Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The White Oak by Kim White #review


Title: The White Oak
Author: Kim White
Publisher: Story Machine Studio, 2012
Buy link

From the outset, the premise of Kim White’s The White Oak grabbed me but, as I read, I found myself a bit torn over how I felt about the style of the storytelling. The gist of the novel is that the main character, Cora, falls into the Underworld through a sinkhole during her father’s funeral. This understandably upsets the order of things for the despotic ruler, Minos, and Cora, aided by the many-faced Minotaur and Sybil, the librarian, embarks on a journey to escape.

What would have improved the narrative for me vastly would have been additional layering. I needed to have more insight as to Cora’s motivations and emotions. Also, it is hinted that her brother, Lucas, a genius computer programmer, takes a more important part but if he’s to be more than a secondary character, I’d have liked to have seen him get a bit more of a proactive role from the outset.

White certainly has given much thought to her world-building in this tale that offers a nod at the legend of Persephone. And for that alone, for the bizarre and very much surreal landscape, the story kept me turning the pages. White’s vision is reminiscent of a Dali-esque landscape with a whiff of Neuromancer thrust in. At first I wasn’t quite sure I could suspend disbelief for the cyber theme, but White handles this well, and it added an extra dimension I found quite enjoyable once I got used to it.

The pacing lagged a bit once I got past the initial start, and while I can see White intends for this to be part of a series, I myself as a reader wasn’t sufficiently motivated to want to invest myself in what follows. I feel she could have written a longer story and concluded with better resolution, even if she wanted a cliff-hanger. Yes, the vision is nightmarish, and will probably stay with me for a long while, I just never truly engaged with the telling. The story flows like one dream sequence into another, and at times it felt like I was reading someone’s journal as opposed to really immersing myself in the adventure.

There could also be parallels to Alice’s journey through Wonderland, and for White’s supremely inventive imagination, The White Oak is worth reading. I just felt I needed a bit more oomph from the text to truly make me care about the protagonist, Cora. I give her five out of five for concept, but The White Oak falls down in execution. Still, I enjoyed this story a lot more than some of the YA offerings that are currently trending as bestsellers.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

In Touch with his Inner Child

John van de Ruit

For those of you who weren't able to pick up copies of the Pretoria News or The Star this past month, here's a teaser of my interview with bestselling Spud author John van de Ruit (click through to the IOL link at the end for the full piece).

Many of us can identify with the issues the now-legendary Spud Milton has faced. These vary from the horrors of his maths exams, or the pains of the pre-cellphone and social networking era of waiting by the phone for that special girl (or boy) to call – then worrying when they don’t.

And perhaps that’s where the attraction of John van de Ruit’s series of Spud books lies – that he taps into the magic of nostalgia, and strikes a chord with young and old.

Little did Van de Ruit know when he wrote the first of the Spud novels how his character would step out of the pages and into the imaginations of so many who eagerly followed Spud’s progress.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Joan De La Haye's world of darkness #guest



Joan De La Haye is no stranger on my blog, and I decided to have her over again because she's recently celebrated two releases. Welcome back, Joan, tell us a bit more about your latest titles.

JDLH: My two recent releases are Requiem in E Sharp, which is a rather dark thriller set in Pretoria, and Oasis, which is a post apocalypse zombie novella also set in South Africa. They've both been published by Fox Spirit, a small indie publisher in the UK.

ND: How does Pretoria lend itself to a dark thriller?

JDLH: Being South Africa's capital city, Pretoria is full of intrigue, it's also the nations capital for all our policing screw ups. Most South African thrillers are set in either Johannesburg or Cape Town, and Pretoria is often over-looked. Which is rather sad. Pretoria has a lot of atmosphere. It also has a very high murder rate and the unit responsible for solving serial murders is stationed in Pretoria.

ND: And what makes South Africa grand fora  zombie story?

JDLH: We've already got zombies running the country, it's not much of a leap for them to take over completely. Another great thing about zombie stories is that it doesn't really matter where you set it. It won't matter where you are if there's a zombiepocalypse, they're going to get you no matter where you hide.

ND: What were some of the moments you particularly enjoyed?

JDLH: After having written Shadows and Requiem n E Sharp, which are both pretty dark and harsh, Oasis was a lot more fun. I really enjoyed writing it from Max's perspective. She wasn't as damaged as Sarah and Natalie. She's just a nice girl stuck in a really bad situation, trying to survive the end of the world. I also really enjoyed writing the twisted ending for Oasis. I got to be rather evil.
For Requiem, I really enjoyed the research part. I got to spend some time with the head of the SAPS psychology unit, which was fascinating.

ND: Can you name one or two locations in Pretoria and tell us more about what makes them lend themselves specifically to your story?

JDLH: There's an area close to where I grew up called Silverton. It's a stone throw away from the Koedoespoort train station and if the wind blows from the right direction you get a wiff from the Silverton tanneries. It's your standard lower middle class suburb where you can imagine an older woman with a drinking habit, curlers in her hair and a cigarette dangling from her mouth and wearing slippers with a hole at the big toe. It's the perfect place for my killer to stalk his victims. Most of the areas I used in Requiem in E Sharp are suburbs I knew while growing up in Pretoria or have lived in. None of them are affluent. They're places you'll find a cross section of society.

ND: And your zombies? Tell us more about what makes them tick. Are they lurkers who hang about indefinitely? Or are they rotters who slowly grow grosser and stinkier as they eventually decompose?

JDLH: My zombies are fast, filled with rage and damn ugly. They're also very hungry for human flesh. I'd say they're lurkers who just keep coming and devouring the living.

ND: And how do you define being really evil in your novels?

JDLH: I'm not sure that my novels define evil as being quite that black and white. My novels explore the very darkest of human nature as well as the demonic, but also give them a very human side. There are varying shades of dark grey and under the right circumstances the most normal of people are capable of committing the most evil of deeds. It's just a matter of finding that tipping point that will push someone far enough. Evil can be relative.

ND: And hanging out with the SAPS psychology unit. Wow! How did you go about organising that? Can you share any interesting anecdotes of that time?

JDLH: A friend of mine knew that I was doing research for Requiem and she knew Prof Gerard Labuschagne and was kind enough to put me in touch with him. He was then kind enough to read Requiem and let me know all the mistakes I'd made. When I was in his office, he asked if I was squeamish. I said, rather flipantly, "I write horror. What do you think?" He just nodded and pulled out a file with photos of dead people who'd been found in water, much like the victims in my book. Now, seeing photos of real people who were brutally murdered and left to rot in water is very different to seeing a violent movie where actors pretend to be butchered. I have a sneaky suspicion he was expecting me to freakout or be unable to look at the pictures, but I didn't freakout in fact I found them fascinating, which makes me a little worried about my own mental well being. I think I may have tendencies towards psychopathy.

ND: What's next on the cards? Care to spill the beans with regard to any upcoming or current WiPs?

JDLH: I've got a short story in an upcoming anthology called Tales from the Nun and Dragon being published by Fox Spirit. It'll be out later this month. And at the moment I'm working on a novella called The Race. It has swords and lots of blood. It also raises the question: What would you do to survive?

People can find me on my website: http://joandelahaye.com/ or follow me on twitter: http://twitter.com/JoanDeLaHaye

My books are available to download on Amazon.com: Oasis and Requiem in E Sharp

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

LK Below - release announcement #guest


Today I hand over my blog to a guest who's visited before, LK Below, so, without further ado, I hand over the rest of this post to her.

33 Days until the release of This Blackened Night, The Order: Book 3!

Every author has a set of characters more dear to their hearts than any others. In most cases, this stems from these characters being among the first ever created. I won't claim Lori and Terrence were my very first, but they did come close. Their first book, Stalking Shade, which released in 2011, was originally written in 2007. And rewritten. And rewritten.

And now it feels like a dear friend is moving away. With the release of This Blackened Night on September 24th, 2012, the trilogy will come to an end. Lori might be a prickly character, not easy for anyone but Terrence to love, but I had a lot of fun with her. When I wrote this third book late last year, I dragged my feet to see it finished for the same reason. I didn't want to let the pair of them go. A not-so-secret part of me is hoping for an overwhelming response from readers asking me to continue so I have an excuse to revisit my favorite characters.

For now, I'm counting down the days until the third book releases. Maybe you'll fall in love with Lori and Terrence every bit as fiercely as I have. Lori might be stubborn in pushing people away, but Terrence is the most persistent character I've ever written. Good thing, too.

Join me in celebrating the release of the third book a bit early with this short, sweet teaser excerpt:

This Blackened Night by LK Below

With murders cropping up all around, who should she trust?
After months of searching, Lori finally scrounges up a clue as to the whereabouts of the missing leader of her secret organization. But her vision isn't encouraging--it points to her vampire companion Terrence as the culprit.

Terrence is adamant that he isn't at fault. Even though she knows she might be walking into a trap, she follows his lead to a shabby island port. When her informants start turning up dead with puncture wounds in their necks, Lori wonders just how well she knows Terrence. And why does he act different during the search than in their hotel room?

Lori doesn't know who to trust anymore. She only hopes that she won't be the next victim.

* * * *

Six Sweet Sentences from the book:

There--The Mastiff Hotel. The sign loomed just down from the bus station. Resettling her bag on her shoulder, Lori strode toward it.

Doubts assailed her. What if Terrence had only asked her here to separate her from those she knew? Was she walking into a trap?

* * * *

Learn more about the series as a whole on the Lyrical Press, Inc. website: http://bit.ly/TheOrderSeries.

Read a longer excerpt from This Blackened Night at http://bit.ly/ThisBlackenedNight.

* * * *

Bio: If L.K. Below gets far too attached to her characters, well, that's because they're interesting people. Read two of her favorites in her urban fantasy series, The Order. Join her online at www.lbelow.net to learn more. Want to keep up to date with her tour stops? Follow her on Twitter  or Facebook

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Watchtower by Lee Carroll #review

Title: The Watchtower (Black Swan Rising #2)
Author: Lee Carroll
Publisher: Bantam, 2011
Buy link

Never judge a book by its cover, and this one definitely shouldn’t be. Nothing on the cover of The Watchtower indicates that it is any different than the slew of “skinny white chick in a prom gown” examples currently flooding the market. And I started reading, filled with severe misgivings that I’d just found yet another Fallen clone.
Fortunately, the cover is misleading.

First off, yes, some of the standard young adult paranormal tropes *are* present – the impossible romance between mortal and immortal, with a whiff of a love triangle. Then I’ve always held the opinion that it’s not having the tropes present, but what the author *does* with them, and writing duo Lee Carroll (husband-and-wife team Lee Slonimsky and Carol Goodman) succeed in engaging my attention. At no point did I want to hurl the book across the room.

Although this is the second book in the series (the first being Black Swan Rising) the story doesn’t suffer. There’s just enough narrative summary to sketch in the past without leading into reams and reams of exposition. Carroll keeps up a good pace from the get-go, the stakes growing higher as the story progresses as a sort of treasure hunt. Fairies, and definitely not the cutesy sort, abound, as well as the ubiquitous vampire, all wrapped up in a tale of time travel garnished with a Shakespearean theme.

What made the story for me was that Carroll paints a vivid picture of the surroundings, and characters all tangled with history and literature, so that I soon forgot I was reading. The story shifts in perspective between the main character, Garet, presented in first person, alternating with Will’s past in second person, as a sort of prequel leading up to how he became a vampire. I must admit at first the segueing took a little getting used to but by the time I got past the first few chapters, I found I enjoyed this swinging between tales – almost like reading two books simultaneously.

Garet, as a character, has far more depth than the standards such as Bella Swan or Lucinda Price, in equivalent genre novels. Although it’s clear she’s madly in love with Will Hughes, it’s refreshing to see a main character who has interests and ambitions other than just being defined by the unfortunate male with whom she’s romantically entangled. Will is not squeaky clean and there were times when I wanted Garet to kick his butt for him for being so self-absorbed. I must admit I did struggle to find his redeemable qualities, and often wondered what Garet saw in him, that she was willing to go to the ends of the earth to rescue his sorry posterior.

Overall, when it comes to the actual quality of the prose and narrative, this is possibly the better of the current crop of similar tales that I’ve encountered as reviewer, and an enjoyable read with a wicked little twist near the end.

Monday, August 20, 2012

In Conversation with a Vampire, Xan Marcelles. #guest



Xan Marcelles and I've had many long conversations. We're lucky enough tonight that we've hatched up one to share specially with you peeps. Today is the official day we celebrate the release of Crooked Fang, which is available in print and electronic format.

ND: So, dude, your story's been out for a bit now and I hear you're a hit with the ladies. What have some of them said about you?

XM: They seem to have a thing for bass players for some reason. And I dunno, like they think that I'm hot? I'm just a dude with fangs so [shrug]. I mean it's flattering and everything, but I don't see what the big deal is. I just like talking to everybody.

In Crooked Fang, I'm not as popular as you might think. I get assaulted in different ways, not all bad but still. Hah. Keeps things interesting.

ND: Haha, a dude with fangs. Let's put you on the spot then. How do you reckon you measure up compared to other popular vamps? If you were to be in the same room as say, Lestat, Edward and the Count himself. What would you have to say to these dudes?

XM: Count Dracula would probably scare the shit out of me. Considering he's like a million years old, really creepy looking and has a castle. But he's got a ton of weaknesses to balance the odds. The whole sun-thing, has to carry around dirt from his homeland, sleep in a coffin, dead to the world when he sleeps...yeah. I don't think I would say much to him at all besides this:

X: "How's it going?"
[Dracula hiss]
X: "Well alright then..."

Lestat I have a lot of respect for, I gotta say. Except he's French and kind of...French and probably talks with a snippy French accent. Not that I got a thing against the French. I'm sure he'd be all arrogant with me, or maybe not. Maybe we can jam and he could shriek some vox and make Serv (my singer) look like a kitten in the vox department. Lestat is undeniably cool, but if I had to guess who'd I'd get along with better? Louis. But. BUT. If I was put in a situation with Lestat I think it'd go like this:

X: "How's it going?"
L: [sneer]
X: "I heard you like to sing and tried to expose the entire vampire race. Plus, damn. Akasha. What a rush huh?"
[Lestat punches me in the gut or bites me or something]
X: "It sucks you can't get laid to relieve those frustrations, man."

I get murdered on the spot. The end of Xan.

Edward Cullen. Do I really have to answer this one? I think I'd just sit there and hum the tune of "One of These is Not Like the Others"...

No, really. Considering he's like fatally deformed and useless as a vampire. And thanks to him, I get to hear the sparkly vampire jokes. Maybe I'd punch him in the teeth. Maybe.

ND: Haha, oh shit I think I can almost smell a fanfiction mash-up at this point, that's if Rice would allow her fans to play nicely with her vampires. So, speaking of fanfiction, how would you feel about that? Especially if folks were to take it to the Fifty Shades degree?

XM: Fanfiction will happen whether you like it or not. It's the slash that I'm kind of like O_O; at. Or any variation thereof, you know? Like Blood and Fire. Ash and I...just eww. Seriously. I can't even.

I like females. I'm sorry. I apologize to the whole world for being straight as a board in advance. If fanfiction comes along, it'll be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Because I think while it encourages people to be creative, it can border on plagiarism and that's not only uncool, it's illegal.

ND: Slash. Ugh. [scrubs eyeballs] So, if there were to be a merry mash-up (sans the slash), which characters would you be flattered to share space with?

XM: Damn. You really have me at a disadvantage because I don't know much about other characters in my genre. Give me a break, I'm fictional, right?

Ok. I have one. Shane McAllister in Jeri Smith-Ready's WVMP series. A musician, a quiet dude and a vampire. Well wait, we'd probably bore the readers by being stoic and musiciany. Although his maker Regina? I'd hit that. Goth chicks are hot.

Killer story with Shane and Regina right here.

Plus, c'mon. They love music. They DJ at a radio station. My kind of crowd.

ND: Getting back to the novel, Crooked Fang, did you expect to have your living past so tied up with the undead present? We're dealing with a lot of time disjunction, you holding onto your "for now", while the rest of the world moves along. How do you cope?

XM: Definitely not. A man thinks that he can just up and leave everything behind--not true at all. It will bite you in the ass if loose ends aren't tied. And it hurts like hell. Seeing people get old, especially like when I haven't been around to have it happen gradually...man, it's a shock. It separates me more and more from who I used to be. I mean the first who. Not the second. I'm on my third who now.

I think a lot. A damn lot. And the more I think, the worse I feel, so it's an endless circle of thinking and maybe drinking because drinking helps numb the mind to the point of dumb. Not like it's gonna hurt me anyway. I throw myself into my band, or stupid me, I try and help somebody else out. That rarely works out well but I can't just stand by and let people in front of me be in pain.

It sucks being stuck in a place where I'm standing still, yet time goes on. And the thought of losing the rest of what I know makes me sick.

You want to know how I deal? One night at a time.

ND: So, where do you see yourself headed out to in say ten or twenty years? Where is your "for now" then? Hard questions, I know, but you're a lot deeper than your facade.

XM: New place. New identity. One night here whenever, I'll decide it's time, pack my shit and leave Pale Rider. Sooner rather than later if questions start popping up. Or, the alternative is to tell them all. Would they accept me? Could I stay anonymous as the bass player in this or that band?

Maybe twenty years ago I could've. These days, people have real nice cameras in their phones. The internet is nosy. People are suspicious and way more open-minded, which is a double-standard. And then there's the others like me. If I divulged and stayed put, eventually they would come for me and drag me off anyways. That's just how shit is. It's how it's always been and always will be. Even I have to submit just a hair to the big dogs. And there are very big and very old dogs.

So, my twenty years from now? I'll be someplace else and anybody I knew before will probably either be dead or no longer know where I am. I'll end up someplace in Mexico, or Russia, or any other location. But not here. Not in Colorado.

ND: Why have vampires remained so secretive? Why don't you guys take over the world? Do you really have something to fear from the humans?

XM: Hmm. How to answer that without giving too much away...

In my world, a vampire has to be a certain age, which varies with type, to make a new one worth a shit. Else you end up with...you know what I'm talking about. So, there really aren't too many of us, except for the Nesferata which seem to be spawning like termites. But even then, not nearly enough to take over the world, like you're saying. Making enough hellspawn to do something that crazy would dilute the strength in vamps so much across the board we wouldn't be able to fend off an old lady armed with a handbag. And most vamps aren't the type to need to be out there. We take our drinks in private to avoid consequence because that draws attention and even people can't kill people without penalty.

There's the weakness to sun. Fire, etc. It benefits my kind to just stay in the shadows or operate from places so high nobody questions a damn thing. At least that's what I know, been told, or can say freely.

ND: And now, to ease up on all the hardcore shit. So, your writer tells me there's wiggle room for another story. If and when that happens, what do you think your fans can expect? What would you like to do now that you've had a couple of misadventures?

XM: Well no. The rabbit hole just goes deeper. In Crooked Fang, all you saw was me and my immediate issues with maybe a little glimpse into the supernatural world, or whatever the hell people call it now. Paranormal? Way to make me feel better about myself. Anyways.

The second book I still have to deal with problems from the first. I can't just ignore some problems and hope they go away. Without giving spoilers from either book, I'll just probably get in even more trouble and be forced to look at my vampire self again. Maybe show more from those missing years when I was living the vampire lifestyle. I'm sure it'll be gouged out of me someway or another. Readers wanna know, and what readers want, readers get. Within reason, you know?

ND: So, any parting shots for your readers?

XM: Besides a huge, humble show of gratitude and appreciation? That they even bother to look at my site or read my book?

Well there's that, and there's me seeing a lot of lonely people in pain and I just wanna say to them, they aren't alone. Everybody is somebody; fat, skinny, young, old--it don't matter. For the people that were there in the beginning and still there now, shit...wow. You know. There's no words to express how good that makes me feel.

For the new ones coming along, hey, nice to meet you. Come talk at me on Twitter @crookedfang. Tell me what you think. Let's talk music or whatever. Listen to me bitch about Auto-Tune. Come see my website at www.crookedfang.com. Lots of fun ways to dig into what Crooked Fang is, who I am, etc. Blogs, merch, books, other shit.

I love you all. Keep it real.

Lates.

~Xan

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Dark Griffin by KJ Taylor #review



Title: The Dark Griffin
Author: KJ Taylor
Publisher: Ace, 2010
Buy link

If you, like me, gobbled up Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels like they were crack, then you’re probably going to enjoy The Dark Griffin. And I really, really enjoyed this story, even though the novel is a bit rough around the edges.

First off, there were definite viewpoint issues. I felt as though the author couldn’t decide whether to run with a third-person omniscient or a deep third. As it stands, the narrative exists in a funny kind of limbo, with authorial voice intruding from time to time to offer readers glimpses into stuff that happens that the characters are not privy to. This is a bit jarring at times.

Hand in hand with this issue was the fact that Taylor could have laid on a bit more layering with regard to boosting characters’ motivations, and would definitely have helped to create more complexity in Arren. Often the main character does stuff and it’s not immediately clear as to *why* he acts. Granted, I was too absorbed in the story so it didn’t completely ruin it for me, but there were moments where I was jerked into editor mode and found myself absently casting about for my red pen.

Then, dialogue. Sometimes it felt as though Taylor was spending too much time conveying exposition using the dialogue as the vehicle, so things sometimes didn’t flow as they should. There were occasions where dialogue could’ve flowed more naturally but as stated earlier, I was too invested in the story to want to hurl the book across the room.

But despite these flaws, storytelling and world-building are Taylor’s strong points. I really enjoyed Mercedes Lackey’s griffins back in the day, so to have a new author invest so much love into creating a setting containing griffins thrilled me. Also the concept, of the main character’s fall from grace due to racial prejudices, really struck a chord with me. And that twist she offers near the end, of almost a “dark knight” rising, that also gave me wriggles of delight.

This is not a work of literary greatness, but it’s a fantastic story with a main character I ached for. Taylor succeeds in telling a powerful tale that had me teary-eyed at times, or sitting with my heart in my throat at others. Her world is bloody and violent, and I love the fact that she’s subverted my loyalties from supposed “good” guys to “bad” guys. And, without giving too much of a hint at a spoiler, if you loved Eric Draven as The Crow, then you’re going to absolutely adore Arren. Yes, this story is a big dramarama, but hell, it’s a rousing read and a perfect escape from Mundania.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Gothic Americana with The Victor Mourning #music


One thing I absolutely adore about social media is the way it’s brought me into contact with bands I’d never have encountered otherwise. The Victor Mourning are one such.

In the old days I might’ve borrowed a CD from a friend or, horror of horrors, have them record a tape. Nowadays all the really cool bands are lurking on websites like ReverbNation and Bandcamp, among others, and are easily accessible via Twitter and Facebook. And when I think back to the days when I used to root around books-per-kilo stores for foreign music magazines featuring music biz news at least a year out of date…

But getting back to The Victor Mourning, they’re really special, and an acoustic Gothic Folk or Dark Americana band that originally pulled together in Austin, Texas, in 2008. Stephen Lee Canner takes care of guitar and vocals, with Lynne Adele on guitjo and vocals, and Stefan Keydel on fiddle.

With regard to the group’s overall musical arrangement, Canner explains: “Our core instrumentation is guitar, guitjo (six-string banjo), and fiddle. Adele and I share two-part harmony vocals, which really is like another instrument in itself.

“Our last album featured a button accordion on one track, and I also play five-string banjo on the occasional tune.”

Although Canner and Adele have since moved to East Tennessee – which Canner names as the band’s spiritual home in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains – Keydel is still considered a part-time member.
Canner adds: “Keydel will still perform and record with us as distance and time permit. He recently flew in to record a few songs with us for an upcoming single and our next album. During that session we used a 19th-century reed organ to fill out the sound on one song. We’ll be looking for other folks to play with here in Tennessee as well. We’re very open to expanding the instrumentation as we meet other kindred musicians here: accordion, percussion, even cello.”

Canner himself lays claim to a musical legacy that infused his background that now finds expression through The Victor Mourning. He says: “I come from a long line of southern mountain people, and music has always been a big part of that culture. The music of the southern mountaineers often focuses on death, longing, sadness and tragedy, which were all part of everyday life in the days when that music developed. In my earlier days, I would write songs to fit whatever band I was in at the time (post-punk, 1960s garage, glam), but when I was home alone just working on my own ideas, I would write these plaintive mountain-flavoured tunes. In time I realised that these dark little acoustic songs just fell out of me naturally. They are in a literal sense a part of who I am. So it’s not so much about loving a particular style of music, it’s about having no choice in the matter.”

Canner says people from all walks of life responded to The Victor Mourning from their very first shows. “We get everyone from young hipsters to senior citizens coming up to us after a show, buying merchandise and being very enthusiastic about what we do. For some reason our song Zachariah is very popular with the pre-teens.

“In contrast, the person who books the acts for the waiting area at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport told us, ‘As you seem to focus on the darker side, I do not feel comfortable presenting you to our travellers.’ We took that as a huge compliment, of course. At a show in West Virginia an audience member told us that after seeing us he needed to see his therapist.

“Personally, though, I think our material is dark in that subtle, atmospheric way that much 19th-century Gothic literature is dark. It’s the darkness of an eerie old folk tale or a patch of woods with a legend attached. We don’t offer shock value, but we do offer mystery.”

Good news is that The Victor Mourning are laying down tracks for a new album. Canner says: “We’ve decided to take our time on this one in order to put out the very best product we can. I would expect that it will see the light of day by sometime next year.

“Before that happens, though, we have a vinyl 45 in the works. One side of the disc is Kill a Spider (Frankie Silver), an original of mine. The other is The Ballad of Frankie Silver, a traditional, 19th-century ballad. Both songs are based on the true story of Frankie Silver, who murdered her abusive husband in 1831 in western North Carolina, and was later hanged.”

Although the music business is in a state of flux, Canner remains optimistic. He concludes: “Writing and playing music are things we’ve always done and will always do. The times when the music at least pays for itself are nice, and the times when there’s a bit left over are even nicer. But regardless of economics, we’ll be playing music one way or another as long as we’re physically and mentally able.”

The Victor Mourning’s music is available at all iTunes stores, Amazon MP3 (both US and UK), eMusic, Napster, and also streams on |Spotify. CDs, T-shirts and The Victor Mourning Whiskey Soap can be ordered directly from the website: www.thevictormourning.com

This article initially appeared in the Sunday Independent Life supplement on Sunday, August 12, 2012.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Daken in the spotlight #music

Daken... Picture: Ashley Maile


Every once in a while I discover a bunch of musos I absolutely dig from the moment I hear their first track, and Daken is one of the “finds” I’m still totally stoked over. If I could somehow get my ass to the UK to see one of their live shows, I would. I was able to track down vocalist Dave Hirschheimer for a chat to share a little more about the band and its music.

For those who haven't heard about Daken, Dave describes the band as a “four piece 'loud as fuck' alternative/rock/metal band from London, UK. Daken's music is best described ‘dangerous, driven and fucking dark!”

In addition to Dave, the band consists of Jimmy Catamite (guitars), Nilshen (drums) and Ben March (bass). Dave adds: “Well we're all quite mischievous at times, but nothing too serious or unlawful… I suppose Jimmy is the worst and has a tendency to get so pissed that he'll fall over somewhere on his own and mash his face up. Nilshen likes to chuck his guts up half way through a drinking session, obviously to make more room. Ben is just old, so he has his slippers on, tobacco pipe at the ready and plays computer games.

“I apparently got so wankered at a Guns & Roses show that afterwards I was throwing a pizza on the dirty floor, cuddling it and then eating it (I can't remember a fucking thing)… our own show the following night was seriously painful!”

Okay, so apart from evoking visions of Carnivore's Jack Daniels and Pizza, Daken does offer a serious sonic assault to its adoring audience.

Dave elaborates: “I'd like to think that when we put a show on, for any audience, we walk onstage to a bewildered bunch who are firstly intrigued by our look... Then we just crack them around the head as hard as we can with heavy slabs of riff, drum and vocal attack… by the end of the set they belong to us.

“The musical inspiration behind Daken stems from a varied collection of bands, genres and sounds. I suppose it can stretch all the way from classical music, through to 1980s pop, 1990s grunge, right through to brutal death metal--and I feel no shame in mentioning any of those styles/genres as they've built up what Daken has become today and have definitely had a profound affect on the band's sound.

“If Pantera were still in existence, then they'd be an ultimate band for us to share a stage with… same goes for NIN. Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Slayer… even bands like Radiohead or Tool would be amazing to play shows with, considering there are songs within the Daken repertoire that have similar dynamics and melodies that wouldn't sound out of place for their audiences.”

Commenting on Daken’s creative process, Dave says: “The writing process has always been down to me. I've always been a drummer (for a long fucking time), drummed for some huge bands/acts on huge stages and I was always in and out of shitty unsigned death metal/heavy bands. I've played the guitar for as long as I've been drumming, but just as a second instrument and ended writing riffs for some of the unsigned bands I was in.

“I got to the point where I was fed up of being in bands and them eventually imploding, so I bought a shitty acoustic and dived head first into singer song writer territory! I was heavily influenced by Elliot Smith, Jeff Buckley, Jose Gonzalez, Radiohead and so on. I then taught myself to sing (it was fucking terrible in the beginning and I knew it, but persistence pays off!).

“I've always loved strong voices like Layne Staley, Chris Cornell and tried desperately to learn their strengths--I seemed to have developed my own voice with their help. I combined my heavy past with the new melodic inspirations and went out live playing acoustic solo shows--fucking terrifying, but an amazing sense of accomplishment.

“Then I began writing heavier music and recording everything with the drums, guitars and bass …as well as producing it and recording it all.

“I start everything in a very simple manner and then build it into a structure, which is then layered so it'll work in a live environment. About 30 songs later and I'm still doing it and loving it.

“So with Daken, even though the other guys don't officially write anything, they still make the band what it is--a great band and we kick arse live! We all have input in the band’s look, photos, videos, shows and so on… It's a good set up and we get good results working this way.”

With regard to facing some of the challenges musicians face these nowadays, Dave concludes: “Bands, musicians, creative types always face new challenges--there's always someone out there who is better than you and that's always an incentive to get better in every way possible.

“I think from a personal perspective, it's good to recognise this but to not let it stop you or distract you. Only sexy midgets or dwarves could prevent me from striving for the best ;) I don't know how they do it, but they have a secret knack for distraction.

“In terms of competition for Daken, I don't see any band out there on the same level as us as competition. I'm very confident with the music and the whole package we deliver, so if there are other bands of a similar level then I see them as exactly that and not as someone to compete against… it's music, not sport! We always try to support other bands doing what they love doing.

“Musos today have it a lot easier than they did before the internet was in everyone's pockets. When I was learning the craft of drumming and writing music, I had to use these amazing things called ears! And although I've found the likes of YouTube extremely useful in terms of learning from other 'heroes', I still believe that training your ears to the point that you have absolute trust in them is vital.

“Instead of watching an instructor online, or your favourite drummer/guitarist/bass player/midget do their thing, there's something incredible about listening intensively to something and then working it out--and what an achievement it is once you've got it worked out!”

Linkage

www.dakenmusic.com
www.facebook.com/dakenmusic
http://daken.bandcamp.com
http://twitter.com/dakenmusic

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Death Metal by Armand Rosamilia #review


Title: Death Metal
Author: Armand Rosamilia
Publisher: Rymfire Books, 2011
Buy link: http://www.amazon.com/Death-Metal-ebook/dp/B004VMPLRU/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

I’ll be straight up and say there are no enough stories out there that cast the metal scene in an authentic light, so Death Metal was a whiff of freshness to the standard portrayals of the alternative scene in popular media. On the surface, our protagonist, Daniel, has it all: a successful career as a published children’s author, with money in the bank, but all is not well.

It’s *how* he got his money that is the matter, because he is the lone, somewhat inspired/possessed (take your pick) mastermind behind the metal “band” DTC – the main source of his lucre.

But all is not well. In order to tap into his dark muse, Daniel has had to take vast quantities of LSD, which naturally placed strain on his relationship with his wife, Karen, who has kept Daniel from seeing his daughter, Missy. And, when a bunch of crazy fans abduct his daughter, and make outrageous demands that he finish the last few albums to bring about the apocalyptic arrival of the demonic Natas, Daniel, helped by his manager, has to return to that dark, creative space within in order to save his daughter’s life.

Overall, this is a short, tightly written story, but it’s perhaps a little too tight. While I had no trouble with the jumps between past and present narrative, I felt the tale could have done with a bit of additional layering to beef up the characters’ motivations, as well as emotions, thoughts and environment.

That being said, I did enjoy Death Metal, especially some of the ribbing at the politics one encounters in the metal scene – it sounded a bit familiar [smiles] to some of the articles I’ve read about certain musicians... And I’d have loved to have seen more. And perhaps a bit more misdirection as to whether this shadowy Natas was indeed a figment of Daniel’s tortured imagination or something more sinister. I must admit I had my suspicions with regard to the ending about midway through the story, so the conclusion was hardly a surprise, I just didn’t expect things to resolve quite the way they did.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A moment with Magdalena Solis


My husband was the one who turned me onto Magdalena Solis, a band that immediately pressed all the right buttons for me. Their music is almost bacchanalian—a soundscape of textures interspersed with samples from films.

As an author, I’ve found their music highly inspirational in creating the right kind of mood in which I can create. I love the almost alien wildness and unpredictability. So, of course, it stands to reason that I had to hunt them down and drag them into the spotlight here on my blog.

So, who's in the band, where are they based and what motivates them? The duo are Wim Lankriet and his partner Marie Beaunom, and Lankriet happily answered a bunch of my questions. As for how the band originated, Lankriet says: “Magdalena Solis is based in Brussels, Belgium. We're a male/female duo, me and my girlfriend. I was writing little screenplays when we met, and she's a professional video editor. We're both movie freaks, so from one thing came another. Early works were mere visual experiments. When we created some sounds for those we quickly got an offer to release the music. We were surprised and flattered... it wasn't really our plan.

“Ever since the project has grown, notably after the first full album Hesperia that was released last year. But we still do it just for fun and intend to keep it that way. We're motivated by creating the ultimate sonic and visual trip, something incredible. Slowly we work and progress to achieve our vision. That's what keeps us going, the dream, the vision, and the pleasure of doing it. It's like a drug. We work for ourselves and do as we please. Public attention and reviews, we had never expected that, but it has become important to us. Well, just the idea--we create things that make people soar, that they thoroughly enjoy, that makes us feel good.”

At a quick glance, Magdalena Solis’s latest video, some might see similarities with the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky, and perhaps a nod toward Kenneth Anger's film works. Lankriet confirms: “Indeed both Anger and Jodorowsky, along with 1960s B-movies, have been major influences for the Hesperia album visuals. However, we have been craving new horizons for a couple of months now. After some doubts and discussions we decided to do the Crown your whores and burn your kings clip as the climax of this first period. At the same time for us it marks the end of an era. For some time now Tarkovsky and the Czech 1960/70s new wave films  have been fascinating new favourites. Also Pasolini remains important to us, more than ever.

“Future visuals will be less lush and extravagant. Our fascination for deviant and subversive art has not faded, and this will remain present in future work, but the style will change. To put it simple, we feel it is time for us to grow up.”

With regard to musical influences, as well as writing and production processes and how the two work together, Lankriet says: “We listen to many different genres, and music from different eras. What inspires us most is simply music with brilliant melodies. That is what matters and that is also what we miss in many contemporary things, because it is too experimental. Experiments and seeking new horizons is important, but mere experiments are just a fad and rather boring to listen to, it's only half of the work really. For us the ideal music is always a combination of both experiments and great melodies. So that's how we create: switching constantly between these two poles, when the experiments begin to bore us we move on to pure melodies and vice versa.

“Classical music is also very important to us, in particular Bach, Beethoven and Chopin. I find it interesting to study and play their music because these three form a revolutionary cycle that was the birth of modern music—and at that time there was no equipment for experiments, they only had dissonant notes and harmonies. Popol Vuh is also important to us; he drew from a vast array of influences but he was a most fascinating connection between rock and classical music, without falling into symphonic rock bullshit. Another peculiar and authentic 1970s project we listened to a lot these last few months is Flamen Dialis. It's full of interesting experiments, mixed with brilliant and eternal melodies. His only album Symptome Dei I find a total masterpiece, and still incredibly underestimated.

“Our past recordings to me, it was perhaps the result of too many influences, just a bit too many. Our work also remains a struggle between the current zeitgeist and our more ‘classical’ attitude and influences. Our project is still very young, and within the modern music world we often feel like Voltaire's IngĂ©nu. How that novel ended I forgot.”

But Magdalena Solis not only reflects its cinematic influences in its music videos, but draws them into the music too. In Lady of the Wild Things there are a good few sound clips from assorted films.  

To this, Lankriet adds: “There are quite a lot of audio samples on the Lady of the Wild Things EP. The track The Pigs Monastery has mostly audio from Ken Russell's The Devils; both the "christ crucified..." monologue and the "you filthy whore" screaming at the end are from The Devils. There is a bit from Jodorowsky's El Topo in it too, the preacher and crowd yelling and chanting, before the guitar and drums fall in. Count your blessings and Pink Sock Parade both have audio that was taken from lesbian porn clips. The voice in the first part of Zero Point Energy is PT Barnum. People have asked me sometimes where the fairy vocals in the second part of Jinxed come from, but that is actually me singing with a pitch effect that makes me sound like a child.

“On Hesperia we used maybe less significant samples, there they blend more with the instruments in general. But they remain present and important. We continue to use sound samples while composing/improvising. We often create strange background noises ourselves, by putting loads of effects on instruments. During my teens I saw a documentary about George Martin that blew my mind and he is still a big example. Guitars plus synths plus effects plus sound samples, these together are to us some sort of huge supernatural organ, a fairytale instrument that sucks up all the sounds of the world.”

Linkage
http://magdalenasolis.com/
http://vimeo.com/magdalenasolis
http://www.last.fm/music/Magdalena+Solis
http://www.youtube.com/user/magdalenassolis
http://magdalenasolis.bandcamp.com
http://soundcloud.com/magdalenasolis

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Restless Music--Riding with Crooked Fang


It’s all Peter Steele’s fault, really. When the bassist and frontman of Type O Negative passed away in 2010, his death rekindled my interest in music and I embarked on a journey of rediscovery. Music. Particularly the music I listened to when I was in my late teens and early twenties.

That’s how I discovered A Pale Horse Named Death, and started interacting with folks on the band’s forum … and that’s also when I took note of a post by one of the other members who mentioned that she was serializing a vampire novel on her blog.

Curious, I clicked … and fell in love with Xan Marcelles. I knew the minute that I read those first few extracts that here was a well-formed, complicated character I was itching to see more of. When author Carrie Clevenger and I started chatting about our mutual love of music and writing, we just clicked.

Somewhere along the line I ended up getting her contracted to get the novel published, and we got the ball rolling with edits, and also an enjoyable writing partnership.

Now, taking a tale from a blog serial to a novel is not as easy as it sounds. A blog serial, by its nature, doesn’t always follow the kind of structure one would encounter in a novel. Episodes and seemingly isolated vignettes can prove tricky, and this is one of the problems we had to overcome – how to string it all together and build tension in the right parts.

Some scenes hit the cutting room floor while Carrie created quite a bit of new material. We also had to look at continuity, and how to blend the old with the new. Layering was important too, but in the end all the hard work was a tremendous amount of fun and possibly one of the most rewarding projects I’ve played editor for in my career so far.

The thrill of seeing the original form, a rather raw set of blog posts transmute into a physical book you can heft in your hand – priceless.

What I love about Carrie’s writing is that she’s a keen observer of the world and people around her, presenting tales often heavily themed with the shadow of mortality. For those who’ve yet to read her Friday Flash offerings, you’re missing out on her unique brand of often wry, sometimes poignant and often dark slices of life.

But back to Crooked Fang. This is not your average vampire novel. What makes Xan so engaging is his very humanity in the face of his undead existence. He’s the kind of character who just quietly wants to get on with his life, and readers will gain a glimpse into the heart of a complex person who’s been through a lot, has been transformed by his experiences, yet clings to the veneer of normality. As a reader, I felt real sadness at the knowledge that all Xan loves is temporary. Everything dies, and he will continue.

This is particularly illustrated in Xan’s relationship with his best friend from his living years, Scott. The human has a family, a successful business and is settled, and sure of himself. Xan, on the other hand, knows that all he holds is “for now”, yet he’ll hang around while he can. It’s tragic in a way, but it makes you love him all the more for his loyalty. He never forgets his true nature, even as much as he hides it, and there are a few times when there are hints at Xan’s more bloodthirsty side. Yet all his aspects are balanced. There’s no wangsting after a “one true love” though Xan’s quite honest about his intentions when he gets hot and bothered about the fairer sex. And his music. He loves his music.

That just made it for me. As much as Crooked Fang is a story of a vampire coming to terms with his past and present, and possibly an interminable future, this novel has its own soundtrack, and echoes the spirit of the restless music that thumped through the years when I didn’t know my own place in the world.

LINKAGE
www.crookedfang.com
Twitter @crookedfang
https://www.createspace.com/3930335
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Crooked-Fang-1-Carrie-Clevenger/dp/0615668135/