Friday, January 27, 2012

Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane

After the brilliant anthologies The End of The Line and House of Fear, Jonathan Oliver, Solaris editor-in-chief, is editing another themed collection called Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane.

The news is given on When The Gravity Fails, The Solaris Editors' Blog with an exciting cherry on the cake: The anthology will contain the international best-selling author Audrey Niffenegger's her first ever story written for a commercial trade anthology.

The bad news is that we, the readers, are going to have to wait a little while because it is due for release in November 2012 in North America and the UK, in both paperback and ebook.

The line-up for Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane is set to include other high profile authors, including Richard and Judy Book Club-choice Alison Littlewood, NYT Bestseller Dan Abnett, and celebrated authors such as Christopher Fowler, Storm Constantine, Robert Shearman, Paul Meloy, Sophia McDougall, Will Hill, Gemma Files, along with new writers such as Sarah Lotz, Lou Morgan and Thana Niveau and more.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Seventh Star Singles Contest Winners

Here are the winners of our Seventh Star Singles Contest sponsored by Seventh Star Press:

  • Denise Zaky
  • Kevin Bozard
  • Robin Blankenship

Well done folks! I've passed your details on to the publisher. They'll contact you very soon.

Enjoy the books!
Happy reading!

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Stop-Whatever-You-Are-Doing-And-Read-This-Book Moment

I had one of those moments on Friday. You know what I'm talking about, don't you? A stop-whatever-you-are-doing-and-read-this-book moment. I received a copy of one of my most (if not the most) anticipated books of 2012: Kings of Morning by Paul Kearney. I loved the first two books of the Macht Trilogy (The Ten Thousand and Corvus) and you can imagine that I've started to read Kings of Morning with a big appetite. I'm planning to savor each word.

Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Solaris (Web | twitter) (1 Mar 2012)
ISBN-10: 1907519386
ISBN-13: 978-1907519383

For the first time in recorded history, the ferocious city-states of the Macht now acknowledge a single man as their overlord. Corvus, the strange and brilliant boy-general, is now High King, having united his people in a fearsome, bloody series of battles and sieges. He is not yet thirty years old. A generation ago, ten thousand of the Macht marched into the heart of the ancient Asurian Empire, and fought their way back out again, passing into legend. Corvus’s father was one of those who undertook that march, and his most trusted general, Rictus, was leader of those ten thousand. But he intends to do more. The preparations will take years, but when they are complete, Corvus will lead an invasion the like of which the world of Kuf has never seen. Under him, the Macht will undertake nothing less than the overthrow of the entire Asurian Empire.

Amazon (UK) | Book Depository (Worldwide)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Giveaway: Bundle of 8 E-books for 3 Lucky Readers

Thanks to Seventh Star Press, as part of the Seventh Star Singles Contest, I am giving away 3 sets of 8 e-books. If you would like to be one of these three lucky readers, all you have to do is to drop me an e-mail (betweentwobooks [at] gmail [dot] com) with your name and your format of choice (Kindle, Nook or ePub (for Sony e-readers, iPad, iPhone etc.)).

You can also increase your chances of winning by following Seventh Star Press on twitter and additionally by tweeting about the competition. In this case, please include your twitter name in your e-mail. Additionally, you can "Like" their Facebook page to increase your chances further.

The contest will run until 20 Jan 2012 12:00 GMT. The winners will be selected randomly using an on-line random number generator.

Good luck!

(I took this opportunity to interview Michael West who contributes to the giveaway with two books. I hope you'll like it.)

Here's what each virtual bag of e-books contain:

by Steven Shrewsbury:

Author and Finisher of Our Flesh
The first short story in the Blood and Steel: Legends of La Gaul collection from Steven L. Shrewsbury, Author and Finisher of Our Flesh takes the reader on a perilous Sword and Sorcery adventure in the ancient world alongside Gorias La Gaul. When vessels sent to a farming colony fail to return, and rumors of dark powers being involved begin to swirl, an aging general cleverly secures the help of the centuries-old legendary warrior Gorias to investigate.

In a world where ancient gods still walk, and unnameable horrors lurk at every turn, Gorias must face challenges of many kinds; some on the inside, and others from without.

A short story in the Blood and Steel: Legends of La Gaul collection, Insurmountable tells an action-packed tale of the centuries-old warrior Gorias La Gaul. Setting out to take care of one last task for his father, Gorias travels to a monastery set high in the mountains where he makes a horrific discovery.

For the reader that loves the Sword and Sorcery genre, this exciting short story series from Seventh Star Press builds upon the legacy of the heroic Gorias La Gaul, first introduced in the novel thrall.

by Michael West:

In this Tales from Harmony short story, a frightened child, in a rural Indiana farmhouse, attempts to fool the Angel of Death.

Goodnight was voted Best Horror Story of the Year in a 2005 P&E Readers Poll. First featured in the magazine Wicked Karnival #6, it was also included in Skull Full of Kisses, a single author collection from Michael West published by Graveside Tales. Now, it debuts Michael’s Tales from Harmony eBook short story collection.

For the River Is Wide and the Gods Are Hungry
In this Tales from Harmony short story, it should be the best time of Becky’s life. Her studies at Stanley University are going well, and her boyfriend, Mark, has just asked her to marry him. But when she returns to her childhood home, Becky finds she must deal once more with the events of one horribly hot summer day, a deadly past that now threatens to steal all her future happiness.

Tales from Harmony short stories offer horror fans much more to experience in the Harmony, Indiana setting that is featured in Michael West novels such as Cinema of Shadows and The Wide Game

by Stephen Zimmer:

(Rising Dawn Series)
Temples Rising
In this short story from the Annals of the Rising Dawn collection, the reader ventures back into an ancient world when demonic entities and humans have bred a race of monstrous creatures. In league with Fallen Avatars that have taken on flesh and blood, the Raven Queen is preeminent among the human rulers involved with the building of a great temple site in Albion.

Cuchulainn, the son of a Fallen Avatar and a human, has rebelled against his origins and sets out to help Cormac and other human warriors as they seek to strike a heavy blow against the coalescing Powers seeking dominion over all humanity.

(Fires in Eden Series)
Into Glory Ride
In this short story from the Chronicles of Ave collection, you are invited into Trogen lands. A brave young warrior of the Sea Wolf clan, Marragesh, sights the approach of an Elven raid while on a scouting foray along the cliffs of the northern coast.

Long under the shadow of the Elves, the Trogens have quietly been preparing a new development to aid in the defense of their lands. As the Elven fleet nears their land, brimming with sky steeds and warriors, a momentous choice must be made that has major implications for the Trogen clans.

Land of Shadow
In this short story from the Chronicles of Ave collection, the reader is invited to take an adventure into the Shadowlands. When a band of hardened Avanoran mercenaries take up an offer to search out a favorable site for a fortress, they are well aware of the warnings about the Shadowlands. Even a large, armed group of warriors is not safe, however, as the knight Godfrey finds out during a harrowing journey.

Lion Heart
In this short story from the Chronicles of Ave collection, the reader is invited to explore the lands of the Amazu and meet Sigananda, one of their greatest, legendary warriors. In this story, Sigananda is shown as a young man, just coming of age. When powerful Wizards threaten the Amazu people, Sigananda is sent on a journey that will test his resolve and courage. At ease against opponents of flesh and blood, he must contend with powers that transcend the laws of the physical world.

You can also buy any of these titles right now on the publisher's singles page.

Interview With Michael West

I had the pleasure to interview Michael West, the author of The Wide Game and Goodnight among others, as part of our Seventh Star Singles Contest sponsored by Seventh Star Press. I hope you'll enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed interviewing Michael West.

Michael West is a member of the Horror Writers Association and serves as President of its local chapter, Indiana Horror Writers. A graduate of Indiana University, West earned a degree in Telecommunications and Film Theory, and since that time, he has written a multitude of short stories, articles, and reviews for various on-line and print publications.

He lives and works in the Indianapolis area with his wife, their two children, their bird, Rodan, and turtle, Gamera. His children are convinced that spirits move through the woods near their home.

For further information, please visit Michael's site at

Don't forget to participate in our contest to be one of the 3 lucky readers to win 8 e-books, including Michael's Goodnight and For The River Is Wide And The Gods Are Hungry.

Hi Michael. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Well, anyone who follows me on Facebook and Twitter knows I love two things: coffee and Horror. I’ve loved Horror as long as I can remember; as a child, I used to trick babysitters into letting me stay up late to watch Night Gallery episodes and Hammer films, I subscribed to Fangoria and read every Stephen King that came out, and I wrote my first novel while still in high school (A work that will never, ever see the light of day. Awful. *shudder*). My love of coffee didn't start until much later, but if you took it away from me...well, let's just say that would be a real Horror story.

Let's start with digital books. What do you think of e-books? What does the future hold for paper books and e-books? Do you have an e-reader?

I think e-books offer some great advantages. For older readers, it gives them the ability to adjust the font size and read without glasses. And with the smaller price tag of many e-books, it gives readers a chance to discover new, lesser known talents. People are more willing to take a risk on you when your work costs less than a cup of coffee. LOL I don't have an e-reader, but my wife has a Kindle and my son has a Nook. I hope the future will allow the two formats to peacefully co-exist. CDs have not gone away because of iPods and iTunes, and even vinyl records have made a resurgence for collectors. You can't have your favorite band sign an iPod, but as you can't have your favorite author sign your e-Reader, so I think that physical books will always have a place. I know for me, nothing can replace the experience of reading a book...the weight of it, the formats can't replace that.

My following question or my following set of questions are about knowing you as a reader. What kind of a reader are you? Who are your favorite authors? What are your favorite books? How do you choose the books that you read? Do you tend to go for a specific genre more than others? What are you currently reading?

Wow…well, I'm a slow reader. LOL I know people who can read several books a day, but I read several books a year. I also read a lot of short stories. And news articles. LOTS of news articles. I'm always doing research, always looking for that next great story idea. As for favorite authors, I love Clive Barker, Richard Matheson, and Rod Serling, but growing up in the eighties as I did, I’d have to say Stephen King is…well…king. I just love the way he can take a normal, everyday, real-life place or situation and make it into something horrific. Going to the grocery store? Well, you’re going to run into a monster. Oh, and that quiet little town you live in? Overrun by vampires. The hotel you’re staying in and the car you’re driving right now? Haunted. That’s something I try to do in my fiction as well, making the real fantastic and vice versa. My favorite books are King's The Stand and 'Salem's Lot, Barker's Books of Blood, and Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park. I read anything that sounds interesting, but as you can tell, the works are mostly Horror and Sci-fi. If I read Fantasy, it is usually of the dark and Urban variety. I like anything dark, really. I'm currently between books, but I just finished re-reading all six volumes of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing. I've read it several times, and it just gets better with each pass. Next, I need to pick up a copy of The Monster's Corner: Stories Through Inhuman Eyes. My friend Gary A. Braunbeck has a story in it, and I just love stories told from the monster's point of view.

Now let’s talk about Michael West the writer: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always been a storyteller. Before I could write, I drew pictures to illustrate the tales that were spinning inside my head. As I got older, I wrote screenplays and made films with my parents’ video camera. And, when the stories that I wanted to tell outgrew my meager budgets, I turned them into short stories and novels.

Do you have a specific writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?

I tend to have an ending in mind when I start. That's not to say that the ending doesn't change half a dozen times by the time I get there, but I need to have a goal, something to work toward. I’ve got a coffee mug covered in artwork from my short story “Jiki.” I usually fill that up and turn on music, either film soundtracks or 80s music, I can’t work when it’s totally quiet. I also like the room to be as dark as possible, so I will turn off lights or close blinds before I start. Then, when I finish a novel or short story, I will go to my favorite restaurant and order my favorite thing on the menu to celebrate. And then I start the whole thing over again.

Do you work with an outline?

I don't tend to outline the novel as a whole, but when I get to the next chapter, I first jot down the key things that happen in it, then I fill in the prose. But even then, the characters really dictate what happens. I could do all the planning in the world, but the characters would just do their own thing anyway. LOL

Have you ever experienced writer’s block? Do you have any special remedy or routine that you apply in this situation?

Oh sure. All writers do at one time or another. There are days when I will type a thousand words and other days when I'm lucky to string a sentence together. I have to admit that I hate writing that first draft. For me, that’s the most difficult thing in the world, just getting all the words out onto the page and giving the story a beginning, middle, and end. But you just have to work through it. Sometimes, I'll just take a break and walk, watch a movie, or listen to music until something comes to me that I have to write down. I find that once it’s out there, once I get into the editing process and the re-writes, that’s when I’m most happy. I’ve spoken to writers who feel just the opposite, they love getting it all out there and hate doing edits, but I view it the way a sculptor views a huge block of marble; it’s a pain, getting that stone into the studio, but, when you start to chip away at it, when it starts to like what you envisioned, or, in some cases, better than what you envisioned... there’s no greater feeling in the world than that.

How did you choose the genre you write in?

I don't think it was ever really a choice. As I said, I’ve loved Horror for as long as I can remember. I’d collect toys based on the classic Universal monsters. In the eighties, when a new Horror film opened, I was always first in line. Even when I wrote scripts for Educational Television, I found ways to sneak in Horror themes. I pitched a program called Teen Terrors—a look at the stress, fears, and anxieties that all teenagers must face—and filmed host segments in graveyards and the torture chambers of local haunted houses. It was only natural that, when I finally put pen to paper to write prose, the result would be horrific.

I’ve enjoyed horror books since an age when I shouldn’t even have been allowed to read them and when I look back I see a constant change or evolution in what is popular. What do you think of the genre’s evolution? How has your take on horror changed throughout the years you’ve been writing?

Yes, what's popular is always changing. There was a time when nobody wrote about zombies and vampires were passe, but now they're all the rage. I'm not a big fan of the really extreme Horror. I’m certainly not afraid to hack and slash. I think a certain amount of blood is needed and expected when it comes to Horror fiction or films. But if you have characters who bleed like a lawn sprinklers, more than the body can physically produce, it just becomes laughable. All of my stories so far seem to have centered around relationships of one kind or another. My first novel, The Wide Game, was about first love, and my story "Goodnight," which is now available as a Seventh Star Single e-book, is about the love of a great-grandfather for his great-grandson. Most relationships are complicated, but, in my stories, some of those complications are supernatural.

Do you pay any attention to the reviews of your books? If yes, do they influence your writing in any way?

Sure, I read the reviews, particularly the ones from faithful readers on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc. They do tend to put a bit of pressure on you. Here are all these people who love your work and say things like, "I can't wait to see what he comes up with next," or "I don't know how he's gonna top this," and you start to wonder, "How am I going to top that? What if I can't top it?" But, ultimately, you just have to tell the best story you can tell and hope it resonates with people.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

Luckily, there hasn't been anything really scathing. *knock on wood* But sometimes I'll read a comment that will leave me scratching my head, wondering why the person didn't understand this plot point or that. The best compliments have been the remarks on how well-drawn my characters are. I think the most important element of writing is creating good, believable characters. You can have the most original plot in the world, an amazing monster or villain, but, if the reader doesn’t care about the people in your story, they’re not going to read it. That’s why a lot of movies made from horror novels fail. The filmmakers concentrate on the Big Bad—the vampire, demon, what-have-you—and the characters get short shrift. When you really care about the people in a story, you get lost in the narrative and you feel things on a very visceral level. That’s the type of connection I strive for in my own writing.

Do you have anything specific that you would like to tell your readers?

I just want to thank them for their support. Writing is a very solitary process, just you and your laptop with no idea how your work will be perceived. It's very gratifying for me that so many people enjoy what I do, that they're actually out there waiting for the next thing to come out, and I can't wait to give them more.

In the meantime, however, faithful readers can always get up-to-date information on me and my work at my website,

Michael, thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Short Stories are Alive and Well in Speculative Fiction - But Who's Reading?

While bookstores are struggling to compete with the likes of Amazon, book sales in general are in rude health, particularly speculative fiction. Fantasy, science fiction and horror have always had a large and loyal following, and there are no shortage of new writers out there to come up with fresh approaches to keep the speculative fiction market alive. Most new writers of sci-fi, fantasy and horror cut their teeth in the short story market. This too is in rude health, judging by the amount of magazines, anthologies and other markets advertised in Duotrope’s Digest, a website dedicated to listing all available markets for writers of fiction.

Literally hundreds of different magazines, anthologies and websites offer an avenue for writers to submit short fiction stories, and in particular speculative fiction, which is by far the largest market. Some of these magazines offer very little in payment, others advertise “pro rates,” so new writers face no shortage of potential markets. However, when you scrape beneath the surface a little, it soon becomes apparent that with a few rare exceptions, these short story markets are self-perpetuating. Many of these markets get almost as many submissions from writers as they do readers. In fact, other than a few long-standing and notable exceptions, the majority of the reading audience to these anthologies and magazines are writers themselves. It’s a case of writers writing to be read by other writers.

Very few general readers buy these short story publications, and even worse for a writer’s perspective is that very few publishers take any interest in them either. No matter how much of a reputation a writer makes in the short story market, they gain very little attention from mainstream publishers and readers. Few people in the average bookstore would have heard of the likes of Jason Sanford or Alison Littlewood, but they are two of the most exciting writers around in the science fiction and dark fantasy genres today. Yet, like other short story writers, their work goes very much unnoticed.

Publishers are of course interested in turning a profit so concentrate their abilities on promoting novels, as that’s where the money is. Very rarely will a mainstream publisher release a new author’s short story collection - arguing there’s just no money in it because people don’t buy short story collections anymore. But why? In today’s age of the e-book reader and iPad, and with an ever-busier population, with an ever-shortening attention span, the short story should be the ideal medium. As Hemingway suggested, a short story is written for consumption in one sitting. What could be better than reading a story when commuting to work in the morning, another on the way home, or rounding the day off by reading one in your comfiest reading seat? Yet few people do, preferring instead to steadily leaf through a novel.

It wasn’t always this way. Many of the greatest literature figures, particularly in science fiction, fantasy and horror, made their name writing short stories. Edgar Allan Poe only ever wrote one novel and is best remembered for his shorts. H P Lovecraft churned out hundreds of short stories, while Arthur C Clark, Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison, Robert A Heinlein and Philip K Dick, all made their names writing shorts. Many big name writers still regularly write short stories too; Stephen King and Neil Gaiman to name but two. But with such a limited audience, it begs the question as to why they bother. Well it’s certainly not for the money. Even the highest paid short fiction markets rarely pay above 7 cents per word. Sure big names like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman will probably attract a bigger audience for the magazines and probably get a bigger payment too, but it won’t be much, certainly not on the same scale as their novels and other writing earns them.

The reason is probably something to do with the art behind short story writing. The short story is perhaps the purest form of storytelling. Unlike a novel, where an author gets the chance to write page after page of verbose description and characterization, a short story requires a writer to cut things down and include only what matters to the story. The plot, narrative, characterization and description need to provide just enough detail to immerse the reader and serve the story. For this reason, some of the greatest works of fiction are written in the short form. So, next time you are browsing your local bookstore, why not pay a visit to the shelves containing the short story magazines and anthologies. You may find you are in for a pleasant surprise.

- Isabella Woods -