Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Top 15 Books of 2010

Well, folks, the close of another year is upon us. It flew by, and I'm definitely looking forward to 2011.

I started reviewing books on this blog back in July, and over the last six months it's been my pleasure to read countless fantastic creations by new and up-coming authors. Now, with January 1st only two days away and no more reviews to post before the new year, I'd like to present my year-end best-of list.

These are the top fifteen rated books I've gone through this year, in ascending order. All the writers I've had the pleasure of reading did a fantastic job, but these, to me, are the cream of the crop, the best of the best.

So here we go...

#15 - Roman Hell by Mark Mellon (4.5) - A fascinating journey into history, where witchcraft and elder gods rule the roost of ancient Rome.


#14 - Down the Drain by Daniel Pyle (4.5) - A short and creepy exploration into what it means to be molested by a bath tub.


#13 - 33 A.D. by David McAfee (4.5) - Vampires in Jerusalem, fighting the onset of Christianity? Yes, please. Best vampire book in years.


#12 - The Weight of Blood by David Dalglish (4.5) - The rest of this list is a little Dalglish-heavy, and with good reason. TWoB is an introduction to Harruq and Qurrah, the half-orc brothers who've captured my attention. Not as good as the rest, but still a fantastic beginning to a violent and emotional series.


#11 - Powerless: The Synthesis by Jason Letts (4.5) - Innocent and full of self-discovery, this first book in Letts' series tugs at the heartstrings and really makes you care.


#10 - The Venom of Vipers by K.C. May (4.6) - An exploration into what it means to be human that goes well beyond the mundane and plays upon the fear that our legacy as a people might not be all it's cracked up to be.


#9 - The Death of Promises by David Dalglish (4.7) - This is where the half-orc series jumps in scope. It becomes larger than life, epic even, and the fun to be had inside its pages is plenty.


#8 - The Shadows of Grace by David Dalglish (4.7) - The penultimate book in the series, which brings the storyline (almost) full circle.


#7 - Pale Boundaries by Scott Cleveland (4.8) - A science fiction adventure that presents an alternate look at society and the treachery that may lay behind many social and ecological restrictions.


#6 - Firefly Island by Daniel Arenson (4.8) - Innocent and dark at the same time, this fantasy adventure snatches you up by the heartstrings and lets you know just how much the choices we make in life matter.

#5 - Hollowland by Amanda Hocking (4.8) - A fantastic journey into the zombie apocalypse genre from a female perspective. Violent, bloody, and full of heart, it's what horror should be.


#4 - Cameo and the Highwayman by Dawn McCullough-White (4.8) - Tortured women, tortured men, and an underlying theme of the damage we do to each other make this one hell of a great book.


#3 - Have Gun, Will Play by Camille LaGuire (4.9) - The most surprising addition to my favorites list, a western mystery that sucks you in from the first page, makes you laugh, cringe, and thump your head on the wall, then spits you out on the other side feeling like you've just read something great.


#2 - A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish (5.0) - The author takes a departure from his series to give us a story of intrigue and mob culture under the guise of a far-away fantasy realm.


And finally...


#1 - The Cost of Betrayal by David Dalglish (5.0)


This is a perfect book. It's gritty and emotional, with one of the best, most heart-wrenching endings I've ever read. As I said in the review, this is one of the greatest books I've read in all my life, and the easy choice for best of 2010.



Note: This list is only for novels, but I'd also like to mention Lessons by Michael Crane, a collection of ultra-short horror stories, and Shock Totem Magazine Issue 2, as they are very strong, as well.


All the books I've read this year I've enjoyed immensely, and remember, as I said, these are only the best of the best. If you want to see more, simply look through the listing of reviews. You're sure to find something worthwhile. I guarantee it.


I hope everyone has a happy and productive 2011! I know I sure as hell will.

Review: She Smells the Dead by E.J. Stevens

Rating: 4.3 out of 5

I’ve said before that I have no love of paranormal romance as a genre. It’s too girly, too gushy, too intrinsically self-absorbed and flighty, to be worth my while. I mean, who wants to read about some young girl with “special talents” who falls head-over-heels in love with some otherworldly creature?

Uh, apparently I do. So color me a liar.


I received She Smells the Dead by E.J. Stevens as a review copy, and honestly I was excited to dive into it. No matter my previous statements on the matter, the truth is I’ve had a long and enduring love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and trashy romance novels. It’s the inherent impracticality of the stories that draw me in; how can you not feel affection for a story told about youngsters who want nothing more than to be na├»ve and free, yet have massive, mythical responsibilities heaped on their shoulders? It offers us a chance to explore adolescence without having to relive it, in many ways offering up an idealized version of teenagers without ever losing sight of the inborn selfishness and idiosyncrasies that come with being a teen in the first place.


She Smells the Dead introduces us to Vanessa Stennings, a girl who likes to be called Yuki (we’ll get into my trepidation over the popularity of Japanese culture among today’s youth another time) and who possesses a very quirky paranormal talent – like title of the book suggests, Yuki can smell the dead. As she says in the prologue, this isn’t like smelling rot or something of the like. Instead, what we have here is an actual haunting; a ghost wants to tell Yuki something, and so gives her clues through her olfactory senses. Think The Sixth Sense with nothing but your nose to guide you (and minus one creepy little boy). I found this to be a very original innovation on a somewhat overused theme, which made it stand out.


Yuki is a senior in high school. She has all the shortcomings of any girl her age – indecisiveness, doubtful of her future, obsessed with clothes, falls in love with the wrong guys – and yet she is still almost idyllic in the way that she has this (recently discovered) power and makes it her goal to help those wayward spirits haunting her find their way back home.


For support, Yuki has the prerequisite quirky cast of friends – Emma, a brilliant vegan with a tendency to seek out and expose oppression against the animal (and insect) world, and Calvin, her scruffy bff-for-life (who might also be something more than that). Just as in shows like Buffy and Smallville, this little group bands together to help Yuki solve the “spirit problems”, researching at the public library and going on (sometimes not very well thought out) investigative ventures. Many times the solutions are outrageously easy (not to mention unexplained), but that’s okay. This isn’t a book intent on bending your mind.


It is all pretty formulaic, but She Smells the Dead gains its wings with dialogue (conversations flow without a hitch, which takes copious amounts of talent) and an imaginative reclassification of standard tropes. As an example of the latter, I must bring out a plot point that may be a spoiler (and some may roll their eyes at): Calvin is a werewolf. However, author Stevens has created a fresh perspective on werewolvery by doing the unthinkable – going backward. She fastens their existence to the root of the original (Native American) shapeshifter myth; a spiritual partnership between creatures of the wild and man, beneficial to both with nary a mention of curses or evil deeds. When I read this I wanted to stand up and say, “Bravo!” Very well done, indeed.


There are quite a few customary themes to the work, with those of self-discovery and duty climbing to the forefront. As you might have been able to tell, I appreciated Yuki’s steadfastness when it comes to her obligation to the dead (as well as the difficulty with figuring out their problems with only something like, say, the smell of vinegar to go on). But the scenes where she trains with Calvin, trying to harness her power, are truly well done. We get to see her weak – both with a burgeoning love for her old friend and the doubt of her capacity to channel her abilities – and strong. She is a young girl facing seemingly insurmountable odds, yet she never once really hesitates.


There is an innocent quality to the work that I appreciated, as well. I think, at the end of it all, that’s the most appealing facet. Like with the Harry Potter series, we see young people (who could be any one of us) grow up before our eyes. They think and act like the teenagers they are, but hold an almost preternatural sense of honor. Looking back on my own life, when reading material such as this, I sometimes wish I could have as sturdy a head on my shoulders as they do.


On the minus side, Stevens has a strange habit of interjecting Yuki’s thoughts into the text, even though they are directly preceded by information that makes those thoughts repetitive. And redundant, too! (See what I mean?) At first I found this quirky and even a bit funny, but as the story went on I started to roll my eyes whenever something like that came across. A slight drawback, but a bearable one.


Other than that, there really isn’t much to complain about. Not that I would want to. I had a lot of fun reading She Smells the Dead. It’s nostalgic in a wish-you-were-here sort of way, and the mushrooming young love between Calvin and Yuki is something like a bunch of kindling teetering perilously close to an emotional firestorm. It’s well-written and it flows, it’s not too violent, and surprisingly original. And it’s also very short, as it is basically the introduction into a series that continues with the second book, Spirit Storm, a book I’m itching to dive into, which will undoubtedly reveal the solution to the rather ingenious cliffhanger of an ending.


Yes, I recommend She Smells the Dead. This man fell in love with it, and I think women of all ages will, as well.


Plot - 8

Characters - 10

Voice - 8

Execution - 8

Personal Enjoyment – 9


Overall – 43/50 (4.3/5)


Purchase She Smells the Dead:


Paperback




Ebook

Monday, December 27, 2010

Review: Roman Hell by Mark Mellon


Rating: 4.5 out of 5


I receive some quirky books for review, works that don’t necessarily fit into any genre. Some are good, some are bad, some are just, well, strange. And some are this close to brilliant.


Which is where Roman Hell by Mark Mellon fits in.


Roman Hell is the story of Martial, a poet in first-century Rome. He’s a bit down on his luck until he gets an unusual offer from Titus, the acting Caesar. He is asked to spy on the intellectual circles he frequents, to see if there are whispered plots against his rule. For this, he will be paid handsomely.


Martial accepts the offer and along with an old-time legionary named Stilo sets about seeking information. During a chance encounter at a brothel, he spots Titus’ brother, Domitian, hurriedly leaving. He follows, only to find out that Domitian has been in cahoots with Canidia and Sagana, a pair of witches. Much clandestine spying ensues, with Martial and Stilo eventually learning that Domitian has arranged for his brother’s death so he will be granted the title of Princeps (Caesar).


Titus is eventually killed through magical means, Domitian takes over, double crosses Canidia, and is henceforth cursed to know the day his rule (and his life) ends. Martial, being a come-upper who latches on to those who may give him a better life (that being the new Caesar), is likewise cursed.


From there, the story jumps fifteen years into the future, chronicling how Domitian and Martial deal with the knowledge (or supposition – there are many instances, especially in Martial’s case, where he considers himself “superstitious” to believe in such nonsense as curses and magic) of their eventual fate. I won’t go into much more than that, because to do so would be to take away some of the best aspects of the storytelling, which include just how demented Domitian and Martial’s thought processes can be.

For the most part, the characters in this tale are fantastic. The only problem is that there are a lot of them.


Martial is one of the most original I’ve read in a long time, the obvious “hero” of the piece, yet so un-heroic that he become a caricature – or, more pertinent, a living metaphor for the pursuit of comfort. He wants nothing more than to have an easy life and be appreciated for his talents, two aspects that have been denied him. He is a moral man by the standards of the day (he can see, and his inner monologue often derides, the debauchery that goes on around him), and yet he gladly turns the other way when he sees behavior that is, ahem, objectionable.


Domitian is fantastically fleshed out, as well. His transformation from lazy, freeloading brother to paranoid leader is beautiful to see. It makes sense and is consistent with his mental framework that he would seek outside providence from magical beings in order to obtain his goal. He is, as I said, lazy…at least early on. But once he becomes Caesar, and his thirst for power grows, no one puts forth more effort when it comes to trying to steer public affection his way.


However, one character completely steals the show, and that’s Stilo, Martial’s legionary bodyguard. He’s an archetypal tough guy, from his scarred visage to his love of violence, and yet he differs in his poetic (and often hilarious) manner of speech. Unfortunately he disappears a little over halfway through the book (you’ll have to read it to find out why – it’s a fantastic and unexpected development), and in a way the second half falters the slightest bit without him.


Author Mellon did something very interesting with this novel. He uses real events and real historical figures as a skeleton and lets his imagination become the muscle and flesh. This works wonderfully, and drives the story to its inevitable end with pomp and vigor. Luckily for Mellon, I’m pretty sure not too many folks know the history of Domitian’s rule, because in that way the final outcome is a bit of a mystery. That being said, even if one who’s well versed in Roman history were to read this, they’d still come away with something fresh and surprising, for the author does a more than decent job of throwing you right smack in the middle of the first century and bending events to fit his vision. The language is there, the sights are there, and ancient Rome comes alive.


In fact, this is done so well that it can be somewhat of a drawback. I said at the beginning of this review that it’s this close to brilliance, and the reason I say this is because as a book, Roman Hell is almost too smart for its own good. Mellon is obviously a very talented writer and knows his history, but the proliferation of ancient terms, names, and locations can make for confusing reading for those who aren’t familiar with such language. Even this reviewer was a bit thrown off. Add to this the fact that the text is dense, and it becomes easy to lose one’s place.


Nevertheless, you shouldn’t be discouraged by this, for if the reader simply trudges their way through to the other side, there is something wonderful to be had. Roman Hell is an intense gender-bender – part horror, part fantasy, part comedy, all historical – that snatches your eye and holds you in place with its almost lyrical prose. It says something quite profound about the societies of old and their likes, fetishes, and tendencies, as well, presenting us with a vision of old Rome without the charm of time and distance. For myself, I had no choice but imagine what my life would be like in the rancid armpit of that ancient city, struggling to simply survive and taking pleasure from the intense suffering of others. That, in and of itself, is an accomplishment.


On the whole, I think Roman Hell is a truly original and enjoyable book. It may take a bit of work to get into, but once you do, you won’t be able to look at the culture of Ancient Rome the same way ever again. And by the last melancholy scene, you’ll ask yourself the most philosophical of questions: what good have I done in my life, anyway?


I know I did.


Plot - 9

Characters - 9

Voice - 10

Execution - 8

Personal Enjoyment – 9


Overall – 45/50 (4.5/5)


Buy this book:


Paperback


Ebook


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Video Review: Amanda Hocking's "Hollowland"

This is a JOA first, and a bit of an experiment at that. I took the review I wrote of Hollowland by Amanda Hocking, pared it down a bit, added images in imovie, and dubbed over it. It's not perfect, and there are some definite changes I'll make in the future (such as making them shorter), but I'm pretty happy with the way this turned out.

Enjoy.

On youtube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sJn-6KGxe8

Interview with Amanda Hocking


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This interview with Amanda Hocking was conducted via email over a span of three days. Amanda is the author of seven books and is one of the highest-volume independent booksellers. To read more about Amanda, her books, and her life, visit her website, My Blood Approves.

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Journal of Always: Hello, Amanda, and thank you for taking some time out of your obviously packed schedule to spend some time with us. Let's get started, shall we?

You've had great success self-publishing your books (currently seven books out there right now, soon to be more). My question is, how did you approach marketing your writing before you decided to go it on your own, and what was the final straw that caused you to forgo the traditional route?

Amanda Hocking: It was a bit of luck, actually. I think it was a tweet from DA of Chester French, who I’ve said for a long time is the smartest man on Twitter. He’d posted a link to an article about self-publishing, and it mentioned Joe Konrath and his success with it. After years of hearing horror stories about self-publishing, vanity presses, and Publish America, I was wary of the idea at first.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I had nothing to lose. I had done everything I could think to get published traditionally.

Besides that, I had an absurd goal to be published by the time I was 26 because that’s how old Stephen King was when he first published, so I knew had to do something to get going.

I didn’t do much marketing before I uploaded my first book. I mentioned it on Twitter and my blog, but I didn’t have any real followers there. When I’d had them on sale for a few weeks, I made an announcement at Kindleboards, and I mentioned them a few places on the Amazon forums. That was about it for promotion.

JOA: Can you give us a brief overview as to your sales progress? Did they start slow, or simply take off immediately?

AH: What I didn’t realize then and do now is that my sales were always a little above average, and I have no explanation for this. The first day I think I sold 1 or 2 books, and I’ve never sold any less than that. I was averaging 3 sales a day after the first two weeks they’d been out.

My sales really began to take off in June, and I think that was in large part because I began contacting book bloggers in May, asking if they would want to review my book. A few of them did, and that has been tremendously helpful. I went from averaging 20 sales a day in May to 137 sales a day in June.

My sales continued to grow each month, but not super dramatically from that. In October, I actually sold fewer books than I did in September. But then in November, for reasons I don’t really know, my sales exploded. They jumped from 157 a day in October to 704 per day in November.

JOA: Has your success changed the way you look at yourself as a writer? How has it altered your lifestyle?

AH: I think, in a really weird way, I actually had more conviction in my writing ability before I was published than I do now. And that opinion hasn’t changed because of negative reviews or anything. It’s because I realized that people are actually paying to read what I have to say, and it makes me more aware of how good the story needs to be to entertain them.

Before, I was my only audience, and I always entertained myself. So it was easier to believe that what I did was good.

My lifestyle hasn’t really changed, other than the fact that I don’t have a day job anymore. This has all happened so fast, it hasn’t had much of a chance to change. My bills are all caught up for the first time in about three or four years, though. So that’s nice.

JOA: Do you in any way worry that your distinctive voice could be tainted by the need to remain a top seller?


AH: Not really. I think anything I write sounds like me, if that makes sense. If you give me any topic to write about – be it Nazi’s or aliens – I would still write it the way I write. My stuff tends be character driven with a lot of dialogue and pop culture references. So even if I do follow trends to stay on top, I’ll still be writing an Amanda Hocking book that sounds like me.

JOA: Your success has brought about a lot of attention, as well. Your name constantly pops up in blog articles, and in a way you are looked at as an icon in the independent community. How do you feel about this? Is it in any way uncomfortable for you?



AH: It’s a little strange.

JOA: Of all the books you've written, which is your favorite? Why?

AH: My favorite to write is probably Ascend, the third book in the Trylle Trilogy. And I’m not just saying that because it’s coming out soon. The Trylle Trilogy is something I really believe in. I had a lot of fun writing it.

The best book I’ve written, though, I think is Hollowland. That was actually the hardest for me to write.

JOA: As you well know, I read and thoroughly loved Hollowland. Why do you say it was the hardest to write?


AH: Having a female lead that strong was difficult. Remy is really tough, like super bad ass, and I juxtaposed her with a male lead who is less so. That dynamic was hard to write. Usually, even if you have a strong female, the male is at worst as strong as her, and he’s often stronger. But Remy had to be hard and world weary without being a bitch or cold, and her suitor had to soften her and humanize her, but he couldn’t be weak. Finding that balance was very hard.


It really made me think about stereotypes and roles of men and women in general. It was kind of eye opening in the way I thought them, and the way I feel like society thinks about them.


JOA: It's interesting that you should mention stereotypes. Not to get too far away from the subject of writing, but what is your opinion on the state of women's rights in this country? Personally, I see trends backsliding, as if people have forgotten what the purpose of feminism was in the first place. This scares me. Do you see this, as well?




AH: What drives me nuts about feminism is the idea that women have to be certain things or they’re not strong. That certain types of strengths and abilities are exalted and others are frowned upon.

My mom only ever wanted to get married and have kids. That’s it. But sometimes people treat that like it’s a bad thing. Like, “Oh, that’s all you wanted to do with your life?” Raising kids is hella hard. That’s why I don’t have any. And I don’t have a husband, either. I’d rather focus on my career than a family. But I don’t see either choice as being less than the other.

The idea of feminism is that women are equals and free to do things as they choose. And they should be, but it’s not fair to take away half of a choice because it’s stereotypically feminine.

I’ve never thought I couldn’t do anything because I was a girl. And no girl should. If you want to go out an save the world, more power to you. If you want to get married and be a secretary, equal power to you. That’s what it should be about.

But in all honesty, I think equality in general has taken a massive back slide.

JOA: There’s so much I could ask in response to this, but I think that would make this interview stretch into eternity, so let’s keep with the writing theme.

The majority of your work falls under the umbrella of paranormal romance. What is it about this sub-genre that appeals to you?

AH: I saw Dark Crystal for the first time when I was two, and it scared the hell out of me. Like nightmares terrified. Even some of the goblins in Labyrinth scare me, even as an adult. And yet this is my favorite stuff.

Well-done fantasy should scare you. You’re not afraid if you don’t believe in it, and it’s the belief that gives fantasy it’s magic. Fear and wonder are separated by a very thin line.

Romance, I think, is the other side of fantasy. You don’t fall in love if you don’t believe, and that’s all part of the same wonder as fantasy. I’m equally as in love with Jareth as I am frightened by the goblins in Labyrinth.

Good fantasy should scare you and make you fall in love. That’s all paranormal romance is, the blatant combination of the best parts of make believe.

JOA: Speaking of romance, do you see a difference in the ways male and female writers depict intimacy? If you do, what kind of things can we learn from the opposite sex by exploring these contrasting aspects more deeply?


AH: I don’t read a lot of romance by male authors, which I just realized, so it’s hard for me to get a clear comparison. Books by male authors I read tend to be satirical and political, like Kurt Vonnegut and Chuck Palahniuk. They don’t address intimacy in a big way, and if they do, it’s more clinical and blunt. In the case of someone like Bret Easton Ellis, it can be downright graphic and violent.


Books I read by female authors are more romance, like Richelle Mead and Claudia Gray. Their YA intimacy is very nuanced and subtle, but Mead’s Succubus books are very graphic, and frequent.


The differences I can see from men and women, from that random sampling, is that the men wright about it more instructionally, as in, “We had sex,” and the women right about it more emotionally, “It felt amazing when we had sex.”


But I am comparing books that are written in two very different styles. In general, the men’s books are written that way. It’s more “This happened,” and with women, it’s more “How I felt when this happened.”

So that’s my really long answer.


JOA: Your work (especially the My Blood Approves series) has been compared to Stephanie Myers' series. How are your books different?


AH: The My Blood Approves series does have similarities to Twilight. I knew that going in. I think it branches way off in its own, especially as the series goes on.


The biggest differences I think from her books in mine is that I wanted my characters to have fun, at least sometimes. Yes, there’s peril and heart ache and all that. But I wanted flawed characters who made mistakes and laughed and were sometimes silly and sometimes immature, but they were real. They were what people are, not ideals of what people should be. Some people don’t like that, and that’s fair. They are reading fantasy.


But it’s important to me that a seventeen-year-old girl acts like a seventeen-year-old girl. Like many (but not all), teenagers, she thinks she knows more than she does, that she doesn’t need high school, and the first time she falls in love, it consumes her. I’m not saying she should be a role model, but she was never intended be. She was simply supposed to be real.


My other books I don’t think are like Twilight. The Trylle Trilogy still gets compared to it, though, which doesn’t make much sense to me. Yes, there is romance and it is paranormal, but it’s much more similar to Labyrinth and The Princess Diaries than Twilight, but nobody has made those comparisons.


So I think part of that is because she’s become the definition of this genre now. Regardless of what books came before her with similar themes.

JOA: What are you reading now? What new authors out there excite you?



AH: Right now I am reading Third World America by Arianna Huffington and Palo Alto by James Franco. Arianna’s book is very interesting. It’s about the decline of the American dream. Palo Alto is a collection of somewhat bizarre stories by actor James Franco.

I recently Land of Ash, which I really dug. It’s gotten me into shorty story collections. I like reading, but my mind’s always on about thirty things at once, so short stories are working really well for my attention span right now. I also really loved JL Bryan’s Jenny Pox.


But honestly, lately, I haven’t been reading that many new books. I’ve just been reading books I’ve read before. I’ve worked my way through most of Vonnegut’s stuff this year, and I reread Survivor and Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahnuk recently. I really want to reread Good Omens but it’s not available on the Kindle, so I’m pretty bummed. 



JOA: What does the future hold for you? Are there any exciting events or new releases on the horizon? Inquiring minds want to know.



AH: I can’t even begin to speculate what the future holds. My life feels so bizarre right now, and I have no idea what’s going to happen next.

As for future projects, I have two more books coming out in the next couple weeks. The final book in the Trylle Trilogy Ascend, and a novella spinoff from the My Blood Approves series.




JOA: Thank you for spending some time with me over the last few days, Amanda. I rather enjoyed myself, and I hope others will find this interview informative and entertaining. Good luck to you, and we'll chat soon.



AH: Thank you for having me. And I enjoyed myself too. :)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Interview with K.C. May


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It's a double feature today! This interview with KC May was conducted over two days via email to help promote her new book, The Venom of Vipers. May is the author of two other tomes, The Kinshield Legacy and Sole Sacrifice. You can read more about her by visiting her website at kcmay.com.

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Journal of Always: Welcome to the Journal, KC. Nice to have you here. I recently finished reading Venom of Vipers, and obviously, based on my review, I loved it. It is a departure for you, however, as your previous two published works are fantasy. Was it difficult to shift from that into a science fiction/mystery tale grounded mostly in the "real world"?


KC May: Thanks! I'm delighted to have this opportunity to chat with you. The Venom of Vipers was quite different from anything I'd written before. All of my short stories, novellas and novels have been fantasy, thriller/suspense or horror. I'm a huge sci-fi fan, though, and this story had been banging around in my head for a long time (over ten years). By the time I started to write, I'd gotten comfortable with the near-future world and characters. I do write "real world" stories from time to time, so that part isn't unusual for me, but none of those have been published yet.

JOA: The science in this book seems very well thought out and realistic. How much research did you do on things such as birthing science and anatomy? Do you have a background in this field, or did it come out of left field?


KCM: I have a liberal arts degree and no formal science training, but I love science! For this story, I had to design a really nasty virus that put humans in a no-win situation. That took quite a bit of research and tossing ideas around with science-minded friends. Then I had to learn some basics about genetics engineering. A lot of what I dug up went over my head, but I got what I needed to make the story work! The birthing science and anatomy research came later, once I had the basic plot and scientific backdrop ironed out.

JOA: Could you tell us about the title of the book? How long did it take you to come up with, and how many different titles did you run through? What do you think The Venom of Vipers means in the context of the story told behind it?


KCM: I didn't come up with the title until this summer -- midway through writing the second draft. Until 'The Venom of Vipers' came to me, I had no real prospects, but I wanted the title to do two things: have a multi-word format, like The __ of __ (I thank George R.R. Martin for being the inspiration for that) and continue (or introduce, from a reader's perspective) the snake theme.

The asp is a type of viper, so that part fit beautifully. If wikipedia is to be believed, some kinds of vipers give live birth. Wikipedia also says the word itself is derived from Latin vivo, meaning "I live," and pario, meaning "I give birth." Seeing as how there are birthing problems in the story, I knew I had to use this word in the title! As for the use of 'venom,' I think we will agree that the ASPs behave venomously!

JOA: The characters in this book are extremely well fleshed-out and believable. What is your process when it comes to character development? How much do you pull from your real life?


KCM: Thank you! I don't consciously pull from real life in that there's no one who serves as a model for my characters. The characters become who they are because of their environment. I started off by imagining a guy who's lived in a 20-acre enclosure his whole life. Then I asked myself questions like: What significant events in his life have helped to shape who he is? What is his daily life like? What experiences would be foreign to him that we might take for granted? What does he care about? What might he want more than anything? Sometimes, when I'm stuck, I'll interview the character and just take notes. Most of those notes don't go into the stories, but they help me know him better so I can make him behave consistently.


JOA: Speaking of taking notes, I like to ask every author about outlines. Do you use them? When plotting out a story, do you want to know what happens next, or have the tale "tell itself" in a way? In other words, when you write, how do you go about it?


KCM: Usually, I have an ending in mind when I begin. I plot out the story before I start to write, designing scenes that move the story toward that ending. For VoV, I didn't really know how I wanted to end it, but I had an inkling of how the climax would go. That story largely told itself.


JOA: You have one other published novel, The Kinshield Legacy, and one novella, Sole Sacrifice. Please take a few moments to tell us about those particular works - and any others you might like to promote - and let everyone know why they should want to read them.


KCM: The Kinshield Legacy is an epic fantasy adventure set in a land that's been without a king for 200 years and is struggling against all kinds of chaos. A "warrant knight" named Gavin Kinshield discovers that by deciphering a set of runes, he earns the right to rule the country as its king. The problem is that he doesn't think he's qualified, and so he sets off to talk a friend of his, a nobleman, into taking the job.


On his way, he saves a woman from drowning. This one simple, noble act kicks off a series of events that result in the wrong information reaching the wrong ears, putting people in danger who were really just minding their own business.


In The Kinshield Legacy is a character named Sithral Tyr who's a foreigner to the land. He's pretty evil, and while I was writing the novel, I needed to understand how he'd gotten that way. I started a short story to explain things to myself, telling his journey from decent human being to scumbag, and it turned into a novella. I workshopped it at Viable Paradise in 2005, and got some great feedback from folks like Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Steven Gould, James D. Macdonald and Laura Mixon. Once I published The Kinshield Legacy for the Kindle and nook, it occurred to me to release Sole Sacrifice, too.


The Kinshield Legacy is often described as a fun romp. I think readers who enjoy sword & sorcery would get a kick out of the story. Sole Sacrifice is more a curiosity satisfier for those who've read The Kinshield Legacy and would like to know more about Tyr. My current writing project is the sequel to The Kinshield Legacy, tenatively called The Wayfarer King. Hopefully I can match -- or exceed -- the "fun" aspect of the first book!

JOA: As an author whose work is extremely well polished, what advice would you give to authors looking at self-publishing as a possible outlet for their writing?


KCM: Thank you! My advice: don't be in a hurry to get it out there. It's really hard to see our own errors, so another pair or two of (critical) eyes is tremendously important. If you're not passionate about grammar, spelling and words, enlist the help of someone who is. I know that with every book I publish, my reputation as a writer is on the line. My goal is to build a readership by giving people a good reading experience every time they pick up a book with my name on it. With the enormous selection of books on the market, readers can afford to be choosy. By making sure each book is as polished as I can get it, I hope to increase the chance they'll choose my books again.

JOA: What books have you read recently, and whose writing would you recommend to those looking for a good book to read?


KCM: I've been reading George R.R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series. I'm not finished because I know HE isn't finished, but the writing is phenomenal. Robin Hobb is one of my all-time favorites. I adore the artful way she structures sentences and uses words to spin an engaging story. She's absolutely brilliant! As far as indie authors go, one of the best I've read so far is Monique Martin. Her debut novel is outstanding!

JOA: Finally, criticism is something every author, independent or not, must deal with. Out of curiosity, when someone is critical of your writing, how do you deal with it?


KCM: My first response is usually, "Aww!" So far, it's been fairly easy to shrug off differences of opinion about the subjective stuff. Some people just won't find my books interesting or engaging, and I accept that. Some people don't like GRRM or Robin Hobb, either. Those dissenting opinions don't mean the author sucks. As long as the majority of readers enjoy my stories, I know I'm on the right track. In case I get a really negative review, I keep the supplies for making cupcakes on hand. It's hard to be sad when eating a cupcake.

JOA: Thank you for stopping by the Journal, KC, and good luck with this fantastic little book in the future!


KCM: Thank you, Rob, for inviting me to chat, and for reading and reviewing The Venom of Vipers!