the passion of it all. That’s true for every sport, but the passion surrounding motorsports is palpable. You can feel it even when you’re walking around the merchandise displays outside the track. The tension leading up to the moment the race starts is thick, and once the race itself starts, there’s a constant air of anticipation – because you never know what’s going to happen, and you never know when. You can’t blink or turn away, because everything can change with a snap of the fingers.
Who are you tipping to win the Sprint Cup?
I think Kevin Harvick will win his second title in three years. He’s too fast, week in and week out, to not be considered the favorite.
Back on the books front – which is most useful to you to promote the book, Facebook, Twitter or Goodreads? Or some other social media?
To this point, Twitter and Goodreads have been my most reliable online outlets. Facebook has been great for connecting with other authors, but it hasn’t given me the exposure or sales results that the other two sites have. I also have a presence on Tumblr, but to this point, that hasn’t done much for me.
You get stuck on an island and you only had one book you packed in your travel bag before the ship went down. What book do you hope you have in there?
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows… because it’s the only one in that series I haven’t read yet, and I keep putting it off and putting it off. Maybe having it on the island will be the push that finally makes me sit down and read it.
OK, last question here is traditionally a double question – what's the best book you've read in the past year and what are you reading currently?
R.R. Virdi’s Grave Measures tops the list of some incredibly books I’ve read over the past 12 months; the follow-up to Grave Beginnings was fantastic, and I think anyone who hasn’t read Virdi’s books yet is really missing out. I’m currently reading Armada by Ernest Cline and Skeins Unfurled by K.M. Venderbilt.
Friday, 10 June 2016
251 Things To Do In Tofino, by Kait Fennell
They say don't judge a book by its cover... but boy oh boy, pretty much everything you need to know about this book is right there on the front. From the name, to the picture of good times by the sea, to the declaration that it is NOT just about surfing. This book is as jam-packed with things to do as the cover suggests.
For the traveller that finds their way to Tofino, out on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, this is pretty much an essential guide. Entertainment, hikes, places to explore and much, much more, this book is brimful of ideas. It's the sort of book that you want every hotel to have an equivalent of whenever you get to your destination of choice.
Beyond the lists, there's a lot of personal testimonies from residents in the area too, giving a real feel of the place, and what it means to local people, as well as visitors.
More than that, it's all related with a boundless enthusiasm that really makes you want to go and walk those trails, try out those bars and maybe, just maybe, try a little bit of that surfing too. If you're headed for Tofino, you need this book.
AI rating: 5/5
Monday, 6 June 2016
Rarity From The Hollow, by Robert Eggleton
Lacy Dawn is an unusual girl, caught up in circumstances that are sadly all too common. Her family lives in poverty, her father is a PTSD-addled veteran turned abusive husband and parent. Her mother struggles to make the best of a bad situation, though is frequently raped by her husband and blames it on herself. And Lacy's best friend comes to talk to her regularly, despite having been killed by her own sexually abusive father some time before. Life is not easy for Lacy as she waits to burst into her teenage years.
Between talking to her friend's ghost and having conversations with the trees around her home, it's hard to know exactly what is real and what is simply the rich fantasy life of Lacy, and when we meet Dotcom, a semi-organic robot that she treats as a proxy boyfriend, we are left to wonder for some time if he truly exists or if he is part of the tapestry of tall stories that she conjures up to distract herself from the squalor and despair of her everyday world.
And then Dotcom reveals that Lacy has a mission. She has to save the universe.
Robert Eggleton has created a child's story that is most assuredly not written for an audience of children. Alongside Lacy's discovery of her supposed role in the fate of the universe, the story explores the gritty awfulness of life in poverty while at the same time examining her first footsteps into discovering her sexuality. There are passages that are a tough read, with Lacy talking about her panties and erections - tricky when this is a girl who starts out aged 11 in the book and follows her as she tiptoes towards teenagehood. But these sections don't come across as exploitative, rather they seem a genuine and honest look at the kind of conversations children start to have at that age, the questions they ask, the situations they consider. Life does not always spare children the innocence we might wish them to have, and this is a story set in situations where children have to confront such topics early - and weigh the effects they may have on their lives on a daily basis.
By comparison, the passages that explore Lacy's role in saving the universe are at the opposite extreme. Where her real life is gritty and real, her exploration of Dotcom's world of Shptiludrp are almost surreal in nature. Meanwhile, his interference in her life, and that of her family, still leaves you wondering how much is real, and how much is in her head.
There's much that will linger in the head after reading this book - it is indeed a rarity to see a story written with such candour about one so young. The science fiction elements don't hold together so strongly as the sections that deal with her home life, but they hold out the possibility of hope, a way out of the depressing normality that plagues Lacy's life. Will she save the universe? Perhaps. I know that as I was reading, all I fervently hoped was that she would be able to save herself.
AI Rating: 4/5
Rarity From The Hollow is available on Amazon here.
Wednesday, 1 June 2016
There's a group of authors that I'm part of online - and as occasionally happens, the discussion turned to the merits or otherwise of self-published books vs books published by the Big 5 print houses.
One author posted a link to a New York Times article about how people aren't buying ebooks, while another countered with an article showing that people very much are buying them and it's only the Big 5 that people aren't buying from. But what struck me after that was how one commenter, an author themselves, said they would trust the Big 5 first and that they had never read an ebook.
Now, I'm not at all about to criticise the Big 5 houses in publishing - they've been at this game a long time and know what they're doing - but there are genuinely good reasons to try indie ebooks, so here's a few you might ponder next time you're browsing those virtual shelves on Amazon, Smashwords or your retailer of choice.
1 Access to authors you might not otherwise discover
The other day, I was browsing through my local bookshop. I live on an island, and the selection of books isn't always the greatest. It's still good enough for me to have picked up the hefty first book in a Brandon Sanderson series from Tor but hey, sometimes the range feels a little lacking. You may live next door to the swankiest, most substantial Barnes & Noble that has ever been built but you know what? Inside those doors, even if they are a gateway to a virtual Alexandrian cornucopia of literature, you won't find every author, and you might just be missing out on voices worth hearing. There are authors out there well worth your time even if they don't have the Big 5 Seal Of Approval stamped on their paperback hearts. I've discovered writers from around the world whose books might never have appeared in my local bookshop thanks to indie publishing.
2 Finding books for a niche audience
Mainstream publishing might be about many things but one thing it is absolutely about is making money. Books that have a very narrow, niche audience will struggle to fit that broad market approach. But in an indie landscape, and with widespread access to an ebook you can download and that isn't sitting taking up space on a shelf, it is easier for authors to reach their audience - and for that audience to find the authors speaking in the voice they want to hear.
3 That ebook might well be cheaper
That problem of books taking up space on a shelf has an odd knock-on effect sometimes. After a while, when physical books aren't selling as well and just start gathering dust in a warehouse, they often get the price knocked down. Which is great for picking up a bargain sometimes. Ebooks from the big publishing houses seldom get the same treatment. Fairly regularly, I'll see prices on physical books from publishers at prices lower than the electronic version. A couple of weeks ago, I saw one book at $9.99 on Kindle... and $0.01 as a physical book. Now that might be great if you want to grab the physical book itself. Boom, done and on your shelf in no time. Me, I'd have to whack a substantial amount on top of that in cost to ship to where I am, and I'm not in the only international market that would face that situation, so why not cut the ebook price too?
The problem is that while a publisher might cut the price of the physical object to clear out that valuable warehouse space, I find too often that big publishers don't bother to cut the price of their electronic content. After all, there's no worry about the space it takes up and they don't have to clear out the old to make way for the new.
I find indie authors much more adaptable to the market and inventive in finding ways to get their book in your hands - and often at a bargain price. Gary Whitta is a successful author and screenwriter - you may well have seen the movie The Book Of Eli that sprang from his pen - and the other day I picked up his book Abomination through Inkshares for just 99c. There are bargains galore as authors promote their work, so you might well end up with half a dozen books by indie authors for the price of one from a mainstream publisher. Now the book may be cheaper, but your time isn't worth any less, so the authors have to work to make sure their book is worth that time - but the same has to be said for any author, mainstream or indie.
4 Indie authors get signed up by publishing houses
Why should readers pay attention to self-published authors? Well, the big publishing house are. Authors such as Hugh Howey, Meredith Wild and Bella Andre have signed great deals for print books - while you might just have seen a little movie called The Martian which stormed its way to the door of the Oscars. That started out as a self-published ebook. Did the authors suddenly become better authors the moment they signed that piece of paper with a major publishing house? No, they were diligently working before that, producing great material and that deal lets them take it to a broader audience with the oomph of a major publisher behind them. But the quality? That was there all along.
5 The creative freedom of indie publishing
Now this one is a positive when done right - and one of the negatives that cloud people's perceptions of self-publishing. When you pick up a self-published book, you are likely getting the book exactly as the author wants you to receive it. When you publish through any publishing house, big or small, editors there might argue with an author to snip this out, remove that, change this. Those editors are trying their darnedest to get the book into the best shape it can be in order to reach an audience - and credit to them for that. There are a great many independently published books that could use their skills, let's be clear. One of the biggest - and thoroughly valid - criticisms of self-publishing is that there are too many books that are badly put together and poorly edited and there are indeed books out there that could use a skilled voice telling the author how to make their book better.
But equally there are great authors who trim parts out of their books in the editing process who feel the final outcome isn't necessarily the true vision of their book. When Stephen King's book The Stand was first published, Doubleday felt that readers wouldn't buy such a long book and King cut out 400 pages or so of material, restored in the uncut edition published years later. Now if you're publishing your own material, you get the say in what stays, and what goes - that's a double-edged sword that depends on how good your judgement is, but it means the final product is absolutely your vision of how your novel should be.
Five great self-published titles to try
There are absolutely hazards in self-publishing, and problems the market faces - though sometimes I think the biggest one is simply the feeling of being in an infinite library and wondering where to find the good stuff. The other hazards belong in another blog post, another day. For now, here are five great self-published titles I urge you to try that I've dived into myself in the past year.
Wool - by Hugh Howey
Howey is one of those authors mentioned above who became a bestseller on the strength of his self-published title Wool. It's a post-apocalyptic thriller in a world where people live in a silo deep in the ground and the greatest taboo in society is to go outside.
Home World - by Bonnie Milani
I would never have encountered the work of Bonnie Milani if it wasn't for self-publishing and that would have been a crying shame. Home World is a smashing sci fi thriller in a future world of genetically altered humans, interstellar warfare and Machiavellian moves where marriage may just be what stops it all from going to hell.
Malus Domestica - by S.A.Hunt
The central character of this bloody horror tale is a shaven-headed punk girl with a blue mohawk riding around in a beaten-up van as she makes a living with her YouTube channel about hunting witches which she uses as a cover for actually, truly hunting down witches. And now she has a chance to hunt down the witch who killer her mother. If you're still reading this and haven't clicked on the link to go buy it already, I don't even want to know you.
The Huntsman - by Rafael
This book took me by surprise. Under a fairly unassuming cover lurks a high-octane thrill ride that spans the globe. A wormhole experiment goes wrong, unleashing an alien creature into the world that starts to kill its way towards the equipment that created the shift in space. Standing in its path are a zoologist brought in to explain the grisly murders and the huntsman of the title, an expert in tracking down wild creatures now faced with the greatest hunt of all. It's a rip-roaring read in the fashion of holiday blockbusters by the likes of Michael Crichton and it was an unexpected delight to read.
Abomination - by Gary Whitta
This one I haven't opened yet and I'm still recommending it on the strength of how often my fellow author Ricardo Victoria raves about it. It's a story of fantasy and horror intertwined and... well, the rest I'm about to discover for myself. I'm sure Ricardo will chip in with his own reasons in the comments.
Honourable mention: Blackbirds - by Chuck Wendig
I'm not even sure which of Wendig's stories are under the self-published category at present and which are with publishing houses but he's such an ardent advocate of independent authors and the work that they need to do to make sure their work can compete with mainstream publishing houses that I have to recommend one of his titles - and I'd start with Blackbirds, which is a terrific, no-holds-barred tale of a woman who is an expert at making all the wrong choices, messed up in the head from her "gift", the ability to see the death of people who she touches. It's feisty, it's funny, it's absolutely adult-only, and it's why Wendig is worth paying attention to.
Got your own suggestions? The comments section is all yours.
Tuesday, 31 May 2016
This article was originally published in The Tribune newspaper.
This week's column puts the focus on horror. So put your headphones on, turn up the volume – and prepare for a good scare...
We're Alive: Lockdown
Last year, I reviewed the excellent We're Alive – a podcast telling the story of a zombie virus breaking loose and bringing about the end of the world... mostly. That followed the story of a few survivors as they tried to make their way in this post-apocalypse world. For those wanting to take a dip into the same world but without the huge number of episodes, there's now a new spin-off, Lockdown, six episodes long and following the view of the end of the world from inside the walls of a prison.
The show drops you straight into the action – before flashing back to the moment when things started to go wrong inside the jail, just as two prisoners are about to be released and back to the freedom they've yearned for. Suddenly, the bars that kept them in might just be the thing that keeps them alive...
The production is excellent, great voice actors and some genuine scares even in this slow beginning.
If you want a horror story on the radio, here's a great place to start.
The Black Tapes
The Black Tapes is a docudrama following host Alex Reagan as she sets off on a paranormal investigation – starting with Dr Richard Strand, a ghost hunter who doesn't believe in ghosts. She uncovers his store of VHS tapes... and the horrors that lurk within.
Fictional, of course, but the show presents itself as a documentary, with Reagan detailing her investigation as she goes along in the fashion of a radio show, with interviews with a medium and other individuals she encounters along the way.
There's two seasons of the show so far – and bear with the first episode, it takes a while to get going... until a door on a video tape slowly creaks open all by itself. Then, things get weirder... and scarier.
Another show with excellent production, this is for those who are fans of ghosthunting shows on TV, who wonder what would happen if it all turned out to be real...
Night of the Living Podcast
Away from the scary stories themselves, there's a wealth of podcasts chatting about the horror genre – and Night of the Living Podcast is one of the longest established of those. It's great fun, its format is essentially a bunch of friends sitting around and chatting about horror – then picking a straight to video movie to praise or pillory before moving on to something more mainstream.
A recent show focused on the movie Trace – about a group of young people experimenting with Electronic Voice Phenomena when everything goes wrong, including – according to the NOTLP team – the script, the characters and everything else with the movie. They gleefully rip apart the movie, with spoilers galore because, as they say, if it's a rubbish movie, they'll tell you everything to save you the trouble.
They then move on to the Louis Gossett Jr classic Enemy Mine and share what they loved about the movie – plus lots of little nuggets of information about the movie. Bad Guy #2 in the movie who we can't remember his name? He ends up being executive producer of the Paw Patrol cartoon. Parents, you know you're singing that theme tune now.
There's a great love and affection by the hosts for their genre – and this particular show was also filmed in front of a live audience too, so there's plenty of banter. Just beware of some fruity language from time to time.