Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy Horror Paranormal

Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series: Featuring Beronika Keres!

Thank you for joining us on the Sunday Brunch Series this week!

Episode 18 features fantasy and horror author Beronika Keres! We originally ‘met’ when her debut novel Cracked Coffins was considered too thematically intense for a book tour! Luckily I was able to have a read anyway because dark vampire thrillers are everything and it was definitely a thriller!

The second novel Binding Blood released on December 7th. There are purchase links below if anyone has not checked these books out yet!

That said – I am glad that we finally got to chat about challenging content, favorite vampires, obviously brunch, and more!

Here it is!


🥞Welcome to the SBAIS! Tell everyone a little about yourself and your literary life?

🎤Hello! I’m Beronika, and I’ve been writing stories since I was old enough to read and write. So far, I’ve published Cracked Coffins and Binding Blood, the first two books in The Cracked Coffins Series. I have a bunch of stories in various stages of production and am so antsy to get them out.

When I’m not writing, I’m usually studying for university, consuming copious amounts of caffeine, and listening to my favorite gothic rock or punk songs on repeat.

🥞Could you tell everyone a bit about your publishing journey?

🎤My publishing journey has been long, so it’s a dream that I was able to release my first book in 2020. I think I was eight or nine when I first tried to get something published. I wrote a little story, found a major publishing house’s address on the copyright page of some book, and sent it in. It came back with a return to sender stamp—of course—but I didn’t let that deter me. I tried many times to write a full book and did so successfully at twelve. I had some success with short stories over the years, but I was really focused on being a published novelist. This was way back when many viewed indie publishing in a negative light, so I was convinced traditional publishing was the only way. Yet when that view shifted, and I realized the control indie publishing would grant me, I pursued that instead. Two books in and I’m happy with that decision.

🥞Congratulations on the second novel! What do you think was the biggest point of growth for you as an author between the two books?

🎤Thank you! My biggest point of growth is probably my writing. I worked with an awesome editor for Cracked Coffins who taught me so much!

🥞Seeing as we just got through the holiday season, what would Marianna’s favorite holiday be? What about Denendrius?

🎤Holidays would be a sore spot for Marianna, given her situation, but she’d yearn to experience a normal Christmas the most. I can see Denendrius periodically liking Valentine’s Day under certain conditions. He also would have celebrated Saturnalia when he was a human during his time, so I imagine he would shift to celebrating a non-religious version of Christmas, providing he has a reason (like Marianna) to care about celebrating.

🥞Cracked Coffins is a perfectly dark story so far! Did you start off knowing that it was going to be a dark fantasy? Did it get less or more dark as you started writing?

🎤I actually first wrote Cracked Coffins as a young teen during the last vampire craze. Denendrius as a character existed before I completely knew the plot for the novels, so I knew any story including him would be grim. The first apartment scene and the following forest scene were the first parts written and were based off dreams, and I’ve been told the latter is one of the darker scenes in the book. Some parts of the series are darker than other parts, though there are lighter areas. Yet overall, the dark themes are fairly consistent.

🥞I love that vampires are making a comeback! Do you have any favorite fictional vampires or vampire related literature?  

🎤I love that they’re making a comeback too! Yes, of course! I love Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice. I just absolutely adore Lestat, Louis, and Claudia for so many different reasons. I also really liked Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde. I think about that book from time to time, though the ending was bittersweet to me. 

🥞How do you feel about brunch? Any favorite brunch foods?

🎤I love brunch even though I don’t eat it very often. Bacon, waffles, and cinnamon rolls are my favorite!

🥞Marianna went through the ringer in Cracked Coffins, (drugs, death, domestic abuse, etc), is it emotionally difficult or otherwise challenging to put your characters through hell?

🎤It can be hard sometimes. Some themes and topics in Cracked Coffins are personal to me, so it can be interesting to wade through those feelings again to write. I always feel equipped to handle the topics, at least. Doing research can be difficult as well, especially stumbling upon real-life stories of people’s personal experiences (whether it be from those suffering from addiction or recovering, abuse survivors, or from those who were in the foster care system), or articles about abusive victims who weren’t able to escape.

But I also find it therapeutic to visit these sorts of situations with a fictionalized and supernatural approach. Including vampirism in a kidnapping/domestic violence story adds a whole new dynamic to explore. I thought the mortal/immortal power imbalance was a good way to portray some of the helplessness and hopelessness that can be felt in that sort of entrapment. Of course, adding violent creatures makes everything darker, but the supernatural also creates different avenues for hope that don’t exist in the real world.

🥞After two books, what’s the most valuable thing you have learned going forward into the next?

🎤How to adapt, be flexible, and try new techniques! Indie publishing makes this easy, which is why I love it so much.

🥞Here is the quick round of rapid-fire bookish questions! Do you have a favorite literary character of all time? Favorite book that your always recommend? Favorite author?

🎤It’s so hard to pick a favorite author since there’s so many that I love. John Saul, R.L. Stine, Stephen King, and Scott Westerfeld, to name a few.

One of my favorite literary characters is Janie Johnson from The Face on the Milk Carton (one of my favorite books since childhood) by Caroline B. Cooney. I always recommend that book and the subsequent ones.

A couple more of my favorite books that I’m always quick to recommend are Lighthouse Nights by Jake Vander Ark and Room by Emma Donoghue!

🥞Thank you so much for taking the time to interview! If there’s anything else you’d like to add, say, or feature, add it here!

🎤Thank you! It’s been a pleasure. I’m currently hard at work on the third book in the series and can’t wait to share more information about it!


Meet the author – from  https://www.beronikakeres.com/

Beronika Keres is a fantasy, thriller, and horror writer. After deciding in the second grade that she was destined to be an author, she has spent her life honing her craft and pursuing her dream. Fueled by coffee, she can often be found chasing plot bunnies and writing books.

When she isn’t writing, she can be found spending time with her family and enjoying the forests, mountains, and lakes of where she resides in British Columbia, Canada.

Cracked Coffins is her debut novel


Social Media and Book Links!

https://www.beronikakeres.com/

https://www.instagram.com/beronikakeres/

https://books2read.com/CrackedCoffins

https://books2read.com/Binding-Blood-2

Categories
Contemporary Fantasy Fiction Horror Literary Fiction Paranormal Young Adult

Wake the bones (ARC Review) by Eilizabeth Kilcoyne

Thank you so much to Wednesday Books for the free early read of Wake the Bones in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own.

Honestly I liked this one quite a bit but struggled with it’s age group appropriateness, so it was hard for me to rate.  I would push it on the 18-25 age group and keep it off the YA imprint.

With walking bones, rising evil, death, abuse, and a terribly disillusioned drowned ghost among other eldritch things, this is definitely one to have on board for spooky season. It’s much more lyrical than a typical horror novel though and encompasses magical realism and literary fiction too.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Wake the Bones
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Elizabeth Kilcoyne
  • Publisher & Release: Wednesday Books, July 12, 2022
  • Length: 320 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: *scratches head* I just don’t think it’s a YA, 16+ if I were really stretching it

Here’s the synopsis:

The sleepy little farm that Laurel Early grew up on has awakened. The woods are shifting, the soil is dead under her hands, and her bone pile just stood up and walked away.

After dropping out of college, all she wanted was to resume her life as a tobacco hand and taxidermist and try not to think about the boy she can’t help but love. Instead, a devil from her past has returned to court her, as he did her late mother years earlier. Now, Laurel must unravel her mother’s terrifying legacy and tap into her own innate magic before her future and the fate of everyone she loves is doomed.

Elizabeth Kilcoyne’s Wake the Bones is a dark, atmospheric debut about the complicated feelings that arise when the place you call home becomes hostile.

Ok here are my quick thoughts on the age thing: it’s marketed as YA (13-18) but I really truly strongly feel it should target an 18-20something age group. The characters are 18+, one was in college and dropped out, and all were struggling with loyalty to home, their  future, and generational bonds vs their own fate. Is their home down on the holler or where does fate lead them? Many of the conflicts and issues were not ones that 13-17 yr olds are going to face, although some will, plus the language includes at least one f*co per chapter, s*x scene at the penultimate moment AGAIN (please, YA authors, stop doing this – we assume a second couple shacked up that night too) … I just have a hard time with this on the YA imprint.

That said: let’s talk about this contemporary fantasy / horror / literary fiction

It takes place mostly on Kentucky farmland, where Laurel’s family tobacco farm has sat for generations.  The atmosphere it set from the start with a hunt for bones and trip to the graveyard, where we learn that Laurel has a penchant for death.  From there, things slowly start getting spookier and spookier.  It never gets to the splattering stage but there are dead animals, blood trails, dreams of the dead, her mother’s drowned ghost, lots of blood, someone is hanged, and the devil is downright creepy .. among other things.

The spooky parts are interspersed with a number of important themes to the New Adult (18- ?) age group, like generational chains.  Laurel’s family has been rooted on Kentucky for generations, and she tried leaving, failed, and came home to the farm and friends that needs her.  Another character is abused by his father, and wants to leave, but also struggles with loyalty to his friends and the area.  One doesn’t want to leave at all and is happy as is, and, the fourth has no idea what he wants.

So we see these scary parts mixed with chapters about love and mixed feelings.  Two male characters (Isaac and Garrett) have feelings for each other and that is a constant storyline, plus Laurel and Ricky feel fated towards each other but recognize fear and obligation as obstacles.

All this taking place in a muggy, hot summer, in the middle of a pretty severe haunting.  Each character, even a fifth that is brought in as a guide to Laurel, has different parental and generational issues that has shaped their experience growing up in this small town.

Can they all be friends like they were before, what needs to change, what will their futures hold? Will they even be alive to find out?

Coming home and self acceptance are huge themes.  I loved how the magic worked, as Laurel’s mother was tied to the land and so is she.  Land based magic is my favorite but I’ve never seen it in a contemporary fantasy before so that was interesting

I wish I could share quotes … I normally am not a fan of purple prose but Kilcoyne manages to write about death, life, and survival in such a way that I had SO many quote tabs on the pages.

OH, yeah, survival is a HUGE theme too.  Everyone has to survive their upbringing, life situation, and all the self destruction of those around them while taking hold of their own futures.

The real question is … Does everyone survive? Heh heh I actually did like what the author did at the end, but no spoilers

For me, 🌟🌟🌟🌟, but I’m 33 and would hold this one til my kid was at least 17.  I will not rate it for YA

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy Horror Paranormal

The Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series: Featuring A.J. Vrana!

Welcome to the special Halloween edition of the Sunday Brunch Series!! I was so excited to see Halloween falling on a Sunday this year.  After an absolutely incredible month of GrimDarkTober interviews, it is coming to an end with an amazing feature… Presenting my first traditionally published author – dark fantasy & horror writer A.J. Vrana!!

I “met” A.J. on bookstagram after participating in a tour for her first book, The Hollow Gods, and at this point am honored to say I consider her a booksta friend!

Happy Halloween everyone, here she is!


🎃Welcome and thank you so much for coming onto the Halloween edition of the SBAIS! Tell everyone a little about yourself and your literary life?

🎤Hello! I feel like my online bio is more eloquent than I am, but here it goes: My name is A. J. Vrana, and I’m the author of The Chaos Cycle Duology, which is comprised of The Hollow Gods and The Echoed Realm. They’re folklore-infused, contemporary dark fantasy with horror undertones and a romantic subplot. I also penned the short supernatural horror story, These Silent Walls, which is published in Three Crows Magazine. Outside of my literary life, I’m also a PhD candidate researching the supernatural in literature and its relationship to violence, and I have two magical rescue cats, Moonstone and Peanut Butter. 

🎃That’s a fascinating topic for research! Especially in book one, the interest in violence, legends, and sociological/group aspects was evident. How did that research translate into or influence The Chaos Cycle?

🎤I actually think that it might be the other way around: my fiction influences my academic writing more than my academic writing influences my fiction. That said, they are mutually reinforcing, and I think that ultimately, they might just be part of the same project.

To be a little more specific, my research focuses on Japan and former-Yugoslavia, with my personal background being with the latter. I was always interested in the supernatural, and through my research, I’ve found that it functions as an excellent metaphor for trauma, violence, and all the horrible things that we maybe can’t do justice to through plain, clinical expression. Further to that, the relationship between truth and fact is something that I have always been intrigued by. I research a lot of folklore, and folklore has always been a way of approaching and understanding the world. It’s a system of knowledge, and it can be very useful! There is truth to it even when it is just a story, because often, those stories are produced from generations of lived experience.  

I also think a LOT of my own experiences are in the novels, but they’re all written in through metaphor and allegory. I really struggle with explicit #ownvoices stories because it feels like there is no barrier between the reader and the writer. It’s too vulnerable. However, using the supernatural to talk about communal violence is a productive way to explore themes in my own life. I’ve never been kidnapped by spirits or anything, but I do think there is a relationship between Miya’s existential ruminations, Kai’s alienation from society, and my diasporic experience. Also, having grown up being adjacent to civil war, there is something about the way Black Hollow functions that echoes that experience of mine as well. Violence against the outsider is such a common theme, but I wanted to give it the kind of intimacy that can really unsettle. And what could be more intimate and unsettling than having a folkloric creature invade your dreams and become the reason your whole community turns against you?

🎃I was sometimes a little confused during book one, and then book two was just incredible and I loved how you brought the legend to life via the history.  What do you think was the biggest growth factor for you as an author between the two books?

🎤There was about a five-year gap between the writing of the first draft of each book, so I definitely grew as a person and as an author, though I don’t think that’s what impacted the clarity of the story so much as it impacted the way I delivered my themes. When I wrote the first book, I was in a phase in my life where I was grappling with a lot of intellectual ambiguity, and so ambiguity became a huge theme that permeated the story. I actually intended the first book to be rather hazy, because one of the central points is that there are no simple truths and that we can’t always get clear cut answers to our bigger questions. Was the town’s violence the result of groupthink and repressed generational guilt, or was it due to the influence of a malevolent entity? The story doesn’t give you an answer; both possibilities are true and inseparable from one another. Likewise, the way we weave social narratives is diffuse and confusing; you can’t always locate the logical progression that led to a belief system or social truth. The fabric of real-world narratives is often incoherent and full of contradictions, and I wanted to capture some of that incoherence in the structure and narrative style of the book. That said, I was also far less confident when I wrote The Hollow Gods; I shied away from being direct about my themes, and when you are a new writer trying to get traditionally published, it can be difficult to feel assured in your approach. I also had no idea how to outline! To a large extent, I was flying by the seat of my pants, and I had to do a lot of editing and rewriting as a result. 

However, The Echoed Realm was a very different process. It took me much longer to write the first draft, but it was such a strong first draft that the editorial process only took several months (THG’s editorial process took years, hence the five year gap!). I went into The Echoed Realm with a much firmer idea of what I wanted to do, and so I think the book is much more confident and direct about some of its themes. I feel like it also reflects my personality better; there is, I think, an intensity to The Echoed Realm that wasn’t present in The Hollow Gods, and that has a lot to do with me feeling like I have laid the groundwork to really be myself as a writer. This also reflects the characters’ growth between books; they are not the same people they were in The Hollow Gods. They’re not experiencing their world for the first time! I also did lean into commercial fiction a lot more for the second book, whereas the first book veers a bit towards the obscure. All that said, I think the success of The Echoed Realm largely hinges on the work The Hollow Gods did to establish a strong foundation. The first book does a lot of heavy lifting with world building, lore, and characterization so that the second book can really showcase what the duology had been building up to all along.  

🎃What do you think is the most important part of capturing a consistent atmosphere?

🎤This might sound weird, but I think the most important thing is to actually decide on what kind of atmosphere you want and to pay very close attention to word choice and language. Atmosphere (for me anyway) is a matter of focus. It’s kind of like maintaining a character’s voice throughout the book; you need be consistent not just with imagery and descriptions, but with the specific word choices that make up each image, because word choice can help evoke a particular tone or emotion. Atmosphere suffers when writers reach for the easiest or most obvious word. Readers don’t consciously pick up on word choice, but it does impact them because we all make subconscious associations without even realizing it. So, if I say, “Thunder rolled through the grey sky,” it sounds quite plain compared to, “The sky churned with a menacing rumble.” Both sentences are almost the same length, but the second one uses a stronger verb (one that evokes sickness or unease) and transforms something commonplace (thunder) into something with character (a menacing rumble). Ultimately, these are the things that make up atmosphere. 

🎃What makes a good morally gray character?

🎤I think this is a really interesting question, because in reality, we are all morally grey. No one has a rigid or unchanging moral compass; we are all reacting to our circumstances and trying to navigate the world in all its complexity. The world is morally grey at best (or completely bankrupt at worst), and so we are all inevitably morally grey. But, to answer your question, I think that good morally grey characters are the ones that invite us to reflect on the moral ambiguity in ourselves. Their reactions, attitudes, and choices have to make sense for their character regardless of our moral expectations, and even if we recognize that their actions are morally questionable, we an approach those reactions with a degree of compassion. 

So, for example, it’s not that Kai lacks a conscience or acts out of wanton malice. He is simply responding to his circumstances in the only ways to know how to, and that is all informed by his personal history and his position as a socially marginalized person. But I think most people who read the books don’t judge him to be a bad person, so that particular confluence of indictable behaviour and compassion help us produce a more nuanced understanding of ourselves and others. Morally grey characters may do something that is morally reprehensible, but in context, that behaviour might seem reasonable, and that forces us to reckon with the expectations we have for moral behaviour. I also think this is why Mason is the character I personally find the most frustrating. He’s someone who fancies himself to be morally upright, but he behaves in ways that are subtly quite selfish, and ultimately, it’s his confrontation with Kai and Miya that brings all that to the fore.

🎃Is it hard to write your characters into those tough, destructive, near deadly scenes that Grimdark requires?  Are you a true lady of chaos or does it take an emotional toll?

🎤Full disclosure: when I first wrote The Echoed Realm, Kai lost an arm. My editor made me change it, though, and in hindsight, I’m happy he got to keep it. I think when I’m writing it, I’m not really impacted by these tough scenes, but sometimes I’ll come away, like, “Wow, that was kind of intense.” I wouldn’t say it takes an emotional toll, though. On the contrary, I think it can be quite cathartic and invigorating to write out a very intense scene in which all the characters’ emotions are running at eleven and a half. In some instances, the whole book is culminating to that moment, so it’s exciting to finally let shit hit the fan, you know? I guess that makes me a true lady of chaos…

🎃Seeing as it’s halloween! If you’ve ever worn a Halloween costume, what was your favorite? Bonus points if you have a picture!

🎤Oh gosh, I don’t remember the last time I dressed up—I’m so lazy! As a kid, though, my two favourite costumes were a witch and a ninja. I don’t have any photos from that era, but I have this monstrosity

Screenshot_20211031-120717

🎃How do you feel about brunch? Do you have a favorite brunch food?

🎤I adore brunch, and it’s one thing Canada sucks at. When my partner took me to his hometown in the US, I nearly died eating biscuits and gravy every day. That said, I do love just a basic brunch of fried eggs, sausage, hash browns, and toast. If I can get a single banana pancake on the side, then we’re golden.

🎃Ama – I am just dying for any tidbit that hints at Ama’s story. I think I missed who she was in the original story.  Can you tell us anything extra about her??

🎤I actually have a whole book planned for Ama! Her backstory is still definitely a mystery. All you really know is that she’s been with Gavran for a long time and that he more or less raised her. She’s obviously very dedicated to anything Gavran cares about, and she is strongly attached to Miya both because of Gavran but also because she genuinely cares for her. Regarding the first book, **spoiler here** Ama is the wolf that Miya originally sees as a child, and this encounter becomes the thing Miya latches on to and hopes for throughout her youth and into had adulthood. Of course, the next time she encounters a wolf, it’s not Ama, but Kai. 

What I can tell you is that Ama’s becoming a wolf is not quite the same as Kai’s, though there are similarities too. Neither of them are werewolves in the contemporary sense; their condition follows the wonky rules of folklore rather than what we get in genres like urban fantasy. In Kai’s case, it’s “spiritually inherited” from Sendoa, though his parents were also like him. Kai’s history is also a bit of a shadowy thing, so there is a lot about his past left unexplored by the end of the duology. Ama, however, was not actually born a wolf as Kai was, and if you go to my website, click on Vignettes, and then on “The Weaver,” you’ll find some short stories exploring bits of Ama’s past ;). 

{{Done!! Can’t wait for that book!!}}

Now that The Chaos Cycle duology is completed, can you give us any hints as to what’s coming next? A WIP?

🎤I am currently working on a supernatural horror novel! I can’t say much about the project right now, but it does feature a small Appalachian town in rural Pennsylvania, an unreliable narrator, creepy, supernatural melodies, and murder. It’s been slow going, but I’m just about 40-50% through the first draft. I also have been fleshing out the world of The Chaos Cycle on my Patreon and plan on writing a standalone that takes place after the duology. It will focus on Miya, Kai, Ama, and Crowbar, and it will not be related to the major plot of the duology, though I do plan on exploring Kai’s history quite extensively in that book!

🎃Here is the round of easy rapid fire bookish questions – do you have a favorite book or series that you always recommend? Favorite literary character? Strange and wonderful bookish habits?

🎤Uhh, here goes:

  • The Winternight Trilogy by Catherine Arden!
  • I am blanking so hard on this. Let’s say Dorian Grey. 
  • I’m pretty boring, but I need to read in complete silence, or I get very crabby. 

Thank you so much for taking the time to interview!! A.J. wanted to tell you guys that the special hardcover editions of The Chaos Cycle duology just released, so definitely check those out!!

Here is an Instagram post with all the info, plus you can find her website at

https://thechaoscycle.com/

There are additional links here!

https://direct.me/ajvrana

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy Horror

Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series: Featuring Nicolas Samuel Lietzau

Welcome back to GrimDarkTober month on the Sunday Brunch Series! Episode 11 is a super special feature featuring German author Nicolas Samuel Lietzau! 

Most people recognize him as the writer of Enderal: The Forgotten stories – a Skyrim mod that has a huge following.  I fell off the gaming planet years ago and therefore am so glad and grateful that he reached out about his debut novel: Dreams of the Dying.  Obviously I am equally, if not more grateful that he agreed to join for an SBS interview!

While DotD is a book set in the Enderal world, I can promise that you don’t need the game to love the book, and certainly not to enjoy reading this amazing interview!  Read on to learn a bit about the book and the author, as well as a great discussion on world building, mental health, comically short relationships,  and much much more!

Enough from me – here he is!


🖤Welcome to the SBaiS! Tell us a random interesting fact about yourself!
 
🎤I’m a bit of a health nut. Also, I recently started a band, Neochrome. If I hadn’t become a writer, I would have tried my luck as a musician.
 
🖤 Can you tell me something off the beaten path that has intrigued you recently? That’s my favorite line from the author bio
 
🎤 There were several rather tragic things, but I’ll stick to something positive: I recently moved to a mountain village near Barcelona and went for a run in the nearby national park, where I got lost and suddenly found a broken-down car in the middle of the woods. No idea how it got there, but it certainly intrigued me.
 
{{In the spirit of GrimDarkTober, I wonder if something tragic happened to the vehicle’s owner! How curious}}
 
🖤 So your Enderal books are a prequel to the video game – is it challenging to write within a world with predefined boundaries?  Would it be easier or harder to create your own brand new world (and is that a plan in the future)?
 
🎤It’s definitely challenging, but I already took an important step by separating the novel canon from the game canon (while remaining faithful to the game best as I can). There are a lot of undefined areas in the Vyn universe – such as the dystopian dark age between the end of the Pyrayans and the advent of the Lightborn – which I plan to flesh out in the next two books. Even so, I’m looking forward to creating a brand-new story world in the future – in fact, I already have some ideas floating around in my mind.
 
🖤The world building in DotD was pretty intense, and equally so was the character build. Did you try to lean more towards a world or character driven story, or was the mix always there?
 
🎤I’d say characters – or rather, tragedies – always come first. A recent review criticized that the “world is the protagonist in Dreams of the Dying,” which frankly surprised me. I do enjoy world building, but to me, a well-realized and coherent world is simply due diligence. Just like I do my research when writing about experiences that weren’t my own by reading autobiographies and collaborating with people, I do my research on mythology, geography, linguistics, et cetera.
 
🖤Because you travel quite a bit – do you see a relationship between people who like to travel and are passionate about culture, and their level of world-building interest?  I would love to poll people who travel vs people who don’t, about their reading interests
 
🎤That’s an interesting question. Honestly, I haven’t noticed a trend here, but most of my author friends are German, so I’m not sure how representative they are. I do, however, feel that there tends to be a type of writer who is thirsty for experience and would certainly count myself as one of them. There are many approaches to writing great fiction, but for me, exploring life in all its facets is essential. I hope that doesn’t sound pretentious
 
{{I don’t think it does! As a travel nurse, it would sound even more pretentious if I disagreed 😂 and I love using work as an excuse to immerse myself somewhere new for a few weeks or months!}}
 
🖤Speaking of culture – you mentioned the gratuitous swearing, is that a German thing? Were there any other cultural easter eggs that you put into your story?
 
🎤I love this question. Yes, I’d say that Bavarians (Southern Germans), in particular, love to swear. It has even become an art form of sorts called Granteln. In essence, zu granteln means to humorously rant about something using imaginative insults. It’s important to note that this has nothing to do with popular rant videos on the internet, which are often mean-spirited. The hallmark of good a good grantler is that he or she is not really insulting a person offensive per se and rather lets off steam at “god and the world.” Besides grantling, Bavarian service providers have a reputation for being rude. That’s not the case, in my opinion – they’re simply allowed to talk back when a customer goes off at them. Which, in my opinion, is a wonderful thing.
 
I don’t think I put any more easter eggs into the story, at least not consciously, but you can certainly tell my cultural signature, so to speak. The focus on philosophy and politics, which some readers and others loathed or perceived as contrived, is simply a part of German fiction. As are the deeply personal conversations characters have. It’s something many Germans just do
 
{{Darn – I’ve been trying to decide where to travel to this spring if the world is open, maybe I should go to Germany and see if anyone wants to tour the area and debate life for a while! A friend said there are some lovely castles and stuff too}
 
🖤There are some correlations in your Enderal storyline and in DotD with harder and rough sounding events that have happened in your life, can we talk about using storytelling as a coping mechanism?
 
🎤Yes, my creative work definitely helped and continues to help me cope with and process some of the things that happened to me. Even these days, my first response to when something bad happens is to somehow translate it into my books or music. I think this is something any artist can relate to. For me, there’s also a phoenix element to this mechanism: yes, I lived through some traumatic events, but that also gave me access to a pool of experiences that I can now weave into my stories. Before this gets taken out of context, I’m not saying that trauma is a good thing, and I wouldn’t wish it upon anybody. But for me, using it this way is empowering. I hate to see myself as a victim.
 
🖤DotD had a significant running theme of mental health and digging oneself out of their own personal hell. For anyone that hasn’t read the last few chapters and afterword, are you willing to share any advice for people who might be struggling?
 
🎤Oh boy, that’s a big question. The first step should naturally always be to get help. It’s common to avoid therapy out of pride or dread of a diagnosis (god knows I’ve done it), but it won’t get you anywhere. Besides that, I found a lot of solace in Agaam’s words: You won’t find out if you give up. This is actually from what a close friend of mine told me during a difficult time. If you’re currently in a bad place, for all you know, tomorrow might be the day things finally turn around. It’s important to make yourself aware of this, as the mind often tends to catastrophize and imagine the dreariest outcome possible. Again, I’m speaking from experience.
 
{{I love big questions! Seriously though this is great advice. Mental healthcare in America is a disaster and getting help can be extremely intimidating. I tell people that there’s no shame in seeking help and no one is here to judge.  I wish the stigma wasn’t there.  There are many things to try before medication as well and I 100% wholeheartedly endorse getting help from a trained professional before things get to the catastrophe point. Recognizing and diverting that worst case scenario cycle of thinking alone can go a long way}}
 
🖤Alright, enough heavy questions! Is brunch a thing in Germany? If so, do you have a favorite brunch food?
 
🎤Oh, yes, we love brunch. I do intermittent fasting, so I actually get to brunch every day. Personally, I love German dark bread and obatzda, a Bavarian cheese made from three different sorts of soft cheese, herbs, and spices. That said, I was recently diagnosed with lactose intolerance, so no obatzda for me in the near future.
 
🖤Do you have any terribly unpopular opinions?
 
🎤In light of the upcoming new movie: I actually loved Matrix: Reloaded and MatrixRevolutions. It wasn’t as accessible as the amazing first part, but once you wrap your head around it, it’s fascinating.
 
🖤Jespar and Lysia literally had the shortest exclusive relationship ever, has that ever actually happened to you?
 
🎤Oh, for sure – my teenage relationships were very much of the straw fire variety. Especially in the LGBT community, relationships can be absurdly short-lived. At least that’s my experience.
 
{{I promise the hetero community is doing this too, dating in your 30s is a disaster by itself }}
 
🖤I don’t see a ton of German authors in fantasy; can you recommend any that have been translated?  
 
I’d say that the English-speaking publishing houses hardly translate anything, which strikes me as odd considering the industry’s current focus on spotlighting diverse voices. It’s a shame because I think people are missing out. There are countless fantastic international writers – not only German – who never find the success they deserve. As far as German fantasy authors go, I loved Ralf Isau’s books as a kid, but it’s been so long. There is a Quebecois horror author whom I adore, Patrick Senecal. No one ever translated his works (only a couple) for some strange reason, even though he is absurdly popular in Quebec.
 
🖤Who’s your favorite book character of all time?
 
🎤Tyrion Lannister. The run-of-the-mill answer, I  know, but his moral ambiguity is incredibly intriguing

I made this a separate section, which I am naming “Nicolas’ Amusing and Insightful Rant About Modern Language in Fantasy”.  I think he should expand and turn it into an essay of his own!

My only real criticism of DotD was how jarring the modern day slang came across in an otherwise immersive story … … so, what led you down that path vs creating slang in the language native to the characters?
 
This has come up a few times, so I’m glad you asked. I’ll do my best to explain my choice, but forgive me for going on a bit of a tangent first. I’ve often read fantasy readers describe colloquialism, slang, and vulgarity as unrealistic. While I get the sentiment, I believe that this is a misconception.
 
First, unless you’re writing historical fiction set in an English-speaking country, the narrator’s English is always only a translation of what people really speak in those fictional worlds; in the Enderal novels, for example, this lingua franca is Inâl, which is also what Jespar or The Man in the novel speak. However, since nobody in the real world speaks Inâl, the narration translates it into English. The bottom line: barring the usage of modern words that simply couldn’t exist given the technology level of a culture (such as “rocket science” or internet jargon), there is no such thing as “realistic” English in high fantasy. It’s always a stylistic decision of the author.
 
Second, most people know this, but the English we read in fantasy, and even historical fiction isn’t at all faithful to the English people actually spoke in the Middle Ages, Middle English. You could probably understand what’s being said, but it would be a chore. What’s more, all we know about language during these times is based on documents that were exclusively written by the small, educated minority that wasn’t dyslexic. Imagine aliens using formal business emails to deduce what 21st-century humans spoke like; even books or plays these days used a stylized English that didn’t necessarily reflect how people spoke on a day-to-day basis. In conclusion, it is very likely, if not certain, that the English spoken by the real people was full of colloquialisms and vulgarity. Why wouldn’t it? If anything, etymology suggests that they swore like sailors, including the dreaded c-word. “Fuck” arrived a little later, but it’s safe to assume something with a similar meaning was around to describe the same thing.
 
 
All this is a long way of me saying that the English we are used to in fantasy fiction is ultimately a convention established to create a certain feeling. It’s an entirely subjective and stylistic choice and doesn’t indicate bad worldbuilding or poor command of the English language.
 
Now, why did I decide to use modern language in dialogue? It’s not because I dislike the convention – I grew up reading German fantasy books, which use very formal and “olden-days” language much like what you see in English fantasy staples, and I still love them. For me, it’s mostly about relatability. I want my characters to feel as real and relatable as possible. I also have a background in video game writing, where I work with voice actors on a regular basis and came to realize that a lot of dialogue that reads well in a book translates poorly into a voiced script; consequently, I made a habit of rewriting any “bookish” dialogue I wrote for a script to make it as “organic” as possible.
 
All that said, looking back, I believe that I sometimes overshot and accidentally crossed the line between relatability and anachronism. It’s something I will improve in the next novel.


Once again, thank you endlessly to Nicolas Samuel Lietzau for taking the time out of his busy schedule to give such an amazing interview! Here are the links to find him online and social media: 

I’m not good at link lists but you can find Nicolas online at:

WEBSITE: WWW.NICOLASLIETZAU.COM

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/niseam_stories/

https://mobile.twitter.com/Niseamtao

And many others, go find the links through his site!

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy Horror

Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series: Featuring Lee Conley!

Welcome back to GrimDarkTober month on the Sunday Brunch Series! Episode 10 this week features fantasy/horror/Grimdark author Lee Conley!

I was originally introduced to Lee through Storytellers On Tour, and was psyched when he offered because he is a perfect fit for GrimDarkTober!

Now I feel bad for asking if he is heartless… but he took it like a champ and talked about what it takes to present a grim, realistic, immersive fantasy world, and what makes a great fantasy in general.  

Enough from me, here he is!


Welcome to the SBAIS! Tell everyone a little about yourself and your literary life!

Hello, great to be here. I am Lee, author of The Dead Sagas series. I am from the UK and work as a professional guitarist by day, and write things by night. I’m also very passionate about the study of history and am a longsword and medieval martial arts instructor, which means I get to fight with actual swords with full contact, which is amazing fun.

When I’m not doing that I am part of a small team that runs Bard of the Isles Literary Magazine, which represents and showcases work from our British and Irish Writing Community group. My own writing is usually a weird blend of horror and grimdark fantasy which is basically what you will get from The Dead Sagas.

1) After reading A Ritual of Flesh, I have to get the elephant out of the room first – are you heartless or a lord of chaos?

I could be heartless when it comes to my characters I suppose, but I think I’d prefer to go with Lord of Chaos, as there is certainly the element of pure chaos in the events unfolding in my books that I try to capture and put down on the page. But hear me out, there is reason behind it all, not just mindless chaos. I am all too aware that life is a fragile thing, people die, sometimes important ones, sometimes pointlessly. I try to give a sense of that in my books, the feeling that absolutely no-one is safe or has invincible plot-armour. I think a large unfolding story is made up of many parts rather than a handful of central invincible characters (I usually find that quite boring to read), so I try to show the bravery and courage (or lack of) of those playing those parts even if it leads to their unexpected demise. Perhaps that makes me heartless? But it does lead to unpredictable, unexpected reading hopefully. I did really enjoy the utter chaos that the combination of the Cursed and the Dead bring to the novels, there’s so much sheer horror to play with there, and its really great fun to write.

2) Is there a character in The Dead Sagas that you either wrote yourself into or relate to the most? 

I think all the characters have part of the writer in them to some degree. You have to tap into their, and thus your own, emotions to portray them and show their hopes and fears. I think a lot of the characters have a lot of heart, and to show those qualities I put them through some very traumatic experiences, experiences I have not had, and would not want to have, but can only imagine. I sit and think what it would be like to go through that, what would I think, feel or do if I were in their shoes, so in that respect those reactions are part of me I suppose. There is no single character that I wrote to be me though, I really wouldn’t want to be any of them. I can only wish I was a fearless and bad ass as some of them.

 

3) Does it take a mental toll to write so many character deaths and put them through such tough actions and decisions? 

You do develop a certain emotional attachment to the characters. I wouldn’t say it takes a toll with the amount of deaths, or particularly the acute darkness of the writing. Harking back to that earlier question, does that make me heartless? Maybe? I have to be a little heartless in some respect, and I’ll kill them, hurt them, maim them, and utterly destroy them all ruthlessly on a whim. But, saying that, there is a certain emotional attachment, as mentioned to some of the characters. One example is Hafgan, I very quickly realized that Hafgan was amazing, and originally Hafgan played Hagen’s part and met his demise early in the first book. I couldn’t do it, Hafgan I knew had a larger role to play somehow so I had to create Hagen to die in his place (Sorry Hagen) and keep Hafgan, and I’m glad I did. There are some emotional scenes in Flesh too, a certain scene at the gates where characters die was emotional to write, and certain unspeakable things that some characters have to do to their loved ones were also hard to write. I hope I harnessed that emotion and that it shows through in the books though as it will enrich them all the more.  

({{That scene at the gate 😭 if all innocence wasn’t lost yet, it was there}}

4} I would 100% recommend your blog for those looking for fantasy recommendations! I hadn’t heard of many books that you review and it seems like a wealth of good reading! That said – what do you think sets apart a particularly good fantasy novel?

Thank you, I generally only really read books that genuinely interest me and I like to spread the word about excellent and unusual books that I have come across that I feel should get more attention. Personally I am a big fan of a realistic element in fantasy. I am less drawn to the high fantasy tropes where a single invincible character defeats all evil, magic can be Deus Ex Machina, and everyone has a happy ending. Don’t get me wrong I love Tolkien, (like, really love it) and have read a lot of that type of fantasy, but I am usually drawn to the grimmer, low fantasy, something that shows normal people experiencing incredible things. I like good prose, and vivid settings too. I like it to be something different and set apart. In the end though a good book is a good book so I trawl the fantasy and horror genre looking for things that I think the author got right for me.

  

5) Feeding off #5 – Immersion is huge for me and it was one of my favorite aspects of the Sagas so far, are there any aspects of the writing or world building that you focus on to help make it a more immersive reading experience?  

I am not a huge fan of world building exposition style info dumps, I think too many writers spend too long building their world instead of their plot. Saying that, the setting is vitally important, it has to be familiar enough to immerse yourself in and rich enough in background detail to have the world shape the character’s personalities. I try to connect to the human side of a character, the everyday things we all think and feel.

 

6) From your first notes to the final edition, would you say that the books got lighter, darker, or about the same as you initially imagined?

I think the darkness differs between the two books, the first is very atmospheric and spooky, whereas the second leans more towards outright violent gory horror, although there are certainly elements of both in both books so far – it’s a balance I aim to continue over the series. I think I did let myself go a little more with A Ritual of Flesh and pulled no punches, in the first I didn’t hold back per se as much I was cautious. So in that respect I think Flesh is more full on, with full levels of depravity, but I wouldn’t say they got darker or lighter, I think they started quite dark and already quite extreme in places and I have been quite happy that I maintained that level of grim nastiness throughout.

 

7) If you’ve ever worn a Halloween costume, what was your favorite? Bonus points if you have a picture!

Not surprisingly I have often dressed as a zombie. I was a musketeer zombie, a pirate zombie, general zombie, I’ve been a zombie a lot. This year I’m pretty sure I’m going with something different but of course there are pics…

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8) How do you feel about brunch? Do you have a favorite brunch food?

Favourite brunch is probably the full English breakfast, we quite often go for a full English for brunch, Lincolnshire sausage, smoky bacon, black puddings, mushrooms, tomatoes, hash browns – the works. In fact I cannot wait until I can go get one again.

9) Were there to be an actual zombie apocalypse, what do you reckon would start it? Would you survive?

I imagine it would be some kind of virus or genetic experiments. Especially after the worlds recent events, it really brings it home how easily it could happen. I have seen some pretty worrying experiments on bringing back dead animals or brains recently, and I always say to myself “That how you get zombies, you fools”. Would I survive? I doubt anyone would in the long term. In the end the apocalypse part of the zombie apocalypse is going to win and everyone will likely die. Sorry to crush those hopes folks. Would I survive for a while? I’d like to think so. I have a certain amount of close combat skill at arms and survival skills which most don’t. However, like I said earlier, often important people fail or die pointlessly. I am a family man and would no doubt be caught out whilst saving those who I love, I could never leave them behind, but still, I will I will fight my damned hardest and keep us all safe.

10) Here is the round of easy rapid fire bookish questions – do you have a favorite book or series that you always recommend? Favorite literary character? Strange and wonderful bookish habits?

Malazan, or Dark tower are my favourite series.

Conan is my favourite character.

Habits? I buy physicals and often never read them, and instead read them on kindle, I suppose that’s a weird pointless habit but I just like good books on my shelves.

 

Thank you so much for taking the time to interview for GrimDarkTober month!! 

It’s been a pleasure, thanks for having me.

Author pic 1

Check out the book and author links below for more info, purchasing The Dead Sagas, and connecting on social media!

Website

www.leeconleyauthor.com

Social media links

Facebook: www.facebook.com/LeeConleyAuthor/

Twitter: @LongswordLee  or  https://twitter.com/LongswordLee

Instagram: @LeeConleyAuthor  or  https://www.instagram.com/leeconleyauthor/

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/14649012.Lee_Conley

 

Mailing list

Sign up to Lee’s mailing list!

If anyone would like to sign up for occasional (once or twice a year) email of news and updates on Lee’s work, with the occasional competition or giveaway too, please sign yourselves up to Lee’s mailing list. https://mailchi.mp/ec0e4d5c30e7/leeconleyauthlaningpage

Universal Order links:

getbook.at/ARitualofBone

getbook.at/ARitualofFlesh


Categories
Fantasy Horror

Book Tour & Giveaway: A Ritual of Flesh by Lee C. Conley!

As always, a huge thank you to Storytellers On Tour and Lee Conley for having me this time around!  Last year I featured the debut novel in The Dead Sagas, A Ritual of Bone, you can find that review here! Now comes the sequel, a even more grim dark-er read called A Ritual of Flesh. Definitely check out the tour schedule and giveaway below because I am 100% fully recommending these books to any dark fantasy and horror fans!

It is also of note that the author is going to be coming onto my GrimDarkTober interview lineup so definitely keep an eye open for that!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: A Ritual of Flesh
  • Series: The Dead Sagas #2
  • Author: Lee C. Conley 
  • Publisher & Release: Self, 10/10/20
  • Length: 476
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ fully!

Here is the synopsis:

As evil ravages the north and the dead walk, all eyes fall to Arn… The apprentice journeys south, home to the College, unaware of the dark events that transpired in the High Passes after his departure. His leg in ruins, and haunted by watching shadows, the College council in Arn awaits him, but he does not travel south alone.

Arnulf and his warriors must travel to Arn also, with tidings for the king of the risen dead and the terrible curse which has destroyed all that he knew. Arnulf seeks vengeance upon the College, but must choose wisely if he is to save his son.

Meanwhile in the west, Bjorn and his strange Wildman companion report back to High Lord Archeon at Oldstones with grim news of cannibal Stonemen encroaching from the Barrens, but is embroiled in news of war and invasion as Archeon requests his service once more.

In the capital sickness awaits them all, Nym has fled to the city and must now continue her struggle for survival on the plague ridden streets of Arn, keeping all who she cares for safe from the halls of Old Night.

The many threads of this Saga converge on the city of Arn, but amid plague, invasion and terror, a greater darkness is looming. Dark forces are seeking to unleash evil upon Arnar, honour and renown is all, and sword, axe and shield is all that stands between the living and the grasping hands of the dead

Holy crap, so I thought that book one was immersive, desperate, dark, and a true grabber from page one .. and then I read this installment. Conley blew it out of the water in terms of maturity, atmosphere, and bringing the storylines together in a cohesive, interesting, and seamless way.

Imagine if you will, the stinking bloody dead victims of a plague piling up in the gutters, no food to be had, and the gates of the towns all sealed. A man is crawling through the corpses, risking the plague himself, trying to find some coin – but even if he found something to steal, he couldn’t buy food. The surviving townsfolk just look on, too numb to bother.

That, friends, is an actual scene (but not a quote) from the novel. I can’t tell you the immersive, seeping atmosphere of dread throughout this book without just describing the scene where I feel they *almost* hit rock bottom.

Each surviving character experiences significant loss and witnesses family as well as other loved ones die, so I know Conley is setting the end up for something even more desperate and epic.

I loved how the characters still managed to find something to fight for, even if all they have left is their family legacy and claim to their homeland.

One thing I have to mention too is the utter chaos of some scenes … Certain parts are just absolutely crazy but still remain within world possibility.

My favorite thing is that this is such a welcome break from the newer fantasy I have been reading: I honestly don’t care about romance and character development and all that crap, just entertain me with something amazing and immersive and intelligent and well written, and this is IT.

Long story short: if you like chaos, dark fantasy, fantasy horror, fighting and honor set in a world reminiscent of Skyrim (I hold by that comparison in terms of my visualization of the world): you need these books!

Has this captured your attention yet?? Enter here to win a copy!

You can also check out the links below to learn more!!

Amazon: http://getbook.at/ARitualofFlesh 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43245727-a-ritual-of-flesh  

Website:http://www.leeconleyauthor.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/LeeConleyAuthor/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LongswordLee

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leeconleyauthor/

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14649012.Lee_Conley

Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/user/LeeConleyAuthor 

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy Horror

Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series: Featuring T.R. Slauf!

Welcome to GrimDarkTober month on the Sunday Brunch Series!  Here for episode 9 is T.R. Slauf, a super nice author that I “met” on bookstagram after participating in a book tour! It’s been fun staying in touch and I was psyched when she agreed to feature on the SBAIS!

Book wise, T.R. is in the middle of a dark fairytale mashup series called Legends of Lightning, with book two set to release on 11/2! She also has a horror novella out that I found pretty terrifying.  I linked her website at the bottom of the interview so definitely check those out if you’re looking for a spooky season read!

Redemption_Reveal_dark

Enough from me, here she is!


1) Welcome to the SBAIS! Tell everyone a little about yourself and your books so far!

Hi everyone, I’m T.R. Slauf!

I was born and raised in Michigan. I am a writer, cat parent, spouse, and a congenital heart disease survivor. I didn’t start seriously writing until after my last open-heart surgery in 2018. Going through something like and being faced with the harsh reality of mortality gives you a different perspective on life. I realized how unhappy I was and that it wasn’t necessary. So I started writing Legends of Lightning and moved myself and my cat to Cincinnati OH in 2019 to start a new life. And it’s been great!

Legends of Lightning book 2 is releasing this November and I’m working on outlining Book 3 right now. Book 3 is going to be interesting because a majority of it will follow Davon in the Wastelands instead of Esther. She’s still going to be in the book, but Davon and his adventures are going to get a lot of pages. 

I also have several other stand-alone novels in the works outside of the LoL series. An alien invasion, a mythology mash up, and possibly a sword & sorcery romance. One I’m drafting right now is a quirky urban fantasy about a retired with and a young mage with a vulture familiar who begs her to train him. I really hope to have that one done in a year or two. It’s all so exciting, I have so many ideas swimming around in my head it can be hard to think sometimes.

2) What was your publishing journey like? Do you have any advice for hopeful authors trying to write or publish a book?

Oh man, it’s been a roller-coaster! First of all, I was beyond happy that I was able to finally finish a full book, it took a long time to get there. Then came the enormous task of learning how to self-publish. I was essentially starting from ground zero. I had little to no connections and was on my own to find an editor, cover artist, build my own website, and set up my online platform.

Some of the hardest parts for me were knowing who to trust and who would do quality work. Editors especially can be very expensive, how would I know if this person would do justice to my novel after giving them so much of my hard earned cash? The first editor I had took my novel and never returned it and did not answer any of my follow up emails. That was a nightmare and it delayed my first book being published. It took a few tries but I finally found a great editor and am using them for Redemption and all my other novels moving forward. 

My advice to others looking to self-publish would be to ask questions. If you’re interested in hiring someone for your book (whether that be an editor, cover artist, etc.) you should be comfortable asking them questions. And if they come back rude or demeaning then you know they aren’t the ones for you.

Learning how to self-publish was not easy and it took a while to learn all of the different aspects involved, but it is so rewarding. That feeling I got when I held my first print book in my hand, there’s nothing like it. And I’ve learned so much that will help me be an even better author for books to come. 

3) How do you feel about brunch?

Hahahaha! Brunch is ok. I don’t go out of my way to get it, but I will occasionally spend a Sunday making blueberry waffles and bacon tofu with orange juice. 

4) As an indie author, what is your relationship like with social media? 

Social media is interesting to say the least…I dislike how political many social media sites get and how argumentative everything seems to end up being. I try really hard to stay as far away from any of that as I can, and that’s part of the reason I’m mostly just on Instagram. That negativity aside, I like having the opportunity to connect with book bloggers and the indie community on Instagram. I’ve met some really truly kind people on there and it has given me the opportunity to share my novels with people who otherwise might not have known about them.

5) The cover for book two of Legends of Lightning, Redemption was just revealed! Wow! Do you have any advice for seeking/connecting with an artist?

I take my cover art very seriously, probably too seriously if I’m being honest. I wanted my cover to feel like the old covers used too, you know the cheesy ones from the eighties but with less cheese. I wanted a piece of art, not just re-arranged stock photos.

I did some sketches myself to kind of get the ideas flowing, from there I spent months looking for the perfect graphic artist. I sent emails out to a few illustrators and cover artists, and everyone was booked solid. Then finally I came across Jeff’s website. I was blown away by his art, even though it was way out of my original budget, I knew I had to make it work. 

When I got on a video conference with him, I told him about the novel, its themes, and the monsters in this fairytale land. We tossed around some ideas and he did some sketches on his computer for me. We ultimately came up with what you see now, and I think it does an amazing job of portraying the terrible dangers in this fantasy.

You can check out Jeff’s amazing artwork or take one of his classes here: https://www.jeffbrowngraphics.com  

If you’re looking for your own novels cover art, I suggest you first decide what type of cover you want. Look at other novels that are current or even ‘outdated’ to get your ideas flowing. From there just google away. Look at artists websites or social media pages. And last, take your time. The cover is your novel’s first impression, make sure it says what you want it to.

6) A while back we were chatting about the difficulty of writing dark, challenging scenes, what goes into that for you? Is it hard to put the Grim dark elements into the story?

There are several scenes in LoL that were very difficult for me to write. In the first book there was the sacrifice in the first act and then the family death in the last act. (If you’ve read the book you probably know what I’m referring to, if not I don’t want to spoil it.) 

These were hard for me because as I was writing these high emotion scenes, I wasn’t just looking down on it. I put myself in my characters shoes, I played out the motions in my head as if these events were happening to me directly. It’s a bit emotionally draining and sometimes jarring to do that, but it’s also very effective. How am I to expect these scenes to have the desired impact on my readers if they don’t have that same impact on me?

I also think having scenes like that, that really challenge you as a writer, are important. I wanted this series to challenge people emotionally and morally, in order to do that the scenes had to be hard for me to write and for my readers to read.

{{Hard, they were.  Not many books really impact me at this point but Hidden Realmwas tough at times.  Great work on that front}}

7) Legends of Lightning is described as a dark fantasy, fairy tale mashup. Do you have a favorite fairy tale? Did one in particular inspire your writing more than others?

There wasn’t really one specific fairytale that inspired me to write this series. I’ve always loved fantasy because of all the different possibilities it offers, you never know where you’re going to end up! Despite these possibilities, I always gravitated towards the dark elements of this genre. I often think about how fairy tales started and how they changed over the years. The originals were rather bloody, and we somehow got to the point where they‘re fun cartoon characters. While I still love these versions, a lot was lost in this transition. 

One day I was wondering what a world would be like if all of these gruesome tales actually existed. What would the society that allowed princesses to be locked in towers and sold Belle to the beast, look like? That’s what really got this idea going. 

I also wanted to write a story where an average person is faced with the impossible. I wanted to take this character (who was never taught to be a hero and who never wanted to be one) and put her into this high-pressure, magical situation and see if it broke her. These characters are faced with the absolute worst, and they need to find the will to fight for their survival. I’m basically testing the thought of ‘you either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain’.

8)  Here is the easy round of rapid fire bookish questions – do you have a favorite book or series you always recommend? Favorite literary character? Any wonderful or strange bookish habit?

I always recommend His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman and Good Omens by Neil Gaiman as general fantasy. For the grittier stuff I will always recommend The Road by Cormack McCarthy and 1984 by George Orwell. 

I can’t think of a singular character that’s my favorite… But in my novels Windsor is my favorite to write because I love his sarcastic quips! 

As for bookish habits, I’m a spine breaker and a very slow reader. As much as I love books it takes me forever to finish them.

9. Have you ever been trolled as an author?

I haven’t had any major issues with trolls yet, but I did get someone who gave me a one star review because she said the year 2020 was too traumatic for her to enjoy my book. And I got another one who gave me a two star because she said the cat never came back, even though he totally does hahaha. And I had an old editor spam my facebook asking if I was sending more books for her to edit.

10) So you covered reading habits, what about writing ones?

I do have some weird writing habits. First off, I write all my books by hand. I found that writing my books down on paper before typing them is very beneficial to me. Handwriting helps me stay focused and it’s so much easier on my eyes. Then when I type it all up on my computer, I do edit checks and re-writes. I thought this was a relatively common practice, but some other authors have told me otherwise.

I also found that listening to videogame music while I write is very beneficial, the Witcher 3 soundtrack is my favorite. It helps me stay focused and gets me pumped for high action sequences. I do my best work when I sit down at an empty table with my notebook and a big cup of black coffee with my music playing.

I also found that listening to videogame music while I write is very beneficial, the Witcher 3 soundtrack is my favorite. It helps me stay focused and gets me pumped for high action sequences. I do my best work when I sit down at an empty table with my notebook and a big cup of black coffee with my music playing.

Thank you so much for taking the time to interview! If there’s anything else you’d like to say about anything, please do so here!

I have a link tree with my website, book links, Spotify playlist and my merch store link on it. 😊 

https://linktr.ee/t.r.slauf


If anyone wants to check out my review for book one, you can do so here!

Hidden Realm (Book Tour Review) by T.R. Slauf


Categories
audiobooks Historical Fiction Horror Paranormal Young Adult

The Diviners (Book/Audiobook thoughts) by Libba Bray

Lo and behold I finally read a book this month! The Diviners by Libba Bray is a great fall or Halloween time of the year pick.  The frights and gore and level of creepiness probably make this YA paranormal read appropriate for age 16+, but would not recommend for younger kids!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Diviners
  • Series: The Diviners, #1
  • Author: Libba Bray
  • Publisher & Release: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers – September 2012
  • Length: 578 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for fans of paranormal, 1920s, creepy vibes and darker themes

Here is the book blurb:

A young woman discovers her mysterious powers could help catch a killer in the first book of The Diviners series–a stunning supernatural historical mystery set in 1920s New York City, from Printz Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Libba Bray.

Evangeline O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and sent off to the bustling streets of New York City–and she is ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult. Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far.

When the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer. As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfurl in the city that never sleeps. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened…

Audiobook note: it is slightly over 18 hours of listening time, narrated by January LaVoy. Published by Listening Library in 2012.  LaVoy is a freaking amazing narrator, she has to cover everything from flappers to demons to jazz musicians and totally nails it

“Your mother and I do not approve of drinking. Have you not heard of the Eighteenth Amendment?”

“Prohibition? I drink to it’s health whenever I can”

Ok so this book, AND the audio, both have truly creepy vibes at times.  It is a chonker but for the most part extremely quick paced and a lot of fun to both read and listen to. I felt the danger while they were investigating the murders and dealing with the spirit!

There is a lot of 1920s slang that was a little annoying, and I don’t know if it’s authentic or not.  Evie and Sam, Jericho, Theta, Memphis, Will, they were all great characters with their own arcs of trauma, self acceptance, and skills to bring to the table. Their back stories were interesting, sad and dark.  There were a lot of characters but no one was wasted. I just docked a star because I was not buying the romance at the end, at all, it happened pretty  quick and just didn’t feel real

“People will believe anything if it means they can go on with their lives and not have to think too hard about it.”

The mystery itself seemed dark for YA, but unique and I loved it.  A demon? Spirit? Ghost? Is acting out the 12 offerings in a sacred text to become the prophesied beast, reign hellfire, reshape the Earth.  It results in bloody murders across NYC that Evie is in a unique position to help solve

How do you invent a religion?” Evie asked.

Will looked over the top of his spectacles. “You say, ‘God told me the following,’ and then wait for people to sign up.”

I was thinking about the concept of having to banish/kill the spirit on his own terms, as in the legend/religion/prophecy becomes true because it’s believed, or is fuelled by beliefs. I see that theme in paranormal and mythology texts lot, and then got to laughing because in a Christmas eve homily about 10 years ago the priest said something like “it’s true because we believe it” — and we all looked at each other saying “no, we believe it because it’s true, not vice versa” lol.

Now I am stuck on this whole belief vs truth thing.  It is a huge theme in the book and an interesting one for that YA age to ponder

“People tend to think that hate is the most dangerous emotion. But love is equally dangerous,” Will said. “There are many stories of spirits haunting the places and people who meant the most to them. In fact, there are more of those than there are revenge stories.

So yeah, this is a book/audio that I’d definitely  recommend for those who like sassy female leads, paranormal, mysteries, life in the 20s, and all that.  Some tough themes are handled like death, violence, corpse and live body mutilation, confronting dead parents, religious zealotry, a kitty is killed for a ritual 😭 and implied sexual thoughts, but 16+ should be fine!

Are you reading any spooky books yet this fall!?

Categories
Fantasy Horror

Dreams of the Dying (book review) by Nicolas Lietzau

Happy September! I am feeling the fall vibes, pumpkin spice, wearing of long sleeves, and books that contain corpses and nightmares …. Hey!

Today I am endlessly grateful to self published author Nicolas Lietzau (pronounced Lee-tsow) for the stunning hardcover of his novel Dreams of the Dying.  The naked cover mirrors the dust jacket and makes the book an excellent Halloween/shelf decoration as well as a memorable read, so definitely put this on your radar to read while he’s working on book two!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Dreams of the Dying
  • Series: Enderal #1
  • Author: Nicolas Lietzau
  • Publisher & Release: Self, December 2020
  • Length: 826 pages (hardcover)
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes to those with any interest in fantasy, horror elements, mental health rep

Here is the book blurb from GoodReads:

If your mind is the enemy, where do you run?

Years after a harrowing war experience, ex-mercenary Jespar Dal’Varek has taken to drifting. It’s a lonely existence, but, barring the occasional bout of melancholia, he has found the closest thing to peace a man like him deserves. Life is “all right.”

Or so he believes. Hoping to turn the page, Jespar accepts a mysterious invitation into the beautiful but dangerous archipelago of Kilay-and everything changes.

Plagued by explosive social tensions and terrorism, the tropical empire is edging ever closer to civil war. Kilay’s merchant king is the only person able to prevent this catastrophe, but he has fallen into a preternatural coma-and it’s Jespar’s task to figure out what or who caused it. As the investigation takes him across the archipelago and into the king’s nightmares, unexpected events not only tie Jespar’s own life to the mystery but also unearth inner demons he believed to be long exorcised.

Battling old trauma while fighting for his life, his sanity, and the fate of Kilay, the line between dream and reality blurs until only one question remains: If your mind is the enemy, where do you run?

Described as “Inception in a Polynesian fantasy setting,” Dreams of the Dying is a slow-burning, haunting blend of fantasy, mystery, and psychological horror, that explores mental illness, morality, and the dark corners of our minds.

This is a pretty difficult book to unpack! I know a lot of my followers have played Skyrim – if you played the Enderal mod you may be familiar with the author of this book, or at least his writing! (I admit that I entirely stopped gaming around 2016, it wasn’t compatible with travel nursing, but knowledge of the Enderal story is not required to enjoy the book!)

 The Worldbuilding: I thought the best part about the hardcover was all of the extras in the appendix.  This is a clearly lovingly crafted world that had an insane amount of planning involved, both on a macro and micro level.  There is plenty of world building in the book including local foods, customs and culture, architecture, a religious synopsis, weather, and the feel of the populace…

Then the book is over and the appendix is there! The micro world-building is just ..  it’s just something that only an indie author can do and it’s perfect.  Pages on and drawings of animals, even their named skeletons, local fashions, drawings, more about the Gods and Goddesses, and just an incredible breakdown of the language that was created for the Makehu people.

Take this example of how the language and lingual barriers feed overall immersion – it integrates into the story and creates comic relief at times!

‘kaia ‘ō kā teteie e māu kū.’ Do you know it?”

“‘Look out for … the emotional fish?’”

Kawu snorted. “Not quite.

I just love how much local culture and lore was included without being burdensome to the story.  I was going to share another quote about the tension/feel of the city but it contains a typo … The sentiment is there though. (Mostly the editing is extremely well done).

  • The only issue I had with the world is – the heck is up with the seasons? The 6th moon of dry season only has 5 days … but the rainy season month has 33 days? 
  • Also as far as immersion ..  Lietzau probably wrote one of the most creative languages I’ve ever seen in a low fantasy, including such slang gems as “by the excretions of the sacred donkey.” Yet with nothing else modern about the world, he throws in modern slang.  I got used to it … (yes yes even though it’s a Bavarian cultural thing) … but it threw off an otherwise near perfect immersion.  I’m sure the Makehu swear too 😂

The Characters: ah gosh this book was so perfectly tailored to people who are struggling through their 30s.  Jespar has PTSD, anxiety, and guilt, and the representation is just so real that reading his journey through it was a bit jarring at times.   Lysia is a physician that runs a slum clinic even though her debts are piling up, and Kawu is an innocent, selfless little thing that had way too much trauma thrown at him at once.  Neither of them were particularly good people but they seemed real and I think anyone with struggling mental health will be able to relate to someone in the novel.

The point of view is mostly Jespar’s, but there is another that is referred to as “The Man”.  This POV brings out a whole spectrum of one’s own personal hell, confronting past demons, and learning a thing or two about what exactly it means to be a monster.

Between the monster, the swamp, and the court of corpses, the analogies are spot on.

Screenshot_20210810-051015

The Content: this seems like a good time to mention that September is suicide awareness month: I don’t need to give you guys the lecture but PLEASE reach out to a professional if you ever feel like you’ re losing the will to keep going. https://www.nami.org/get-involved/awareness-events/suicide-prevention-awareness-month

Alright the book is heavy content wise: briefly there is anxiety, crippling guilt, parental death, fairly graphic suicide description involving a knife, a drowning attempt, a not too scary corpse, other corpses, kind of descriptive (maybe R rated) m/f and m/m intercourse, smoking and alcohol use, and some really cute fluffy animals.

Tae ite nū’iwilo, tae hūnā ‘o. ‘You won’t find out if you give up.’ Because that is what it comes down to with melancholia and despair: just as other people lie when they tell you things always get better, your mind lies when it tells you that it doesn’t. The only way to know is to stay and find out … as hard as it might be.”

That quote hit me HARD, and it felt like something extremely personal that the author left in the text. When he recapped it in the afterword and talked about his own mental health struggles; I am just glad to see people speaking openly of this.  My mental health is total trash as a critical care nurse right now and I’ll openly admit that I had to clam up on this review for a bit.

The Magic: alright let’s perk this back up.  The magic system ranges from dream-walking to necromancy, healing, mind control, and seems to work as a mental and physical drain.  There are quite a few abilities and it’s pretty interesting overall.  Y’all know me, throw in necromancy and I’m there. There’s a lot of cause and effect related to the magic, and a professorial lecture in the appendix if you are still curious!

Closing thoughts : it’s a long book but nothing is extra, and the plot keeps moving forward without much drag at all.  This is a more intellectual breed of fantasy that I would push towards fans of Gene Wolfe or NK Jemisin rather than those expecting pure escapism.

To break the book down into a one sentence synopsis:

A comatose magnate, insurgent terrorists, furious commoners.

With a side theme of mental health, and….

If you fight injustice with injustice, no matter how deserved it may feel, you’ll always end up as just another turn of the wheel.”

I do strongly encourage everyone with an even casual interest in fantasy to check this one out.  It won’t be for everyone with some of the strong themes but I definitely think it’s worth consideration!

Again thank you so much to the author for my review copy, all opinions are my own 🖤


Find Nicolas and Dreams of the Dying online:

instagram.com/niseam_stories goodreads.com/nicolaslietzau facebook.com/nicolaslietzau patreon.com/niseam discord.com/invite/zdJyuHV (“The Enderal Novels” Section) niseamstories.tumblr.com reddit.com/r/enderal

 


Now that no one is still reading, a quick bookish note and SBAIS update:  I am endlessly grateful to ALL of the Indie authors that have been reaching out to me with their novels this year!  There are thousands of reviewers out there and it’s an honor! Everyone stay tuned this Sunday because I’ve got Heartmender series author V Romas Burton on and I can’t wait to share that with you all!

Categories
Fantasy Horror Paranormal

Certain Dark Things (ARC) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Certain Dark Things was originally published in 2016, and is being rebooted through Tor Nightfire this coming September! I want to thank them for the digital ARC via NetGalley for review purposes! All opinions are my own.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Certain Dark Things
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • Publisher & Release: Tor Nightfire, 9/7/21
  • Length: 341pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟✨ yes for fans of the genre! (See below)

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a pulse-pounding neo-noir that reimagines vampire lore.

Welcome to Mexico City, an oasis in a sea of vampires. Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is just trying to survive its heavily policed streets when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, is smart, beautiful, and dangerous. Domingo is mesmerized.

Atl needs to quickly escape the city, far from the rival narco-vampire clan relentlessly pursuing her. Her plan doesn’t include Domingo, but little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his undeniable charm. As the trail of corpses stretches behind her, local cops and crime bosses both start closing in.

Vampires, humans, cops, and criminals collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive? Or will the city devour them all?

I think one of my favorite things about this book is how hard it is to pin down. The vampire lore is briefly explored and there are types of vampires featured from all over the world, from different mythologies, but there is also a brief sci-fi element, some fantasy, that whole noir-horror-punk overlay, and also an underlying theme of Mexican socioeconomic movement!

It moved so quickly too that I never had the chance to be bored. Atl is on the run and Domingo meets her on the subway, and the Book flies from there. We learn about vampire drug cartels, rival gangs, and how vampires aren’t even allowed in Mexico City anymore so their presence is a big deal with local law enforcement.

We aren’t meant to get attached to the characters, but they are a nice mix of interesting, sarcastic, and horrifying. Rodrigo was probably my favorite point of view. I think the less you know about the characters going in, the better, but Moreno-Garcia had wanted to explore the (sometimes questionable) choices that some Mexicans make to better their situations, and she succeeded there in Rodrigo and Domingo.

One thing I unfortunately don’t think she succeeded in was making Mexico City itself a character – there is too much else going on for the setting to truly permeate in most places. I will say though that the settings are well described, vibrant, and generally very well done. There is a glossary in the back with more information about the types of vampires and lore, which is helpful to give background without creating an info dump in the story.

Definitely recommend for those who would like a fast paced, fresh take on vampires from a very plot and action driven book!