A Kickstarter & a video of my evil henchman Macavity & me

The Kickstarter for EVIL IS A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE: AN ANTHOLOGY OF ANTAGONISTS, is here and LIVE, staring at you from your electronic device! 

And for this Kickstarter I, the reclusive author in residence, shot a short video of me talking about Evil is a Matter of Perspective WHILE HOLDING DOWN AN ANGRY CAT! You cannot get entertainment like this on Netflix, my friends. [NOTE: the transcript of my talk, for those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, is on the site at Youtube along with the video.]

For those who can hear: you can listen to me read from Without Light or Guide with my Southern accent, and talk about Alvaro, the antagonist/protagonist of my story for Evil is a Matter of Perspective. As of this post, one of my cohorts in evil, Bradley P. Beaulieu, talks about his involvement as well. Keep checking those updates to hear more of your favorite authors talk about the anthology and why they are involved.

As a part of the Kickstarter package, I am offering you, that's right YOU, a chance for a Tuckerization in the story! If you choose that level, you will get to pick whose side you are on and fight in the streets of Barcelona during the May Days of 1937. I will give you the power to sing your magic, and if you're really lucky, a most grisly death.

I am also offering to critique 10,000 words of a story for one--COUNT THEM: ONE--backer. So hie thee over and get to backing. Trust me, I won't be gentle, and I will make your manuscript bleed. [NOTE: This level comes with a complimentary package of tissues.]

There is a stellar lineup for Evil is a Matter of Perspective:

R. Scott Bakker (The Second Apocalypse)
Adrian Tchaikovsky (Shadows of the Apt, The Tiger and the Wolf)
Michael R. Fletcher (Manifest Delusions)
Shawn Speakman (The Annwn Cycles)
Teresa Frohock (Los Nefilim)
Kaaron Warren (The Gate Theory, Mistification)
Courtney Schafer (The Shattered Sigil)
Marc Turner (Chronicles of the Exile)
Jeff Salyards (Bloodsounder's Arc)
Mazarkis Williams (The Tower & Knife)
Deborah A. Wolf (The Dragon's Legacy)
Brian Staveley (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne)
Alex Marshall (Crimson Empire)
Bradley P. Beaulieu (The Song of the Shattered Sands, The Lays of Anuskaya)
Matthew Ward (Shadow of the Raven, Coldharbour)

The Kickstarter is HERE, the angry cat is HERE, and I hope you'll join us as we explore evil ... it's a matter of perspective.

Fiction and Abandoned Children with a new introduction

I had a nightmare, wherein my husband drove us through Greensboro, and he was chatting about this one and that one and the things they had done. The weather was foul, full of wind and thunder. A tornado appeared four streets away from us and roared from west to east. Good backseat driver that I am, I tried to direct him into an empty lot, but more tornadoes were forming there. He indicated the tornadoes and asked if I wanted to die. I told him I wanted to feel safe, and then I awakened.

I suppose that is what we all want--to feel safe, especially when we feel like the world is collapsing all around us. A lot of people take that feeling for granted without realizing it. Abandoned children never do.

I’ve put off this post for a couple of reasons. The first is simply because it is a subject that can occasionally be painful to me. I keep it at a distance most of the time and try to view the past through an analytical lens. I keep perspective that way.

The other reason is because people tend to have very strong feelings on the issues of orphans and adoption. These strong feelings generally result in passionate arguments for or against … well, concepts, and not necessarily children. People dislike having their expectations challenged, and in some cases, feel guilty; although they have, in actuality, done nothing wrong.

Emotions are funny like that. Our brains tell us one thing, but our hearts say something different.

So today, I am going to talk about abandoned children–the perennial favorite of most authors–and these children’s special needs. As an adoptee, I am highly sensitive to themes of abandonment in both film and literature. The casual way in which abandonment is treated has always bothered me about a lot of the myths and stories I remember from my childhood. In these stories, the young hero is abandoned at an early age, but never suffers a single identity crisis. Complicated creatures like mothers and fathers are held at arm’s length, or cast into the shadow of the grave.

In real life an infant knows its mother’s smell and moods. Both the mother and father produce chemicals, such as oxytocin and vasopressin to name merely two, that help facilitate bonding with the newborn infant. Through the great cocktail of chemicals in the human body, all three–mother, father, and infant–nurture one another through sight, smell, and sound.

When an infant is permanently removed from her biological parents, the child is not only deprived of these beneficial chemicals, but stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are produced in greater quantity. Cortisol and adrenaline prepare the body for flight or fight in response to either psychological or physical danger. In some children further imbalances in serotonin and noradrenalin can reprogram the child’s brain to remain in a constant state of readiness. Combined, these imbalances can result in physical issues such as high blood pressure, easy startle response, and instantaneous explosive behavior–symptoms which are consistent with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Even when a child is transferred from an abusive environment into a loving home, the brain remembers, and the child perceives the world as an unsafe place. Children who have experienced early trauma also have attachment issues, suffer from the inability to focus, and possibly night terrors. They are impulsive and tend to exhibit defiance, aggression, and rage. In a subconscious effort to self-medicate, some of these children will become dependent on drugs and alcohol in adulthood.

Welcome to my world. Having experienced all of those things, I can assure you there is hope.

A nurturing environment coupled with parental patience and adults who are aware of the issues involved can mitigate many damaging experiences, but it takes time. In other words, while adoptive parents can’t magically wipe away the past, they can teach their children coping strategies that will enable the children to survive and sometimes thrive.

What does all of this have to do with writing science fiction and fantasy?

With my Los Nefilim series, I have two individuals who were abandoned at very early ages: Diago and his son, Rafael. Diago suffered tremendous abuse, and still deals with the fallout from his early childhood. Rafael, meanwhile, was abandoned at an earlier age and lived in an orphanage before Diago discovers him.

I didn’t need to research the effects of abandonment on either Diago or Rafael–personal experience was already under my belt. I did do some research into how to mitigate the effects of abandonment on children. By looking at the problems and solutions that the adoptive parents of Russian orphans placed in American homes experienced, I was able to see tactics that failed miserably and others who experienced success.

Apparently, in some cases, the adoptive parents weren’t prepared for the emotional issues of their children. They expected love and discipline would be enough. One example that remained with me was that of a young Russian boy who had been adopted by an affluent family. The mother and father tried everything in their power to do all of the things they, as parents, felt they should do. In other words, they employed the parenting tactics their parents had used on them. There was a schedule, and rules, and expectations for behavior, which the youth was unable to fulfill (and this is not to fault the family or the child–they did everything the doctors and psychologists told them to do).

Due to his own fears and abuse, the child could not meet these parental expectations. In frustration and fear, the child lashed out. The family became afraid and got in touch with the adoption agency. The agency placed the child in a different home.

The second couple had a lot of experience with abused children. They had a more relaxed regimen. For example, in his previous home, the youngster would want to eat all the time. Food deprivation in the orphanage was a factor in this behavior. The first adoptive mother wanted to establish regular meals that fit the family’s lifestyle. When the youth disobeyed her, she would, in turn, become frustrated, impose more restrictions, and this would only intensify the youth’s misbehavior.

In his new home, he was supposed to be present for meals, but if he wasn’t there was no retribution. As the family continued to sit down and eat at regular times, the youth eventually joined them. This took a great deal of time and patience on the new adoptive parents’ part, but as I said, they were used to dealing with abandoned children.

The difference between these two homes weren’t the difference between “good” parents and “bad” parents. The major difference was in the parents’ expectations and preparation for the child’s issues.

For adopted children, a perpetual cycle of questions remains lodged in the back of the adoptee’s mind like splinters in the subconscious. Who am I? Where do I belong? Are there people who look like me, think like me, somewhere else in the world? Will I know them if I see them? And, more importantly, will they know me?

All the while, I loved my adoptive parents, and my father especially went out of his way to say that I was loved. Even so, there was a constant tape playing in my heart that said: I’m not good enough to keep; no mother rejects her child unless something is wrong with it; if I want these people to keep me, I have to do better, be better; I’m not good enough, not good enough, not good enough …

Remember what I said earlier: our brains tell us one thing, but our hearts say something different.

A child’s brain may parrot the assurances of the adoptive parents and society as a whole, but the child’s heart bears a different pain, one they are not always able to articulate. Feelings aren’t rational–they are simply there, lurking within us and waiting for the right trigger to stimulate them into existence. Some adoptees eventually learn to reconcile the facts of their circumstances with their feelings, others may become swallowed by the world around them.

One of the reasons I loved Jessica Alba in Dark Angel (a science fiction series from 2000) was the adept manner in which both the writers and Alba handled the protagonist, Max Guevara, who was an genetically engineered super-soldier, but with a missing piece to her life … the mystery around her mother and her birth. They managed to convey the trauma of Guevara being separated from her mother at birth along with Guevara’s constant yearning to find her mother and the story of her beginning.

This is why I find stories with children who are spirited away from their parents into new circumstances hard to swallow at times. Infants don’t roll into the world as a blank slate. Our experiences in the womb are embedded in our psyches in order to prepare us for survival.

The child who is taken from her poverty stricken parents and raised by royalty doesn’t automatically adjust to these new circumstances flawlessly. The clash of parental attitudes versus the child’s hidden traumas don’t need to be explored in depth in every story, but a cursory acknowledgement of known behavior patterns between adults and adopted children are preferable to none at all.

To concede these issues exist by fairly representing them in our stories is the difference between … say … the adoptive parent who tries to modify her child’s special needs to her expectations and the parent who knows his son’s hunger is driven by fear. One is governed by the intellect, the other by the heart.

If you want the abandoned child in your story to be whole in body and spirit, march the head and the heart in tandem. Then do what every parent does: push your story into the world and hope for the best.

_____

This post originally appeared on SF Signal's Special Needs in Strange Worlds (January 20, 2016).

Folklore Thursday: The Coming of the Angels and the First War

From the writings of Guillermo Ramírez de Luna, first king of Los Nefilim:

In my first-born life, my name was Solomon, and I was the third king of all Israel. Of my father David’s many children, I was the only one born with the fire of the angels in my soul.

My father told me of the beginning days of the world, and now I leave my words for my daughter, who will one day rule Los Nefilim in my place.

During the first generations of the world, the daimons ruled the earth. They were the old gods, worshiped in the earth and water, and drew their sustenance from the mortals’ emotions--the stronger the emotion, the more powerful the daimon. The daimons often coupled with the mortals to create Nephilim, hybrid creatures neither truly spirit nor truly mortal. These Nephilim were the sorcerers, the prophets, the dreamers of the ancient times.

The angels came from sky; a different species made of fire and air. Their explorations of the numinous realms led them to the earthly realm, and once here, they fell in love with the mortals.

The daimons saw the angels as usurpers and refused to be subjugated. The most powerful daimons were those that fed on hate--Moloch and Ashmedai--and they led the others against the angels. The two groups warred and the skies shook with the thunder of their battles. They moved the continents and sank Atlantis beneath their fury. Both sides were equal in cunning and strength, so the conflict dragged on for years to become a stalemate between the powerful entities.

To break the impasse, the angels gambled that the daimons wouldn’t allow the mortals to be annihilated. They manipulated the realms and caused the deluge, and the rains submerged the earth. Millions of mortals perished.

When the daimons saw their sustenance dying, they capitulated to the angels’ demands and negotiated a treaty, but at no point during those mediations did the daimons mention their bastard children, the Nephilim. Unlike their parents, the daimon-born Nephilim weren’t restricted to the many covenants between the daimons and the angels. They set about the lands to provoke war and discontent in order to feed their parents’ insatiable appetite for blood.

When the angels discovered the daimons' children, they created a breeding plan of their own and set it into motion. Angels mated with mortals. Our race, the angel-born Nephilim, was produced to circumvent the threat of the daimon-born. With the Nephilim, the angels and the daimons could avoid another open conflict--their bastard children would decide future wars. Each side sought to breed the most powerful army.

Even today, the war goes on and the breeding programs continue ...

Off the Grid (Indie edition): Sins of a Sovereignty reviewed by Gabby Gilliam

When I started Off the Grid, I said that one Wednesday a month will be allocated to a self-published work. This month's pick goes to Gabby Gilliam, who wanted talk about Sins of a Sovereignty by Plague Jack, which I might add, was one of the final picks in Mark Lawrence's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off.

Review: Sins of a Sovereignty by Gabby Gilliam

Don’t let the author’s strange pen name fool you. Sins of a Sovereignty is an indie book worth your time. Plague Jack delivers a richly detailed world and a cast of characters who are all fatally flawed, and all the more enjoyable for their imperfections.

In the first installment of The Amernia Fallen series, we learn that Amernia has suffered through two different wars and the scars from both have created the world Jack throws us into. The Rose Rebellion expelled Vaetorian conquerors from the realm and isn’t focused on quite so heavily as the war that led to the subjugation of the sub-human races. The Green War, begun when Prince Darius attempted to usurp the throne, leaves the northern party of the country uninhabitable after a poisonous gas is unleashed on it population. Once Prince Darius has been defeated, the non-human citizens such as elves, dwarves, and gilnoids, are treated with open hostility and disdain by the human residents of Armenia.

There are five main characters, and we learn each slowly as the book progresses. None of them are inherently good or evil. They are multifaceted, personalities shaped by their experiences, and all the more real because of it. If I had to choose one character to label as the protagonist, I might pick Clark Pendragon, though each of the others can make an equal argument to the claim of main character. Pendragon is a veteran of both of Amernia’s recent wars. In most of the country, he is considered a hero. He helped the queen thwart Prince Darius’ attempts to usurp the throne and was responsible for the poisonous gas strike on the north. He does not consider himself to be heroic, and is plagued with guilt for his past actions.

Calcifer is a young elf that has suffered since the Green War like the other fae. He loves his sister deeply and incestously, and will go to any length to protect her. He has been chosen by the god Cambrian to collect the souls of those who abuse the power he has gifted them. These hellions wield great magic, and Calcifer has been tasked with capturing their souls to return them to Cambrian. His role has earned him the moniker The Bottler, for the vessel in which he stores the captured souls of those he has vanquished.

The Blood Queen, Minerva, at first appears to be selfish and ruthless, intent on maintaining her power regardless of cost. However, as the book progresses, we also come to see her as very intelligent as well as brave, having survived the assassination of her husband, and attempts on her own life. She truly wants what is best for her country and her people though her methods may not be the most agreeable.

Shrike is a surly dwarf who also happens to be the Queen’s Spymaster and one of the most dangerous men in all of Amernia. His network of spies misses nothing, and the dwarf is likely the most knowledgeable being in the kingdom. Not even the Queen has access to all of his secrets.

And then there’s Duchess Veronica Evrill. She wants to unite the races of Amernia and end the subjugation of the non-humans. She offers sanctuary to those that escape persecution in the larger cities. And yet, it is she that helped develop the deadly weapon that left the north uninhabitable. Her benevolence can be seen as penance.

Amernia is a land of knights and swords, but also magicians, inventors, and steampunk-esque technology. It is a pleasant clash of the modern and medieval. It is a land plagued by memories of war and injustice. The characters are well-developed, and I found myself loving them and hating them at various points throughout the novel. You are left not knowing who is a hero and who is a villain, as each character has moments where they appear to be both. It is grimdark fantasy at its grittiest with the dark scenes so well-written you will find yourself both disgusted and enraptured at the same time.

Plague Jack continues The Amernia Fallen series in The Wild War which was published in October 2015.

About the Reviewer: Gabby Gilliam has been reading way past her bedtime since she learned how to read. She can get lost in almost any story as long as its well-written, though fantasy is probably her favorite genre. She lives in Maryland with her husband and four year old son, who is the best storyteller she knows. You can find more of her reviews at From Notebook to Notebook.

On Goodreads and giveaways and passing along The Vagrant

Just like you, I'm a sucker for freebies. So whenever I see Goodreads has a giveaway for a book on my to-read shelf, I enter the giveaway.

Since publishers and authors use Goodreads to find more fans for an author's work, I decided to make it my policy to review the book and give it away, either through a contest on my blog or as a library donation. [Note: This policy is only for fiction. I keep all non-fiction.] Knowing the cost of postage (which Mark Lawrence talks about here) and the need for reviews, I pass the book along in hopes that the next person will review the book, too. That way the author has a shot at getting two reviews for the price of one.

Or so I hope.

My unofficial name for this is the Pass Along Club. I read it, review it, and pass it along to someone else that might enjoy it. Some of you might remember the review and giveaway that I did for Zachary Jernigan's novel, Shower of Stones.

This past week, I found out that I had actually won a Goodreads giveaway for a copy of The Vagrant by Peter Newman. Trust me when I say that no one was more shocked than me. I rarely, if ever, win anything.

So in keeping with the spirit of the Pass Along Club, I will review and then giveaway my copy of The Vagrant. According to Goodreads, it may take four to six weeks for the book to arrive. Once it is here, it gets bumped to the head of the line. I'll read it, review it, and offer it up for a giveaway.

I will run a poll and see if we want to do the annotate/don't annotate game again like we did for Zachary's book.

I do not review often, because it takes a lot of time for me to sit down and write a review. I review when a book totally blows my mind (this happens once in a blue moon), or when I win a book (see everything above). Please don't ask me to review your book. I don't like everything I read. I have a few audacious friends who have actually accused me of being a literary snob--they're wrong, but that's okay, they're my friends and can say things like that to me.

However, I am a fair reviewer and when I read a novel, I take into account the following: story, characterization, and writing style. I rarely review young adult books or science fiction, because I'm simply not well read enough in those genres to give the books a fair evaluation.

However, The Vagrant falls dead within my skill set, so stay tuned. I'll have more information for you later.

Meanwhile, don't forget The Second Death: Los Nefilim, Part 3 is coming on March 29! Beginning at the end of March and going through April, I will be hosting some other giveaways, some especially for Newsletter subscribers, so sign up if you haven't already!

Off the Grid ... How it works

I will put a link to this post in the sidebar for future reference. This FAQ may change given the popularity (or lack thereof) of this series, my life, my writing commitments, etc.

The series will officially kick off in March 2016. A few people have already expressed an interest in writing for Off the Grid, or have pitched an idea to me. This is great, and I'm glad I've got so much excitement about the series.

I'm doing this because I know a lot of super authors who have received very little recognition for some really great series and stories. I've heard our online chatter called a feedback loop, and I can't think of a more appropriate description. When an author's work doesn't make it into that loop, then s/he is washed under the tide.

In order to combat the feedback loop, I'm giving authors, reviewers, and fans some space on my blog.

If you have a question that is not covered below, drop it in the comments, and I will incorporate it into the FAQ.

FAQ

What is Off the Grid? Generally speaking in any given year, the SFF/horror community is filled with publications. As time goes on, the community tends to get into a feedback loop where only six or seven books are discussed. Off the Grid is my attempt to level the playing field a bit, but also to give folks a chance to discuss other forms of fiction such as novellas, novelettes, short stories, and poems.

When will it run? Off the Grid will run every Wednesday for as long as I have a post for that Wednesday slot, until I run out of time to manage it, or people lose interest, whichever of these things comes first.

What kind of works can we talk about? Stories should be traditionally published. If the story/poem is online (ie Tor.com, Lightspeed, etc.), then provide the link and I will post the link along with your review. I will allocate one Wednesday a month to a self-published work. Since everything is shiny-new right now, we'll see how that goes.

What if I know the person whose story I'm writing about? Feedback loops online are usually perpetrated by big name authors who know one another and recommend one another's works to others. There is really nothing wrong with this as long you're talking about a quality story. With social media and the tight circles online, it's inevitable that we'll sometimes want to talk about a friend's book, or someone who is published by the same publisher. I suggest full disclosure in these circumstances.

Do I have to be an author or reviewer? For now, I'm going to say no. (Remember: shiny-new.) This is a community project, so I would like to invite the genre community to be involved. However, any submissions should use proper grammar should be pitched like any other submission.

Wait. I have to pitch my idea? Yes. This prevents overlap of two or three people writing about the same book, and also gives me time to look at the book in order to decide whether it's a good fit for the series. I have final say on all pitches, because it's my blog.

What kinds of stories can I talk about? The series will encompass: novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories, or poems. Keep it genre: science fiction, fantasy, horror, magical realism, etc.

Does the story have to be published in the current year? No. The item should be something that is getting very little online discussion and/or promotion; however if you've just discovered a previously published author and want to gush about one of their work(s) that garnered very little attention, then come and gush.

Does it have to be written in a specific format? Guest posts can be a formal review or a more lighthearted post about what you liked/disliked about the item, or why we should check out this particular author. I will ask that the post be at least 500 words.

If you want to contribute a guest post to Off the Grid, contact me. Tell me the name of the story and a little about yourself (if you have a blog, if you don't, if you are either traditionally published or self-published, because this will enable me to link back to your blog). In other words, pitch your idea to me, and I'll let you know if I have an opening.

Where I've been and what I've been doing ... 2015

I've been leaving you in the capable hands of some guest posts over the last few weeks, and while it seems like I've been neglecting the home front, I've had a lot going on in the background:

I finished up the third Los Nefilim novella, The Second Death: Los Nefilim, Part 3, and turned it over to my editor.

Reviews:

Without Light or Guide: Los Nefilim, Part 2 is kicking along strong. I've had some interesting reviews, my favorite of which includes a recipe. Deb at Kahakai Kitchen reviewed the novella and gave out an awesome recipe for Espinacas con garbanzos (spinach with chickpeas). I think she liked the novella, too.

No recipe, but at You Can Read Me Anything, Without Light or Guide is called "a great story; so much is packed into its brief page count that you’ll never believe that you read a little over a hundred pages and got an entire tale out of the experience."

Dreams, Etc. says that Without Light or Guide has the "perfect level of creepiness."

Blog Posts:

Over at Fantasy Book Cafe, I talk about Angels, Daimons, and Los Nefilim. I had a load of fun writing this post where I talk about skunks, guardian angels, and my somewhat warped childhood.

Auston Habershaw graciously gave me some space on his blog to talk about why I like my Super Heroes to bleed just a little.

Michael R. Fletcher gave me some space to rant on the attitude: WE DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' ROMANCE at his blog. The post spawned a super discussion on r/fantasy at Reddit, as well. [Let me pause here and compliment all of the moderators at r/fantasy for working so hard to make r/fantasy such a safe place for discussions like these. Give them a shout-out when you can. They have busted trollish behavior until the r/fantasy forum is an excellent place to hang out online. The romance discussion enlightened me as to how some of the fans think, because everyone stated their position with the utmost respect for one another. I appreciate any forum that exhibits that kind of dialogue. Great job, guys, carry on ...]

So what's next?

I'm working on a synopsis and the first three chapters of a new novel, which feels very Gothic in tone. I am having a great deal of fun with it.

After the holidays, I'll have more blog posts coming live at you. Some of you have specifically requested blog posts--don't let me forget you.

No matter how much I tried to dissuade him with my hearing issues and the technological obstacles we must surmount, Rob Matheny is determined that we will put together a podcast for you. So with a little luck, you might get to hear me swear at you on a future Grim Tidings Podcast. I hope so. I like swearing at you.

Meanwhile, things might get quiet around here for a few days. It's been a very hard year for me. I was on several tight deadlines--all of my own making--and I will pace myself better in the coming year. Essentially in 2015, when I wasn't writing, I was writing. It was a busy year:

I've had two novellas published by Harper Voyager Impulse (In Midnight's Silence was written at the end of 2014), and I wrote two more novellas in one year, promoting them all to the best of my ability.

I joined The Supernatural Underground this year and will post once a month on the 30th of each month. I will be talking more about writing over there rather than my usual ranting, which I will keep right here.

I updated my Bibliography page so that it includes some of my more popular non-fiction posts. I even had a post published at Tor.com this year.

It was a summer of health scares and mad travel, but everything eventually turned out all right. Our lives have finally settled back into our routines, and I am trying to remember how to relax again.

Relaxing is always difficult for me, especially when I've been going full-tilt boogie for a year straight. I have to come down off the work routine slowly and begin to integrate quiet days back into my life. My beautiful daughter helps me by inviting me over to her house for tea.

I have a stack of about fifteen to-read books, and I am looking forward to delving into some of the ones that I have saved for when I have the time to fully enjoy them. I will most likely review a few of them here on my blog when I finish them.

I'll also still be promoting Without Light or Guide and the forthcoming The Second Death. I might even think up a title for the work in progress.

And that is where I have been and what I have been doing. What about you? If you care to, drop a comment and let me know what's been going on with you. I try to keep up on Twitter and Facebook, but I still lose some of you from time to time.

If we haven't touched base lately, let me take this opportunity to wish you all happy holidays and a lovely new year.

Official Cover Reveal for GOLDENFIRE by A.F.E. Smith!

Today is the official cover reveal for Goldenfire, the second book in the Darkhaven series. It will be released by Harper Voyager on 14 January, but if you want to read it sooner, you can enter the giveaway below for your chance to win an advance ebook copy!

Congrats to my my fellow Harper Voyager Impulse author, A.F.E. Smith!

In Darkhaven, peace doesn’t last long.

Ayla Nightshade has ruled Darkhaven for three years. With the help of Tomas Caraway, her Captain of the Helm, she has overcome her father's legacy to find new confidence in herself and her unusual shapeshifting abilities.

Yet three years ago, a discovery was made that could have profound consequences for the Nightshade line: a weapon exists that can harm even the powerful creatures they turn into. And now, that knowledge has fallen into the wrong hands.

An assassin is coming for Ayla, and will stop at nothing to see her dead.

Preorder Goldenfire:

HarperCollins     Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Google play     iBooks

Catch up with Darkhaven:

HarperCollins     Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Google play     iBooks     

You can also enter to win a copy!


[guest post] Childhood Programming (a not terribly sneaky way to look at themes) by Michael R. Fletcher

I'm very happy to bring you the most amazing blog post that you almost didn't see, which is another blog post for another day.

TODAY is what is important, and Michael R. Fletcher is dropping by to entertain you while I hit the deadlines. Michael is a science fiction and fantasy author, whose novel, Beyond Redemption, just blew me away. You can read my review, or just take my word for it and buy his book.

Faith shapes the landscape, defines the laws of physics, and makes a mockery of truth. Common knowledge isn’t an axiom, it’s a force of nature. What the masses believe is. But insanity is a weapon, conviction a shield. Delusions give birth to foul new gods.

Violent and dark, the world is filled with the Geisteskranken—men and women whose delusions manifest, twisting reality. High Priest Konig seeks to create order from chaos. He defines the beliefs of his followers, leading their faith to one end: a young boy, Morgen, must Ascend to become a god. A god they can control.

But there are many who would see this would-be-god in their thrall, including the High Priest’s own Doppels, and a Slaver no one can resist. Three reprobates—The Greatest Swordsman in the World, a murderous Kleptic, and possibly the only sane man left—have their own nefarious plans for the young god.

As these forces converge on the boy, there’s one more obstacle: time is running out. When one’s delusions become more powerful, they become harder to control. The fate of the Geisteskranken is to inevitably find oneself in the Afterdeath. The question, then, is: Who will rule there?

According to Michael, the next two Manifest Delusions novels, The Mirror's Truth, and The All Consuming, are currently in various stages of editing while Michael tries to be the best husband and dad he can be.

Beyond Redemption is Michael's second novel. His début novel, 88, is a cyberpunk tale about harvesting children for their brains.

Children, brains, and delusions. I hope you see where this is going ...

CHILDHOOD PROGRAMMING

(a not terribly sneaky way to look at themes)

This will ramble because that's the way I roll. I can't plan breakfast, never mind a blog post or a novel.

I have come to realize that I spend a lot more time thinking about themes than I do plot. I know what my next book's themes are long before I know what horrendous shit happens to the characters. Take Beyond Redemption for example. I had the title before I'd written the first word.

I wanted to write a book where no one learned anything. The novel starts with a host of shitty human beings and at the end of the book I wanted the few survivors to remain shitty. It didn't quite turn out that way, but I stayed true to that vision. This grew out of a suspicion that people are basically too stupid to learn or change. What can I say, I was in a bit of a dark place. If I wrote the book today it would be different. For one thing, I've managed to learn a few things myself—who I am and how I interact with people has changed in the last year.

And if I can change, anyone can.

There was a theme there I wanted to explore, a thorn in my side I wanted to worry at like a starved wombat. Can we escape the bonds of our childhood programming? Can we get beyond who we think we are? You'll see it in Beyond Redemption; virtually every character is haunted by something in their past. They are defined by their choices and actions.

As are we.

My father was brought up by uptight stiff-upper-lip parents in the UK. Religion was pushed on him from a young age. All the proper social mores were programmed into him from birth. He knew who the right kind of people were. He knew what kind of people to avoid. He knew how a proper boy acted. He knew which fork to use when, and how to eat without making a mess. He was told his father was perfect, without flaws of any kind. They tried to make my father perfect too, whatever the fuck perfect is.

They failed. And that's probably for the best.

At some point my father made a conscious decision to toss most of his childhood programming. He screwed around at school and got funky with as many women would let him. He was and is an unrepentant letch of the first degree. He had no interest in pursuing that upper-crust school and instead drove a truck around England's southern coast, drinking and playing rugby. Much to his parent's disgust he regularly consorted with exactly the wrong kind of people. In short, he had great fun.

I remember a friend once saying, it's better to be one of those people your parents warned you about than to be afraid of them.

Skip ahead some years and this is the person who was, at least in part, responsible for raising me. He tended to be somewhat distant—he's admitted he has little interest in small children and that I only became interesting in my late teens—but he was there and he definitely had an influence. Come to think of it, I think he first really noticed me when I came home drunk during high-school and threw up all over the house. My mother told me to clean it up and I, still extremely inebriated, used the vacuum cleaner.

I grew up hearing (over and over and over) how difficult it had been for him to overcome his childhood programming and how it would be different for me.

And it was. No one pushed religion on me and to this day I don't understand the fuss. I bring the same logic and reasoning to religion that I bring to everything else.

And it wasn't. But I didn't see it until I had a child of my own.

I found myself getting angry at my daughter in the same way—and over the same things—my father used to get angry at me about. I found myself reacting in the same ways and threatening the same punishments that I was threatened with. At some point I caught my wife staring at me like I was some kind of alien who'd replaced her calm and loving husband. When I finally managed to step back and question what was going on, I realized I didn't actually care about many of the things I was reacting to. I was, in fact, reacting because I thought that was what I was supposed to do.

The first step to overcoming one's childhood programming is recognizing it. And that is more difficult that one might think.

Childhood programming. It's insidious and just as we don't realize we have it, we tend to be blind to the fact we're perpetuating it with our own children. How are you reacting to your child's forays into individuality? When they test boundaries, do you react the same way your parents did? When you play games with them do you ever let them win? Do you always let them win? Are you willing to give your child a task you know they'll fail at and still stay out of their way as they try? Do you really believe in god, or are you just going through the motions? If you haven't questioned your own faith, are you sure you want to put that on your children without at least giving it some thought? How about your relationship with your partner, how much does that mirror the relationship you saw between your own parents?

All this is a lead up to another—though definitely related—theme in Beyond Redemption: Taking responsibility for one's own choices and actions. We are all victim to childhood programming of some kind, and it's not all bad. Ideas like sharing and helping and being kind could all be considered programming. But sometimes it's a little more difficult to see.

Take anger, for example. We've all heard (and said) things like, that made me angry. But is that the truth? Are you sure you didn't decide to become angry, were you truly helpless in the angry/not angry equation? Is it possible you've merely been taught to shirk responsibility for your emotions?

Our inability to accept responsibility for our choices goes deeper than how we react to stimuli. Are you overweight, an alcoholic, depressed, having trouble sleeping? Perhaps your first response shouldn't be to seek something to blame or to reach for a chemical cure. Maybe you can accept responsibility and change whatever needs changing to rectify the situation. Responsibility is scary, but what most people miss is that it's also power. If it's my responsibility, I can change it. And before you get too angry with me, I have been and sometimes still am all of those things.

We are the result of our choices and actions. The lives we live—barring tragedies beyond our control—are the lives we deserve. Getting over the events of your childhood, be they large or small, is a choice. Perhaps it's not an easy choice, but it is within your power. Or you can be a character in my next book. 

The first step is making a decision.

* * *

Want to know more about Michael and his delusions? Check out his website, or give him a follow on Facebook, or Twitter.

Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher: A Review

Damn it. I said I wasn't going to start reviewing books again, but I had to talk about this book, because like Zachary Jernigan's Shower of Stones, Michael R. Fletcher takes the themes of gods and madness and twists it all around in such a way as to intrigue me. Any similarities between the two novels ends there.

In Jernigan's world, the mortals defied a mad god.

In Fletcher's world, the mortals seek to create a god.

And what an intriguing world it is.

The old gods were broken by wars and plagues of the mind, left reeling like the most bloodied veterans. Infected with horror at the cost of their actions, they retreated into dementia ... Seeking to free themselves, they fled to a world of delusion, a world uncorrupted by jealousies and psychoses. And yet, in the end, even this they would pollute.

While Shower of Stones was a serious story that took itself seriously, there is something very tongue-in-cheek about Fletcher's Beyond Redemption. That's not to say that it's comedy, but as I read the novel, I couldn't help but envision Fletcher winking at me from behind the scenes and saying, "It's not really real, you know ... but what if ..."

Dreams became nightmares, and nightmares became reality, stalking the earth as albtraum, manifestations of man's earliest fears given flesh.

Or maybe that was just my delusion.

Let me explain ...

"Belief defines reality," said Wichtig, as if explaining to a simpleton. "I believe I will be the Greatest Swordsman in the World."

Beyond Redemption is dark--not gory, but I would slide it to the grimdark side of the ruler, borderline horror in places--I want to make that clear from the beginning. However, if you are reading this blog, my assumption is that you have already come to the dark side, so here ... have a cookie that bites:

Faith shapes the landscape, defines the laws of physics, and makes a mockery of truth. Common knowledge isn't an axiom, it's a force of nature. What the masses believe is. But insanity is a weapon, conviction a shield. Delusions give birth to foul new gods.

Violent and dark, the world is filled with the Geisteskranken--men and women whose delusions manifest, twisting reality. High Priest Konig seeks to create order from chaos. He defines the beliefs of his followers, leading their faith to one end: a young boy, Morgen, must Ascend to become a god. A god they can control.

But there are many who would see this would-be-god in their thrall, including the High Priest's own Doppels, and a Slaver no one can resist. Three reprobates--The Greatest Swordsman in the World, a murderous Kleptic, and possibly the only sane man left--have their own nefarious plans for the young god.

As these forces converge on the boy, there's one more obstacle: time is running out. When one's delusions become more powerful, they become harder to control. The fate of the Geisteskranken is to inevitably find oneself in the Afterdeath. The question, then, is: Who will rule there?

Beyond Redemption begins with three thieves: Bedeckt, an old grizzled warrior, who prides himself on his sanity; Wichtig, a minor Gefahrgeist (Sociopath), who is determined to become the Greatest Swordsman in the World; and Stehlen, a Kleptic with some serious anger management issues.

If I ever take up cosplaying, I'm coming as Stehlen. Beware.

When faced with a Gefahrgeist, set aside your honesty. Truth will be turned against you. Today's truth will be tomorrow's lie and you will be left questioning your own sanity. This too is manipulation ... Gefahrgeist often wear the mask of sanity. This makes them dangerous. This makes them successful ...

Bedeckt, who believes he is the brains behind the operation, decides he needs one last scam to take him into retirement. It turns out that Konig, Theocrat of the Geborene Damonen and an extremely powerful Gefahrgeist (remember they're sociopaths--Konig means king in German ... see how this works?), is busy creating a god.

Konig's plan is to cultivate the populace's beliefs so that his god-child becomes reality. This god-child is being raised to be subservient to Konig, who will help the boy ascend into the Afterdeath where the god-child will serve Konig in order to prevent Konig's delusions from taking over his body.

Konig knows his time is short. Three of his emotions have taken corporeal form as the Doppels Acceptance, Trepidation, and Abandonment (think: doppelgänger and you're on track). The stronger a person's delusions, the more difficult they are to control. As Konig's power over the populace grows, so do his delusions, which become more dangerous to him and to one another.

I heard a knock, and when I answered the door, there I was. Luckily I think much faster on my feet than I do and soon had myself tied in the fruit cellar. I'd kill myself but I'm so damned useful. Sometimes, when the High Priest has texts he wants copied, I'll unchain one of my hands and get me to do some of the work. Of course I do it! I'm so damned bored down there, chained to the wall.

Bedeckt's plan is to kidnap the god-child, Morgen, and ransom him back to Konig, thereby procuring enough gold to retire. This scheme sets off a chain of events that are simultaneously hilarious and dire.

Sanity, Insanity, Genius. Rampant stupidity. Frankly, I can no longer tell them apart.

All the while, Fletcher cleverly pulls and picks at our preconceived notions of religion and belief systems, slyly winking at us from behind the scenes with selected quotes from the historians, philosophers, and kings who inhabit this twisted world. He treats the story with a light hand so that his very irreverence prevents the novel from spiraling into soullessness.

I don't see what I want to see, I see what I need to see. If you don't like it, see something else.

Fletcher's characters--Bedeckt with his desire to retire; Wichtig, who is determined to be the Greatest Swordsman in the World; Stehlen, who isn't exactly as she seems; and Konig, who is racing against his own madness in search of wholeness--are the very thing that redeems Beyond Redemption. Fletcher brings them all to vivid life and shows us their doubts and dreams and foibles with unflinching prose. Simultaneously poetic and brutal, Fletcher executes a deft balancing act between the surreal and the real and yet he never loses sight of his characters' humanity.

The novel is grimdark, and I mean very, very dark, so if you normally avoid this kind of novel, then I wouldn't recommend it to you. However if you're like me, and you enjoy looking under psychological rocks in order to see what breeds there, come along where you will see that ...

The tales are only as dark as the teller.

Highly recommended.