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Cassandra Khaw

Opinion: HIGHLY RECOMMEND. Khaw creates Lovecraftian, surreal tales that hit hard and stay in the memory. So far, I’ve read Hammers on Bone and A Song for Quiet, and they’re both absolutely, utterly excellent. The vivid imagery and well defined characters are nearly addictive. Definitely check out her work!

Khaw on Amazon

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Cooking For Writers

I’m delighted to announce that another project is officially under way! With a hopeful publication date of January 2018, I’ve assembled a LOVELY team of smart (and smart-ass) folks to create a Cookbook for Writers. This book (which will not be very long, no, damnit, it will NOT overgrowth itself) will have everything from tips on eating at conventions without breaking the bank to how to feed your writer at home during a deadline week; there will likely be recipes from our various fictional worlds; and more! I’m seriously jazzed about this project. More details as content develops. Wheeee!!!!!

4/2/18 Update: This project had to be moved out to a July 2018 “hopeful” date for various reasons. At latest, it will be released by the end of 2018. The content is finally stable, and complete; now comes the formatting….

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News Roundup

OK, folks, there’s a whole new batch of awesome stuff for you to take a look at. And some really depressing stuff, so let’s get that out of the way first.

January 2016 has undeniably started out on a less than happy note. In the last three weeks, we’ve lost Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Rene Angelil, Dan Haggerty, Dale Griffin, David Heartwell, and Glenn Frey. If you don’t know one or more of those names, don’t look them up–you’ll just get your heart broken at the wonderfulness you’ve missed. Many of the deaths were to cancer.  Too many. Far too goddamn many. And I’m personally expecting to lose two or three more people I love to cancer before the end of the year. So this is a shit start to the year, no question about that. Not to mention ELECTION YEAR and TRUMP and POISONED WATER SUPPLY and POLICE CORRUPTION and ohmygodddddddddd it goes ON and ON. Horrific.

HOWEVER.

Tempting through it is, I ain’t hiding under the bed with a bottle of Xanax. Not gonna happen. Instead, I’m going to look at all the amazing stuff that’s ALSO been happening. And I’m going to shout at you about how amazing YOU are, just because you aren’t hiding under the bed yourself. And if you are, I’m going to say you’re STILL amazing, and I’m going to do my best to coax you out so you can see all this other excellently happy news.

Here goes. Take a look at this:

Musician Jonah Knight is branching out into fiction! His short story, The Giant Killer, is coming out in Gaslight And Grimm: Steampunk Fairy Tales through eSpec Books.  They ran a wonderfully successful Kickstarter–take a look here for all the details–and are currently chasing down the last of the stretch goals. Since Danielle Ackley-McPhail is involved in this project, I can tell you that A) it’s a solidly reliable investment and B) it’s going to be high quality. Oh, and C) the backer rewards seriously rock. Free digital downloads of this that and the other from a spectacular array of names including Gail Z. Martin, Kelly A. Harmon, Jody Lynn Nye, Jean Marie Ward, and Danny Birt. Take a look at the Kickstarter and toss five bucks in if you can, boost the signal as loud as possible.

Speaking of music and Jonah Knight, last weekend was MarsCon of Williamsburg, VA. Why is that connected? Well, there were several concerts featuring a wide array of voices, including Jonah. And Danny Birt. And Mikey Mason. And S.J. Tucker. And The Blibbering Humdingers, and Griff’s Room Band, and White Plectrum, and… well. You had to have been there to appreciate the epic scope of the lineup this year. BUT WAIT. Thanks to staff photographer Earl Harris, there is VIDEO of many of the concerts. He’s sorting through the footage now, and I should be able to post clips by Monday next. Keep an eye on the MarsCon Facebook page in the meanwhile; other folks are posting their own videos, if you’re not willing to wait. (Earl’s vids are good, though. He had a feed into the sound board, for one thing, which makes the sound on his videos nice and clear.)

Two musicians who weren’t at MarsCon but who deserve a note here:

Devo Spice, nerdcore rap comedian extraordinaire (no, seriously, check out his awards and achievements, I’m not just being nice here), has a few new projects for you to sit up and take note of. For one thing, he’s creating a video game called Sneaky Monster, which looks like it’s going to be a LOT of fun and has a great origin story. For another, he has an absolutely hysterical new video out, Dinky McDiddlyboots, that you HAVE TO WATCH. He took a moment of teasing by fellow musician Shoebox of Worm Quartet, and turned it around into a great earworm of a song.

A new, Virginia-local discovery for me: Shelly Thiss, blues singer extraordinaire. I know, you haven’t heard of her, it’s okay. She doesn’t self-promote the way Devo does. (She really ought to!) I heard her sing at the Williamsburg Winter Blues Jazz Fest recently, and she completely astounded me with the power, strength, depth, and passion of her singing. Move over, Adele, Shelly just passed you like you was standin’ still. Shelly sings with the Mike Lucci Band, and if you visit their web site you can listen to clips of Shelly singing–and check out the songs she WROTE, too! Talented, talented lady. I’m very glad I met her.

Another great discovery for me at the Winter Festival was the beer. There were many, many craft beers on display. Some were okay, some were terrible–seriously, folks, a beer is a beer. Quit adding so many damn fancy things to it. Lemongrass? Pineapple? ROSEMARY? *shudder* yick. Fortunately, I found one that I absolutely loved: Lickinghole Creek’s Chocolate Heir Apparent Russian Imperial Stout. I went out looking and found it at my local wine & beer shop, which made me very happy indeed. I will add a caveat–according to the beer-ista (what else should I call someone smart about beer who works at a wine & beer specialty shop? I like beer-ista, myself), the blend served at the Festival was extra chocolatey, more so than what’s in the official bottle. I haven’t opened it yet–it’s a big bottle, I need to have someone to share it with!–but I’m looking forward to seeing the difference.

In fiction news, I suggest checking out the following titles forthwith:

A Small Price To Pay, Leona R Wisoker — How far will you go for freedom? A short origin story about one of the plot points in the next Children of the Desert book. Also, a look at just how freaking brutal Lord Evkit can be. Currently available through pre-order–only $0.99, truly a small price! Available through Smashwords, and a fair chunk of it is up for sample reading. Also be sure to read Fallen City, a longer treatment of a different backstory point in the series, this one involving the cryptic Deiq of Stass.

Mussorgsky Riddle, by Darin Kennedy — What, you’re sick of hearing me talk about this title? THEN GO FREAKING READ IT ALREADY so I can shut up about how marvelous it is. The sequel is currently in editorial, and I’ll tell you AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN that it’s even better than the first one.

Vendetta, by Gail Z Martin — I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s the next book in the Deadly Curiosities series, and I’m *ahem* dying for the chance (meaning: time) to read it. I love the DC series SO much. I think it’s hands-down the best stuff Gail’s ever written.

So if you’re snowed in along the East Coast, download one of those books.

And speaking of snow, it’s piling up here in Williamsburg, so I’m going to sit and admire it for a while. This is my absolutely favorite time of the year! Here’s wishing you a safe and happy snowpocalypse 2016! 😀

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A Small Price To Pay

The latest short story from Leona R. Wisoker explores the world of the reclusive, dangerous teyanain of her Children of the Desert series:

The teyanain are a mysterious, insular tribe who control the major access point between the northern kingdom and the southern desert Families. Outsiders know little to nothing about the teyanain; the less one knows, the better, is common wisdom. The further one gets pulled into politics, however, the more likely one is to face the teyanain. For all their reclusiveness, they meddle in politics constantly.

This short story offers a rare glimpse into the world behind the curtain as Cuna, an ambitious young woman, breaks with permitted gender roles and risks her life to become nitta-hei: an elite assassin-spy. Her choices, and the escalating price tag, have long-ranging consequences that echo into the final book of the Children of the Desert series.

Like the previous release, Fallen City, and the subsequent release, Salt City, this story fills in background detail intended to enrich the reader’s enjoyment of the overall series.

Buy it now

Cover art by Mike McPhail of eSpec Books.

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Kicking Open The New Year

Hello there! Recovered from that epic hangover? Caught up on your sleep? How about your To Be Read list, is that all caught up?

(Pauses for hysterical laughter)

Yeah, me neither. But guess what! I’m going to add MORE to that TBR stack. There’s always room for one or ten more titles, amirite? OF COURSE I AM.

So here goes.

First up, if I haven’t mentioned Darin Kennedy often enough for you to be utterly sick of the name yet, I haven’t said it often enough. The man writes some damn good surreal fiction based around supremely intelligent concepts. I fell in love with his debut hit, The Mussorgsky Riddle, last year, and I’m currently working through his draft of the sequel–he’s been kind enough to let me be one of his beta readers/unofficial editors. IT’S EVEN BETTER than TMR. *hops up and down wildly* I’m telling you, go read his work. It’s mega good. Here’s a glimpse at the concept description:

Psychic Mira Tejedor possesses unique talents that enable her to find anything and anyone, but now she must find a comatose boy wandering lost inside the labyrinth of his own mind. Thirteen-year-old Anthony Faircloth hasn’t spoken a word in almost a month and with each passing day, his near catatonic state worsens. No doctor, test, or scan can tell Anthony’s distraught mother what has happened to her already troubled son. In desperation, she turns to Mira for answers, hoping her unique abilities might succeed where science has failed. At their first encounter, Mira is pulled into Anthony’s mind and finds the child’s psyche shattered into the various movements of Modest Mussorgsky’s classical music suite, Pictures at an Exhibition.

If that hooked your interest, there’s a sample chapter up now.  And while I’m at it, let me give a shout out to his publisher, Curiosity Quills Press, for being smart enough to snatch this one up. Hopefully they’re treating him well, because he’s a keeper for any publisher with a lick of sense.

Next on the list of BOOKS YOU MUST READ:  Gail Z. Martin has been writing short stories about the world of Deadly Curiosities for some time, and I fell in love with the concept as much as with the stories themselves:

Cassidy Kincaide owns Trifles & Folly, an antique/curio store and high-end pawn shop in Charleston, South Carolina that is more than what it seems. Dangerous magical and supernatural items sometimes find their way into mortal hands or onto the market, and Cassidy is part of a shadowy Alliance of mortals and mages whose job it is to take those deadly curiosities out of circulation.

I adore this sort of story, and Martin pulls off a great set of tense, fast-paced, and fun reads in her various short tales about Cassidy and the Alliance. I was utterly delighted when she came out with the first full book, Deadly Curiosities, last year, and the sequel, Vendetta, just came out late last year and is very high on my own TBR list. The short stories range from free to a couple of bucks, by the way, and can be found here.

Moving sideways to a very different sort of read, I picked up a copy of Susan Shell Winston’s novel Singer Of Norgondy. This is not fast-paced, and it’s not tense; it’s undeniably complex, but still comes across as a largely relaxing read, swaying along through an interesting story. I was surprised at how much I liked it, to be honest; it was a really nice break from the modern race to the finish line style story. Here, read the first couple of chapters to see what I mean. And here’s a description:

If you had the power to enter men’s minds and convince them that you’re a god, would you use it? That’s the choice that Verl, a young singer of Norgondy, must face. Trained by the tellerwoman Merind to telepathically touch the god-spot in people’s minds, Verl holds the ultimate — and deadly — power to control the masses — by creating a new god they can’t help but believe in. Together they help their friend Crel and his dancing bear become the Bearman, the shapeshifting Reaper God who leads the people of Norgondy into war against their usurper queen.

I’ll only add one more thing: that Kirkus Reviews found it good enough to review, which is a pretty high daggone bar to hit, in my experience. Give this one a try.

Let’s see, what’s next? Ah, let’s talk about Angela R. Wade’s books. Full disclosure here: I’ve been the editor for these books, the typesetter, and her writing buddy for *mumble* years now. Angela and I have been friends ever since she stepped into my fledgling writing group wayyyyy back when. I’ve been watching her writing grow and improve by leaps and bounds over the last three years alone, and I’m finally happy enough with her skill to stand up in public and say: she’s a good writer, and someone to keep an eye on over the coming years.

Her Edward Red Mage series has been in development and revision for the whole time I’ve known her, and the first two books are finally out; she self-published for various reasons, and I think she made a smart move. In Cloak of Obscurity, the first book in the series, the protagonist isn’t conventionally attractive, clever, or special in any of the usual ways. He can drink a dwarf under the table, and eat as much as five dwarves at a time; he thinks he’s stupid, ugly, fat, and slow. But every time he turns around he’s saving someone’s life, solving a mystery, uncovering secrets, and generally drawing the attention of dukes, princes, kings, queens, and powerful mages. The ebook is available through Smashwords, and you can read a sample there. Take a look.

The followup volume, Queen Isabeau’s Book, develops Edward Red Mage further, giving him considerably more self-confidence and setting him against bigger and badder enemies with more at stake–the Queen’s life is in grave danger from an unknown enemy, and Edward is searching for the source of the threat, more than willing to risk his own life for the good of the kingdom. Edward also falls head over heels in love with a completely unsuitable young lady and learns rather a lot about Life In General thereby. I enjoyed the hell out of this book, and since I’ve been reading her work for years, I can tell you that the next book will slam things into even higher gear. I can’t wait to get to the editorial stage on that one!

For doll enthusiasts, Angela P. Wade also has a lovely array of doll clothing and patterns on her etsy page.

Moving to the younger end of the scale, I came across a couple of really fun kid’s books recently. Lisa M. Becker and illustrator Rachael Mahaffey teamed up on Have You Ever Seen…, which I found to be a very, very cute concept. For example: “Have you ever seen a crab call a cab? Have you ever seen a cow take a bow?” The illustrations are delightful, and I can definitely see reading this to a toddler with great results. Unfortunately the author doesn’t seem to have a solid social media presence or web site at this time, so the best I can do is direct you to the Amazon page to take a look at the book.

Mahaffey, however, does have more on tap than this one book; she also illustrated An Ordinary Toad’s Extraordinary Night, another charming kid’s book by author Joanne McGonagle. In Ordinary, a young toad wonders “whether his life would be more interesting had be been hatched a frog.” He sets out to ask his grandfather, and along the way discovers and delivers a lot of information about amphibians to the reader. It’s a fun read that educates even as it amuses. The difference in styles between the two books is remarkable; one is very watercolor-blurry, the other more cartoonish in its clear lines and sharp colors. I liked them both, and I had fun browsing through McGonagle’s portfolio online. If you’re looking for a children’s book illustrator, she’s definitely a good name to look up.

I’m going to close out there; I think I’ve added enough to your TBR list for one day! If you do take any of the above suggestions, please also remember that the best gift you can possibly give an author is a review. Post on Goodreads or B&N*, Facebook, Twitter–tell your friends, get others to read the book as well!

Now go forth–Read and Enjoy!

* I’ve stopped recommending Amazon as a place to leave reviews because it’s put some really absurd restrictions into place that have directly hurt authors. For more details on that, check out Anne R Allen’s blog post on the topic.

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Items Of Interest

Here’s another roundup of cool things you might be interested in looking over:

What if Sherlock Holmes had to accept that the supernatural does, in fact, exist? For an answer, take a look at a new anthology, An Improbable Truth: The Paranormal Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by A.C. Thompson. Contributors include Tally Johnson, Lucy Blue, S.H. Roddey, and several more. It’s published by Mocha Memoirs Press, which is owned and run by author Nicole Givens Kurtz. Full disclosure: I haven’t gotten around to reading this one yet, but based on hearing bits of it read at various conventions in the past couple of months, it’s on my TBR list. I love the concept! I’ve always wondered what Sherlock would do if faced with irrefutable evidence of the paranormal.

Next up, take a look at BrewinOvations. I ran across them at a recent convention and was really impressed with their switch plate covers. They craft everything from candle holders to clothing, wooden boxes to patio lanterns. It’s an impressive array of creative dedication, and quite possibly a great source for that last minute holiday gift you’ve been wanting to grab.

Orchard Organiss is another really interesting business to check out. Their web site is unlike anything else I’ve seen lately: a web-comic/t-shirt design company. There appears to still be some development of the concept in progress, but it’s a very intriguing start!

Interested in erotic SF? Take a look at Ora J.McGuire/Nickie Jamison’s web site, oopswrongcookie–the site name alone was enough to get my interest! Again, I haven’t read any of this author’s work to date, but she’s on my TBR stack based on how she presented herself at Chessie and AtomaCon.

Latest great music showing up on my Pandora playlist: Katzenjammer, Utada Hikaru. Also, if you haven’t already heard of the beautifully surreal podcast Welcome to Night Vale, take a listen right now–they even have an app for your phone/iPad that makes sorting out the stream dead easy. And there’s even a Nightvale novel out now! That is definitely on my TBR list, lemme tell you….

That’s enough for now. Have fun going through the various links, and I hope you find a great holiday gift or new favorite among the above offerings! 🙂

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Sample Chapter: Mussorgsky Riddle

Mussorgsky RiddleI know you’ve all been waaaaaiiiiiiting on this, and here it is: a sample chapter of the book I’ve been frothing about so enthusiastically of late! It’s no longer for sale through TSL, but that’s okay–visit the Curiosity Quills Press page, or other places, like Amazon, to pick up this great, GREAT book (and its equally fantastic sequels!). 😀