Monday, February 27, 2012

Spring is in the Air

We had a nasty snowstorm on Friday that caused 100 car accidents, put buses ridiculously behind schedule, and dropped the temperature about 10 degrees Celsius from what we’ve been enjoying the last week, and in spite of it all, I know it to be true that the seasons are changing. How? No, not because of Phil the groundhog. Although I’m sure he’s a perfectly legitimate source of testing seasonal transition, I choose to trust my own instincts. And my head won’t stop buzzing.

Winter is great for hibernating – and this year it wasn’t only hiding away in the warmth of my apartment, it was also a time to rest my mind. I focused a lot on edits, on short stories, on tuning up old projects, but I feel like the past few months I haven’t really come up with anything new. Two weeks ago, the thoughts started pouring like melting snow. The ideas won’t shut up. I can’t sleep, shower, work without some new idea or character coming into my head. Which is great – I’m thrilled! – but it’s hard to fit it all in. So, I’m taking it one project at a time.

The first installment of Greylands gets posted on Thursday, and I admit I’m nervous about it. At worst, it’ll be kind of a cool story that people can read and comment on, but I am hoping it’s enough to inspire a couple of submissions towards it. I was surprised that it came out to be more like chapter 1 in a short novel than a short story on its own, but I still think it works.

Edits for Bitter Cold are going slowly but surely. With luck (and hard work, focus, etc) I’ll be done a second draft by the end of March and then send it out again for a second batch of edits before I do another read-through. On the whole I’m really enjoying it, but I do wonder if parts of it should be re-written. Do you ever have that feeling? You’re not sure if it’s actually good enough for the public to read, but you’re not quite sure how to change it? How do you get around this?

Finally, the thing I’m most excited about, I’ve had a few revelations about The Fenwith Trials. You can find a full description of the project here, but it’s about to undergo some major renovations. A new narrator, new format, new POV. A lot of the scenes will stay the same, and most of the characters, but how it’s told will be completely different. Better. I feel it in my bones that I’m moving in the right direction on it. It took me 5 years to finish the first draft, but I’m really hoping it doesn’t take that long for the rewrites…

So that's everything I'm up to - what are you working on? Share below!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Q&A - Colin F Barnes

Writer, editor, master-of-all-tradsor, I am very excited to host an interview with the twisted brain behind that revolting, unpleasant (brilliant) City of Hell Chronicles anthology I so recently reviewed. But there's much more to this man than horror -- the witty, clever, and extremely talented, Colin F Barnes.

The “about the author” section on your website never fails to crack me up. It’s probably one of the best I’ve read. Anything else you want to share about yourself?

Thank you, Krista. I have to admit, I only wrote it in that manner because I couldn't think of a 'proper' one. I do wonder if it gives the wrong impression to prospective publishers. But I suppose it sticks in the mind. As for anything else I want to share, I am but a slave to two cats. They force me to have a presence online so that my servitude to them isn't noticed. Although I've kinda let the cat out of the bag now. It'll be just a matter of time before they translate this and I'm punished. But beyond that, I'm a humble writer from England, struggling to make my mark in the world.

The flash fiction stories you post, Genesis, they all demonstrate a ridiculous talent for causing people to go screaming from the room. Hair on the back of the neck and all that. What is it about horror that interests you?

That's very kind of you to say, thanks. Horror has always intrigued me from a really early age. Growing up, we didn't have YA books. We had Janet & John books for kids and then Stephen King and James Herbert. From about the age of 10 or so I was reading horror novels, and sneakily staying up at night watching dark, scary films on my little 10" black and white portable TV. I just find the 'dark' more interesting because of the questions it raises.

Why bugs? (See City of Hell review >:-|)

Because they are creepy and nasty, and probably the only thing that has colonised the planet better than we have. With City of Hell, I wanted an apocalypse that could happen (within a little creative license). If bugs grew to the size of humans or larger, we would be doomed. They are just so incredible in their ability to adapt and evolve. When I was doing research into potential creatures for City of Hell, I was surprised by their level of sophistication and efficiency. They would totally destroy/harvest/mutate with us.

You have your name as editor as much as an author – do you have a leaning about which role your prefer?

Writing is my first passion. Editing the projects was really just a way of writing a story and getting it out there. Instead of me writing a whole collection, I could write one story and create the world, and invite others into it. I do enjoy the editing side of it, but writing is first and foremost my true love (Although it's run close by English Ale, and goth girls.) :)

You have two anthologies under your belt right now, and at least another two in the works. What is it about these collaborating projects that appeals to you?

I touched on it in the previous question. I think it comes down to my creation need. I like coming up with ideas, themes and worlds. I have so many that I cant possibly write the stories for them all, so by collaborating, Im able to work on my collections, and expand other ideas simultaneously. Also, I really enjoy working with other authors. In this day and age of the internet, it's easier to find like minded people and share your love of fiction.

From horror to YA? Seems an extreme jump in genre – what inspired you to try it out?

When I was young, there was no such thing as YA as a marketable genre. Nowadays it's one of the most popular, but also one with a very wide scope of what can be done. As much as I love horror, I'm a story teller, and the genre to me is just the wrapping. I write in most genres and love to explore stories in a wide variety of fields.

Any other projects in the works?

I've always got more than a few things going on. Day of Demons and City of Hell Chronicles: Volume 2 are coming to a close on submissions, so they'll be out in a few month's time. I'm writing a YA novel currently, and also putting the final touches on a collection of stories about a witch with borderline psychopathic tendencies (Ursa Incantrix). I've another long-ish short story due for release at the end of Feb. Finally, I'll be starting work on the first standalone City of Hell novel (working title of Frostblood) in around May. Beyond that, there will be a third City of Hell anthology before the end of the year, and probably a weird/horror collection or two.

Maybe a horror writer’s mind works different – what are your writer must-haves to get the words down?

A clean desk, a moleskin bulging with notes and a basic outline, and the loss of an Internet connection. Some fine Ale helps, as does bacon. And a concrete inescapable deadline really helps too.

I know you involve yourself in a variety of genres, but since horror is fairly new to me, do you have any advice about the genre? Things to watch out for, to avoid, etc?

I don't think there is too much to avoid or watch out for. Horror is quite a trope laden genre, but even so, it's possible to write a cracking story using a worn trope, it's all in the execution. I think like all good literature, your aim is to draw the reader into the story as deep as possible. You want to transport the reader into the head of the character and create that dream like trance where they become sensitive to suggestion. Also, it has to have logic so as not to break this spell. It doesn't have to be the logic of our physical world, but an internal logic that is consistent within the parameters of the story. Once you have achieved that, you can then think about how to deliver the creeping dread. For me, the best stories do it slowly. Drip dripping the unease a bit at a time. Don't be in a rush to expose the monster or the source of the horror, but leave plenty of clues to keep us on the edge of our seats wondering what it could be. The power of our imagination is infinitely more terrifying than reading a description.

Colin's website:
City of Hell website:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Devin O'Branagan's Red Hot Property: a review

Molly O'Malley is a plucky rookie real estate agent who is learning to swim with the sharks at the town's most cutthroat agency. A former cocktail waitress, Molly uses her street savvy to avoid being eaten alive by vindictive office staff, neurotic colleagues, crazy clients, and an abundance of sexy men. A hilarious tale of a woman trying to become more than she believes possible, and discovering herself in the process.

Interested in purchasing? Find more information here.

I never realised that real estate agents led such exciting lives! From the first scene to the last, O’Branagan keeps the reader hooked with a blend of suspense, violence, heartbreak and, most prominently – humour. Red Hot Property is comedic chick lit at its best. It’s been compared to the style of Janet Evanovich and, while I can see where the comparison lies (I’m a big Evanovich fan myself), O’Branagan takes a unique twist that makes it something entirely new.

As always, Devin has created a full cast of loveable (and hateable) characters that you could easily believe you’d meet in the course of a day. Molly O’Malley the feisty main character, is a perfect example of a woman trying so hard to get what she wants out of life – love, a family, a successful career - that she loses focus on why she wants it. How many of us can say that we haven’t experienced that kind of tunnel vision at one time or another. It’s easy to feel empathy for the Lead’s experiences, and that empathy sucks you right into the rest of the story.

But don’t expect Molly to be the one to keep your interest the whole way through. There are so many fantastic secondary characters and all of them steal the show. It comes as no surprise to me that Valentino DeMitri – “The Queen of Real Estate” – and his dog Talisman have become such favourites of Devin’s collection. I’m so glad that I finally got to meet them and find out what all the fuss was about. They certainly deserve it.  

The first in what will soon become a trilogy, Red Hot Property is a great start to Molly’s story. I can’t wait to pick up the sequel Red Hot Liberty, and Talisman’s exploits in Show Dog Sings the Blues

Thursday, February 16, 2012


A friend of mine on the forum recently reminded me of something. She's been working on a project for the last little while and just been flying through it, posting regularly about her progress and how much fun she's having with it. She's excited as a kid on xmas morning to sit down and throw a few more pages on. So I asked myself how long it's been since I got that kind of innocent pleasure out of my writing.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I've stopped enjoying it. But it seems that somewhere along the road to getting published, I've forgotten that - really - getting published isn't the point. It's the way to make a business out of a talent, absolutely, and a way to spread your writing across a wider audience than you'd probably do otherwise,  certainly, but when I was six years old and penned my first story, my thought was not for it to get my name in print. I did it because I was inspired to get the words down, so I did.

I remember spending a weekend holed up in my dad's office when I was fourteen, taking over his computer, and working six hours straight on a Saturday to write a story of a couple thousand words because I'd had an idea that morning (I still have the story - it was a Days of our Lives fanfiction). Back then I didn't care about editing, I didn't care about drafts, the story just needed to be told.

In terms of style, structure, vocabulary, etc, I feel (hope) I've come a long way since I was fourteen, but I also feel that I've missed out on something in the meantime.

There has to be a balance between writing professionally (edits, drafts, more edits, rewriting, edits from scratch of the new stuff you just wrote, marketing, networking, etc) and writing with the abandon of a child who's just experienced pixie sticks for the first time and is riding the rush of a sugar high. I'm not quite sure how to find this again, but I think I'll start with a good old fashioned Hilroy notebook and Bic pen, curl up on my grandmother's sofa while she watches Law&Order reruns and makes me crepes for breakfast, and go from there. It's always worked before...

Monday, February 13, 2012

City of Hell Chronicles - Vol 1: A review

There is no god, no saviour.
Mankind is without salvation and on the cusp of total annihilation.
During an eruption at Yellowstone, the Great Maurr, an ancient god, rose from the bowels of the earth and brought a bug apocalypse with him.
Swarms of giant ants, centipedes and diabolical hybrids swept the planet consuming the animal kingdom and destroying human civilisation in a matter of weeks. Nothing could stop their relentless genocide.
Just a few cities remain; a handful of human survivors in London, Moscow and Hong Kong scuttle about in the darkness forever fearful of being caught, eaten by the solider ants, or worse: made to breed in the City of Hell to produce hideous hybrid creatures.
Can these last remaining humans find a way of surviving and ultimately fight back in this nightmarish dystopia?
For the complete synopsis and purchasing info, click here


This anthology is made up of 8 short stories by 8 incredible authors, all of the stories following the plot above – of the Great Maurr the insect God, here to reign terror down upon the world.

Did I enjoy this collection of gruesome, warped, horrifying stories? NO. And I’ll tell you why:

1)  I hate horror. The last horror movie I saw was in 2000, and it’s only now I realise that was 12 years ago. TWELVE YEARS. That’s a really long time to avoid a genre, and yet even twelve years later I can’t shower at night without being afraid some little freaking girl ghost is going to be standing there to terrify me when I get out. I also can’t sleep with my back to the door.

2) My apartment is infested with carpet beetles. That’s right. I have bugs. In my home. All. The. Time. As well as some kind of grey bugs that the people in the office weren’t able to identify. In my old house, we had centipedes, which I affectionately termed “Skitterbugs” as I stood on the chair in my office poking at a pile of clothes with a stick waiting for it to run back out because there was no way in hell I was going to stand on the floor and move things around to find it. The only good these things did was help me get over my arachnophobia. The only thing worse than a creature with eight legs is one with a hundred.

So, combine these two little tidbits together and you may wonder what the hell I was thinking, then, picking up a horror anthology about giant, six-foot long centipedes and ant-human hybrids? That is a very valid question.

I was showing my support for the editor and all of the authors who took the time and effort to put these stories together. For them, I spent hours reading through the cracks in my fingers, on the verge of vomiting, fighting off the growing hysteria that my carpet beetles were hiding in kitchen cupboards growing at an alarming rate and would come into my room one night and bite off my head.

So for that I say: Well done. Despite it being crafted out of everything I can’t stand, I was compelled to read through all of it. Each story was engaging, and each one sucked you in until you were begging for the last sentence to be done and the dark hopelessness to be over…only for the cycle to start over again with the next story. 

Colin F. Barnes' intro story Genesis was a great kick-off - a perfect combination of eerie and maniacal, with a neat twist of mystery thrown in. And it all went downhill from there. Each author brought a different perspective to one unified event, all of them with characters you were rooting for, in situations you were oh-so-glad you didn’t have to cope with. It’s a perfect example of the sadism writers have towards their characters – and apparently their readers.

So here I am, a non-fan of the genre and of bugs, saying that although reading this was not a relaxing, pleasant experience, I loved everything that made it what it is, and all of the authors should be proud. My recommendations: 1) read this book; 2) do not eat or drink anything at least one hour before opening the front cover.

CoH Volume 2 will be out this year. All I can say to that is: Yes – I will read it. And Yes – I will keep several canisters of RAID next to me for the rest of my life.  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Calling all Writers

So the last couple of weeks I've been trying to think of a way to make this blog a little more interactive, get a few other voices hopping around here. But what to do to generate some kind of interest? It didn't take me long to realise that - *lightbulb* - this is a blog about writing, how about some kind of writing project?

The idea I have was inspired by both the Thieves Guild in Skyrim and Devin's Flash Fiction contests on her forum (speaking of which, momentary plug for Feb's contest. We got some Bad Cupid going on this month), and will hopefully be enough to draw a few people in.

The process: I'll write a series of short stories following the main plot, and you guys can pick a supporting character/make up your own and write a flash fiction piece about them and how they associate with the plot/setting. It can be anywhere from 5 words to 2k, and any genre you want. The main plot will be literary fiction, but if you can find a way to work some magic/horror/sci-fi in there - go for it.

For the bloggers: You can post your story on your blog and link to me. I'll post the first two sentences of your story here and link it to you. For the non-bloggers: I'll post an email address and you can send them so I can post them here. Just note that if there's anything that would make your mother gasp or blush, please let me know so I can put a disclaimer at the top. No, I'm not trying to take all the fun out - just trying to expand readability.

Although this is an open submission and everyone is welcome, I do ask that you put a bit of effort into editing before subbing. It's a reflection on you that your work is presentable. Not asking for Dickens, just try to limit the textspeak. Unless that is your genre of choice...

And finally.......

The idea: Like I said, kinda Thieves-guildy. The setting is in the future - not very far, but the "when" doesn't  matter. There's been a complete international market crash and the Western world has fallen apart. People are starving, mortality rates have skyrocketed since hospitals can't afford to stay open; schools - never a big priority anyway - have all shut down and illiteracy is breeding once again. The rich hide behind their golden gates as if they can keep the poverty out. The city could be any city, but it's known affectionately as the Greylands by one small group determined to survive.

The story revolves around a youth gang, a collection of cons, buskers, petty thieves, and pickpockets. Not out for notoriety, or to gain any kind of reputation, these kids (mostly 15-24) only want to make it through. They have no hope that things will change, but they don't intend to lie down and die either. They live in the Shadows - abandoned subway tunnels,closed libraries and schools, anywhere they can hide. It's a darker Never-Never Land where there's no such thing as childhood and the only reason you don't grow up is that you're dead by 30.

Uplifting, right? But there is the warmer side - this gang works together to find food no one can afford, a perfect system of partnership. There are deep bonds and, if not hope, an acceptance that if this is the world, they may as well enjoy it.

I've already written most of the first story and I'm loving most of the characters. I'm open to suggestions as to where the plot ends up going, happy to pull ideas from some of your stories to help guide mine. With luck, I'll be ready to post the first story by the first of March and I hope by then some of you have started thinking of ideas to write.

Let me know what you think!

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Weary Traveller

Okay, that title is a complete and utter lie. I could have wandered New York City for another couple of days at least .. but alas my wallet and job would not allow me.Still, while I was there I managed to do something even more exciting than window shop - I also did a bit of exploring of one of my "Daughter of Time" characters. It was a scary place, her head. A bit dark, a bit fevered, but also fun, loveable and cheerful - much like the city itself. In a way it was kind of like bringing her to life, seeing where she might spend her evenings when she's not out raising the dead. A practice I may try to get into more often. Er...the character exploring, not the dead-raising. Just to clarify. So, contrary to feeling tired and footsore, I feel more energized than I have in weeks, and not only because of the fun stuff I got to do (Rent, off Broadway, le sigh), but also for the brainstorming ideas it gave me.

I still have a bit more work to do on the idea since I didn't do a spec of work on my holiday, but I'm playing around with an interactive short story series - something that will hopefully appeal to all of my writer readers, as well as those of you who are interested in writing but haven't found a good place to give it a go yet. With luck, I'll be ready to present more of my idea for Thursday's post, so consider this a bit of a teaser and feel free to leave a comment to let me know if you'd be interested.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Flash Fiction - January

My tied-for-second piece from the monthly flash fiction contest! Interested in submitting to this month's Bad Cupid prompt? Check it out here.

Sibling Rivalry

Bianca stared morosely out of her Ice Tower to the fields of snow that stretched out beneath her.

It wasn’t fair. Blue tinged lips twisted into a frown. On paper it had seemed a fair divide in inheritance, yet as another reign approached she felt the looming dread from her people. Not that she didn’t try, but hard as she might it was always her sister receiving the accolades. Why did Vera get all the glory? Everyone loved her, praised her, and complained when she left. No one ever celebrated Bianca’s presence.

It used to be that Bianca was the stunning blonde with sparkling blue eyes, while Vera had been pretty in her own way, with her earthy curls and eyes of mossy green. Then Vera had received her delicate circlet of flourishing vine and become everyone’s best friend, while Bianca’s crown had sparkled and glittered in the sunlight as though covered in diamonds, and everyone had turned saying the glare hurt their eyes.

“My Queen,” Randolph spoke up, interrupting her memories. His voice was rough and husky – the growl of a bear.

“What?” she demanded. Long silver-painted nails gripped the slick cold edge of her window.

“Your troops, my lady, they’re ready.”

Her hands relaxed and a soft smile played on her frozen face. “Good,” she approved and turned to look at her most faithful servant.

His shaggy white coat and matching beard had been swiftly brushed before entering her presence, but still glistened with fresh frost.

“Will I be leading them?” he asked, broad shoulders straightening in his monarch’s freezing gaze.

“No, Randolph, you’ll stay with me. I don’t want to watch my triumph alone.”

He grunted his acknowledgement and approached the window at her gesture. Together they stared down as the heavy gate to the castle swung open, ice cracking off hinges that hadn’t moved in some time.

A smile as bright as sun on snow blossomed on the Queen’s face. Now she would earn respect. Now her sister would see that although she was the favourite, Bianca was the more powerful.

She gave Randolph the nod of command and he lifted his hand from the window to signal the march.

Trumpets blared and the ranks moved out – rows and rows of frostbears, snowsnakes, wolves, and men built of snow, armed with weapons of ice – taking their war south, withering the lush green scene as they passed.

Success was sweet and sharp on her tongue as the Winter Queen watched the masses leave. It would be a long, cold season, hitting early and staying long. Let Vera do what she wanted next summer; this winter would be talked of for centuries.