Category Archives: Books

Free books and magazines!

Well the time has come for me to downsize my book and magazine collection (unfortunately) and I’ve put together a list of the relevant goodies on offer on a Google doc file:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AtRmsabVB_MydGhsQXRqZkRoT1RaT1RKby1FNzh6Wmc&usp=sharing

It’s a real mix of stuff I’ve bought and read, have been bought, stuff I’ve reviewed or been given at cons. My first thought was to pop them down to the second-hand bookstore in town but I thought I’d give you lot first shout, as some of the magazines, for example, might be interesting to complete collections, etc.

Feel free to ask me any questions regarding any of the titles and feel free to put your name on as many as you like. It’s first come, first served, as long as you’re prepared to pay the shipping for your choices.

You can comment here but I’d prefer if you added your name to the Google doc, so that others are aware of what has gone.

Happy browsing!

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In the Mail #3: The Whisper Jar by Carole Lanham

In the Mail #3: The Whisper Jar by Carole Lanham.


Behind Kaaron Warren’s ‘Five Loves of Ishtar’

[Taken from the Gilgamesh Press website]

Here at Gilgamesh Press, we want to continue with the sneak peaks into our debut book, Ishtar!

The first story in the Ishtar collection is a historical piece, written by the lovely Kaaron Warren. Here are her thoughts behind why she wrote her incredible tale:

‘The Five Loves of Ishtar’

When I first began reading for my Ishtar novella, I was living in Suva, Fiji. The public library has two shelves of history books, all of them predating 1970, most of them donated by departing diplomats. I had sporadic internet. I also had an anthropologist as a friend, who had brought with him his enormous library. So that’s where I started.

As I read, one message emerged to me; that Ishtar was a powerful presence over many millennia. The stories told of her were in the present; as if she had lived for those thousands of years and people had actual memories of her.

I wondered how she’d change over the years, and if time made her tired.

At the same time, I wondered about her companions, and one in particular. For a long time, I’ve been fascinated about the washerwoman in history, after watching a documentary by Terry Jones, where he said that there were washerwomen who travelled on the Crusades. Women risking their lives, suffering the hunger and the privations that the men suffered, yet never named, rarely mentioned. I have the image of them working tirelessly, scrubbing, washing, drying, only noticed if they failed to do their jobs.

I wondered what sort of washerwomen Ishtar might have, and what they might know. I thought that perhaps they would know every secret; you can’t keep things from the woman who washes your underwear.


SoSF Interview #24 – KV Taylor

Well coming back to my Stars of Speculative Fiction interviews, it is my great honour to welcome author, editor and hamster wrestler, KV Taylor, to chat about life, love and her debut novel ‘Scripped’, (yes, ‘Scripped’ not ‘Stripped’).

KV, welcome, welcome, welcome, how the devil are you today?

Great! The hamsters are giving me trouble, but that’s the glamorous life for you, isn’t it? How about you?

I’m good, good, (but noticing a tendency to repeat words). I’m very eager to hear more about hamsters and ‘Scripped’ of course but thought I’d start with the trickiest little question of the bunch…

1. What on earth is Speculative Fiction m’dear?

To me, it’s any genre that explores the possible but highly improbable. It’s about all the things humanity doesn’t understand or can’t control, but desperately wants to, I reckon. The apocalypse, alternate realities, outsider points of view, magic, sex, death, the future. You know, asking “what if?” about the good stuff. Speculating, even.

I know it’s a term often used by supposed literary authors to duck genre labels like fantasy and sci fi. But it’s the one term that covers everything I’m interested in reading, but I don’t have a chip on my shoulder about being a genre lover. The word works, so I use it.

I also know you prefer “dark fiction”, which is great, but doesn’t quite cover my bases. I like elves and superheroes and Star Trek, too.

How can ‘dark fiction’ not cover every base? You sure you are feeling OK, I know it is sunny out and all…although elves in Star Trek might be kind of cool…

I’d buy it!

2. Music, music the music – I pretty much know the answer to this one already but I’m not sure all your adoring fans do. Does music play a role in your writing, either in terms of inspiration or whilst you’re writing or both even?

Adoring fans, wow. Man, even my mom doesn’t think I’m cool. (Well, she does, but we both know she’s cooler.)

Anyhow, short answer: yes.

Longer answer: I’m the only person in my immediate family who is not a professional musician. Music was never optional, and it plays a role in everything I do, but writing in particular doesn’t happen without it. It makes sense to me that some people can’t write with lyrics or even sound around them, but I’m not sure I can write without it in any sustainable way. I’ve got playlists for each book–sometimes each character–that I run through while I’m working. I used to burn them onto CDs for the car, but yay for the iPod.

I usually develop them while writing a first draft, throwing in songs that made missing pieces shift into place or that get the mood right. Then I go back and put it on when I need to edit or think through a problem.

Huge music geek, yes, it’s true.

Sound junkie, there’s nothing wrong with that as far as I’m concerned…

3. So, ‘Scripped’, is available for pre-order (Scripped) and I think it’s about time I asked you a little bit about it. Why is it called ‘Scripped’ and what’s the meat of the book (pun intended)?

I see what you did there, and I like it.

So, it’s about this guy called Jonah who wanders a little too far from the familiar in a West Virginia forest. He ends up glamored into the Appalachian version of Faerie. Some of the rules are what you’d expect if you’re a fan of the old mortal-napping fairy tales. Some not so much. On top of slowly forgetting who he is and where he came from, Jonah ends up, for lack of a pre-existing word, scripped.

Scrip is a kind of substitute money. The coal companies in the US paid (and I use that term loosely) the miners in housing and paper credits only good for redemption at the company store in town. On top of feeding and clothing their families with it, they also had to buy their own equipment, which meant they started out in debt to the company and never got out again. You can imagine how ugly things got when they started unionizing.

So this fae version of the company town is the impression all that blood and sweat left on the land. It’s nasty and cold in there, but mortals have sunshine–and their skin is so warm.

Having read the novel I know there’s a lot more involved in it all then that but I think there’s a nice overall blurb for those that might wonder about the title.

Love as an unforgiving master/mistress would be something to bear in mind when reading too…

Yeah, definitely. My brother actually calls the book is a love story, and he’s not wrong. But it ain’t pretty.

4. Back to the music Katey and I have been noticing a little track listing promo for Scripped – where did you get the idea and what made you do it?

Um, good question. I don’t know where I got the idea, it just seemed like a thing I was going to do anyhow, making the list and drawing the connections, so I might as well bring it along for the promo ride. I was a little worried it’d be irritating, actually. You think it’s okay?

Wait, I asked that question then came back to it like, it’s Mark. It’s music. Of course he does. Sorry.

Heh! I think it’s great but then I would wouldn’t I?

5. Who got you interested in writing and who inspires you to write now?

My mom reminds me regularly that she read to me every night and even “did the voices”. She and my Granddad always made sure I had lots of classics around, and my dad has the finest library of fantasy novels ever–plus he was all right with handing me Stephen King when I was barely 13.

I mostly started writing to entertain myself and my best friend when I was really young. I was never into TV, so I’d sit in my room and make stuff up or get in trouble in class for scribbling in my notebook when I was supposed to be learning. It never occurred to me until I was in my 20s that anyone else might be entertained by my stories, but once it did I thought, “Well, if I’m going to write anyhow…”

I’m inspired by authors who arrange words beautifully or cleverly to devastating effect. Steinbeck and Vonnegut and Austen and Fitzgerald. Of course, I’m also inspired by authors who evoke primal emotions, most often the dark ones. My Poe addiction is longstanding, and authors in that tradition–I can’t get enough. And, as a final influence, I have two words: comic books.

My family gives me good material too. They’re good about giving me permission to use their hilarious quotes, and my husband in particular enjoys seeing something he’s done or said pop up in a story. Plus, I have a lot of really good writer friends, and bouncing ideas is about as inspirational as it gets, right?

Good answer, you might get some points there (or are they vouchers these days?). Not sure where you can use them though…

I don’t know, but I hope to god they sell whiskey.

6. So what do you do when you’re not writing or editing then?

Read everything from Dickens to Spider-Man to Regency Romance to GRRM. I do that while I’m writing too, though, I reckon. My favorite thing to do between big projects is playing MMORPGs. I lose concentration with them when I’m in the middle of writing or editing something, but if I’m in downtime I will kill some orcs all day long, man. That’s better than therapy.

I also like to wander the National Gallery and see as many awesome bands live as I can–both of which are nice perks of living in the DC area. Oh, and I draw and play the guitar very, very badly.

Wow, playing the guitar badly, you are really out on your own there aren’t you? 😉

7. I briefly mentioned a little earlier you as an editor, without going into detail. I’d now like you to take this opportunity to discuss your webzine, Red Penny Papers.

It’s a quarterly e-zine in which I (and submissions wrangler John Cash) collect the kinds of stories I (we) like to read, pretty much. Pulpy or sensationalist genre stuff. There’s a quarterly edition for short fiction, maybe five stories a pop, and then once a quarter we try to produce a short serial novella. A lot of my favorite fiction was originally published in magazines or papers like that, and so it’s a bit of a look back in that way.

I like things to get a little bit over the top or absurd sometimes. That kind of thing isn’t fashionable anymore, but I still say it’s good not to take your fiction so seriously all the time. It’s a lot of fun, RPP, and we’ve had some really great writers and artists stop by this first year.

Definitely agree on the wealth of talent you’ve had over there, lots of fun indeed!

8. How do you yourself see the speculative/genre scene at the moment? Are we in a decline or on our way to a new golden age?

I don’t think it’ll ever decline, not really. Publishing is going through some changes, and though they’re painful, they’re in the service of A Better Story. People will always want A Better Story, and we’ll always love the fantastic. I’m not a huge optimist, it’s just that I think the real world is so irritating to us all, the fantasy we need so badly can never truly decline, right?

In a personal sense, I think it’s definitely coming up. There’s an emphasis on diversity right now that’s really making the scene so much more interesting in so many ways, and that in particular has me really excited.

Agreed, it’s hard keeping track of all that’s good in the scene just now, to be honest!

Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel. There are so many people fighting the good fight. It’s hard to despair, even for me.

9. And on we move to tips. What tips do you have for any aspiring writers reading this?

God, I don’t know that I’m the person to be giving tips, but I’ll have a whack at it.

Why does everyone do the fake humility bit? We’re all writers, we all have advice – some of it may suck but…

Well, that’s the thing–most advice does, right?

The only advice I can give with confidence is: read everything you can. When you see an author who claims not to have time to read — whether because they’re so busy with their own super riveting special snowflake fiction or otherwise — turn around and run the other way.

When it comes to writing itself, I only know what works for me, which is to work my tail off. When I get a rejection that makes me want to curl up in a ball and die, I channel that into work. When I get a critical edit or comment, I try and absorb the lesson and practice it until it’s second nature. When someone praises me, I want to be better so I don’t let them down. It’s effing exhausting, but I’m not a natural, so that’s what it takes to get me to that stage of readability. The one where people might let me entertain them with my stories, which is what it’s all about.

But yeah, everyone works differently. That might burn some people out, or just bore them to tears. Which is never good for creativity.

See you did have something to say!

10. So what’s next, what plans have you for future novels and The Red Penny Papers?

This year I have a couple of really cool editing projects coming out. Well, one is pretty familiar to you, as it’s Ishtar from Morrigan Books’ imprint, Gilgamesh Press, which I get to co-edit with Amanda Pillar. It’s a trio of novellas from Kaaron Warren, Deborah Biancotti, and Cat Sparks, so, yeah. I’m in awe over here. I’m also really excited to be co-editing Dagan Books’ Fish anthology with the founder and publisher, Carrie Cuinn, who is truly fabulous to work with. RPP will continue in its usual fashion, of course, being pulpy and absurd, but hopefully in the best possible way.

For my own stuff, I do have a novella project in the works with Dagan, but otherwise things are up in the air. I’m writing and editing and submitting and chewing on my fingernails. The usual.

Sounds exciting indeed!

Well thanks ever so much for agreeing to be grilled by myself and I wish you all the very best with Scripped and your future projects!

Thanks for having me, Mark, it’s been a pleasure, as always.


Creeping in Reptile Flesh, Live on Kindle!

Get your copy now!

Creeping in Reptile Flesh, Kindle edition

Creeping in Reptile Flesh


Vanity Press: or is it?

Following on from the cracking post by KV Taylor regarding the pricing of e-books, I was thinking about vanity press, being as that is seen as much worse than self-publishing. I remember getting my acceptance for my second novel a few years ago along with a £300 fee for god knows what, I can’t remember now, and asking a few in the know for advice. The resounding opinion was that of outrage, that I was being asked to fork out £300 to have my own book published and one of those I spoke to mentioned the self publishing route.

That was even more of a shock to me, as if I was to go out and publish the book myself then what had happened to the whole process of publishing, how could an author just decide that their book was adequately edited and ready for publication and what did that mean for me as a reader?

Two recent cases in point have strengthened my negativity to self-publishing (sorry but I’m not a fan) and that is that two authors who sent books to Morrigan Books and were subsequently rejected by me have suddenly released their books themselves less than a couple of months later. I’m aware I’m off making generalisations again, as merely because these two have done that doesn’t mean that everyone does that but it begs the question when you know it’s self-published, yes?

Something that would sway me would be if someone like Robert Hood were to publish his own novel. Firstly I’d be shocked that he’d done it, mainly because he wouldn’t need to but then I’d be very interested in reading it because it’s Robert Hood (for god’s sake!) and because the work I receive from Rob is generally ready for publication, only minor editing required (“a quick pat on the bum and sent out the door” as an editor I respect once mentioned editing writers like this).

And this brings me back to the early queries I received which are now in print. The rejection was based mainly on shoddy editing, a level I though below par for a book at Morrigan Books, as we want to whip your works into shape, not get ready for a rewrite and extensive editing project. So when I see one of these books on the market, it saddens me and frustrates me, as I gave my comments, explained what needed doing and for it to be released just makes the indie press scene look bad, because someone picking up that book and seeing its flaws might be wary of another indie book and that can’t be a good thing.

However, my post today was supposed to be about something else, as I was going to discuss a mail I got, offering me the chance to be published if I won a competition (yes, only me, you didn’t get the mail did you, suckers?). Oh I love competitions, I’m in, I’m off…but wait a minute you want me to pay $25 for the privilege of me getting a chance to be published? I’m thinking your talking vanity press here, or?

I mean I have entered the 3 Day Novel Contest twice now, being as I think it’s a cracking idea, totally mental and it gets me writing again. OK, I could do the thing on my own but there is something about this event feeling, forums and the like, knowing others are stressing over their terrible manuscripts at the same time I am. There is a prize of publication for the best manuscript sent in after the three days but to be honest it’s not really on the mind when writing, as the book is the focus.

Yet this, was a whole different kettle of fish (I wonder if that’s why Pete found a fish in the percolator):

Like a kettle of fish but different…

I mean, you just send in your manuscript before a certain day and then they pick their best and publish it, no doubt using a POD (Print on Demand) facility and a dodgy cover, meaning their outlay is a fraction of what they received in participation fee. Remembering of course they are not going to spend a cent on marketing either.

And KV Taylor mentioned something about not self-publishing more out of a sense of not being able to maybe push herself enough in the promotion arena, and this is also a very tricky topic as how much do we as writers know about marketing? I mean there are degrees and such for this kind of thing and are you sure you know the border between aggressive marketing and just plain annoying. Again referring back to one of the books we rejected, based on the fact that it needed a very heavy edit (which I don’t believe for a minute was achieved in the two months between rejection and publication) the author in question has engaged in a heavy self-promotion campaign, which involves discussing all the different elements required to self-publish in a way that is painful to read.

I am now aware my post is starting to lose a little focus, mainly because it’s a culmination of a lot of thoughts that have been on my mind for a few months now, and make me fear a little bit about the industry we’re in. I’m sounding pessimistic while at the same time very positive about a lot of things in indie press. I mean we are about to announce three books that are extremely well written, require minor editing and will look very comfortable on your shelf, along with your other Morrigan books, (what do you mean you haven’t got them all yet?) and there are a few new publishers on the scene doing rather interesting things too (a later blog post).

It’s KV Taylor’s fault, she darn got me thinking!


MORRIGAN BOOKS signs Martyn Taylor’s Whitechapel for its e-book series

Morrigan Books has today signed a contract with author Martyn Taylor with regards to publishing his novel Whitechapel, as part of its new e-book series. Martyn has already been published by Morrigan Books in the anthology The Phantom Queen Awakes, with his short story The Good and Faithful Servant, and is also due to be published with Gilgamesh Press and their début anthology In the Footsteps of Gilgamesh with The No Man.

Morrigan Books is extremely excited about Whitechapel and believe it is a book that will whet the appetite of anyone who appreciates clever and imaginative fiction.

During the Indian summer of 1888 London is the capital of an empire that colours half the map of the earth red. Yet even the rulers of such an empire are taken aback when envoys arrive from a very distant location, wishing to come under the protective wing of the Great Queen. While the government entertains the visitors (the ‘Men from Mars’) they also have them kept under close observation by their chief secret policeman, Inspector Fred Abberline. These mysterious visitors also attract the attentions of a penniless radical teacher and journalist, George Wells, and his equally eccentric lady friend, Miss Cara Benn. As the negotiations proceed in Whitehall, in Whitechapel Abberline and Wells become involved in ghastly slaughters that will leave the inspector’s place secure in history, as well as opening up the future to Wells.

Whitechapel will be edited by one of Morrigan Books‘ newest editors, Amanda Rutter.


MORRIGAN BOOKS announces new editors

Morrigan Books can today reveal the names of several editors who have been taken on by the company in readiness for its new e-book series. Some are established, whereas others are new to the field, further strengthening the vision of Morrigan Books that it wishes to promote new talent at the company, as well as maintaining its level of excellence in the field of dark fiction.

We are very pleased to welcome the following to Morrigan Books:

RJ Barker

Karen Newman

Richard Palmer

Amanda Rutter

KV Taylor

All our editors can be found at the Morrigan Books site.


‘Slights’ by Kaaron Warren

[First reviewed on Beyond Fiction and Dark Fiction Review]

There comes a time when you know, during your reading of a book, that it is going to have a profound effect on you, in terms of its engaging writing and also the message it delivers. Certain books spring to mind from my reading, classics such as: In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje, In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and The War Zone by Alexander Stuart. Slights by Kaaron Warren can be added to this list.

 

As an admirer of Warren’s prose for some time now, especially her collection, The Grinding House (Australian title, renamed with additional stories in the US, as The Glass Woman.), I was sure that this book would impress me, yet even with such high expectations, the book didn’t stand a chance of disappointing.

Slights is a first person narrative, seen through the eyes of Stevie Garland, a misfit, who loses her father early in life, suffers yet another major trauma when she and her mother are involved in a car accident, resulting in her mother’s death and her entering ‘the room’, a place where the people she has ‘slighted’ in life come to exact some sort of revenge on her. She is naturally disturbed by this room and vows not to slight anyone ever again upon her release from hospital. It is a vow she will make (and break) several times in the novel.
 
After the accident the book follows Stevie over a period of years, in which she retreats further away from the people who care about her and becomes more curious about death and what people see when they die. This is helped by her employment at a hospice.
 
The characters that play the biggest role in Stevie’s life are her brother, Peter, married to Maria, who Stevie can’t stand, Dougie Page, friend of the family, who worked with Stevie’s dad and Alex, Stevie’s dead father.
 
Stevie engages in hero-worship of her father and refuses to talk to any that speak ill of him (her uncle Dom, aunt Ruth etc.). She hangs up on Dougie Page more than once, when he tries to explain why it was that Alex died in the line of duty, supposedly protecting the innocents.
 
They are truths Stevie cannot and will not face.
 
She and her brother Peter have a classic brother/sister relationship, complete with scars and a history of hurt intertwined with love. Neither of them seem well equipped to deal with the other and this causes pain and confusion throughout the narrative, not helped by the friction between Stevie and Maria, Peter’s wife.
 
Stevie’s obsession with ‘the room’ becomes too much for her and she becomes more and more problematic in ‘normal’ society, seeking answers from people who have not the capability to answer them.
 
As the years pass and the fascination and dread grow, more information is brought to light about Alex, first from Dougie Page, followed by Peter and finally by aunt Jessie, who has craftily hidden stories of Alex’s life in the margins of classic books, during her time at the library.
 
The characterisation and interaction between the different characters in this story is an honest representation of what it is to be flawed, to not fit into this society of ours. Warren picks out traits many of us share and grinds them into one thick paste of loneliness, tragedy, betrayal and ultimately murder.
 
There is also Warren’s prose, which manages that difficult bridge between elegant and engaging with relative ease. For while it is easy to see that this is a story that has been crafted and that the words have been meticulously examined to prove their worth, in no way does this slow down the novel or make it confusing to the reader, rather it is fresh and vibrant and matches the rather chaotic nature of its protagonist.
 
As mentioned earlier, Slights, is one of those books that reaches into your core and takes something from you, whilst ultimately leaving something you really aren’t sure you wanted to be left with.
 
Ellen Datlow states that Kaaron Warren must be read and I cannot and would not want to disagree with this sentiment. It is as simple as that.


Gary McMahon and Sharon Ring sign author/agent contract.

Gary McMahon has signed up with Literary Agent Sharon Ring. Sharon Ring will act as agent in regard to two titles, The Quiet Room and Rain Dogs (previously published by Humdrumming Press).

rain_dogs_cover_prelim2

Gary is widely acknowledged as a powerful, new talent in British horror fiction. He received a British Fantasy Society nomination in 2009 for his first novel, Rain Dogs, and his short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror Vols. 19 & 20 (ed. by Stephen Jones). Tim Lebbon calls him a “bloody good writer indeed… heartfelt, talented, soulful… serious and mature.” Conrad Williams describes Gary as “a skilful writer… an able cartographer of these badlands.” With three novels already under his belt, plus three more titles scheduled for publication in 2011, Gary is set to reach a wider genre-loving audience.

Gary McMahon said, “I’m very excited about this new collaboration. Sharon is an ambitious, knowledgeable and proactive person, who believes strongly in both my work and her own abilities to make things happen. Her passion for dark literature, along with the contacts and know-how she has developed over the last couple of years, will hopefully place us in a good position to take things forward and bring my writing to an even wider audience.”

Sharon said, “I’ve been working toward taking on my first author as a literary agent for some time now. I wanted to make sure my first client was a perfect fit. An opportunity arose to work with Gary McMahon on two titles and I knew the time was right. Gary is one of the most talented horror fiction authors on the scene, breathtakingly astute in his vision of the modern world and the fears which lie at the heart of us all, and completely unafraid to venture into the darkest of territories. It’s a privilege to be working with him at this time in his career.”

A full list of Gary’s published work can be found at http://www.garymcmahon.com/2008/04/publications.html.

All enquiries regarding this deal should be directed to Sharon Ring: sharonlring@gmail.com.