New author interview!

Yesterday, I did an interview with Joseph Cautilli for the Indie Author Fan Connect Facebook group, discussing my latest published novel “Bring Out the Dead”. For those of my readers who are not members of said group, I thought I would share the interview here. Check it out!

Joseph Cautilli (JC): Hello all and welcome. Tonight, we will be interviewing Alex Shalenko on his first novel- Bringing Out the Dead. This is a wonderful story set with am American in Russia dealing with the culture and the occult at the same time. This is a list interview so please feel free to ask questions. y first question to Alex is why be a writer? What has motivated you to get into this field?

Alex: Good evening everyone, and thank you Joseph! I have always been interested in writing, since very early age. I realize that it is probably the answer given by many people, so I’ll elaborate! In my case, I have always enjoyed stories, the more imaginative, the better. Growing up in the Soviet Union in the 80s, the choices for entertainment were rather limited, and I got an early love for all things fantastical. From there, it was not a long stretch to realize that not only did I enjoy reading, but I always enjoyed writing, and had a knack for it. As I acquired life experience and learned more about the world around me, I saw stories to be told, both based on my own experience, and on the experiences of others, from history and mythology to everyday life. This is what drew me to write, to continue writing, and to eventually get to this point.

JC: It sounds like a very interesting start. One thing I like about your work is how it seems to be really alive with Eastern European culture. My wife is from Poland and it gives me the flare of when I go to my place there. So give us a brief overview of story

Alex: At its core, “Bring Out the Dead” is a supernatural thriller set in an exotic locale, offering a different take on the idea of otherworldly forces interfering in the modern world. In the far north of Russia, the town of Severozavodsk is a place where dark history and harsh environment keep its people isolated from the rest of the world. Hidden in the embrace of winter and sustained by the wealth of minerals mined from the frozen ground, Severozavodsk is the place where no one visits voluntarily, but for some, it is a ticket to wealth – and for Jake Levin and Bill Jones, financial analysts hailing from California, it is a job. As the blizzard closes the town off, and deadly supernatural forces begin to stir beneath the Siberian permafrost, Jake must face a secret history of his own if he – and the town – is to survive.

JC: Please give us a link for the book on amazon so people can get it if they like a copy.

Alex: The novel can be purchased at Amazon in two editions, paperback and e-book. The paperback edition link is http://www.amazon.com/Bring-Out-Dead-Alex-Shalenko/dp/1508470650/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid= . The Kindle/e-book edition link is http://www.amazon.com/Bring-Out-Dead-Alex-Shalenko-ebook/dp/B00TWVOYKK/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid= .

JC: The permafrost is really interesting place for the setting of a story. Indeed, unless people are familiar with the constant cold, it is often difficult to get an appreciation for such and environment. I know you are from the Ukraine- but have you ever visited those super cold regions? The story is highly detailed especially about the winter. It kind of struck me like you had been there before.

Alex: A great question! I have always enjoyed stories set in extreme environments, and writing “Bring Out the Dead” gave me a great opportunity to bring such an environment to life. I have been to Siberia at a fairly young age (as a tourist, believe it or not – it is actually a very beautiful place), though not as far north as Norilsk (which is the real-life inspiration for the novel’s Severozavodsk). That said, the frozen North is perhaps a bit less exotic for the people of the former Soviet Union…

In the days of USSR, many would go north to work for a few years, because the salaries there were considerably higher than elsewhere. As a result, almost everyone knew somebody who went north to make money, or who had stories to tell.

JC: The industrial pollution in Russia is very well known. The old Soviets really did not have a great love for the environment. It gives the story a realistic flair. The story takes place in Russia. I was wondering if you had some background of experience in Russia. The story is highly detailed especially about the winter. It kind of struck me like you had been there before.

Ok. So this is Jake’s first trip to Russia. Jake is an analyst and he is assessing a Russian mining operation. Can you tell us a little about what drives Jake?

Alex: Most definitely! I should make a bit of a disclaimer – I have spent the entirety of my professional, non-literary career in the financial industry. As a result, Jake is an amalgam of many people who seem to be attracted to that industry – young, bright, educated, ambitious… and totally ruthless. My challenge in writing him was to stray from the “Wolf of Wall Street” stereotype, and to dig a bit deeper. Yes, he does come to Russia because of greed, and because of ambition… but what makes him stay? What makes him do things that he does? Is there more to a person like that than raw ambition and desire to get ahead at any cost?

I hoped to answer these questions over the course of the novel, which also served to give Jake more depth, and to make him more relatable.

JC: I love the answer. I think it is true that many young men in their 20s and 30s developmentally are in their Empire building stage. It is during this time that they pursue bringing change to the world to bend it into their own image. Can you tell us a bit about your process in designing Jake?

Alex: When I started working on the novel, I tried to do two things. First, I wanted to write about things I knew well – Russia and financial industry topping the list. My initial intent was to write a ghost story, but the novel took me in a different direction, and for that, Jake was a necessity. He is an amalgam of several “Empire builders” who I came across in my own career path, and who represent the traits I do not always like seeing in people – and these traits often hint at shallow, one-dimensional personalities. That said, who is Jake? Is he really an archetype? I decided to dig a bit deeper into him, and to give him more definition and personality. Is he this way because he is truly a self-centered and shallow human being, or is he this way because he thinks it is expected of him, and he must show this side of his personality to keep up a measure of success? I like to think that very few people are truly one-dimensional and can be defined by a single ambition, so in writing Jake, I tried to challenge that paradigm and to present him as a multi-dimensional, realistic human being who starts off in a certain mode, but who has development and rediscovers a degree of his essential humanity.

JC: I think it is a sign of a very well developed character that they don’t stay one dimensional. The process of rediscovery is a painful one though. Speaking of pain, we have all been on a business trip with a guy who just don’t want to be there. There is another analyst assigned to the case as well, Bill. Bill is going through some emotional problems at arrival. Do you think Bill was stable before arriving for the assessment?

Alex: Oh, the poor, messed up Bill Jones! He was a lot of fun to write, especially as his… for the lack of spoilers… dysfunctions started to surface. He was written as a different archetype… at least at the beginning. We all know the stereotype, a middle-aged guy forever stuck in middle-management positions who tends to care more about his next fishing trip than about advancement (and who may guard his position with such jealousy that he can be every bit as vicious as the younger mavericks!). And then, I started to deconstruct him. I think that Bill was definitely not in a very good place at the beginning of the novel, but he started off by wearing his mask reasonably well. In a way, he is at his most vulnerable, and it makes him into the perfect character to, well… you have to read the novel to find out!

JC: Yes, Bill strikes me as type B personality and off the career track. Olga is assigned to help them assess the company. I guess she is assigned to be distracting eye candy but she becomes more. She seems very down to earth and have an understanding of Russia that it pretty unique. How would you describe it?

Alex: I found that there are certain aspects of Russian culture and mentality that are very unique to that country; having lived with it during my formative years, and having grown up with Russian literature and cinema, I think that Olga’s views are probably not unique amongst the Russians. It is hard to explain Russia and its culture in a short format, or even in a larger work – there is, after all, a famous Russian saying that you cannot understand Russia through reason alone. That said, imagine a country that sees itself as being surrounded by enemies on all sides, that had dozens of successive bad governments, that sees itself as a unique place neither East nor West, and that developed hybrid spirituality both fatalistic and mystical – then, imagine the kind of people such place would produce. Olga is the product of this environment, though I tried to give her enough traits that would make her relatable to Western readers, and easier to understand for someone who might not have been brought up in the midst of Russian society and its entire cultural baggage. Through Olga, I tried to give the reader a look through the spyglass, a look at the other side of the Atlantic (or, if you are on the US West Coast, over the Bering Strait!) – and to humanize the Russian mindset, the good, the bad, and the ugly of it.

JC: Speaking of mentally unique- the workers are sort of unique who are called to that type of environment. I like how you pull in a lot of thee trouble with running a mining operation in the cold of the Russian winter. It gives a person that you have strong knowledge of what mining is like and how important it is to this community. Indeed, you mentioned before that the Russians differentially paid the people who work in such climates. It is also mentioned in your book. This sort of work calls for a different type of worker. What would you say drives that type of person?

Alex: Another great question Joseph! To understand this mentality, I think it helps to get a feel for the larger culture of Russia. It is a country where, until fairly recently, free movement of people was restricted. More often than not, if you were born in a certain part of the country, you would end up spending a large part of your life there – you would have difficulty finding permanent living quarters anywhere else, and since the state was the largest (and usually the only) employer, you would have difficulty finding work. For many people, the only way out was through work reassignment, through education (which was much more difficult to obtain), or through military service (and even then only if they were lucky). This gave reinforcement to a uniquely Russian form of fatalism. As a result, the communities that formed in places such as Severozavodsk were rarely voluntarily formed; the few volunteers would view it as a temporary assignment, but the people who were born in Siberia would usually end up staying in Siberia. There is also a tradition of using the area as a dumping ground for all sorts of malcontents, which would further give credence to the idea that once you are there, you cannot leave.

It is perhaps less of what drives the people who live in places like Severozavodsk, and more the lack of hope they would have of finding a better life anywhere else.

JC: Siberia- brrr…Different workers different motivation. Like a lot of people I know in the Market, he sort of has a very self-centered way of greeting the world. Indeed, given his age and that he is sort of in the empire building stage of life this is not surprising. How does this view changes after his challenge with Bill?

Alex: While Jake definitely encounters a challenging situation with Bill, I view it as a trigger that sets him on a journey, not a major part of the entire journey. I think that the situation with Bill creates a nadir of Jake’s experience, and gives him just enough of a nudge in a different direction, so that when other, greater challenges come, he starts to view them differently. Without giving too much away, Jake’s world view will change, but there is more leading into it than just the situation with Bill – both his relationship with Olga, the influence of the supernatural forces at play in Severozavodsk, and ultimately the choices he will have to make (and their consequences) will leave him a much changed person by the end of the novel.

Something of Russia rubs off on Jake, in more ways than one…

JC: How does the episode with Bill change the relationship between Olga and Jake?

Alex: As the situation unfolds and the blizzard begins to isolate the city, all the fears and suspicions in Jake’s mind come to life. His dreams; his odd perception of Severozavodsk; the fears by which he defined himself – fear of failure foremost amongst them. The paranoia is a dangerous thing to have, especially in a foreign land infamous for it, and in a situation that pushes Jake to the edge. As far as his relationship with Olga, I think that this situation brings them closer at one level (after all, they have both been through something serious together), and creates a major barrier between them – which is not surprising, given Jake’s paranoia, and his belief that now Olga has some leverage over him. It is difficult for him to see the world in terms which do not agree with a dog-eat-dog vision he aspires to, and as a result, it significantly discolors his thinking. The episode also creates a certain level of common ground between the two, a connection that challenges both of them to reexamine how they view their relationship.

Fear both unites and divides them, and the realization of what stirs beneath the permafrost adds another layer to them.

JC: In some ways, I think Bill drives Jake and Olga closer. But that is just my feeling. On a different note, the winter in Russia is sort of out of ordinary for the time of year. I like how you use elements to foreshadow events to come. Can you tell us a little about our process in setting this up? Any particular literary techniques you use to build the suspense?

Alex: The elements play an important part in the novel, and I like to think of the Siberian winter as a character in its own right. It is rich fodder for metaphors, but also plays a role in the flow of the story. In fact, I think that I had the idea of a town in winter before I conceptualized anything about the story – the winter had to be the star, because without it, the story would not have happened.

One of my favorite literary techniques is to create a viewpoint character and to use “show, don’t tell” style of storytelling. I try to consider how this character might view the situation, what is going on through his or her head, and, most of all, if I were in this character’s shoes, how would I act? How would someone I know act? Further, I try to avoid plot holes, which probably makes me an overenthusiastic user of Chekhov’s Rifle (if there is a weapon on the wall in the first act of the story, it will be used for dramatic effect by the third act). Each foreshadowing is supposed to lead to something, and fits into the overall picture – and in order to do that, I try to have a good idea of the ending before I get much past the first couple of chapters.

Plus, Chekhov was Russian, so it was oddly fitting for this novel!

JC: I like you you focus in on people’s reactions. Now Zima is sort of the personification of the Russian winter. How would you describe her personality? Does she have human like goals? What was your process in defining and writing her?

Alex: I was going for something inhuman. Zima is quite literally the Russian word for “winter”, and I tried to express that unfeeling, strange character that has little reference point to our notions of morality, kindness, or mercy. It operates on another level that has little in common with us, and I tried to convey that – a force of cruel nature which cares little for human ants… until such ants hurt her by design or accident

JC: Nice comparison. How would you describe Chizhov? What are points of you do you feel he represents?

Alex: Chizhov is the human side of inhumanity. Evil has a way of being so very banal that you can almost forget its nefarious intent. He is the personification of that, the industrial side of cruelty and callousness that perhaps does not even realize its place on the moral spectrum.

I can imagine people like that coming home to their families at the end of the day, drinking their tea, hugging their spouses and children, and not thinking twice about what they had to do to acquire a comfortable life, or whose lives they ruined.

JC: What part of yourself would you say is in Bill? I know it is an odd question but if you can think of something, it might help to unlock the character for the readers. Is it a part that you like in yourself or don’t like in yourself?

Alex: I think to me, he is complacency. All of us have been guilty of it… me as well. He is that comfortable place, hiding from your own demons by pretending all is well until the demons come into the light and refuse to leave.

JC: I agree people take much for granted. What would you say changes in the relationship between Jake and Olga?

Alex: I think that there is more of mutual… respect and understanding between Jake and Olga. At the beginning, it is a mutually parasitic relationship, as they both want something from each other, but eventually, it morphs into something else… and it is exploited by the powers influencing the unnatural events in the novel.

JC: We are sort of running out of time. So what do you plan to write next? Will you continue to make this a series?

Alex: I am currently working on a dark science fiction space opera novel, tentatively titled “Graveyard Empire”. Think large-scale, epic, post-apocalyptic, and quite grim. For “Bring Out the Dead”, it was intended as a standalone – I thought that the story was self-contained, and left little room to explore without losing the impact of the novel.

JC: Well I like to take a moment to thank Alex Shalenko for joining me in this interview. It has been a lot of fun on my end. I want to remind others to feel free to ask questions. One last one- Alex what has it been like working for JEA Press?

Alex: Thank you Joseph – the pleasure is all mine! I have really enjoyed working with JEA. Not only did they offer me a path to becoming a published author, but they were supportive and helpful along the way. I have had a great experience with them, and would recommend them as a publisher of many great works of fiction!

Gay marriage, religion, and absolute truth

I usually try to avoid commenting on every flavor-of-the-week news story, but I thought that I would make an exception for some of the recent events taking place in our society. With the US Supreme Court finally legalizing gay marriage in the United States, an important milestone was reached in separating the secular nature of society from its other aspects, often derived from religious visions of morality, often tied to specific beliefs. I think it is an important development, and am very glad that we as a society are finally learning to separate the inherent human rights from individually held beliefs.

Most religions have teachings with one implication – if you do not follow their rules, something bad will happen to you, in this life or in the next. Some call it hell; to others, it is lack of spiritual progression, or some other effect most people would consider undesirable. It is a rare religion that would not condemn anyone who would lead others to stray from its teachings, for wouldn’t such people lead the righteous into harm?

But herein is the dilemma. If we accept that there is one objective truth that explains the universe, the humanity, and the moral guidance we should follow, how do we know what it is? If such truth exists, then only one belief can get it right – everyone else got it wrong. Considering how many beliefs there are, and how vehemently their adherents disagree with each other, what are the chances that any individual belief got it all correctly? And if there is an overwhelming possibility that any given understanding of the universe has at least some incorrect parts, wouldn’t forcing that belief’s rules on non-believers go against the key tenet of most beliefs: do not lead others astray, do not lead them into spiritual harm?

This brings me to gay marriage. If the key argument against it is based on belief that it is an immoral choice, and therefore goes against religiously-prescribed morality, then this argument is extremely arrogant. Those who make it assume that they have the knowledge of the universal truth, and do not account for possibility that they are wrong, and that by pushing their interpretation of truth on the society as a whole, they might be doing spiritual or physical harm to the rest of the society.

Imagine a group of school children given access to a gym and playing field with every sporting accessory you can think of. Now, imagine telling them that in a month’s time, they will participate in an athletic competition, and that they will suffer severe punishment if they lose – and then, leave, without telling them what competition they will be participating in, what sport they will be playing, or who their opponent might be.

Should the children start kicking the ball and practicing their soccer skills? Should they shoot hoops and try to form a basketball team? Or, perhaps, should they practice freestyle swimming instead? What if the competition is an individual table tennis tournament – would the kid who tries to form a hockey team be harming their chances of winning, even if he thinks he is doing the right thing?

I make no pretense of knowing what the absolute truth is; my ethics and morals as a person, as a writer, and as a musician are my own. I am just happy that more people in this country are able to enjoy the rights the rest of us already have, and in the end, this is all that matters.

Album review: Kamelot – “Haven”

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KAMELOT

“Haven”

2015

Rating: 83%

Time flies. My love affair with Kamelot started in the halcyon days of 1999, when I stumbled upon a copy of “The Fourth Legacy” at a now-defunct Tower Records. I must admit – it was an impulse buy, prompted as much by trying to find new underground metal as it was by somewhat titillating album cover (I was 18, don’t blame me!). What I discovered was one of the better power metal releases of the era, made even more impressive by the fact that the band was American rather than European (with one notable exception, but I will get to that in a minute). For a youth whose flirtations with underground metal at the time did not much deeper than Iced Earth and In Flames, “The Fourth Legacy” was an eye-opening find, a melodic metal gem that owed its success to both strong songwriting, prominent use of symphonic elements and vaguely Middle Eastern melodies, and unique vocals of Norwegian singer Roy Khan.

While I felt that follow-up “Karma” was not as strong, the band upped their ante with “Epica” / “The Black Halo” conceptual duology, and continued the streak with solid “Ghost Opera”. By that time, Kamelot developed a very distinct sound, taking on elements of goth that proved to be somewhat divisive with their fan base, especially on 2010’s controversial “Poetry for the Poisoned” (for the record, I rather enjoyed those forays, though I can understand some of the backlash from the older fans).

Fast forward to 2015. Roy Khan has long departed, and his replacement, Swede Tommy Karevik, is on his second Kamelot album as a lead vocalist alongside Kamelot mainstays Thomas Youngblood, Casey Grillo, Oliver Palotai, and Sean Tibbets. While 2012’s “Silverthorn” served to introduce the fans to the new man behind the microphone, it was a transitional album of sorts, and perhaps a safer choice from songwriting and performance perspective as the band stuck to its familiar style, scaling back on some experimentation to produce a good, but not necessarily groundbreaking record. As such, it falls to “Haven” to show what the new and reinvigorated Kamelot could do.

First things first. “Haven” is not the second coming of “The Black Halo” or a clear shout-out to “The Fourth Legacy” or its three largely forgotten predecessors. At the same time, it has enough elements from those days to remind even the most jaded fan that yes, this is still the same band, and they have not lost a step. The symphonic element is as strong and as prominent as ever, and if anything, it is even more accentuated on most of the album’s tracks. The vaguely Middle Eastern melodies and the sense of dynamics which separated Kamelot from many hyperspeed power metal acts during their formative days come to the fore on tracks like “Insomnia”. The overall album pace, however, is probably in the mid-tempo territory.

There are two ballads, which are, as one would expect from Kamelot, good. “Under Grey Skies” made me think of something John Lennon could have conjured up, though it might have been due to lyrics making some pointed nods in the direction of Lennon’s “Imagine”. Both that song and “Here’s to the Fall” are strong, and sound sufficiently distinct to justify their inclusion.

This is not to say that “Haven” entirely lacks in speed. “Veil of Elysium” is as power metal as they come, fast, melodic, and an excellent choice to release as the first glimpse of the album. “Liar Liar” alternates fast and atmospheric mellow parts to great effects, and though the opener “Fallen Star” is more moody than fast, it is not without a degree of aggression. “End of Innocence” is pure symphonic metal magnificence with its orchestral arrangements, transitioning perfectly from short instrumental “Ecclesia”. Though Kamelot’s membership in the confines of the power metal genre might be more tenuous these days, it is good to see this venerable band maintain a clear connection to where it came from, and create music at least partially reflective of its roots.

There are, of course, nods to the more recent Kamelot works, which may prove to be more controversial. Several songs maintain a harder edge that is not, strictly speaking, bearing a lot of resemblance to power metal (“Beautiful Apocalypse” with its modern metal riffing and electronic touches, or “Revolution” with its flirtations with extreme metal). Simpler, slower Dio-esque “Citizen Zero” sounds like it could have fit on “Poetry for the Poisoned” (case in the point: “Necropolis”), at least until the operatic choir section in the middle changing the feel of the song. “My Therapy” is not a million miles removed from “Silverthorn” in that it makes a good use of poppy melody, creating a catchy chorus that would not have been out of place on any modern rock station.

From performance standpoint, there is nothing to fault. Karevik continues to fill Khan’s shoes with vigor and enthusiasm, sounding close enough to maintain Kamelot’s unique vocal approach, but adding enough of his own personality to be able to tell the two apart. Where Khan’s voice often took on aspects of operatic, Geoff Tate-esque dramatic pathos, Karevik adds some rock sensibility and grit while still capably hitting every note within his extensive range and alternating between silky smooth crooning, power metal heroics, and unbridled aggression when the songs call for it. The rest of the band plays like the consummate professionals they are, not missing a beat. As always, Kamelot brings on board several guests, including lead singers from Delain and Arch Enemy to provide female vocals (and, in Alissa White-Gluz’s case, adding an assortment of harsh growls on “Revolution” and “Liar Liar”).

The songs generally carry a darker mood, though this time, it is less about Faustian tragedies and more about the nature of human existence, the contemplative dirges about social ills and dystopian nightmares. In my opinion, it made for a different feeling from any Kamelot album past, as fantasy and mysticism are largely amiss in favor of the real world. The album is, therefore, fairly consistent in feel, and has a definite flow, with several standout numbers drawing attention.

That said, “Haven” is not without some flaws. I applaud Kamelot for continuing to experiment, but the results of said experiments range from stunning (“End of Innocence”, the closest “Haven” gets to a single focal point) to questionable (“Revolution”, which somehow feels less coherent as a song). There are no tracks I would want to skip, but while the strongest songs are easily as good as anything from the band’s classic releases, there are few weaker tracks – “Citizen Zero” with its plodding pace nearly breaks the momentum, and “Beautiful Apocalypse”, while not bad by any means, has the misfortune of being bookended by two of the album’s strongest tracks, therefore seeming lesser by comparison. The aforementioned closer “Revolution” feels somewhat forced during transitions between parts of the song, and its extreme metal stylings seem out of place on a Kamelot record.

Even with these misgivings, it is hard to argue that Kamelot have created a strong record. It grabbed my attention, and though it is less immediate than some of the band’s catchier material, I suspect that it will get more plays from me than anything since “The Black Halo”. It ranks in the upper half of Kamelot’s discography for me, and confirms that they are still a creatively viable band. Good stuff!

Now in print!

Just a quick post to remind you that this blog is still alive, and… oh, did I mention that I am now in print? My J. Ellington Ashton Press debut, “Bring Out the Dead”, is available now for only $10.99!

https://www.createspace.com/5315927

Also, I have a story in the “Inanna Rising” anthology from J. Ellington Ashton Press. Pick up your copy if you have not already done so – available in print and on Kindle!

http://www.amazon.com/Inanna-Rising-Women-Forged-Fire/dp/1508470219/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

The mandatory annual reflection post

JEA Convention - January 5th through 11th, 2015

JEA Convention – January 5th through 11th, 2015

Yes, this is that season again, when annual updates and reflections are customary and replete with resolutions for the upcoming year. I suppose I am no exception to the rule, so I shall keep it brief.

On the balance, 2014 was a good year for me. I reached the all-important milestone of signing my first publishing contract, and am looking forward to seeing my novel and some short stories in print in the coming year. While it has not been as productive on the literary front, it saw me complete several short stories, get some good work done on “Graveyard Empire”, write and record a decent amount of music, and learn much personally and professionally.

It was not the easiest year. I found that going back to school was more difficult than expected with a family and a job that routinely exceeds 50 and sometimes 60 hours per week. Thankfully, it is a relatively short-term commitment compared to the degrees I earned in the past, but it cut heavily into the time available for other endeavors. It was, however, a lesson to treasure and better organize the time I do have, and to make the most of it.

There is much that can be said about both accomplishments and challenges of 2014, but the past is past. And the future shall bring many, many exciting things.

In the immediate term, I am excited to participate in the online convention hosted by J Ellington Ashton Press between January 5th and 11th at http://www.jellingtonashton.com. This should be a great event for both readers and writers alike, with many authors in attendance to talk about their works, life, universe, and everything in between. I hope to see many of you there!

Later in the year, my debut novel “Bring Out the Dead” should see the light of day through J Ellington Ashton Press, and my short story “The Great Bear” will be featured in the “Altered Europa” anthology from Martinus Publishing. The long-awaited (or, rather, the long-delayed) solo album will finally see the light of day, and the fourth Midgard record should be finished and released. And who knows… there might be a few more surprises down the line!

With this, I would like to wish all of you a happy New Year. May 2015 bring you health, success in your aspirations, and, for all you fellow creative types, productivity. I cannot wait to see what you create, and to share my own creations with you. Here is to 2015, and all the great things that it will bring!

A very exciting announcement!

Certain announcements are never easy, not when they are the culmination of a dream many years in the making. So, I might as well get it over with: my supernatural horror novel “Bring Out the Dead” has been picked up by J Ellington Ashton Press, with the tentative release date in 2015.

I am extremely excited to announce this, and hope that you enjoy the novel when it is released. After all, what is there not to like about frozen Siberian mining towns with dark secrets, supernatural forces hidden beneath the permafrost, and the innocent (?) people caught between them?

Now, on to the editorial process, and to hard (but extremely fulfilling) work associated with it!

Published! (again)

More exciting news – my short story “The Great Bear” has been picked up by Martinus Publishing for inclusion in the upcoming Altered Europa anthology, due in early 2015! Per publisher website, the anthology will “feature stories of alternate history where something changed in European history as we know it.”  The short story collection will appear both in print and electronically.

Good news indeed, especially since Martinus already published works by some authors I hold in very high regard (and some of whom might also be featured in the book) – I am honored to be a part of their anthology!

Now, time to do something sufficiently celebratory.

Graveyard Empire – new (?) novel announcement

This novel is, as of right now, more than two years in the making.

A long time ago (early 2012, to be precise), I sketched out the basic idea behind Graveyard Empire here, here, and even here (a very early snippet of the prologue). For some reason or the other, the novel never got off the ground, even though I did manage to finish few other projects in between.

Well, that is about to change.

This is the last age of Man, the age of extinction. The galaxy-spanning empire is no more, and all that survives is an echo of a once-great civilization. Upon the remaining worlds of the Sphera Humanitas, the last descendants of humanity huddle closer against the coming of night, surrounded by the ruins of bygone eras and addicted to escapist dreams. Their slumber is guarded by the few Custodians with their machine armies, and the last Seraphs, irreplaceable products of forgotten science who watch over their wayward charges as the light dies. But the night brings more than mere darkness, for there are things in the dark space that are covetous and hungry. Things that are growing impatient. Thing that will not stop until the night is all that remains.

Interested? Watch this space…

 

Book review – Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire, a short story collection by Matthew Quinn

I have been introduced to Matthew Quinn’s writing some time ago through a very enjoyable Lovecraftian homage of “Beast on the Bosphorus”, and was therefore highly intrigued by this collection, which gathers ten of his short stories into a single, easily accessible package. While the stories themselves range from dystopian alternate history of “Coil Gun” to high fantasy adventure of “Lord Giovanni’s Daughter” and straightforward horror of “Melon Heads”, the standard of storytelling remains consistently high throughout. At times, the stories are nothing short of chilling, as evidenced by “Coil Gun” and its description of apocalyptic global conflict through the eyes of the participants, who are presented as having real human concerns and emotions no matter what side of the conflict they find themselves on. “Picking Up Plans in Palma” is set in the same universe, and is a thrilling spy romp through that story’s quintessential “evil empire”, again adding humanity to the characters who in the hands of a lesser author might have become one-dimensional villains. Here, the characters have depth and are interesting to read about.

The same qualities surface once again in “Nicor”, an imaginative (and quite unique) story inspired by legend of Beowulf, set in the era of Norse raids against the shores of Britain. The protagonist here is not a fantasy stereotype of all-conquering warrior, but a frightened youth on his first raid, full of doubt and fear even as he tries to present a strong façade in front of his fellow raiders. The author once again displays his gift for humanizing the characters in “Illegal Alien”, which is a peculiar play on words in the context, and a very solid story to boot.

“I am the Wendigo” stands out a bit from the other stories, as it provides the titular monster with a viewpoint, while “Lord of the Dolorous Tower” is another high fantasy story with some post-apocalyptic leanings. As the author notes, it was written as a prologue to a longer work that never got finished, and as such, the ending feels a little abrupt, but the world it created is captivating, and it made me wonder what that longer work would have been like. “The Westernmost Throne” is a different kind of a dark fantasy tale, wrapped in a modern setting, and ends the collection on a high note.

Overall, “Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire” is an imaginative collection which provides a good representation of this up-and-coming author’s writing. The stories are diverse, well written, and play well to Quinn’s strength of writing likeable, relatable characters throughout. My favorite would probably have to be “Nicor”, but all of the stories are enjoyable and worth reading. Highly recommended!

Vacation time! Which means…

…it is time to catch up on writing. At least 10,000 words is my minimum goal, and if I can go back to the “day job” with 20,000 or more words written, I will be one happy camper. More to come as this writing thing actually starts to happen!

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