Science Fiction

Murder Beyond the Milky Way

Murder Beyond the Milky Way - Eric B. Ruark

I grew up on Murder Mysteries. Agatha Christie and Lilian Jackson Braun were my two favorites growing up. So naturally, I was highly excited to read Murder Beyond the Milky Way by Eric B. Ruark. 

Combining my all time favorite whodunit mystery genre with a science fiction backdrop on an isolated station made it this plot all the more exciting, interesting, and it definitely held me captivated until the final page. 

Ruark's writing style is easy to read and flows smoothly through the progression of the plot, giving the reader just enough to keep them guessing as to the ending while not giving away enough to spoil the whodunit component. 

Overall an excellent read. If you love murder mysteries and want to see one with a unique science fiction twist, then I highly recommend this one. I loved every second of it. 

 


Some Bio Information

I love a good mystery... books... TV... movies... real-life... which is why when I sit down at my keyboard, I have the tendency to write mystery stories. I was born and raised in Waterbury, Connecticut, but even at an early age, my parents encouraged me to travel, and although I'm a New England Preppie, I've been to schools in France and Switzerland and was the guest of Jose Greco, the famed Flamenco artist in Spain... all before I was 18 years old.

In college, I majored in English and Drama. I rowed on the varsity crew. After college, I took up acting. In Japan, you would have seen me as Babe Ruth in their popular show THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF JAPANESE BASEBALL. (That should give you a good idea of what I look like. I was Off-Off Broadway in BACKSTAGE BITCHES which had a limited run at the Cabaret Duplex in New York City. I was also in one of the road shows of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

Over the years I've had a love/hate relationship with writing. I've published a romance, RIVER OF RAIN for MacFadden under a pen name, and a mystery, THE CAMPUS KILLINGS under my own name. Both books are now out of print in the United States, although I hear that KILLINGS has recently been translated into Italian, but I no longer own the rights to that book.

When I turned 40, I took up bicycling and cycled across the country and down to Key West, Florida where I won the Hemingway Storytelling Contest several years in a row in the early 90s.

In 2004 Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine published ANTEBELLUM, a mystery set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and in May 2013, AHMM published SEEING DOUBLE, a modern mystery set in Maryland.

Currently, my wife and I live on a sailboat at a marina just off the Chesapeake Bay.


Q&A

1) What inspired you to write MURDER BEYOND THE MILKY WAY? & 2) Can you tell us about your writing process.

MURDER BEYOND THE MILKY WAS is the product of several divergent ideas that merged into one.  The first one was simple.  I’m a mystery writer and I wanted to write a mystery.  But what kind of mystery.  I thought a murder mystery would be nice... a simple, straight forward someone lying in a pool of blood kind of mystery. 

Okay step one: if’ I was going to write a murder mystery, I needed a victim and not just any victim.  I had to kill someone whom the people in the story would care enough about to do something about it and thereby bring the reader along on their quest for answers.

To me, in its basic form, a murder mystery is a “QUEST” story, like the Arthurian quest for the Holy Grail.  The Holy Grail in a murder mystery is to not only find the killer but also to understand why the killer took that particular life in the first place.  So, I needed a knight, a hero... someone who cared enough about the situation of the murder to put out the effort to find the answer.

You see, if no one cared about the murdered man or what the murdered man stood for, or why he was killed then no one would be motivated enough to find the answers to the unsolved questions. It’s not just the murderer who needs a motive.  The protagonist also needs a motive to motivate him to solve the crime.

In the classic MALTESE FALCON, Sam Spade doesn’t care for his partner who is killed in the beginning of the book.  But Archer was his partner and whether he liked him or not, Spade was honor bound to do something about it.  Spade was a private detective.  It would be bad for business if he let the killer get away with the crime.  Spade cared about how he would be perceived by other people.  He was motivated by self-interest rather than a sense of justice.
Step two:  I am a great fan of General Hospital.  I got hooked on it back in the early 1990s when I was in the hospital with a ruptured pancreas.  (Another story for another time.)  During the months I spent flat on my back, the only thing I could do was watch TV.  This was in the days before cable and the hospital only had four stations: the hospital station and the ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates.  The TV was mounted on the wall and set to the ABC channel and I was too doped up to change it so I became addicted to the ABC soaps.   The Sonny/Jason dynamic has always intrigued me.  So when it came time to construct MURDER, I wondered what Jason would have done if Sonny had been killed?  (For you non GH fans, Sonny is a Godfather-like character and Jason is his chief enforcer.)

That gave me my first plot point: Steve Summerset is killed and Matt Quincey is angry enough to do something about it. (The why is a spoiler, I don’t want to reveal here.) 

As Sherlock Holmes said, “Come, Watson, come!  The game is afoot...”  But where were their feet going to tread?  Which brings me to the third idea that was floating around in my head: Communism.  Marx got it wrong... well, sort of.  He took a Biblical idea and missed the point in creating an economic system centered on the worker.

In the Bible in Acts 2:44-46 it is written And all that believed were together, and had all things common;  And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.  And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart...  and then in Acts 4:34-35 it is written:  Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,  And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need...

In these two examples, the first experiment in Communism was not centered on the worker, but on the workers’ devotion to God.  In the next chapter, Ananias and Sapphira bring a portion of the what they sold their property for and GOD killed them for claiming that they had brought it all.  Their eyes were obviously not on the prize.  Marx took religion out of the equation and made the state God.  Big mistake.  The state is merely a human construct that people may or may not develop devotion to.  A state can be over thrown, God cannot.

Therefore, if a community is going to function communistically, the individuals in that community must have their eyes set on something higher than the concept of a “State” or they have to be so personally invested in whatever they have they eyes set on that to over throw it is to over throw themselves.

Since no place like that can exist on the Earth, I created Magnum-4, a planet in an isolated portion of space.  The planet is made up of the most sought after commodity in the known universe, red ore.  The people on Magnum-4 are there for one reason and one reason only:  they intend to mine the planet to extinction and leave with more wealth than a human could hope to spend in several lifetimes (which is good since Youth Treatments have extended the normal human span out to close to a millennia if anyone had the money to pay for it.)  The inhabitants of Magnum-4 have the money and more.  Greed is their god and self-interest is the motivator.  To go against the system is in every respect to go against themselves.  Very few people will go out of the way to shoot themselves in the foot.  It hurts and most people will do anything to avoid pain.

So... by necessity, in order to have fun with my idea of communism, I had to take my players into the realm of space opera.  I consider MURDER BEYOND THE MILKY WAY more a space opera than a science fiction piece.  A reader may disagree.  One of my beta-readers has suggested that my Quincey character owes more to Kurosawa than to General Hospital since with Steve’s death, Quincey acts very much like the Ronin in YOJIMBO.  I won’t deny it.  I’ve seen Kurosawa’s films dozens of times and could easily have absorbed some of his ideas.  In MURDER, Quincey is so angry that the Vigilance Committee, itself a star chamber with the power of life and death over everyone on Magnum-4, literally does not want to get in his way.  They know that when he catches the killer, his justice will be as swift as theirs.  It suits their purpose to give him carte blanche and back off.  (Why is another spoiler.)

Okay.  So I have a murder taking place on the edge of explored space.  Who or what controls “explored” space?  And here, I owe a lot to William Harrison’s ROLLERBALL.  Corporations run things in the future, just as they do now, only there is no need to hide behind pseudo-governments.  The corporations have divided the arm of the galaxy between themselves.  They missed Magnum-4 because it was literally off their radar and by the time they realized it was there, the miners were already in place and producing.  Think of the Kimberly diamond mines and you’ll pretty much have my prototype for the operation out in space and the effect that they would have should they flood the market with their product.

I have the crime.  I have the place.  Now all I needed to do was populate my fictional world with a planet load of fictional characters.  (Who said that writing isn’t fun.)  I had two problems, here, I had to overcome.  The first, there were going to be no persons of color in the story.  There didn’t need to be since by this time in man’s future, the human race had become homogenized.   Periodically, you have recessive genes re-emerging giving people like Alyson Lehman her striking black hair and almond shaped eyes.  The second problem dealt with aliens, or the lack thereof.

Way back in college, I read a book by a mathematician called THE BLIND WATCHMAKER.  In it he postulated that it would take an infinite universe with an infinite number galaxies with an infinite number of planets just to reduce the probability of life occurring on one of them to zero.  In other words, there are no aliens.  We are alone.  Using his theory, I can send anyone anywhere and not worry about stepping one someone’s squiggly toes.

I also chose to avoid the metric system measurements.  By definition a meter is one-ten-millionth the distance from the equator to the pole measured on a meridian on Earth (my italics).  To me that meant that unless the non-earth planet were the exact same size as Earth itself, a meter on one planet would be different than a meter on another planet.  However, an inch on Earth is an inch on Mars and so on.

Once I had the who and the where, I had to create a timeline into which I had to weave the what, when and why of the story.

While Lydia is at a meeting with the planet’s mine owners, Steve is murdered.  A blade-like shard of sharp silicon rock is shoved into his chest.  I know by whom and why they did it.  I know it, but Quincey doesn’t; neither does Lydia, Steve’s lover and member of the all-powerful Directorate that controls their particular parsec of space; nor Jane, Steve’s daughter; nor Harry Salem, the poor son-of-a-bitch who has been sent to the farthest reaches known to man to convince Lydia to return to Earth Prime and resume her duties as part of the Directorate.  This allowed me to make Harry the unwilling Watson to Quincey’s Holmes.

Harry is literally dragged kicking and screaming into a mystery abut which he could care less. However, over the course of the novel he comes to care about it and the people who are affected by it.  Add to this core of central characters a list of subsidiary ones who populate, live on and work on Magnum-4 and who frequently get in each other’s way and there you have it.

3.) What kinds of readers would most enjoy your work?

Hopefully all mystery and scifi readers say sixteen and older.

4.) What do you hope that readers will take away from your work?

A new understanding of the problems that currently beset mankind.

5.) Who is your favorite fictional character?

Ahab from MOBY DICK.

6.) How would you describe your writing style?

Conversational.  I like to write as if I am physically telling someone the story.

7.) What's your ultimate writing goal?

To tell a story that people will remember.

Nascent Decay

Nascent Decay - Charles Hash

I read this book in December and it's taken me this long to determine exactly how I wanted to put together the review. To say that I enjoyed this book would be an understatement, as well as a bit misleading. Nascent Decay is a dark and heavy book to read. But if you can stomach some horribly uncomfortable scenes, the payoff is well worth the effort. 

Rhylie is a well developed character who pulls at your heart strings as she's forced to endure trial after torturous trial in her attempt to survive the cruel plot that has befallen her. 

Throughout my reading, I was torn between the struggle to want to look away during the difficult scenes and my inability to put the book down until the final page had been turned. 

This book is a combination of horror, science fiction, and psychological thriller, and that is a very powerful grouping of genres, especially when in the hands of Mr. Charles Edward Hash. He will leave you simultaneously cringing at the horror you just witnessed and wanting to read more. 


Some Bio Information

Charles Hash is a reclusive individual that doesn't like to talk about himself often. He has finally published two novels after years of struggling with writer's block, and he has written a few short stories along the way as well.

His work tends to explore the darker, grittier side of life, where there are no happy endings. There is always a price to be paid for everything, and usually the cost is too great a burden to bear. He writes with a hammer hidden behind his back, waiting patiently for the perfect moment to drop it in a series of blows that leaves the reader reeling.

In his plots, he explores hot-button topics between his characters whenever possible, pushing boundaries wherever he finds them. Within his published works you will find transgender characters, suicide, failure, grief, hopelessness, coping, survival; all of which are integral components in the specific brand of horror he creates, incorporating a wide variety of different styles into his writing as well.


Q&A

1. What inspired you to write this book?

This is a difficult question to answer, and I'm not sure where to begin. Nascent Decay was the result of a long-simmering desire to merge my favorite genres with heavy drama. Those being horror, fantasy, and science fiction. I draw on all three heavily in anything I write. But the tipping point was a single thought. What if someone awoke from stasis to find out they were the only human remaining in a galaxy populated by hundreds of other sentient races? I eventually took that notion a different direction, but that was really all it took. One good launching point.

2. Was there a deciding point in your life that made you want to become an author?

I've always wanted to create, and at the heart of that was writing, I suppose, whether it would have been lyrics, comic books, television, movies, or novels. I'm not sure I ever made a conscious choice to become an Author, although like many others I would often say naively, "I'd like to write a book one day." Even Nascent Decay was originally intended to be a comic book series, until I found out about the advances in self and indie publishing.

3. Are there any authors who influence your writing?

Absolutely, and it is an odd list for sure. Roald Dahl, Hans Christian Andersen, George RR Martin, Robert Kirkman, Vince Gilligan, Clive Barker, VC Andrews, C.S. Lewis, Ray Bradbury, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, Frank Miller, and many others. Lately I've been more open to being influenced, especially by Indie Authors, and I have learned and expanded my own capabilities from reading Dwayne Fry, Owen O'Neill, Christina McMullen, Anthony J. Deeney, AE Hellstrom, and BB Wynter. Through reading their work, I have learned to push my own restrictions farther back, and really throw my tentacles out there.

4. Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process?

I vomit out a rough outline. It doesn't need to be stable, or polished, it just has to work. No inherent flaws or anything that goes against a character's nature. After that I zero in on the character I'm writing from the PoV of, and slip into their mind as best I can, becoming them if possible. Music that captures the essence of what I want that character to be helps greatly. I write the machinations, the occurrences, the dialogue, and I don't stop for anything. I don't rewrite, or proof or edit until the draft is finished. After that, I go back and do the heavy editing, adding internalizations, descriptions, and any other little tidbits I can think of to flesh it out, including one-off PoVs.

5. Who is your favorite character in your work?

Just six months ago I would have said Rhylie, and before that, Mersi. But now I have to admit that it is Adam. He is so challenging to write, and yet so fun. Anything can happen. Anything can be justified. He's dangerous, unstable, deluded, violent, and sadistic, with a very dark sense of humor. Some of the things he does are so horrific that I decided I wasn't going to write them. Some of the things he does are so horrible that I don't want to describe them. But Adam is what makes the wheels turn for now. And when I write him, I hold my breath.

6. How would you describe your writing style?

I'd like to think it is both balanced and varied, a conglomeration of the authors I listed above. Poetic when needed, concise when required, and packed to the brim with plot. I try to give each character a different "voice" when I write them that is unique to them. I don't think I could bring myself to write the same character twice under different names, in different books. I'd like to think that it is very intimate as well, possibly too heavy with internalizations at times.

7. What’s your ultimate writing goal?

"Crush my enemies. See them driven before me. Hear the lamentations of their women."

Sky High

Sky High - Helge Mahrt

I like to read books that take a creative stance on how the future of the earth might play out. Lots of books, television shows, and movies have tackled this topic, but every once in a while I stumble on a unique concept that makes me fall in love with the genre all over again. 

Sky High is a fast paced and straight to the point work that left my heart racing despite the questions circling around my head. It has a Brave New World feeling to it, but the plot is one that seems terrifyingly plausible. In addition, while the plot is nowhere near similar, the slang used throughout the work reminded me slightly of A Clockwork Orange, however, Sky High is much easier to read than the slang/dialect in A Clockwork Orange. 

My main complaint is that I have so many questions after finishing reading it. I'm not sure if the author is planning a sequel or not, but I desperately hope so. Overall the plot is very well paced, character development is excellent, and I was hooked within the first couple of chapters, unable to stop reading until I was finished. 

Highly recommended and I look forward to this author's future work. 


Some Bio Information

My name is Helge (pronounced hell-ge, ge like in get) and judging by my name you probably have already guessed that I’m not a native English speaker. Actually I’m German, but I am married to a Spanish woman and have been living in Madrid for seven years already.

My interest in writing sparked very early, when I was still in primary school. We would get little comic strips of four vignettes and had to write stories that matched the images. I was amazed by the possibilities and enjoyed the task immensely.

In my teens I had some ideas floating around in my head and I did a lot of world building for a story that I’ve never gotten around to bring to paper. I still remember fondly how I’d type on an old IBM notebook (which was more like a brick) after dark, when I was supposed to be sleeping already.

After finishing my A levels, writing didn’t play a big role in my life until recently. I was busy studying computer science, and then moving to Spain, and all that entails, but I’ve always had this notion of “one day I’ll write a book”.

Eventually I realized that “one day” will never come unless you sit down and put some work into it. So in 2013 I learned about NaNoWriMo and decided to participate. I actually managed to crank out about 6000 words on the first weekend but then failed miserably. I just didn’t have the discipline yet.

I tried again in 2014 and managed to write every single day. It was very exhausting, for I also had to work my day job, but it was also a revelation. Not only was I able to achieve the insane goal of 50000 words but also something incredible happened: When reading a book, I usually reach a state where I’m not aware of the actual act of reading anymore, but just of the images created in my mind. Something similar happened while writing, only a lot more intensive. I was so immersed in my story, and in discovering what was happening next, that I forgot that I was typing. It felt like reading a book, but the experience was a lot more powerful.

So here I am now. I have a full time job at a big IT company, which is quite demanding, and I’m trying to find time to write on my second book whenever I can.


Q&A

1. Tell us a little about what inspired you to write this book. 

I don’t exactly remember when I first had the idea, but I wanted to try creating a different kind of Sci-Fi story. Most of which I’ve read play in Space, where the human race managed to get off Earth. So I asked myself: What if we failed to colonize space? What if we were stuck here, running out of living space? So I started dreaming up Skyreach and this really cool transportation medium, the Tubes going up and down the city, and things took off from there.
While writing Sky High, I almost exclusively listened to Ellie Goulding’s album Halcyon Days, and I feel that it influenced the story.

2. How long did it take you to put your work together? 

Sky High was my NaNoWriMo 2014 project. I wrote the first 50k words within a month, but then made the mistake to take a break. Stuff happened, and it was September 2015 before I got to continue the story. I had lost all momentum and had to read what I had written so far again. It was really tough to get a vibe going again, but it was also a very surprising experience – there were so many details which I had forgotten already, and I really liked what I had so far.
I resumed writing and finished the story in another 15k words or so. All in all – pure writing time – I’d say it took me 2 months.

3. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? 

I have a fulltime day job, so I have to squeeze in writing time whenever I can – usually in the evenings when my wife is already asleep. 

When writing Sky High, I had to keep up with the daily word goal, which was quite tough. We were still living in a smaller flat and my desk was in the living room, right next to the TV. While my wife was relaxing on the couch, I put on my headset, cranked up the music to drown out the TV, and then wrote for about 2 hours every night. It was a rush, but I ended up exhausted at the end of November. 

In 2013 I first participated in NaNoWriMo, but I started late and failed after about 5000 words. I swore to prepare better next time, so I used October 2015 to start inventing the world my story would take place in, and some of the main characters. From there I took the “pantser approach” and just started writing, never looking back.

4. What was your least favorite part of the writing process? 

I think the worst part was waiting for my editor to be done. It’s not that he was slow, but it was so hard to wait!

5. How would you describe your writing style? 

Since the book has been out, I’ve read a couple of times that my style is “precise”. I think I can agree with that: The draft I sent off to my editor was right below 65k words, and when it came back it only shrank down to about 63k. I’ve read that most writers need to cut down on their writing, after the first draft, but I always have the feeling that I need to expand more on different topics/parts. I’m a very goal-oriented person – trying to get there in the most efficient manner - and I think it shows in my writing. 

6. What is your ultimate writing goal? 

I’d love to be able to live off my writing.

7. What would you like readers to take away from your work? 

First of all, I’d like them to enjoy what they’re reading. I think that’s most important. 
Further than that, it’s hard to tell at this point. I’ve only written one book so far. With Sky High, my goal was to create a mad-chase experience, and I think I’ve succeeded in that. With my next project, I’d like to create a different experience – but I haven’t decided on which exactly yet.

Wisdom

Wisdom - Patrick Tylee

If the creepy cover doesn't say enough about what you're going to find within the book. . .well. . .I don't know where I was going with that. But perhaps I should rephrase: the cover is highly appropriate for the level of creepy and cringe worthy (in a good way) plot that you will find within the pages. 

I loved the concept of this book, but there were a few places where I got tripped up and had difficulty following the plot line. However, the characters are extremely in depth - I love Jove and Elmyrah - and the writing was excellent. I just got lost with new names, phrasing, etc. 

I recommend taking your time with this book and really digging in to get the most out of it.


Some Bio Information

Patrick was born in the sunny and hot southwestern United States, and lives there in a small town of just over ten thousand people. He is married with two sons and two grandsons.
As a child, his favorite place was the public library. In college he studied art, business management, and later computer technology and adaptive education.

When possible, Patrick leaves the car behind and takes off on a motorcycle. Sometimes he leaves the road all together in the family Jeep.

His favorite authors include Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, Gene Roddenberry, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke.


Q&A

1.What inspired you to write this book? 

I believe that people exist on faraway planets, and in other realms which our human senses cannot perceive. They’re born, or manufactured, somehow created. Their hearts yearn for things that are just out of reach. Regardless of which star keeps you warm, losing a loved one is a pain that stabs with a cold blade.

In late 2012, the lives of several characters became real to me. By New Years Day, their story was too big to keep in my head. I wrote page one on January 7th, 2013, just to make room for them to continue sharing their experiences.

There was a need in me to share the hurts and triumphs of these people that must surely exist somewhere besides my imagination.

2. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process?

For Wisdom, it was more like doing a biography. As the characters opened up, the more the story evolved. Like spokes of a wheel, their lives all came to focus at one point.

For the sequel, Rebellion, I took more control of how their lives would go, where they would end up. I started with a story map. When there was momentum, I drafted the last chapter and wrote the plot lines to it.

These days, I’ve learned to be much more disciplined in the beginning. For my current project, I spent a solid month in research. I was careful to build out every aspect of a dozen characters prior to the opening paragraph. It was perfect timing to attend a class on Character Alchemization, taught by author Connie Flynn at the Avondale Writer’s Conference in early November.

3. Describe your favorite scene in this book. 

It’s the picnic in Saint Varten’s Park. Jove and Elmyrah lay a blue and white checkered tablecloth out on the grass, to enjoy BLT’s washed down with pints of mercurochrome. He’s trying to help her come to grips with who she is and what she is - the first artificial human hybrid. Her SynThinker is running a mile a minute, with her little girl humanity racing to keep up. It’s a poignant moment when she realizes that no matter how intelligent she is, there’s no answer inside of her for why all the terrible things do happen in life.

Jove asks, “Why what?”

She screams, “Why everything!”

4. What does the perfect writing environment look like to you? 

A variable height desk in a corner office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

With a Chipotle restaurant two doors down.

5. How would you describe your writing style? 

When away from the writing desk, I observe real people as they go about their day, or how nature operates. I practice thinking of how I would employ exposition to show these actions or record their conversations.

At the writing desk, I visualize the scene with characters as it would look in a movie. Then I use the previous method and type as fast as I can as I see it in my head. Sometimes, I have to ask the characters to repeat themselves while I catch up.

6. What would you like readers to take away from your book? 

Yes, it’s sci-fi. 

But, it’s about people. Look past the fact that the antagonist is a conjoined starfish as big as a truck swimming in sulfur-dioxide soup. Listen to him. Why is he so ruthless? What would you be willing to die for…to kill for?

It’s about relationship. If no man is an island, then no Synthetic is an asteroid. Find out why the misfit fits in with the…ew…people not like the rest of us.

7. What’s your ultimate writing goal? 

That in fifty years, a child will go to the library and check out a classic. Looking up from the pages, the youngster will smile and wave back, wondering about a day long ago, when librarians were still organic.

“That’d be silly,” the child says. “Only a Mrs. Dewey knows exactly where every one of the millions of books are!” 

Slumberscythe

Slumberscythe - Vance Bastian

There is nothing better than when a book surprises you. 

It's a beautiful moment when you suddenly feel connected to a work and you're unable to look away or set it down. 

Slumberscythe sneaks up on you. While it seems to start a little slow, it didn't take long for me to be caught up in the action and the intrigue of what James is going through. And as the pages continued, the plot continued to go deeper while simultaneously weaving delightful layers that not only enhanced the characters, but made it impossible not to finish the rest of the book as quickly as possible. 

Very well written. Highly enjoyable plot and characters -- James is just fantastic! And overall, a book that I strongly recommend. 


Some Bio Information

Vance Bastian has a degree in linguistics, a sordid past as an actor and director, and a confusing job as a production editor bringing other people's books into the world. He asks that you don't hold any of that against him.

Quite recently he's come to love his gig as a podcast host, audiobook narrator, book reviewer, and author. These jobs you can hold that against him all you want.

Vance's life goal has always been to master the art of the tale. He brings a powerful, visual, action-oriented storytelling background to his novels.

Vance lives with his fiancée and their feisty dog. He's pretty sure both of them think he's insane for pursuing a creative life.


Q&A

1. What inspired you to write this book?

Two things.  First, growing up I’d never had an adventure style story with a character who was gay like me. That character exists in romance, but I’m a science-fiction/fantasy nerd at heart. All my life I’d looked without finding a hero I could relate to. Finally, I wrote the story I wanted to read.

Second, the actual plot came to me while mountain hiking in upstate New York. There’s a local legend about The Hermit of Storm King Mountain. Just that phrase alone sent my creativity into overdrive. After outlining the series, the Hermit and his mountain have been moved to Book Two, but they get inspirational credit.

2. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process?

I am pretty evenly balanced between being a Plotter and a Pantser. As I mentioned, the whole series has a skeleton of a timeline that has individual character goals and world events marked out. From that, I’ve written a one-sentence logline of what I want to happen in each chapter.

However, when I sit down to write, I engage storytelling creativity by narrating out loud as I type. Sometimes I use dictation software, sometimes I want the keys under my fingers. It’s at that point that the characters who are in focus that chapter usually hijack my chapter goals and issue a list of their own demands.

3. How would you describe your writing style?

Slightly snarky, fan-boy urban fantasy with hidden linguistic gems. I love inside jokes that don’t detract from the plot in any way. For example, all of my Sandmen have agent handles that come from words related to dreams or sleep in other languages.

4. Who is your favorite fictional character?

There are too many! I love the good-hearted roguish character. The one who thinks on his feet, might live a touch in the shadows, but will come back and do the right thing. Robin Hood, Han Solo, heck even Harry Dresden all fit the type.

5. What is your least favorite part of the writing process?

Marketing. I was born and raised in the Midwest where self-promotion is, uh… not encouraged. No matter your publisher – self or otherwise – an author needs to be out and about talking about what they’re writing.

6. Is there a particular author that inspired you to become a writer?

J. R. R. Tolkein opened my mind to what a book can do for the imagination. Donald J. Sobol (The Encyclopedia Brown series) and later Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) held my attention for as series writers who made a living with the pen. They were probably the first who made me think, “This could be a career.”  Since then, I’ve read almost a book a month and have encountered far too many phenomenal works to try to categorize that inspiration further.

7. What’s your ultimate writing goal?

I have always wanted to be a storyteller. I recently took another step that direction when I was accepted as an Audible (ACX) audiobook narrator. My personal goal is to make my living delivering stories – mine and other authors’ – to anyone who still hears “what if?” when they dream.

A Brief Stay at Human Earth Camp

A Brief Stay at Human Earth Camp - Marie C. Collins

You don't realize how much coming-of-age stories influence you until you're an adult looking back on your teenage years. So many of the books that I read at the time were changing how I perceived and reacted to situations. 

It's because of this that these books are so vitally important to our community. And I love seeing the spin that each individual author puts on the genre. Marie C. Collins uses the fantastic and science fiction aspect to force her two main characters to rapidly mature. 

I cringed as I saw where the plot was going in the first few chapters. First of all, I hated camp as a child. So much. The kids were never nice. I never fit in. And I was out of my comfort zone. So imagine that multiplied by 100 and you've got the plot of A Brief Stay at Human Earth Camp. 

Despite the awkwardness, there are some great lessons in maturity and learning to be courageous that young adults can take away from this book. Overall a great read. 


Some Bio Information

Marie C. Collins lives in Lambertville, New Jersey (USA), with her two dogs, George Eliot and Henry James, who—in spite of their snoring and a tendency to sniff horrifying things—are very good company (and in return, endure Marie’s insistence that they LOVE being kissed on their snouts). Marie holds a BA in English & Journalism and an MA in English Literature and has worked for 30 years as a writer/editor for hire. She has a daughter she adores, Laurel Pellegrino, who is now a doctor in Seattle.


Q&A

1. Where did you get the idea for your book?

I knew I wanted to write a sci-fi series for the 11-15 age group that was fun and adventuresome, but also grounded in what life is really like in your early teens, so one day I sat on my front porch with a clipboard and pen to brainstorm. I was toying with thoughts about “cultural difference” — the fact that so many of us are blends of races, ethnicities, and cultures — when the idea of being “half alien” came to me as an ultimate form of difference for a sci-fi story. Within an hour, the Reade family, their special talents, and their home life were on the page — including the Globots and some Farbookonian characters we’ll meet in later books. I also knew the parents would make incredible robots. So my first ideas were about where I wanted the series as a whole to go. Then A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp came about because I felt Anne and Atticus needed an introduction to Earth human society before any of the rest could happen. 

2. What age group did you write for?

My target readership is 11-15, so it straddles two audience categories: Upper-middle-grade and the young side of YA. 

3. Who is your favorite character in your work?

I have a soft spot for all my characters. I put some traits of myself and my daughter in the main characters — mainly our orientation to the world (we were both very shy as children). Also, like my character Anne, I have a crazy-active dream life. I gave her one dream I had when I was her age (the diving dream), and a character in one of her last dreams (the map man) came to me in a dream years before I even thought about writing the book. But that doesn’t make me partial to them. They’re all very different and I love them all. 

4. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?

For me, the more I know about where I’m going, the better I write. If I don’t know where I’m heading, I wander hopelessly or spend too much time on details and events that interest me but don’t move the plot. To maintain control, I use many practical tools — outlining, charting, diagramming, deep questioning. But having said that, I don’t map out the whole book before I start writing. I know the ending, then it’s more like map, write, map, write, map, write.

5. How would you describe your writing style?

This may seem like a contradiction, since I’ve written a long book, but I tend be economical (as opposed to repetitive), something that earned me the descriptor, “snappy,” from a few different teachers over the years. I am also very visual. I try to focus on details that conjure a strong sense of place. Other than that, I prefer to leave a description of my style to others.

6. What’s your favorite scene that you’ve ever written?

My favorite chapter in A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp is Chapter 35: Robot Logic. But I would have to say my favorite scene to write was the final one, in which the actions of several characters converge and climax. I really enjoyed working on the timing and tension of that scene.

7. What’s your ultimate writing goal?

In writing for young readers, my goals is to provide a challenging, fun, and stimulating read that engages them fully, invites them to imagine themselves in the action, and makes them not want to put the book down.

The Phantom Cabinet

The Phantom Cabinet - Jeremy Thompson

Everyone has their own viewpoint of what constitutes a "good" horror story. For me personally, I want a story that keeps me on the edge of my seat, makes me slightly nervous and unable to sleep, and DOESN'T gross me out with overly gory details. 

As I began reading The Phantom Cabinet, I had no idea what conclusion the book was leading me to. I chose to read it at night and was definitely second guessing every bump in the dark. But when I stopped reading for the night, I was frustrated. I struggle through stories where the main character is continuously pummeled by misfortune. (Yes, I said pummeled) 

But I was still enjoying the plot, so I continued to read the following morning. Without giving away any more of the plot, my whole perspective of this book shifted through the second half of the plot. 

While the entire book is well written with fantastic language, dialogue, descriptions, etc, it's the second half of the book where the plot fully matures (more than simply concluding). 

If you're looking for a unique horror book, pick up this one. It's on an entirely different level than any I've read before. 


Some Bio Information

A San Diego State graduate, Jeremy Thompson resides in Southern California, where he writes horror, SF, thrillers, and bizarro fiction. Jeremy's books include The Phantom Cabinet and The Fetus and Other Stories. His short fiction has appeared in Under the Bed and Into the Darkness: Volume One.


Q&A

1. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process?

Generally, I drink two or three cups of coffee while visiting my favorite websites. Once I get a decent caffeine buzz going, I start writing. I tend to work on multiple projects at once, which most days entails both writing and editing. I enjoy writing to music, but often edit in silence.  

2. What inspired you to write this book?

I wanted to write a ghost novel wherein heaven and hell don’t exist. Too many ghost stories end with a spirit ascending to heaven or being condemned to hell. In contrast, I devised a singular afterlife where everyone ends up regardless of their earthly deeds. I also wanted to learn more about space shuttles and satellites, which researching The Phantom Cabinet allowed me to do.  

3. What well known author would you compare yourself to?

Off the top of my head, I’d compare myself to Warren Ellis. Like him, I am interested in science and have a somewhat cynical view of humanity, which is reflected in much of my work. 

4. Describe the perfect writing environment. 

The perfect writing environment is one without distractions. I prefer to be alone, seated in a comfortable chair, with music playing low in the background. A good Internet connection is crucial.

5. How would you describe your writing style?

I would describe my writing style as classical with modern sensibilities. Aside from some dialogue, I try to keep my prose ornate, so as to imbue each story with a timeless quality.  

6. What would you like your readers to take away from your book?

Hopefully, readers will finish my book with the notion that its afterlife is somewhat plausible. And if they enjoyed The Phantom Cabinet enough to read more of my writing, all the better. 

7. What’s your ultimate writing goal? 

Ultimately, I’d like to have a good-sized bibliography that generates enough income for me to live comfortably. I would also like to branch out into screenwriting and comic book scripting at some point.

A Heart of Black Fire

A Heart of Black Fire - Seth Frederiksen

There is something about an anthology of well put together short stories that reminds me of my childhood. Most likely because I grew up reading Bradbury as I sat in front of my window fan in the middle of the hot summer. I don't even know what Dandelion Wine tastes like, but every summer I think about making some!

With A Heart of Black Fire, Frederiksen has taken a dark and gruesome subject and turned it into a haunting series of tales and poems, with some qualities of some of my favorite fantasies. 

While with some short story anthologies, I begin to feel disconnected when reading them and have to take a break between each individual piece in order to clear my head, in this one, the pieces blended smoothly together with lovely descriptions and a dark atmosphere. I felt almost a little lulled into a peaceful state, despite the dark subject matter. 

I definitely recommended setting some time aside to read this anthology. 


Some Bio Information

Currently living in North Carolina, this California native is working on breaking into the writing world outside of making a name for himself in the historical field. Focusing on fantasy, science fiction, and horror, he uses his historical training to bring life to his characters and stories. Having published over a dozen pieces and an anthology of many of his works, he aims to make his writing aspirations into a reality.


Q&A

1. Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book?

Most of the stories were inspired by historical events and people who I felt needed to have their stories told in a new way. Other stories like I Am the Hunter and The Lord of Nights were inspired by dreams. And The Sword and The Squire were inspired by a scene I was writing when I was working on a King Arthur novel. 

2. What’s your favorite piece in it?

You know, I'd have to say the The Pursuit of Cheerless Toil was the work that I am particularly proud of. It was first inspired by the poem To No End But Death, and I felt that the short story carried that feeling over quite well.  

3. What well-known author would you compare yourself to?

Wow, that is a tough question. There are two major writers I would hope to be compared to; J.R.R. Tolkien and William Shakespeare. Both took great strides in literature and giving their audience stories that are still talked about to this day.

4. Can you share a little bit about your writing process with us?

Hmm, I wished I have a set process, since that would be a lot easier to say. But in all honesty, it has a very on the go way to it. Usually I'll get an idea by reading about historical events and situations, plus I've gotten a couple from current events. Once the story is in I'll start working the plot out roughly until I start writing it. And while I'm working on the story I'll sometimes add a few changes here and there to keep the story interesting 

5. What’s your lease favorite part of the writing process?

Editing, hands down. Though I admit it is very critical in the writing process. It's just that while I'm editing I start second guessing myself...and that leads to internal discussions and debates inside my head. And that's rarely a pleasant experience.

6. What would you like your readers to take away from your book?

At the very least I'd like the reader to finish each story with a feeling that they were on an adventure they've never been on before. I know fantasy and science fiction have been somewhat lacking in originality and I am hoping to help change that. 

7. What’s your ultimate writing goal? 

Honestly, I'd love to have a bust or a plaque in the Poet's Corner. I've always felt that was the truest honor bestowed on to a writer. I know it's a bit romantic and a tad outlandish, but that would really make my life worth everything I've gone through to think of having my name associated with the greats. 

The False Titanbringer: Complete Trilogy

The False Titanbringer - Riley and Sara Lynn Westbrook 

What do you think of when you hear the word dragon? 

Big scaly beast with an attitude right? Yeah. Me too. So when I started The Westbrook's Trilogy, I struggled to wrap my head around a reptilian human looking figure who could sprout wings and take off. But it was this determination to truly visualize and understand this character that brought this series to life for me. 

This trilogy included a lot of elements that reminded me of several other series. Sure you've got a little Terry Brooks and perhaps even Tolkien, but then there's some Frank Herbert and all the personal drama of Game of Thrones, Spartacus, and/or Rome. 

I love when authors put all their books together into one unified trilogy for readers. This makes it easy for me to keep track of where I'm at and (don't ever quote me on this because I'll deny it) knowing how much longer I have before the end of a book helps me control my anxiety level regarding the characters' hurdles and crises. 

Overall, The False Titanbringer is a vastly enjoyable and creative work. I can honestly say that I've never read anything quite like it. Looking forward to reading more by The Talented Westbrooks. 


Some Bio Information

Riley is an ex-CNA who found himself unable to do the job he loved. Injured, out of work, and stumbling through life, he happened to start writing down his thoughts. Once that happened, he fell in love and has been writing since.

Sara is Riley's companion. She doesn't understand the persistent need to write that her husband has, but she is a good wife who loves her husband. She supports him by making sure the drivel that leaves his mouth isn't completely full of idiocy.


Q&A

1. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process?

Well, unlike most writers I don't drink very often at all. But we all have our poisons of choice, our vices that we just can't give up. Mine just so happens to be marijuana. I find it very relaxing to enjoy a puff or two, or sometimes a laced brownie, just to help ease the pain I have in my back. Couple that with the imagination I've had ever since I was a child, and a determination to not go insane in my struggles to get back to a good weight (Seriously folks, I'll be happy when I hit 300 pounds, that'll put me at 325 lost, and I will be writing a weight loss book, so keep your eyes out!).

The process is quite simple, I think of how I want something to end. Then I ask, what started it? And from there I just let my mind flow. I once attempted to write a true “outlined, snowflake method, you should do this when you write” book and it just does not work for me. The same site I found the Snowflake method on though, did give me the best advice. Whatever works for you, works.

After I pour my heart upon the page, leaving a scattered wasteland of broken grammar and incoherent ramblings...My wife comes through and translates the Rilenese into English. I freely admit that without her, these books wouldn't be half of what they are. She gives me ideas while I'm writing, she translates the first draft so I can start to edit it, and she's what I call “quality control” because otherwise....I'll just leave it at that.

2. Describe your favorite place.

...I thought you wanted me to keep this PG? All joking aside, it really doesn't matter to me as long as I have my beautiful wife by my side. She may drive me insane with her rage, she may not be the most social of individuals, but there's no one in the world (Not even my own mom.) that understands me like she does.

Her answer would be Ocean Shores, WA on a cloudy day with a cold wind rolling off the waves, so that's good enough for me.

3. What inspired you to write this story?

Breath of the Titans is something that's been rattling around inside my head for years, I just never wrote it down until I did. It's a conglomeration of years as a Dungeon Master, spending time traveling through lands and conquering dragons with my friends since a young age. Running around with sticks, playing with pen, paper, and dice, all of it was amazing and inspiring for this story.

4. How would you describe your writing style?

Riley: The acronym of my name.
Sara: I piece it together, making it coherent. So others may understand it.

5. What is your favorite part of your book?

Honestly, the fire breathing chicken. I admit, the creature doesn't add a lot to the story. And it came to me on a whim, watching the intro to Good Mythical Morning on Youtube. It features a fire breathing chicken, and I needed a creature to fit the role. It slid perfectly into place, I think before that I was going to bring another ooze monster in, but I don't think the Tuthan priests would stoop low enough to attack Jaxon as he is a small bit player in their minds.

6. What’s your ultimate writing goal?

I accept nothing less than world domination.
Sara: ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR! (Had to throw in a LotR reference, of course.)

7. What’s the most important piece of advice for someone who is considering becoming an indie author?

Sara: Don't be afraid to write what you want to write, it must come from within.

Riley: Where to begin. First, quit looking at other authors as competition. Guess what, I am a consumer. I am also a writer. As a writer, I still consume. Consuming feeds the beast within me that goes on to add to my own exposure, which adds to others. Look at your fellow authors as a resource, not a rival.

Don't expect your book to be a best seller right out of the gate. I'm not saying it can't happen, it can, there are many stories where it does. But for everyone of those, there are hundreds, if not thousands, that amount to nothing.

DON'T BE AFRAID TO GIVE AWAY YOUR BOOK! Especially in an ebook format, I know you wrote it to make money. We get that, everyone wants to make money. But the only way your book is going to catch on is through word of mouth.

I honestly hate to say it, I wish I  could say differently, but if your friends and family buy your book and only your friends and family buy your book, unless it drives you to bestseller ranking or top of the charts, doesn't mean anything.

Some people just aren't going to like your book. Learn which ones are being bullies, and which are honestly trying to help improve you as a writer. Shift through the trash.

Either have thick skin, or be prepared to develop it quick. While some authors are amazing support, some will do nothing but tear you down. Read above instructions.

And last, don't be afraid to be shameless! How do you think Lady Gaga, Miley the virus, all these other stars keep their names in the headlines? Shameless self promotion.

The Story in the Stars

The Story in the Stars - Yvonne Anderson

Adding religion into a book, especially a science fiction book, is a bold move for any author to make. Not only does it seem like spirituality is taking a back seat these days, but fewer and fewer people are willing to openly talk about it for fear of offending someone or drawing unwanted and controversial attention to their work or posts. 

I was not aware of the Christian subtext when I began this book, but it very quickly made a strong and intriguing appearance. But unlike some reviewers, I didn't have an issue with it being woven into the plot. I enjoy seeing various adaptations of religion, especially differing perspectives on Christianity, brought into fictional works. 

Yvonne does so in a way that did not offend me, did not detract from the plot (in my opinion), and further enhanced the strong character of Dassa. She is a determine woman on a mission and her deep faith enhanced those points. 

I thought this book was very well written. I enjoyed the progress of the plot. The one drawback, for me, was the character of Pik. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that he was poorly written. I'd argue the exact opposite actually. He brought out emotion in me, which I feel is the very definition of a well written character. I simply didn't like him. He was too volatile and rash in his decisions. And his angry outbursts would have scared me a lot, had I been a character in the story. 

But this did not make me dislike the book. I enjoyed reading it and am interested to see where she takes Pik and Dassa in the rest of the series. 


Some Bio Information

Yvonne Anderson writes fiction that takes you out of this world.

The Story in the Stars, the first in the Gateway to Gannah series as well as her debut novel, was a Carol Award finalist in 2012. The adventure continues with Words in the Wind and Ransom in the Rock and concludes with The Last Toqeph.

She lives in Western Maryland with her husband of almost forty years and shares the occasional wise word on her personal site, YsWords. She’s been with The Borrowed Book blog for a couple of years now and coordinated Novel Rocket’s Launch Pad Contest for unpublished novelists since the beginning of time. (Or at least, since the contest’s inception.)

Oh, yeah: she also does freelance editing.


Q&A

1. Who is your favorite author? 

You would ask that question, wouldn’t you? Here’s the problem: I don’t have a favorite author – nor a favorite color, food, movie, song, or anything else. I don’t know if I’m terribly wishy-washy, or if I simply enjoy too many things. But I find it impossible to pick a favorite among so many great choices.

That said, here is an alphabetical list of some of the authors whose books I’ve enjoyed: Maeve Binchy, Athol Dickson, Ken Follett, Neil Gaiman, Graham Greene, Khaled Hosseini, Stephen King, Wally Lamb, Ann LaMott, C. S. Lewis, Chaim Potok, Salman Rushdie, Amy Tan, James Alexander Thomp, J. R. R. Tolkein, and Kurt Vonnegut, among others.

2. What would you like readers to take away from your book? 

Other than an enjoyable read? A clearer understanding of the Christian gospel. 

There seem to be a number of misconceptions about that, even among people whose belief system falls under the heading of “Christian.” So when I wrote about the gospel message that some say God told in the stars, I wanted to be unambiguous as to what that story is. Certainly the reader is free to reject it, but at least she’ll know what she’s turning her back on.

3. What does this book say about you? 

I hope it shows the object of my faith. It might also be evident that I’m not a big fan of science fiction. Quite a few readers say they’ve never read anything quite like this, that it doesn’t seem to be derivative of anything. Not having read much in the genre, I haven’t been influenced by things I’ve read.

4. Describe your favorite place. 

Home. Wherever that happens to be.

5. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? 

I think about a story for quite a while before I write it, but I don’t do any “pre-writing” (outlining, character sketches, that sort of thing). I generally have a beginning and a destination in mind, and I know a couple of the high points that will have to occur along the way. I also know my main character inside and out before I write the first word. For the most part, though, I don’t know what’s going to happen until I start writing. 

In the case of The Story in the Stars, it all started when I read about the theory that when God created the heavens and the earth, He put the constellations in skies to write the gospel message for early man to “read.” (Kind of like the original graphic novel, once you think about it!) I thought it would be fun to write a book in which the characters discovered this story in the stars. I started with creating the planet on which the story would take place, and it all took off from there.

6. What’s your dream vacation?

If you’re paying, I’d enjoy going just about anywhere. 

Seriously, I don’t dream about any sort of vacation; I like my life and don’t usually feel a hankering to get away from it. However, I’m working with a lady in Tasmania to help her with a nonfiction book she’s writing, to get it ready for publication. We’ve been communicating via email and in real-time on Skype, but it would be wonderful to visit Tasmania and meet her face-to-face. While I’m in that part of the world, I’d also like to visit other regions of Australia and also Middle-Earth – I mean, New Zealand.

 7. Is the story over for Pik and Dassa? 

The Story in the Stars is the first in a four-book series. It was originally published in 2011 by a small publisher, Risen Books. They also published the second title, Words in the Wind, in 2012. I self-published the last two titles, Ransom in the Rock and The Last Toqeph, in 2014. Risen Books has now released me from my contract, and I’m republishing the first two titles myself with a few minor tweaks – and more importantly, new cover art. I was never wild about the original covers.

Readers who want to know what happens next for Pik and Dassa can follow all their adventures in the Gateway to Gannah series. Each title can stand alone, but put together, they tell one epic tale. All four are currently available in both print and e-book formats.