A Dark Side of History
The Land of Ick and Eck follows Harlot’s strange encounters as she travels through a strange land. What was the inspiration for the setup to this intriguing story?
I’m fascinated by children’s stories that are strange and make you think, “Wait, What? Haha, did that just happen?!” Victorian literature for children, as well as older versions of fairy tales, are where I found inspiration for the setup up of this book; they so often make you take a step back, laugh, think, and then continue on with curiosity. These stories can sometimes be whimsically mature, exploring violence, sexuality, and/or morality in creative, imaginative ways. Not treating children like delicate sugar-flakes and allowing for such content adds so much depth to the meanings and understanding of the stories, something I have found difficult to come across in modern children’s literature.
So when I started writing, I wanted it to be something that that gave me similar feelings to when I read older, bizarre fairy tales. I wanted it to take place in a strange world, where things were non-sense, but also made sense if you had the knowledge to understand what was happening, especially when the reader becomes aware of the innuendos. Like many episodic folkloric tales, there is much more than what lies on the service, multiple understandings; that is what I really enjoy about such types of stories. This is one of them.
The world that you’ve built is enthralling and curious to say the least. What were some sources of inspiration for when creating this world?
Reading literature about/from the faerie, medieval, Georgian, and Victorian world was where some of my inspirations came from. I would often find myself reading, for example, faerie lore and tales, medieval fabliaux and chivalric romances, and strange episodic stories that involve children, such as Jerzy Kosiński’s The Painted Bird (a modern tale). I wanted to create something like Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Lewis Carol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but darker and with more macabre and questionable situations.
The realm of Ick and Eck needed to somewhere that made sense not necessarily for the human world but in the faerie world. It was to be a place that the mind of an imaginative child could easily follow and bring to life, but for adults, things might seem a little off (unless they still have the child within them). It needed to be absurd, but penetrable if you put yourself in a different sort of mind-set. To get this inspiration, I often found myself delving into the artworks of Brian Froud and other artists who have continued to add to the world of faeries and fantasy, also mixing them with some of my other interests.
One of those curiosities was religion. There are many religious characters in the book, ranging from the fat-Friar, empty moon creatures, Crowned-Alter-Fops, gluttonous monks, to name a few; I enjoy studying Abrahamic religious texts, traditions, as well as medieval stories of how clergy use power to control others. Several scenes in the book comment on these injustices, but they are mixed in with the faerie world to create a more folkloric feeling. Truth be told, no hesitation of satire was taken.
Another source of inspiration was the study of medieval and Victorian prostitution. As a reader would observe, the protagonist’s name is Harlot; yes, the story does indeed explore the ideas of a dark side of history, as well as a subject very much alive today. From the exploration of courtly love and the desperate knights in need of a doctor’s (i.e. a beautiful woman) cure to save them from love sickness, to the poetic grocery-list like booklets of women found in Harris’s List of the Covent Garden Ladies, these studies were an essential backbone and driving force of inspiration. The story is a critique of this behaviour. It is meant to bring light to a subject so many people want to hide.
The introduction of the book lays this out:
- Into a land of fantasy
- With haste we cast them all aside
- No tearing if you cannot see
- That is what we all make-believe
My list of inspiration could keep going on, so I will stop before I get carried away even more.
Harlot is a curious and innocent character that I found endearing. What were some driving ideals behind the character?
I wanted to create a character that constantly found interest in novel things, while at the same time never really learns much from their experiences. Even after Harlot is assaulted at the beginning of the book (i.e. her blue flower), deceived, used, and treated as inferior, she continues on. Some say this might be a weakness, others a strength, that is for the reader to decide.
I have found it quite funny though, how some people really like Harlot, while others really do not. Some like her curious and innocent perspective, while others think she is rude and inconsiderate, and do not want their children to read about her because she is a negative role model.
In any event, what drives Harlot is her curiosity, her unwavering innocence, and her ability to navigate such a strange place, the land of Ick and Eck. She is such a strong character, a feature I have seen in people who have been abused. I can never understand their strength. They are stronger than I could ever be.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I am currently working on a couple projects, but I am a very slow writer. It took me eight years to be contempt enough to pursue publishing The Land of Ick and Eck: Harlot’s Encounters. But in any event, I am working on a continuation to The Land of Ick and Eck, per say, following a girl named Perfume, as well in another section about Harlot. Each are separate and different stories, written in different styles, but in a way they meet together through common characters, situations, and absurdities.
I am quite excited about it, though I do not know how long it will take to complete.
Author Links: GoodReads | YouTube
A much too trusting Harlot finds herself in the preyful Land of Ick and Eck, a place where she encounters peculiar creatures that have the most awful intensions of the carnal sort. By happenstance, she finds the company of a Ground Faerie, a Wood and Water Nymph, and a Butter-Maiden to assist her (sort of) along the way.
But Alas! How the outlandish figures are quite the handful, ranging from the likes of Spriggans, the-man-with-a-can-for-a-head, Jaw Skins, to Alter-Fops, a knight of courtly love, and a Nigwig (to name a few). Thankfully, there are moments of repose, such as those with the band of eunuchs with sacs on their heads, the beautiful Milk-Maidens, and the adventures within the Faerie Ring.
Though the bombardments continue to pursue her, Harlot’s innocent temperament, irrational faith, and devotion to feeding her curiosity provokes her forward, and thus her true strengths are revealed within the Land of Ick and Eck.
Posted in Interviews
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Truly Unique Characters
The Mage’s Tome is a genre-crossing novel with elements of a fantasy, romance, and paranormal as well. Did you start writing with this in mind, or did this happen organically as you were writing?
About ten years ago I became interested in possibly writing a fantasy novel of my own. After several years of planning the breadth of storylines and plot, and quite a few inspirational reads, a few truly unique characters literally popped into my head while I was on a camping trip with my friends. After that, I had no choice but to write my series.
The characters in this novel, I felt, were intriguing and well developed. Who was your favorite character to write for?
It just happens that The Mage’s Tome, my debut novel, has quite a few quirky characters that grow during the span of the duology. They all hold a soft-spot in my heart, but I’m particularly fond of my main hero, Pyrus. He’s rather lovable. even though I’m sure he’d disagree.
I felt that the backstory of the world goes deeper than most fantasy novels. What was the inspiration for the world your characters inhabit?
I did spend a great deal of effort building out the world in The Cry of the Acere duology. On one hand, you get that medieval type of feel that is common in fantasy, but I also included some contemporary elements. The quest really takes place in a pre-industrial type fantasy world (think Wheel of Time), and my characters speak like they’re from our time-period. Our modern-day language and slang create some pretty funny situations for Pyrus. Oftentimes, saying something as simple as “what’s up?” brings about some very affable responses for him.
This is book one in the Cry of the Acere Duology. What can readers expect in book two?
In The Mage Attendant, I begin to reveal a lot more about the direction my characters are headed. Pyrus, certainly has a lot more opportunities for him to show off his self-deprecating, sarcastic sense of humor. It also has some exciting warring that takes place! My readers will also be pleased that it has a rather romantic and happy ending that they might not expect!
Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website
The Acere have spoken; the tome must come to the mage.
Among the rubicund grasslands to the forests of Roan, a quest begins at the onset of royal betrayal. The fate of Roan rests on the hermit mage, Pyrus, who has singular powers but is loathe to help. Yet, the susurrus words of the ancient Gods have promised that he will be instrumental to their plans. Their entreaties show him the nature of their magic. He must first avow to create the soldier, and he must also protect the Lady.
Meanwhile, seething in the pit, the Hellion will soon emerge.
They all will be tested, yet it is Pyrus who holds the key to camaraderie and purpose.
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The world of Androva, where magic rules. Galen is the best underage magician for millennia, much to the dismay of the power hungry Professor Cassius. In the name of research, Galen and his friend, the talented but troubled Nico, begin opening time travelling portals to other worlds. Galen finds himself on Terra where he meets the beautiful Claudia. He wants to stay with her forever but the arrival of Jax and Shannon from two thousand years in the future changes everything. Galen must now return to fight for the lives of his friends and family. But will they survive magic?
Alex C. Vick has built a rich and enchanting world of spells and sorcery in Surviving Magic. Classic themes of love, good vs. evil, and the importance of friendship run through the story, but they seem fresh and innovative in the hands of the author due to an exciting plot, diverse settings and interesting characters.
Vick evokes place very well, and the juxtaposition of the two worlds of Terra and Androva is expertly done. The setting of ancient Italy is an interesting plot device that really works, as real historical events such as the revolt of Boudicca are seamlessly interwoven with magic. Vick also excels here with her use of tangible imagery; I felt as though I was strolling through the bustling streets of Pompeii!
The book is written in first person narrative from Galen’s perspective. He is a flawed, but likeable hero and the love story between him and Claudia is heartfelt and authentic. The other less central characters are well-drawn, they all have distinctive voices and Vick’s use of dialogue adds humour and lightness to otherwise dramatic situations. Because we observe the full story arc of the characters in this book, I really came to care about their individual fates. Nico’s development is particularly interesting due to the complex nature of his internal struggles and motivations and the villain of the piece, Professor Cassius, is supremely creepy!
Vick has developed a very complex and creative system of magic, which adds multiple dimensions and interest to the story. The only downside to this is it’s slightly overwhelming to have sygnuses, symbols, spells, and force fields thrown at you over a couple of pages (pheeew!) I prefer to be shown rather than told what is happening and there is some occasional info-dumping. I sometimes felt like I was getting lost down a portal myself! Because of this, the pacing seems off to begin with and the narrative is somewhat lost. Generally, though, the dramatic scenes are excellent and kept me on the edge of my seat.
Surviving Magic becomes very much a standalone story, with originality and twists and turns galore. Overall, this is a great addition to the fantasy genre, and I look forward to more exciting adventures from the Legacy of Androva series.
Pages: 279 | ASIN: B076ZSTT2D
Posted in Book Reviews, Four Stars
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A Chronicle of Rebirth
A Chronicle of Rebirth: The Magus is a genre-crossing novel with elements of a romance, fantasy, and suspense as well. Did you start writing with this in mind, or did this happen organically as you were writing?
The Fantasy genre crossing with the romance genre was deliberate. I had always felt as though there could be more books with those two genres mixing. As for the suspense aspect, it was entirely organic. Originally, the project was started by me and then my husband and co-author James joined me. We had never thought of our writing as suspense, but we are happy that we achieved that with our story.
Nelina and the Magus are both interesting and well developed characters. What was your inspiration for their characters and their relationship?
The characters were developed slowly over the years. My Husband developed the character Ru’ark while playing Dungeons & Dragons and kept the character through his years of gaming. Nelina developed as a mix of several of the characters I have played over the years. Their relationship is in part a reflection of the relationship my Husband and I have together. We always love each other and have one another’s back. However, unfortunately neither of us have any magical smoke ability. One other correlation to Nelina and Ru’ark is how fast they fell in love. My husband and I met because I read his poetry online. After talking on the phone, he hopped on a Greyhound bus a few days later and travelled from Maine to Illinois to meet me. The moment he stepped off the bus, he swept me off my feet and kissed me before even saying hello. Well, last August 4th 2017 was our 11 year wedding anniversary, so 12 years in total we’ve been together.
What was the writing process like for the two of you working as a team? How do you toss around ideas and decide on what goes in the story?
Our story goes through a basic brainstorming process, which tends to involve Dunkin Donuts and coffee. At first, as we toss ideas back and forth sort of sketching out the outline for the book, then depending on what chapters call to one of us, that person will write the rough draft. From there we pass the it back and forth, adding things and removing parts until we are both happy with the finished product. The ideas that tend to stick are the ones that fit the story most. We have a simple credo that we write by- it’s all about the story. If either one of us feels that a part of the draft doesn’t serve the story as a whole, then it gets nixed.
This is book one in the series. Where does book two take readers and when will it be available?
In Book two, the readers will learn that Nelina’s promised powers at the end of book one are not quite what the Magus expected them to be. Also, they will be learning what is happening back in Danthamore with the Queen ruling her kingdom without the Magus exercising his influence. Plus, readers will find out what has become of Elian, Adar, and Claire. Malark and the Outlander will definitely be making an appearance in the second book as they journey out of the Waste. I’d love to be able to give a solid date to book two’s release, but I simply don’t have one to give other than in 2018. What I can say is that the book is worked on every single day, barring emergencies and natural disasters. So far, we are half way done with the 1st draft.
Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website
Posted in Interviews
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To Face Off Any Horror
Song follows Rayph Ivoryfist as he gathers his friends to return the prisoners that escaped from Mending Keep. What was your inspiration for the setup of the story and how did that help you create the ending?
It’s a simple idea. There’s a prison break. The worst criminals in the world are released, and one man takes it upon himself, with no funding and no support from the crown, to hunt these fugitives down and end their reign of terror. It’s an idea we’ve seen before, but I got stuck on it, and I thought, “What would make this idea different?” I realized the thing I wanted to focus on was the characters themselves, their relationships, and the relentless nature of their leader. It’s not a crime story. We’ve seen crime stories. Song is an exploration of friendship. So that’s what I focused on. I’ve always had this idea that if real trouble ever hit, I could call on a small collection of men and women who surround me to face off any horror that entered my life. And I think it’s not unique to me. I think everybody has that group of people, that if things really went bad, they could call on to help them fight their way out of it. This book is a love story to that kind of friendship. It asks the question, “If my back was against the wall, and I desperately needed help, who would I call on?”
When you first sat down to write this story, did you know where you were going, or did the twists come as you were writing?
When I started writing the story, I had the prison break. I had the characters of the Manhunters themselves, and I had the villains. But when I write all my books, I do not know exactly how it will end or how the plot will progress. All of that comes to me as I write. This book just kept surprising me. I would write a scene and see that it was going in a completely different direction. I would write something and see a twist coming down the road. I let a friend read this book before it was published. His criticism of the book was that it paid off too many times. He said it reaches one climax after the next. I think Song is unique in the fact that I spend 250 pages setting up four different climaxes. But it wasn’t planned. The book is just complex.
As always, your characters are thoroughly developed. What is your writing process like for creating characters?
When I write a character, I like to do away with all archetypes. I think they get in the way. When I meet somebody in real life, I don’t think to myself, “Oh, that person is an underdog.” or “Oh, I know people like this. This guy is a survivor.” Those aren’t the kind of things that hit me when I meet someone. So why would I think that when creating a character? A lot of people talk about knowing the motivation of your characters. But motivation is pliable. I can tell you why Rayph does a thing because I want him to do it. The traits I like to concentrate on are my characters’ hang-ups, the things that bother them, the things they cannot tolerate. I think too often writers create characters in a bubble. They try to describe their character in artificial terms. They create a character outline or a character spreadsheet. They try to create their character in a sterile environment. But that’s not how we get to know people. I like to think about character creation as going to a soup kitchen and meeting people there. Real lives, real problems.
What is the next story that you’re writing and when will it be published?
Well it’s already written. The entire Manhunters series is completed. I will be doing some rewrites and final touch-ups of course, but the story’s already been told. The second book in the series comes out April 15th. It’s called Hemlock, named after the city that is the poison capital of my world. In this story, the main villains the Manhunters find themselves up against are vampires. These are not vampires as we know them in the modern world. I took inspiration for my vampires from the original legends. This is before Anne Rice, stories centuries older than Bram Stoker. In the original vampire legends, they were all monsters. No good, no mystery, no romance, just vicious monsters. When they were hungry, they were pale. After they fed, they took on a ruddy complexion. And when they were full, they were a close shade of purple, because their bodies were suffused with blood. My vampires are old and powerful, nearly immortal, and diabolical. Vampirism spreads like a poison, like a plaque, and the Manhunters fight to stem the tide. So look for it April 15, 2018.
Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website
Some of the darkest minds in Perilisc attacked Mending Keep, releasing all its prisoners. Despite his strained relationship with the crown, Rayph Ivoryfist calls old friends to his aid in a subversive attempt to protect King Nardoc and thwart terrorist plots to ruin the Festival of Blossoms. But someone else is targeting Rayph, and even his fellow Manhunters might not be enough to save him.
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Inspired by Odysseus
Steel, Blood and Fire is a genre-crossing novel with elements of a fantasy, military, and history as well. Did you start writing with this in mind, or did this happen organically as you were writing?
I was, in part, inspired by Glenn Cook’s Black Company series, along with the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson. So much so that I wanted to try my own hand at it.
I found Vykers to be a very well written and in depth character. What was your inspiration for his emotional turmoil through the story?
Here, I think I was most inspired by Odysseus, and his long journey home from Troy. Vykers has a lot of Odysseus’ arrogance — and deadly competence, as well.
The supporting characters in this novel, I felt, were intriguing and well developed. Who was your favorite character to write for?
That’s a tough one! Of course Vykers is fun to write. But so is Rem, the actor. That character allowed me to poke fun at the acting profession and relive a few of my own foibles. Then there is Spirk, the idiot. I have a special place in my heart for characters who are not quite up-to-speed, for want of a better term. He also provides a lot of the story’s comic relief. Finally, Aoife was enjoyable for me, because she reminds me of my sisters and wife, to some degree. I really liked looking at the story through her Earth Mother’s eyes.
I understand that you’re also an actor and stand-up comedian. How have those experiences helped you write your stories?
I think those things definitely shape my voice as a writer, the way I hear dialogue, and indulge in opportunities to shameless nonsense. But being an actor has also given me a fair amount of experience wielding a long sword, which comes in handy when writing fight scenes.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be published?
Actually, you have (kindly) review the first book in an existing four-book series. Steel, Blood & Fire is followed by As Flies to Wanton Boys, Corpse Cold, and, most recently, The Abject God. I am currently working on the series finale, The End of All Things, which I expect will to release in late 2018.
Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website
On the march, around the campfire, and in the taverns, they tell incredible stories about Tarmun Vykers, the Reaper – how he’s never been cut in battle, how he once defeated hundreds of men by himself, how he exterminated an entire people over an insult. These stories make Vykers seem like a god, but he is a man, an arrogant, ruthless and bloodthirsty man. For all that, he may be the only thing standing between the human race and utter annihilation at the hands of the mad wizard who calls himself the End-of-All-Things. Against this backdrop, smaller, lesser folks struggle to fulfill their own destinies, folks like Aoife, burdened with a secret so dark she is driven to do the unimaginable and seek an alliance with fey powers no mortal has ever encountered.
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Steel, Blood & Fire
Dark, gritty, and altogether brutal, Steel, Blood and Fire is an archetypal dark fantasy novel. In the first chapter, one of the main character’s hands and feet are amputated, and the story continues in similar fashion from there onward. The setting is fantasy grounded in muddy reality, although there is a vein of consequential magic that adds a little sorcery to this otherwise swords-based world. If you’re familiar with Game of Thrones then you’re familiar with Allen Betchelder’s style; multiple character perspectives, inter-weaved story lines, and a healthy dose of murder. It’s a fantastic modern-style medieval fantasy, and a definite read for any fan of the genre.
When I began Steel, Blood and Fire, my first thought was, “Wow, this is a lot like Game of Thrones.” Then I began to think, “Or is it more of a Witcher book?” As I continued through the novel, I began to decide it was a blend of both. By the end, I thought that perhaps it was its own thing.
The book isn’t afraid to touch on the brutal. In fact, it seems to revel in it. Blood flows freely; rape is the buzzword of the day. It’s a mature novel for sure although it doesn’t quite cross the line, but regularly toes it. A lesser author would have toppled their novel over into prurient pulp.
The writing is well-executed, with the author’s own voice clearly shining through. There is one trap that Allen Betchelder tends to fall into, and that’s the ‘fear of said’. Every other sentence seems to find a new synonym – characters question, murmur, mutter, bellow, but words are never just ‘said’. It’s awkward to read, and tends to draw you out of conversations that should flow naturally.
In any perspective-hopping plot, characters are one of the most important factors. Fortunately, Steel, Blood and Fire features a strong and memorable, if slightly generic, cast. They come off as slightly one-dimensional, particularly towards the start of the novel, and the inclusion of a comedy group of village bumpkins – who of course meet with terrible fates – struck me as being an attempt at generating some frisson with the grim background. Other than those minor niggles, the diversity and depth of the cast begins to truly shine through around the midway point; from here onward they become much more than the sum of their parts.
Despite my above criticisms, I really did enjoy the story, and it quickly became engaging only a few pages in. If you’re a fan of the genre, particularly Game of Thrones-esque fantasy, you’ll certainly enjoy Betchelder’s offering.
Pages: 548 | ASIN: B00AW53RMQ
Posted in Book Reviews, Four Stars
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Magic, adventure and excitement. That’s what Danny Estes delivers with this novel, Charlotte’s Soul. Our protagonist, Charlotte, is a woman of mysterious origins who is seeking revenge on the one who locked her away. In the beginning, we’re not given a whole lot of information about Charlotte. We know she is a witch and we know she is bent on revenge. We also are aware that she is not quite from the era the book takes place in. Even the mention of her stay in a mental health unit leads the reader to believe that perhaps Charlotte is not of her right mind. However, all of this is blown away when Charlotte links up with detective Matt Huston and dazzles us with displays of her power. She is not an ill individual with delusions of grandeur, she is a powerful woman who is about to bring hell to those who have wronged her. Will Charlotte achieve her wildest dream?
Estes has crafted Charlotte to be a powerful example of femininity and sultry desires. She is a woman and she will use whatever tools she has at her disposal to get what she wants. This includes her body. While this may seem like a stereotypical example of a woman using herself, it ties in to Charlotte’s past and the events that have led up to the present in our story. Estes is no stranger to including sexual scenes in his books, however he is very adept at making these scenes flow with a sense of beauty. Unless called for, there is nothing crude about these acts in his novels.
While there could be some better editing in this novel, the overall story is articulately pieced together without fraying at the edges. There are some spelling mistakes, some blatant miswords that could have been corrected with a thorough read through by a third party. The story does not suffer for it, however, as these issues are few and far between.
Estes flexes his creativity with descriptions of magic and scenery in this colorful world. While explaining the system of magic, the reader can tell that Estes put thought into it. Research was most likely done when using examples that readers might be familiar with, like voodoo, so that it is as believable as possible. The magic scenes of action are not so overblown that it is obvious that this is a fantasy tale, rather they are realistically described in a fashion that if you met someone who claimed to be a witch after reading this story, you might just believe them.
Danny Estes is no stranger to the world of magic and adventure. His worlds expand and become more and more intricate as he hones his craft. Charlotte’s Soul is another feather in his cap of excellence. The shortened chapters make this an easy read and the pace demands that you read it in one sitting: it is almost impossible to put it down. Readers will become attached to Matt and Charlotte, wondering if either will achieve what they are looking for. Even as the tale wraps up nicely and Estes is about to put the bow on top, we’re left wondering if we’ll see more of Charlotte again. Honestly, this feisty witch could grace another novel for us any day.
Pages: 297 | ASIN: B00PZYYNKO
Posted in Book Reviews, Four Stars
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