The Contest and Other Stories is a collection of inspiring stories that got me to think and reflect. What was the inspiration behind this collection?
JD: I originally wanted to create a coffee table art book with all paintings connected to a framing story.
KR: Around 2007 or 2008, Joe started bringing these quirky short stories inspired by paintings to the critique group in Prescott, Arizona that we both belonged to.
In February 2011, he shared his draft and invited me to assist with the project as a co-author. We continued to work on polishing the stories and the connecting novella together. In our bios, we say that he has the vivid imagination and I have the word-whacking polish, but the truth is, we both contributed to the imaginative creation and to the nuts and bolts polishing and editing. We multiplied our mind-power by working together!
What were some themes you find yourself exploring in your short stories?
JD: The relationships artists have with drinking, higher consciousness, and insanity.
KR: As Joe says, some of the stories explore the artists’ lives directly in the genres of magical realism, dark fantasy, horror, the paranormal, and alternate history, or as a fabulous motif. The other stories were developed using a painting as a prompt, but have no relation to the artist or their work. Those stories explore life challenges and transitions such as birth, death, falling in love, relationships, family life, and work, also through the medium of various fantasy genres. The connecting novella explores the archetypal overbearing father who insists that his only son follow in his footsteps, while the son rebels to make his unique contribution to arts and literature.
What is the collaboration like between the two of you?
JD: Long distance.
KR: By the time Joe and I started working together on this project, he lived in Arizona and I had landed in California. So we shared thoughts and drafts for The Contest and Other Stories via email.
Will you be putting together another collection of short stories?
JD: We’ve been working on solo projects lately. I completed a connected short story collection in 2016 titled Story Time Karaoke @ The Chicagoua Cafe.
KR: I’ve been working on stories inspired by dreams and a novella created entirely from a series of dreams, with a working title of Loop: Life is But a Dream.
As for other joint projects, Joe and I just published a humorous dystopian sci-fi novelette, Space Race: Robot Rebellion in the Future Wild West (Tootie-Do Press, 2018). We also have a YA story, Thirteen, published in an anthology called 31 Nights of Halloween (Rainstorm Press, 2011). Neither of these stories fit the theme of The Contest, so we searched for other alternatives for publication.
Inspired by the works of international artists, this collection contains nineteen spellbinding Young Adult – New Adult magical realist, paranormal, slipstream, alternate history, and fabulist tales linked by a novella: Peter John Rizzo, a 1960 graduate of Yale University’s journalism program, inherits a floundering art magazine from his uncle, John Rizzo, with the provision that he must increase the circulation or forfeit all assets to creditors. Peter Rizzo, Pete’s father, is a banker who scorns careers in the Arts and Humanities, and is jealous of his late brother’s influence upon his wife and son. Classic Art Expose’s devoted but unorthodox editorial assistant, Jason, and two university interns, sisters Shirley and Evie, help Pete start a monthly short story contest with artwork prompts, hoping to expand and save the business. As the four friends publish the winning (and sometimes disturbing) stories over the following eighteen months, Pete battles his father’s attempts to ruin his business and his reputation, and in the process, discovers a sordid family secret. What else could possibly go astray?
Posted in Interviews
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Think of the worst scenario you could possibly imagine. Got one? Chances are Joshua Squire can think of something worse. Angel Virus, Squire’s inaugural novel, paints a nightmarish scenario: all of the world’s children suddenly, inexplicably die. And the rest of world might not be too far behind. The story follows the lives of four people (Dutch: a Wisconsin metal worker, Jin: a small business owner in Beijing, Aletta: a European pediatrician, and Aysi: a teacher at a church in Africa) all of whom are recovering from past demons when the world starts falling apart. The novel wastes little time detailing the titular epidemic that kills the world’s children before zeroing in on the lives of these four protagonists. Squire, a poet by nature, flexes his linguistic muscles best in these personal scenes. At one point I found myself wishing that Squire would show the exposition instead of telling it. But when the narration focuses in on the individual suffering, the scenes cut deep enough to make the reader yearn for the safety of the omniscient narrator.
It’s in these dark, visceral images where Angel Virus shines the brightest. Subtle details such as place names and character backstories invite close reading. But at other times the reader races forward at full speed as characters flee through the jungle, get entombed in the city, or suddenly discover that allies can become one’s worst enemies. In addition to great images, Squire successfully creates realistic characters who inspire empathy within the reader. The dialogue comes off as believable while still maintaining a poetic quality.
Unfortunately, Squire’s excellent descriptions and well written characters also work against him. Angel Virus takes place over a wide variety of settings and includes many secondary characters. All of this helps create a believable disaster on a world-scale. But trying to tackle this much material in a novella length story sometimes becomes disorienting. In addition, while each of the four protagonists add compelling drama to the story, they all follow a similar path. Since the story is relatively short, none of the protagonists are allowed to fully develop.
Overall, Angel Virus is an exciting first novel. While the scope of its story and lack of versatility in the heroes’ narratives threatens to hamper the novel, the writing is strong enough to keep the reader interested. The novel’s conclusion left me wanting more, and that’s exactly what this trilogy plans to offer. But even if you stop at its last page, Angel Virus compels you to consider the link between psychology and spirituality, the nature of good and evil, and why you should cherish your loved ones long after you finish reading it.
Pages: 96 | ASIN: B01JZXY0JY
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The Witch Trials: The Becoming, by Intrigue Sui Generis, is a short work of historical dramatic fiction. The book is centered around the life and times of Sylvie, a middle-class woman living in southern France during the late 17th century. The story is predominantly about her life, her personal difficulties, and the broader milieu of the time period. Much of the story also concerns her husband Leon and his relationship to the broader Catholic Church, though the nature of this relationship is not well described, or at the least it is unclear how he is so involved with the church despite his main profession. The book also includes content about the broader scope of the time period.
The historical content of this book reads as semi-fictions with the author’s experiences, beliefs, worldview, and sense of morality bleeding into the pages of this book. The 1600’s in France were themselves bloody times, but the author largely washes away that bloody history, due in part to a lack of detail in the story. The story also includes much more active female roles, especially for those of a middle-class status during that time period. While it is heart-warming to think of a female character, seeking to rise above her station in a steeply patriarchal society infused with, what we would consider, harsh and vile religious fundamentalism, much of it is romanticized so that you can follow Sylvie’s story through this dark time without feeling too down about it.
Sylvie’s entire history prior to her marriage to Leon is contained within a single page, which seemed too short for me as I found her to be an intriguing character and I wanted to learn more about her. I enjoyed that this book was a short and concise novella, but at the expense of detail. Sylvie comes from a Protestant upbringing, but I felt it was unclear what kind of Protestant. The brevity of the story helps focus this book into a character driven novella, but leaves you wanting more. Overall, the historical additions of the book are strong and seemingly well-researched (as evidenced by the bibliography at the end of the text), but I would have loved to have this further fleshed out to lengthen the book, and these details would have clarified the setting and character motivations for me.
The Witch Trials: The Becoming is intended for a young adult audience with a decent attempt at historical accuracy. There is sexual content, but it is only slightly more bawdy than a television show from the 1950’s. There are also depictions of human suffering, the outcome of torture, and threats of imminent pain and death, but these are also very sterile. Overall, this book is short and easily provides a few short hours of entertainment.
Pages: 56 | ASIN: B07D68YSQZ
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YEGman is a thrilling crime novel taking place in the underworld of Edmonton, Canada. Why did you want to set your story in this location?
I had several reasons why I wanted to have the story take place in Edmonton. I prefer to write Canada-based stories and I’ve spent a lot more time in western Canada than I have out east, so can craft stories in these locations easier. A second reason is the name YEGman itself. YEG is the airport code and a common hashtag for the city. It is easier to say than – for example – YYCman for Calgary.
I also have grown up in Edmonton and have seen the city change over the decades. It is a pretty (no offence Edmonton!) bland city when it comes to major issues. So it is a good thing. That raises the question, how can you make a tame city feral and gritty? This was an interesting challenge to me.
This story takes a uniquely gritty look at the Edmonton crime scene. What were some ideas you wanted to capture when developing this underworld?
For YEGman’s version of Edmonton, I wanted to paint a crime-infested city that has some similarities seen in superhero comics. Daredevil/Hell’s Kitchen and Batman/Gotham are examples. A city that is in dire need of help. It becomes a motivator for someone to become a vigilante when they feel the city isn’t making any progress.
The details of the drugs and music scene I wanted to make real by showing there are good people that get caught up in these dark worlds of gangs and violence. Either they feel trapped or do not know any better to get out and just try to keep their friends safe.
Where did the idea for YEGman come from and what were some book titles you considered?
YEGman actually was birthed from the album that accompanies the launch – Sounds of Society. Both YEGman and the album tell a story of someone who can’t handle the constraints of society and go off the deep end. They also share similar content in the lyrics. Originally I was working on this album in 2012.
The plot and character of YEGman came to me in the summer of 2015 when I was at a book signing in a comic store. It was a quiet period and was daydreaming about super heroes because of the increase in popularity due to the Marvel movies, DC movies, comic expos and I was in a comic store at the time. Personally I am not a huge comic book far so I asked myself – what type of superhero story would someone who doesn’t like superheroes read?
From there I drafted out the concept of the superhero YEGman. Quite quickly I decided against super powers and made him very earth-bound. This helped map out the ending as well. If he was just an average person, and didn’t have any tech toys, money or ninja training, he’s going to have a pretty difficult time being a crime fighter. After writing out the outline for the ending I reverse engineered the story – a process I do not normally do with writing.
In November of 2015 I wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo but shelved the concept because my horror novel, Seed Me, wasn’t fully edited yet. That took a higher priority and I didn’t revisit YEGman until 2017 after doing some heavy research into police procedures and psychology. These two points of study helped craft the inner thoughts of Michael.
So overall, comic books were the inspiration and I looked at comics such as the Punisher, Sin City, The Watchmen, and Hellboy to name some.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I really need to wrap up the dark fantasy series Mental Damnation. Book three is coming out in the fall of 2018 and the fourth is in the works. I also am working on a slasher novella but it is in the early plot outline stage.
In the darkest streets of Edmonton, crime is around every corner. The police have exhausted their resources. Citizens are in a constant state of fear. The city is in dire need of justice. Someone needs to give the felons what they deserve – skip the courts and deliver their verdict with a fist full of fury!
At least that is what Michael Bradford tells himself. He struggles with violent tendencies while personally investigating the Crystal Moths, Edmonton’s most notorious gang. His vigilante methods get caught on film and are uploaded to the web with the hashtag YEGman. These videos catch the attention of a rebellious journalism student whose aspires to cover the developing story on the city’s underground hero.
Posted in Interviews
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The Nightbreaker is a short but welcome sojourn into the world of the Gods and Men Cycle series by Kristopher Jerome. Following a paladin by the name of Daniel, we first are introduced into the conflict between the gods of darkness and gods of light and the conflict that is played out on the Mortal plane. Daniel is part of a mission that goes awry, but learns of a terrible new champion of darkness, Rexin the Blasted. As the story unfolds, Daniel bands together with other brave souls who seek out and stop this terrible menace, otherwise the mortal plane will be swallowed by darkness.
The pacing of Jerome’s novella is spot on, although sword & sorcery novels are often quicker paced. The first battle of the story takes place only a few pages in and I was immediately taken in by the action and everything that Daniel saw as he fought bravely through the demons. The setting is not overly elaborate, especially with the clashing of light and dark. The simplicity of the premise will leave fans of stories like Game of Thrones and others wanting more. But in it’s brevity lie its virtues, The Nightbreaker is a great read for an afternoon of leisure.
The descriptions that Jerome uses is rich and quite cinematic and I enjoyed the writing the most when details were delved into. The main character of Daniel is fun to read about, but begs to be developed further with some character-defining internal dialogue. The narrative is much more “show” rather than “tell” which I happen to enjoy. The story is often punctuated with a bit of action, which saves the stories pace and kept my interest.
With all of this considered, The Nightbreaker is a great introduction to the world of mortals and Gods that Jerome has created. The struggle between paladins, demons, and seraphs is a supernatural backdrop to classic fantasy tropes. This novella will please any reader of classic fantasy or the supernatural, who also enjoys action, redemption, and the struggle between good and evil. At 78 pages, it’s well worth your time.
Pages: 78 | ASIN: B071HPDQXN
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At 28, it’s bad to be single. After four years of relationship struggles, Cat is ready to try anything.
That’s when her friend tells her about her class’ Dear Santa letters. One little boy asked for a new mommy, and she suggests Cat meets the kid’s dad, just to see where things go. Cat figures it can’t hurt…until she meets a stranger in the midst of a car accident. The man is handsome with a sad look in his eyes. He still wears a wedding band and she’s not sure his heart’s available, even if he makes her heart race. But, maybe he’s a widower? Cat wonders if she should resign herself to being an old maid, or whether she could possibly be the answer to a little boy’s Christmas wish, unless there’s a third option – a future with the stranger.
Posted in book trailer
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Globes Disease is a fast paced thriller that follows seven individuals as they suffer from the affliction of lycanthrope and are being hunted by a vampire because of it. What was the inspiration that made you want to write this suspenseful novel?
The original idea began as a short story about a black man named Terry who is infected by a lycanthrope. As he walks down the street he wanders if people are looking at him because of his infection or because he is black.
As I added more characters, more stories grew, and eventually a lot of the back stories became short stories, that became novellas and before I knew it, a novel!
The characters, I felt, were well developed and really stood out as unique in the end. What was your favorite character to write for and why?
Its difficult to say. I like them all. I have seven kids and four grandchildren, and a good number of nieces and nephews, I truly have no favorites. I love them each based on who they are.
Lets just say, everyone that survived my book are my favorite characters (laughing). Though some of the ones that died had to die to move the story forward.
I will say that Terry and Quake stand out to me for the males and Jodi and Goldy stand out for the females.
I love your review of my book, it’s so dead on. I could never say in words what I was thinking when folks asked me what my novel was about. You hit the nail on the head.
You mentioned names, believe it or not, Quake is based on someone I know, named Dozer, and Quake comes from a name I know of someone named Earthquake. I combined the two. As far as Ano, I went to school with an Austrian fellow who was a big guy and natural athlete name Onno, that’s where that name came from.
Jodi is based on some Japanese and Chinese friends of mine who have traditional parents. I just turned them in to one girl. Goldy is based on the women I grew up listening to; beautiful, smart, professionals, and the challenges they faced in their lives.
This book seamlessly blends many different genres. Was this planned before writing or did it happen organically?
Organically, I actually like to tell stories about people and put them in precarious situations and see how they react. The genres you mentioned in your review are genres I know and love. So I naturally lean towards telling stories in those genres.
I can honestly say that I would love to be the hybrid of King, Tarantino, Lee, Palahniuk, Shyamalan, Chaykin and Gaiman. I love how Gaiman has written comics, novels, movies, etc. That seems very natural and fluid to me. Writing what strikes you. Writing when you are inspired and writing in the genre and medium you want has got to be the best of feelings.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I have completed the prequel to Globes Disease. I am waiting on the editing to be finished. I am currently working on the sequel as well…
In the mean time I am working on a comic, some short stories, a guest blog and a few other things…
These unfortunate residents of the small quiet town of La Mort Douce must band together as their peace is threatened by a mysterious Vampire, Hunters who treat them like wild game and a Government Agency with promises of a cure.
With many more threats looming, this eclectic group must come together to achieve a common goal.
They must fight for their humanity or die alone, like animals.
A thrilling action-packed novel about Lycanthropy through the eyes of 7 brave souls who suffer from the disease.
Do you have it?
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A Tangled Web is set against the backdrop of one of the most devastating tsunamis in Japan and follows three children as they navigate their new lives. Why was this an important story for you to write?
When I first heard about the tsunami in 2011, it was a huge thing and I remember being really intrigued by it, however, I was only a teenager and newspapers didn’t particularly interest me, though I loved reading. For some reason, what I head heard about the events stayed with me for years and when I traveled to Japan for the first time several years ago I started developing a story line – though I didn’t start writing it until my second visit at the beginning of 2016. It was important for me to write because, although there are many factual sources and several non-fiction books, in all my research I only found one fiction story about the Japan tsunami in 2011 which I think is a shame because I believe most people prefer fiction and can learn so much through it, yet it is a relatively unexplored subject. Therefore, my aim was to provide a book for YA which is both interesting and explores what happened in 2011 and afterwards, hopefully encouraging people to then go and do their own research.
The three children in this beautiful coming of age story have a lot of depth. What were some obstacles you felt were important to develop the characters?
I think it was important that at the beginning Taiyo was quite naive and selfish, a little unlikable if I’m being honest, but that gave her the opportunity to grow and develop as a character so that in the end she had the strength to deal with the catastrophe that happens. To me it was also important that Ryuu and Kairi be total opposites and yet both be likeable and relatable characters.
What were some themes you felt were important to highlight in this story?
I think friendship is a very important theme in this book; before Ryuu and Taiyo develop feelings for each other, they are first and foremost friends, as are she and Kairi. Another important theme is the value of telling the truth. Taiyo tells a lot of lies in this story and ends up so tangled in them that she can’t see a way out, hence the title. Though told for good reasons, those little lies mount up and ultimately lead to her and Ryuu being at the coast when the tsunami hits, while their friends and family are completely unaware of the peril they’re in.
What is the next story that you’re working on and when will it be available?
I’m currently working on another novella set in Japan, however, this one follows the Taiji dolphin hunt. Starting in 2009 when the documentary The Cove was released and ending in future 2018, Red Days follows and English reporter with Japanese roots who finds herself drawn to the cause and ends up fighting to save them.
Red Days is still a work in progress; I recently finished the first draft, however, it needs to undergo several rounds of editing before it will be ready for release, which will hopefully be around September this year.
Taiyo is a normal high-school girl living with her Grandmother in Sendai. She goes to school, partakes in club activities and hangs out with her two best friends, twin brothers Ryuu and Kairi. However, her perfect world is shattered when she begins dating Kairi but quickly discovers she’s already in love with Ryuu.
A tangled web of lies surrounds the pair, but everything is suddenly knocked into perspective on March 11th when they are caught up in a natural disaster that devastates the country and robs thousands of their homes, their possessions and their lives…”
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Set against the backdrop of one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent history, A Tangled Web by ML Sparrow tells a tale of teenage angst and romance. A girl abandoned by her parents and twin brothers wrapped up in their emotions weave this tale of romance, betrayal and heartache. Hayashi Taiyo has lived with her grandmother since the death of her mother. She has grown up with twins Kita Ryuu and Kairi in the quiet little town they live in. Things start off soft and slow as we learn about their everyday lives. As with most teenagers, growing emotions and endless confusion seek to disrupt the delicate balance between the three. Two brothers who are as opposite as fire and ice and the girl caught between them. However a tsunami is coming and it will upend their lives in ways they couldn’t imagine.
This novella is just the right length. The relationships between the three who are caught up in the love triangle are delicately portrayed. There is just enough backstory to understand the past of the characters and their mindsets without feeling as though something is missing. The risk a lot of novella’s run is that there is not enough explanation. Sparrow crafts the tale in such a way that the small page count doesn’t detract from the story itself.
By using the romaji forms of several Japanese words in the story the reader can feel much more like they are experiencing every day life in Japan. There is a handy glossary at the back of the book but the sentences they are used in and the way Sparrow writes makes it easy to understand what the words are meant to mean. This saves the reader from having to flip to the end of the novella while reading.
The tsunami in Japan in March of 2011 was devastating. A force of nature that could not be stopped devoured lives and homes without regard. Sparrow indicates at the beginning of the novella which books they read to better understand what happened. By listing them out it allows the reader to continue investigating the event on their own time. This novella is a work of fiction and whether or not Taiyo and her twin friends Ryuu and Kairi actually exist is unknown. What is true is that there are people who lived through the tsunami just like our three protagonists did.
A Tangled Web because is a story about three young people who are trying to navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood. It’s a delicate journey and the severity of the tsunami serves to illuminate the fact that life will go on. The tsunami is like the tumultuous relationship between the three. It attempts to tear them apart, to drown them, and it will change them forever. It’s a lovely read for those who are interested in a coming of age story with a touch of reality.
Pages: 89 | ASIN: B01MRU67AN
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New Megiddo Rising is a prequel novella to The Apostates series. The prologue sets the stage in 19th-century Mexico. The Governor of Coahuila y Tejas visits a settlement headed by a polygamous preacher named Brigham Wainwright. The preacher lies to the governor, assuring him that he will contact the American government and discourage the flow of illegal white settlers to Mexican territory. He then reveals to his captain that his plan is to do exactly the opposite with the aim of overthrowing the Mexican government. The story then shifts to an undetermined time in the future, where people have neural implants and live in a dystopian America shattered by war and climate change. The main characters are: Ayane Inoguchi, who lives in a church-run orphanage; Prescott, a Prelate of the church of New Megiddo; Kate Schrubb, daughter of the President, who is next in line to inherit the office; Inquisitor Rodrigo of the Law of Virtue Enforcement (LOVE); and Evan, an “apostate” teen living in the slums of Los Angeles.
Each character has their own story to tell, but there is no overall plot tie all these stories together. Instead, the narrative follows six characters through their lives, and telling us how much they’ve changed (or not changed) by the end of their story. Each person is different, but all are controlled by the Church of New Megiddo. The church controls everything and has no regard for quality of life or personal freedom. Anyone the church doesn’t like is called an “apostate” even high-ranking individuals who become inconvenient. There’s also a drug called database that causes hallucinations and addiction.
The author does a great job of describing how absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Church of Megiddo and the Schrubb regime display every classic symptom of corrupt leadership: assassinations to remove dissent, laws that don’t apply to the elite, Orwellian doublespeak and mind control, just to name a few. It’s a setup that can only result in rebellion and civil war, and this worldbuilding is the best part of the book.
Evan is the most sympathetic character, and it’s hard not to like him. He’s young and living in the slums, but when he is rescued by a martial arts teacher, his skills ultimately get him off the street and into the ranks of the enforcers of church law.
New Megiddo Rising is a collection of origin stories of important characters in the novels, which explains why none of the stories overlap: none of the characters have met yet. This makes it a great piece of bonus material for fans of The Apostates series. Readers who are already familiar with their favorite characters can fill in the gaps in their stories with what they know from the novels. Unfortunately, despite the good world-building and setup of this evil empire, there are too many gaps in the character backstories to make it a cohesive novella for new readers.
Pages: 121 | ASIN: B015DS2FN8
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