Monday, November 2, 2015

New Release: The Heart of God by S.A. Bolich

S.A. Bolich has a brand new book out today. If you enjoy a good fantasy romp as much as I do, check it out!

Imagine being the most girl-shy guy at court, tasked to facilitate your brother the King’s wedding…and two of the candidates are fixated on you. Poor Alarion Aravon begins to suspect that the artificial goddess Fate has her own reasons for putting those particular girls in his path—but he’s trying hard not to believe in her. Mortal means are required to straighten out the mess, but he quickly he comes to regret having ignored the willing and ambitious courtesans who have pursued him for years. He could really use that experience about now. Because one of those girls will do absolutely anything to be Queen.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Banned Books Week Showdown: Slate v. Book Riot (Spoiler Alert: Book Riot Wins)

Happy Banned Books Week, everyone. I hope you're all enjoying reading challenged literature the way I am (Harry Potter FTW!). It's true that reading a book categorized as 'banned or challenged' doesn't guarantee a good read, but you can't help but feel a little bit subversive when you do it. Or I can't.

This is as close to social rebellion as I'm likely to get. Let me have this.

However, Slate has suggested that "Banned Books Week is a Crock." Go ahead and read the article for yourself. I'm just going to sum up a handful of the major points given. Read the Book Riot article when it comes up, too, to get the full understanding.

Now, the Slate article made a pretty bold claim, so it better have something to back it up. On the surface, their argument seems cogent enough, right? We live in the information age. We can get any and all of these books from the internet, even if someone says "NO!" and slaps us on the wrist. So of course, there really aren't problems with banned books, right? Even if the school or a public library doesn't have the book because someone challenged it, you can just run over to Amazon and buy it for practically nothing.

That's where they lost me, but more on that toward the end.

It also brought up how weak the cases are for a lot of challenges and bans out there, and how a lot of them are in schools. Without actually saying as much, the implication is that bans in school libraries don't really count. Parents should have a say in what their children read, so those aren't real challenges and bans, right?

That cogent argument is looking a little worse for wear, now.

They bring up how it's gotten better, and they're right on that front. There's some legal protection, and a generally more accepting culture to allow theoretically offensive works to be read. But that doesn't mean the battle is won. That doesn't mean we shouldn't call attention to these things happening.

A large part of this article was also based on a woman trying to ban a book in Tennessee. She didn't want her teenage son reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (A fascinating book. You should read it.). She used her voice and made it known to the school that she didn't want her son or any other student reading this book. As the author said, this particular parent seems to have "confused gynecology with pornography."

The fact that the author and a lot of media outlets and the school district means that the book won, and since that's normally the case, we shouldn't really be worrying about Banned Books Week anymore. It's not exactly a fair argument to look at one case, is it?

Oh, also, the book didn't win. The woman was successful in stopping her son from reading it. The school provided him with another book. So now she's robbed a child of reading this book, and created extra work for a teacher who now (I'm assuming) has to write up two sets of assignments. One for the rest of the class, and one for this fifteen year old boy whose mother doesn't think he can handle some vagina talk.

Now, enter Book Riot, who makes a very succinct counter-statement: "Dear Slate: Banned Books Week Isn't a Crock." I won't go into a point by point of this one as much as the last one, mostly because a lot of my opinions are already in line with what's said.

See, when Slate suggests that people can just go buy the books if they're that concerned, that's all well and good for people who don't rely on their library for access to literature. Some people can't afford to go spend the money on a book, so they go to the library. When someone challenges a book and gets it banned, that means people in that community or that school don't have access to it. When a young adult book or middle grade book is challenged and moved to the adult section, younger readers are less likely to stumble upon it by searching, for one, and if they look for it specifically and have to go into the adult section, it's driving home the feeling of being off or wrong. While that might not be the greatest tragedy, making someone feel awkward, there's no God-damned point to it.

And they don't really touch on the fact that banning books from schools isn't harmless at all. Sherlock Holmes has been banned from certain schools for depictions of Mormonism. A book on forests banned because of the way it talks about the logging industry. Children and teenagers are being denied literature. That is a problem, no matter how small.

And what about outside of the US? It's true that Banned Books Week is put on by the American Library Association, but Slate very kindly reminded us that we have unprecedented access to information. When we post about it here in the US, it travels all over the world. While we might not have book burnings in the streets anymore (Or at least not often.), that's not true everywhere. At Worldcon, I was listening to a panel, and one of the panelists (Zaza Koshkadze) came from Georgia (The count, not the state.). A few years back, one of his author friends became a national bestseller there, but nobody read his book. How does that work?

Everyone bought his book, bought the whole first run, and burned the copies, because the content was controversial. Yes, he made his money, but nobody read the damn book. It was denied to people. That's why we need to bring attention to banned books. Not to mention the celebration of the past. Works that were controversial, even if they're fine now.

And if nothing else, if one day the whole world has moved past this and libraries and schools and bookstores can carry all books, do we really want to forget that books were banned and challenged at one point? No, of course not.

Hell, let's just face that facts: Banned Books Week gets people reading, and that's never a bad thing.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

On Creativity (and Shel Silverstein)

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’T’S
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me—
Anything can happen, child,
-Shel Silverstein, Listen to the Mustn’ts-

I saw this poem come through on Facebook today. This has long been one of my favorites. Shel Silverstein is a children’s poet, yes, but this is one of the few times that he shows who he really is. This is one of many poems of his encouraging people to go for their dreams or to express creativity, and I love every bit of it. Those poems of his are some of the things that keep me going as a writer.

I think it can go for all creative types. And I have a secret for you. Everyone is creative. It’s part of the human experience. You can say you’re not, that you’re just humdrum. I don’t buy it. Everyone has some kind of spark.

So I’m issuing everyone who sees this a challenge. Set aside one day. Just one, single day. You can spare that from your busy schedule. Make it on a weekend, if that’s what it takes. But find one day in your life and go be creative. Go do it. Write. Draw. Paint. Dance. Fix the Confederate battle strategy. Make up a new game to play with your kids. Make up a new game to play with your grandma. Try a new recipe. Make a website from scratch. I don’t know what tickles your personal creativity, but let it get tickled. Just once. You’ll probably suck at it the first time, but who doesn’t? Even the creatives you look up to the most sucked major balls at one point.

So go and be total shit at something. Or be great at something. Just feed that creativity. Start with one day and see where that takes you. Don’t do it for me, though. Do it because it’s something good. It’s something great. It’s a little spark of magic you can hold in your hands. And everyone could use a little more magic in this day and age, don’t you think?

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come it by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!
-Shel Silverstein, Invitation-

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Author Interview: Andrew Michael Schwarz

Today, we have a guest. Huzzah! I met Andrew Michael Schwarz at Campcon back in June, and when I saw that he had a new release, I wanted to have him over here to talk to us. He has great taste in books, writes horror and dark fantasy, and shares my general disdain for actually naming favorite books. But I should probably shut up and let our guest get in a word.


VF: So, tell us a little about yourself.

AMS: I’ve done a lot of different jobs and professions. I am able to pick things up quickly and do well with them. Because of this, for most of my life, I have been improvident, preferring adventure to stability. Growing up I fantasized about being a writer, but wrote very little. In my early 30’s I decided to get serious about it.

VF: You write horror and fantasy. Since we talk about subgenres a lot over here… where would you say the line is between dark fantasy and horror, if there is one?

AMS: I think horror is a very misunderstood genre. Like other genres there are many different styles of horror. I think traditional horror delves deep into subconscious fears and is heavily concentrated on death as the worst thing that can happen. In dark fantasy you get a more pleasing style of horror, where the fear of death is replaced with various examples of how to survive it--or I should say, how to keep living despite having died.

For me, all horror can be defined as “all the ways we survive death.” From ghosts to vampires to killers you can’t kill (Jason and Freddie) to narrowly missing being slashed apart, you have examples of how to beat death. It’s very interesting from that viewpoint because it puts the whole genre into perspective. We actually need horror because it shows us how to live forever and tells us that, above everything else, we are eternal. Over and over again, through all the various monsters and ways to “come back” it seems to want to show it, say it, prove it. Very interesting.

VF: What’s your favorite speculative fiction book or series? What about your favorite non-spec-fic book/series?

AMS: Hmmm, that’s not going to be easy to play favorites. China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station is high on the list, but I love Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witch books, and they are probably the winners. I am geeky fan boy with those books, like it made my day to get the last signed copy of the new vampire book that came out a few months ago. When I read those books, I am not even aware that I am reading. I am just floating in another world.

Non-spec-fic, it might be Les Miserables. Though I am only half way through it at the moment, I am enthralled with it. I love those characters and their plights.

VF: Which authors inspire you? What is it about them/their work that connects with you in such a deep way?

AMS: I love a lot of authors. I am a fan of Stephen King, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, some classic authors like Dickens and Victor Hugo, but I think on a consistent basis, Anne Rice really scratches the itch for me.

I have often wondered what it is about Anne Rice’s stories and characters that captivate me so much. I have looked very hard at this to try and figure it out. The best answer I have is that out of the tragically damned nature of her characters comes profound statements on the human condition, which resonates deeply with me.

VF: Your books tend to take place in urban and contemporary settings. Why do you think those settings lend themselves so well to speculative fiction content?

AMS: I think the city or urban setting is an extension of the traditional haunted house with its trap doors and secret passages of gothic horror fame. Cities, like old houses, are “alive” with history. We, in America, might not be able to appreciate this to its fullest extent because our cities are so young, but all you have to do is walk through an old European city like Amsterdam or Paris to feel the layers of rich history that permeates every nook and cranny.

In urban fantasy, this history wants expression. The city wants to come to life like an old haunted house. I think we can add layers of complexity to our still young American cities through our mythology.

VF: Who would you say is your favorite character of all time?

AMS: Another attempt to get me to play favorites. I’m going to say Stile of Piers Anthony’s Apprentice Adept series. I find this character’s integrity to be awe inspiring.

VF: A few rapid-fire questions. Be sure to think on your feet!

How do you take your coffee? With half and half, always.
Favorite after-hours drink? I’m a big fan of the Appletini
Night-owl or early-bird? Night owl, to my own detriment
Guilty pleasure TV show? I watch very little actual TV, but if I’m being totally honest here, I have to go with Saturday Night Live.

VF: Your book Incorruptible just hit print. You mind telling us a little bit about it?

AMS: Incorruptible introduces occult PI Thomas Hunter who is a cross between Phillip Marlow and Corwin of Amber. I describe it as occult, paranormal detective fiction. Thomas Hunter has a trio of entities that reside in his body and carry out various biological and mystical functions that allow him to investigate occult crimes and issues. Some of these functions include advanced healing, the ability to see ghosts and increased strength for short periods of time. These entities also have personalities and since they control parts of the body, they sometimes take over Hunter’s mouth and embarrass him.

He has no idea how he got these entities because he has amnesia. In Incorruptible he investigates the occurrence of bodies that don’t decay, what Catholic mysticism calls Incorruptibles, associated with saints. (Another way to survive death.)

This series fuses hermetic magick, Catholic mysticism and Freudian concepts. All the paranormal aspects are designed to walk the line between magic and explainable phenomena. An example is one of Hunter’s entities named Animal. Animal is the personality of Hunter’s physical body who often takes over Hunter’s motor controls to perform certain actions. Animal will occasionally speak for Hunter and Hunter will often have conversations with Animal where the two of them use the same mouth. So, one might say that Animal is a self-aware entity that shares the body with the individual known as Thomas Hunter and affords to him certain supernatural qualities, like increased fighting skill. Or one could say that Thomas Hunter is suffering from schizophrenia. All the magic in the book is designed to go both ways. Hunter is always trying to figure out how a certain “trick” is being done.

VF: And just one last question: what’s the one book you think everyone should read?

AMS: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes


Thanks for stopping by! While he's packing up and I'm cleaning up the coffee mugs, check out this little sneak peek from Incorruptible, available in ebook and now in print! (You can find out more about Andrew over at his website, by the by.)

I made tracks for the basement, where I guessed the Relic would be.

She didn’t have to show me where the basement door was. I’d spotted it coming in. It was the only door that looked original. It opened to a rickety set of wooden steps, which fell straight down into gloom.

If the ghost didn’t scare me, the steps surely did.

I got you, bud, said Animal.

My toes spread inside my boots, cat-like, and my thighs rippled in a strange peristalsis. I’d had no idea legs could do that. After, I was steady in the dark.

Not gonna thank me? he asked.

“Fuck you.” I was still pissed, but aside from his asocial tendencies, Animal is the kind of guy you want on your side in a knife fight. The one guy you would take with you on a vertical cliff climb. A flex of muscle here, a quickened reflex there and voilĂ , he’d have you landing on your feet and running to the next death trap while making a snide comment.

The basement swirled with dust. I sneezed. Unfinished, yes, but not what I was looking for. I needed to find the oldest thing in the house, and I figured it would be down here. See, the upstairs was all new. New floor, new woodwork, carpet, paint, you name it. Remodeled. I wanted the original house. That’s the part the specter holds on to. What I call the Relic.

That’s my own term. You could call it the “Object” or, I guess, the “Thing.”

“Relic” is more descriptive. Find the Relic, find the ghost. A cracker barrel slogan. It works a good ninety percent of the time. After that there are other ways.

I scanned the dismal dump. Lumps of dust covered stuff. Old mattresses, boxes, chests, sheeted furniture. The usual fare for such scenes. It bored me. God, it did. Hauntings had become so dull. It’s always the same thing. You rarely get variety. It’s equivalent to the private dick’s matrimony case. You get tired of chasing cheating husbands.

I strolled through the usual terrain and let my dead eye take the lead. Dust, dust, sheet. Dust, dust, sheet. Dust, dust, blue fire tongues outlining a rectangular pattern.


“Third, is that all we got, sweetie?”

No change in the scene meant, “Yes.” I stood back and did a quick eyeball measurement. Height and width of a door, yup, secret passage.

“Ani, need a kick,” I said and then waited. “Hello?”

“Waitin’ for Kairos, babe,” Animal retorted, using my lips to say it out loud.

“Jesus Christ, you guys are slower than shit today!” I yelled.

Then it came. The kick. My leg jolted forward at a speed I would not be able to tell you, and struck the blue flames on the far right of the door, about where the doorknob should have been. I felt nothing. Plaster exploded and an old, rickety oak door opened in a yawning creek, followed by a cold blast.


The feeling in my foot would return after restoration of cellular homeostasis, about fifteen minutes.

Couple things to know: I died once, a fatal car accident, and when I woke up I wasn’t normal. I’d also forgotten everything that had ever happened to me, but for a single memory.

Afterwards, little by little, I’d learned that I had a bunch of weird fricking entities living in my head. I say “weird fricking” because that is the most apt description I have found to date. In time, I gave them all names. Or they had names and I discovered them.

Animal—or Ani—you’ve already met. Then we have Third, an entity that operates through my gray “dead eye.” I address it by Third and actually the thing answers up to nothing else. I have to address it politely, because if I don’t the little shit just tunes me out completely.

I’m not blind in that eye, but when I call on Third, she sort of hijacks the ocular nerves and changes channels. I get a spiritual overlay on the material world or really vivid visions depending on the application.

The best way to explain Third is like this: place a lens from someone else’s prescription over your left eye. Then imagine it had a dark tint to it. Now note how well your uncovered eye sees. That’s Third Vision, the eye that is not covered.

Kairos-Kronos: this is an entity that’s two sides of the same thing. The Einstein of the whole operation, Kairos-Kronos is always performing some abstruse calculation as relates to space and time. You address him as Kairos if you want opportune timing and Kronos if you want regular timing.

There’s one other, but we’ll save it for later.

My nipples went hard. Sounds sexy, but really it was just cold in there. I walked through the doorway and found what I was looking for. The room had not been touched. It had been sealed off and entombed. Preserved.

“Interesting Relic,” I said, “a whole hidden room.”

The temperature was an indicator, too, but it could have been colder due to the vault-like placement downstairs. This is yet another reason why I don’t use all those ridiculous gadgets. I mean, do I need an infrared thermometer to tell me my tits are hard?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

On Fandom

Woot! I’m writing this from Sasquan, so this is going to be a little quicker than normal. Sorry for that, but I promise I’ll be bringing you back all sorts of awesome content from the convention.

These sorts of events always make me think. Why is it that all these introverts (like me) take the time to go out to these kinds of things? We all force ourselves to be in this uncomfortable situation. What is it about these gatherings of fandom that make us want to do this?

I think it’s because SF/F fans have profound experiences when it comes to the genre, moreso than other fandoms. I can’t speak to any sort of universal experience, but with myself and other people I’ve talked to, that sense of the strange resonates. That’s part of why there are so many introverts in the SF/F community, I’d imagine. Outcasts like to see other strange people in their fiction, maybe people even stranger than them, or people who aren’t even people.

Am I right? I don’t know. I honestly don’t. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

(Also, I promise I’ll get into less esoteric and philosophical content when I get back. This is just what’s on my mind, right now.)


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Subgenre Special: Creepypasta

What? What’s that? This isn’t Saturday! You’re an imposter!

Nope. This is a bit of a special post for a couple reasons. One is that I’m actually posting one of these. Subgenre Saturdays are kind of on a bit of a hiatus for a lot of reasons. I really enjoyed writing them, but they are an awful lot of work on my part, and I’ve just recently signed several contracts (Seriously. Three contracts in a three day span.) and I have a lot of edits on the horizon. I was also running low on subgenres I have a lot of experience with. So I do intend to pick them back up eventually, but not within the next couple weeks, to be sure.

The other reason this is a bit special? Well, I don’t know for sure that you could really call this a subgenre. Today, I want to talk about creepypasta.

Scared? I knew you would be.

Oh, you’re not? And you couldn’t lie to me?

(A note, in good faith: some of the stuff in these links is really unnerving, including pictures that portray some (Photoshopped) body horror. You'e been warned.)

Creepypasta are a sort of internet-based urban legend. But also not quite the same. Urban legends are believed, at least by someone. Enough people that they move from mouth to mouth. Spiders in the bouffant, alligators in the sewer, that sort of thing.

With creepypasta, most people are fully aware that these are fictional accounts. Slenderman, Jeff the Killer (Warning: Terrible Writing), Smile Dog. You know, reading them, that they are totally and completely not real. But it doesn’t matter, because they’re still that kind of skin-crawling terror that’s so hard to capture.

Now, what kind of name is creepypasta? You’d be surprised how few fans actually know why these stories of fear are titled with such a silly-sounding name. It comes from the term ‘copypasta,’ which is just a block of text that gets copied and pasted from one internet source to the other over and over and over. Copy-paste to copypasta to creepypasta, for these deeply ‘creepy’ stories spread through the internet the same way.

It’s difficult to pin down exactly what makes a creepypasta a creepypasta and not just a horror story that’s been posted online. Part of it is the same as urban legends compared to other legends. They could maybe happen. Most normal legends, like most average horror stories, are so far-separated from our general, modern reality that they lack that creepiness. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s fairly good starting point.

As a rule, creepypasta also leave a lot of room for experimentation and modern storytelling techniques. They don’t have to be linear narratives, or even traditional narratives at all. One of my favorites of all time is the series of creepypasta connected to Candle Cove. Seriously, those stories give me goosebumps every time, even when I know what’s coming. But the original and a number of the off-shoot stories are told in forum posts and interviews and other epistolary-style formats. A lot of them use pictures as an aid, or even audio and video. I’ve even seen some using hidden HTML code that are only available if you copy the base code of the website. Things like that help set creepypasta apart as a unique internet phenomenon.

If I were to recommend starters for you… well, I’d preface it by telling you to keep the lights on before you begin your dive into the realm of creepypasta. But aside from that, I’d say that you should go through and click the links to the creepypasta that I’ve shared in this post already. On top of those, I’d check out the Russian Sleep Experiment, Squidward’s Suicide, and Ben Drowned.

I won’t say that these are the best (Although I hold that Candle Cove is one of the top creepypasta on the internet.), but they are definitely some of the most popular creepypasta you’ll find, and they do encapsulate a good amount of what you’re liable to see when you read creepypasta, if you decide you like this genre... or whatever you’d call creepypasta, anyway.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

PNW Fandom

So, in case you didn’t know, I’m headed off to Sasquan (Worldcon 2015) next week (If you’re going to be there, let me know. We’ll have coffee, maybe?). So I’ve been poring over the schedule and the guests and everything, as is my usual M.O. right before I go to a big convention. And of course, with the size of Sasquan, there are a lot of panels there that actually sound interesting, which is fairly abnormal in my experience. Normally, I discount a lot of the panels at cons I go to. Same people, same topics, all that jazz. But this time? The panels on diversity I talked about before are just the tip of the iceberg.

But one of the panels I’m really looking forward to is the Northwest All-Stars. It’s on a topic I’ve noticed quite a lot, before – here in the Pacific Northwest, we have a lot of SF/F authors. And not just small fries. Orson Scott Card, Patricia Briggs, Vonda Mcintyre, Irene Radford, Seanan McGuire. They all have ties to the PNW.

In point of fact, there are a lot of writers here, regardless of genre, plus we have Amazon’s headquarters over in Seattle.

I’ve never really considered why this happened. There’s something to be said for the Seattle area’s love of art, and something to be said for Seattle housing the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. I think the general love of art has a lot more to do with it than anything else. I mean it. If you’ve never been to Seattle and you like art—any art—I recommend you make a visit. It’s a challenge to visit Seattle without seeing some kind of art. Street performers and buskers, murals, statues. Whatever it is.

But sci-fi and fantasy in particular? I think there are a number of reasons, not the least of which is the strong science and technology background in this state. Boeing, Microsoft, Nintendo. You can find them all in Washington State, in one form or another. People like science and ideas here, and more than any other genres, SF/F deal with ideas. Big, sweeping ideas, ideas that are thoroughly separated from our own world and view of things.

A part of it comes from the diversity of cultures and the acceptance of different types of people. We’ve got a big port with Seattle, and a lot of immigrants who came in with all of their own cultures. That’s on top of the strong Native American cultures we have here (Salish, Yakama, Sinkiuse, etc). But what common ground do we all have in spite of any cultural differences?

We don’t know how many alien lifeforms might be out there. We don’t know what could be in some other world. What binds us together are all the things that we, as humans, don’t know. Not the only thing that binds us together, of course, but it is common ground. I like to think that the search for common ground brought the local fandom together, at least a little bit.

Of course, in the end, who really knows? As far as I’ve seen, there aren’t any sort of studies on this, and they couldn’t be conclusive, I wouldn’t imagine. But if I find answers, or stronger theories, I’ll swing back in and let y’all know after that panel. So if you want to learn what I did there, make sure you’re subscribed.