Sunday, November 30, 2014

PUYB Chats with Tom Stacey, author of 'Exile'

Tom Stacey is an English author of the fantasy novel, Exile. Tom was born in Essex, England, and has lived there his whole life. He began writing at school, often taking responsibility for penning the class plays, or writing sketches with his friends. While attending university to read history, Tom developed his writing by creating several short stories, some of which would later become to basis for his debut novel, Exile.

Tom self-published Exile in summer 2014 and is currently working on the sequel as well as another unrelated novel. He earns a living as a video producer in London in the day and writes at night, a bit like a really underwhelming superhero.
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About the Book:

On the fringes of the Verian Empire, two small boys stumble upon a strange altar, buried in the heart of a mountain. There they awaken a horror unseen for generations, that will descend upon the realm of men while it is at its weakest. For Veria is a nation at war with itself, only recently recovered from a bloody rebellion, and the time of heroes has passed. The empire is in a state of chaos, and while its ruler, the Empron Illis, rids the land of his remaining enemies, unseen forces are gathering at the borders. However all eyes are turned inwards. The Empron is not a well man, and there are whispers among the common folk that his advisors are spies; demons that only wear the flesh of men.

Yet there is hope...

In the distant mountains, a forester who has buried his past learns that he has not been forgotten, and that his crimes have sought him out at last. But he is no simple woodsman. He is Beccorban the Helhammer, Scourge, Burner and the Death of Nations, and his fury is a terrible thing.

For when all the heroes are gone, Veria will turn to those it has forgotten, before all is lost.

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Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads

Thanks for joining us at the book club today, Tom!  I’d like to start out by asking you about your earliest stab at writing? 

Tom: When I was at primary school (elementary school), our teacher set us a creative writing task called ‘The Quest,’ where we had to get a character through a series of trials in order to reach a Holy Grail type object. It was my first real piece of creative writing and I loved it. My poor character had to face such wonders as a corridor of spinning blades, an acid lake, and a dark and twisting labyrinth, complete with Thesean monster. I wish I still had it but it’s either buried beneath mountains of schoolwork in a dusty cupboard somewhere or it has long since turned to mulch. Probably for the best since my handwriting would have been awful!

You work as a video producer in London.  I know that must be an exciting job!  Tell us about it?

Tom: I get this question a lot when I meet new people and I can tell you that unfortunately it’s not as glamorous as it sounds. I work largely in corporate video, so most of the time I am simply overseeing a one camera interview with a CEO talking about financial reports and the like. Surprisingly, a lot of the executives I film can be very nervous in front of a camera!

Every now and then something more exciting does come up. For example last year I was asked to help promote the TV series Vikings. We gathered a group of about twenty Viking reenactors and a 150ft wooden longship on a trailer and spent the day causing havoc in London. That was a lot of fun, especially when we had to be out on the Thames at 6am filming the ‘invasion.’ If you want to see the final result, you can see it here:

That’s the kind of thing that makes it more than a desk job. It also makes you fall in love with the city, since although we didn't have any permits, people just looked on in wonder or wanted to pose for photos. London is a magical place sometimes and it is a privilege to work there.

How did you get into epic fantasy?

Tom: When I was about 8, my teacher put a drawing of a wizened little creature in a reed boat up on the projector. It had a passage describing him and I was mesmerised. The creature turned out to be Gollum, and the descriptive passage was the first time he is mentioned in Riddles in the Dark, a chapter of The Hobbit. My teacher told me that she knew I would like the book and so I asked my mum to get me a copy of it. I went on to read The Lord of the Rings and then anything else I could find. A few years later, I discovered Hero in the Shadows by David Gemmell. It turned out to be the third part of the Waylander series so I went back and read the others and I was hooked. David Gemmell has been my favourite author from that point onwards, and is arguably my biggest influence as a writer.

As for what got me into writing fantasy, I had always told myself I would write a book, and knew that it would probably be a fantasy book when it came. I wrote a short story when I was at university called The Soldier. This eventually became the first chapter of one of the characters in Exile and the rest sort of fell into place.

I love the premise of your new book, Exile. Tell us about this altar that two small boys find which sets the scene for the beginning of your book?

Tom: I don’t want to give too much away about the altar itself, but I can tell you that it is something of great power. It is commonly known as a 'bloodforge' and is something that modern Verians have not been exposed to, in the same way that in our world we have ancient religions and cultures that we know very little about. The characters will discover more and more towards the end of the book and in the sequel (which I am currently writing).

Who is Veria?

Tom: Veria is actually a place. It is the chief nation in the continent of Daegermund and, at the time when Exile is set, is the seat of a powerful empire. Its ruler is the Empron, a man named Illis. 

Who is your favorite character in your book?

Tom: That is a difficult one. It’s sort of like asking me to choose my favourite kidney! They all have things I like about them. Beccorban is a love letter to some of my favourite characters from books I have read. However, I like to think that he is more troubled. He has done some very bad things in his life. Loster thinks he is weak but he’s got a lot of courage inside of him, and that is something I think we all can identify with. Callistan is a bit of a man removed. It’s difficult to get inside his mind as he doesn’t really know who he is past a name and a title. Riella has a special place for me. I never really intended her to have too much to say, perhaps because I was nervous about being able to write a woman well. She quickly became someone I really respected. I will say, the oddest thing about writing a book — as I’m sure anyone who ever has can agree with — is that your characters quickly become friends. In my more absent-minded moments, I find myself wondering how Beccorban is getting on, or what Callistan is up to. It’s a strange thing, I’ll admit, but sometimes it can be really rewarding to live in your own head.

Who would be the character most people would love to hate?

Tom: I would be interested for the readers to tell me, though I think it will be Droswain. Droswain is someone you meet later in the book but he always makes my skin crawl.

Will there be more epic fantasies for you in the future?

Tom: Absolutely. I am already writing the sequel for Exile and I have a big notebook full of future stories. There are lots of fantasy ideas in there but also a sci-fi series, a historical fiction book, a historical fiction saga, a robinsonade that I have already begun, a truckload of short stories, and some screenplays. Just need to find the time to write them!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Too Late to Run by John Perich

Title: Too Late to Run
Author: John Perich
Publisher: John Perich
Pages: 402
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Format: Kindle

Purchase at AMAZON

Too Late to Run is the third book in a series of gritty mystery novels starring Boston photojournalist Mara Cunningham. This time, Mara reluctantly aids a crooked real estate developer from her past who's been detained on trumped-up charges. But each clue she uncovers turns up more enemies - backwoods militias, corrupt bankers, and a mysterious pyromaniac - and raises doubts as to her friend's innocence.

Book Excerpt:

When the feds came for Mickey Scanlon, they came hard: guns out, blue windbreakers with big yellow letters, “ON THE GROUND, ON THE GROUND NOW.” They shouldered their way through the lobby of Greenfield Development Associates, the largest of Scanlon's several fronts, just after twelve noon. The receptionist, a twenty-two-year-old intern chosen for her cup size, had the sense to hit the panic button beneath her desk before an agent whipped around the counter and cuffed her. The cuffs were too tight, she whined.

Mickey Scanlon—just past fifty, tan as a baseball glove—saw the pulsing light in the alarm panel above his office door: three quick strobes, pause, another three. He reacted with accomplished haste, executing perfectly a routine he had only drilled once. Standing, he tugged his laptop free of its docking and dropped it into the bottom drawer of his desk. It adhered to the inside of the drawer with a dull thump. Leaving the drawer open, he crossed to two small filing cabinets opposite his desk. A black metal box sat atop each one. He pulled the tab on the first, waited for the hiss he'd been warned to expect, then did the same for the other. All this in less than ten seconds.

Scanlon had his cell phone out when the agents kicked in the door. They dropped him on his stomach, cuffed his hands behind his back, patted him down for weapons, then hoisted him to his feet. They marched him out of his office, ignoring the smoke coming out of his filing cabinet and his remarkably bare desk. They walked him past a dozen witnesses: some inside associates, aware of the full extent of his real estate rackets; some innocent employees, tenuously aware of Scanlon's two previous arrests. An SUV with tinted windows waited in the parking lot, surrounded by armored vehicles and men with dogs.

They pushed him into the back seat of the SUV, keeping his head free of the roof by yanking on his suit collar. He turned to say something to the offending agent. The words were lost in the chaos, but the look in Scanlon's eyes was obvious: too wide and hesitant to match the bluster in his voice. The agent slammed the door and the SUV drove off.

I knew none of this at the time; I wasn't there. I had to piece together details from multiple sources hours after the fact. At the time I was at a corner table in the window lounge of Top of the Hub, fifty stories above the Back Bay, trying to swallow my pounding heart.

Across from me sat Jeremy Brandt, a man from whom Mickey Scanlon might have learned about roguish charm. Brandt wore his silver hair and blue eyes like honors from the Queen. He had on a navy blazer over a tight T-shirt and chinos. He was sifting through a large leather portfolio with one hand, flicking by glossy blowups of the best photographs I'd taken over the last six years. I took another sip of ice water, wondering if I might swap out for something stronger.

Jeremy Brandt made headlines two years ago when he quit Control Center at CNN. Four months later, he surfaced as the owner of Flashpoint, a high-volume news blog. Most of America knew Flashpoint for its list articles and eye-catching photos. “Seven Things You Never Knew About the Human Brain”; “Eighteen Extreme Sports Stunts You Won't Believe Are Real”; and so forth. But the blog's ad revenue also financed a small but dedicated team of freelance journalists. Brandt poached hip young voices and distinguished veterans from The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere, trying to do with a staff of twelve what the media had fumbled with for the last twenty years: break meaningful stories to a mass audience.

And here he was, looking through my photos, hence my pulse pounding in my throat. Well, that and our occasional eye contact across the top of my portfolio. I'd told myself that morning, as I zipped up my pantsuit, that most of Brandt's legendary looks came from makeup artistry and TV magic. I hadn't been prepared for how good he'd look in a casual outfit. Or how good his voice would sound when it was pitched low enough for just the two of us. Or how good he'd smell.

Easy there, Mara.

Brandt closed the portfolio carefully, as if shutting the door on a sleeping child's room, and rested the binding on the edge of the table. He drummed the fingers of his left hand (no ring) on the leather and pursed his lips.

"These are good," he said.

I nodded, deflating into my comfortable Chiavari chair and resting my hand against my ice water. I could see it in the way he held his breath at the end of the sentence. Better luck next time. Thanks but no thanks.

"This isn't what I had in mind, though," he said.

I nodded again, tucking my hair behind my ears. "I tried to select as broad a variety as possible to showcase my range. But I've mostly been doing crime scene photography for the Tribune for the last four years. I do believe most of those skills would translate into any other field, so I'd …"

He smiled, letting me speak. I could see he wanted to say something but was too polite to interrupt, so I trailed off and let him jump in.

"I don't doubt it," he said. His voice hit that baritone register that soothed my nerves like warm oil. "But this isn't what I'm looking for. I know plenty of photographers already."

I looked away, my face warm. Of course he did. Brandt came up as a war correspondent in the Persian Gulf and Kosovo. He wouldn't need a freelancer from Boston who'd snapped a few car crashes. Realizing that, however, left me more confused than embarrassed.

He saw my brows knit and continued, both hands up. "This was my fault. I must not have been very clear in my first email. Of course this is what you'd think I meant."
Still nothing. My stomach climbed halfway up my throat. Spit it out, handsome.

"I wanted to see a portfolio of your writing."

The room seemed to grow still. I drew my hand off the table and clasped it in my lap, hoping he wouldn't see me shaking.

The waiter chose that moment to reappear. "Another of those, sir?" He gave a short bow toward Brandt's empty beer glass in that way waiters have.

Brandt nodded. "And you, ma'am?"

I found my voice somehow. "Manhattan."

"Any preference for your whiskey?"

"Yes. No. I don't care. Whatever you … you know."

The waiter gave another short bow, as if he received these orders every day, and sidled off, leaving me alone with Jeremy Brandt's gentle grin. "Not the answer you were expecting?" he asked.

"Not hardly," I said. I had covered the State House beat for the Boston Tribune up until five years ago, when I'd pulled a stunt that the paper had threatened to fire me over. The union and the owners had reached a compromise: I could keep working for the paper, but I would never write another word. Gary, the metro desk editor, had kept me on as a photographer. But the work had been drying up over the last four years: more freelancers, fewer pages per issue, less money to go around. All of which led to this midday interview with Jeremy Brandt.

But no, not the sort of interview I'd been expecting at all. "I hate to talk you out of your brilliant idea," I said, "but you know I haven't written for the Tribune for some time."

He nodded. "And I heard about why. That's what inspired me to take a look at you. I need writers with that sort of initiative. Writers with the stones to point out the obvious, no matter who it might embarrass."

"I didn't realize the story had traveled that far." I felt the blush flowing down to my collarbone again. The encouragement in Brandt's eyes didn't help any.

"I heard it from Saul Kirkadian, actually." My mentor at the Tribune, he'd left last August after more than forty years on the beat. "In full disclosure, he was my first choice. But he gave me your name instead and told me why I should give you a look. I trust his judgment."

"And I trust yours."

My Manhattan arrived on a literal silver platter, next to Brandt's beer. We took our drinks and toasted. Every moment of eye contact between us ended in mutual smiles, as if we were in on some private joke.

"I'm recruiting feature writers in all the big metros," he said. "Boston, Atlanta, LA, Chicago. People with experience and a viewpoint, not just content mills."

"So you're not looking for 'Twenty Reasons Boston is Better Than New York'?"

"There aren't any." He grinned. "But no, I want feature copy. The sort of articles you'd write for the Tribune, if you had your way. And more of them too. Ours is still a high-volume business."

"You'll get them."

"Good. The hours might get crazy."

"That's fine." I kept nodding, then checked my head. My hours didn't entirely belong to me; the class I taught in Cambridge at Sandy's self-defense school was another obligation. "There are a couple of evenings—"

Brandt held a hand up. "You set your own schedule. So long as copy gets to the editors on time, I don't care what else you do."

"Really?" The release of tension had left me feeling playful. "You don't want me signing a morals clause?"

Another moment of lingering eye contact. "I don't think either of us would last very long with a morals clause."

I lowered my eyes to my drink and stomped on the brakes in my head. Pleasant enough to dwell on what Brandt was doing to my imagination—and what he might do to other parts of me—but that was as far as it could go. This man was, potentially, my future boss. I'd screwed my life up in the past by going after the wrong older man.

My cell phone vibrated in my purse, trembling against my leg. I kicked it aside. Whoever it was could wait.
The check came; Brandt paid it. We stood, gathered our things, and went for the exit. I overheard murmurs and saw a few heads snap up as we passed: is that? Do you think? And who's she? I smirked at the notion of appearing in the celebrity pages, before remembering I didn't want anyone knowing about my job hunt. Shit. Hopefully no one recognized me.

"Do you have a writing portfolio?" Brandt asked as we reached the street.


"Send it to me, and we'll do this once more."

We set a follow-up for the day after next. As a metro photographer, I was notionally on call throughout my entire shift. In practice, the Tribune needed me less and less every day. I could spare the time for another date with a silver fox. Interview, Mara. Not a date, an interview.

"I'll see you then." We shook hands, his fingers warm against my palm. Then I jogged to where I'd parked my car, heels clacking on the pavement.

While the maverick captain of new media had been flattering me over drinks, I'd missed one text and one call. I didn't recognize the phone number on the call, so I left it alone. The text was from Gary, an assignment he wanted me to cover. Three-alarm fire, Vassall Street in Quincy.

And like that, the pleasant flush of the afternoon vanished. My brain queued up a list of items to consider: traffic at this time of day,  crowds gawking at the fire, who I knew among South Shore first responders.

Playtime's over; back to business.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Broken Bonds by Karen Harper

Title: Broken Bonds
Author: Karen Harper
Publisher: MIRA
Pages: 384
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Format: Hardback, Paperback, Kindle

Purchase at AMAZON

Haunted by the past…
Cold Creek is a place with a dark history, especially for the Lockwoods. Now adults, the three Lockwood sisters are still recovering from the events that led to the destruction of their family when they were children. Determined to move forward, Tess and Kate are making fresh starts, ready to put bad—even deadly—memories to rest and settle happily in the small but booming town. And they're hoping their older sister, Charlene, can do the same.
Char is back in town seeking comfort as she figures out her next move. A social worker used to difficult situations, she soon runs afoul of some locals who think she's sticking her nose where it doesn't belong. She's certain something sinister is being covered up, and when she witnesses Matt Rowan being run off the road, she knows she's right.
Working together, Matt and Char figure uncovering the truth will be dangerous, but living in Cold Creek won't be safe for any of them until its secrets are revealed.
Book Excerpt:

As she made the next sharp turn, Char gasped. A white truck with Lake Azure, Inc. painted on its side was tipped nearly off the cliff, right where the school bus stopped for the kids who lived above. She’d heard a horn honk long and loud a few minutes earlier. Maybe the truck missed the last turn and spun out, since its rear, not its front, was dangling over the edge, propped up by two trees. No other vehicle was nearby to help.
She put her emergency blinkers on and pulled as close to the cliff face as she could. She jumped down from her truck and ran across the road toward the truck. A man was inside!
“What should I do?” she shouted, her voice shrill. It sounded like a stupid question. She had to get the man out of his truck before it crashed over the edge.
The bitter, strong wind ripped at her hair and jacket. What if a blast of air tipped him off? Or maybe even if he moved. She’d swear the two tree trunks that held his truck were shaking as hard as she was.
She could hear the engine was still running. The driver opened an automatic window.
“A guy in a truck shoved me off,” he shouted. “Meant to. I don’t have any traction. I’m afraid if I shift my weight or open a door to jump out, I’ll send it over.”
The fact someone had done this on purpose stunned her. What was going on? If her cell phone worked up here, she’d call her brother-in-law, the county sheriff, for help, but she was on her own. It wouldn’t help to go back up for help from Elinor and Penny.
“Don’t move until I get something you can hang on to if the truck goes. I have some jump ropes I can tie together. Those trees are shaky.”
I’m shaky. Hurry!”
She ran to her truck and knotted together the three jump ropes she had, tying square knots because she knew they would hold. But she’d never be able to balance the man’s weight if the truck went over the edge.
“I’ve got ropes here, but I’ll have to tie the end to a tree. I don’t dare drive close enough to you to tie it to my truck. It would never stretch that far.”
She knotted it around the trunk of a pine tree that looked sturdy enough, though that almost took the length of one rope. This wasn’t going to work.
A grinding sound, then a crunch reverberated as the truck seemed to jerk once then settled closer to the cliff edge.
“Now or never!” he shouted and opened his door fast.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

PUYB Virtual Book Club Chats with Debra Mares

For Independent Author Debra Mares, violence against women is not only a topic in today's news, it's a topic in her crime novels, cases she handled as a county prosecutor, and now it will be the topic in her first children's book It's This Monkey's Business.  Debra is a veteran county prosecutor in Riverside currently specializing in community prosecution, juvenile delinquency and truancy.  Her office has one of the highest conviction rates in California and is the fifteenth largest in the country. You name it - she's prosecuted it - homicides, gang murders, domestic violence, sex cases, political corruption, major fraud and parole hearings for convicted murderers. She is a two-time recipient of the County Prosecutor of the Year Award and 2012 recipient of the Community Hero Award.

Debra is the granddaughter of a Mexican migrant farm worker and factory seamstress, was born and raised in Los Angeles, was the first to graduate college in my family, and grew up dancing Ballet Folklorico and Salsa. Her own family story includes struggles with immigration, domestic violence, mental health, substance abuse and teen pregnancy, which she addresses in her novels. She followed a calling at 11 years old to be an attorney and voice for women, and appreciates international travel and culture. Her life's mission is to break the cycle of victimization and domestic violence. 

Debra is also the co-founding Executive Director of Women Wonder Writers, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization implementing creative intervention and mentoring programs for at-risk youth.  In 2012, Debra self-published Volume 1 of her debut legal thriller series, The Mamacita Murders featuring Gaby Ruiz, a sex crimes prosecutor haunted by her mother's death at the hands of an abusive boyfriend. In 2013, Debra released her second crime novel, The Suburban Seduccion, featuring "The White Picket Fence" killer Lloyd Gil, who unleashes his neonatal domestic violence-related trauma on young women around his neighborhood. 

To bring to life "Cabana," Debra partnered with 16-year-old Creative Director Olivia Garcia and Los Angeles based professional illustrator Taylor Christensen

16-year-old Creative Director Olivia Garcia attends high school in Panorama City, California, is the Los Angeles youth delegate for the Anti-Defamation League's National Youth Leadership Mission in Washington D.C., an ASB member and AP student and enjoys reading, crafting and knitting.

Taylor Christensen is a Los Angeles-based illustrator holding a BFA from Otis College of Art & Design, focuses on fantastical creatures and surreal imagery, and produces artwork for illustration, character and concept design.
Her latest book is the children’s picture book, It’s This Monkey’s Business.
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About the Book:

"Cabana," a young spider monkey is brought to life to tell her story It's This Monkey's Business to help children who are affected by domestic violence and divorce. Cabana, who lives with her parents in a treehouse high up in a rainforest canopy, becomes startled one day from her Mama's scream, when she is waiting atop a tree branch for her Papa to teach her how to swing. After falling to the forest floor, Cabana frustrated from her parents' fighting, decides she will search for a new family to be part of. Her persistence is cut short when she braves the river to play with a pink dolphin, unaware she cannot swim. The tragedy brings her parents together to realize they can no longer live together. Cabana reconnects with her Papa, realizing he is the only one that can teach her how to swing.

It's This Monkey's Business is an approximately 756 word children's book targeting ages 4-8, which is set in a rainforest and featuring "Cabana," a young female Spider Monkey, her parents and rainforest animals. The book is approximately 30 pages long and features full spread color illustrations. 

For More Information

  • It’s This Monkey’s Business is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
Welcome to the book club, Debra!  Can we begin by having you tell us how you started writing children’s books?

Debra: Initially, writing a children’s book seemed to come out of the blue. It was around Christmastime, a couple months after promoting the release of my last legal thriller, that I started to develop It’s This Monkey’s Business.  In an effort to move past what was starting to look like writer’s block, I just went with it and started development.  Not quite knowing where to start, I began plotting the story and then researching about children’s books.

It was the first book in this genre for me, but I believe the best way for a writer to grow professionally, is to explore and write in different genres. I heard legal thriller author Lawrence Block say that at a writer’s conference I attended; and it has always stuck with me.

Unsurprisingly, the writing progressed into a narrative  poetry style with rhyming couplets.  I had written poetry in the past couple years, mostly alongside troubled youth, to help express the ineffable and things that had happened to us or that we saw as children.  Writing It’s This Monkey’s Business was as therapeutic as it was difficult insofar it took me back to childhood where I witnessed domestic violence myself.  The storyline was fun to develop, but getting the narrative poetry sharpened up and perfected was professionally challenging.  I learned the meaningfulness of editing, reediting, and editing again with the help of my friend, award-winning poet and author Kate Buckley.

Children’s books rely heavily on finding just the right illustrator.  How did you find yours?

Debra:  Illustrator Taylor Christensen came recommended by my friend who works in the movie industry designing and printing movie posters.  My friend was watching my efforts to tackle the issue of domestic violence and knowing I’m an independent author, he offered to help with the book printing and recommended one of his favorite young illustrators to help.  Taylor is young, brilliant, and has a good reputation in the industry for working efficiently.  Meeting deadlines were important to me since we were on a strict timeline with a goal to publish in October, domestic violence awareness month.  Taylor’s previous experience primarily focused on illustrations for animation, but he was looking to expand his portfolio to include book illustrations. He already had a love for drawing animals, he felt making characters of them would be a real treat, and he was open-minded about working under the direction of my 16-year-old niece Olivia. Once he read the story, he was very enthusiastic about creating illustrations that would appeal to children and support a story with a strong message.  It was a perfect fit.

Tell us more about your book.  The message involves domestic violence and divorce, right?

Debra:  That is correct.  This book is not only for children ages 4-8 affected by domestic violence, but all kids.  It’s important for kids going through this to feel supported, know they’re not alone and can still thrive.  Part of breaking the cycle is also helping kids build empathy and understand how it feels for a child to go through this.  It’s important for children to also know that abuse is never okay and to tell someone if they think it’s going on.

Can you tell us more about your adorable character, Cabana?

Debra:  Cabana is a 2-year old juvenile spider monkey, which is equivalent to 5-7 years old in human years.  She lives high in the rainforest canopy, mostly in the tree tops, and rarely ever sees the forest floor. She lives on fruit and nuts.  Cabana resembles a human baby and is still at the age where she’s riding on her mama’s back.  Once she learns to swing like the older spider monkeys, Cabana will be able to swing through the rainforest canopy and hang suspended by her tail.  Cabana is purple in color, which is also the domestic violence awareness color, and has a vibrant pink flower tucked behind her right ear.

What do you want children to come away with after reading your book?

Debra:  For children of domestic violence, I’d like them to come away feeling as though they are not alone, knowing it is not their fault, knowing they can tell someone, empowered to talk about it, and understanding abuse is not right.  I’d also like their feelings of fear and lonliness to be acknowledged and know they can still thrive even if their family goes through this. 

For all kids who read the book, I’d like them to come away with empathy for a child or family going through this.  Being able to put themselves in the shoes of another youngster who is experiencing violence at home can be powerful, so others can be supportive, tell someone if they suspect it’s going on, and be nice to the youngster instead of blaming them, gossiping about them or bullying them.

What’s next for you?

Debra:  I’m working on publishing Your L!fe: Young Voices from The Write of Your L!fe, a youth poetry anthology containing writings from the students who have participated in Women Wonder Writers’ programs, the mentoring nonprofit I co-founded in 2011.  It’s due out Spring 2015.  After that, I expect to return to writing the sequel of The Mamacita Murders, a legal thriller series featuring latina prosecutor Gaby Ruiz.  Cabana will return shortly after that!  Then again, as I mentioned before, I usually go with what inspires me to write... so time will tell!  Thank you so much for the opportunity to chat about my book and I hope to talk again soon!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Exile by Tom Stacey #epic #fantasy

Title: Exile
Author: Tom Stacey
Publisher: Tom Stacey
Pages: 389
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Format: Kindle

Purchase at AMAZON

On the fringes of the Verian Empire, two small boys stumble upon a strange altar, buried in the heart of a mountain. There they awaken a horror unseen for generations, that will descend upon the realm of men while it is at its weakest. For Veria is a nation at war with itself, only recently recovered from a bloody rebellion, and the time of heroes has passed. The empire is in a state of chaos, and while its ruler, the Empron Illis, rids the land of his remaining enemies, unseen forces are gathering at the borders. However all eyes are turned inwards. The Empron is not a well man, and there are whispers among the common folk that his advisors are spies; demons that only wear the flesh of men.

Yet there is hope...

In the distant mountains, a forester who has buried his past learns that he has not been forgotten, and that his crimes have sought him out at last. But he is no simple woodsman. He is Beccorban the Helhammer, Scourge, Burner and the Death of Nations, and his fury is a terrible thing.

For when all the heroes are gone, Veria will turn to those it has forgotten, before all is lost.

Book Excerpt:

“Slow down, Loster! You’re climbing too fast!” Barde’s reedy voice carried up to the small boy as he dug his toe into a narrow crevice, skinning the top of his foot. Loster was a confident climber but he had never been this far up, despite having lived in the shadow of the Widowpeak all of his eleven years.
“Los!” The rest of Barde’s protest was lost to the wind, bouncing off of the pitiless rock face and tumbling backwards into the howling elemental maelstrom that plucked at Loster’s clothing. His fine tunic of dark blue satin was ripped at the hip and his leggings bore enough stains and small tears to render them rags.
None of that mattered now.
This far from the ground the Great Hall of his father was a god’s dollhouse. If he’d had the courage to look down, Los would have been able to blot it out with only his thumb.
“Mother is going to beat us if we’re home late again.” Barde hauled himself up until he was just beneath his brother. As the elder by several years, his arms were stronger, but he was also heavier and therefore less nimble. “If we start back down now we might be able to make it.” He did not need to mention what their father would do.
Loster ignored the hopeful tone. “Just a little bit further, then we can start back.” He grinned to himself. “Of course if you’re scared…”
“I’m not! You’re the baby here.” Barde clambered up alongside Loster. “Come on, let’s keep going.” As he moved off, Loster couldn’t help but grin. Nevertheless he caught the hastily concealed edge of fear in his older brother’s voice – it pierced his sense of calm like a broken bone. There were other signs too: the telltale tremble of his legs and arms, the whiteness of his knuckles as his fingers gripped handholds with the strength of a drowning man. Loster frowned. Maybe he was pushing too hard. His brother was only here to look after him anyway. He didn’t share Loster’s interest in exploration unless it involved exploring some of the prettier girls in the village. The small climber suddenly realised how selfish and childish he was being. What if he got Barde killed?
“Hey, I think I found a ledge,” Barde grunted and disappeared from sight only to reappear headfirst a moment later. “Come on, I’ll give you a hand.”
Loster smiled. Mother could wait.
He wedged his boot into a nook, scuffing the soft leather and gripping his brother’s clammy hand. Barde heaved and dragged him up over the lip of the ledge, further ripping his fine clothing. But he did not care. Up here he was untouchable, far away from his mother’s scolding and his father’s hard stares and harder hands. Loster glanced sidelong at his brother. Barde was much bigger than him: broad in the shoulders, long in the limbs. He was the confident one, calm in the knowledge that his father’s status as Lord of Elk was enough to shield him from most of the evils that the world had to offer, even if it could not shield him from his father. Yet now Barde sat clutching his legs to his chest, well away from the edge. To Loster it seemed that his brother had shrunk in stature.
He stood and walked along the edge as if it were a line on the ground. He had seen a few of the travelling troupes perform a similar feat with a length of rope and two tall wooden beams. The act had spectators cooing and screaming with fear whenever one of the high walkers feigned imbalance. Loster wondered what reaction his high walk would get – surely nobody could boast about having performed at such a height?
He stepped back onto stable ground and sat next to Barde. Barde was breathing deeply and looking at the ruin of his boots. It had taken courage to follow him up this high and Loster respected that. Indeed he was not exactly fearless himself. If anything he saw himself as the victim of a self-imposed pressure. Whenever an opportunity arose to do something that others would call daring or dangerous, Loster’s head filled with a hushed but insistent voice, urging him on. The voice had been with him for as long as he could remember and the only way to quiet it – the only way to find peace – was to give in. He wasn’t brave or even reckless. He was the opposite. He was weak.
“Do you think we’re the first people to climb this high?” Barde asked, his eyes scanning a horizon limned in cloud.
“I don’t know,” said Loster. “We’re probably not as far up as we think we are.” He craned his neck to view the rest of the mountain that towered into the heavens.
Barde blew the air from his lungs noisily. “It’s far enough for me. Jaym said I should know my limits and this is mine.” Loster rolled his eyes. Barde had begun lessons with the family’s weapons master three weeks earlier on his fourteenth birthday. He was still in awe of the grizzled old bastard and often quoted him, no matter how banal or ridiculous the statement.
Loster looked around their perch. A few loose stones, just enough room for a grown man to lie down without his feet dangling over the abyss. He walked up to the smooth stone wall and pressed his hands against it. It was cool despite the sun beating down — even that brightest of torches could not warm the Widowpeak. He made to turn around and stopped. A groove ran down the centre of the rock face, about a finger’s width across, disappearing into the floor between his feet.
“Barde, come look at this.” Loster ran a hand down the groove, freeing dust and dirt. Barde appeared at his side, lips parted slightly.
“What is it?” he said.
“I don’t know but we could pry it open. Give me your dirk.” Barde took a quick step back and clutched at the prized dagger tucked in his belt. As a man of fighting age, he had been gifted it by none other than his father, albeit grudgingly. It was a lovely thing with a jewelled hilt and a blade of steel so bright that it shone blue.
“No it’s mine. Father said I must look after it.” The older boy turned his body away from Loster to forestall any attempts at snatching the dirk from its oiled sheath, though Loster suspected that it was also so that he wouldn’t see Barde’s fear. Lord Malix’s rage was a dreadful thing. Almost as bad as his affection.
Loster held out his hands. “Oh come on, it’s a knife. You butter your bread with one.”
“That’s not the point. This is a proper knife, used for fighting Veria’s enemies. Not spreading butter.” He scowled. “You’re just jealous.”
Loster’s hands dropped to his side. He stifled a grin as an idea leapt to mind. “What if this leads to the tomb of some great king?” He waved a hand at the seam in the rock.
“Up here? Not likely,” scoffed Barde.
“Why not? Aifayne said that there used to be a great city on this mountain. That’s what the ruins at Stackstone are all about.”
“That old dustfart?” Barde snorted, yet nevertheless elbowed past his brother. He ran a finger down the gap in the rock face and turned back to Loster. “Give me your tunic.”
“If there is treasure inside then we have to go and claim it, but I’m not damaging my knife. In case there’s a dragon.”
“A dragon?” Loster raised an eyebrow.
Barde flushed red. “Yes. You never know. You were the one who said we were the first up here.”
“I said I didn’t know.”
“Just give me your tunic.” Loster looked down at his soiled and tattered satin tunic. He sighed and slipped it off, passing it to Barde and shivering as the cruel wind nipped at his naked chest. The older boy grabbed the hem and wrapped it around his dirk before turning back to the rock face. With a grunt of effort he rammed the blade into the groove up to the hilt and began to saw it back and forth.
Nothing happened.
“It’s no use,” said Barde, and slipped the knife from its tunic cover too quickly, slicing the blade into the ball of his thumb. “Gods,” he cursed. A ruby droplet of blood fell from his hand and sparkled as it splashed onto the ground. There was a loud crack like bone splitting and a great door opened in the rock, swinging outwards and threatening to sweep the boys from the ledge. Barde leapt back, knocking into his brother and sending them both tumbling over the edge.
Loster’s hand shot out and grabbed a fistful of rough stone. Glancing to his right he saw Barde doing likewise, terror etched on his features. A shadow passed overhead as the great rock door passed above them, locking into position with a deep boom. Dust showered down on the boys and then all was silence.
“Are you okay?” Barde had remembered his courage and resumed his role as the older brother.
Loster smiled. “I’m fine. Did you drop your knife?”
Barde cursed again. His prized dirk was somewhere below, probably beyond recovery. Loster hauled himself back up to the ledge and froze as Barde scrambled up beside him, sucking his thumb to stem the flow of blood.
The door had revealed a long corridor angled down into the heart of the mountain, and its passage had gouged away a thick layer of dirt and dust, laying bare a quarter circle of mosaic underneath. The hundreds of tiny tiles were chipped and faded but Loster could just about make out a dark figure, picked out in once-black and was-red. The figure’s hands were raised towards a vibrant sun in a sky of azure brilliance.
“What is it?” Barde asked, his dagger forgotten. “It doesn’t look like the king of a great city.”
“That’s because it isn’t.” Loster looked at Barde. “I’m not sure, but I think that’s…Him.”
“Who? Who’s ‘Him?’” Barde knelt and wiped more dust from the floor, revealing a line of strange runic script. Barde sat back on his haunches and frowned. Loster swallowed hard and instinctively moved behind his brother. Barde looked over his shoulder at him. “Well, what does it say?” he asked.
“It’s Old Verian, I think,” Loster recognised the strange shapes from his studies with Aifayne, “but…”
“But what?”
Loster raised his hand to his mouth, absently chewing his grimy thumbnail. “Well that word.” He pointed at a jagged symbol. “I’m not supposed to say it out loud.”
“What do you mean?"
“I mean the writing, the man in the picture. It’s Him.”
Barde blinked. “Not the Black God?”
Loster gasped. “Ssssh. What if He hears?” This adventure had been his idea but he was beginning to like it less and less. None of the stories that haunted his slumber were more chilling than the horror tales of the Unnamed. Loster had overheard His true name once but knew it was not to be uttered aloud. Not unless you were one of his thralls from the Temple Deep or were spinning the cruellest of curses. 
“Don’t be a baby. He can’t hear us."
“He’s always listening. That’s what gods do.” Loster could feel the cold without his tunic and had lost his appetite for this particular excursion. “We should get back. Mother will be worried.” He knelt and pulled on his soiled and torn shirt.
Barde knotted his brow. “Well what about my dirk?” he asked, cocking his head.
“What about it?”
“I’m not going home without it.” Barde folded his arms across his chest.
“But it went down there," Loster said. He gestured at the emptiness behind him. “We have to go down there to get it anyway."
“Not if there’s a better one.” Barde jerked a thumb at the portal into the mountain.
To Loster it looked like the maw of some fell beast waiting to swallow the two small boys. “We don’t know what’s in there…”
“Afraid are we? That makes sense at your age.” Loster scowled. The challenging voice in his head was strangely silent on this matter. Instead it seemed that his older brother had taken its place.
“I’m not afraid, I just…” he paused. “It’s that.” He pointed at the mosaic. “We don’t know what it means.”
“So let’s find out,” said Barde.
They stepped through the doorway into the Widowpeak, though both took care to walk around the dark figure on the floor.