Monthly Archives:: March 2015

Some Blog-Off News

March 24, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Plains of Kallanash 2

In a recent blog post, I talked about Mark Lawrence’s brilliant idea to throw a slush-pile of self-published work at ten intrepid bloggers, and leave them to find just one from their twenty five to recommend. All ten bloggers would then read and review all the ten finalists.

The bloggers have been sifting through their slush-piles, and deciding how to tackle their task. Some have picked at random, some have chosen by cover/blurb/title (the time-honoured method), one has divided her pile into more manageable piles of five. The first reviews are trickling in. All the details are on Mark’s blog.

But there was an unexpected development. Another blogger, J R Karlsson of Fictiongarden.com, decided to join the fun, by looking at the entire pile of 250+ books. Quite a challenge! He eliminated some that he’d read already, or were on the site’s ‘recommended’ list. He eliminated some more on the (slightly arbitrary) grounds that he didn’t like the cover or felt he wasn’t the target audience.

The rest, he checked out the ‘look inside’ sample on Amazon, to see whether he could get through the first chapter. He found just 13 that met his personal requirements.

And – yes! – The Plains of Kallanash was on the list!

I was – hmm, how shall I put this? – quite pleased {SQUEEEEE!}. Of course, a lot of truly excellent books will have been eliminated by Karlsson’s process, so it doesn’t mean a huge amount. Still, being one of just 13 selected from a starting point of 250+ is quite something.

He’s now promised to buy, read and review each of the 13 over the course of the next year. I can’t wait to find out what he thinks about Kallanash.

Here’s the link to Fictiongarden (the website is flaky with NoScript, so you may need to deactivate stuff).

 

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For US/UK readers: ‘The Fire Mages’ at a special price this week!

March 22, 2015 Publishing/marketing 2

If you haven’t already picked up a copy of The Fire Mages or you know anyone who’d enjoy it, this is a great time to buy – at the US Amazon, it’s just $0.99 and in the UK it’s £0.99. These prices are only available for a few days, and I’m sorry, but they only apply to the US and UK. If you already own a copy – thank you very much! When you finish reading it, a review on Amazon or Goodreads would be very much appreciated.

To buy from your local Amazon, click here.

In other news… The Mages of Bennamore has finished its final editing, and is now with my wonderful proofreader, Lin, who fixes my typos and corrects all my wayward punctuation. Once that’s done, the book will go up for pre-order at Amazon, ready for publication on May 15th.

The next book in the Brightmoon Annals, The Magic Mines of Asharim, is almost finished. I hope to get that critiqued, edited and shipshape in time for an autumn release. There are some really interesting magical creatures in this story, with very unusual powers and a peculiar lifestyle. One of the pleasures of writing fantasy is discovering a whole world of strange beasties, and these are stranger than most!

After that… well, I always plan to take a break after writing ‘The End’ on a book, but somehow the break never lasts more than a few hours. So it will probably be straight on to the next book.

If there’s anything you’d like to know more about, or you just want to say hi, feel free to email me: I’d love to hear from you and I always write back.

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Short fantasy review: ‘The Family Business’ by Marina Finlayson

March 21, 2015 Review 0

If you’ve ever wondered what the Sphinx thought about her perpetual task of riddle-making, and whether she’d like… well, a bit of a change occasionally, this is the story for you. It’s not even very long (4,000 words), so you can’t argue that you’ve got no time. It’s original, clever and very, very funny – what’s not to like?

I don’t normally read short stories, but the author went straight onto my must-read list after I loved her urban fantasy set in Sydney, Twiceborn (with werewolves and dragons, what could be better?). I had to try this too, and I’m so glad I did. Five stars.

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Fantasy Review: ‘Dragon’s Curse’ by H L Burke

March 16, 2015 Review 0

I’m a sucker for a dragon story, and this one is a little different from the usual. It starts as a charming little fairy-tale, where the girl in the dragon’s lair is a spirited and smart young scholar rather than a helpless princess, and the dragon isn’t quite what he seems, either. The two strike up an unusual friendship. This part of the book was lovely, and I enjoyed every moment of it. The second half is far more predictable, and rather more uneven.

Here’s the premise: Shannon is a talented young scholar, determined to take a job as healer in the small kingdom of Regone for the perfectly logical reason that she’s the best person to heal the king from injuries sustained while fighting dragons. While there, she is pursued by the amorous knight Sir Roderick, who offers to slay a newly-arrived dragon to win her hand. To avoid this dreadful fate, she sets off to find the dragon herself, and discovers a character surprisingly interested in her books and palace gossip.

The sparky conversations between dragon and scholar are a highlight of the book, but by the midpoint, things become more conventional, and there’s a great deal of dashing about avoiding the machinations of the villain, and in general trying to stay alive. The characters devolve into stereotypical good guys and bad guys at this point. It was depressing that the spirited and smart (female) scholar took so little part in this, and it was left to men with swords, spears and crossbows to sort things out. Most of this followed conventional lines, apart from one little twist near the end, where the villain takes an unexpected action.

I would have liked a bit more detail about the setting, which was very much a generic fantasy kingdom, with the usual array of inns, forests, craggy mountains for dragons, farms and so on, not to mention possibly the worst-guarded palace ever. I’m astonished the king wasn’t assassinated in an early chapter, the way characters walked insouciantly in and out, without seeing so much as a laundrymaid, never mind a guard. I also wondered why, when dire consequences would occur if a certain character dies within a matter of hours, the other characters didn’t just go and hide until the deadline had passed.

This is a light, quick read which is entertaining for those not looking for great depth. It’s billed as YA, but it would work perfectly well for MG too. The perfunctory nature of the world-building and the rather simplistic characters would normally make it a three star affair, but the pleasure of the first half, the charm of the two main characters and the avoidance of a too-simple happy ending bump it up to four stars for me.

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Mystery DNF: ‘The Neon Rain’ by James Lee Burke

March 12, 2015 Review 0

Thank goodness, was my first thought, when this came up as the monthly choice for my reading group. A detective novel – now that’s something I’ll enjoy. Boy, was I wrong. This is a male fantasy book: a cop who swans around talking big to all sorts of lowlifes, and then gets captured/beaten up/tortured many times, which he miraculously survives. It’s full of blokes who act tough and beat each other up (both cops and villains), women who are either murder victims or whores, villains who are moustache-twirling caricatures, a main character who survives impossible levels of violence and survives/escapes through sheer dumb luck…

There are some good points. The setting of New Orleans is beautifully evoked with a multitude of small details, great use of dialect and an atmosphere so thick you can feel the sweat dripping down your back. You could argue that it’s a tad overdone, but, having lived in Texas at one time, I enjoyed some of the southern references (the ones I could get; a lot of it whooshed past me).

There was a kind of a plot. A black woman had been found dead in a bayou, and the cop is convinced she’s been murdered, while no one else seems very interested. However, the story takes second place to the chest-beating hero bantering aggressively with the villains, and a vast assortment of violence. I got halfway through before giving up. One star for a DNF. For anyone who doesn’t mind the macho posturing and constant violence, this is the start of a whole series, and loads of people seem to love them (just not me, sadly).

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The great self-published blog-off

March 11, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Plains of Kallanash 2

Following some discussion about the difficulties of promotion for self-published authors, Mark Lawrence, author of the Broken Empire series, came up with a great idea: get some established fantasy bloggers lined up, and throw self-published books at them, 25 apiece, with a six month window to work through their ‘slush pile’ and find just one book to promote. The chosen books would then be looked at by all the bloggers and rated, to produce an overall winner.

Mark threw the idea out into the blogosphere, chose 10 bloggers from the many who volunteered, accepted submissions from self-published authors, randomly assigned each to a blogger and sat back to watch the fun.

Now, I’m not big on competitions, and writing competitions, in particular, seem to be more subjective than most. However, the opportunity to have my book at least looked at by a blogger who wouldn’t normally even consider a self-published work is too good to miss. I’ve submitted The Plains of Kallanash, and I’ve been assigned to Sarah Chorn of Bookworm Blues, which warms the cockles of my fangirl heart. It will be an honour to be rejected by Sarah.

Erm, rejected? Why so negative? Because statistics, that’s why. There’s only a 1 in 25 chance of being chosen for promotion to the next round, the competition is stiff and however brilliant a book is, it also has to capture the interest of the person reading it. I can’t even guess whether Sarah will enjoy Kallanash or not. No idea at all. Plus – brilliant? I wrote the thing, I’m only too aware of its weaknesses. Sarah, like all these bloggers, is used to reading the very best of trad published work, against which I would never, ever presume to compare my own scribblings. So, I’m realistic about the chances of being talent-spotted.

What really excites me about this has nothing to do with my own chances. It’s this: for possibly the first time ever, these ten bloggers will be looking seriously at self-published work. Some of them may never have cracked open such a book before, with the possible exception of a few authors who’ve switched from indie to a trad or hybrid deal, like Hugh Howey, Michael J Sullivan or Anthony Ryan. Now they get to look at 25 indie books, and evaluate them in exactly the same way they review any other book.

One aspect that will be really interesting to me is that most of these books are unknown quantities. There are a few who have sold by the shed-load, but most are like Kallanash: low to medium sales, relatively few reviews and no hype, no history, no buzz to go on. The bloggers can’t say: oh, I liked X’s last book, so this should be good. They can’t say: Y wrote a glowing review of this, so it must be good. They can’t even say: the publisher’s pushing the boat out for this one, so they think it’s good. Each book will be reviewed in a vacuum.

That might not sound difficult, but I’ve been reading and reviewing self-published books for several years now, and I find it really hard to judge a book in isolation. If I love it, that doesn’t mean anyone else will. If I hate it, maybe that’s just me. It’s a different judgement call from evaluating a book that’s already a known quantity. When I read Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns, for instance, I already knew it was controversial, and that a lot of people hated the young protagonist. I knew what I was looking for, what questions needed answering.

Knowing something about a book or author creates expectations. Now, those expectations may or may not be met, but there’s something as a base line. But if there’s no starting point, no expectations, it’s like jumping off a cliff blindfolded. There’s just no knowing where you might end up. It’s a peculiar feeling opening a book without having the slightest idea what you will find inside.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how this goes. I’ve read and reviewed several of the books on the list, although not always with glowing results. One, at least, I rejected because I found the plotline too trite (but it went on to do extremely well, which shows how much I know). Several on the list are authors who write way better than I do, and some have featured on my list of self-published gems; it would be no disgrace to lose to any one of them.

Whichever author ‘wins’ the competition, the real winner here is the world of self-publishing.

Here’s the complete list of bloggers participating, and books submitted.

 

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Urban Fantasy Review: ‘Twiceborn’ by Marina Finlayson

March 10, 2015 Review 2

I almost missed out on this one. I started reading, loved the opening, really got into it, things were just rolling along merrily when… werewolf. Now, werewolves are part of the unholy trinity, along with vampires and zombies, that I never read if I can possibly avoid it. So… oh dear. But then I discovered that the book has dragons in it… DRAGONS! Yes! Dragons make everything better. So I started again, and boy, am I glad I did. Because this book was just so much fun (yes, even the werewolves).

Here’s the premise: Kate is a twenty-something Sydneysider, recovering (not very well) from a messy divorce and the death of her young son. To keep herself busy, she undertakes occasional courier jobs for friend Ben, and if the jobs are a little suspect, and involve disguises and evading strange people tailing her, she’s too sunk in gloom to worry about it. Until one day she finds that the package to be delivered is addressed to her, she has bizarre lapses in memory, flashbacks that involve a lot of blood and she’s swallowed an odd sort of stone. Oh, and she can see coloured auras around some people. And then… werewolf.

At which point, things get to be seriously strange. The flashbacks or dreams or hallucinations become longer and more intriguing, but they do make it relatively easy to work out much of what’s going on. Combined with odd changes in behaviour, like the sudden sexual attractions and urges to kill things, I had a working theory for all the mysteries quite early on. The extensive use of flashbacks can be jarring sometimes, or feel contrived, as a way to keep crucial information from the reader, but here I felt it worked very well.

Kate seemed like a very believable heroine to me, an ordinary woman thrust into a completely extraordinary situation, and coping with it realistically – veering from capable common-sense to go-with-the-flow acceptance, all tempered with a touch of wry humour, which had me laughing out loud many times. I do love a book which makes me laugh. Ben, the love interest, is unusual in that he seems to be quite the most normal character in the book (after Kate herself). I found the romance very believable, although I think Ben may have some competition in the future – love triangle ahoy!

I really liked the Sydney setting. So much urban fantasy is set in London or a major US city, that Australia was a very refreshing change. It would be quite awesome if future books were set in Perth or Melbourne or Adelaide, to keep things fresh. And yes, the dragons were very cool. The drama ramps up nicely at the end to a thrilling climax and a terrific (if implausible) punch-the-air moment.

In many ways this is standard urban fantasy, but it captured my attention beautifully once I’d got past the werewolf moment. It’s a fast, lightweight read, but the humour, the dragons and that awesome moment with the Sydney Harbour Bridge kept me turning the pages with a silly grin on my face. Absolutely fabulous, werewolves and all. For sheer entertainment value, it gets five stars from me.

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The work-in-progress blog tour: The Mines of Asharim

March 9, 2015 The Magic Mines of Asharim, Writing musings 0

Yes, folks, it’s another of those fun blog tour thingies. The rules: link back to the previous blog post, then describe your current work in progress, with the openings of the first three chapters, and finally tag another author blog to carry things onwards. So, just another excuse to talk about writing…

You can blame Marina Finlayson for this one. She’s the author of Twiceborn, an urban fantasy featuring both werewolves and dragons (yay for dragons!). It’s also cool that it’s set in Sydney, which makes a refreshing change from London or various US cities. You can read her blog post here.

My current work-in-progress is called The Mines of Asharim. It features a young woman escaping from traumatic events, trying to find a refuge. What she finds instead is far more powerful, and sets her on a path to restoring her people’s fortunes.

It’s set in another part of the same world that all my books inhabit. This time, we’re on the far northern coast, well to the north of the Karningplain that featured in The Plains of Kallanash. The land is hotter and drier (since we’re in the southern hemisphere), and water has become a weapon of war.

Magic? Of course! There are several characters who have ‘connections’, like those in The Plains of Kallanash, enabling them to manipulate people or objects. There are also some strange magical creatures, very powerful but also dangerous.

So far I have 41 chapters finished, and perhaps 5 more to go – nearly there! I’m optimistic that it will be ready for an autumn publication.

Here are the openings to the first three chapters:

Chapter 1

I gripped the rail with tense fingers, but the barge slid against the wharf with the softest of bumps. Below me, figures ran about with ropes, tying up with practised ease. With the groaning of heavy wood, a gangplank was positioned. I had arrived.

Cautiously I let go of the rail, prepared to grab again, but the barge was still. It was all of a piece, the smoothest, most trouble-free journey possible, and I couldn’t quite believe it. It seemed too good to be true. I wasn’t safe yet, but I was close, so close. Picking up my travel bag, I made my way to disembark with the handful of other passengers, as the crane was wheeled into place to begin unloading the cargo.

“Good luck, Allandra!” one of them called as they dispersed, and then they were all shouting to each other. “Good luck! Good luck!”

Allandra, yes. Must remember my new name.

Chapter 2

At first the road rose slowly through rolling pastureland, the grass withered and autumn-brown. Goats scampered away as we passed by, the children tending them watching us with dull, incurious eyes. Here and there we saw small villages, ramshackle collections of cottages with crumbling walls and sagging roofs, the sweet smell of burning turf masking other less pleasant aromas.

From my perch in the wagon, the flaps wide open for ventilation, I had a fine view back down to Crenton Port, its bustling wharves along the lakeside alive with activity. Beyond, the grey waters of the river sprawled their way across the plains, the wide bends linked by neat lines of canals to avoid stretches where the river was too shallow for navigation.

Chapter 3

I still could see no way through or round the wall, but the mulers began unloading so I guessed some way would be found. A metallic clanking sound far above made me look up towards the crane, and there, slowly spinning as it descended, was a wooden contraption, a combination of chair and cage. Oh. So that was how to get over the wall.

The two girls were clutching each other fearfully, and Rufin chewed his lip, brow furrowed. One of the mulers steadied the spinning chair as it neared the ground, opened the cage door, then looked expectantly at the four of us. Well, I’d taken greater risks over the last few moons. I stepped forward and cautiously sat in the chair. It rested on the ground so it was quite firm. The muler shut the door and fixed a pin to hold it closed, then shouted, “Away!”

Well, bit short on dialogue and action there… But then, it’s not called a work in progress for nothing.

Next up on the Work in Progress Blog Tour is Cady Vance, author of YA and NA speculative fiction, including paranormal urban fantasy Bone Dry and vigilante thriller The Madmen’s City. Over to you, Cady.

ETA: There’s another branch of the blog tour going on elsewhere. You can catch up with it at the blog of Amelia Smith, author of fantasy Scrapplings and Regency romance Scandal’s Heiress.

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Five Star Archives: ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline

March 5, 2015 Archive, Review 3

I read this back in November 2011. I’d expected the author to have a whole string of other books out by now, but no. The follow-up, Armada, is due out this year. That’s a long wait between books. I wonder what he’s been doing in the meantime? Enjoying himself with the royalties, I hope. Anyway, I still think this is a great book. Flawed, but great fun.

PS I’ve only just noticed the tiny pixelly person on the cover. 🙂


I loved every single word of this book. I actually read most of it with a silly grin on my face, even the seemingly boring info-dump bits that started off ‘X was born in…’ – it was just pure pleasure, especially the parts set in the OASIS (the avatar-populated artificial universe where most of the action takes place). I’m not even much of a geeky technophile – OK, I love computers, I’m a programmer by trade, and I confess to being one of the first people in the UK to own a Commodore 64, and I had a smartphone before the term was even invented, but I’m not a gamer in any way, shape or form. I recognised a few of the 80s games, hardware, music and film references, but most of them went right over my head. Didn’t matter at all. The book is well enough written that anyone can play along. All the jargon and retro technology is explained along the way.

Plot? Well, there’s a quest and a team of underdogs and an evil cheating group of corporate bastards and… well, that’s about it, really. It just rolls along beautifully, and although there are no wildly unpredictable twists and turns, it never feels cliched. The lead characters are charmingly geeky and (initially) quite juvenile, and OK, they do seem to be incredibly good at everything game-related, but then that’s the basic premise of the story, so it’s hard to grumble about it. The author makes good use of the avatar vs real world persona problem – you just don’t know anything about the people you meet inside the OASIS-verse, not gender, age, location, appearance – absolutely nothing beyond what they choose to show, and the reveals at the end are nicely done. Only one quibble here – the first person protagonist is initially the stereotypical geek, pasty-faced and overweight, but about halfway through he suddenly decides to get fit and ends up with a perfectly honed physique. I found it disappointing that the author didn’t have the courage to leave him as he was. But it’s a minor point.

The book would make a great movie. I actually wished I had a soundtrack to listen to (on 8-track tape, naturally) whenever a piece of music was mentioned, and it would be so much fun to actually see some of the OASIS-verse worlds. The final gate battle would be just awesome to watch on the big screen. But as a book – terrific. Five stars.

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‘The Mages of Bennamore’: cover reveal

March 1, 2015 The Mages of Bennamore 3

I love the covers that Glendon Haddix (of Streetlight Graphics) has been creating for me. They really jump out at you, whether on the cover of the paperback, or as a thumbnail on Amazon. I know from the many compliments I’ve received that lots of others like them too.

So I’m thrilled to show you the latest in the sequence, and it may be his best yet. Here at last is the cover for The Mages of Bennamore, which will be released in May:

You can see the hi-res version of it here.

The war between Bennamore and the coastal region was over almost before it began. Now the victors are bringing their spellcraft to the Port Holdings, unaware that the coastal folk have their own less conspicuous magical ability. But the uniquely powerful mage who negotiated the alliance is dead, and the coastal folk are restless, and suspicious of this new magic.

Fen’s quiet life as a recorder of business transactions is disrupted by the death of her employer, but she quickly finds work with the Bennamore mages. The only downside to her comfortable new job: the attentions of the flirtatious and uneducated guard, Mal. Nothing, it seems, will deter him.   

The Bennamore folk are rattled by the mysterious disappearance of a mage. Mal’s investigations uncover a dragon’s nest of deceit, and a conspiracy which would shatter the fragile peace. He needs Fen’s help, but she has secrets of her own, and her loyalties are divided. Yet she may be the only one who can stand between the two countries, and stop them plunging back into a war which, this time, would destroy them both.

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