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Trauma and Hard Choices

V. S. Holmes Author Interview

V. S. Holmes Author Interview

Smoke and Rain follows Alea who’s struggling to keep her sanity after her home is destroyed and she’s caught in the middle of a war. What was the inspiration for the setup to this thrilling story?

My initial inspiration sprung from an image from an old National Geographic: ruins in a desert. I was drawn to the idea of waking up to find everything you ever knew was gone or changed. As the story and characters developed over the next years, I realized I wanted to explore the effects of trauma and hard choices on these imperfect characters, as well as what makes–and ultimately breaks–a hero.

There were so many memorable characters in this book for vastly different reasons. Who was your favorite character to write for?

This is so tough! I always have a pet character for sure, often a side character. My favorites to write were Bren and An’thor, and later in the series Mel and Azimir–everyone needs an Azimir in their life! I think I’m drawn to the side characters because their development is much more organic. Planing out the main arcs is rewarding when things fall into place, but it takes a bit of the magic of discovery out of writing the main characters. Those supporting roles have a lot more surprises up their sleeves for me!

I always enjoy deep world building in my fantasy novels and I enjoyed being immersed in yours. What were some themes that guided your world building?

I’m an archaeologist by trade, which means I study people, their tools, and the places they impacted. Basically, I study ancient trash. I’m fascinated by societies on the fringe, whether marginalized, or forgotten, or destroyed. I wanted to untangle what happens when old, faded kingdoms collide with religion–both new and old. Throughout the series we see nations dragged from faded glory to an unfamiliar, more modern world. Politics change, faith changes, and so do the heroes who originally saved the world. As someone who has studied and existed on the fringes for most of my adult life, I was determined to show all the varied social layers of a world and how war, faith, and community impact the characters from each of those layers.

This is book one in your Blood of Titans series. What can readers expect in book two?

Lightning and Flames picks up shortly after Smoke and Rain, and it delves into the complicated and imperfect relationship between Alea and Arman, particularly under the pressures of approaching war and all the choices before for them, both as budding heroes, and as people. I also got deeper into what it looks like when a kingdom fails, and we watch Bren determine whether he wants freedom, or the responsibility his father left to him.

The other installments in the Blood of Titans world–Madness and Gods and Blood and Mercy–take place in the aftermath of those choices and dissect how the characters navigate their changing places in the world and–if there is a place for them at all. One thing that all my work touches on is the psychology behind war and peace, from the classic epic fantasy scale to the smaller interpersonal and internal.

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What happens when heroes are as broken as the world they must reforge?

A mad king’s genocide destroyed Alea’s home and left her sanity in tatters. Wracked with grief, she now faces a lonely life in a strange city. The war has other plans. Caught in the crossfire between the gods and their creators, Alea’s new friend Arman abandons his idyllic jeweler’s life–and his humanity–to protect them both from the coming terror.

Across enemy lines, bastard lieutenant Brentemir Barrackborn is horrified by the blood on his hands. If he has any hope of redemption–or surviving the war–he must choose between his newfound family and the gods he worships.

As Arman and Brentemir’s sacrifices grow, Alea realizes that only the darkness inside her can end the bloodshed.

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Smoke And Rain

Smoke and Rain (Blood of Titans: Reforged Book 1) by [V. S. Holmes]

Alea has darkness inside of her. After a mad king destroyed her home, Alea is on the brink of insanity trying to figure out how to end this brutal war. It’s only a matter of time before the darkness takes over her mind. In the enemy territory, little does Alea know that a lieutenant by the name of Brentemir Barrackborn is guilted for his actions and wants redemption. But, how is he going to get his redemption amidst this terrible war? Grappling with their sanities, Alea and Barrackborn have to figure out how to come to terms with their grief.

V.S. Holmes hits the mark with this incredible fantasy adventure that utilizes a unique writing style to tell a vivid story. We’re introduced to some rather complex, and rather bleak, characters that we get to see develop throughout the story from multiple perspectives. And with this I felt a lot more connected to these riveting characters. Having such lively characters makes the intense battle scenes all the more dramatic and theatrical.

Alea is a strong character that I rooted for consistently. Arman, Kam and Wes bring levity to an otherwise dark novel. But what I really enjoyed was the depth to which the backstory is created. If you like intricate world building then you’ll enjoy this book. Most of the world building happens in the beginning of the book, but it pays off once you get through it and feel immersed.

Sword & sorcery fans will find what their looking for in V. S. Holmes dark fantasy novel Smoke and Rain. A bit slow to start, but with memorable characters, a rich world, and sharp storytelling, this is easily my favorite novel of the month.

Pages: 452 | ASIN: B014APUYFG

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What I Tell Myself

Michael Brown Author Interview

Michael Brown Author Interview

What I Tell Myself FIRST provides readers with an excellent source of support as questions and self-doubt arise throughout early childhood. Why was this an important book for you to write?

A: I am not an author by trade. I became one by trauma. I am the product of child abuse. The reasons? I still couldn’t tell you what I had done to earn physical chastisement. Usually, children remember some of the things they did to earn punishment. I don’t. I then began to hate my mother. I never understood, as most children don’t, why a mother who is supposed to be your guardian would physically chastise me like she did. I then began to run away into the arms of my grandmother.

Growing up, I would move between my mother’s and grandmother’s homes from time to time. In both homes, my brother, sister, uncle, and I went to various churches. As time passed, my mother inherited property as a result of my great-grandmother’s death. My mother appeared to have been fascinated with the church, as is the tradition among African Americans to have either been born into Christianity and attend church or seek Christianity, its assistance, and fellowship in a time of need. A building plan was finalized and donations were being solicited from the church members to erect it.

My mother, believing bigger giving equaled bigger and faster lottery-like blessings, refinanced her inherited property, being our residence. She then donated over 85% (approximately $30,000) of the finances from the loan to the church. The building would never be built. Her donation and neglect of the duties for which the funds were acquired resulted in foreclosure of the property and us being in a homeless state, with mother never to question the disposition of the donation or demand its return. Why did a mother with children do such a thing? The need for assistance and association in time of need, I would later learn, is the doorway by which some self-proclaimed pastors capitalize on those in said state to acquire, among other things, monetary donations while delivering spiritual stimulation as the payback. Mother gave all selflessly for the promise of earthly riches that would never come. She passed in 2018.

Fast-forwarding to late 2019, I was helping an anger management client with issues related to her anger. In doing so, I learned that a great percentage of anger happens when childhood voids, created by broken parents, are imparted in children thereby continuing to reside in now-anatomically/statutorily mature adults. These voids are the motivations for the often ill-prepared or toxic choices we make as adults. This would be the revelation I would learn in the wake of mother’s passing: those who seek to use you will spot your voids and capitalize on them for their own gain. I then could not continue to hate my mother for the pain she caused, for I now knew the motivation which influenced her choices. She was broken. As a result, I became broken. I then loved her again. I understood her. I then set out to find solutions to change what parents don’t do and what children don’t know: how to address the real world and prepare for the inevitable to achieve self-actualization. I always heard of affirmations. Plenty of books have them, usually filled with “I am” this and that. But they leave out the real-world attacks that parents know are coming. They hide the truth from our children.

I loved the art in this book. What was the art collaboration like with Zoe Ranucci to create the look for this book?

Zoe was amazing. Her artwork and customer service was unmatched. It was like a friend. She provided me some guidance when I needed it. And when she didn’t like some things (not with the work per se, but the publishing company I was going to go through, she voiced her professional opinion which was the impetus to get me to look over the contract again. That was an excellent move. She was and is amazing.

I thought that this book is a great way to have conversations about self esteem with children. What do you hope readers take away from your book?

I hope they take away from this book a greater understanding of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and positively self-actualize into our best self. If the needs in Maslow are not met, we become fixed at that need until the need is met. Parents, don’t lie to your child. Parents who do this are concerned with how they look in the eyes of their child. The lying parent sees the child as their friend, not their child. You can’t protect your child from a void you haven’t protected yourself from. Your experience is the master class. You are the master teacher. Expose your past to save them from a past and yourself from a future occurrence. Ask any doctor. There must be some infliction of pain in medical operations to cause healing. Not every pain can be numbed. Even numbed, when you wake up in recovery, you will feel it. Pain precedes most healings and recoveries. What you reveal may hurt your children. But the lessons you will have taught them from the revelation, likened to the rung bell that can be un-rang, will be etched in their mind when you are no longer around and that lesson appears at their feet. They can’t dodge the bullet you neither told them was coming, nor bulletproofed their mind towards repellency and rebounding.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

What I Tell Myself is a series. FIRST is the foundation upon which the other books will be written. I will keep expounding on Maslow, for educators know all too well, “In teaching, you can’t do the Bloom (Bloom’s Taxonomy) stuff until they do the Maslow stuff.” – Alan E. Beck. Individual characters have names and adventures that will be Maslow-focused. I have already penned two books currently in editing and illustration. The titles are What I Tell Myself: About Self-Protection, What I Tell Myself: About Talent and What I Tell myself: About NO!

What I Tell Myself: About Self-Protection gives children various options for protecting themselves. It is powerful. I read it and feel empowered! I raise my children not to be victims. I want my readers, both parent and child(ren), to avoid victimization. I like active books that give solutions. I want my books to be roadmaps for action. In life, actions get things going. Let’s cry silently along the way. But, get off the “X”. I guess that is the military/police officer in me.

What I Tell Myself: About Talent explores the inquisitive mind of a child who wants to be everything and anything at the same time. Keeping with the page in What I Tell Myself FIRST, “I am great at some things…” a child told me he didn’t know what he liked to do. Lightbulb. Stay tuned.

What I Tell Myself: About NO! helps children understand the importance of hearing the word NO and its importance in our lives. Children who can’t take No become adults who can’t take rejection. And if what it is true about failure being a part of success if we learn from the failure, understanding rejection is tantamount to that lesson.

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What I Tell Myself FIRST: Children's Real-World Affirmations of Self Esteem by [Brown, Michael]Written by a US military veteran, this children’s book, based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, will instill in children the answer to bullying, body-shaming, hate, and attacks on the self through daily affirmations. Author Mike Brown has learned many life lessons and hopes to convey some of those lessons acquired from public and private service in the Army, as a police officer, an anger management specialist, nonviolent crisis intervention instructor, educator, as well as the real-world wisdom accumulated so far, to everyone that reads this book. Teaching a sense of self-love as well as self-acceptance and giving a framework for both parents and children to help build their lives into sturdy and happy homes is his goal. What I Tell Myself FIRST: Children’s Real-World Affirmations of Self Esteem is to readers what the AED is to a heart: it instills the defibrillator of self-esteem so powerful for when times are tough and your mind is under attack. Mike hones in on his military past and the methodology behind why servicemembers say creeds in various forms and military occupational specialties. This book will serve its purpose not for when times are good. But for when times are bad, when one is on that dark road and it feels like no one is there. It will serve as the proverbial jump pack to the battery of the mind. Like the hug that you needed but did not get. Like the words you needed to hear but did not hear. This book of reality-based daily affirmations are the “I wish I had this” of books. We MUST instill in our children the answer to bullying, body-shaming, hate, and attacks on the self through daily affirmations.

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Cries of the Forsaken

Cries of the Forsaken (The Broken Pact Book 2) by [Jerome, Kristopher]

The pieces are on the move. As one moves against the other, readers may wonder who is pulling whom and to what end? Does divinity mean the essence of purity or simply the chalice overflowing with power? Cries Of The Foresaken by Kristopher Jerome is a story full of twists and turns that will keep you hooked from beginning to end!

Normally I am very particular about fantasy worlds as many books start well but fail to keep it coherent throughout the story. That is not the case with Cries Of The Foresaken. Even though I realized a bit later that this is book one in a series, I didn’t mind it for two reasons. One, the story started strong and it kept me glued. Two, the author did not try to place undue focus on the background but kept the story well bound to a few characters. As I progressed through the book, I was not disappointed with the turns and twists that I never saw coming. The book is consistently engaging and sometimes there were twists where I didn’t even expect there to be one.

The other thing that I liked about this book was that the author did not try to make it a colossal work like the Tolkien series or the ones by George RR Martin. I prefer a book which does not conform to the stereotypes and is different from the rest. While Cries Of The Foresaken has room to expand, it’s not forced.

I felt that some of the characters were too rushed and I had to turn back to see previous pages. Some things get explained in the course of the series and characters are fully developed, but in this book alone, I felt, the characters were a bit hollow. One thing that I thought slowed the pace was a pause in the middle as the characters were pursuing side missions. Lastly, I felt that the ending was a bit too rushed, leaving too many open threads to tie up. This being part of a series I expect these will be tied up before the series finale, but I still felt the this novel on it’s own did provide me with a satisfying ending.

Cries Of The Foresaken is an exciting and riveting book that is an entertaining read and definitely in the top 10 books that I have read in 2019.

Pages: 299 | ASIN: B07YLC6JNY

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Knightshade: Perdition Bleeds

King Gravynmere of Vanosia has sent some of his best soldiers to investigate strange stories in the nearby border town of Faxon. The men will soon learn there is more truth than fancy to these stories, for something walks in the fields, something with cloven hooves and fire dripping from its hands.

The king rallies his son, Prince Quinn, his entire army and all of the Kingdom of Vanosia to confront the very forces of darkness in an epic tale of adventure, magic and mystery as the veil between their world and Perdition grows thin.

Join the Prince as he battles for his land, his people and his beloved on a mission that will take him to ends of the world and back, through pain and sacrifice, war and horror as what is below claws its way to above.

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The Answer Was Doombringer

Aaron Bunce Author Interview

Aaron Bunce Author Interview

The Winter of Swords starts when Eisa is snatched by a monster which begins the convergence of several different characters. What was the inspiration for this thrilling story?

The story was originally inspired by a song: “Protectors of the Earth” by Two Steps from Hell. I visualized a scene in a forest clearing, where an army of dark creatures, led by a terrifying six-limbed beast, faced off against a massive wolf. I wrote the sequence with the intention of having my protagonist realize that he shares a magical bond with this wolf (a spirit guardian of nature). After finishing the chapter, the story took off in a completely different direction. I’d been reading a lot of fantasy at the time, and struggled with the disappointment that so much of it was the same, and not just tropes, but theme, archetypes, and even magical creatures. I was tired of dragons and elves especially, but also of questing heroes. I wanted cool new beasts, but more so, I was looking for something that would terrify me. The answer was Doombringer – whose physical presence might only be surpassed by his cunning and intellect. I wanted a creature that characters can’t simply run away and hide from, but one that watches, understands, and hunts them. I structured the beginning of the story differently, too, as I wanted to defy expectation and convention. And heh, everyone loves a good twist! Eisa, Hunter, and Luca are integral to the overall arc in the series, but their stories don’t necessarily move as most people expect. A seemingly routine trip into the wilds to collect resources proves to be the catalyst for a much grander story in scope and scale.

There’s an assortment of varied and well-developed characters in this novel, and I found everyone to be interesting. Who was your favorite character to write for?

This is a hard question to answer, as I love all of my characters. In fact, it feels like trying to single out one of your children as your favorite. But if I had to choose, I would say that Roman is my favorite to write. As you discover in The Winter of Swords, he has a fairly tragic backstory. To me, Roman represents resiliency, honor, and an unflappable sense of nobility. He’s introspective, shy, and a bit socially dysfunctional, but it’s his relationship with his adoptive companion, Tusk, that makes him so loveable. So many people struggle to fit in, and Roman is no different. I think that, in part, is why his interactions with Dennah are so much fun for me to write. You get to see how two people from vastly different upbringings can bond and find mutual ground. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Roman is also probably the most complicated character in the series – for reasons people will see by the time they finish Before the Crow. Beyond Roman, another of my favorites was Balin – a slippery rogue in Gladeus’ employ. In the original draft of the book, Balin appeared for a total of two or three paragraphs. By the time I finished the draft I was so enamored with him and his story that I had to go back and expand on him as a character. I think those morally gray characters can add such a wonderfully complicated dynamic to the story.

I enjoyed the in depth world building in this book. What were some themes you wanted to capture while creating your world?

I wanted to present the concept of the “ancient evil returned to threaten the world”, but wanted to avoid the “good vs evil” light fights the dark, or the evil lord who refuses to die returns once again to enslave the world, tropes that were prevalent in Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and so many others. That in part is why the readers get to see the antagonists, too. By seeing their rebirth, understanding a bit about their fall, and their motivations and aspirations, I think it makes the conflict a little richer. I’m also a huge nerd for history. So much of the back-story in Denoril is shades of feudal Europe, the protestant migration to the new world, the concept of world war, and the effect of colonialism on indigenous people, and abolition of slavery. The theme of indigenous people plays out in with the dalan – a magical people readers don’t necessarily get to meet until a little further into the series. I think it’s worth the wait!

This is book one in the Overthrown series. What can readers expect in book two, Before the Crow?

Oh, boy! That’s the question. The Winter of Swords really sets the stage, but like so many introductory volumes, it scrambles things up and tears the characters down. Before the Crow picks right up where Swords ends in that regard, so it is definitely “binge ready”. The conflict deepens and spreads, but the cat is out of the bag to an extent, so we get to see how some of our characters start to deal with the threat, but also what might set them apart from everyone else, and in the end, help them become the heroes Denoril needs so badly. For people who read through to the end of Winter of Swords, I strongly suggest they go right into Before the Crow. They just might find some events at the end of the second book incredibly rewarding!

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The Winter of Swords: A Grimdark Epic (Overthrown Book 1) by [Bunce, Aaron]

An intelligent, six-limbed beast snatches a girl away from her family.

An orphan confronts the darkness in his past, while a menace stalks his small town.

A young woman cast into servitude tries to forge her own path in an unforgiving world.

And an inexperienced soldier following the path of honor and duty comes face to face with a foe born from his worst nightmares.

Seemingly unconnected, this small group of normal folk will fight to survive, for an ancient evil has awakened, and Denoril will need heroes if it is to endure The Winter of Swords.

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Myrrendryl

Myrrendryl by [Lord, Kirby]

What starts off as just another teenager-focused bully story quickly shows its teeth to reveal something decidedly darker. The fear and emotion felt by the main protagonist seem both plausible and real, and the dysfunctional home life that he is forced to live through is also crafted to feel quite genuine.

We learn early on in this dark urban fantasy novel that Davey was forced by his difficulties to mentally escape into worlds of movie characters that he looked up to. He imagined himself overcoming his difficulties in a similar way that heroes from his favorite movies had, and it made him feel good to think that he could live in someone else’s shoes.

It doesn’t take long for Davey to find the escape he was looking for. What he found was something he never would have thought possible.

The world that Davey finds seems perfect to him. He cannot see any of the violence, abuse, or bullying that tortured him up to the point of finding ‘Cardboard City’. What he does see is a tight-knit community of kids living free from adult oppression. They govern themselves and seem to have a good hold on how to get things done, their way. Davey quickly feels right at home with his new friends. Friends that he would change his life forever.

As time goes on, Davey and the other kids grow up, but they stay connected to one another in a variety of ways. The connections that show up throughout the story between characters, and how their individual stories interconnect is impressively crafted.

Lord has a talent for characterization and building believable interactions between characters like no other. The reader is taken for a ride through several lives as they search for a deeper meaning and it is a pleasure to follow them and experience what they do.

The writing is simple yet has plenty of the details necessary to set a scene and show the inner-workings of the characters. One can easily get a feel for where you are, who is involved with each scene, and what events are unfolding. The pace is steady, as well, making for a story that is difficult to put down.

Myrrendryl by Kirby Lord, is a first novel by the incredible author, but you would never know that. If you like dark fantasy stories that questions the fabric of our reality, Myrrendryl is a must read.

Pages: 400 | ASIN: B07MXZQ9QW

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The Land of Ick and Eck: Harlot’s Encounters

Harlot is mostly driven by curiosity and a desire to find interesting things. Like those blue flowers she loves so much. Harlot’s Encounters in the Land of Ick and Eck is a dark children’s story. Harlot walks through this mythical world and often finds ‘friends’ to walk the distance with her. Typical of all children, she makes friends quickly. Often voices her thoughts. She does not seem to understand the concept of fear even when she is encased in a dome with rising temperatures. It is interesting to look at life from such a perspective.

This is definitely a dark fantasy children’s story, but not too dark though. It would make for an interesting and wonderful Halloween pick. Micah Genest does a great job of painting vivid pictures. Even with actual painted pictures within the book. The book provides more than enough material for the reader with an active imagination to set the mental scenes. Very colorful and delightfully sinewy characters. Each with a quirk of their own. Perhaps the biggest take for an adult in all this is the way all the characters just move together despite being vastly different.

Harlot is typical of any kid, really. She’s innocent and looks at the world into which she is cast with pure interest and curiosity. Never judging anything and anyone. She is very trusting with almost blind optimism. Most children who read this book will understand her desire to follow voices and strange creatures. This book reads a lot like a dream. With vivid pictures and whimsical occurrences.

Oh my, the songs and chants. Imagine how fun it would be to try this out at a Halloween sleep over. They are so interesting and fun to follow. They almost take the gloom out of this decidedly morbid tale. This could very well be my most liked parts of the book.

For a children’s book, the vocabulary is quite advanced and may prove challenging for children. However, this could be a good thing as it could be an exercise in building vocabulary. It could help develop an interest in learning and seeking out new words. It is doubtful that most children will read into the illustrations by John Bauer. See them as more than just pictures. You never know though, this could be another fun exercise for these malleable young minds.

This book may be aimed at children but adults will enjoy it too. It reads like a children’s book but the plot and writing itself are excellent. This book reminds me of the children’s book, In A Dark, Dark Room: and Other Scary Stories. Fascinating, morbid, curious, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Pages: 208 | ASIN: B07MXPYLJ7

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