Tuesday, November 13, 2018

After Cilmeri: The Series That Saved My Creativity


In the middle of this past summer, I was in a huge rut. I was depressed, feeling raw and emotional, and I couldn’t write to save my life. When I tried to either read or watch television or movies, I would get this weird sense of anxiety whenever anything dark or violent happened. Which is tough, because most of the stuff I’ve read and watched over the years tended to be, well, dark and violent. And the same goes for my writing. With the weightiness of real life coming down on me, I just didn’t have the stomach for it.

All of which left me longing for some way to escape. I thought of the last time I’d felt like this—way back in 2001—and remembered how, through happenstance, I’d picked up Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” at an airport bookseller. The feel of that book, the romance, and the depth of its world helped distract and heal me during a trying time when I was dealing with not only the fallout of a divorce, but the innate terror that came with the September 11th attacks. I decided, right then and there, that I needed that sort of escape again.

I’ve been lucky enough over the years to be involved in a sort of support group of fellow authors, and among those included in this group is Sarah Woodbury. I’d been aware of her for years—a given as we’re in the same group—but I’d never even given consideration to her work. But seeing as she writes time travel fiction that seemed to me to be quite similar to Outlander, I decided to take a peek at the initial volume in her After Cilmeri series, a perma-free novel called “Daughter of Time.”



To say I was blown away by what I read would be an understatement. I devoured every word of “Daughter of Time”—a book that revolves around a modern young woman named Meg, her accidental transportation to the 13th century, and the beginning of her relationship with Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last prince of Wales—in less than two days. I fell in love with the pacing, the plot, the characters … absolutely everything about the book, I loved. So I immediately bought the next book in the series, “Footsteps in Time,” and away I went.

(Note to add that “Footsteps in Time” is actually the first book in the series; “Daughter of Time” was written as a prequel, after Woodbury’s fans expressed interest in how the whole saga started in the first place. Which makes anyone who comes into the series late the lucky ones, since the character work in “Daughter” is superb, and the information disclosed is quite helpful in understanding the narrative of later books.)

What impressed me most about these tomes was as much what they weren’t as what they were. I was expecting some Gabaldon-type time-travel romance when I first began, but as I read, I discovered that Woodbury’s books are only similar to “Outlander” in the way that the main characters find themselves displaced in time. (Well, actually, in another dimension, but let’s not split hairs.) Sure, the After Cilmeri books have their share of romantic themes, but they’re secondary to what I find to be series’ main points—to teach the readers some little-known facts about medieval Wales, and to act as a sort of exploratory thesis on the nature of leadership, the effectiveness of governing principals, the importance of history, and the virtue of integrity.

Each of these books are told from different viewpoints, alternating first person and third person narration with every other installment, which helps keep the tone fresh and immediate and, well, different. All the characters we meet, both from medieval Wales and the modern world—from Meg and Llywelyn to David and Anna and Callum and Bronwyn and Ieuan and Math and Lily—are complicated, flawed, driven, yet wholly decent people. I had no choice but to root for, and fall in love with, each and every one of them.

There’s an innocence to the narrative that I appreciated wholeheartedly, and a sort of hopeful optimism that some might call na├»ve drips off every word Woodbury writes. In the end, it was this optimism in the face of some rather harrowing events (war is a near constant threat in this series, as are kidnappings, betrayals, assassinations, and familial discord) that caused me to devour all fifteen books of the series in the span of about forty-five days.

To say I adore Woodbury's work would be an understatement. After Cilmeri might be my favorite series ever written, bar none. It’s almost like I got to grow along with the author, as some of the earlier books in the series display the telltale flaws of a young writer, one who grows and improves and perfects her craft with each published work. In the end, I found it to be my own version of literary nirvana—a series of comfortable yet intellectually challenging reads that not only wholly entertained me, but had me analyzing my own craft, wondering what, if anything, I can do to honor these novels, and their message, in my own published works to come.

I can honestly say that Sarah Woodbury and After Cilmeri has rescued my own creativity. While my writing isn’t coming as quickly today as it has in the past, the words are indeed coming, and that is due in large part to what one particular author had to say, and how she chose to say it. So thank you, Sarah, for the wonderfulness you’ve given the world. You have a fan for life in me, and for however long you decide to further explore the lives and adventures of King Daffyd and his merry crew, this one man will be right there to go on the journey with you, wherever you choose to take them, whenever those words arrive.

If you want to explore the awesomeness that is Sarah Woodbury’s works, you can see write-ups on each installment, as well as links to various outlets, at this link: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/the-after-cilmeri-series/


Go. Read. Enjoy. I did. You will too.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Release Day: Lost in the Shadows is now live!



After an extended delay, I'm happy to announce that the third volume in the ongoing saga of Jacqueline Talbot, "Lost in the Shadows," is now live! This has been many months in the making, and is, without a doubt, my favorite book in this series. Alright, enough about me. How about some promotional info?

_______________________

In the shadows, you can even hide from yourself…

When Jacqueline Talbot was in foster care, she often dreamed of being reunited with her father. Now she sees him every day, along with her long-dead mother. Together, they protect a world on the brink of collapse by fighting monsters from neighboring dimensions. Despite this harrowing existence, Jacqueline is actually happy. So happy, in fact, that she doesn’t realize she doesn’t belong here.

Back in the real world, Mitzy Sarin and the Otakus face problems of their own. Not only are Jacqueline’s friends dealing with the fact that she’s up and disappeared, they also seem to each have developed awe-inspiring new talents. They’ll need them too, because in Jacqueline’s absence, reality is starting to fracture. More and more creatures are slipping through the cracks. Natural disasters abound.

The only way to set the world right again is to get Jacqueline back home. But her friends need to act quickly, because the Nightwatch aren’t the only ones looking for her.

Now available at most outlets:

Monday, September 25, 2017

REVIEW: Grim (Reaper's Redemption Book 1)

Rating: 5 out of 5

A while back, I reviewed a fascinating literary novel titled “Anomaly” that chronicled a few days in the life of a tortured gender-fluid character named J. The book completely surprised me, and I fell in love with it. (Unfortunately, that particular title is no longer in print, so the world has lost out on reading it…for now.) So when I found out that the author of that little gem, one Thea Atkinson, had pivoted her peculiar talents toward Urban Fantasy, I just HAD to pick up a copy of “Grim” and see for myself how someone with a unique voice such as hers would tackle the genre.

And let me tell you, she tackled it perfectly.

“Grim” is a gem of a book. It is the story of Ayla, a young girl on the cusp of womanhood whose life has been anything but easy. As a child of the foster care system, she has all the insecurities and hang-ups of someone who’s shuffled from home to home. Her distrust lingers even now that she’s found relative safety living with her grandfather in the town of Dyre (great naming there). She’s a contradiction, as most real people are—flawed yet idealistic, fragile yet brimming with inner strength.

Atkinson doesn’t waste time, as the story starts with a bang, an encounter with a strange, tattooed killer in an old gothic church. It is this initial confrontation, and all the horror that goes with it, that begins a breakneck two days for our young, ornery heroine. There are secrets revealed almost immediately, both supernatural and otherwise. The author sure knows how to frame a fight scene, and the action is excellently paced. When reading this book, there really is not time to stop and catch your breath, which only adds to the urgency of the tale.

As with “Anomaly,” Atkinson shows off her biggest talent: the depth of her characters. The story is told through Ayla’s eyes, so obviously she is very well developed, but the rest of the cast, from her grandfather, to Callum the young and seemingly conflicted firefighter, to Ayla’s witchy friend Sarah, leap of the page in real-time. All three of them are complex individuals disguised as genre tropes, which makes them at once relatable and utterly mysterious.

And oh, the mysteries! One of the areas that I’ve seen most authors struggle with when creating any fantasy world is makeup and definition of the world itself. World-building, if you will. Here, Atkinson shows an almost saintly amount of patience. Even though we learn almost immediately of what Ayla’s big secret is, the functionality around that secret, the rules of engagement, and the underlying mythology are doles out bits and pieces at a time, sprinkled here and there throughout the narrative, slowly building the universe like a puzzle.

Being the first book in a series, of course that puzzle isn’t completed by the time the last chapter comes to a close. But what’s revealed up until that point is more than enough to have the reader pining to get to the next book. Which, really, is what the opening volume of a series is all about.


So yes, “Grim” is a great little book, and way more than it seems at first blush. The earnestness that drips like viscera just below the genus of the common is more than enough to make me honestly say, “More, please, and right freaking now.”

Purchase "Grim" at the following outlets:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
iTunes
Google Play

Monday, May 8, 2017

NEW BOOK RELEASE: INFINITY TRIALS #2

It's finally here. The 2nd book in the ongoing story of Jacqueline Talbot, "Wolves at the Door," is now available across most platforms. Here's a little about the book:

WOLVES AT THE DOOR

Sometimes, a girl just wants to be a girl...

Now that the cat’s out of the bag, the other secrets regarding Jacqueline Talbot’s past—and future—begin to come clear. It’s a lot for a sixteen-year-old girl to deal with, especially when she’s told that the fate of the world rests on her shoulders. 

Jacqueline now must prepare herself to take on the rest of the Trials; the only problem is, no one’s really sure what they are. Not even her aunt, who seems to know a little too much about everything. 

At least she has her support system to help her through it all. But that system is as fragile as everything else in Jacqueline’s troubled life. Just one small misstep and it could all be over…for everyone.



Purchase now at the following outlets:

Amazon (Ebook)
Amazon (Paperback)
Barnes & Noble
Kobo
Google Play

iTunes coming soon!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

PROJECT UPDATES: April 2017

It’s a wonderful season here in rural Connecticut. Spring is in the air; the days are getting warmer, the trees are starting to bud, chipmunks and squirrels are skittering about, and the grill’s been broken out on more than one occasion. Also, this is the most productive time of year for me, so allow me to fill you all in on what I’m currently working on, what’s steamrolling down the pipeline, and what’s still to come.

Let’s start with a biggie.

SOULTAKER

The first book in my planned Knights Eternal trilogy, slated to be released by Ragnarok Publications in July of this year. Since the pre-order for the paperback is already up over at Amazon, this is a good time to reveal the splendid cover that artist Pablo Fernandez created:


Amazing, right? I’m pretty damn excited about this tale finally seeing the light of day. I’ll have more on the project as we move closer to the release date.

WOLVES AT THE DOOR

The 2nd book of The Infinity Trials is finished, coming in at a brisk 344 printed pages. Editing is done, proofing has been completed, and formatting is mostly all set. All I’m waiting on now is a cover, which Jesse Young is currently slaving over and should be finished with…soon-ish. As soon as said cover is done, all it will take is a short amount of workshopping—perhaps two, three days, tops—along with finishing the formatting, and then it will be available for purchase. So get ready for more dark adventures from Jacqueline Talbot and her band of misfits. It’s gonna be a good one.

LOST IN THE SHADOWS

The 3rd Infinity Trials book is also finished, from a pure writing perspective. I’ll be sending the manuscript out to my editors and proof-readers some time in the next two weeks. Of course, I’ll also need a cover for this one too, which means I’ll be putting Jesse to work again very, very soon. No rest for the wicked, eh?

Right now, we’re looking at a mid- to late-July release. Hopefully, that’ll come to fruition, but I can say, with a smidge of confidence, that we won’t be pushing too far past that time. This is, so far, my favorite of the Jacqueline books, one where I got to experiment a little bit. It's also by far the longest, coming in at a sizable 460 printed pages. I hope you’ll all be as happy with the outcome as I am.

QUEEN OF THE DEAD

As of this moment, I’m approximately 33% finished with the rough draft of this novel, which will be the 4th—and penultimate—volume of The Infinity Trials. This one has been proving slightly problematic, but in a way that will end up being positive for the reader. I’ve had to keep myself honest, beginning the process of tying up all the loose ends I’ve created over the previous three installments. It can be a painful process, but the payoff will be spectacular. That much I can guarantee.

My soft prediction is that this book will be released a week before Halloween, a good time for something called Queen of the Dead to see the light of day. I’ll certainly keep you updated as progress moves along.

And finally…

WIEDERGEBOREN: THE ETERNAL RETURN OF EDWIN VYSE

As Boy in the Mirror is the only Infinity Trials novel to have been released as of this moment, readers have only just briefly been introduced to Edwin Vyse, who is rather important to the plot moving forward. The character is based on a short story I wrote many years ago. He has a rich history, and I feel that history needs its own outlet, as it’s a little too involved to include fully in the scope of Jacqueline’s story.

My plan is to take the next two months and completely rewrite that original story, lengthening it and turning it into a novelette/novella. I’ll be doing this using what is normally my “reading time,” aka the free moments available to me at my day job. Therefore, the book I’m reading right now—the indomitably awesome Husk, written by old favorite D.P. Prior—will constitute the last review to appear on this blog until this story is finished.

Once completed, I plan on releasing Wiedergeboren as both a cheap read and a freebie gift for those who sign up for my newsletter. For those who’re longstanding fans (I know who you are), I’ll gladly send out a complimentary copy if you so desire.

And…that’s about it for today! We’ll chat again soon, folks. Until then, I’ll keep my nose down, and keep on workin’.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

REVIEW: Queen of the Void (The Void Queen Trilogy Book 1)

Rating: 5 out of 5

Michael Wallace is an author who cut his teeth on fantasy, then made a name for himself writing gothic contemporary thrillers, and moved on to finding even more success in historical fiction.

So obviously, when I went to dive into science fiction again after years of ignoring the genre, he’s the author I chose.

It ended up being a very wise choice.

A positive aspect of authors who find success in multiple genres is that the aspects of those different genres bleed into, even precept, their current projects. In Queen of the Void, the first novel in the Void Queen trilogy, Wallace uses this to great success. What the author has created is a universe hundreds of years in the future, where space travel is the norm and alien races have both been discovered and warred against, that reinvents facets of his vast knowledge of fantasy and history.

This is a space opera that borrows from our real, earth-time history. It’s a reimagining of the height of the British Empire, set on starships in the middle of the inky blackness of space instead of the Celtic, North, and Norwegian seas. The various cultural sects directly correlate to the players of 11th- to 15th-century European history: Albionese are the Britons at the height of their colonialism; the Landino represent Spain, Britain’s sometimes-ally and explorers of the high seas; the Singaporians call on the Song Dynasty’s ingenuity and technological advancements; and finally, the Scandians, the Vikings of lore, only here Wallace subverts expectations—instead of a plague bringing an end to the constant raiding and occupation of a hyper-aggressive people, it instead serves as the reason for their burgeoning bloodlust. Rather brilliant, if you ask me.

The story itself is rather simple: Catarina Vargas, the youngest daughter in a longtime pirate family, has decided to settle her own isolated nook of the galaxy. Only her plans are thwarted by the Albionese Royal Navy, who then bring her on to help set up an outpost in Scandian space, to allow for the Navy to build a supply line for a continuation of a war with aliens (bird-like beings called Apex) that is sure to come. Of course, wackiness ensues, and it’s all rather glorious.

Wallace has done a lot of work to invent a concept of space travel and warfare that is believable, and again based on very real history. The concept of traveling through jump points to different sections of the universe is an old one, but the author does a bang-up job of making it not so easy of a proposition. The prospect of space-warfare-as-naval-battle is another tried and true model, used here to an effect that almost borders on hyper-realism. I really can’t say enough about how expertly these battle scenes are put together, how well they flow, and how gripping they feel. It all just seems so real, even the parts you know are logically impossible, which is the highest praise you can give to a work of science fiction.


In closing, let me say yes, this book is awesome. I’ll be checking out the rest of the series soon, and then likely dive into the set of novels Wallace published before this, titled Starship Blackbeard, which takes place in the same universe. So get this book, people. It’s a hell of a smart, enjoyable ride. You’ll have a good time, no matter what genre you prefer.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

REVIEW: Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love

Rating: 5 out of 5

Life isn’t always cut-and-dry. Sometimes, the most terrible of circumstances can directly lead to the most wondrous acts of creation. A personal tragedy can spur an artist to craft their life’s seminal work. Addiction can result in the addict steering an otherwise ill-fated existence onto a path of hopefulness. Society can rally around a national catastrophe, bringing people together, opening up pathways to communication and goodwill. This is true even on a cosmic scale, when something as violent as the Big Bang leads to the creation of life, itself.

And sometimes, an abused woman and a serial killer can find love, because existence can be the darkest of jokes, whose punch-line is hidden beneath layer after layer of human frailty. It is a play in ten thousand disjointed acts without an ending. A contradiction that is at once both alluring and terrifying.

Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu is all of this, and so much more.

Mercedes Yardley, as an author, is herself a contradiction. Her work is darkly whimsical, gorgeously macabre, optimistically cynical, and outwardly aloof, with a dash of cheerful angst thrown in for good measure. Her gift with prose is magical; she’s very nearly creating long-form poetry, channeling every bit of darkness you could imagine, stuffing it into a black hole, churning and squeezing and choking the emotions for all they’re worth, and spitting out something absolutely breathtaking on the other side.

I really cannot say enough about this book. Sure, you can likely find many antagonists as depraved as Lulu the serial killer. Yes, there have often been Fallen Woman heroines that are as lonely, pathetic, and cursed as Montessa. But you would be hard pressed to find another work of fiction that could demonstrate as much dreadful wonder in their mutual discovery of each other. One is evil, the other tortured; together, their story is somber, ugly, and yet eye-mistingly wonderful.

And yes, there is a message lurking within the beautiful prose, hidden in the glint of Lulu’s First Kill Knife. Buried beneath the layers of Montessa’s abuse. Lingering inside the suffocating miasma of ambiguity that governs both of their thoughts.

But what that message is, is up to you to decide.

That is the last contradiction Yardley has given you.

Damn, how I love this appallingly beautiful book.

I think I’ve found a new favorite.

Purchase this book at: