Wednesday, July 30, 2014

WEDNESDAY REVIEW: The Fifth Knight by E.M. Powell

THE FIFTH KNIGHT, E.M. Powell’s debut medieval thriller, reached #1 on Amazon and with good reason.
The Fifth Knight is an “intimate” thriller, which focuses on a handful of characters, good and bad, that you get to know very well, instead of dozens as one might find in continent or globe spanning thrillers, historical and contemporary. Being so delightfully focused, The Fifth Knight does not require an extensive dramatis personæ for the reader to keep track of, who works for whom or who begat whom. This allows for excellent character arcs and, in the case of the villains, character(less) revelations.
Speaking of villains, Powell’s main antagonist, Sir Fitzurse has the three “Rs” one always wants in a thriller – he is resourceful, relentless, and ruthless. His mission is allegedly to Arrest Archbishop Thomas Becket and abduct the mysterious Theodosia, a young naïve anchoress who has spent most of her life willingly dwelling in a prison-like cell as she strives to make herself worthy to serve God as a nun. The arrest goes awry and, as we know from history books, Thomas Becket is killed.
Sir Fitzurse’s scheming was nearly flawless, his only mistakes being the enlistment of Sir Benedict Palmer and allowing the young knight to hear of the diabolical torture that Sir Fitzurse has planned for Theodosia. Though desperate to receive the pay that Fitzurse promised, Palmer’s conscience won’t allow him to be a party to Fitzurse’s evils. In fact, Palmer aids Theodosia in making a daring escape.
Romance blossoms between the headstrong anchoress, Theodosia, and the tarnished knight, Sir Palmer, as they are forced to their wits’ end to elude capture by Fitzurse and his minions. All the while, they struggle to determine the secret Theodosia unknowingly holds. The hope is that learning the truth that Fitzurse so desperately desires just might save them.
The Fifth Knight is highly recommended for those who want a thrilling read with protagonists you can root for and watch grow.
Review by Carlyle Clark for Heroines of Fantasy

Monday, July 28, 2014

Meet Ginger Prewitt, Map Artist

Today's guest post is from Ginger Prewitt, in-house Map Artist for Hadley Rille Books. Ginger is an elementary school Principal by day, and in her spare time, she beautifully renders our authors' imagined worlds for all to enjoy. Here she talks a little bit about how she came to work for Hadley Rille and the process of bringing a map into reality. 

I have always been an avid reader. Always. I have no memory of not being able to read. More importantly, I was exposed to a wide array of books at home, had the luxury of living near a public library we rode our bikes to, and I had great teachers who either assigned or encouraged me to read genres I might never otherwise have been exposed to. At some point along the way, I received an assignment to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. In the end, I enjoyed the trilogy much better, but the true treasures I adored in all of the books were the maps. These helped me “see” where our adventurers were at any given point in the story.

All throughout my life, I have also been a doodler. I often illustrated my thinking while learning new things in order to make the information understandable. As it turned out, I was pretty good. People praised my talent, and while I was not always confident about it, I treasure what I have learned is a God-given gift, and I have truly loved sharing my artwork. I even started college life as an art major, hoping to either be an animator for the Walt Disney Company or a children’s book illustrator. While my path led me to education, I have never hindered my creative side. I continue to paint and draw to this day.

One of the accomplishments I am most proud of is as Map Artist for Hadley Rille Books. My biggest honor came when I started out with my best friend Kim Vandervort’s book The Song and the Sorceress. As part of Kim’s writing group, I had read the story she’d created, and I loved the characters and quest. Because a major quest was involved in the story, having a map became a necessity. Kim had a good sketch of the shape of the lands, but it was great fun imagining the topography while checking facts against the book in order to ensure the pathways taken made sense. Of course, the maps from Tolkien’s masterpiece resonated in my head, and I purposely did not look at them for fear of mimicking too much. Instead, I looked at
cartographers' work from centuries ago as I wanted the ink-drawn piece to reflect an old world quality. Styles from those time periods range significantly, and after different sketches were rendered, I found my own style. Of course, since I was putting someone else’s story into a visual representation, the author has feedback, too. Much to my delight, this first author with whom I worked, and love like a sister, genuinely liked the product. Truly, it was a magical experience that resulted in one of my favorite maps.

This most wonderful partnership bloomed as the small publishing house was also happy with the work. That is perhaps any artist’s most satisfying moment – getting positive feedback when others admire what you have created. This led to several more partnerships and opportunities to create maps for other authors. Map creation took on a new process, as I had not read these stories ahead of time. Authors would send me their own doodles of a map to ensure that location of items like cities, forests, borders, and the like were all correct. Some are often more crude than others. Reading some city spellings can be a challenge as well,
depending on how much detail the author put into the sketch. So, my process is that I will make a pencil drawing based upon the author’s sketch. Scans of the sketch go back and forth since authors live all over the world. Once a final blessing from the author has been given, from the author as well as the publisher, I spend time carefully inking the drawing and remove any stray pencil markings. As a result, no two maps are the same, while the overall style is consistent.

Overall, the opportunity to be a Map Artist has satisfied my creative side and merged it with my love of reading. I hope my maps bring pleasure to readers as they follow the characters in a way they might not otherwise visualize as easily. As always, I am looking forward to the next need for a map.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Mighty Thor asks: Where the Ladies At?

Eric here. And I'm wondering....What makes a heroine?

In the comics, all to often, it requires first that you be an offshoot of an established male hero. The latest, of course, you probably saw in the news: in the future, there will be a female Thor.

This is a little different than previous female counterparts to male heroes, ala Batgirl, Mary Marvel, Supergirl, Spider-Woman, Stargirl, Zatanna (after her dad, Zarara) and others. This time, it's all about the hammer of Thor (it's called Mjölnir) being taken up by a so-far unknown woman after the original Thor can't pick it up—because only the worthy can wield the might uru hammer. It says so right on the side: ""Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor."  

So that's cool... right?

I get it that in the decades and decades of intellectual property rights in comic books, that the creators must constantly return to the well of established characters, both to keep them interesting or completely revamp them, so those copyrights can stay fresh fresh fresh. The last thing Disney or Warner Bros. wants is a lapsed copyright, as public domain characters don't make money for the owner. 

In Marvel's defense, at least this time it’s not going to be some "Thorina" who's just a glorified sidekick. (Valkyrie arguably already is that knockoff. And she might even turn out to be this new Thor.) Maybe it'll even bring in new readers of the female persuasion to the comics, though I remain a bit too cynical to think it's that simple a fix after sixty years of writing comics mainly for 11-year-old boys of any age.

But it got me thinking... what if great works of fantasy and scifi went through the same constant, unending need for new content that comics did? What female knock off characters would we get?

Bilbobina Baggins—She knew, once she met the handsome Gollum, she'd put his ring on it.

Antonia "Buck" Rogers—the 25th Century can't imagine how fabulous this lady from the 20th is.

Endoria Wiggins—I got nothing, but I know, if Orson Scott Card wrote it, she wouldn't be a lesbian.

The list could go on and on. Hellgirl, Sharrie Potter, Joan Carter of Mars, Captain Jane T. Kirk...

But would we ever see a male take on Ellen Ripley? Dorothy Gale? Mary Poppins? Buffy? Xena? Anita Blake? Lucy or Susan Pevensie? Dana Scully? Disney princesses like Belle, Ariel, and Merida? Would you ever see a male Katniss? 

No. And we don't need to. Not even for copyright protection purposes.

Of course, we've seen all of these types of characters as dudes... but I'm talking about an actual male Katniss. Hell, we don't even get to see male versions of original female super-heroes. There's no Invisible Man (well, not to match up to Susan Richards). There's a Wonder Man, but that was more about Marvel stealing a copyright from DC. Where's the Black Widower? The Scarlet Warlock? Big Bard? Power Boy (showing his lack of chest hair)? Black Canary...Guy? 

There is a Catman, however. One down!

All of this is to say: there aren't enough original female super-heroic protagonists. Period. Even today, as woman are by far the biggest readers in our culture. It's a frustrating, embarrassing imbalance still. A lady Thor may help, but for now, it just underscores that a whole new character with the same marketing push might have been the way to go.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

REVIEW: Lex Talionis

Title: Lex Talionis
Author: R. S. A. Garcia
Genre: science fiction / space opera
Price: $6.95 (ebook) / $14.35 (paperback)
Publisher: Dragonwell Publications
ISBN: 978-1940076126
Point of Sale: Amazon | publishers website
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

One of the authors I follow, Tobias Buckell, recommended Lex Talionis on his blog.  The author, R. S. A. Garcia, is, like Buckell, from the Caribbean.  In her case, she still lives in the region on the island of Trinidad.  I decided to take Toby’s recommendation, and I’m glad I did.  The book opens on a spaceship where a badly wounded man is desperately trying to get to the bridge, and has to avoid the thing that’s killed all of his fellow crewmembers.  We then cut to an alien city where a human merchant discovers another human in the gutter being attacked by a local alien.

The story then races off from there, and becomes a mystery.  The human in the gutter is a woman, a soldier, genetically engineered and suffering from amnesia.  The man on the spaceship reveals his secrets more slowly, but he proves to be less than sympathetic.  The world created by Garcia is less than friendly, and has many problems.  It’s also a place where humans are by no means the top species in the universe.

I have to say I found Lex Talionis an engrossing read.  Figuring out who did what and why was interesting.  I found the characters well-developed and believable.  I did have a bit of a problem with the structure of the novel, in that there were multiple flashbacks and other jumps in time, but I was able to sort out where and when with no real problem.  In short, I highly recommend Lex Talionis.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Venturing Into Unknown Territory...

Hello, all.  It's Louise here, all set to entertain you with a Bastille Day post...  This month, I'm going to talk about writing, and about that beautiful moment when you've wrapped up one project for the time being and you're all set to cast off on another.  As far as I'm concerned, I’m in a really great place writing-wise.  My debut novel’s not been out a year, its follow-up is wrapped up and ready for editing: normally, I'd currently be inhabiting that strange limbo between projects...

Except I’m not.  As they used to say on the classic BBC children’s programme, ‘Blue Peter,’ I’m delighted to say that I can whip out another manuscript and proudly announce, “Here’s one I prepared earlier.”  Yes, the third novel which I've had hanging around in suspended animation, and which has been clawing at my mind from time to time, just waiting to be completed, can finally be kicked into gear.

There’s just one problem.  When I decided to embark on Novel #3, I deliberately chose to take a step away from historical fiction.  This doesn’t mean a complete departure from history or archaeology.  Far from it.  I rather foolishly decided to re-interpret the standard time-slip novel by having my hero come back from the past and decide that really, life’s much better here in the future and that given the choice, he's not going back to the past from whence he came.  His reluctance is justified: he was born and raised in Ancient Sparta, so he's got some serious complaints to make about childhood abuse and the miseries of life in a pretty strict authoritarian regime.   

When I wrote the early drafts, I wasn’t quite sure how everything would come out in the mix and to be honest, I still don’t.  It’s kind of literary (lots of allusions to the Classical world), it’s certainly speculative fiction and there’s a historical strand in there, too.  In short, it’s certainly a departure for me and quite possibly the most difficult project I’ve ever embarked on.

And this is where I’m truly grateful to my friends at Hadley Rille Books.  Writing is a very lonely profession: when you’re bogged down in the isolation that accompanies the creative process, it’s easy to get despondent.  To have someone out there who can look at what you’re trying to do with an objective eye and who can tell you at a very early stage whether or not it’s working is an extraordinary luxury, and it’s one which as a writer I value more than anything.  In the old days,  literary agents fulfilled this role, but right now - as those of you who haven’t yet acquired a publisher or agent and are actively seeking one will know – it’s virtually impossible to blag even an agent.  Most of the time you’re firing your manuscript off into the fog and having it flung back in your face without having any idea of why, exactly, it didn’t make the selection process.

In these unenlightened times, Hadley Rille Books is a rare and noble beast .  Their writers are an investment: they encourage them and help them to grow.  For a writer just embarking on their career, the extra support and guidance this provides is invaluable. It gives you the confidence, the self-belief and the energy to keep on writing.  This kind of support is crucial when you’ve taken on a brute of a novel that you know will tax your abilities as a storyteller to the limits.  It makes the difference between you tossing the manuscript into a corner in a fit of pique and your going the extra mile, grappling with the inherent problems and finding the gem that lurks within the rough chunk of mineral.

The HRB crowdfunding campaign is doing well so far, with over $2000 raised so far. But it would be so good if this wonderful little publisher could boost its presence through gathering the funds its needs to raise the bar and get its work out to a wider audience.  So please, if you’ve read and enjoyed my book, if you’ve read and enjoyed any HRB title or if you’re a reader full-stop and you want your choice of reading matter to be diverse, varied and above all, interesting, check out the campaign and support it in any way you can.

Do it for all the untold stories out there, just waiting to be written, and for the characters whose lives have yet to be set down upon the page and granted immortality.  Without your help, whether it’s through supporting the campaign or buying books or spreading the word about books you’ve enjoyed, there’s a whole plethora of fascinating tales that will never, ever see the light of day unless there are small, independent publishers like Hadley Rille Books to publish them and above all to promote them.

And that, I think, would be a great loss to all of us.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Writing on the Road

Hello folks, Mark here with a few thoughts on writing on the road.

School is out for us, so the wife and I decided to use up our time-share credits to take an extended road trip south to Las Vegas and back home up through California, staying at several places along the way. We loaded up the rig with golf clubs, guitar, and the computer and hit the road.

I've been looking forward to this trip. I really enjoy the desert colors, and driving with the wife sans kids is just more fun. She reads and critiques the most recent draft of the novel, and I get to let my wind wander around plot lines and characters for the work in progress. We have become quite a team in that respect; she has better clerical eyes than I do and finds stuff I miss. Plus, she gives me immediate feedback on how the draft reads.

I find I enjoy writing on the road, and I don't mean travel blog material. When I say I love the desert colors, I do not feel the need to rhapsodize rhetorically about them. I leave that sort of stuff to Sunset Magazine. Besides, I've read Travels with Charley by Steinbeck and Blue Highways by Least-Heat Moon, and both of those giants do journey-lit better than I can.  My focus on these road trips is to work out novel ideas, wander over word sounds and images, and if some of that awesomely striated rock finds its way into the syllable stream, then so be it.

Some writers go on writing retreats; some of my sister authors rent a house on the beach and have at it with food and laptops for a week of unmitigated word porn. I haven't connected with a group like that, so I make the vacation thing function the same way, but I throw in a few casinos and a show, and this year my NYC daughter is flying in to spend three days with us in Vegas.

I actually do get some writing in, really, even in high energy places like Las Vegas.  The early morning hours are best. I have found that when the wife and I do these extended road trips we really aren't interested in maxing out the local activity stuff. Besides, this is my fourth time to Vegas, and I am thoroughly over the glitze and glam.  Our condo comes with some nice appointments, which include internet and a good coffee-maker. I did not feel the least bit guilty about tapping away at some of book four, Pevanese Mosiac, for two solid mornings of the four we spent in Vegas-town.  I gambled maybe $6 worth of quarters, held the wife down to $20 and managed to add about 1500 words to the draft...SCORE! :)

Right now I'm updating this entry from Palm Springs, California where it is so hot the pool feels like it could cook something, perhaps braized vacationer, if given enough time. The heat actually kept us indoors for a few hours. More coffee, World Cup Soccer, and 1000 words later we eventually hit the pool. I've found that getting away from the home routines allows me the freedom to let stuff come out without the usual self-editing/self doubt. One of my main characters for Pevanese Mosaic, Grayce Stonesmith, showed up one night in St. George, Utah in 2012. Some of my best note-taking sessions have happened at the conventions I've attended over the last three years. As a result, I am sold on the notion that a good way to break through the blockages is to simply change one's location. In the interests of saving a few bucks, I think I'll invest in a new battery for the laptop and take a hike up the local ridge near my house. I'm sure I can find enough new closer to home to help spark the word count without wearing out my tires on the rig...

So, what do you do to change things up for yourself? Road trips work for me; what works for you?


PS: I feel I would be remiss if I didn't boost our ongoing funding drive via indegogo. If you could help spread the word to all and sundry that would be great! Eric's post below would be a great one to reference! Happy July everyone!


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Wednesday Review: Hannah's Left Hook by Brian McKeown

Title:  Hannah's Left Hook
Author:  Brian McKeown
Publisher:  Garland Press
Publication Date:  2013
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Where to Purchase: Amazon or Barnes and Noble 
Reviewed by: Cybelle Greenlaw
Book Description:

Through countless scrubbings of St. Lawrence's Church floor, a poor washerwoman develops a devastating left hook. During the Great War she persuades the Birkenhead Shipyard to hire her as its first female laborer, beginning her transformation into a working-class legend. Set in northwest England, Hannah's Left Hook is a story of survival, feisty determination, and the occasional black eye. Whether it's a butcher who thumbs the scales, a foreman who exploits female shipyard workers while their husbands and brothers fight the Great War, an agent provocateur who escalates the food riots of 1932, or a sargeant who drafts under-age boys during WWII--Hannah's left hook strikes to defend the rights of the unemployed and oppressed.

Hello, Cybelle here again with the Wednesday review. As the centenary of the First World War approaches, I've been thinking about my grandfather with great frequency. He was born in Chester, England in 1900 and, like many young men of his generation, lied about his age in order to join the war effort. His first attempt to enlist took place in 1914. By all accounts, my great-grandmother marched down to the recruitment office and brought him back. The next year, however, he managed to enlist in the Welsh Border Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance, where he served for a little over a year before being transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. Luckily, he made it through the war in one piece, perhaps most importantly with his sense of humor in tact. He came to the U.S. in the 1920s and became a doctor. Meanwhile, back in Chester, the rest of the family carried on with their lives in a stoic fashion, even as the next war approached. Family anecdotes abound about the Blitz, particularly my great-grandmother's premonition that the family had to move to a new house. Everyone thought she had lost her mind, but she insisted. A month after the move, the old house took a direct hit in an air raid; nothing but a crater remained. These stories have always fascinated me, and I've often admired my English relatives' ability to find a reason to laugh even in the darkest of times.

It's not surprising then that I was drawn to read Hannah's Left Hook. It's set in the nearby, but considerably poorer, city of Birkenhead during the First and Second World Wars and follows the struggles of a working class woman trying to protect her family during those difficult and frightening years. I must say, I fell in love with the heroine, Hannah the Hammer, from the first page! She's a beautifully developed female character of Irish Catholic descent, who has had to be strong from a young age. After her father's death, she is left to provide for her younger siblings and blind mother. Out of desperation, she marries an abusive alcoholic because he has a steady job. The story truly begins in 1916, when Hannah's husband returns from the war on shore leave and makes the dreadful mistake of assaulting her mother to steal her money for beer. In a rage, Hannah tracks him down to a local pub and unleashes the secret power of her left hook. As her fist connects with her husband's face, Hannah experiences an exhilarating moment of freedom that changes her life forever. When her husband is killed at sea a few days later, Hannah has a good cry--out of concern for her children--and then looks for work at the shipyard, where her strong left arm comes in handy. Over the years, Hannah's fist makes a number of shocking appearances, but only in the most justifiable of circumstances.

The author, Brian McKeown, was born in Birkenhead and raised by working class parents. His respect for the people of the city is obvious, and he must have grown up with many anecdotes about the wars and hard times. Indeed, a number of episodes in the novel greatly resemble stories I grew up with. His style is engaging and offers a realistic portrayal of the effects of war and poverty on ordinary families. McKeown's novel is both humorous and poignant and explores a range of personalities from meek and mild to fiery hot. I highly recommend it--one of the most enjoyable reads I've had in a long time!