“Open Wounds” by Brandon Ford — Dark, Twisted Fiction

CoverBF01It’s not very often that I get to compare classic books to their modern brethren (and enjoy them, I guess I should add), so when I received Open Wounds by Brandon Ford, I wasn’t expecting what I got. What I’d been promised was “horror” but what I got instead was something dark, twisted, without any sort of supernatural beings in it and seemed absolutely true.

Let me reiterate: it’s billed as horror, but it could be any teenage girl’s everyday life.

That’s scary. Really, really scary.

Kate Montgomery was your ordinary 14 year old girl when her parents divorced. Her father, who started drinking, became violent one day and hit his wife, Kate’s mother. Soon afterwards, Kate is forced to move cross-country with her mother, away from the only life she has ever known, and into the old haunts and streets of her mother’s childhood neighborhood in Philadelphia.

Jobless and without any sort of training, Kate’s mother is forced to find work at a dive bar. Meanwhile, Kate struggles at school and tries to fit in. But a dark specter looms over the family past as Kate becomes very nervous and uncomfortable around her grandfather, a sullen and quiet man. This all is depressing, true, but this is all nothing compared to the Hell that awaits her when her mother brings home a new boyfriend.

Without giving too much away, I can say that Kate’s mom’s new boyfriend is a very evil man. He drags Kate and her mom down into a dark, hellish pit of despair and hopelessness, one that Kate sees but cannot escape. Her life continues to get worse and worse as every imaginable horror is heaped upon her, crushing her spirit and her psyche. She becomes a “cutter” and begins to leaves angry scars on her legs and thighs.

When I read this, I was instantly reminded of the 1971 classic Go Ask Alice. However, Open Wounds leaves little to the imagination as the reader is assaulted with the pure agony of Kate’s life, her struggle to remain human, and her loss of faith and family. It’s gritty, realistic and terribly frightening… and, quite frankly, perfect. I mean, it’s a horrifying story, but I think that’s what makes it so damned good. I don’t know from what dark, personal hell Brandon Ford dug this from, but he needs to tap into this reservoir more often. This is, by far, the best thing of his I’ve ever read.

The pacing is rock solid, not too fast, and builds steadily towards a satisfying climax. The character of Kate is empathetic, endearing, and achingly sad, and it pains the reader to see her go through all that she has to. The secondary characters are complex and chilling, even Kate’s best friend. The setting (late 70s’-early 80′s Philadelphia) seems to straddle the fence between gritty reality and a product of the author’s mind.

In the end, the story triumphs over all else, and leaves the reader thoroughly satisfied with Kate and her story. This book is a definite must-buy for any fan of the teen genre, or anyone else who likes a chilling, dark novel.

How good is it, one asks? Well, I sat down to read just one chapter before I went to bed, and ended up reading the entire book in just one setting.

Buy it. Read it. See what I’m talking about.

Grade: A

–Review by Jason

 

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SBR 2-for-1 Special: Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” and “Insurgent” Make One Good Novel Between Them (and It’s Not The One You Think)

Long-time readers of Shiny Book Review are probably aware that I have a liking for dystopian fiction, most particularly of the young adult variety. Yet for whatever reason, until tonight, I hadn’t touched Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy, the first two books of which are DIVERGENT and INSURGENT.

Divergent coverWhy is this, you might be asking? Am I tired of dystopias? (Um, no. Not if done well, anyway.) Has the genre simply played itself out? (Perhaps.) Or — and this one’s for the big money, folks — could it be that these novels simply seemed too much of a copycat to Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular trilogy starting with THE HUNGER GAMES? (By the way, Jason reviewed both THE HUNGER GAMES and book two of that trilogy, CATCHING FIRE, here at SBR. But I digress.)

Granted, Ms. Roth’s milieu is near-future Chicago rather than a downtrodden future Appalachia. Her version of Chicago has somehow divided itself into five factions: Abnegation (the selfless people who must take care of everyone whether they like it or not), Amity (the friendly peaceniks), Candor (the relentless truth-tellers; they would not make good lovers), Erudite (the incredibly brainy; these are the rocket scientists and entrepreneurs who think up stuff you just have to have, even if you never knew you needed it before) — and last but not least, Dauntless.

Now, why am I not talking much about Dauntless? It’s simple, really. Dauntless seems to be where everyone else goes — the thrill-seekers, the rampant sociopaths, the police and firemen, and the military, not necessarily in that order.

Mind, if you are unable to be placed in any of these five factions, you end up at the bottom of the totem pole. Everyone must be placed in these five factions, or you’re homeless, friendless, and alone — no ifs, ands or buts — even though it seems obvious that there’s some gaping holes in what the factions actually do and how they’d actually try to run a city as big as Chicago.

All of that implausibility aside — and it’s a pretty big implausibility to swallow — the actual story of Beatrice Prior and what faction she ends up choosing is pretty good. She grows up in Abnegation, which despises vanity, mostly wears gray and maybe a bit of brown now and again, and despises people who refuse to work, yet also is one of the two factions (Amity being the other) who will actually help the homeless and downtrodden.

But Beatrice does not feel like this faction is for her, even though she’s grown up with them.

That being said, she doesn’t necessarily have to stay there, as a placement test (a type of psychological simulation) that’s given at her high school at the age of sixteen will decide her fate. Whatever the test says, she’ll have to do — so if it says, say, Amity, she’ll have to go there — even though she has no friends and no family in that faction.

Fortunately for her, she proves to be divergent: she has aptitudes for more than one faction, in this case, for Dauntless, Abnegation, and, oddly enough, Erudite. And as Beatrice grew up in a solid Abnegation household (her father is a politician, while her mother seems to be a do-gooder of epic proportions, and proud of it, besides — think “volunteerism run amok” and you’re not far wrong, excepting that volunteerism on that scale would be vanity, and oh, no, the Abnegation must abhor that, jeepers!), she didn’t exactly expect this.

Her society does not officially believe in anyone being divergent, but the test givers know it’s possible. One of them, a kindly sort, tells Beatrice that she must pick one and do the simulation again so the readings will all match properly. (Does this make sense? Not really. But let’s go with it.)

And of course, that’s exactly what Beatrice does. But she does not pick Abnegation.

Nope.

Instead, she picks Dauntless, even though, like my Amity example above, Beatrice knows absolutely no one in that faction.

So, off Beatrice goes to Dauntless, renaming herself the shorter “Tris” to save steps (and, perhaps, to give the reader some idea of Beatrice’s internal transformation, going along with the book’s tagline of “One choice will transform you”). But, as you might expect, the Dauntless initiation is no picnic; she has to prove she’s brave, fearless, and skilled (along with being thrifty and reverent, too, no doubt), or she’ll not make it through the initiation.

Then something weird happens. Tris is warned by her mother, who turns out to be a former member of Dauntless, of all things (she actually chose to go to Abnegation, which seems mighty odd), not to call attention to herself.

But what does Tris do?

You guessed it: She immediately calls attention to herself.

Along the way, Tris has a rather understated romance with her Dauntless “trainer,” Four, who also turns out to have been raised as a member of Abnegation. So they have much in common; better yet, they’re actually able to hold a conversation!

(Applause, applause.)

Down the line, Tris will learn exactly why her mother decided to leave Dauntless for Abnegation, will learn the value of sacrifice . . . and will learn that her family has been hiding a huge secret. And in the meantime, she’ll be the biggest, kick-butt action hero the world has ever seen . . . at least since Katniss Everdeen. (Apologies for the unintended rhyme there.)

Which, of course, means it’s time for book two, INSURGENT.

Tris now has to figure out what, exactly, her family was hiding from her. As both of her parents are unavailable, the only person she has left to ask is her brother, who’s now a member of Erudite. But he’s not entirely trustworthy, and worse, Erudite as a faction wants to take over all of Chicago — and, eventually, the world.

You see, there’s now a major war going on between the factions. Only Amity is trying to stay out of it, and Dauntless, being what they are, is in the thick of it — but rather than being one faction, they’ve split roughly down the middle. Some have followed Four, now known by his birth name of Tobias, and Tris; others have thrown their support to Erudite, as that particular faction seems to hold all the cards.

In many ways, INSURGENT is a better novel than DIVERGENT. The romance between Tris and Tobias (formerly Four) is plausible; they’re in major trouble, they’re bickering a lot, and they’re both trying to sort out their hormones, which seems realistic. Neither of them expected to be leading their splinter of Dauntless, and both of them are way too young to be doing so and they know it . . . but there simply is no one else.

More to the point, since the whole five-faction system didn’t make any sense in DIVERGENT, showing it coming apart in INSURGENT made a ton of sense. And showing two good people who are trying their best to avoid unnecessary killing while trying to figure out Tris’s parents’ cryptic hints from the first book was, to my mind, a major strength.

However, because the action in DIVERGENT was nearly constant, and because INSURGENT is a quieter and more reflective tale (this being in relative terms, of course, as there’s still plenty of death and dismemberment to go around), many reviewers have disliked INSURGENT for the reasons I liked it — it’s quieter. It is more plausible. There’s a lot of arguing. And these two young people — Tris is still only sixteen, while Tobias is, at most, nineteen — have to scramble to figure out how to save themselves along with the people following them, not to mention figuring out just who’s left that they can possibly trust.

Put bluntly, DIVERGENT felt like it was a paint-by-numbers dystopia. It has a good protagonist that you can’t help liking in Beatrice/Tris, and a ton of action — but the plot made no sense. And it definitely had many, many things in common with THE HUNGER GAMES — too many to suit me.

However, INSURGENT is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. The plot made sense, providing you buy into the whole five-faction system coming apart (which, considering it never should’ve worked at all, is no great stretch). The characters behave in a realistic manner. And there’s still plenty of action and suspense to go around, but this time, they’re fighting for something rather than against it — and they know exactly who they’re fighting for, and why.

Bottom line? While DIVERGENT definitely didn’t do it for me — too much implausibility, and way too much derivative storytelling despite some nice writing flourishes by Ms. Roth — INSURGENT was much, much better, to the point that I will be reading and reviewing the third book of this trilogy,  ALLEGIANT, shortly.

That’s why my grades are as follows:

DIVERGENT – C.

INSURGENT – B-plus.

–reviewed by Barb

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The Six-Gun Tarot — An Amazing and Insightful Debut Novel

The Six-Gun TarotVery rarely does a debut novel make a lasting impression upon the reader. Usually, the first novel is the author looking for their voice and haven’t mastered the delicate art of building up the suspense. R. S. Belcher’s debut novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, destroys those preconceived notions.

The book starts with the young Jim Negrey leading his horse Promise across a barren wasteland of desert in 1869. Near death and with little water, Jim is on the run from the law for a terrible crime. However, before the law can hang him, Jim has to survive the desert known as the 40-Mile. His hopes were to find a railroad job in a new city under a new name. But a shadow, something more than a crime he committed, lingers over the boy. Between dangerous animals stalking him and the desert, he is doubtful he will survive.

Before the desert takes him, though, Jim is found by a strange Indian named Mutt and an even stranger man named Clay. The two men hail from the town of Golgotha, which is the closest town to where Jim wants to go. He accepts their ride into town when they are attacked by the coyotes which had been stalking Jim. Clay kills two, though the coyotes seem to be mildly nervous around Mutt. Jim is taken into town and, for the time being, will live another day.

Or perhaps not. As he’s getting off the wagon, Mutt (who is the deputy sheriff in the town) gets a call for help. A deranged and drunken man has taken hostages inside the general store, and Mutt needs to stop him before he hurts anyone. He deputizes Jim, and they prepare to try and figure out how to stop the man from hurting anyone inside. Before they can do anything which might end up with some bodies, though, the town sheriff gets back to town. Jon defuses the situation with Mutt managing to save an innocent woman’s life, and the town settles down. Jim, uncertain what to do next, is officially deputized by Jon and taken to get some food and some rest. For the first time in a long time, Jim feels like he’s somewhere he belongs.

Intertwined in the story about the crazy town of Golgotha is a deeper story about an angel who, while not exactly defying the Host, begins to doubt nonetheless. Because of this, he is tasked to stand guard over the sleeping darkness. Biqa, annoyed and angry, obeys, though it is evident that he is not happy with his punishment. After a time, though, his watch begins to take on a deeper meaning. Biqa begins to understand the little beings who exist around him, and begins to feel for humanity.

This book… wow. Just wow. There is a blend of religion and folklore in the book that drags you in and makes the reader really think without lecturing. The pacing is fantastic (as evidenced by reading it, for the second time, in less that five hours) and the characters are all very well thought-out and believable. The setting of the town itself is magnificent, and seems to be a character all its own, a breath of life in what would normally be merely a static piece of scenery in any other work. The darker undercurrent of the book, which both drives the plot and lends a creepiness factor to some characters, is wonderfully done. The overall story arc is absolutely rock-solid.

This book is a must-buy. I’d give this to someone asking me if I had read anything good and new lately. The author has done a tremendous job, and I for one can’t wait for the next round.

–Reviewed by Jason

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Tiger Gray’s “No Deadly Thing” — An nonworking mish-mash of urban fantasy and military thriller

No Deadly ThingTiger Gray’s debut novel No Deadly Thing takes place roughly during the Iraq War (2004 edition) and stars Ashrinn Pinecroft as a military veteran who is severely injured during the war. During the battle in which he was wounded, he gets the feeling for the first time of a “higher calling” and charges recklessly into the fight. After being injured in said battle and discharged, he is recruited into a mystical organization called the Order. The Order fights against “the serpent”, which is the symbol for evil across the board, thought this is (again) not explained well initially. Because of his military experience, Ashrinn is tasked to train the Seattle-Tacoma area group of the Order, which is just getting off the ground there. Beset on all sides by lack of experience and equipment, he struggles to bring the (children, really) under his tutelage to be ready for combat against the ancient evil before it is too late.

Meanwhile, his home life is an unspoken mess. His son, who doesn’t quite grasp his father’s mental and emotional war within, is struggling to go about his everyday life now that his dad is back from the war. Ashrinn’s wife, on the other hand, is thrilled that he is home and that he has finally discovered the power within him that the esoteric society (the Order) recruited him for. However, there is a taint to her aura, and Ashrinn suddenly realizes that he does not trust her or her own side of the power.

Let me get this out in the open right now: this book could have been amazing. Instead, it falls flat and is merely average.

The idea behind it, the concept and breathtaking research that the author delves into to bring the powers inside both the protagonist and the antagonists is amazing. There is talk of the Morrigan (Celtic goddess), dryads, Mesopotamian gods intermingled with Zoroastrian belief, western civilization and the modern world.

Excellent research into esoteric and ancient religion aside, there really isn’t any smooth transition points in the story. You never get a feel of right about Ashrinn, and his movements are wooden and do nothing more than to try and move the plot forward. It’s hard to explain, but bear with me for a moment. When Ashrinn talks, it doesn’t come out as honest and appealing. He’s a very unlikable  protagonist, and yet he doesn’t fit into the mold of anti-heroes that one can root for. He’s just there, and this is a crime unto itself. The background that should have been around him is not there. There is no reason to cheer him on. The strange conflict he has between his wife and a new recruit early on does nothing to make me like him more, and actually detest his weakness. I’m not demanding that he be inhuman and unfeeling, but the inner conflict inside him should be a little more evident, make him more appealing to the reader. Here is where the author failed.

The plot is convoluted but there, and the pacing is fast (a little too fast at some points, but who am I to complain about a fast-paced novel?) and doable. The right elements for a tremendous book are there, but something is missing. My gut tells me that it’s the main character. Plus, it’s about a military veteran, but what? Not every infantryman can teach people to become soldiers instead of fighters, for example. I just didn’t get the feeling that, despite him using the military to escape his eccentric family beliefs, he really never seemed to “be” the Special Forces operative that the author portrays him to be.

A mildly decent read, nothing to shout to the heavens about however. I’d borrow this one from the library, or perhaps look for it on an e-reader at a discounted price.

–Reviewed by Jason

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Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s “Necessity’s Child” is a Fine, Fast Read

Necessity's Child coverSharon Lee and Steve Miller’s NECESSITY’S CHILD is a novel about Syl Vor yos’Galan Clan Korval, a child of about eight who’s had his life completely rearranged due to circumstances beyond his control. His mother, along with her entire clan (Korval), has relocated to the planet Surebleak, a cold and dismal frontier world. Because Syl Vor was recently in danger along with every member of his clan (explicated in PLAN B and I DARE, currently collected in the omnibus KORVAL’S GAME), he’s suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress and is not particularly childlike due to having to assume adult responsibilities at way too young an age.

As NECESSITY’S CHILD is the sixteenth novel in Lee and Miller’s Liaden Universe series, it serves two purposes: For long-time readers, it fills in the gaps regarding what happened to the children of Korval once Plan B was called because of the nasty things the Department of the Interior was trying to do to Korval in order to wipe out the whole Clan. (Roughly, Plan B meant that adults of Korval scattered, while the children were taken to a place of safety and protected.) And for new readers, it’s a wonderful story about the young Syl Vor, who feels he has much to live up to, being a child of Korval, but has all the problems you might expect a young person to have who’s been uprooted from the only planet he’s ever known — Liad — and told that he must go elsewhere along with the others previously discussed.

Syl Vor quickly meets up with Kezzi and her little dog, Udari, while at a new school. Kezzi is about his age, is quick-witted and ever-so-slightly slightly psychic (with the potential to be more in the future), and has very quick reflexes. But because Kezzi comes from the secretive kompani (think “Gypsies” and you’re not far wrong), she doesn’t give either her correct name or her dog’s correct name right away. Syl Vor is drawn to her and because of a series of youthful adventures (some might call them “mishaps”), he and Kezzi end up having to account for themselves both to his mother, the formidable Nova yos’Galan Clan Korval, and to the luthia — the woman Kezzi accounts for as her grandmother, who also is the grandmother to all the kompani.

While these two are having their adventures, we meet a confused young man named Rys. He is obviously Liaden, doesn’t know what he’s doing on Surebleak, and is missing a leg. This is significant because Liadens either get medical treatment right away for their injuries (even small scars aren’t usual, or permitted), or they are often shunned by their Clan of origin.

As time goes on, we find out that Rys is a former agent of the Department of the Interior. Like Val Con yos’Phelium, Delm of Korval (and hero of many of the Liaden Universe books), he has managed to break training and become himself again. But the price has been steep, as his mind is broken and his soul does not seem to be able to be mended as he cannot fully remember exactly what has happened to bring him to this place.

Complicating the mix is a full agent of the Department of the Interior, who wants Rys to cause trouble for Korval, as Korval has managed thus far to elude the Department at every turn. Rys isn’t well enough to fight the Department on his own, or at least he thinks he isn’t . . . but perhaps he has an ally in an unexpected place?

As usual with every book Lee and Miller write, NECESSITY’S CHILD is well thought out, interesting, and I cared about the characters from beginning to end. Syl Vor in particular is an appealing youngster precisely because he’s had to assume responsibilities that are far too old for him due to the recent unpleasantness with the Department of the Interior, and how he regains a little of his boyhood is well worth reading all on its own.

But then, there’s Kezzi, and the luthia, and Rys . . . lots of interesting subplots, lots of detail, and an intriguing mix that made me wonder just how strong a man Syl Vor will be once he reaches his maturity, which is exactly what you want in a coming of age tale.

The only possible drawback I see is this: If you haven’t read the previous Liaden Universe books, starting with this one may be difficult. Syl Vor’s story should be eminently comprehensible, yes — but why the Department of the Interior is so nasty may not be, as we only see one individual from the Department who’s actively trying to harm people rather than a whole bunch of them (as in other books).

Further, if you haven’t read the previous books, you may not understand how the formidable Clan Korval ended up on Surebleak at all, so you might not understand just how alienated Syl Vor is at the beginning of NECESSITY’S CHILD — though he’s trying hard not to show it, and obviously hasn’t admitted it to himself as that’s just not done in polite society.

As I’ve read every single last book in the Liaden Universe, I don’t have the same perspective as a new reader . So all I can say is that if you haven’t read any of the other books, I think it’s likely you’ll figure out what’s going on, at least from Syl Vor and Kezzi’s perspective if not necessarily from Rys’ point of view, and that you should still enjoy NECESSITY’S CHILD.

But if you have read all of the previous books, NECESSITY’S CHILD is a delight. All of the characters here are interesting, Syl Vor’s situation is completely understandable, and his cross-cultural friendship with Kezzi is heartwarming without being cloying — which is very tough to pull off.

Bottom line? NECESSITY’S CHILD is a fun, fast read that will stick with you long after you’ve finished turning the pages, and is a welcome addition to the overall Liaden canon.

Grade: A.

– reviewed by Barb

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Earth Star — A sequel, and… that’s about it.

Earth StarI recently read Earth Girl (reviewed here by Barb) and thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was one of those novels which sucked you in, built up the suspense, and then hit you when you weren’t expecting it, built you back up, and finished with a grand conclusion,

In short, everything that the first book in a series should be.

Unfortunately, I’m not reviewing Earth Girl. I’m here to review Earth Star, which definitely suffers from the sophomore blues.

Jarra, recipient of the highest award available to mankind, is ready to return back to school after her harrowing rescue of the downed space ship in Earth Girl. She returns back to school and, surprisingly, runs into some issues with her being an “ape” — something that really didn’t crop up in the first book (except for one character, and this was developed nicely in terms of character growth, I felt at the time). She is shocked and surprised at her classmate’s reaction to her, but takes it as well as she can, since she still has her boyfriend/intended (the rules for marriage and such are very complicated). Just as she is preparing to delve back into her studies, however, she and her betrothed are both whisked away by the military.

Confused, Jarra and Fian agree to assist the military with a top secret project — identify the alien artifact that has suddenly appeared and is headed directly for Earth itself.

IN a race against the unknown, Jarra discovers that there is more to her life — and her mysterious birth family — than she could have possibly ever imagined. Unfortunately, that’s all this book does at this point — imagine how great it could be. A stagnant story line with echoes of promise, but nothing really going on as the investigation into the alien artifact is extremely drawn out, and life around Jarra goes on.

And on.

And on.

The ending feels rushed, and comes off as something that the author threw together once she realized that there was little more she could do building up the romance between Fian and Jarra. There is some tension there, but it feels contrived as the author introduces prospective interests only to throw them out the airlock as Jarra finds out she’s either related to them or they are already committed to someone and would never break that commitment.

The pacing is slow, but the characterization of Jarra is true to the previous book. However, gone is the toughened survivor out to prove everyone (secretly, I’ll add) that people are wrong about Apes. The story seems to be one giant build up, and then there is no payoff at the end — it’s almost a hand-off to the final novel, and really frustrated me. It’s a beautiful story, with lots of good prose and is technically sound, but… it’s lacking something.

Overall, not the best follow up to a breakout novel, but I’m willing to bet that, if combined with the eventual third book, it’ll be an astounding addition to the series as whole. I wouldn’t recommend buying it, however, unless you’re dead set on owning the entire series in print. Look for it when Kindle offers an ebook discount, or perhaps borrow it from the library.

Grade: C-

Reviewed by Jason

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An Interview with Novelist Extraordinaire Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

Over the past two years, we at Shiny Book Review have avidly devoured every last one of Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s novels — there are five to date (FIRES OF NUALA, HIDDEN FIRES, FIRE SANCTUARY, NIGHT CALLS, and KINDRED RITES), with a sixth, SPIRAL PATH, currently being polished even as we speak.

There’s a reason for that.

Put simply, anything Ms. Kimbriel writes is worth the price of admission. It doesn’t matter whether she writes fantasy or science fiction; it doesn’t matter whether she’s writing a young adult novel, as in her Night Calls series, or if she’s writing a complex and challenging far-future epic clearly meant for adults, as with her Chronicles of Nuala.

Whatever she writes is excellent in all particulars. Guaranteed.

So, without further ado, please welcome novelist Katharine Eliska Kimbriel!

SBR: You’ve written both fantasy and hard science fiction, and your writing has been well-received in both genres. What, if anything, do you do differently when writing a fantasy story as opposed to a SF story?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: As I mention over in my bio on Book View Cafe, I return to the question of power, and the metaphor is either magic or technology.  Who has it, who doesn’t, do they want it, what will they do with it, how were they affected by it?  It doesn’t matter if I’m writing tech or magic–I want to know how people are changed by their surroundings, events, and the catalyst–magic or tech.  On Nuala, a space-faring group of humans is changed forever by being stranded on a planet where the radiation breakdown is 3x what it is on Earth, with the resultant mutation and sterility factors to overcome.  They could dwindle into death, or they could blaze a new path.  In my fantasy, sometimes the magic solves problems, and sometimes it makes problems–but the people have to deal with it, while still living their lives and interacting with others, both magical and mundane.  I tend not to change a lot, when I create a society–I change a little, making an interesting blend from Earth societies, just to see what will happen.  On Nuala, I used three things, essentially–the increased radiation level, the mutated mineral-leeching microbe, and the mutation that amplified the ability to heal, the so-called King’s touch.

Little changes can multiply into big things!

SBR: How did you come up with your Chronicles of Nuala? (What gave you the initial idea?)

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Two things…I was fascinated by pictures of the huge vegetables growing in the soil around Hiroshima, and the rampant fertility of the soil. I’d also read about wiring a battery to a bone break to speed healing. So I took two questions: 1) What if people could not only survive, but in some weird way, thrive, in a radioactive environment? 2) What if the the concept of laying-on of hands to heal became a reality? Then the story began.

SBR: What was your first story sale? How did that lead into writing novels?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Actually, my first sale was Fire Sanctuary! I sold it to Bluejay Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s, but they never counter-signed the contract (they had no cash flow, and were in trouble) so I’d gotten an agent, who resold the book to Warner/Popular Library/Questar in about a year. Those were the bad old days. We were captive to New York publishing.

SBR: How did you come up with your Night Calls series starring Alfreda “Allie” Sorensson?

Older cover for NIGHT CALLS

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Allie leapt from my subconscious at a statement from the wonderful writer and editor Jane Yolen. She was doing a series of anthologies for Harper & Row, and the first one was to be Werewolves!. A group of us were lunching at World Fantasy Convention, and we were peppering her with questions, testing the start of funny or serious short pieces. I don’t write a lot of short things–they bloom quickly into novels. But I asked her, “Does the werewolf have to be seen?” Jane replied, “The werewolf does not have to be seen, but its presence has to be felt.”

New cover for NIGHT CALLS

I then had two very sharp images come to mind. First, a young girl in clothing that was not modern–either pre- or post modern–gently brushing away snow to find garlic attempting to root under a window, and a young girl with long, blond braids dragging a chair to an interior door to hang up a braid of garlic. In that first version, Allie was post-apocalyptic, but Kim Moran at Amazing Stories convinced me to place her in the past. Allie was born there.

SBR: What sorts of research did you do to add verisimilitude for each series?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: It depended on the story. I researched Antarctica and mineral-leeching microbes for Nuala–also Mirror Matter/antimatter, recessive eye colors, sequoias! For Allie’s world I have an extensive bookshelf of books on herbs, magic, folk tales, fairy stories of Scandinavia, Ireland and the world–colonial life and times. The War of 1812…

SBR: How well did you know Roger Zelasny, and what influence (if any) did he have on your work?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Roger Zelazny came to several Texas conventions when I lived in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.  I thought he was wonderful, and he decided I was pretty interesting, too.  I came up with the book title If at Faust You Don’t Succeed–that was the weekend he was all excited about the book he was writing from the POV of Jack the Ripper’s Dog, one of my favorite of his books, A Night In the Lonesome OctoberWe exchanged letters when his schedule permitted, and had started talking on the phone (we had different networks, which back then was a good thing–we could swap industry gossip!) when he became ill with his cancer.  Only very, very close friends, most of them in New Mexico, knew how ill he was…I was ready to come to Santa Fe at that point, but did not hear back from him.  Then word went out through the fan networks that he had died, and I knew why I had not heard back. Instead of seeing him, I was writing an elegy for Locus and a sympathy note to Jane Lindskold.

I miss him still.  He never got to see Allie, he was too ill to read the story.  Roger taught me to write short stories as if they were the last chapter of a novel–and a lot about writing dialogue.  You can follow his dialog for pages without any qualifiers telling you who is speaking.  That helps me remember to keep speech patterns distinct.

SBR: How is being published by Book View Cafe different from working with your previous publisher(s)? What do you like about this approach, and do you think there will be more consortiums like BVC in the future?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: It is collaborative, because as a coop we do everything, and we help with everything.  We have a huge forum where there are topics for kibbitzing on cover art, layout, back cover blurbs–we have people currently specializing in everything from ebook formatting to keeping the web site going through blogging and copy editing.  There are people shepherding production schedules and volunteers.  I could not have gotten my books up without my fellow authors, due to my health problems back in the early BVC years.  I hope I have been useful to them.  Right now I do everything from woman the events calendar to serve as a member of the board.  And as you know, I mention all the great books we bring out.  It’s a blessing to me that everyone in the coop is good at what they write, whether their work is to my personal tastes or not.  I have no hesitation bringing their books to the attention of my fans, because there’s a chance that some of them may be looking for just that type of book.

I do think the producer cooperative model will be a successful one for writers.  We are inventing a new way to do business, but we are hopeful and making more money each year,  So…forward!

SBR: You’ve recently announced (via Facebook) that the third book in the Night Calls series has been finished. How soon will it be available?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Well, I’m editing. Once I am satisfied with it, Spiral Path will go to at least one Book View Cafe member for a beta read, because it is an original work. (Also to my cover artist, Mitchell Bentley.) It’s at least a four month lag time from that point. I hope at the end of this week to be able to ballpark it, because I want to send out print copies for review to Locus and possibly Rave Reviews. End of summer, if I can get the lead slot at Book View Cafe? This is possibly Allie’s last chance. I have to make some money from the books, because I spent a great deal of money staying alive. I have to make a living and try to replenish the emptied investment account. So…if not Allie, I will have to try writing something else. In fact, I will be starting a new series, a contemporary fantasy, after this, and also, I hope a fourth Allie book, if she’s still telling me her story.

(Interviewer’s aside: Let us sincerely hope so! Allie’s a great character and I want more of her, pronto. End of aside.) 

SBR: Ms. Kimbriel, e-books of all five of your novels are available right now. But what about hard-copy, “dead tree” editions? Are they, too, available now?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Well, all my books exist in paper. I just don’t get any money for sales of the SF, unless you buy them from me at a convention! I’ll do the third Allie in print, but the sales on the SF are not great enough to justify new cover art. So don’t expect the Nuala books in print soon–I need a better paying job first! On the other hand, I have some new copies of Hidden Fires that might interest folk… ;^)

SBR: As an editor, what is your favorite genre to edit? (Or do you like a little bit of everything?) And what is your favorite book that you’ve ever edited, and why?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Actually, I don’t have a favorite right now. I love the variety. I prefer fiction, and really enjoy concept editing. I like helping someone find their own voice and where they want to go, and making it the best book their idea can be. I would have liked being a NY editor, but that didn’t happen.

SBR: Why didn’t it happen?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Becoming a known concept editor who can make a living at it tends to start with a job (working) for a NY publisher. You had to move to NY in those days, and that was something I would not have dreamed of doing when I was first publishing–my husband had a good job in Texas, and Texas was having its first tech boom at that time. Later I was trying to establish a business that would let me write fiction part time, and I was looking for life balance, so I became a clinical massage therapist. Finally, I became ill, and life has been catch-up ever since. So although I have been told by many writers that I am a good concept editor, and my resume tag line is “Writer, editor, and trainer specializing in retaining the authentic client voice”, becoming a developmental editor at this point is unlikely.

SBR: What do you think is most important when pursuing a career as a writer and editor? Talent? Persistence? Money? Connections? A little of everything? (And does fame, at all, interest you? If it does, how so? And if not, why not?)

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: None of those things hurt. To be a writer, a storyteller, you need stories you are driven to tell (and that may be harder than ever to do, with even more life distractions out there!) persistence, and talent. To be published requires persisting…at the writing, the submissions, or researching how to do it yourself. And then researching how to promote, or not–how to submit the book to a few review sites and let it go, keep writing.

Fame interests me only as a medium to reach more readers with my stories. Money, sadly, would be handy–I spent a fortune staying alive, and I must work now, and need a decent income. If the writing cannot pull its weight, then I have to relegate it to a hobby and return to school or take whatever I can find in the current market. I think Alfreda will outlive me, but who knows what future creators will do with her and her tales. I don’t know about anything else I’ve written or may yet write.

SBR: One, final question: What would you like to say to new authors?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: If you have a story that keeps you awake at night, then you may just be a storyteller. Figure out how you want to tell it–book, graphic novel, film–and go for it. No other hobby can compete with creating something unique. Don’t let it be the thing you regret most in life; the thing you never tried.

If you have regrets? Don’t let them be your stories.

Again, many thanks to Katharine Eliska Kimbriel for consenting to this wide-ranging interview . . . now, go forth and read her books already!

– interviewed by Barb

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