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?