Saturday, 13 July 2019

Meet the Author: Aaron Emmel, author of Portal of Life and featured in Tales of Magic & Destiny

Aaron Emmel is one of the authors alongside me in the new Tales of Magic & Destiny anthology - and he stopped by the blog to chat about that and his other work. I really enjoyed his story in the anthology - A Sword of Bone - most of all because of the worldbuilding he puts into it. It really feels like another world, as good fantasy tales should, I reckon. More than that, his lead character slots right into the world that Aaron built, and his decisions and the consequences he faces because of that flow right out of that background. But hey, don't let me blather on - this post is all about Aaron, so let's let him take it away. 

Aaron Emmel, pictured at CERN. I may be jealous.

Hi Aaron, and welcome to the blog. I really loved your story in Tales of Magic & Destiny. The setting for A Sword of Bone feels bigger than the boundaries of the short story - is this a setting you've explored previously or that you plan to explore further? How did you approach creating the cultural setting?

Yes, and in fact two other stories set in the same world came out earlier this year, in SERIAL Magazine and Æther/Ichor. They both take place at around the same time as the events in “Sword of Bone,” but they’re not directly related. Two previous stories, including one published not long ago in sub-Q Magazine, are set on a different continent and about 1,200 years earlier.

That long fictional timeline probably gives away the fact that I’m interested in how cultures evolve, including how they respond to new ideas and technologies and share them with each other.

The world of “Sword of Bone” was formed by the humans’ ancient enemies, the Dae, which gave my worldbuilding a Gnostic influence. The Dae’s power was stronger at certain times and seasons, which made early tribes particularly sensitive to annual cycles and gave the farmers who understood them an inordinate political role that’s still evident in “Sword of Bone.”  They created a mathematics-based religion that defines their descendants’ system of magic and the way they view their world.

My approach involves a lot of having fun and seeing what happens, plus a whole lot of research, which I’m always happy to talk about but which I hope no one notices when they read the story.

I liked the feel of the military tactics and battle in the story - is there something of the wargamer in you that comes out in such scenes?

Thanks! Yes, that was definitely me letting out my wargamer side. Most of the tactics were actually used in historical battles. My graduate degree is in international security, and I took a lot of notes in my military strategy and history classes because I knew my stories would put them to good use.

Tell us a little about your most recent book – what is it called, and what is it about? Give us your elevator pitch to make us fall in love with it!

Portal of Life is the final volume of the Midnight Legion gamebook trilogy, set on a ruined Earth about five hundred years from now. You’re one of the last two agents of a clandestine group meant to preserve human civilization, but the other agent has betrayed you and is about to use ancient weapons to finish the job of wiping out all remaining life—unless you can stop her first, of course.

What inspired the story?

I wanted to write a gamebook, and I thought it would be fun to work again with C. Aaron Kreader, an artist and designer I’d already had a successful collaboration with. I came with a pitch for an entirely different story, a sword and sorcery mystery. But I let A. Kreader present his idea first, and I liked it so much that I immediately started brainstorming with him and never got around to the idea I’d come with.

I must admit, I love the art! It reminds me of things like Paranoia and Harry Harrison books, with a bit of grim humour in there! Without spoilers, what was one of your favourite moments of the story to write? What was it that made you enjoy that section so much?

There’s a confrontation that’s set up throughout the three books and finally happens at the climax. It was fun to write, because it’s a payoff I’d been waiting for so long to get to, but also because it retroactively puts everything that came before it in a different light. The journey you think you’re on actually ends up somewhere else.

As a writer, have you ever had a character grow to be a much bigger part of the story than you expected? Who was the character and what was it about them that made them emerge from the sidelights?

My favorite is a character from a story that I haven’t finished. He’s from the world of “Sword of Bone.” He’s the main villain of this millennia-and-a-half-old civilization. His name has become a curse. He betrayed the human race. And when I finally got around to writing his story, I was like, “Oh, he was right all along. It was his family that misunderstood what he was trying to do and screwed everything up. He should have been recognized as the hero.”

You'll have to tell us when it's finished! What has been your biggest challenge as a writer? What hurdles have you had to overcome, and what helped you to do so?

Right now, my biggest challenge is time. I have a wife and two little kids, so there are LEGO bases that need to get built. In terms of craft, I get carried away with backstory, and it took me a long time to figure out how to just focus on the story at hand. The best antidotes to that were learning more about story structure, and also just writing a lot, so that I can get all the tangential plots and lengthy descriptions out of my system.

I hear that with time! Like you, I have a wife and two kids and getting that balance is a constant juggle! What’s the most fun piece of technology/magic that you’ve included in your novel that you wish you had in real life?

Some bioengineers find a way to distribute intelligence across an ecosystem of plants and fungi so that they can communicate with humans.

What has been your most satisfying moment as a writer so far? What made you punch the air?

Every time I get a new idea and I start writing, and it seems like it might actually work. It feels like a miracle every time. And every time any of my stories gets published. For about five minutes, until I come up with my next idea.
Are your books available in audio format? How have you found the process of transforming it from the written page?

The gamebooks aren’t available in audio, but I enjoy exploring stories through different media. In addition to being narratively interactive, the gamebooks contain visual puzzles. I also love writing plays, comics and graphic novels.
Several of my stories are available in audio format, and one of them, A Small Price to Pay, has two different audio versions, in Starship Sofa and Planet Scumm. I can’t say I’ve contributed much to the process, but I love hearing a talented voice actor put their own spin on something that started off just in my own mind.

Where can readers follow you to find out more about your work?

A traditional question here at Altered Instinct – what are you reading at present, and what is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

I just started Tana French’s The Trespasser.  I’ve read a lot of great books over the past year, but Moonglow by Michael Chabon gets top billing. Chabon breaks some basic law of novel writing in each of his books, and I assume he does it to challenge himself, but somehow it just makes his prose even more amazing.

If I can expand my answer a bit, the science fiction and fantasy that’ve blown me away most recently (not necessarily in the past year) are Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, Stephenson’s Seveneves (another book that blatantly ignores basic fiction writing rules), Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife, and Liu’s collection The Paper Menagerie.

An excellent reading list indeed! Thank you very much for visiting the blog, Aaron - it's been a pleasure to have you call by. And best of luck with Portal of Life, hope it does very well for you! 

Readers can pick up Portal of Life at the link above, and you can pick up Tales of Magic & Destiny at

Friday, 12 July 2019

It's new book day! Tales of Magic & Destiny is out now

It's new book day! Tales of Magic & Destiny is out now - including my story Out of the Dust.

The book's filled with some great stories, really you need to discover it for yourself to read all the splendid fantasy stories inside.

That said, I thought I'd take a moment to talk about my story - Out of the Dust, which features a returning character from one of my previous tales.

Back when Inklings Press first started out, our first anthology was Tales From The Tavern, a fistful of fantasy stories that included my story A Taste For Battle.

As we were returning to fantasy, I wanted to come back to one of the characters from that tale, at a time earlier in his life, before we even knew who he was. He's also not the main character of Out of the Dust, but rather something of a loaded gun. He's there ready to go off at a moment's notice. 

A Taste For Battle also saw me introduce the Reavers, a race of insectoid beings which fed on the memories of those they defeated in battle. So I had to have a monster to match this time - and it takes the shape of a Sand Wyvern. 

The Sand Wyvern is a huge beast that lives within the sand of the desert itself. Not content with its massive, brutish frame, it also has razor-sharp tentacles that whip around it - ideal for clearing its path as it moves or, more dangerously, shredding its enemies.

That's not the only enemy the characters of Out of the Dust face. Indeed the worst enemy is simply this: thirst. 

Life in the desert can be pretty hard. It's even worse when the source you depend on for your water is gone. 

All of these things I tell you without spoilers. This is the backdrop against which our heroes have to survive. Will they all make it? Well, what do you think...

You can pick up Tales of Magic & Destiny on Amazon as an ebook or paperback. The link is

Oh, and you can also check out fellow author Rob Edwards as he chats on his YouTube channel about his story - a splendid piece in which traits are embodied as godly beings. 

You can hear him chat about that below. 

I hope you enjoy the book - I'm really honoured to be alongside some great writers in there.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Tempest Blades - The Withered King, by Ricardo Victoria

One of the delights of writing is the authors you work alongside - and especially seeing their work take shape over time. I've been delighted to see Ricardo Victoria make progress toward his first novel's publication - and it's coming out soon. I had the chance to read an advance review copy of the novel - and here's my review. Oh, and I should point out - I'm in the book! One of the characters is named after me. So, be advised that my character is of course brilliant...

This is not something you've read before. 
Tempest Blades - The Withered King is the first novel from Ricardo Victoria, and like just about everything he writes, this is bursting with ideas. 
To try to contain Ricardo's ideas is like trying to contain jelly with elastic bands. He's exuberant, he's bubbly - and he's bristling with imagination. 
Let me tell you what Tempest Blades is. It's a fantasy epic. No, wait, it's an anime-style adventure. Hang on, no, it's a science fiction escapade on another world. But hold up, here are roots of Ricardo's Mexican heritage. And Celtic myth. And a cartoon team-up of mighty heroes. It is a steampunk extravaganza with a soaring airship. It is science, and magic, and the science that underpins magic. It is tragic, it is witty. It is each of these things. It is all of these things. 
This is not something you've read before. 
It all begins with an ancient battle, before a flash-forward in time to a mystery of a missing professor. One by one, the team of heroes assemble as the mystery reveals a greater danger. An ancient danger. A danger that the seemingly immortal Fionn had thought long gone. 
Ricardo really handles the build-up of this team well - it reads like episodes of a series, each of which adds an extra layer to what has gone before. Before you know it, you have come to know a whole team of heroes, and care for each of them. Just in time for their world to start falling apart. 
So hop aboard. It's a science fantasy epic that bursts with originality. It is new, it is fresh, and it makes the imagination soar.
In short, this is not something you've read before. 

AI Rating: 5/5

Tempest Blades is available at various outlets - including Amazon here.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

KICKSTARTER: Discover Bete Noir - a comic of morality, corruption and redemption.

Mad Robot Comics is a happy crew of creators, not one of whom is a robot (as far as we're aware) but all could conceivably called mad. They've dropped by the blog before - you may well remember their previous appearances - and here they are again to promote Bete Noir, a new comic from Andrew Clemson, Kris Wantowhy and the ever hard-working Matt Hardy.

Bete Noir is something different from the Mad Robot Comics crew. Something new.

The eagle-eyed French speakers will raise a circumflex-shaped eyebrow at that title, of course - but Mad Robot supremo Matt Hardy is on that case.

"Bête noire is a French term that means something or someone that causes fear or dread. Essentially, your bête noire is the bane of your existence. 

"Why we called our new book Bete Noir will become apparent - but the different spelling is intentional. Got to get up early to catch us out!"

Different indeed - for Bete Noir is set in a world where the age of heroes has been long forgotten. 

The story is by Andrew Clemson - the man who forced Star Bastard (Scout Comics) on the world - and with art by Kris Wantowhy (Red Letter Day). 

Matt Hardy tells us a little more. 

"The most feared vigilante of days past, The Djinn, is back from supposed death to exact revenge on his betrayers," he said. "But is the man in the costume the same as he was all those years ago - or is he something altogether….different?"

BETE NOIR #1 is the 28-page opening chapter of a gripping six part series, described as a story about morality, corruption and redemption in the vein of PAYBACK, RED and JOHN WICK.

BETE NOIR is current funding on Kickstarter - - follow the link for more preview art from the book. 

Maybe the world does still need superheroes - even screwed-up ones. 

You can keep up to date with Mad Robot Comics on Twitter at @MadRobotComics or on Facebook here

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Meet the author: Alexis Lantgen, author of Sapience and Saints and Curses

Twitter is a wonderful place. Okay, okay, it can get a little crazy at times. But it's through Twitter that I met Alexis Lantgen. She's a science fiction and fantasy writer of short stories - so she's kind of following the same path as me. I've picked up her books and will add to that ever-towering review pile, but she also agreed to stop by the blog for a chat. To tell us about her books - and to tell us what makes her tick. So here she is - over to you, Alexis! 

Hi there, and welcome to Altered Instinct! Tell us a little about your most recent book – what is it called, and what is it about?

My most recent book is called Saints and Curses. It’s a collection of fantasy short stories. Honestly, the stories are all pretty different from each other. Some are light and (hopefully) funny, others are dark, sort of Edgar Allan Poe-like. Some are set in modern times, others in the recent past, and few in the distant past (I love Byzantium, and I wish more fantasy was set there). I hope all of them are enjoyable, though!

What inspired the stories?

I’ve probably written the stories over the course of maybe seven years, so they’ve been inspired by lots of different events and things in my life. Probably the one that’s the most based on my actual experiences is Switched, which I wrote shortly after my daughter was born. Obviously, nothing terrible or supernatural happened, but I am one of those people who starts seeing shadow people and getting really paranoid when I’m sleep deprived and on morphine.

Gosh, as a parent too I can empathise with the sleep-deprived! What are your favourite genres to read – and what is it about those genres that draws you in?

I really like science fiction and fantasy, I think because in speculative fiction the worlds are so much more fun, imaginative, and colorful. I honestly find reading most contemporary/literary fiction sort of dreary or banal (with some exceptions, of course). 

I like that you use speculative fiction as an umbrella term for genres like sci-fi and fantasy - I do the same. Some try to steal it away for more literary sci-fi! What were some of your favourite books to read as a child? Which were the first books you remember falling in love with?

I loved tons of books as a child! Some that stand out - Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Montgomery, lots of stories by Mark Twain, and Orchard of the Crescent Moon by Jenny Nimmo. I also loved C.S. Lewis, though I find those books less enduring as I grow older.

It can be odd going back to childhood books - I've found when looking to read books I loved as  a child with my own kids that sometimes there's things in there that just soared over your head as a kid and now can be quite offensive! What’s next for you as a writer? What’s cooking in your literary kitchen?

There are lots of things cooking! I was working on a YA/Middle Grade Fantasy novel. That was coming along well, but then I had some unfortunate things pop up in my life. I was rather depressed and angry when I just knew I had to write a different story, one that expressed how I was feeling at the time. Even just jotting down notes for it made me feel immensely better--it felt like taking control of a situation where I felt helpless. It’s been wonderfully freeing, and I’m hoping the story that comes out of it will be good. I don’t know if it’s a novel, novella, or short story yet--I’m just going to write until I’m done.

Marketing is always a challenge for writers – to share the love, what have you found the most useful tip for spreading the word about books?

I joined a fabulous review group on Goodreads! It’s an exchange of reviews with other authors, but it’s carefully regulated so that you never review each other’s books (which encourages honesty and follows Amazon’s byzantine rules). I’ve found it to be a wonderful way to get free, honest reviews.
Where can readers follow you to find out more about your work?

I’d recommend they start with my website,! You can subscribe to my newsletter on the “Contracts” page or any of the blog posts under “News and Events.”
You can also find me on:

My books are on Amazon, of course! Sapience: and Saints and Curses:

A traditional question here at Altered Instinct – what are you reading at present, and what is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

Right now I’m reading an ARC of Gerardo Delgadillo’s book Fractalistic. The best book I’ve read this year is my friend Sarah Mensinga’s book Currently. I also seriously enjoyed reading some of Jason Aaron’s Goddess of Thunder graphic novels, and G.M Nair’s Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire.

Alexis, it was a pleasure chatting with you - and I'll look forward to tucking into your books too! 

Saturday, 29 June 2019

AUTHOR TIPS: How to download a mobi file from Amazon

I've been a writer long enough now to know what I don't know. And that's a lot. But I've also been a writer long enough to pick up a few tips here and there that I find other authors don't know. So today I'm starting a new series of Author Tips. Some will be short, some will be long, but each will be some little thing that I've discovered along the way that might be helpful. Today we start with how to download a mobi file from Amazon - that you can then send to others. 

"Can you send me a review copy of the book?"
It's a fairly straightforward question that crops up a lot - but for some authors, the answer is "um... I don't know!"
Well, if your book is an ebook on Amazon, the answer should be yes. It's pretty easy - though not as obvious as it could be on Amazon's interface. 
Let's walk through it. Your first step should be to go to the Kindle Direct Publishing site - that's and it's where you will have uploaded your book to Amazon. Sign in and you should see a screen like this: 

Underneath will be listed your books - go to the book you want to get a mobi file for and find this button: 

Click on the three little dots and you should see this sub-menu appear: 

Click on Edit eBook Content. Now when you scroll down the content section, you'll see an area with the heading Kindle eBook Preview. There's a screenshot below to show you what to look for. 

Where it says Preview on your computer, you'll need to pop down that little section so you can see it in full detail - and the bit I've circled in red? Click on that and it'll download a copy of the mobi file onto your computer. It'll likely be in your Downloads folder when it's done, unless you've specified it should save elsewhere. 

And that's it. Simple as that. You can do similar for a pdf if you've published the book as a paperback - again, there's an option to download a pdf version from the preview section under paperback content, but I'll cover that more in another blog post discussing paperback publication. 

Once you have the mobi file, you can convert it into an epub file with a simple, free program called Calibre, but again we'll cover that another time. 

So there you are, the first Author Tips article on Altered Instinct - I hope it helped! 

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

PRESS KIT: Tales of Magic & Destiny

Tales of Magic & Destiny launches on July 12 - and is now available to pre-order. The universal link taking you to your nearest Amazon store is

This press kit contains graphics free to use for any readers, bloggers, reporters - anyone who wants to use them in any form to help spread the word about the book. Use them freely and where you will. 

Tales of Magic & Destiny is the eighth anthology from Inklings Press - and includes stories from Maria Haskins, Tom Jolly, Tara Wood, Rob Edwards, Hall Jameson, Jeanette O'Hagan, Leo McBride, Aaron Emmel, Kerry Buchanan, Brent A Harris, Jaleta Clegg and Ricardo Victoria. 

In many ways, it is a return to where it all started for Inklings Press - the first anthology published by the Inklings crew was Tales From The Tavern, a fantasy anthology, and here we are again, delving into dungeons, exploring battlefields, locking swords with warriors and monsters, and weaving spells with sorcerers. 

Seven of the authors featured have appeared in previous Inklings Press anthologies - but we're also delighted to welcome five new writers to the roster, with Tom Jolly, Tara Wood, Hall Jameson, Aaron Emmel and Kerry Buchanan all making their Inklings debuts. 

Below you will find individual graphics for each of the stories featured, plus the full cover for the paperback. As time goes by, we'll add more graphics to the press kit, and the blog here will also feature interviews with several of the authors which we shall include links to in this kit. 

Thank you for your interest in the book - and we look forward to hearing the views of reviewers! 

Contact for further press requests.

Interior artwork in the book: 

Press Release

Venture into new worlds of fantasy with Tales of Magic & Destiny – a new anthology of short stories from Inklings Press out on July 12.
Delve into dungeons, explore battlefields, see sorcerers wrestle with magic and warriors clash swords – all in the 12 tales inside.
The book includes stories by Maria Haskins, Tom Jolly, Tara Wood, Rob Edwards, Hall Jameson, Jeanette O’Hagan, Leo McBride, Aaron Emmel, Kerry Buchanan, Brent A Harris, Jaleta Clegg and Ricardo Victoria.
Monsters stalk these pages, with heroes ready to meet them with sword and wand.
Twelve stories. Twelve authors. Twelve worlds of fantasy.
The adventure begins here: