October 31, 2016

Nothin' Fancy About Necromancy: an interview with Nicholas Kaufmann, author of "In the Shadow of the Axe"

About Nicholas Kaufmann's In the Shadow of the AxeThe year is 1847, and Kasch Möllhausen has returned to the small German mountain village of Helmburg in disgrace. Kicked out of the Swiss boarding school where he was unforgivably abandoned by his father, Luther Möllhausen, his humiliating homecoming is further complicated by the news that Luther has died. Worse, Kasch learns that the father he has come to despise instructed the village elders not to inform Kasch of his death or invite him back for the funeral. 

But not everyone hates Luther as much as Kasch does. To the people of Helmburg, Luther was a hero. Shortly before Kasch was born, Luther led an uprising against the Necromancer, a mysterious figure who lived in a castle high in the mountains and preyed mercilessly upon the villagers. It was Luther who struck the final blow and put an end to the Necromancer's reign of terror. 

But Kasch finds Helmburg is still a haunted village. The ghosts of the Necromancer's victims have begun appearing at night, and the old survivors of the uprising are being killed one by one, their bodies chopped to pieces. With the help of Hahn Gehrig, the elderly village doctor, and Liese Maentel, Kasch's childhood love, he sets out to discover if the Necromancer is still alive—which would prove once and for all that his father was no hero—or if someone else is responsible for the murders, a madman living among them with no conscience or mercy. The terrifying truth he uncovers will change Helmburg forever—because the past leaves a long shadow, and the axe has only just begun to fall. 

Gef: What was the spark that got you into writing In the Shadow of the Axe?

Nick: I started writing the novel back in 2006, ten years ago now, so unfortunately I can't remember all of the influences that came together to plant this idea in my head. But one thing I do remember is that I wanted to see if I could recapture in prose the feeling of watching one of those grand old Hammer horror movies. You know, old ruined castles and cobwebs and frightened villagers plotting in the local tavern. It's why I decided to set the novel in the mid-nineteenth century and chose a remote German village for the location. I was trying to recreate the kind of locale that often appeared in those Hammer movies, especially the Christopher Lee Dracula films, which have always been a cultural touchstone for me. Hopefully I've succeeded.

Gef: How much emphasis do you place on setting as character? It would seem the remoteness of a village in the rugged terrain of southern Germany lends itself to something sinister.

Nick: To me, setting is hugely important, as vital to a story as any character or plot beat. In my Trent novels -- DYING IS MY BUSINESS and DIE AND STAY DEAD -- I used my own city, New York City, as the setting because I know it so well. I wanted New York City to come alive for the reader as much as, hopefully, the characters did. I was gratified to see that most of the reviews picked up on this, with some reviewers going so far as to call New York City itself one of the characters. With IN THE SHADOW OF THE AXE, the small German mountain village of Helmburg is isolated and agrarian and lives in the shadow, at times literally, of its difficult and tragic past. Its isolation has left it steeped in tradition and superstition at a time when the rest of Europe is shedding the cloak of irrationality and progressing toward scientific reason, which makes it the perfect setting for a story that's really about the clash between old and new generations, between the fears of the past and the desire of the present to move past them.

Gef; I've seen a couple places make mention of the old Hammer horror films--heck, Laird Barron even did in his introduction to the novel--in describing this story you've written. 

Nick: Definitely, although I think some of those old Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe movies snuck in there as inspiration, too. Those gorgeous matte paintings of crumbling castles atop the cliffs. They don't make 'em like that anymore!

Gef: What was it about this book, if anything, that you approached differently from your previous books?

Nick: IN THE SHADOW OF THE AXE was much more of an atmosphere piece than anything I had written before, at the time. Atmosphere is extremely important in horror, of course, but pretty much everything I had written before AXE was set in contemporary times, which doesn't lend itself quite as well to spooky fog and abandoned castles. So I wanted to try my hand at something a little more iconic, a little more Gothic. There's a touch of cosmic horror in there as well, especially when we learn more about the Necromancer who once terrorized Helmburg, and cosmic horror is something I've always been fascinated with but hadn't really tried my hand at before.

Gef: How intensive does the research process get for you? What little tricks have you picked up with approaching the research phase of writing?

Nick: I'm more of a micro-researcher. When I come to a point where I need more information, I'll stop writing to do an online search. Most of the time I'm not looking for anything too extensive, so a quick Google search will usually turn up what I need. (I say quick, but we all know that sometimes it's a time-consuming rabbit hole that's all too easy to tumble down.) In this case, because I knew this was going to be a very stylized version of a small German village, I didn't need it to be 100% accurate. I only needed verisimilitude here and there, such as with certain words or customs. However, one unexpected and interesting thing I learned about during my research was the animosity between Germany and France during that time period, which wound up playing an important role in the story.

Gef: If I'm not mistaken, this is your first book to come out through Crossroad Press. Was this something you approached them with, or did David contact about working on something?

Nick: You're right, IN THE SHADOW OF THE AXE is my first book with Crossroad Press. I approached David Niall Wilson about it, rather than vice-versa. As I mentioned, I originally wrote this back in 2006 but I had the hardest time finding a publisher for it. It's a Gothic atmosphere piece that takes place in nineteenth century Germany, so it's not exactly a highly commercial property. Also, as a short novel it's kind of an oddball length, which is something most publishing houses aren't happy with. All of that conspired to make it a hard sell. I had a few near misses with some great publishers, which was frustrating. Laird Barron, who was kind enough to write the Introduction for the novel, was an early supporter of it, talking it up on his blog and checking in with me to see how I was getting on with finding a publisher. Finally, Chet Williamson recommended Crossroad Press to me as a possibility. I knew they specialized in bringing authors' out of print backlists back into print primarily as e-books, although they also do print and audio editions, but I didn't realize they also did new works until I saw that they'd published John McIlveen's HANNAHWHERE. So I queried David and thankfully he accepted the novel. It's out now as an e-book, and there should be a print edition down the road as well.

Gef: How have you found your progression as a writer thus far?

Nick: Grueling.

Gef: What would you say is the biggest misconception of the horror genre?

Nick: The biggest misconception of the horror genre is the same misconception that plagues horror films: that it's all garbage and exploitative violence. Even though horror authors like Stephen King, Anne Rice, and Peter Straub are routinely on the bestseller lists, there are still people out there who think horror is unworthy of being read. It's got a lot of bad books in its history to shake off, I suppose, but then so does every other genre. I'm not sure why horror still gets such a bad rap. However, there's recently been a rise in weird fiction and literary horror that's making us all proud, and I hope to see that trend continue.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Nick: I'm currently working on a novel that I think may be my best one yet. It's called THE SCARRED MAN, and it's about a killer for hire who's caught between four warring magical families and who is desperately trying to keep a thirteen-year-old girl alive because she has a secret the families would kill for. Remarkably, despite its contemporary setting in the Hudson Valley, I managed to fit a crumbling old castle into this one as well! As for how folks can keep up, they can always visit my website (www.nicholaskaufmann.com), or hang out with me on Twitter (https://twitter.com/TheKaufmann) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/nicholas.kaufmann.79).

October 27, 2016

Sixth Month Anniversary Giveaway for Somer Canon's "Vicki Beautiful" (Enter to win a $25 Amazon gift card)

Vicki Beautiful Celebrates Six Months with Giveaway.
Have You Ate Dinner Yet?
By Somer Canon
Do you know what happened on April 26, 2016? Yes, that was six months ago. Surprise! It was the day that my novella, Vicki Beautiful, launched. Yay! It has been a wonderful six months wherein I was welcomed into an amazing community of writers, editors, reviewers, readers, and publicists. Having my little story that barely made it to press be published has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life and to all of the people who have read, reviewed, and helped spread the word, I am eternally grateful. Happily, 2017 will see Vicki Beautiful offered in print when it is republished so that it doesn’t disappear from the world just yet. I hope it continues to be something that makes people question what, exactly, are they being served for dinner! *wink*
In honor of Vicki Beautiful’s six month birthday, I’m giving away a $25 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner! I hope you’ll enter but I also hope you might spread the word about my first novella to round out the year and gain it momentum for the next. I look forward to talking about the book a lot longer with you all.

You can enter the giveaway here on Rafflecopter! Be sure to come back and tweet each day for extra entries! Thank you! This giveaway will run through mid-November!

If you haven’t checked out the book, here are some of the reviews it received:
“Vicki Beautiful is a very solid, quite unnerving, and.. well… beautiful read. How far would you go to fulfill your lifelong friend’s last wishes?” – Zakk, The Eyes of Madness
“I wouldn’t call the unique direction Vicki Beautiful takes as scary, but it is a story that causes immense feelings of dread and shock. That is horror. I wasn’t expecting Vicki’s request, and had no idea what to expect from Canon from that point on. A lot of horror is predictable, you see certain aspects and angles coming a mile away, but occasionally we get a sneaky, delectable treat.” –Glenn Rolfe, Author of Blood and Rain
“I generally don’t get too squeamish when it comes to horror books as I have read just about every type of horror story imaginable, but this one definitely sent chills down my spine. I think what makes it such a great story and an unsettling slice of horror is that Canon does a great job of blending moments of normalcy into a completely bizarre situation.” –Rich, The Horror Bookshelf
“Beyond the fact it is a short read, the story twists your guts and makes you question a lot in the most extreme and unthinkable ways. I will say proudly though, Canon has such a twisted and bright future ahead with this being her first novella.” –Jay, Horror News Network
“A simple story, but all the more powerful for its simplicity. Four stars. The author has guts and skill.” –Outlaw Poet
Vicki Beautiful, Synopsis
One last taste of perfection…
Sasha and Brynn descend upon the showplace home of their girlhood friend, Vicki, planning to celebrate her surviving cancer to reach her fortieth birthday. As they gather around Vicki’s perfectly set dinner table, though, her husband shares devastating news. The cancer is back, and she doesn’t have long to live.
Her life is cut even shorter than Sasha and Brynn expect—the next morning, their friend is found dead, her flawless skin slit at the wrists. But a tub full of blood is only the beginning. Before the weekend is through, they are forced to question how far they’re willing to go to fulfill Vicki’s last wish.
A very specific, very detailed recipe that only the truest of friends could stomach…

Somer Canon is a minivan revving suburban mother who avoids her neighbors for fear of being found out as a weirdo.  When she’s not peering out of her windows, she’s consuming books, movies, and video games that sate her need for blood, gore, and things that disturb her mother.
Vicki Beautiful is her debut novella.
Find out more about Somer and her upcoming works at her website http://www.somercanon.com. You can also connect with Somer on Twitter at @SomerM.
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October 25, 2016

Down the Hatch: a guest post by Amber Bird, author of "Peace Fire"

In 2050, the world is a little denser, a little greyer, and a little more firmly under the corporate thumb. Wriggling carefully under that thumb, in their dimly lit flats, Katja and her friends have tended to walk the fine line between cyber criminals and cyber crusaders. For them, no physical reality compares to their lives built on lines of aggressive code.

But then somebody blows up the office where Katja is pretending to be a well-behaved wage slave and jolts them into the concrete and clouds of corporeal Seattle. Of brains infiltrated by a clandestine threat.

Can a handful of digital warriors win a war that stretches into the world on the flesh and blood side of their computer screens?

"A smart, fun, fierce tale of geek revolution and high-stakes adventure."

-Ernest Cline, Bestselling Author of Ready Player One


Down the Hatch: the Value of Escape
a guest post by Amber Bird

Growing up, I got the distinct impression that fiction, non-classical music, and other media that weren’t fine art were only for entertainment or escape. I also got the impression that such escape was silly.
More recently, I’ve had an experience multiple times that goes something like this: Someone asks me about my music or my writing. When they find out that my genres of choice are rock music and science-fiction, they say something like, “Oh, but I thought you were smart!”
In short, it’s been made pretty clear to me that the escape many of us find in books, songs, films, and the like isn’t important. But I’d like to suggest that we’re selling our media short. In my experience, these escape hatches are as important as escape hatches in submarines, ships, and airplanes.
I suspect people who don’t see the importance think we’re only using books to escape boredom. As possible escapes from boredom go, I’d say that reading isn’t the worst. We could list loads of other things people do to escape boredom that are less safe, savory, or legal. (I thought a lot about such escapes as I considered the lives and drives of the once-hedonistic hackers in my book, Peace Fire.) So, I’m definitely not suggesting, even if it were just a way to escape from boredom, it’s a bad thing. But I want to talk about three other ways reading fiction has helped me and others I’ve known escape.
Setting Our Sights
Sometimes, reality presents a too-limited view.
Fiction has given us role models. The super hero that kids and adults alike look up to as an example of bravery, integrity, and doing good is an obvious one. From my own history, I can pull out the times I used Spock’s example to help me strive for a more logical approach to life instead of letting my feelings run rampant. Or that time I was stuck in the sort of job that made me literally hope to get hit by a car. I got myself out the door by imagining I was one of the Fremen warrior women in Dune. I could be that strong. I could pull my hair back and set my jaw and survive the desert of work.
Fiction has helped us believe in the possibility of better times and places. We’ve seen that fiction can become truth, that an inventor can pick up an idea from a sci-fi story and change our world. I’ve seen people take their belief in better and build communities. For example, I know a number of people who read Bordertown and decided to seek out others who might have headed for the border. Together, they created a warmer future than they had thought they might have.
Fiction has helped us dream, helped us reach for new dreams and regain old ones. A lot of people can easily grow up thinking they know the path they’re going to be stuck on until the end, but then they read a book that changes their mind. This includes those astronauts whose dreams of space started in a sci-fi book or film. It includes people who recognized abuse in their lives when they saw it in a fictional context, so they found their way to a better place. It includes my friend who keeps herself from sinking into depression by countering her negative self-talk with the reminder that she could be a changeling queen, hidden in a human body for her own safety. (The dream doesn’t have to come true to do some good.)
Holding On
Sometimes, life is too heavy.
Fiction has given us places where, even if they were imaginary, we had friends. Humans are, generally speaking, a social species. If you’ve always had real world friends, you don’t know the soul-crushing desperation of being friendless. Nor can you know the momentary relief of even imaginary friends. And, like I mentioned above, sometimes fiction even helps us find real world friends.
Fiction has given us a place where nobody was calling us useless, worthless, destined to fail. A break from the non-stop drumming that can come from outside and in and make us give up. And, again, maybe even given us hope that we’ll succeed.
Fiction has given us a respite, even if just for a moment, from things we can’t actually escape. Abuse, depression, grim lives of all kinds. It might not have fixed anything in our “real” lives, but it let us catch our breath. I’m literally still alive to write this because, when depression was devouring me, I had fiction and music to fall into instead of falling onto something sharp. I did that for long enough that I had a chance to take advantage of all else the escape hatches offered, that I hung on until I could get the help that improved my head.
Becoming Better
Sometimes, the biggest thing holding us back is our own concept of things.
Fiction has shown us the other side to those who are different, helped us identify and work past prejudices, and helped us have compassion. Helped us see people unlike us as humans too. Allowed us to be compassionate and bridge the gap.
Fiction has shown us the other side of our own differences, helped us be more compassionate and helpful to ourselves.
Fiction has modeled other ways the world can be. Sometimes, it helped us see what we didn’t want to be, sometimes showed that what we had feared wasn’t actually scary.
There are other benefits I could list, but hopefully this has you thinking of your own escapes, your own proofs that fiction has worth. I’ll end with a quote that came across my social media today.

"We do not escape into philosophy, psychology, and art—we go there to restore our shattered selves into whole ones." -Anaïs Nin, In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays

Amber Bird is a writer, a rockstar, and a scifi girl. She is the author of the Peaceforger books, the front of post-punk/post-glam band Varnish, and an unabashed geek. An autistic introvert who found that music, books, and gaming saved her in many ways throughout her life, she writes (books, poems, lyrics, blogs) and makes music in hopes of adding to someone else's escape or rescue. And, yes, she was on that Magic card.

October 24, 2016

Be Careful What You Search For Because You Just Might Find It: a review of Amy Stuart's "Still Mine"

Still Mine
by Amy Stuart
320 pages
Simon & Schuster

If you want an American backdrop that is otherworldly, and quite separate from what most folks think of when they think of America, you can't do much better than Alaska. It's about as close to Narnia as you're going to get with its terrain that's as perilous as it is pretty.

The protagonist, Clare, arrives in the remote town of Blackmore posing as a photographer and asking questions about a young missing woman named Shayna. Blackmore's residents seem content to chalk up the disappearance to drug abuse, as well as to give Clare the cold shoulder because she gives off the vibe that she's hiding something herself. Which she is, and not just the photographer alias. She has a past of her own that she's running from, which gradually reveals itself through the course of the novel.

With Clare constantly having to look over her shoulder because of both what's she running from and what she's searching for, the tension in the novel plays out really well. In fact, the real meat of the story doesn't come so much from the main plot of finding out what happened to Shayna, but pulling back the layers of deception used by Clare. It's her story and her ordeal that quickly become the driving force for the book. Without it, this would wind up little more than a by-the-numbers crime thriller. Not to say it wouldn't be a decent read; it'd just be a bit well worn.

As far as characters goes, Clare is the star and the standout. There are some glimmers from the doctor and a couple others, but the townsfolk take a while to develop and break out from the kind of stock introductions. The setting, as I mentioned before, is brilliant and lends itself to much to the story. And when it comes to the pacing, it is about as good as you could want from a story like this. You're submerged slowly, can't really see past the murky surface as you're lowered in, and then once you're all the in that pull strengthens through the final chapters and the perilousness of the situation takes over.

It's a solid debut novel from an author who shows a great deal of promise and knows how to leave a reader wanting more, because there is a sequel in the works and Clare is certainly a character that deserves to have more of her story told.

October 3, 2016

Exploring Darkness in History: a guest post by Jason Parent, author of "Wrathbone and Other Stories"

Terror follows those who let it into their hearts.
Guests of President Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln, Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris attend a showing of Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865. On that fateful night, a great man falls, but he is not alone. For Henry and Clara, the night is only the beginning of lives wrought with jealousy, madness, and horror.
The Only Good Lawyer
Bradley is a savvy defense attorney with no scruples. Under his representation, many a guilty man has gone free. But when a voodoo priest takes the stand, Bradley soon discovers that he, too, is on trial, and the punishment for guilt may be more than he could bear.
Dorian's Mirror
Dorian loves himself, and why wouldn't he? Every guy wants to be him, and every girl wants to be with him. He would trade all he has to make his looks last forever, but bargaining with the devil may leave him short a soul.
For the Birds
Nev's best friend is his parrot. In fact, it's his only friend… and his only ally when his home is invaded.
Revenge is a Dish

Maurice has landed a dream job, chef for a rich couple on their yacht. The wife has carnal desires for him. Maurice has some carnal desires of his own.

Exploring Darkness in History
by Jason Parent, Author of Wrathbone and Other Stories
History is what we read in books. Whether it tells an accurate story is a debate for people smarter than me, but one thing’s for sure: it never tells the whole story.
Who’s heard of Major Henry Reed Rathbone? His wife, Clara Harris? I certainly hadn’t in school. Only American Civil War buffs, and particularly those fascinated with the Lincoln assassination, are likely familiar with poor, insignificant Henry.
Sure, we all learn about the great conspiracy to kill the man some call America’s greatest president. We know who conspired, how it was done, how Booth nearly got away. We know the name of the theater, the play being performed, the words supposedly said by the assassin as he dashed across the stage and through a dumbfounded crowd. So many trivial details, down to the color of Mary Todd’s dress.
Yet aside from the First Lady, Lincoln’s company at Ford’s Theatre the evening of April 14, 1865 is strikingly absent from many American history textbooks. Where it is mentioned, Henry and Clara are, at best, mere footnotes.
Why wouldn’t the annals of our forefathers chronicle the heroic actions of the only person who did anything in that theater to try and stop Booth and was gravely wounded for his thankless efforts? Have historians swept him under the rug because of the darkness that followed?
Oh, but that darkness is so much more interesting. In Wrathbone and Other Stories, I explore that darkness. Who was Henry Reed Rathbone truly? What set his life on a course wrought with terror and madness? What lessons can we learn from the undisclosed truth? For the night Lincoln was shot, he wasn’t the only great man to fall.

In his head, Jason Parent lives in many places, but in the real world, he calls New England his home. The region offers an abundance of settings for his writing and many wonderful places in which to write them. He currently resides in Southeastern Massachusetts with his cuddly corgi named Calypso.
In a prior life, Jason spent most of his time in front of a judge . . . as a civil litigator. When he finally tired of Latin phrases no one knew how to pronounce and explaining to people that real lawsuits are not started, tried and finalized within the 60-minute timeframe they see on TV (it's harassing the witness; no one throws vicious woodland creatures at them), he traded in his cheap suits for flip flops and designer stubble. The flops got repossessed the next day, and he's back in the legal field . . . sorta. But that's another story.
When he's not working, Jason likes to kayak, catch a movie, travel any place that will let him enter, and play just about any sport (except that ball tied to the pole thing where you basically just whack the ball until it twists in a knot or takes somebody's head off - he misses the appeal). And read and write, of course. He does that too sometimes.
Please visit the author on Facebook, on Twitter, or at his website for information regarding upcoming events or releases, or if you have any questions or comments for him. 

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