Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Weird Western Spotlight: Judith Tarr

photo credit: Lori Faith Merritt
Welcome back for another look at the authors and books in the Weird Western StoryBundle. Today I'm really excited to welcome Judith Tarr. If you've been reading fantasy since the 80s, her name is almost certainly one you recognize, and her newest novel, Dragons in the Earth, is making its debut in the bundle. I just read Dragons in the Earth, and it's a lovely book. Contemporary fantasy set in the desert around Tucson, Arizona [where, it turns out, Ms. Tarr and I are practically neighbors!], dipping back into ancient history and prehistory. Plus horses; horse-lovers will especially enjoy this book.

1. Tell us a little about yourself.
Hello there. I’m a native New Englander (from Maine, no less) transplanted to and flourishing in the Arizona desert. I moved here for my health and stayed because it’s home.

2. What drew you to writing weird westerns? What do you enjoy about it?
I didn’t actually set out to write a weird western. I wanted to write something about horses (since I live on a horse farm) and about Tucson, where I live, and of course about magic because both horses and Tucson are made of it. I ran a Kickstarter and wrote Dragons in the Earth, and planned to publish it with Book View Cafe, the authors’ cooperative. Its official publication date is September 20th.

Then Blair, the curator of the Weird West bundle, asked me if I had anything on that theme. And I had this, right then, being prepared for publication. So I sped up the process a bit, and here it is. It’s a heart book, a book about where I live on multiple levels. It’s a love song to the land I live in.

3. What particular flavor of weird western is your book that's in the Weird Western bundle? Science fiction, fantasy, horror, other, none of the above, all of the above?
It’s contemporary fantasy. Also, a horse story. And it has dragons.

4. "Welcome To My Worlds": Tell us a little about the world of your book.
As I said above, it’s the world I live in. We call it Tucson Magic. This country has been inhabited for at least 14,000 years. The land I live on has stone rings set there by the old people, two to three thousand years ago, to catch water and nourish whatever would grow there. They’re persisted because in the desert, unless someone comes through with a bulldozer and blades it flat, whatever you put down stays where it is for thousands of years.

That’s magic. So are horses. And I’ve always felt that dragons sleep under the mountains. They definitely play in the air above them.

I wrote about that. I set it in the Tucson I know, with a few changes for the story’s sake. The ranch exists, though it’s a combination of two separate places. The horses...well. Maybe they do. Maybe they’re only in dreams.

5. Where can we find out more about you and your books?
The best place to start is my author page at Book View Cafe.

Dragons in the Earth (Horses of the Moon #1)

Dragons sleep in the earth here.

Claire is barely scraping a living on her friend’s ranch near Tucson, Arizona. She looks after the long-abandoned horse facility, makes occasional attempts to resuscitate her academic career, and pays the bills, more or less, with her skills as an animal communicator. Those skills don’t always let her say the tactful thing to the human with the checkbook. Sometimes she has to tell the truth.

After a particularly unfortunate session, Claire gets one last chance to keep her home and her livelihood. A small herd of horses needs a place to live and a person to care for them.

But these are no ordinary horses. They represent an old, old breed, the rarest in the world, and they protect an ancient and terrible secret. And something is hunting them.

The ranch is a perfect sanctuary. The powers that live on and under and above it can protect the horses—if Claire can control them. But first she has to control her own abilities, and learn to believe in herself.


Dragons sleep in the earth here.

I feel them. Sometimes I see them—in my head, in dreams, in the hunched shapes of mountains curled around the flattened bowls of the valleys.

They’re always there. I’m always aware of them, but sometimes the awareness sinks down deep, till I can almost forget them.

That day, for example, when I’d finally had enough of failing to make a living.

I don’t exactly live at the back of beyond, but a mile and a half of ranch road and a pair of dry washes can keep the worst of the city folk at bay. Unfortunately, my client was desperate. A phone consult wasn’t enough. She needed to see me in person. Now. Immediately.

She cruised past the long-empty horse pastures in a hot-pink limo, parked herself on my weather-worn deck, and brandished her fashion accessory.

Somewhere under the hot-pink dye was a teacup poodle. He knew exactly what he looked like, and he was not even remotely happy about it.

 “Dorrie says you’re the best,” said the owner of the arm he was draped over. No human emotion could penetrate the Botox mask, but her voice had a raw edge. “I need the best. Bruno hasn’t been himself, and he won’t talk to anyone. He bit his masseuse. His astrologer says there’s no cosmic reason for him to be so difficult. Will you please ask him—”

I’d had a bad morning. One of the swamp coolers had died with a puff of smoke and a smell of something burnt and electrical, and it might be October but it was still ninety degrees in the afternoons. I needed that cooler.

I also needed this appointment, or there wouldn’t be any money to pay for the cooler repair. I braced myself to nod and look sympathetic and tell the client what she wanted to hear.

The dog under the pink fluff looked me in the eye.

There weren’t any words. There seldom are. I have to translate.

“He says,” I said, “that all that’s wrong with him is you. Dye him pink one more time, and he’ll bite you harder than he bit the feelgood-hands lady. He wants to be a dog. You want a handbag, he says, get one that’s dead already.”

When I snap and say exactly what the animal is saying to me, sometimes their captors start screaming. I got slapped once.

This one fixed me with a flat, hard stare. “Bruno loves me,” she said.

No, he doesn’t. I bit my tongue to keep from saying it aloud.

Bruno sank his teeth into her arm.

That shocked a shriek out of her. The limo driver had a first-aid kit and paramedic’s training, which was a good thing. Bruno had strong jaws for a tiny dog, and teeth like needles.

They roared off in a cloud of dust. I stood on my front step, with the heat already coming up, and my bank balance no happier than it had been before.

About the Author:
Judith Tarr has written historicals and historical fantasies and epic fantasies, contemporary fantasy and science fiction. She has won the Crawford Award, and been nominated for the World Fantasy Award. She lives near Tucson, Arizona with an assortment of cats, a blue-eyed spirit dog, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.

Kyra sez: Don't miss out on Dragons in the Earth and a bunch of other great Weird Western books available at a great price from StoryBundle through Sept. 8. In the meantime, Fantasy Book Critic and Horror World are holding giveaways where you can win a free bundle! The giveaways run for a few more days, so don't delay if you want to enter.

Finally, a roundup of links to features and interviews with the Weird Western StoryBundle authors can be found on bundle curator Blair MacGregor's site, so be sure to check those out.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Guest Character Interview: Walt Starboard

Continuing our look at the books and authors in the Weird Western StoryBundle, here's author James Derry interviewing Walt from his western-science fiction novel Idyll. And he's even brought with him a sketch he made of Walt! Take it away, James:

Walt Starboard is a settler on the planet Idyll. His ancestors travelled there in search of a simpler life, free from the dependence on technology that they believe crippled society—and the human spirit—on Earth.

Unfortunately, a mysterious syndrome of ‘contagious’ sleep has decimated the Idyll settlement, and now Walt has spent the last three years in quarantine with his brother Samuel and his bedridden mother on their lonesome ranch. Desperate to find a cure for their mother—and to find out what happened to their father—Walt and Samuel are finally venturing away from their homestead in search of answers.

1. What is your full name? Is there anything significant about your name?
Walt Cygnus Starboard. Yes, quite significant. When our forebears left Mother Earth, they gave up their traditional surnames and took on new last names based on the roles or their quarters on the starship Marathon. It was a 600-year trip that required a great deal of sacrifice. Relinquishing their surnames was more symbolic than anything, but it represented a break from the Terran way of doing things—and a new commitment to our cause. I’m just glad my ancestors didn’t live near Marathon’s poop deck! Ha ha. That’s a nautical joke. Marathon didn’t have a poop deck. Sorry, it’s a fairly serious topic.

2. How old are you?
I’m twenty-three.

3. Tell us about your family. What do you like and not like about them?
My father Josiah is… or was… the best rancher in Glenn County. After the Lullaby hit, he traveled to the heart of the Settlement to find out what was being done about it. But he hasn’t returned yet. That was three years ago. My uncle was a doctor, but he died. My mother was infected with the Lullaby, so I’ve been doing my best to care for her. My brother Samuel… he’s good with the animals.

4. Who was your first kiss, and what did you think of it?
A gentleman doesn’t talk about that. Trust me, I’ve had my share of female… interests… females who… Fine. I’ll level with you. In my youth, I focused on my studies. Then the Lullaby hit, and I’ve been living in quarantine for three years. If it wasn’t for the epidemic, I’m fairly confident I’d be married to a beautiful, charming lady by now.

image copyright James Derry

5. What is your occupation?
I was training to be a county doctor. When I was young, I wanted to run the ranch. But I suppose that duty will fall to my brother. Or perhaps I could do both. It’s all moot at this point. Right now, we’re struggling to stay clothed and fed.

6. What are your best and worst qualities?
I like to think I’m fairly intelligent. And disciplined. And neat. And cool and collected in a bad situation. And keen at shooting and riding. And admired by my peers. My brother says I talk too much, but he hardly talks at all.

7. What is your most treasured possession?
Uncle Warren’s pharm-garden. It grows the pharms that keep Mama alive, despite her coma. I don’t know what we would’ve done without that.

8. What is your greatest fear?
That my mother will die before we can find a cure for her. When my father left, he entrusted me (and Samuel) with caring for the ranch—and that included, in my mind, keeping Mama safe. She was infected on my watch, and now I have to do everything in my power to reverse that one moment of stupidity and neglect—and to make sure she doesn’t die from it.

It’s been three long years, taking care of her… feeding her, bathing her, treating pressure ulcers. Sometimes I wonder if she knows what’s happened to her. If she dreams of us. If she wishes that I’d let her die… Can I level with you again? Sometimes I’m not afraid of Mama dying. Sometimes I think my greatest fear is that my father will return, and he’ll see what we let happen to her.

To find out more, shop for Idyll as part of the Weird Western StoryBundle, available until September 8. Or check out author James Derry’s blog at james-derry.com.

Kyra sez: I've just started reading Idyll, and even though I'm only about 10% in so far, I'm hooked. Westerns and the challenges of settling a far distant planet just naturally seem to go together.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Tales of Azara now available

Taking a quick break from the Weird Western StoryBundle to announce that The Brilliant Career of Sajur Golu and Other Tales of Azara is now available. This companion volume to Chosen of Azara contains the following stories:
  • The Brilliant Career of Sajur Golu: The rise of Sajur vo Udrun from petty official's son to High Priest of the Madrinan Empire.
  • Coming Home: In a last, desperate effort to save her life, young Juzeva arrives at Source Azara.
  • Turn the Heart: Torn between love and duty, Prince Idan must make a choice.
  • Comfort Enough: Several years after his deal with Azara, Sevry comes to terms with one of the sacrifices demanded by his new life.
  • Baby Steps: A widowed baron must find the courage to love again.
  • Mothers, Daughters, and Dreamers: All Lillia wants is for her mother to pay attention to her instead of to her dreams of a long-lost land.
  • The Man in the Woods: Lucie's visions over the years of a mysterious man in the woods.
  • What A Man Has to Do: Estefan's future father-in-law assigns him an almost impossible task.
  • Homecoming: Lillia struggles to come to terms with the truth of her mother's life.

To give you a taste of what's in this collection, I've posted "Coming Home" over in the Read Right Here section.

The regular price on this collection will be $2.99, but now through Sept. 5 you can get it for only 99 cents at the following stores:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo | OmniLit |
DriveThruFiction | Smashwords

Also, Chosen of Azara is only 99 cents through Sept. 5!

Amazon (all international sites) | Barnes & Noble
iTunes | Kobo | OmniLit | Smashwords | DriveThruFiction

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Weird Western Spotlight: Gemma Files

Today I'm happy to welcome Gemma Files, another of the authors in the Weird Western StoryBundle, here to introduce herself and her character Chess. First, let's find out a little more about Gemma:

1. Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in England, but have lived almost all of my life in Toronto, Canada (I say “almost” because, as should be obvious, I am currently still alive). My parents are both actors. I have a BAA in Magazine Journalism from Ryerson University, and a few years ago I was amused to note that almost everything technical I learned while getting it is now hopelessly obsolete. I spent roughly nine years working as a film critic, during which period I also taught screenwriting and film history at two different vocational schools. Other jobs I've held include security guard, essay-writer for hire and floor attendant at Lovecraft, Toronto's most upscale sex shop.

2. When did you start writing, and why?
I've written throughout my life, but aside from placing a poem with Cricket Magazine when I was eleven, my professional writing career probably began when I was twenty-five—I was covering the publication of a new all-Canadian horror anthology called Northern Frights, let slip to the editor (Don Hutchison) that I also wrote scary stories, then sold him one for Northern Frights 2. That sale led to me writing “The Emperor's Old Bones” for Northern Frights 4, the story for which I later won a 1999 International Horror Guild Best Short Fiction award, which in turn led to the publication of my first two short story collections (Kissing Carrion and The Worm in Every Heart). It's been uphill ever since.

3. What drew you to writing weird westerns? What do you enjoy about it?
Okay, so: it's 2009, and I've just spent a year being intensely depressed in the wake of my son's Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis, which just so happened to coincide with me losing my primary teaching job. During this period, the only thing I've been able to write has been fanfiction, specifically for the James Mangold remake of 3:10 to Yuma, which means I've already done a lot of research on the post-Civil War era, making me fairly familiar with all the necessary western tropes and jargon. One day, I tally the word-count of everything I've written during the previous year and realize it comes to more than 100,000 words—enough for a novel! The next thing I know, I'm using my historical knowledge to hammer out the first seven chapters of what will become A Book of Tongues.  As luck would have it, meanwhile, 2009 is also the same year that Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory formed ChiZine Publications, and started asking all their friends—me included—if we were working on books. So before I'd even finished writing the book, I already had a publication contract. Three books later, the Hexslinger series was finished, and I'd moved on to a whole new phase of my writing career.

4. What particular flavor of weird western is your book that's in the Weird Western bundle?
The Hexslinger series takes place in an alternate version of of the wild west where people occasionally randomly “express” as natural magicians—hexes—whose powers often seem to be dictated by their skills, cultural backgrounds and/or personalities. Reverend Rook, for example, can literally preach magic—he quotes applicable Bible verses, which appear in the air around him, then bring about whatever he has in mind. For men this tends to happen during moments of extreme stress or pain, and for women, around adolescence; the reason hexes haven't taken over the world as yet, however, is that they literally can't work together, because their constant desire for more power drives them to suck magic out of each other like vampires. During his own expression, which happened while he was being hung for murder, the Rev was touched by a malign entity, Ixchel, who later revealed herself as a hex-ghost/dead goddess from Mictlan-Xibalba, the Mayan-Mexica underworld. She wants to bring back her pantheon, re-instituting a Blood Engine system in which power is paid for by human sacrifice, and what she offers for the Rev's help in bringing this plan to fruition is to make it possible for hexes to cooperate without being driven to prey on each other...which is something the Rev will do almost anything to bring about, because he knows his lover Chess is a hex just waiting to happen.

5. What do you like about your characters?
Well, frankly...they're all kind of terrible people: villains, monsters, anti-heroes at best. And those have always been the sort of characters I've found myself drawn to, possibly because they lend themselves best to the sort of blood-soaked high drama black magic gay porno horse opera A Book of Tongues and its sequels turned out to be. I guess that ever since I first saw Star Wars, complicated evil with hints of redemption has always been my aesthetic—I'm definitely a Sith, not a Jedi. Which isn't to say there are no slightly less soiled characters at work here, but part of this project was always trying to turn the most familiar Western tropes inside out, and I like to think I've mainly managed to do that.

6. Where can we find out more about you and your books?
My pro site is http://musicatmidnight-gfiles.blogspot.ca/. I'm also on Twitter (@gemmafiles), Facebook and Tumblr.

And now, Chess:

1. What is your main character's full name? Is there anything significant about it?
The main character of the Hexslinger series—which starts with A Book of Tongues—is probably Chess Pargeter, around whom most of the action centres. He certainly has the most interesting character arc. As for something significant about his name, well...it turns out he doesn't actually know his entire name, mainly because his mother never told him it was short for something else. He eventually finds out, but not 'til Book Three.

2. How old is he?
When A Book of Tongues starts, Chess can't possibly be more than twenty-five years old—I think I had twenty-two somewhere in the back of my mind when I wrote it, probably because of that line from the Bo Diddley song “Who Do You Love?” (I've got a tombstone hand and a graveyard mind, I'm just twenty-two and I don't mind dyin')—though again, he's not really sure, because he doesn't know his own birthday. He's pretty young, either way.

3. Tell us about his family. What does he like and not like about them?
Chess grew up without any idea of who his father is, mainly because his mother—“English” Oona Pargeter—is a low-rent San Francisco prostitute who's far more interested in alcohol and opium than she is in her own son, aside from the section of his life where, having figured out he was gay, she tried her best to pimp him out to whoever was interested. Chess stole a gun from a Pinkerton agent and left home to join the Confederate army soon after. Though he says he doesn't feel anything for her but contempt, I think he's lying.

4. Who was his first kiss, and what did [he] think of it?
Chess uses sex to get a lot of what he wants and thinks of it mainly as a mode of exchange, since that's how he was first introduced to the concept; he's frankly far more embarrassed by emotional intimacy than by anything physical. That being said, I think the first kiss that meant anything to him probably came from Reverend Asher Rook, who he first met when Rook was serving as an army chaplain during the Civil War.

5. What is his occupation?
Chess is a former soldier turned outlaw, enthusiastic and fiercely loyal right-hand man to the Rev, who expressed as a “hex”—a natural magician—at the tail-end of the War, right in the midst of being hung for desertion and the murder of a superior officer, the latter charge being a crime Chess actually committed. Chess was the one who later suggested the Rev start robbing trains and stage-coaches in the first place, so it only makes sense he became the Rev's lieutenant as well as his lover. He's blissfully unaware that part of the Rev's attraction to him comes from Chess also being a potential hex, though as yet unexpressed.

6. What are his best and worst qualities?
Chess is described at various points during A Book of Tongues as a “pocket-sized Satan,” a “wild boy” and an “unrepentant sodomite and murderer,” all of which is absolutely true. His best quality is probably his commitment to the Rev, but his total refusal to feel guilt over his own nature or actions had lead him into a whole lot of trouble over the years, not to mention taking its toll on those around him. He also holds grudges.

7. What is his favourite thing to do?
Clear even split between sex and shooting something, mostly, though he slowly begins to see the value of defending the weak against impossible odds, if only for the pleasure of spitting in some hellaciously more powerful being's eye. A lot of what Chess does is dictated by sheer contrariness, which can be petty or weirdly admirable, depending on context.

8. What is his greatest fear?
Imprisonment. Being left behind.

9. What is his most treasured possession?
At the time of A Book of Tongues, Chess's most treasured possessions would probably be either his guns—he wears two at all time, holsters slung cavalry-style for easy cross-drawing—or an ear-bob the Rev bought him, silver inlaid with turquoise, shaped like a Hospitaler cross. He doesn't care much about anything else he owns, though he favours fast horses and natty clothes, often dressing all in purple just to piss people prejudiced against the “frilly” off with his sheer vicious sense of style.

Kyra sez: I haven't gotten to Gemma's book yet, but I'll be sure to add my thoughts on it when I do. If you want to check it out for yourself along with a bunch of other great weird western books, the Weird Western StoryBundle is available now through Sept. 8.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Guest Character Interview: Tiberius Bogg

Continuing our closer look at the books and authors in the Weird Western StoryBundle, today I am pleased to welcome Mr. Tiberius Bogg. Mr. Bogg is the main character in the New World series by Steven W. White. New World, Book 1 is available free to subscribers to the StoryBundle newsletter, and Book 2, Hair of the Bear, is part of the bundle.

1. What is your full name? Is there anything significant about your name?
Name's Tiberius Bogg.  If there's anything significant there, I've no knowance of it.

I got no title, as those are uncommon things where I come from.  You need not even bother with "Mr. Bogg," as most folks just call me Bogg... if they know my name at all.

2. How old are you?
I can't conjure up a precise number.  I judge I've seen forty summers, surely. But I can still outrun a bear, given a decent head start. So I reckon I'm not fifty, not yet.

3. Tell us about your family. What do you like and not like about them?
I ain't seen my Ma and Pa since I was a pup.  They fell onto hard times in Algolus, and struck out across the sea for Mira, like a lot of folks.  I was born right here in Mira, and ain't never ventured to the old country.  Don't plan on going, neither. Algolus is too full of kings and knights, castles and dragons.  Too much history there.  You can't get free of it.

Mira is the right place for me.  It catches Algolans by surprise, but I fit right in here.

Beyond Ma and Pa, I've no knowance of any foreparents.  My onliest brother, Ackerley, lives in Fort Sanctuary, on the coast. He can stand that sort of life, with crowds and streets and noise.  We're different in that way. I don't care for people, my own self.  I prefer to play a lone hand.

What do I like about Ackerley? I've come to him twice... no, three times in my life, when wilderness living has left me short of needments.  Once, he saved me when I was ailish with winter fever.  He's never shut me out.

I can't say there's anything I dislike about him.  He don't set his table to city folks' rules.  Still, he sees hisself as an educated man compared to me, and when I'm about, he'll strut like a rooster in tall oats.

4. Who was your first kiss, and what did you think of it?
I recollect a pettifogger's daughter, a long way back.  I can no longer call her by name, but she was pretty as a fence-corner peach.

5. What is your occupation?
Occupation? I'm a weed-bender, a rabbit-twister. Polite folks will call me a mountain man.

That is to say, I cleave to the deep and piney woods and get by with trapping and grazing. I make my own clothes.  Buckskin is easiest to work with, though I've got a cloak made of splintercat skin, black as coal at midnight and well nigh invulnerable.  That's saved me more than once. Mira is full of magical creatures, some of them useful.  If they don't kill you, that is.

Occupation... that's a fine way to put it.

6. What are your best and worst qualities?
My best qualities? By jings, where do I start?  I'm resourceful, witty as all get out without being over-educated, hearty as a bull ox, nimble as a polecat, not overly concerned with city foofaraw such as bathing, and devilishly handsome if you don't mind the beard.

My worst qualities?  Alas, I have the misfortune of being far, far too humble.

7. What quality do you value most in a romantic partner?
[Bogg blushes.] Good land! What kind of questions are these?

[Kyra looks down at her clipboard] Oops, we seem to have stumbled into my romance interview. [Tears out a bunch of papers and throws them away.] Sorry about that! Let's move on, shall we?

8. What is your favorite thing to do?
After having a think on this question, I'd ruther choose those long quiet evenings after supper, the fire not too hot, and the lakeside air not too cool, the belly full, as I stretch out by the water, feeling easy and comfortable.

There are plenty of fine lakes I go back to, depending on the season.  Hottencold Lake, Laundry Lake, Massacre Lake.  Boiling Coffee Springs is not unpleasant in the winter.

Then again, I do enjoy a good fracas, too. There's nothing quite like feathering into a feller who righteously deserves it... though I've learned not to seek out such things.  Never trouble trouble until trouble troubles you, Ackerley would say.

9. What is your greatest fear?
Fear?  Lessee, fear.  I am trying to recall the meaning of that word.  Alas, no.  I am not familiar with this term.  I am not an educated man, you see.

All right.  Let me not be too pleased with myself, nor stretch the blanket too much.  My greatest fear, with no varnish on it?


10. What is your most treasured possession?
That's simple enough.

[Bogg draws a weapon from his rope belt, a large knife. Its handle is carved from the antler of an elk, and its curving white blade is the serrated canine of a sabertooth.]

This fine tool has gotten me out of more scrapes than I can recollect. You know about magical weapons from Algolus?  Enchanted swords and so on?  Well, here in Mira, those old hexes don't work so well.  Where I live, the magic is in the land, and the trees, and the fearsome critters that roam here. A bite from a sabertooth could cut anything... and sure enough, this blade can cut anything.

Kyra here: I tore through New World and Hair of the Bear in about three days all together. Exciting, scary, funny, fast-moving (and even emotional and thought-provoking) adventures through the frontier of Fantasyland's New World in the company of the inimitable Tiberius Bogg. Wonderful reading for anyone who wants a taste of the frontier in their fantasy. I would particularly recommend them for teen boys, junior high age and up, who enjoy fantasy and adventure. As the mom of two former teenage boys, I know it can be hard to find books for them, and the New World books fit the bill splendidly.

Once again, you can get New World for free via the StoryBundle newsletter, and Hair of the Bear as part of the Weird Western Storybundle.

About the author:
Steven W. White has written science fiction and fantasy since he was a teenager. Along the way, he's been a Christmas tree farmer, a rocket scientist, and a snake handler. Lately, he's earned a Fiction MFA from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts on Whidbey Island, Washington. He writes, teaches, and occasionally plays with fire in the Pacific Northwest.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Monday, August 22, 2016

Weird Western Spotlight: Joseph J. Bailey

As promised, I'll be taking a closer look at some of the authors and books in the Weird Western StoryBundle, which is available through September 8. Today I'm happy to welcome Joseph J. Bailey, author of Spellslinger.

1. Tell us a little about yourself.
When not at play with my family, I enjoy reading, writing, and relaxation. When I can, I also practice various martial traditions in which I have attained the Victim level of proficiency.

2. When did you start writing, and why?
I started writing my first novel, which eventually became the Chronicles of the Fists trilogy, in 2004. I love exploring the possible, trying to make the imagined real. I enjoy diving into new places and times, where other rules and potentials exist, and bringing those visions to life. Honestly, I cannot imagine doing anything else.

3. What drew you to writing weird westerns? What do you enjoy about it?
Most of my story ideas start with a "what if". What if wizards used guns instead of wands? What if the Wild West had magic? What would a world that contained gunslinging wizards be like?

I was drawn to the genre by these and other questions and then finding the answers to them. Exploring the answers to these questions, living in this world while I write, exploring its characters and nuances, is its own reward.

4. What particular flavor of weird western is your book that's in the Weird Western bundle? Science fiction, fantasy, horror, other, none of the above, all of the above?
Spellslinger is, like many Westerns, a tale of revenge. Except, instead of the protagonist seeking vengeance against outlaws, bandits, or a crooked lawman, his quarrel is with a dragon.

Where there are dragons, there is magic.

Where there is magic, there is mischief.

And where there is magical mischief involving dragons, there is fantasy.

5. "Welcome To My Worlds": Tell us a little about the world of your book.
Ilaeria, Koren's home, is a diverse, magical world where knights often wield arcane guns instead of swords, where cowboy hats not only protect the eyes and skin from the sun but the mind from demonic attack.

In Ilaeria, there are very good reasons to wear a hat.

6. Introduce us to some of your characters. What do you like about them?
Koren D'uene, Spellslinger's protagonist, is a ja'lel, a gun knight, who wields his pistols with true wizardry. I like Koren's singularity of purpose, his focus, and the purity of his vision. He is a man of few words but much action.

Smoky, Koren's mount, is a mystral, a flying, fire-breathing demon steed. I like that Smoky can say more with his body language than Koren can with any words. I also enjoyed the challenge of creating interest and depth in a character that cannot speak.

7. A fun fact you would like your readers to know about you or your book.
Although only touched upon cursorily in Spellslinger, Ilaeria is part of the greater macroverse of the Chronicles of the Fists trilogy. There is some intersection between those story arcs through paratechnological trade.

Koren is witness to this offworld trade when he visits Sky’s End Ranch in search of his brother's killer.

8. Where can we find out more about you and your books?
The easiest place to visit would be my blog (www.josephjbailey.com). From there, you can explore my worlds, read about some things I find interesting, and visit me pretty much anywhere else (Facebook, LinkedIn, and assorted retail outlets).

Happy reading!

Kyra here: I read Spellslinger last May, before I ever got wind of the Weird Western StoryBundle. The money quote from my review is "What King's The Gunslinger should have been," and that isn't just something I put in because it sounds good. That's literally what I was thinking as I read Spellslinger (and I loved The Gunslinger!). If you're looking for the perfect blending of fantasy and western with a hint of science fiction, I highly recommend you give Spellslinger a read.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Weird Western StoryBundle

As promised, here is cool thing #2, and I have been so excited about this! Beneath the Canyons is part of the Weird Western StoryBundle available now through September 8. Ever since I found out about the StoryBundle site, I've wanted to be part of a bundle, so this is really a dream come true. I am so excited for my book to be part of this great collection where westerns cross paths with science fiction, fantasy, horror, paranormal, and the just plain weird.

I'll let the bundle curator, Blair MacGregor, tell you a little more about it:
Welcome to our Weird Western Bundle, where wide frontiers, flintlocks, whiskey and revenge meet swords, airships, terraforming, magic, myths, and dragons. You'll find stories here set in the snows of old Alaska and the heat of contemporary Arizona, post-Civil War San Francisco and post-colonization planets, and places that seem as familiar as any wooded mountain or wind-swept desert... until tigers and dragons and horses that are so much more than you might assume burst into the scene. The different aspects of the Weird Western spirit in this bundle will give fans of the genre something they haven't seen before, and folks new to Weird Westerns a wide sampling of its fantastic offerings.

I was raised on a combination of SFF and Westerns. Star Trek and Gunsmoke, Asimov and L'Amour, Lonesome Dove and Battlestar Galactica. I was just as thrilled to shake the hand of Hugh O'Brian of Wyatt Earp fame as I was to meet Katherine Kurtz, author of the Deryni world. It's been a joy discovering more writers combining the genres, raising their unique voices, and upsetting the familiar with the fantastic. The result is a Western setting that respects history and the people who created it while spinning in unique powers, esoteric challenges, and the terrifying magic of discovery.

You'll learn the secrets behind the post-quarantined expanse of ranchland in James Derry's Idyll, and the reasons the man of Joe Bailey's Spellslinger is ready to make a stand. There's the subterfuge and wild ride of Gemma Files's Book of Tongues, and the smart, snappy adventure of Lindsay Buroker's Flash Gold novellas

Dangerous wonders and determined enemies fill J. Patrick Allen's West of Pale, and Steve White's New World brings chainmail and strange powers to the frontier. Kyra Halland puts rogue magery and danger in a dusty Western town in Beneath the Canyons, and Kenneth Mark Hoover gives us a time-wandering lawman in Haxan.

And I'm thrilled to share the debut of Judith Tarr's first novel of a new series, Dragons in the Earth, set in present-day Arizona, and filled with horses and dragons and the power of the desert itself.
Besides my own book, I've read three of the other books in this bundle, Spellslinger, West of Pale, and Flash Gold Chronicles. Judging by those, there's some awesome reading in this collection, and I'll be taking a closer look at more of the books during the time the bundle is available.

Here's Blair again to explain how the bundle works:
StoryBundle lets you choose your own price. For $5—or more if you'd like—you'll receive the basic bundle of four great novels in DRM-free ebook format. For the bonus price of at least $14—or more if you'd like—you'll receive all nine novels. If you choose, a portion of your payment will go toward supporting Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.

The Weird Western Bundle is available for only three weeks. It's a great opportunity to pick up the stories of nine wonderful writers, support independent authors who want to twist your assumptions about the West, and discover new writers with great stories along the way.

The initial titles in The Weird Western Bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:

Haxan by Kenneth Mark Hoover
Dead West Vol. 1: West of Pale by J Patrick Allen
Idyll by James Derry
Spellslinger by Joseph J. Bailey

If you pay more than the bonus price of just $14, you get all four of the regular titles, plus five more:

Hexslinger Vol. 1: A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files
Horses of the Moon Vol. 1: Dragons in the Earth by Judith Tarr
Daughter of the Wildings Book 1: Beneath the Canyons by Kyra Halland
The Flash Gold Chronicles I-III by Lindsay Buroker
New World Book 2: Hair of the Bear by Steven W. White

And as special thanks to our newsletter subscribers, all of you who subscribe get New World by Steven W. White for free! Grab the free first book in the New World series before you start on book 2, Hair of the Bear, found in the bundle.

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!
Whether you're already a fan of Weird Western or you want to get a taste of this diverse and growing genre, don't miss out on this chance to get up to nine books at a great price! And don't forget to sign up for the StoryBundle newsletter to get a free bonus book.

Monday, August 15, 2016

New Cover for Chosen of Azara

So I said I've got some cool stuff coming up, and here's the first one: A new cover for Chosen of Azara! Here's the ebook version:

Mominur Rahman http://illuminatedimages.co.uk/

And the full wraparound:

Mominur Rahman http://illuminatedimages.co.uk/

Like I said, it was a really tough decision to get a new cover for Chosen of Azara. Katt of Design by Katt did a fantastic job with the previous two covers, and she was wonderful to work with. I highly recommend her for beautiful photomanip covers. But with two more books coming out soon in the Estelend world, I wanted to tie all three of them together with similar cover styles that would also go with the cover of The Warrior and the Holy Man, another Estelend book. Matching all those covers would be really hard to do when working with photo-based covers, especially since it's also really hard to find stock photos that work for my particular brand of romantic high fantasy. So I commissioned Mominur Rahman, who did the amazing covers for Daughter of the Wildings and the Warrior and Holy Man cover, to do the covers for the new Estelend books and also the new cover for Chosen. I think he did a wonderful job of capturing Sevry and Lucie, and Juzeva too, up there in the corner, and also in nailing the genre and the type of story. The previous covers will remain on display on the book page for Chosen; in the meantime I'll also start getting the updated files uploaded. It might take a few days for them all to go live and for me to get all the images on the site updated.

Chosen will be going on promo for a few days early in September, and the collection of companion stories, The Brilliant Career of Sajur Golu and Other Tales of Azara, will be out in the next couple of weeks. So watch for those; to make sure you don't miss out on these and other new releases and special offers, sign up for my email alerts.

Anyway, that's cool thing #1. Cool thing #2 is coming up in just a few days, and I am so excited about this! I'm like a little kid on Christmas Eve; I can hardly wait. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Friday 5: Another reading roundup

For this week's Friday 5, here are five more books I've read and enjoyed (told you I had a lot of books to catch up on!) All fantasy this time. Links go to Goodreads.
The Magic Mines of Asharim by Pauline M. Ross

Another stand-alone installment in the Brightmoon Annals. The Magic Mines of Asharim follows Allandra, on the run after a terrible, tragic magical accident, as she takes refuge as a worker at the mine at Asharim, where instead of ore, the product being mined is magic. Then her fate catches up with her again; on the run once more, she finds herself with the opportunity and power to restore an Empire.

As with all of Ms. Ross's books, Magic Mines is filled with fascinating world-building, well-rounded (if not always entirely likeable) characters, and an original magic system. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy intelligent, original fantasy for adults with a good dose of romance. Full review

Ishtar's Blade by Lisa Blackwood

A young woman raised to be guardian to a king returns home to the side of her childhood friend and love, now the gryphon king. Treachery and danger are afoot, and Iltani must fully embrace her destiny as the "Avenging blade of the Goddess Ishtar." Enjoyable fantasy romance; I generally don't care for romances with humans who shift into animals (even mythical animals), but in this case it worked pretty well for me. An entertaining read.

Fate Fallen (Gallows #3) by Sharon Stevenson

More curmudgeonly urban-fantasy fun with demon hunter Shaun Gallows, his twin sister (and fellow demon hunter) Sarah, Shaun's human psychic girlfriend, evil fairies, dead fairies, dead evil fairies, and possibly the end of the world. Sometimes I had trouble following what was happening, but the characters are so great and it's all so much fun I didn't mind.

A Demon in the Desert by Ashe Armstrong

Move over, Clint Eastwood, there's a new gunslinger in town, and he's an orc. Yes, a gunslinging orc; what more do I need to say? Well, I'll say this too - Grimluk is a great character. A true gentleman, good with children, but completely badass when facing down bandits, zombies, corrupted officials, and demons. Oh, and dragons. This book takes all the familiar fantasy characters - orcs, elves, halfings (a hobbit by any other name) and plops them down in a world inspired by the Old West. A fun, exciting story, and I'm eagerly looking forward to the next installment.

Into Exile by Derek Alan Siddoway

**I was provided with a free review copy of this book.
In the Teutevar Saga, the medieval Europe of myth and fantasy is picked up and set down in a landscape inspired by the American west, filled with towering mountains, boundless grasslands, and nomadic peoples, some friendly, some not quite so much. Into Exile is a prequel to the series, showing how 2-year-old Revan, his widowed mother the Valkyrie Guinevere, and her spearmaiden, friend, and fellow Valkyrie Regenlief went into exile after the destruction of their home. It's a fairly short book, a novella, but filled with adventure, danger, suspense, and awe-inspiring landscapes. A highlight for me was the two lead female characters. Guinevere and Regenlief are strong women, determined to deliver Revan to safety away from the clutches of the traitorous White Knight. The characters feel like real women instead of men in disguise as they face incredible danger and hardships and fighting off countless enemies and their own fear and discouragement, risking everything for Revan's safety. If you've read other books in the Teutevar Saga, Into Exile gives some exciting and important back story, and if you haven't, it's a great introduction to the series. Full review

Monday, August 8, 2016

July/August Progress Report, and Music Monday

cover photo Artranq | Dreamstime.com
 Time for another monthly progress report, one week into August.

July was busy with family reunion/vacation and some other stuff, so I didn't get as much writing done as I hoped I would. I did finally figure out the follow-up Wildings series, which now also has a name, Defenders of the Wildings. I solved the story problems (I think); the events of book 1 make the most sense coming in the middle of book 2, which means I'm splitting book 2 in half and putting book 1 in the middle, with much attendant reworking of the two books. The story seems to be working better now, but what it means for the series is that this series won't be structured in nice, neat novel-length episodes like Daughter of the Wildings. I can't tell yet if it's going to be one large, disjointed book (my least favorite option), two short and somewhat less disjointed books, or a series of shorter serial-style episodes. Right now I've got book 1 (now the second episode) rewritten and I'm constructing episode 1 out of the first part of the old book 2. The whole thing is roughly outlined, and I added a concluding episode which wasn't in the original plan, to tie up the story in a more satisfactory fashion. (I also had to do this with Daughter of the Wildings, which first I thought would be five books, then I realized I needed a sixth book.) I'm also getting ideas for another follow-up set of books, called Children of the Wildings, starring, well, I'll let you guess!

I've also been working on edits of Tales of Azara, now titled The Brilliant Career of Sajur Golu and Other Tales of Azara. See my hopefully-not-too-lame cover I made for it above. If you've read Chosen of Azara, you may remember Sajur Golu as the evil, corrupt priest. This collection of short stories contains the story of his rise to the position of High Priest of Source Dar and of the Madrinan Empire, along with other background stories, character vignettes, and alternate points of view of scenes in the book. I'm looking at releasing it sometime before the end of August, in conjunction with the debut of a new cover for Chosen of Azara. Getting a new cover for Chosen of Azara was a very difficult decision; I love the current cover but it just isn't quite right for the genre and while it represents the characters of Sevry and Lucie very well, it doesn't really convey a sense of the story. None of this is the fault of the artist; I love Design by Katt's work and highly recommend her for beautiful photomanipulation covers. Rather, it's the difficulty in finding base photos to work with that are right for the book. Also, with two more novels in the Estelend world scheduled to come out later this year and early next year, I wanted to re-brand the Chosen cover to fit with the others and with The Warrior and the Holy Man, which is also set in Estelend. So I commissioned Mominur Rahman, the artist who did the amazing Daughter of the Wildings covers and also the new covers for Urdaisunia and Warrior and the Holy Man, to do these next three covers. I got the final art for Chosen today, and it's gorgeous. Watch for the cover reveal, coming soon!

So I've hinted at some exciting things coming up, and new cover art is one of them. The others I still can't talk about, but they're really cool. Stay tuned for news!

And finally, since it's Music Monday, here's a video for you. This is "My Therapy" from the album Haven by Kamelot, which is the theme song for my character Davreos from Heir of Tanaris, one of my upcoming Estelend books.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Friday Five: Reading Roundup 8/5

Another Friday Five, another Reading Roundup of five more books I've read and recommend. (All links go to Goodreads.)
 Hunter, by Robert Bidinotto

If you're fed up with a society where bad guys get excuses made for them while their victims are forgotten, blamed, or made out to be worse than the bad guys, this book is a wonderfully satisfying read. The message isn't real subtle (even if you agree with it), and the attraction between the main characters wasn't very convincing at first, though it did develop to the point where I was really rooting for Annie and Dylan to work things out. But the ending peril and confrontation is a can't-put-down nailbiter which kept me up way too late one night. Full review here

Pride's Children: Purgatory (Pride's Children, Book 1) by Alicia Butcher Earhardt

In the tradition of celebrity potboilers like Jackie Collins's novels, but much more gentle and cerebral. Pride's Children: Purgatory follows a novelist, Kary, living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, who is retiring and private almost to the point of being neurotic; Andrew, a charismatic Irish actor just hitting the big time; and Bianca, "America's Sweetheart", whose pretty face hides her ruthless ambition. I found this a lovely, engaging book. Full review here

Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues, by various authors

I bought this for the Carol Berg story in it, "Seeds," which was awesome, and I enjoyed a lot of the other stories as well. A few didn't grab me so much, and a couple ended with cliffhangers or, at the least, inconclusive non-endings, so I wasn't wild about that. On the whole, though, a fun collection of fantasy stories about rogues, renegades, thieves, and assassins. Full review here

The Bonehunters, by Steven Erickson

Book 6 in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. I mostly buy and read indie now, but the Malazan series is one of the few exceptions. Not an easy read, but definitely worthwhile if you like deep, thought-provoking fantasy with incredible characters and worldbuilding and an ethos where honor, nobility (not of birth but of character), selflessness, compassion, sacrifice, and love matter.

Dan's Lame Novel, by Dan Rinnert

If you've ever wondered what goes through a writer's head while they're working on a book, this is it. A lot of them might not admit it, but probably most writers (me included) deal with at least some of this stuff with each book - trying to come up with names, characters who won't do anything, trying to keep track of time in the story and how long it's been since we let our character eat or sleep, weird subplots that try to insert themselves (though I've never had anything quite as weird as carniverous alien fairies), how to end the darned thing. A short read, well-written, good for a couple of hours of funny entertainment.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Author Spotlight: Jessica Page

Today I'm shining the spotlight on Jessica Page, the current featured author in the Paranormal, Fantasy, Dystopia and Romance Readers, Writers and Reviewers group on Goodreads.
The Agency (The Agency Hunger Series #1)

HARPER ANDREWS, is a mind reader who has no idea how or why she is the way she is. After being saved by Agent Reid Doyle from a vampire attack she is introduced to a secret world guarded and protected by the Supernatural Enforcement and Control Agency (SECA). A world where vampires, werewolves and mages are normal and humans are at the bottom of the food chain. Things are not perfect but she finds herself thriving and feeling at home for the first time in her life.

AGENT REID DOYLE, is a vampire who likes his solitude so the last thing he wanted when he saved Harper was to have to spend more time with her. The fact that he's attracted to her is inconvenient and he resents having to be responsible for someone else. Losing another loved one is out of the question and he intends to avoid it at all cost.

Both Harper and Reid can't seem to turn off their attraction for one another and love, sex and blood has a way of complicating things quickly in their world. They need to stay focused and find out who's responsible for the vampire caused human murders with additional internal and external threats working against them. Choices will be made to protect the things and people they love, choices that will change everything, including each other.

Available at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

The Unveiling (The Agency Hunger Series #2)

AGENT HARPER ANDREWS had her entire world turned upside-down when she discovered that she was a supernatural being with incredibly rare abilities. Even with a job she loves and the man of dreams at her side, Harper is still once again left feeling alone in the world.

AGENT REID DOYLE wasn't looking for love; fear and the lingering heartbreak of a past love but decided he'd rather live a life with her and he would die protecting her if needed. With his former friend and now foe back in the picture and continuously one step ahead of them, the SECA team must work against the clock to find him before his madness is felt worldwide.

The fine lines of love, loyalty and greed are easily blurred in a world ruled by supernaturals and the violent ripples of havoc are far-reaching. With surprises and twists unveiled at every turn, will they be able to succeed? Or will something much more sinister emerge and destroy them all?

Available at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Misguided Target

After meeting Senator James Clarke and his close friend, madam Dominique Bourdeaux, Kendall Daley starts a new life as an escort known only as Raina. After seven years in the business, she has one final escort event to get through before moving onto the next phase and career of her life.

Kane Clarke is a thirty-five year old Navy Seals Senior Chief Petty Officer on an encouraged leave, visiting Washington D.C. to meet his estranged brother.

Their lives connect after a fluke meeting in a bar one night, but neither of them realizes at the time that they share a connection which will change everything. The pair is thrown into a wild ride of mystery and danger, trying to figure out why James has been taken and why Kendall has been targeted.

Will they figure it out in time? Or will their lives, love and luck run out?

Available at Amazon

About the author:

I'm an avid reader (and dreamer) who hails from northern Ontario Canada where I live with my husband, son, and fur babies. I hope my stories provide you with an escape and some entertainment for a little while (that's really all I can ask for).

Where to find Jessica Page:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Tasty Tuesday: Hummus

It's been a while since I've done a Tasty Tuesday post, or any other post for that matter. I was away all last week at a family reunion in Park City, Utah. My parents like to go there for a week or so every summer, and last year they informed all of us kids and grandkids that this year we were all coming too. It was fun, though I mostly stayed busy helping with my 3-year-old and 2-month-old granddaughters to give their daddy and mommy a break. Park City is absolutely gorgeous, and there are lots of fun outdoors things to do. We had yummy family dinners, had a cookout with relatives I haven't seen in years, some as long as 30 years and some I've never met (my parents are both from Utah, so we have a lot of relatives there), some folks went skeet shooting, rode on the ski lifts, and went into Salt Lake City for sightseeing and to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearse, and there was a pre-wedding reception for my oldest nephew and his fiancee (who is also from that area). The wedding was the next day, Saturday; unfortunately, we had already booked our flights home first thing that morning months ago, before we knew about the wedding, so we weren't able to go. But the reception was lots of fun.

I'm home now, and recovering and trying to get back into a routine, and found myself craving hummus. I discovered several months ago that I like hummus, but it's hard to find properly made hummus in the stores. The kinds in the stores usually have soybean oil and/or citric acid, when hummus is supposed to be made with olive oil and lemon juice. The thing that was hanging me up from making it myself was I couldn't find tahini, then I realized that tahini is just sesame seeds and olive oil ground together in a paste, so I bought whole toasted sesame seeds and figured I would just blend them in with the rest of the ingredients.

So this morning I dusted off my long-unused food processor and made hummus. And yes, that's my actual hummus I made in the photo. I used this recipe: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/hummus/ with the following alterations:

*I cut the recipe in half. As written, it makes an awful lot of hummus, and since I'm the only one who eats it at my house, it would go bad before I could possibly eat it all.

*Instead of water, I reserved the liquid from the garbanzo beans and used that.

*I used 1/3 cup toasted sesame seeds and a little extra olive oil in place of the tahini.

*I also added 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin.

The recipes I found talk about making your hummus very smooth and creamy, but I like texture in my foods, so I didn't bother with peeling the garbanzo beans (!) or worry about the unground-up sesame seeds.

After mixing, taste the hummus to test the seasoning. I ended up adding a little more salt, lemon juice, and cumin.

I like hummus with Crunchmaster Multi-Seed crackers, but I didn't have any today, so I tried some with some water crackers left over from Christmas (the thing to have with our Christmas brie) and some other multi-grain crackers. It tastes best with crackers that don't have a strong flavor of their own.

As far as how long this will keep, my experience with storing things made with cooked beans says a few days, or maybe almost a week. Not very long. So enjoy it while it lasts!

Finally, I have some different exciting things I've been sitting on, not ready to talk about them publicly yet, but watch for some cool stuff coming up in the next few months!