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March 12, 2012 — 595 words

Free book review: Come With Your Shades On by Joe Gotham

By Ellie Hall

With independent fiction, freedom from genre restrictions and editorial direction can produce either new forms of expression, or unfocussed ramblings, perhaps well-written, but going nowhere.

CWYSO is a delight for anyone looking for the former. This is not a light read; time and characters slide in and out of place, and there is at least one complex mystery to solve. I’d say it is perfect for Johnny Vegas fans who wish they could cut the soap opera out of Ideal and turn the drug lords up to eleven.

The plot cannot be better summed up than as it is by the author himself:

A black comedy following the adventures of a disparate group of people in the Netherlands in the days following 9/11. A faded rock star, Dr Kosmoss, his blind companion, Christian, and a Nigerian King called Lord Ahmed go to the Netherlands to rescue a girl kidnapped by a porn star. Since Dr Kosmoss lost his memory in the WTC attacks, all he has to go on is a note telling him to go to the Netherlands and find a man called Bran Van Haappen. Meanwhile, a drug dealer called GSUS and his three pals have to come up with ten thousand guilders in three days to pay back the local big cheese or they're all dead.”

How well comedy works is always down to the individual reader and I did not find the book laugh out loud funny. It walks a fine line between dark comedy and violent/bad taste humour and in my opinion the line is crossed more than once. It is the sort of gross/cum-splatter humour that might work best in the locker room or among shipyard welders. That said, there were times when I laughed unexpectedly, and overall I did find the story both engrossing and amusing, and not at all offensive.

There is one thing I can say for certain about CWYSO: you will not have put the pieces together and solved the puzzle before you reach the end. When you get to the final reveal, there are several, and if you have enjoyed the style of humour, the author’s cunning will amuse you all the more. If you have struggled, you will groan.

There are peculiarities; each character is introduced, described from head to toe including the inevitable t-shirt logo and shoes, and ascribed a likeness to a celebrity. Because it is done so often and by rote, I guess it is by design rather than accident, but it does stand out as unusual when reading. Puns are repeatedly explained, which might help readers who find the wording obscure; references to art and philosophy are also explained, almost as if the author would like the reader to note his academic range.

I enjoyed Come With Your Shades On and recommend it - if you like dark comedy, if you can follow UK accents, and if you don’t squick easily.

Joe Gotham says of his work, “I’ll let my writing speak for itself.” It’s good advice.

Four stars.

Come With Your Shades On is available for FREE download from Bibliotastic.

March 10, 2012 — 402 words

Help! I’m using an outline!

By Greg X. Graves

This is a message to my fans.

You have to help me.

No, I'm not going to roll out some plea for retweets or facebook likes. This is serious business.

I need help, because I've been ensnared in a conspiracy that could shake the very foundation of fiction writing. The impact reaches far beyond household names like Stephen King, JK Rowling or Greg X Graves and all the way down into the lives of regular work-a-day writers like Neil Gaiman and George RR Martin.

1889 Labs forced me to use an outline for Freedom Beer.

I was outraged but, you know, the miserly overlords at 1889 Labs are the ones who sign the checks for my six dozen yachts. Being over a barrel is nothing compared to being over a gem-encrusted carbon fiber ship's wheel.

At first it was a friendly suggestion.

"Oh, hey, Greg, it'll help you maintain consistency. Serials are hard. Lots of characters to keep track of."

I received that email while I was jumping a yacht over one of my other yachts, so they thought that I was blowing them off.

Then they started pleading.

"Please, Greg, use an outline. Here's an example. They're very simple. Think of your editor."

I couldn't think of my editor right then, however, because it's hard to think about much when you're involved in illicit night time boat races against pirates who have bet their buried treasure against your solid titanium Rolls Royce with diamond-lensed headlights.

Then all of those penny-pinching Scrooges hit me below the belt in my money purse (woven of cashmere and gold threads).

"Listen, Greg, we have soaked our checkbooks in gasoline and are holding lit matches. Use an outline. Now."

At that point I figured that those pirates were a bunch of filthy-bearded seadogs that had lied through their fake gold teeth about their treasure, so I set down my shovel. I took a look at the sample outline that 1889 Labs sent over.

And how I wished that I was back digging holes in scorpions' nests on that island.

The worst part is that 1889 Labs claims that lots of authors use outlines! What kind of sick mind clutches our puppet strings in its wizened claws? What sort of evil lurks in the gaps between numbered chapters?

The devil is in the details and outlines give it a cloak of invisibility.

Spread the word!

March 10, 2012 — 289 words

Chapter 7p5 – Hagga, Wait!

By Tim Sevenhuysen

Haglyn grabbed Tic's shoulder and herded him, Milly, and Dr. Fester back into the cell. "Take cover!" she screamed. She jumped in behind them just as the lasers started to fly, gouging chunks of rock out of the walls in puffs of dust.

Haglyn returned the goons' fire. Her Liberati blaster was much more sophisticated than their cheap weapons and they scattered, diving to their stomachs or hiding behind the curvature of the tunnel.

"I've got 'em now!" crowed Haglyn, leaping out of cover and spraying lasers indiscriminately down the tunnel. "Come on, let's blast our way out!" She charged as the goons fled.

Tic took a few steps after her. "Hagga, wait!"

There was a flash and a ZIPH!, and Haglyn was blown backwards. She flew into Tic, knocking him to the ground. A Liberati—a real one—had appeared at the end of the tunnel, wielding a scatterbeam gun with a smoking barrel.

"Predicted it!" giggled Dr. Fester.

The Liberati stalked towards them.

"Shut up!" screamed Tic. Haglyn wasn't moving. He tried to grab for her blaster, but Milly got it first. She smoothly dropped to one knee, took aim, and riddled the Liberati with a burst of lasers.

He jerked, spasmed, and stumbled backwards around the corner.

"Why didn't he die!?" said Tic.

"I don't know!" said Milly. "Haglyn's not dead, either, so grab her and follow me!"

Tic struggled to his feet, threw Haglyn over his shoulders—she was heavier than she looked—and ran after Milly towards the far end of the tunnel. They cut through the guards' room at the end and found two doors, one marked STAIRS and one marked ELEVATOR.

"Well?" said Milly. "Which way?"

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March 9, 2012 — 275 words

Chapter 7p4 – A Couple Marbles Short

By Tim Sevenhuysen

Haglyn cradled her Liberati blaster. "We've got to find a way out of here. It would help if all three of us were armed..."

"Three?" cackled Dr. Fester. "I count four!"

Milly looked at the bald man curiously. "Who's he?"

"This is Dr. Fester," said Tic. "He's, um, a couple marbles short, I think."

"You'll take me with you!" said Dr. Fester. "I'll be helpful. I predict it!"

"Aw, let him come," said Milly. "What'll it hurt?"

Haglyn just shrugged.

Tic sighed. "Okay, fine. Let's bring him."

"Predicted it! Predicted it!" cackled Dr. Fester. "Here we go!" He hobbled off down the tunnel in the direction of the main entrance.

Tic said, "Or maybe we're going to go with him. Unless anyone has a better idea."

"I don't know of any other ways out of here," said Haglyn. "You didn't see anything when they brought you down here, did you, Milly?"

Milly shook her head. "They had me blindfolded. But I did learn something very important before they got me! Dunter's been working on a secret project called the Norway—"

"—Corrosive Vapor Disseminator," said Tic. "Yes, we know. He was talking to Libden about it. No time for that right now. We have to find Pelly and get—" He was cut off by the sound of an alarm.

Dr. Fester came hobbling back towards them. "Wooga! Wooga! Knew this sound was coming!"

"What did you do!?" yelled Tic.

"No time! No time!" said Dr. Fester. "In a hurry, said Bic Tobler! Better hurry!"

Then half a dozen of Dunter's armed goons rounded the corner of the tunnel behind him.

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March 8, 2012 — 293 words

Read any good webserials lately?

By Letitia Coyne

I’ll bet that you have. There are so many to choose from.

Some are not connected in a linear form to create a story, they are episodic. Just as in some series we watch on television, the cast is the same, and we learn more about the characters as time goes on, but there is no narrative thread carrying us from one episode to the next.

If you like the idea of a series, you could go along to check out:

World: Common People.

100 Candles.

Or try The London Archaeologist. A photographic journey around the city.

On the other hand, if you love the anticipation of what will happen next, and you can’t wait to join fictitious friends each update, the ongoing journeys in these might be for you.

I enjoyed Railroad Train to Heaven, by Dan Leo. It’s one of those tongue-in-cheek stories I am always surprised and delighted to find, hidden away.

Or maybe With Earth In Mind by JE Turcotte, for sci fi.

There are, as I said, so many webserials to choose from. And yet our system has evolved, without malice, to support some and ignore others. While great stories get high ratings and multiple reviews in our well-known directories, there are many, many more that never get the attention they deserve.

Hunt around, you might surprise yourself.

Who do you recommend? Anyone, even your own site. Go on, spread the love.

March 8, 2012 — 263 words

Chapter 7p3 – Scissors

By Tim Sevenhuysen

Reacting out of habit, Tic raised his fist along with the enigmatic Dr. Fester. "Rock, Paper, Scissors!" chanted the old man, and on the third beat Tic let his hand fall with two fingers extended and separated: Scissors.

Dr. Fester had made the same move, and cackled in delight. "Scissors! Scissors! Predicted it, didn't I?"

Tic said, "If you predicted Scissors, why didn't you throw Rock and beat me?"

"Beat you, eh? Didn't I? Didn't I?"

"No," said Tic. "You didn't."

"Depends on who's making the rules!" said Dr. Fester, winking emphatically. "Snip snip!" He cackled again.

"You're insane," muttered Tic.

"No, not insane!" protested Dr. Fester. "A different perspective, that's what I've got. See it all differently, yep!"

"Bah," said Tic, waving his hand dismissively. He looked out into the hallway and saw the hunchbacked prison guard sauntering around the corner in the distance, scratching at his backside.

With a subdued little cackle, Dr. Fester nudged up beside Tic. "About to hear something?"

From the far end of the tunnel, there was a whack and then a thud.

"Predicted it!" said Dr. Fester, beaming.

Suddenly Haglyn appeared around the corner, Liberati mask pushed up on her forehead. She had Milly in tow, and the hunchback's keys dangling from her hand. The two women ran to Tic's cell and began trying keys in the lock.

"The last one!" cackled Dr. Fester.

He was right. The last key on the ring finally opened the lock, and the cell door swung open.

"Great job, Hagga!" said Tic. "Now what?"

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March 7, 2012 — 283 words

Chapter 7p2 – Who Are You?

By Tim Sevenhuysen

Haglyn gave Tic a reassuring wink as she left him to cope with his new cellmate alone.

"Er," said Tic. "Um." He wasn't sure how to react to this bristly, cackling little man. Probably best not to get on his bad side. "Uh, hi," said Tic. "Who are you?"

"I'm Dr. Fester," said the man, winking conspiratorially. "But you can call me Dr. Fester."

"Sure... So, um, what are you in for?"

"Noncooperation!" shouted Dr. Fester, and then cackled as if he had just delivered a clever punch line. "Won't do what they tell me, no sir! Won't help 'em build it!"

"Build what?" asked Tic.

Fester's face instantly became deadly serious. He whispered, "The Disseminator..."

"The Norway Corrosive Vapor Disseminator? I heard Dunter and Libden talking—"

"Shush!" cried Dr. Fester. "Won't speak of it! Not here. Knew you'd ask, though. Predicted it."

"What do you mean you 'predicted it'?" scoffed Tic.

"Well look, Bic Tobler, look!" Fester pointed to the dust on the floor in the back corner of the cell. It was covered in miniscule writing, formulas so complicated they made Tic's eyes cross.

"Um, my name is Tic Bolter, actually," said Tic.

"Not Bic Tobler? Hrm," said Fester. He bent over his formulas for several seconds. "Ah ha!" He rubbed out a few symbols and replaced them with equally incomprehensible gibberish. "I see," he muttered. "I see..."

"Oh come on," said Tic, "you can't calculate that kind of thing mathematically."

"Eh?" said Fester. "Can't, eh?" He wiped through his calculations and scratched out a new formula, hiding his work behind his hand. "Ha hee!" he cackled after a minute, rising. "Throw then, Bolter, throw!" He raised his fist.

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March 6, 2012 — 1,385 words

Introducing Letitia Coyne… and Touchstone

By A.M. Harte

I don't know how I first came across Letitia Coyne.

I knew of her, as one generally does in webfiction circles. I knew she wrote epic, character-driven historical romances. I knew she lived in Australia. That was about it.

Then we started working together on Ergofiction. I don't know if she approached me, or me her -- all I know is that I was impressed by her hard work, dedication and persistence, all of which are essential qualities for a writer. So I set aside some time, and started reading Britannia... and an entire weekend disappeared lost in battlefields and romances.

And here we are, two years later. 1889's first historical novel.

Introducing Letitia Coyne... and Touchstone.

* * * * *

A little about you, first: what kind of a writer are you?

LC: Until recently I was a compulsive writer. I loved compositions at primary school, and when commuting was a common occurrence later in life, I would tell my friend unflattering stories about fellow train passengers to amuse us for 4 hrs. In terms of process, I read, edit, write. Every time the words stop flowing [after I make yet another cuppa] I go back 1000 words and read, edit, write. It's a constant process of writing and rewriting. I see stories unfolding like watching a movie. Once I know my characters well enough to feel what they are feeling, they take over the story and I try to keep up with the words. Once upon a time I chain-smoked, and nothing makes me miss my sweet sweet fags like writing.

You seem to have a passion for historical fiction. Where does this interest come from?

LC: I loved the TV series I, Claudius in the 70's, and the fascination with history, especially Imperial Rome, grew from there. I studied religion for 6 yrs, [independently but obsessively] and that was mostly a study in ancient history, too. Then I had an inexplicable emotional blowout when I first saw Vindolanda - I wanted to lie in the mud and cry. Who knows why; I was simply overwhelmed by a sense of loss. Now, if I watch telly it seems always to be programs narrated by Tony Robinson, Terry Jones, Neil Oliver, or Griff Rhys-Jones as they traipse across the green and pleasant land. If I imagine the people who lived in the particular historical period described, their stories begin to unfold inside my head.

What is the most unusual fact you've ever researched for your novels?

LC: Unusual? I’m not sure. The most upsetting was to learn only recently that Celts did not [nor did any other warriors in history] carry their long, broad-bladed swords over their shoulder as widely shown in movies and TV, and indeed often incorrectly repeated in fiction. The length and weight of the blade would make it impossible to draw freely over the shoulder, and the action leaves the entire chest and stomach open to attack. My big bad.

The worst thing is I had once questioned, in my own mind, how they could pull the blade free, but having apparently seen it done in many reconstructions, I thought my doubt was unwarranted. Note to self: if it seems unlikely, it’s worth double checking.

Moving on to your latest release, Touchstone -- in one sentence, what is this novel ultimately about?

LC: Touchstone explores the tragedy of pursuing an imagined, idealised happiness at the risk of losing all that we already have.

Where did the title come from? Does it hold special meaning?

LC: A touchstone is a little piece of rock which is used to test the purity of gold. Figuratively, it allows you to see the value of something/someone. Stone, in its various forms, features strongly in the story, too. It represents certainty and stability, an unbending reality, unsympathetic exposure to the harshness of life, and, when it fails, the catastrophic collapse of everything built upon it.

How does Touchstone compare to your previous novels?

LC: This is the first time I have let go of some well established storyline expectations. With Touchstone, I wanted to express a vision closer to my own perception of life and love. Too often, in striving and struggling toward that which we think will make us happy, we ignore all the joy that is right at hand. I think life truly is about the journey, not the destination. Otherwise, when we get there, what then?

What kind of reader is likely to enjoy Touchstone?

LC: Touchstone is a short, light read with all the ingredients we enjoy in historical fiction: a bit of love, a bit of muscle, sweat, and swordplay, a bit of sex, and a bit of sadness. Anyone who enjoys character driven storylines should like this one. It is my hope, as with all of my stories, that it leaves the reader with a little bit more to think about than they’ll find in the average novella.

How would you feel about being categorised as a romance author? Does the suit chafe?

LC: Not at all. At the end of the day, category romance is the single most popular and best selling genre on the stands, both digital and print. The only rub comes when romance writers begin to think they are writing Literature, or when the Literati judge romance writers as lesser creatures. There are two completely different sets of skills at work, like painting in watercolour or painting in oils. Not all art is the same and that is a good thing. If they satisfy their readers, any author has achieved a lofty goal.

Let's finish off with three pearls of wisdom from you, on writing. Go!

LC:

  1. Watch people. Comedians are a great source of insight into humanity and the way we interact.
  2. Write until your own voice emerges. Be careful which books you read while you are writing; the styles and word plays that you enjoy will filter through your subconscious and onto the page.
  3. Write the first chapter last. [Awkward if you’re writing web serials!]

Actually, let's finish off with your favourite paragraph from Touchstone.

LC: “The wind sucked at her hair and pushed up under her tunic, puffing and flapping it against her body. In a moment of inspiration she dropped to a squat. Her boots were soon unlaced, the breeches shoved down roughly and kicked off to the side. As she raised her bare foot to the rail, the wind wailed its encouragement and she pushed up, almost overbalancing, and stood, arms out in space against the wind.

Laughing, filling from her toes to her ears with bright joy, she caught the flapping tunic and lifted it up and over her head. Her blood had turned to quicksilver rushing through her, aching in nipples grown hard and greedy for the cold suck of the wind. Naked, laughing hard, laughing full into the moonlit void, she stepped out from the stone and flew.”

Letitia Coyne is alive and well and living in Australia. She writes, paints, draws, sews, plays with old wooden furniture, revives jewellery and sings very loudly. When not doing any of the above, she watches endless movies, feeds multitudes of pets, wildlife freeloaders, and stray adolescents. Or sleeps.

* * * * *

Do you have a passion for historical fiction? Leave a comment telling us what historical era most appeals to you. Personally, I'm a fan of those groovy Greeks!

(Pssst! Are you on Goodreads? You can WIN a print copy of Touchstone - check out our goodreads giveaway.)

March 6, 2012 — 245 words

Freedom Beer, Part 14

By Greg X. Graves

"How are you doing, Estelle?" Hank asked. He held the door for a moment so that Zelphia could enter. She had ditched the high heels and opted for a pair of flats. They were easier to use with a pair of crutches.

"Wonderful! My new stockboy is doing a great job."

A stack of boxes stamped with the Rockjaw Brewery logo hove into view and began to stumble towards towards them. It swayed like a skyscraper in a stiff breeze. Hank noticed a pair of legs sticking out from beneath the bottom floors.

The porter set the boxes down and stood up.

Hank recognized him as the robber from earlier.

"Community service," Estelle beamed.

"More like community slavery," the robber replied. "That was quite the crack on the jaw that you gave me. And I had to help replace that plate glass that you sent me through."

"Sounds like you've paid your debt, which isn't a bad thing. We all build up credit and debt in portions. I myself owe you an apology because you don't seem to be a bad sort of fellow."

Hank offered his hand. The robber regarded as if like Hank had offered him a brown manila envelope that was dripping.

"I'll shake if you come help me unload the truck."

"I can't. We're on a date. I just came by to pick up something to drink. How about some beer?" Hank held up a six-pack.

"I hate beer," Zelphia said.

March 6, 2012 — 297 words

Chapter 7p1 – Get Me Out

By Tim Sevenhuysen

The basement of Dunter Yeti Security was like the main mass of an iceberg, ballooning out underground into a veritable anthill. It took the Liberati-disguised Haglyn and her apparent prisoner, Tic, three separate elevator rides to reach their destination.

The detention block was secured by a heavy door bristling with high-tech locking mechanisms, shiny chrome bars, and whirring, intimidating lasers. As the door slammed shut behind them, Tic whispered to Haglyn out of the corner of his mouth: "How are you planning to get me out of this one?"

Haglyn gave him a forceful prod between the shoulder blades with the butt of her blaster. From behind her mask, she whispered, "They might be watching."

They stepped out into a long, gently curving tunnel lined with jail cells cut out of the rock and secured with barred doors. Tic could feel the weight of the ceiling pressing down on him. The tunnel was dim, dank, and filled with echoes from the voices of the prisoners.

A hunchbacked little man with a jangling key ring hanging from his belt greeted them with a toothless leer. "Thish way, then, my puppiesh!" he said. He led them past several variously occupied cells before stopping at one and inserting a long, heavy key into the lock. "Here, pup. A nishe kennel for you." His cockeyed grin wrinkled his face up so much that his eyes disappeared.

Haglyn shoved Tic into the cell and the hunchback slammed the door shut behind him.

Something in the dark shadows in the cell's back corner cackled. A turnip-shaped bald head, crowned by a wiry fringe of snow-white hair, thrust itself into the light. "A friend for Dr. Fester! What a treat. I thought it would be today; yes, I thought so."

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