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Something Like a Review – The Chosen by John G. Hartness

August 28, 2016 Leave a comment

Disclosure: I know the author personally. I purchased this book with my own Audible credit because I wanted to read it. This post is simply a reflection of my desire to share a piece of fiction I enjoyed from an author I choose to support.

John is one of the best marketers I’ve ever seen in action. If you’ve seen him at a con, you know what I mean. No panel is complete without his signature “buy our shit” proclamation, and if you’ve never witnessed his epic readings replete with Sasquatch dick jokes, you’re missing out. So when he promoted “The Chosen” as “the book that got me fired from one of my jobs for blasphemy,” I knew I had to read it.

In true John style, “The Chosen” is an irreverent and humorous poke at things people take “super cereal.” He introduces us to an Adam and Eve (yes, THAT Adam and Eve) that will send the devout for their rosaries, an angel that will make you question both your definition and affiliation with good/evil and an unforgettable motley crew as they set off on a road trip to save the world.

One of the things I loved most about this book, and I did love it, was the knowledgeable and respectful ways religious belief was handled. And warped. I listened to this as an audiobook, but I’ll be getting my hands on a copy of “The Chosen” to see how the hell he managed to have his characters refute the creation story in a way that 1.) makes sense, 2.) was amusing, and 3.) respected the essence of the story. While I’m not religious, I could tell that Hartness is knowledgeable about the material, respects those who believe it, and yet finds ways of cutting through the poetic language and creating a plausible story.

So, if he’s so respectful, why might he have been fired for blasphemy? Well, let’s just say that after millennia of walking the Earth after their expulsion from the garden, Adam and Eve aren’t exactly what the faithful may expect. But after all they’ve witnessed, I can’t say that I blame them for the way they change. Character development, yo. Even though it’s not what many would approve of, the changes to their characters feels genuine, as if they really are people who’ve lived tens of thousands of years, witnessed some of the greatest tragedies of history, experienced their own personal tragedies and yet, still manage to function in our crazy world. Theirs is a creation story I want to believe, and the choices at the end are believable and fulfilling.

And what are those choices? Well, that’s what you’ll need to find out. Suffice to say that there’s a Pandora’s box feeling to the tone at the end (and if you know your mythology, you’ll know what I mean). I read this and was able to put all the recent tragedies and horrific occurrences aside for a little while.

Pick up this book – however you choose to ingest it, and read it. If you’re super sensitive about religion, this isn’t the book for you, but if you’re willing to have an open mind and enjoy a well-written piece of fiction with a religious (though not proselytizing) bent to it, this is the one I’d recommend.

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Definitely, especially to figure out how the hell did did what he did.

Dead-tree worthy?: Yes. You’ll find your own reasons, I’m sure, but from this writer, my purchase is motivated by the need to figure out how the hell did did what he did.

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Something Like a Review – Year One: A Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter Collection by John G. Hartness

Disclosure: I know the author personally. I purchased this book with my own Audible credit because I wanted to read it. This post is simply a reflection of my desire to share a piece of fiction I enjoyed from an author I choose to support.

One of the benefits of connecting with local writers is getting an opportunity to meet interesting people and discover stories you might not have found otherwise. Buying books becomes an act of shopping small, and when you find something you love, sharing that love promotes and supports people you know and care about.

I discovered John’s work after encountering him at ConCarolinas. And, yes, “encounter” is the correct verb. Though I was slow on the uptake, I did become hooked on Bubba and was curious about his other writing. His pitch for Quincy Harker snared me: “Mina Murray and Jonathan Harker had a son. They named him Quincy. His guardian angel calls him Q. Dracula calls him nephew.” Given my love for things horror, and his sense of humor, I was sold.

If I could imagine a figure from classic horror coming to live in Charlotte, North Carolina, Quincy and Uncle Luke (aka – Dracula, to the rest of us) would be the perfect fit. There’s plenty of culture to suit an old vamp like Luke, and enough to keep Quincy and Charlotte-Mecklenberg police officer Rebecca Flynn busy for a long time. And that’s before we through Federal Agent John Smith into the mix.

I already knew Hartness is adept at blending horror and humor, but in the Quincy Harker novellas, he skillfully tilts the scale away from the humor while still retaining snark to keep you snorting through Quincy’s one-liners. This series is darker, and deeper than the Bubba stories, but showcases John’s potential for range. His writing style is cinematic, and breathes life into the mundane that has me looking over my shoulder whenever I go through parts of Charlotte that show up in the novellas. This is one of those series that you can just imagine Netflix or Amazon Studios picking this up and making a series out of it. So, how ’bout it, guys? #HarkerTV Hells, yeah.

In the end, this is a series that should not be missed. The voice talent on the audiobook does a great job with all the characters, but especially Quincy. He’s the voice I hear in my head when I imagine this badass Demon Hunter. You can buy the individual novellas, but really, you’re going to want them all, so go for the compendium. It’s worth every cent.

 

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Yes, especially as the other novellas/collections are released.

Dead-tree worthy?: Probably, but I liked the audiobook so much that I probably will stick with that.

How Summer Vacation Kicked My Ass

September 5, 2013 Leave a comment

This could also be subtitled “Conning the Summer Away,” or “Working Hard and Playing Harder…,” but as school starts up again, I’m starting tired as hell. This is less a complaint and more a statement of fact. I’ve done some great things this summer, I’ve learned a lot and now that school is starting, I’m finding that I’m finally getting to that mental space where creativity is not only possible, it’s inevitable.

I started in June with a trip to ConCarolinas, my local sci-fi/fantasy/writing/gaming convention. This is a great (little) convention held in North Charlotte and it’s become something of a personal tradition. I started going more for the gaming, but the last few years, I’ve been more focused on the writing track. That’s not a slight against the gaming in any respect; I’ve had the opportunity to play all kinds of things I’d never have gotten a chance to play otherwise (including Little Fears, which is probably one of my favorite RPG’s to date), but more a shift in focus. ConCarolinas allows for smaller crowds and attendees have a great opportunity to interact with writers, panelists and avoids the crazy lines that come with those “can’t miss” events. Granted, in 2014, George RR Martin will be a headliner, so this is likely to change, but the fact remains that it’s the crowd from Magical Words that has drawn my attention over and over. They are an inspirational, quirky, engaging, funny, intelligent, and experienced crowd and they freely share their knowledge with n00bs like me, something that is invaluable. I always walk away with pages of notes and tons of inspiration.

This June, I also had the good fortune to attend the World Horror Convention and the Bram Stoker Awards dinner in New Orleans. It was a huge perspective shift and an unmatched opportunity to meet, greet and talk with people like Jonathan Maberry, John Joseph Adams, Caitlin Kiernan, Mort Castle, Tom Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson, and a lot more. I got a lot of swag, a lot of signatures, a lot of ideas and useful information, and a connection that resulted in acceptance to the Borderlands Press BootCamp in January. I’m so freaking excited about this, I can’t begin to express it without a lot of girly squealing and butt-wiggling dancing.

Through both of these, I was still cramming in school, but that finally relented in July. Since then, I’ve attended and helped throw an epic birthday party, spent time with my BFF, crammed in more work than any one person should do, and at then, I tackled Dragon*Con for the first time. That was…an experience. I’ve seen pictures and I had an expectation of what it would be like, and I wasn’t far from what I thought, but there’s a big difference between what one imagines they will see, and actually seeing Sauron shake his groove thing to Timberlake’s Sexyback. Or to walk through a crowded hotel lobby as a crowd of attendees are singing about sweet transvestites. Or what it’s like to sit in front of a panel that includes authors of mythic fame that it’s hard not to be starstruck even if you’re not a huge fan.

As crazy as all of this was, what I realized that this was a way of refreshing and re-energizing after a tough semester. Throughout the break, I’ve been writing in drips and drabs, and while it’s been decent, it’s not been spectacular or impassioned in any real way. I did this for a reason. Instead of trying to force myself to produce writing (including blog posts, reading and reviews), I decided to give myself a break. Instead of pushing myself, I played around with words like Legos, snapping them together, messing around with odd shapes, pulling them apart, but nothing serious. Instead, I let ideas simmer for some projects I’ve been mulling over and I practiced with perspective, character development and other things, but none of it amounted to a story. Until tonight. One of the ideas I’ve been toying with finally came together when the men in the basement moved the right boxes around and it all fell into place. It was so beautiful how it clicked – and the passion of the moment was there. I had to pull over and jot it down to not lose it, and I filled a half a page with a synopsis in about 3 minutes.

The timing could not be worse.

My classes start tonight and I’m behind on finishing up the month at work because I took time off to enjoy the madness of Dragon*Con.

Shit.

Now, I have a story that is urgent and pressing against the inside of my skull and I’m juggling the blinding desire to write along with the ethical need to complete the month in fairness to my agents at work, and the need to do homework to not fall behind. Inspiration, sweet, divine Inspiration, you are a cruel, unyielding, untimely, and sadistic bitch, and I love you so…

This is going to be a really tough month. This story will be written. There is no other option.

2013 – The Year of the Con

August 22, 2012 Leave a comment

There are all kinds of wonderful writer-ly things I’m going to be doing through the end of next year, I don’t know if I’ll be able to stand it. Well…two kinds of things at least. First, getting to go and see Stephen King’s reading in Lowell, MA in December. I’m leery about going to the Great White North in the midst of Hell, err, winter, but it’s worth it to be 4 rows from a living god. Thankfully, this is scheduled to happen before the Mayan apocalypse, and I can’t say that the proximity of such an event to the end of the world as we know it (I hope I’m not the only one I ear-wormed there) is entirely coincidental. But I won’t care. After being in the same room with a man I’ve admired since I was a teenager, I will die happy.

Provided that we live through the apocalypse (given our track record so far with the raptures, I think we’ve got a shot), 2013 will be the year of the Con. For starters, I’ll be attending the local ConCarolinas because it’s local, fun, relatively cheap, and has some awesome guests. Then, a short week and a half later, I’ll be headed to the Big Easy to attend the World Horror Convention at the reportedly haunted Hotel Monteleone in the French quarter. And, because that just wasn’t awesome enough, I also have a ticket to the Bram Stoker Awards dinner. This is the moment I might actually die, just for those who may be concerned. I will be in the same room as big name horror authors and editors. I’m all but squeeing with glee as I type this out. Six weeks (ish) later, I will also be attending Dragon*Con in Atlanta. Or, at least, that’s the plan. Depends on whether I remember to scope out hotel reservations and get registered when it gets posted. Since this year’s event hasn’t happened yet, I’ll have to wait to find out the details…and that might be my undoing.

So, next year will be even more busy, chaotic and (hopefully) productive and successful. I’m looking forward to one hell of a year. C’mon Lucky 13 – show me whatcha got!

Until later…

Something Like a Review – Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson

It’s time for a little change of genre pace, and time to explore a local writer. Not, you know, like physically or anything because I don’t want to be arrested. But you know what I mean.

Over the past couple of years, I have tried to overcome my book snobbery, and when it comes to genre, I usually do a pretty good job of it (though it’s a little harder to tell from my Goodreads bookshelves for the past couple of years), but I’m not going to turn up my nose at science fiction or fantasy, paranormal romance is more sparsely represented in my literary palate, but it will occasionally show up there too. One of the benefits (and drains on the wallet/reading plan) of going to conventions is meeting local authors and hearing them speak about their work. Not only do you get to see their own enthusiasm, you get to hear where the ideas came from, which is always intoxicating. Sure, you can find that kind of thing online (as D.B. Jackson has discussed at Magical Words fairly recently), however there’s something missing from the posts. The digital arena doesn’t convey the facial expressions, the energy, enthusiasm or the smiles when these authors are presenting their babies to the crowd of enthralled readers and would-be writers that have come to talk shop. There’s something missing about the experience.

Suffice to say that when I walked away from ConCarolinas this summer, I walked away with a bag full of books, and a list of those I hadn’t purchased but planned to do so. (Since only so much of my time can be dedicated to sitting in a chair and reading, I have to get creative with other solutions…) One that wasn’t yet available for purchase, but had all kinds of good buzz about already among the authors speaking on panels was Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson (aka David B. Coe). It’s not a book that would normally be on my radar because it’s simply not a genre I tend to follow, but what I heard about the story was enough to interest me and I remembered it long enough afterwards to order it on Amazon and have it in my hot little hands the day before the actual release.

The easiest way to explain the genre is, as the author himself explains it, a historical urban fantasy. It’s unique and powerful, and I daresay this may be the birth of a subgenre. What Jackson has done is take historical fact and expertly woven magic and fantasy into it. It’s not a conspicuous presence, as it couldn’t be in the colonial Americas, but it exists and those on the fringe know of it. One of the best interactions that really shows the importance of magic’s covert existence in this world is Ethan’s interaction with his sister. I promise not to spoil more than that, but pick it up, and you’ll see what I mean.

I admire the amount of research that went into this book because it contributed to the plausibility of the story. I felt immersed in colonial Boston and could feel the depth in the story even with my limited background in the history of the time. Jackson incorporates familiar names and places into the story and puzzles out the what-if’s in colonial Boston politics, explaining tensions therein, and takes it a step further and asks “what if the colonists had been right about magic, but misunderstood it?” There be witches, indeed, but not the witches the earlier colonists feared – conjurers who could help or harm by using the elements of the world around them, or blood, or in extreme cases, the lives around them.

Jackson creates rich characters and I had a great time getting to know Ethan Kaille and I hope to see more of the fiery Kannice in the future books in this series. Knowing that there are more books coming help assuage my one frustration: while I know enough of Kaille’s background to ground him as a character, there’s still some mystery around the things that were only mentioned and not explored. I’ll be as patient as I can be…for now. But 2013 seems so far away….

Medium: Old-fashioned hardback from Amazon.com

Other: Kindle version also available from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Most likely, especially before the release of the second volume

Dead-tree worthy?: I’m a little torn on this because it’s not a genre I follow passionately. I say yes, because I plan to bring it to the next ConCarolinas for an author-graph, but if it were just for my personal collection, probably not. This is not because I have anything against the book, or that I think I won’t re-read it, but only because I’ve become aware of how precious my shelf-space is, and I’m much more considerate of what takes it up. I’ll leave this one up to you, dear reader…

Once Upon a Con…

I spent last weekend at the 2011 ConCarolinas and I had a blast! A few years ago, when I attended my first one, I went because I was interested in the gaming. I wanted to spend a whole weekend immersed in gaming of many flavors – RPG’s, board games, CCG’s, etc. I knew there were panels and writers and artists there, but honestly, I didn’t pay them much attention; the gaming was too shiny and new, and I was still (more or less) on writing hiatus. Last year, I had just started writing seriously again, and during a break between games, a couple of panels caught my eye and I made a point of attending. Suffice to say, I was hooked. There’s a certain amount of validation in attending the panels. I didn’t feel so crazy for wanting to immerse myself in this challenge to get my words out there, and there was a hefty dose of reality that drove the point home – this really is work, but it’s totally worth doing.

When I was getting ready for the con this year, the first thing I looked at was the panel schedule. I circled every one I wanted to attend and I scheduled my gaming around those events. I did miss a couple of games that piqued my curiosity, but what I took away was more than worth the price of admission for the weekend and I think it was the best decision. Not only did I learn a lot, I had the pleasure of hearing from some truly insightful people, specifically, the minds behind www.magicalwords.net.

I’d been introduced to the Magical Words blog quite some time ago, but I have an affliction lovingly dubbed “internet ADD.” It never fails that when I log on to my computer, the bright, shiny, even somewhat seductive Firefox logo lures me into the wicked web and I end up losing hours falling in wiki-holes or circling the Facebook time suck. I never accomplish anything of real merit when my iADD kicks in (with the exception of soaking up some little factoid or bizarre thread that later becomes fiction fodder) but I can’t seem to resist its siren song. I’ve looked at programs to restrict my internet access, or gizmos to completely lock me out for a specific period of time, but right now, I’m too rebellious to actually install it. When the iADD kicks in, even though I sit down with the intent to ONLY visit specific writing-related sites before getting back to the business of putting words on the page, I always seems to forget that intention and hours pass before I realize my hands are covered in the blood of wasted time.

I am much better at reading when it’s unplugged, or at least closely mimics being unplugged, so I picked up How to Write Magical Words a few months ago and added it to my imposing to-be-read pile. Looking over the program, I recognized some of the names on many of the panels, and I remembered my initial impression of perusing the site and flipping through the book – “these are sensible people who seem to know what they’re talking about.” I started circling the panels I wanted to attend choosing those I had interest in, and others that featured familiar names. This method of choosing where I was going to be seemed to be one of the smartest moves I made all weekend (right up there with bringing snacks to keep in the room and picking up the bottle of Three Olives cherry vodka I almost decided against). Two of the panels I chose this way left a significant impression and granted me the opportunity to familiarize myself with some of the members of the Magical Words crew. First was “The Future of the Printed Word” with Nathan P. Butler, Faith Hunter, Stuart Jaffe, David B. Coe, Nicole Givens Kurtz and Rob R. Shelsky. Just listening made me realize that I wanted to know more about what they thought, to hear what they had to say because what they were sharing in a small space of time made SENSE. It sounded SANE, and damnit, they had a following and a stack of books to validate their experiences. While I realize that this is not always a mark of quality, it’s certainly something that should make you take notice and dig a little deeper. So I did. Wandering through the halls and perusing the writer’s tables, I chatted up Edmund R. Schubert, who invited me to lunch with them the next day. Being somewhat shy, I wasn’t sure I’d have the guts to go, but I said I’d try to attend.

The next panel that struck me was the “Learning to Write” panel with Theresa Bane, A.J. Hartley, Faith Hunter, David B. Coe, Harry Turtledove and Wendy S. Delmater. The only reason I chose a panel at 9am on a Saturday morning was because of those familiar names, and I’m so glad I hauled my butt out of bed and made it downstairs on time. I learned a lot, and while much of what they had to say was common sense, or things you’d figure out on your own with a little practice, it never hurts to hear it from the voices of authority…the ones sitting in front of you with a wall or stack of their own words in print to drive those points home. From that point on, I was ready to hear more. And I was ready to write more. In fact, I left that panel, went upstairs and wrote for 45 minutes, until my next activity – a writing workshop with Allan Wold focused on plotting and developing your story before you start writing. I think it was kismet, because this is something I know I need. Here, however, my genre preference and my twisted little mind felt a little out of place. The other attendees were coming up with wild SF/F plot lines and characters and I was digging around in my dark little brain brewing up a horror story a la the Little Fears RPG. I persevered though. I’ll probably still write the story I outlined once I finish the one I’m working on now. When I finished with the writing workshop, I knew I had to conquer the squirmy feeling in my gut and just go to the luncheon.

And what an awesome time I had there.

I got to talk to writers about writing, and about books and about beta-readers and audience and to hear from them what it’s really like to hang your whole life on the hook of a dream and live it out…even the ugly parts. Our table stretched halfway across the restaurant and there were so many people, they handed out numbered coasters just to keep track of everyone. I’d heard Kalayna Price speak the year before, and earlier in the day, but I really enjoyed talking to her (not to mention envying her corset), Stuart Jaffe and everyone else over lunch.

I’m not entirely ashamed to admit that I stalked them all across the panels for the remainder of the con and even managed to get them all to sign my brand-spankin’-new copy of their book. (SQUEE!)

How to Write Magical Words - Signed

After listening to them all morning and after lunch, I collected author and editor signatures....and then went and listened to them for another day and a half!

Since I got home, I’ve also gotten my new Magical Words username and password set up because my intent (*ahem* notice I said “intent” there…) is to be a more regular visitor, commenter and participator. I’m going to make yet another stab at conquering my iADD. I’m looking forward to reading more of what they have to say, and as soon as I get to their books in my TBR pile, I’ll try to get up a Something Like a Review along the way.

I’m glad I went. I’m already looking forward to next year, and hoping they’ll be there again…and maybe I’ll even have something of my own to share by then too. 🙂

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