3.19.2019

Speculative Fiction Worth Reading - #Review of Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut


Celebrating the 50th anniversary of this masterpiece!

Blurb: Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.

Christine's review: Billy Pilgrim was not made for war. Later in life, as he sits down to write his experiences in a book, the reader follows his life before, during, and after the bombing of Dresden in World War II. Not in that order due to the fluid nature of time!

I read this book many, many years ago. When I picked it up to read again, what I remembered most was that Billy had been abducted by aliens and they displayed him in a zoo. That is just a very small part of this story. This time around, it was the horror and devastation of war that struck me, and left me feeling heavy and depressed. The grisly details and horrible reality of what it was like; the sights, smells, and sounds. The repetitive imagery of the frozen ivory and blue feet. Billy was already broken by the time he was sent overseas to fight, but the war shattered him further. He was truly a tragic character. There is a bit about aliens and living in a zoo, and the fourth dimension of time. It's weird and zany, but the novel carries a great weight which makes it truly one of the greatest novels I've ever read.

The Kurt Vonnegut Library is celebrating by working with the publisher to get a new 50th anniversary cover for the book. Check out the article here.

3.05.2019

A Writer's Inspiration #shortstories #fantasy #alternatehistory

Writers are often asked where do they get their inspiration. The answer a lot of us give is either "I don't know" or "Everywhere." Vague, I know. We don't mean to be, but sometimes it's hard to nail down the moment inspiration strikes and a character steps forward to begin a story.

I recently have been working on a four-story collection to publish this year titled Folds in Life and Death. The stories take place in an alternate history where some people have the ability to bring origami to life (i.e. paper magics). The unique thing about these stories is I know what inspired them, and I have four anthology calls to thank for the creative spark.

Though I always wanted to write something involving paper magics, I didn't necessarily have a story in mind. We Untethered Realms' people were using the original four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) to create anthologies. The first anthology, Twisted Earths, had been released, and I was considering what to write for Mayhem in the Air. All I knew is I wanted it to involve paper magics. I saw a piece of paper floating in the air. Then, Mayor Alfred Merry stepped out from the shadows. The mayor hated paper magics and wanted to ban them, not because Paperists (paper magic practitioners) could be dangerous, but because his wife, a Paperist, had cheated on him with a man Alfred had trusted. His wife had not only abandoned Alfred, but also their little girl who eventually passed away from cancer. Alfred promised his daughter only her mother would release her soul to the sky, which is the key task for Paperists. This story also brought up a deadly sect of Paperists known as the Ritualists. Alfred created the Futurists, those against paper magics. The players in this new world were set in "Paper Lanterns."

In 2015, the Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG) put out a request for alternate history/parallel universe stories, which was titled Parallels: Felix Was Here. I knew I wanted to revisit my paper magics' world, but what story to write? I thought about our history, and I remembered something I read as a child about the Curse of Tippecanoe, which stated every President elected in a "---0" year would die. In our universe, Reagan survived the curse, but in my paper magics' world, he wasn't so lucky. So what would that mean for the President elected in 2000? Allyson Moore, a Paperist and the President's sister, is just about to find out in "Folds in Life and Death."

I wrote "Folds in Life and Death" for the IWSG anthology, but if it hadn't been selected, I was going to use it for UR's Spirits in the Water. So I still had a new story idea to discover for our fourth Elements of Untethered Realms' anthologies. I wanted to revisit the paper magics' world. In "Paper Lanterns," I wrote from the point of view of a Futurist. From "Folds in Life and Death," Allyson is a Paperist. Now, I wanted to write from the point of view from a budding Ritualist. What would inspire a person to join what most of the world thinks of as a terrorist organization? Aimee Washington helped me understand in "The Folding Point."

Last year, IWSG had a call for YA Romance with a masquerade theme. I wanted to write from the point of view of an autistic, like me. Willow bloomed before me, but I unfortunately didn't complete her story in time for the anthology. I wasn't willing to give up on her, so I inserted her into my paper magics' world. She is a regular ol' human who hasn't yet taken sides when it comes to Futurists, Paperists, and Ritualists. She's just a girl in love with her best male friend. A girl who obsesses over theater and history and admires the paper magics' her love interest can create. Willow's story is "Paper Faces," and it rounds out the collection Folds in Life and Death.

I'd hoped to have published Folds in Life and Death by now, but I'm still writing "Paper Faces." The collection will be published soon, though. March or April. *crosses fingers*

If you're a writer, where has inspiration led you? Readers, I hope you enjoyed getting a glimpse behind the scenes.

2.19.2019

#Review #PolarNight #mystery #supernatural #suspense #ebook


Julie Flanders is superb, a definite flare for writing suspenseful mystery. She pulls her readers to the edge of their seats, and thoroughly involves you with Danny Fitzpatrick, a police detective you automatically fall for. After the tragic, homicidal death of his wife, Danny fleas to the snow-ridden terrain of Alaska to drown his sorrows. 

The novel, Polar Night is set in Alaska and Julie's research on the Alaskan territory is phenomenal. You can almost feel the frigidness surrounding the story. As the reader, your throat clogs along with the main character as he breathes in ice fog. That's when Alaskan temps reach a mere 40 below and it's full of icy particles. Years prior it was called appropriately, 'white death.' 


Polar Night has a supernatural premise which I wasn't expecting. In fact-- there are spoilers ahead... but they won't deter you from reading...
What makes Julie such an excellent writer is her believable plot-line. Danny Fitzpatrick's investigation into the premise of scavenging Vampires located in Russia back in the 1800's and beyond is astute, I still have shivers. Do I believe in vampires? Now I do! And has me jangling in my boots, and I tend to sleep with the covers rucked under my chin, just in case.

I recommend Polar Night as an excellent read. For murder mystery, supernatural, detective, suspense and thriller fans alike. 

2.05.2019

Hi, have you met my friend burnout?

It's been a while since I posted on Untethered Realms last. In fact, I think it might have been well over a year. Eek. Sorry guys. 

I would have liked to say my absence was due to my sold-out international book tour, or that signing the books during that tour sprained my typing hand... But no. 

Unfortunately, the reasons for my absence is an old, familiar friend to writers everywhere... burnout. 

It's probably funny to see burnout referred to as a friend, but I did conclude that, while burnout is a thorny fellow, he actually is kinda good to have around. Why? He has a way of making us step back and reassess. 

On my side, I'm pretty much consistently go go go, even in the worst of circumstances (of which last year was basically one crap situation extended over about 200 days), but being this way comes at a high cost to my physical and mental health. 

By the end of those 200 or so days, my buddy burnout came over, seemingly to stay. I pushed on regardless because I had to, straight through Christmas. And by the third week of January, I was physically ill. 

At which point burnout grabbed me by the neck, made me look it square in the eyes, and told me, "You can't go on like this, Misha. Seriously come on." 

So to a large extent, being sickly plus burned out was the impetus I needed to take a harsh look at myself and... well... get a grip on some really bad habits I have. 

At the same time, I'm also having to look at every aspect of my life and how I'm spending my time, because I simply can't keep going on the way I did and expect for my exhaustion to go away. So at least for now, I've cut way back on everything I possibly can, in the hopes that I can open up my days and start fitting things in, somehow in a way that makes better sense. 

And none of these things would have happened if I hadn't burned out, even if it was seriously damaging to my health. 

So yeah. Not necessarily a bad guy, burnout. 

Do you burn out sometimes? Have you burned out recently? Did burning out make you reconsider your habits and lifestyle? 


1.22.2019

Speculative Fiction Worth Reading - Review for Faebourne


Blurb: Duncan Oliver was in every respect an unremarkable gentleman. 

When mild-mannered Duncan Oliver is abducted by the Milne brothers and taken to their legendary home of Faebourne, his unexciting life becomes much more interesting. Adelia Milne has been cursed, and Duncan is her chosen champion to break the spell. Duncan may not be a hero, but he is a gentleman, and he refuses to leave a lady in distress. He becomes determined to take on the quest on Miss Milne's behalf. 

Meanwhile, an unlikely rescue team forms in the pairing of Duncan's best friend George and valet Davies. As they set out for Faebourne--and also perchance to learn more about Davies' obscured family history--what begins as an unequal partnership quickly blooms into friendship... and possibly something more.

My review: Duncan Oliver's sedate life is turned on its head when he's kidnapped by two odd men he's just met at the local club. They bring them to their mysterious manor Faebourne to help remove a curse from their sister, Adelia Milne. A task which Duncan is unsure he's up to. Yet his trusted valet, Davies is quick on the case to find his employer. Duncan's best friend George accompanies him on the journey, hoping for some excitement. The two men find so much more.

This is not what I expected from a Regency Romance, but in the most wonderful of ways. The writing is light and crisp, true to its genre, but coming to the beautiful Faebourne we have a whole different type of story. It is like a fairy tale of old with its curses and quests. Grass slippers and a song who is many songs. Plus Adelia's fox familiar Aloysius who is quirky and clever and makes me want my own! The Milnes are odd themselves and often had me smiling. While I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of the book, it is the cast of characters that shine. Duncan is the polite and boring everyday man who must stretch himself to try to become a hero. Davies wrestles with his newfound lineage and his attraction to George. While George himself is surprised by what he finds in himself traveling with Davies and what he wants in life.

I'd love to read much more from the author and this of this type of Regency Romance. Well done!

1.08.2019

Evolution of a series cover

In the book world, both indie and traditional, common knowledge is that one should occasionally recover and repackage a long-running novel or series. I run into this all of the time when I teach. Even though I assign the same booklist, the covers keep changing from year to year!

Recently, I attended an "author mastermind" conference that involved branding and taking one's authorship more seriously. Upping one's game. It seriously kicked my you-know-what! It also inspired me to take a hard look at my covers, my promo style and release schedule. In this post I'll focus on my Fireseed series covers.

Here is the evolution of the first two of the Fireseed novels, Fireseed One and Ruby's Fire over time.
See the whole series here.

Oldest, on bottom:
When I launched the series in 2011 I wanted to break out of the YA trope of girls in gowns, and even from the photo retouched cover. Coming from the art world, I also wanted to include my own interior illustrations. I hired digital cover artist Jay Montgomery, who taught at the Savannah College of Art and Design. I designed the roughs. These worked for a while as they attracted attention from their unique look. But I decided to scrap my interior illustrations as some thought they made the book seemed aimed for the 9-12 year-old set. They are meant for older teens and adults. And though the covers were an homage to the classic 50s sci-fi covers, they also began to seem dated.

The big portraits, next oldest:
Najla Qamber designed these next incarnations, with close-up heads and a more trendy type font. These sold quite well and I was happy with them.

The edgy setting covers, second to top:
Then, I hired publicists, who convinced me YA sci-fi covers no longer featured up-close faces, but had object covers such as the Hunger Games crests or otherworldly settings. We looked at the top 100 YA sci-fi on Amazon, and I took the bait. Again, Najla delivered spectacular covers with a futuristic title font. The look was sophisticated, gritty - everything I love. But the covers did not sell as many books. Ultimately, I realized that in YA, and even in adult fantasy, people are drawn to, well PEOPLE!

The brand new 2019 covers, on top:
In a meeting with a mentor from the author mastermind conference, we looked again at the Amazon top 100 in YA sci-fi. Yes, we still saw object covers, but we also saw a resurgence of faces and human figures, which filled me with relief. The lead characters in this newest set by Najla are in mid-picture, walking or standing in front of spooky cool settings, the hallmark of the series. It's a burning sky, it's harsh desert, it's strange jutting rock formations and thorny Fireseed blossoms literally on fire. It's topped off with a big, brash title font that reads clearly from a thumbnail.

Who knows if and when I'll design another set. There's something I love about each rendition. Which one do you like best and why? Have you recovered and repackaged your novels? If so, what prompted it?

12.18.2018

Three Books #review #fantasy #scifi #review

With the Holiday Season firmly upon us, I thought I'd push the boat out and post three quick book reviews, in case anyone is looking for a present idea...


First up is a fantasy classic you may not have heard of: Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees. My copy of this book has a Neil Gaiman blurb that says:

The single most beautiful, solid, unearthly, and unjustifiably forgotten novel of the twentieth century ... a little golden miracle of a book


Now there's a certain amount of hyperbole there, but he's really not far wrong. This book is a gem. It's a fantasy novel originally published in 1926, eleven years before Bilbo Baggins hurried out of his round, green door. It's also a long way in scope and theme from the epic fantasy of Tolkien and his followers. Perhaps it's really a "fairy story". Or it might be a murder mystery. Certainly there are no armies or Dark Lords in sight. The book's concerns are smaller, but dramatic enough in their own way. It concerns itself with the staid and proper city of Lud-in-the-Mist, whose citizens are horrified to find that "fairy fruit" is being smuggled into their town, down the river Dapple from the Land of Faerie. The citizens never mention Faerie or its - literally - forbidden fruit, trying to convince themselves that such unsettling things don't exist.

The fruit is dangerous, subversive even: it makes people waste away their lives in all manner of unproductive ways: writing, playing music and, you can be sure, much else besides. The modern reader might see the fruit as an analogue for drugs, but equally it represents the role of beauty and art in our over-controlled, rational lives.That said, Mirrlees is rather ambivalent about the merits of Faerie. We are never actually taken there; it remains an unknown in the text. Faerie as the id to Lud-in-the-Mist's ego perhaps? This is a story of ideas as much as anything. This isn't just another "fantasy" story, and that's wonderfully refreshing.

The book is elegantly, charmingly written. It's as if Virginia Woolf sat down to write The Hobbit and not John Ronald Reuld. Or as if Tolkien had had a crack at a Barchester novel. Or something. I do wonder whether it would struggle to get a publisher these days, though. It starts slowly and proceeds at a gentle pace much of the time.

Still, fans of fantasy and, you know, good writing should seek it out. Available from Amazon and all good book stores.



Next up is a book that isn't fantasy and isn't really science fiction - but which readers (and writers) of science fiction will love. It's Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku.

Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration of the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation and Time Travel by [Kaku, Michio]

In case you're not familiar with him, Kaku is a theoretical physicist, who here takes a serious look at some of the tropes and devices commonly used in science fiction (time travel, phasers, teleportation etc.) But this isn't one of those works that sneers at the crazy ideas of those writer types. On the contrary, Kaku is clearly a fan and demonstrates a pretty good knowledge of the genre. He says himself it was a boyhood delight in the genre that turned him onto physics in the first place.

The result is that there's a treasure-trove of solid scientific material in here for science fiction writers to draw on. Not that I'm that hung up on strict veracity to science in science fiction myself, as some writers and readers clearly are. Story always wins, I think. But the more you diverge from believable science, the more likely you are to alienate a section of your potential readers. Plus I also found that reading the book gave me several great ideas for new stories.You could do a lot with gamma-ray bursters, for example.Or nanoships. Or antimatter rockets.

Kaku's writing is always clear and he obviously knows what he's talking about. And it's surprising just how much stuff actually probably isn't impossible. Time travel? FTL? Invisibility? Kaku sees all these as ultimately possible, in that they don't appear to contravene any known laws of physics. We just can't do them yet. He returns to the SF canon again and again and then explains how, actually, quite a lot of it just might work.

At times I would have liked him to explain things a little more. He mentions, for example, that you can't use quantum entanglement to communicate instantaneously across the galaxy (darn, there goes the plot for at least one of my published stories) and I had to spend a bit of time thinking about why that is. Perhaps it's just so obvious to him he felt it didn't need explaining. I think I get it now...

Oh, and loath as I am to pit my 'O' level in physics against his brain-the-size-of-a-planet wisdom, it does seem to me he does get it wrong when he discusses precognition. This, he says, is definitely impossible because it transgresses basic Newtonian physics; it short-circuits cause and effect. But then he also says "In principle, Newtonian mechanics states that if you had a large enough computer, you could compute all future events". So, if you could build such a machine then maybe you could predict the future...

Anyway, great book. Available from Amazon and all good book stores.



Finally, I've recently been reading What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank: A Fantasy Lover's Food Guide by Krista D. Ball.


It's partly written for writers, but readers of fantasy (and other genres) will find it a blast, too. It bills itself as "equal parts writer’s guide, comedy, and historical cookbook" and that's about right. It's an entertanining and informative read, and I was constantly reminded of episodes in fantasy books I've read where the characters have no trouble living off the land - despite all the very real difficulties that would entail.

So, if you're interested to know how your party of adventurers could survive in the wildlands as they search for the mythical Orb of Raan, or how that dwarvish army could march upon the orc homelands without dying of starvation on the way, this is the book to read. I found I was constantly given cool ideas for scenes and chapters, too. Definitely a book to come back to.

I did enjoy reading about the sociological, technological and economic background to the foods people ate in the past. Plus, there were some good jokes. Also, plenty of things described that I definitely would not want to eat or drink - but which characters in some fantasy story might. The poor things.

If you're interested in world-building a fantasy or a period romance universe, or you're simply fascinated by what and how people in former times used to eat and drink, this book is well-worth checking out.

It's available from Amazon and all good book stores.



Happy Holidays from the folks at Untethered Realms, all!