Book Review: Ways of the Stygia by Donny Swords

I find myself in a little bit of a troubling place in reviewing this work. On the one hand, it is a well-written and effective story. Characters are well-rounded, and the detail is ample and very descriptive. However, this certainly isn’t a novel that will find traction among the general public. It is a very violent work, and although that in itself is not detrimental, I found the violence to be at such a high level that I know it will, for some readers, over shadow every other aspect of the book.

The immediate comparison for me is the TV show “Dexter.” The book follows a police officer in possession of a mythical hatchet which he uses to cut murderers and rapists into quivering cubes of flesh. Now, I never enjoyed the TV show “Dexter” because I thought it was too watered down for a televised audience. In fact, I think that show might be socially irresponsible because it shies away from the darker side of its own subject matter. Essentially, you can’t be true to the concept of a “heroic” serial killer unless you make that character so repugnant that no viewing audience would ever want to witness the chronicle of his/her life.

All that being said, “Ways of theStygia” does embrace the true, horrific character of both its protagonists and antagonists. I recognize that it gives exactly what I thought I wanted when I gave up on “Dexter,” and still I find I had a hard time with it.

I think part of the problem, for me, was that it was a lot of “vengeance” killing. You hear about the victims that are tortured, and then the perpetrator is tortured, but I found I was left feeling hollow by the consequences. I would have preferred that somebody saved the victims from their anguish. Actually, the book leads to a pretty interesting exercise in reflecting on your own sense of entertainment versus moral justice. The sad reality is that there are a lot of situations that you encounter in your life in which justice may be served, but there is no redemption to be found in that justice.

Honestly, I don’t know exactly what to think about this book. The storytelling is vivid and it keeps you engaged, but there are so many consecutive bleak moments that are bearable only with the specter of vengeful retribution awaiting on the horizon. Perhaps I’m fortunate in my life to be able to insist on something beyond vengeance as a driver for continuing my own life journey. Still, I have been in a mental state where a book such as this would have been exactly tailored to my tastes. The thing is, I have learned to skirt that mental state, and I’m not sure “Ways of the Stygia” will take you out of that mental state (presuming that’s your ambition).

There is certainly an audience for this book, but I wouldn’t call it a widely commercial endeavor. It is true to its own sensibilities, however, and that alone is somewhat refreshing. I’m not sure whether it would be compromise for Donny Swords to try his hand at something a touch more conventional. He’s certainly a talented writer and I’d be interested to hear his comments on issues that are maybe slightly less radical than what’s contained in “Stygia.”

So I recommend giving this book a try, but just be aware that it achieves a level of violence I found disturbing, and I’m the type of guy who giggles through a film like “Robocop.”  Pick up a copy here.

Shells Interviews Jim Cherry-The Doors Examined

Why the Doors?

A few reasons actually. There’s always been a mystique surrounding The Doors they were a bit out of time in the peace and love flower power of the 60’s but even after 40 plus years of not being an active band that mystique still surrounds them, maybe even more so, as we move away from them in time and the 60’s become more of a golden age that exists as a modern mythology of gods and heroes.

The Doors are one of the few bands whose recordings don’t sound dated. A lot of 60’s bands sound exactly like what you would expect self-consciously psychedelic and using a lot of hooks and gimmicky things that instantly date the material. The Doors sound like they could’ve been recorded recently in a modern studio.

Lastly, The Doors aren’t nostalgia their influence still reaches out to us today in many different ways. The most obvious is that they continue to influence up and coming musicians and genre’s you can make the case for The Doors being the first punk rock band, the first gothic band (as a matter of fact it was in an article about The Doors that the term ‘gothic rock’ was first coined). But there are much subtler influences as well such as Matthew McConaughey’s recent Academy Award “alright, alright, alright, alright” speech, which he explained in an interview came about because of his listening to The Doors right before shooting his first scene, in his first movie.

 How did the idea for the Door's Examiner come about?

 I was unemployed a few years back and a woman I knew online, who knew I was a writer and a Doors fan told me about this online newspaper called The Examiner. They were looking for writers in all areas and she suggested I could write about The Doors. I didn’t have anything to lose, I thought they probably already had someone writing about The Doors but I could still send in a writing sample and if they liked it we could figure out what I could write about. They liked the sample article I wrote and to my surprise they didn't have anyone writing about The Doors, so I became The Doors Examiner starting in late August of 2009 and I’m closing in on writing the 1000th article as The Doors Examiner.

 The cover looks a bit reptilian. Where did the idea for the cover come from?

I stole it from Jim Morrison! The Doors third album was originally supposed to be titled “Celebration of the Lizard” and Morrison wanted the cover to be snake or lizard skin, so when the original idea for the book cover became unviable I remembered that Morrison wanted a snakeskin album cover so I thought that would really resonate with Doors fans, and that it would look really cool to the more casual fan.

The Doors Examined is a collection of The Door's Examiner articles. Where did the idea for the book come from?

 A long time ago I read Harlan Ellison’s “The Glass Teat” which was a compilation of articles he wrote about TV for the L.A. Free Press in the late 60’s and when The Doors Examiner opportunity came along I wrote the articles with an eye towards someday being able to compile them into a book. I thought that since I’m primarily a fiction writer I could add some flourishes that might not be there with a strictly journalistic approach, and I’ve tried to write articles that would be of interest to fans in years to come.

The shorter term answer is that I wrote a review for a book and the publisher liked it so much they contacted me and said “if you ever want to write a book let us know” so I told them my idea and surprisingly they said okay!

Inside this collection is so much trivia that most people would not know about. For instance, Did Jim Morrison Name Alice Cooper? That seems like a fascinating concept.
Can you tell the readers more about this?

 Vincent Furnier who became the character Alice Cooper, was in a band in L.A. right after The Doors hit it big, and Furnier, for various reasons was looking for a name for his band. He also hung out with Morrison and the other Doors. One of Jim Morrison’s interests was the occult, and when he was in high school had lived in Alexandria, Virginia and regularly visited the Library of Congress and read quite a few esoteric books. Reputedly, Alice Cooper was a 17th century which who was burned at the stake. Once you bring together all these factors it’s not hard to discern that a young Jim Morrison had run across the story in a book about witchcraft in his readings at the Library of Congress and when Furnier was looking for a band name it’s also not hard to imagine Morrison telling Furnier the story of Alice Cooper over a beer or ten. There are a few different versions of how the band Alice Cooper got its name and this isn’t one of them, but knowing a little of all the characters involved seems a likely scenario, and I present it as that, a little food for thought.

What was your most favorite article out of this book?

 It’s hard to say which is a favorite, but there are a couple articles that cover some little known people in The Doors world Linda Eastman and Tom Baker. Baker because he is known through a couple of incidents in Jim Morrison’s life but outside of that not much is known despite his writing an autobiography before he died. It was hard to write a profile on him because information is so scarce but I actually found an excerpt from his autobiography and I think the profile in “The Doors Examined” is one of the fullest you can find on him. Linda Eastman, who people better know as Linda McCartney, she had an affair with Morrison and although it’s known I had to pull together information from varied sources to get an account of the relationship.

 What do you hope readers will get out of reading this?

 I hope they find new perspectives on a band they think they know about. I have a lot of material on The Doors pre-history and unlike most books the articles don’t stop at Jim Morrison’s death but follow the other members and The Doors as a whole into the 21st century through reviews of current projects and their working with newer artists such as Skrillex and Techn9ne among others.

 Any future projects in the works?

 A couple I keep juggling. I’m finishing up a short story about an Indian shaman who brings the dead back to life to fight against the cavalry. I also have a screenplay titled “The Third Day” and an assistant producer at a movie company said it read like a novel so I’ve decided to turn it into a novel. It’s a pretty cool story about childhood friends who grow apart and in adulthood one discovers that he must kill the other so many others may live.

Where can readers get a copy of The Doors Examined?

 It’s available at Amazon physical and Kindle  Also on Barnes and Noble’s website as well as Nook Books, and I have a website at

Where can readers get in touch with you? or

Nine Heroes: That is the moment when: Janet Morris.

Hello one and all, in continuing on with our that is the moment when series. Today's post is by Janet Morris who contributed the story Black Sword to the anthology. She speaks about not one moment but many that helped shape the way she writes.

In the anthology Nine Heroes, Chris Morris and I introduce our hero, Rhesos of Thrace, who was killed by Diomedes at Troy and resurrected by his mother, the Muse Kalliope. When we meet Rhesos, he’s hazy about the circumstances surrounding his death and resurrection, but he knows what he is: a hero of mythological proportions. And so he begins a journey to reclaim his memories, his past, and revenge some wrongs done him.

To write heroic fiction, fantasy, or mythic tales, you must feel the hero in your blood, hear the call in your heart. These were the moments that started me on the hero’s journey:

I was three years old, and female, playing with three or four older children, all boys, on our street. The fattest, biggest boy punched me in the stomach, and he and his friends dragged me into a garage and locked me in a closet there. I screamed until, somehow, my parent’s handyman heard and rescued me. I can still remember those big black arms, enfolding me, picking me up, and my head against his shoulder, looking back at the horrified boys. My parents questioned me, and did the rest. I never knew what happened, beyond the fact that those four boys never troubled me again.

I was four years old, playing in a mud puddle, and the dalmation who lived down at the end of our street charged me and bit me. The family story goes that I threw myself on his back and bit him in the neck.

I was six years old, in the first grade, and was made teacher’s helper because I could already read and write. I was assigned to help a slow-witted boy learn how to write his name but instead of listening, he crumpled up his paper, grabbed the crayon from my hand, and ate it. I called him “stupid” aloud, and I was then taken to the principal’s office for telling the truth.

I was nine years old, and had been saving for two years to buy a horse by writing book reports, for which I received 25 cents per report – if my mother approved each report as proving I had actually read the subject book. When I had saved $175.00, we found a horse for me. He ran away with me every day, whenever I turned his head back toward the barn. I couldn’t tell my parents, or they would have taken him away from me. Finally the old man who ran the barn, tired of seeing that horse run me into the barn at hell’s own pace, told me: “Swing your leg over, as if you want to dismount, honey. He’s a cow horse. He’ll stop.” So I learned to face a danger no words can express, and to take even more dangerous action for a desired result. I’d swing my right leg over, hanging on for dear life, and my horses would stop – every time.

I was ten years old, and my parents came to the barn and insisted that my fifty-pound, seven year old sister be allowed to ride my horse. I knew what was going to happen, as soon as she turned the corner in the paddock that led toward the barn. Sure enough, my horse Koko broke into a run, my sister bounced precariously, my mother screamed, and I stepped out in front of my horse, arms and legs spread wide. He stopped; my sister wasn’t killed, and my father said I could still keep the horse, since I had warned them not to let her ride him and risked my life to save my sister.

At ten in the paddock with both my parents watching, I heard the hero’s call to duty on that day. Later I would realize that among humankind is a caretaker class, who will do what is needed, despite the risk, and that I was among that class. Then, I knew from all my reading of mythology books that I was indomitable, and from horse books that no horse would ever hurt me and that, to a horse, a girl is just as good, as brave, as strong as a boy, and so I found my way down that path through life, from challenge to challenge. Even by that age, the heroic model from mythology was so much a part of me that never again, after that first awful day, would a gang of boys lock me in a closet so that I had to find another to rescue me. I would be that other, the hero, not the victim – as often as I could manage it.

Nine Heroes is available here in both paperback and Kindle.

Interview with Pembroke Sinclair-Appeal of Evil

How is writing YA novels different than other novel types for you?

YA is different from my adult novels because most of my teen characters don’t have as much experience with the world as my adult characters do, so they’re a little naïve.  As they gain experience, they usually get a little wiser and less whiny. 

How much of you goes into each story?

You know, there’s probably some, you can’t write anything without part of you being in it, but for the most part, I try to imagine situations that I have never been in before.  It gives me and my characters a chance to figure out how to react and what the consequences of those reactions could be. 

This is not your typical teenage romance novel. Where did the idea for Appeal of Evil come from?

The idea for The Appeal of Evil came from thinking about Twilight and how women, especially teen girls, go about deciding who to be in a relationship with.  I was thinking about the notion that women gravitate toward the “bad boy” and why that is.  It got me to thinking:  what if that bad boy was really bad, like demon-from-hell bad, what would happen then?  This story is me trying to figure that out.

Tell us about the character of Katie. How did she come about?

As I thought about relationships, I knew that my main character needed to be a little naïve and perhaps a bit jaded when it came to boys.  She needed to have been hurt before so that her judgment would be a little clouded.  She thinks she knows what’s going on in the world, but she really doesn’t, and she has to learn how to live and love in a world that is different from her expectations.

There are some twists and turns and of course teenage drama, how long did it take to write this?
I believe it initially took me three months to write, then probably six to nine to revise.

What is the one thing you wish readers to get from The Appeal of Evil?


Is there any work in the future you can tell readers about?

Currently, I am working on a nonfiction book about zombies entitled Eww-Eek-Aah!:  The Science of Zombies.  It looks at how zombies are metaphors for societal fears about science.  I am also working on the sequel to The Appeal of Evil, which is entitled Dealing with the Devil.

Where can readers pick up a copy of The Appeal of Evil?

Where can readers get in contact with you?

Twitter:  @PembrokeSinclai


Email:  pembrokesinclair [at] hotmail [dot] com

Review of "Uprooted" by Edwin Hanks

Fantasy with a Focus on Frontier Life

Uprooted” is the story of a pair of brothers who are forced to leave their home after they discover a decaying body in the woods near their home. The body was in possession of an amulet that the boy’s village fears will draw the attention of “The Jackals,” who are always on the hunt to eliminate the use of magic.

I found “Uprooted” to be a quick and easy read. This isn’t the kind of fantasy novel that has a sword fight on every page, it’s more of a meditation on rural life and family. At times, I could imagine the characters involved were attempting to build a life on the American frontier rather than occupying the pages of a fantasy novel. I actually enjoyed this component because it lent the novel a sense of realism.

Edwin is a gifted storyteller and there are some very good scenes in this book which display a keen grasp of character development. I especially enjoyed a chapter where a young boy goes to profess his love to an indifferent girl. The scene was not overdone and the boy learns a few things that echo in his actions for the rest of the novel. It’s good to see moments in a novel where actions have consequences. This is what people mean when they say “the characters need to grow and change.”

I was kind of looking forward to a little more action early on, and at times it was hard to identify who the main characters were going to be. There are a lot of characters in this novel, which indicates that this is a rich and fully developed world. I did eventually get my answers, and overall this is a compelling start to a new series. This is a well-crafted, professional novel. The editing is good, the cover design is good, and I’m looking forward to more entries in this series.

Pick up your copy here.

Also, here's an interview that I just did, please give it a look, like, share, and tweet.

Acheron 451

Ladies and gentlemen my name is Shane Porteous, recently I had the immense pleasure of reading two very fine books, the classic novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and the exciting compelling Reader of Acheron by Walter Rhein. Since both deal with a similar concept the outlawing of books (well technically there is more to it than that, which I will get to shortly) I thought it would be interesting to do a post comparing the two and giving my thoughts on both.

Now before I begin I need to make something clear, I have absolutely no desire to deny or challenge the legacy and impact that Fahrenheit 451 has had on literature and the theme of anti-intellectualism, I fully accept and agree that the novel deserves to be known as a classic. I also need to point out that ultimately this post is my opinion on comparing the two works and make no claim that what I say here is infallible.

It is always interesting when coming across two or more works that tackle similar themes when they come at it at a different angle. Such as The Running Man by Stephen King and Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, both terrific books that stand on their own merit. Another example that I think makes my point is the two video game series Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Their similarities are obvious but it is their differences that allow the two to be judged on their own merit. Resident Evil for example was much more visceral, where as Silent Hill definitely was more psychological. Basically Resident Evil dealt with the demon in a dark room where as Silent Hill dealt with the demon of a dark mind.

That is how I see Fahrenheit 451 and Reader of Acheron, they are as different as Resident Evil and Silent Hill, they both have similarities but ultimately it is their differences that define them. Beginning with the most obvious difference first, Fahrenheit 451 is a sci-fi story dealing with technology and the power it holds where as Reader of Acheron is more of an action fantasy whose world has been reduced to an almost medieval like state and modern technology has been lost to the masses.

This feeds into the biggest difference between the two works. Bradbury’s book presents a world where books have been outlawed because they cannot be switched off like technology can and thus were outlawed for the benefit of the world, so everyone could live in a state of ‘safety’ the very embodiment of the statement “ignorance is bliss”. While these laws are enforced swiftly and brutally, they do not compare to the vileness of why books were outlawed in Walter Rhein’s work.

It isn’t just books that have been outlawed in Reader of Acheron, any kind of reading is forbidden. Not in the name of keeping the masses safe, but to keep them enslaved, to prevent them from ever questioning or rebelling against their slave masters or the ruling class. This presents Rhein’s novel as a much darker themed story than Bradbury’s.

The difference here is like the difference between misguided patriotism and all out jingoism. As absurd as it sounds the government of Fahrenheit 451 could at least make an interesting argument over why books were banned where as the ruling class of Reader of Acheron are little more than tyrants, outlawing knowledge for their own selfish purposes. The people of Fahrenheit made an active decision not to read where as the people of Acheron were forced to stop reading.

This leads into another similarity between the two works, they both explore traits of human nature, one explores the need for safety, the other explores the horrors of greed and how when taken to extremes how destructive both traits can be to the world as a whole.

Feeding into this contrast again is that drugs are used in both worlds to keep people from over thinking or questioning. But 451’s drugs are intended to ensure an individual feels safe, that they do not have to over think anything and be burdened by unwanted knowledge. Reader’s drugs are solely used to keep slaves docile or to selfishly give the ruling class a much undeserved feeling of bliss.

This shines light upon another major difference between the two works. The firemen of 451, those tasked with eliminating books from the world are vastly more sufficient and capable than the enforcers of Acheron. To me this represents that Bradbury’s government possesses a great deal of efficiency compared to the almost lazy government of Rhein’s book. Cleverly Walter Rhein subtly establishes the consequences of creating a government built for the desires of the few instead of the needs of the many. 451’s government seems more built on respect from their misguided population where as Acheron’s government is built on fear and selfishness.

Now that I have tackled the themes of both works I shall move onto the strength of the actual stories, beginning with characters. In this regard Walter Rhein clearly outshines his predecessor. As much as I honestly enjoyed Fahrenheit 451, I never found Guy Montag to be a particular interesting character. I understood why his wife had to be so bland, but I never found it that interesting or enjoyable to read about her either. I never found Beatty intimidating or someone that I should be overly concerned with if we ever met face to face. Adding into this I was never particularly intimidated by the mechanical spider known as “The Hound.”

Quillion, the most similar of Rhein’s characters to Guy Montag, both are tasked with eradicating books from the world, is vastly more interesting, his questions and fascinations with books are more intriguing and more multiplexed than Guy Montag’s are. Cassius, Rhein’s villain of the piece is a superior villain or antagonist to Beatty and is far more formidable than the Hound. I personally would rather face the Hound with a flamethrower any day over facing Cassius with a sword or an axe. I even found Rhein’s character Adam to be a better explainer and teacher than I ever found the likes of Bradbury’s Professor Faber.

In terms of characters this leaves only one more comparison, arguably the most important one as they both are the embodiment of the victimization of the flaws of outlawing books/reading, Fahrenheit 451’s Clarisse and Reader of Acheron’s Kikkan. Clarisse is a delightful young girl who lives in a house with her uncle and other family members filled with books. Kikkan is a recently rebelling slave. Apart from the obvious physical differences between the two, the main difference is that Clarisse has already walked the path of enlightenment where as Kikkan has just begun. I personally enjoyed reading about Kikkan much more than I did Clarisse but this wasn't necessarily because he was a better character, rather it was because he was a better developed character.

This line of thought leads me to the ultimate difference between the two works and if push came to shove, if I put that figurative gun to my head and demanded from myself which was the superior work I would have to say Reader of Acheron.

The reason for this comes down to the point that while both Fahrenheit 451 and Reader of Acheron make brilliant points about knowledge, Walter Rhein manages to do so without sacrificing his story. His characters are better developed, they aren’t simply mouthpieces or mere examples of points that he was trying to make. Sadly the same cannot be said about Bradbury’s characters or the overall story in general. Walter Rhein’s world feels a lot more fleshed out than Bradbury’s, more complex, more intriguing, more compelling. I felt a lot more satisfied with Reader of Acheron than I did with Fahrenheit 451 when I had reached the last page.

As I said at the beginning of this post the legacy and impact of Fahrenheit 451 cannot be denied, it deserves to be considered a classic and I am in no way trying to take anything away from it. Using an earlier example I gave about how great two works that tackle similar subject matter can stand on their own merit, Resident Evil will always be rightfully considered as the most impactful and important piece in the survival horror genre. But by the same token Silent Hill is often mentioned as an example whenever a debate about whether video games can be considered pieces of art or not is discussed.

Silent Hill’s legacy never undermines or deters the legacy of Resident Evil and that is how I feel about Reader of Acheron. It will never replace Fahrenheit 451 as the measure stick of the consequences of anti-intellectualism, but it doesn’t have to. Just like Silent Hill it can create a legacy all of its own. It can stand as proof that just because a work of fiction has important points to make, that doesn't mean its educational value ever has to encroach on its entertainment value.

I just want to thank everyone who took time out of their busy lives to read this, I hope you enjoyed it or at the very least found it thought provoking. 

My review of Reader of Acheron

My review of Fahrenheit 451 

Review of "Swift Reprisal" by Ian Blackport

Lots of Bang for your Fantasy Buck

Swift Reprisal” is an epic fantasy adventure in every sense of the word. At nearly 700 pages, you’re getting quite a bit of adventure for your $4.99. The books length might actually be considered a detriment as that little status bar at the bottom of the kindle screen moves along with almost indiscernible progress. I wonder if Ian Blackport might have been better off breaking this up into three or more novels just to make it a little more kindle friendly (and to increase his profits).

The book begins with the betrayal of House Erodin by the Venshals. We see a castle sacked and all the nobility slaughtered except for the young Layera. Layera embarks on a quest to reunite with her father and brother, who are away at war, and to get vengeance on the Venshals.

For those of you who prefer a strong female character, Layera is that. She’s handy with both a bow and a blade, although she’s real enough to show a very well-developed vulnerability. I liked the character development, and found Blackport’s choices in crafting her set a nice tone. Arya Stark comes to mind, although Layera is a little older I believe (at least she reads that way).

“Swift Reprisal” is a very descriptive book, and at times I felt the text bogged down somewhat. It reminded me of David Eddings, an author who I know enjoys tremendous popularity, and yet leaves me a little uninspired. Blackport uses a lot of gerunds, and they started to ring in my ear a bit. He’s also inclined to give you lists of adjectives. For example, a soldier speaks his dying words through a mass of “frothy spittle.” My preference would have been to trim down the text and eliminate some of the description...but I think it’s fair to mention that I don’t enjoy the readership of authors like David Eddings, so consider that when you weigh my opinion.

I’m giving this book four stars because it is a well-thought out and well-developed adventure. It’s certainly a great value for the amount of story you get for the price. It will be great fun for readers who enjoy extremely verbose writing. If you like sharp, quick prose you aren’t going to enjoy this, but if you revel in the details, smells, and feelings of the settings of a fantasy novel—you’re going to love “Swift Reprisal.” I have no doubt this book will find an enthusiastic, loyal following.

Get your copy here.

Nine Heroes: That is the moment when: RA McCandless

Ladies and Gentlemen, our first ever anthology Nine Heroes has been released and in celebration of that we are doing a series of posts called "That is the moment when". Each post deals with an experience or experiences that each author who contributed to the anthology has had that helped shape the way they write or tell stories.

This time around we have RA McCandless, who contributed the short story Through the Sting of Fairy Smoke to the anthology.

That is the moment when . . .

It was November of 2013, at Fort Rinella on Malta.

That is the moment when I realized just how important, and how impressive, even a small fortification could be, and why I loved writing about them. I’d been all over the island nation checking out the massive turrets, bastions, towers, walls and defences of the Knights Hospitaller, and they were all fantastic. It was research and inspiration in one for a heroic fantasy author. You definitely understand that the men who held claim to Malta and dedicated to a life of piety, were trained and skilled in war and violence.

But the British-built Ford Rinella, constructed between 1878 and 1886 to house and defend an Armstrong 100-ton gun, is what really brought the concept of siege-craft into sharp focus. This was brought to my full and complete attention when the tour guides, dressed in an era-appropriate red British uniform, led us along the approach, which bent sharply to the right just as we approached the counter-escarpment. Twenty firing points line the defensive wall, part of a sheer drop into a dry moat about thirty feet deep. Five of the firing points were manned, and additional re-enactment volunteers began to mass-fire blanks in our general direction. The noise of the commands to aim and fire, given in quick succession, followed by the booming report of weapons, gave me pause.

Considering the approach from an attacker’s point of view, you’d have to order men down that death shoot. Without any kind of armour or shielding, it would take hard, fast running and a great deal of luck to avoid the massed fire coming from all twenty of the firing points when fully manned.

This doesn't take into account at all the assault required to breach the moat, pull open the solid siege door (which had its own firing point) and then attempt to storm into the fort proper . . . which had its own defences. I haven’t even mentioned the caponier with additional firing ports, defensive ditches and narrow choke points throughout the rest of the small fortress.

Reading about castles and towers and fortifications is one thing. Even visiting them helps give a good sense of scale and perspective. For an author this first hand knowledge is invaluable. But actually seeing, even as a re-enactment, soldiers moving into position with their weapons to repel an attack . . . that’s quite something.

Explaining attack or defence or even a soldier’s day-to-day life to an audience in the context of heroic, valiant or villainous even dastardly deeds is what made the experience so rewarding. The thrill of fear in just the approach, the resolve of the defenders in their position of tenuous strength – it’s the very essence of any good story. Objective and challenges, set-backs and triumphs are an author’s main stock in trade. The goal, though, is to take the reader to a place that is so real that if they ever actually go there, it won’t be for the first time.

Nine Heroes is available in both paperback and Kindle.

Book Review: Outpassage by Janet Morris and Chris Morris

Outpassage” is a fine example of thoughtful, adventurous science fiction. For those of you who know Janet Morris from “Thieves World” or the “Beyond” trilogy, this book will reveal an exciting new facet of one of your favorite authors. “Outpassage” isn’t written with the same lyrical, bard-like prose she uses when detailing the exploits of Tempus Thales, but such a choice wouldn’t be appropriate with a space epic. In “Outpassage” the sentences are sharp and direct, and bring life to a futuristic setting without losing any of the craftsmanship she has displayed in her previous work. Essentially she has simply updated her palate; instead of the greens and browns of Sanctuary, “Outpassage” allows her to work with the silver and black of space.

The story of “Outpassage” is instantly gripping as well. A corporation is mining/settling a planet only to discover alien life on the surface. Rather than view this development as the scientific discovery of the age, the corporation becomes concerned with the bottom line and decides to “eliminate” the alien problem. We are introduced to Daniel “Det” Cox, one of the rangers who is sent to the slaughter in a battle against a force he truly knows nothing about.

The alien “problem” has been developing for some time as Det is sent back to Earth for psych evaluation. On a whim, he signs up for a dating service, and gets set up with a high-ranking executive of the very corporation embarking on the plan of alien genocide. In a semi-comical twist, the two of them are shanghaied during their date, drugged, and sent to a different planet which is also displaying signs of the same alien problem. Det is commandeered because of his experience fighting the aliens, where the corporate official, Paige, is put to work in what is essentially a slave camp.

I found many of the space/future touches of this work to be delightful. Det is an interesting character because he’s so adaptive. Finding that he’s been drugged and shanghaied to a foreign planet, his big concern is that he didn’t black out any briefings because he doesn’t want to look incompetent in front of the men he’s set to lead.

Paige is interesting too. There is a tendency in literature to portray “corporate” folks as incompetent to adapt to a labor setting. Paige’s introduction to her new reality is rocky, but she quickly learns to climb the social ladder among the laborers to achieve the highest status available to her. She expresses moments of vulnerability which make her appealing, though she’s always got her eye on her long term goals and makes steady progress.

The scenario becomes more complicated as the laborers begin to develop a complex religion that worships the alien life form, and seems to bequeath the followers with the power to resurrect themselves from death. However, you have to wonder how much of the beings that come back are the original human, and how much of them are alien.

All in all, “Outpassage” has all the elements of a great science fiction novel. The space components (space travel, warfare on foreign planets, aliens, etc.) are present and expertly integrated into the plot. The writing is exemplary, and the novel moves along at a quick pace leaving you wanting more. This is a fantastic contribution by one of the best fantasy/sci-fi writers working today. Don’t hesitate to give it a try!

Nine Heroes: That is the moment when: Shane Porteous

Hello one and all, the Nine Heroes anthology has been released and we here at the Heroic Fantasy Group couldn't be happier how it turned out! In celebration of this we came up with an idea that will help readers get to know our authors a little better. So with this in mind we shall be doing a series of blog posts known as ‘That is the moment when’ these blog posts are about a certain experience each author has had in their lives that helped influence the way they write and tell stories. So without further to do let us begin!

First up to the plate is Shane Porteous who contributed the short story ‘Dozen’ to the anthology.

Ghosts, vampires, zombies, demons, killer robots and all kinds of other monsters are scary things. I think you would struggle to find anyone that wasn’t scared of them sometime in their life, I was no different of course. As a boy I would often read comics/books about them. You know the ones I am talking about Goosebumps, Choose Your Nightmare etc. As children we have all had those moments, the ones where in order to impress our friends we have pretended to be brave and enter a supposedly haunted house or say the word of a spirit in a mirror x number of times. Of course the truth was none of us were brave, we were all scared, I know I certainly was.

I suppose it is unsurprising then that I was drawn to superheroes and pulp fiction barbarians. The men and occasionally women, who not only showed little fear in the face of these monsters but often at times, hunted them down. I think that is the reason why a lot of people like super heroes. I mean as a kid it was down right cool to see Spiderman getting the better of the monstrous Lizard or the ghoulish Venom. Who could pass up a chance to see Batman laying the smack down on the likes of Killer Croc?

I have written stories my entire life and while sadly I cannot remember most of the earliest ones I am quite sure they all entailed such things. They were filled with all sorts of monsters, but the monsters weren't just hunting helpless victims, instead men and women bravely thwarted them and became the nightmares of the very monsters they hunted.

Essentially those early stories were a celebration of good triumphing over evil. A classic and often used theme, but that doesn't diminish its importance or effect, I mean after all there is a reason why such a theme is considered timeless. For most of my childhood those are the stories that I wrote, good triumphing over evil. They were simple stories, but boy, were they fun to write!

I remember when I was ten or so I had a friend called Andrew, he was obsessed with a sci-fi movie called Guyver: Dark Hero. He was constantly talking about it, I don’t remember specifically what he said. But using the sparkling word play that children are fluent in it would have been something like, “Dude, it is about this guy who can summon space armor and he uses it to fight these transforming monsters!” Definitely sounded like my kind of thing.

Of course the problem was this was during the hype of the television series MacGuyver. So whenever I tried to tell my parents about it they just thought I was making up stories about that particular television series. Eventually (or more likely rather quickly) I gave up my search for it.

I had pretty much completely forgotten about it by the time I was eleven as I am sure Andrew had as well. Then one day I was in my local video store, (this was back when a video store was more or less on every corner.) I was browsing the shelves as usual, looking for my weekly fix of professional wrestling tapes, when I walked down an isle I had never been in before. In that isle I saw something on the shelf, something that sparked a memory in my mind. It wasn’t Guyver: Dark Hero and it wasn’t a movie. It was Guyver Bio Booster Armor, a cartoon series (okay I later learned that technically it is called an anime, because it is a Japanese cartoon based on a manga). But at the time to me it was just called a cartoon and was the influence behind the movie Andrew often so fondly spoke about.

Reading the back of the tape I began remembering all the things Andrew had said about it and indeed it really looked like my kind of thing. So I rented it, took it home, chucked it in the VCR and set myself up for a viewing experience.

The first thing that struck me were the monsters, they were darker, grittier and downright creepier than most monsters I had ever seen before. While this scared me I remember feeling a little bit excited because this had to mean that the hero was tough and brave, the kind of person who could put these monsters in their place. Apart from that I really wasn't expecting anything different than to what I was use to. I saw Sho (main character) as this world’s Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne, defending good people from evil monsters.

Now I should probably stop here and just explain the plot of Guyver a bit. I mean no offence to my old friend Andrew but I got a feeling my paraphrasing of his description of Guyver just doesn't quite get the job done.

Essentially Guyver told the story about three sets of alien armor, when activated they would be spiritually attached to whoever had activated them. The easiest way to describe them is basically think of a cross between Ironman’s armor and an alien symbiote. Now these sets of armor were being sought after by the Cronus Corporation, who used genetically engineered shape-shifting monsters called Zoanoids as foot soldiers.

So anyway there I was watching the episodes enjoying them thoroughly when a new group of villains were introduced (I apologize for not remembering the episode number.) These guys were called the Hyper Zoanoid Team 5, as you may have guessed they were a team of 5 Hyper Zoanoids. Essentially these guys were the best of the best of the best, the elite of the core of the Cronus Corporation. I thought they were great bad guys, they were scary, they were powerful and they certainly would give Sho a run for his money. But little did I realize that the Hyper Zoanoid Team 5 would forever change the way I saw stories and how I wrote them.

There is a certain scene that occurs within the series, revolving around Elegan, a member of this elite team. Elegan, after being beaten in a fight was on the ground, heavily injured, bleeding badly, in other words it was pretty obvious that he was going to die. Another member of the team ZX-Tole found the injured Elegan and silently listened to his pleas for help. He then got down on one knee before Elegan and…told him that it would be alright, that he was there for him.

Now this might not seem like much, but to my 11-year-old brain it was earth shattering. Because bad guys, let alone bad guys who were monsters, weren’t suppose to actually care about one another. At that time in my life whenever a situation like that arose the uninjured bad guy was suppose to look down at the injured bad guy and say something like, “Hey sucks to be you now I get a chance to use your weapon.” Following that they would either leave the injured bad guy to die or kill them themselves. But this wasn’t the case, ZX-Tole was visibly upset that his companion was moments away from death.

That scene really threw me at the time and with a new kind of curiosity I watched the rest of the series. It wasn’t so much a question of were the Zoanoids really evil and was Sho really a good guy. Those were already made clear, what wasn’t clear to me was why a bad guy would care about the well being of another bad guy? I watched on and slowly began to see the Hyper Zoanoid Team 5 not as faceless monsters doing evil things for the sake of being evil, but rather I saw a group of soldiers fighting for a cause they truly believed in. Even if I didn’t agree with their cause I was beginning to understand it more and more. It made me think in ways I never really had before, I began asking what reason did Sho have that gave him a better right or claim to use the power of the Guyver over the Cronus Corporation? It was a question I could easily answer in terms of good and evil, but that answer didn't satisfy me.

That is the moment when I realized what had fascinated me so much about it. It wasn't a question of good and evil, for that was a question too easily answered. But rather who was right and who was wrong? And more importantly who decided who was right and who was wrong? In any conflict both sides believe they are right and the other wrong, but they both can’t be correct, can they? In terms of story telling, it was a question I had never asked myself, never even considered asking it until then. The question was far more complicated than simply knowing good and evil. It seemed only to lead to more questions, but in place of becoming frustrated I became ever curious. That made the question seem deeper to me, much worthier of exploring. And so I began searching for a conclusive answer in my own writings. I wrote new stories, tales much different to the ones that I had already written. These stories were more intriguing, more complex, more interesting, frankly they were superior in pretty much every way. It put me on a new literary path, one richer and grander than any other I had ever taken and I have Guyver Bio Boost Armor to thank for that.

It has been quite a while since the first time I saw Guyver Bio Booster Armor and I still find myself on that path, searching for that elusive conclusive answer. You would think searching for that long without an answer would dampen my spirits. But nothing could be further from the truth. I am glad to still be on this path, happy that my search continues.

Nine Heroes in available in both Paperback and Kindle



Interview with Mark Phillips- Beneath the Mask of Sanity

Where did the idea for Beneath the Mask of Sanity come from and how much research was put into writing?

The idea came to me in the shower.  I had a vision of a guy picking up a hitch-hiking teenager and then being killed.  The rest of the story just kinda flowed from that idea.

I don't normally do a whole lot of research in my writing, but I did do a ton on this book.  I realized that if I was going to do a book about the psychology of a serial killer that I needed to understand a lot more about it.  I read several accounts of past serial murderers and I read many texts on the psychology of serial killer profiling.  One of the most helpful books was The Mask of Sanity by Hervey Cleckley, who was a pioneer in the field of psychopathic disorders.  It was also the inspiration for the title of my book.  

What was the hardest part of writing this story?

Getting inside of a serial killer's mind.  Bentley is probably the most vibrant and real character I've ever written about.  At times, he steered the direction of the story himself, even if it wasn't where I wanted it to go.  

Bently Grimes is a different kind of serial killer. It is through his eyes you see the terror of his victims. In this regard, what were you hoping the reader would get from seeing Bently at his worst?

Serial killers have always been fascinating to the public.  I think it's because the way they think is so different-so alien-from the way that we think.  I wanted the readers to see that Bentley had a story to tell and he had reasons for what he was doing.  Were they sane reasons?  No, they clearly weren't, but Bentley isn't just some mindless psychopath like Michael Myers or Jason, he had reasons.  I also wanted to highlight that while there are enormous differences between the normal public and sociopaths, there are also similarities as well.  Bentley asks a lot of questions in the book that there aren't easy answers to.  He talks about God and the nature of existence and what his ultimate place in the world is.  I think most of us have those kind of thoughts.  It's just that most of us don't have the violent urge that Bentley does.  He feels that his questions can be answered by terror and violence and most of us know that violence doesn't open any doors, it just closes them forever.

Most serial killers don't feel a lot of emotion. How important was it for you to show
Grimes trying to experience any kind of feeling?

A lot of the research I did for the book indicated that one of the reasons that serial killers turn to murder is to try and experience some kind of emotion.  That there brain's emotional center was so dulled that only extremes could trigger some kind of feeling.  I think that desire to experience emotion (and to fit in) is a big driving force behind Bentley.  He hates society because he feels that he's better than other people, but at the same time he wants to fit in with society because human beings, by and large, do not like to be outsiders.

How important is it for readers to feel something for this mass madman?

As important as it is for any other character in fiction.  Emotional attachment is the key to good storytelling.  If your readers don't care about your characters then you haven't done your job as a writer.  The book is ultimately about Bentley, he is the star, so it's vitally important that the readers feel something for him.  They don't have to like him (I don't even like him and I don't expect the readers to) but if he inspires dread or, even better, hate from the readers that is a win for me.  Hate is a powerful emotion when it comes to storytelling and it's not easy to illicit.  I think there is room for some sympathy there as well.  Bentley is a person wasted.  A smart character-a genius almost really-who is trapped by the nature of his own existence.  He can't help what he is any more than a person who is born blind can help that they can't see.  But ultimately it's the hate that I'm after.  Bentley represents an aberration.  A human being that does not fit into our civilized society, and humanity has always hated what doesn't fit in.

If there was something you would want readers to know about you as an author what would it be?

When I was eleven-years-old my sister gave me my first Stephen King book, Pet Semetary.  It was my introduction into adult fiction.  Before then I had read the standard fair: Hardy Boys, The Indian in the Cupboard, etc... Stephen King's book transformed me into a world where I was lost for the three days it took me to read it.  When I was done with that book I knew that I wanted to give other people the same feeling that I had just experienced.  That was when I began writing.  I write for myself, first, but it's with the audience that I get my greatest joy.  If I can take you away from our world for a little while and put you in mine then I am a happy man.

Is there any other works in the future you would like to share?

I had an idea for a sequel to Beneath the Mask of Sanity (titled Beyond the Mask) almost immediately after I finished the book.  I was hesitant about whether to write it or not (and I have several other ideas on the back burner right now) because I am usually not a big fan of sequels.  However, I do believe I have a great idea for this one and I have begun writing it.  I expect it will be finished sometime before the summer and likely available around August.

Where can readers purchase Beneath the Mask of Sanity and find out more about you?

Beneath the Mask of Sanity is available on  If you don't have a Kindle (I'm told) that a free Kindle app is available for older versions of the Nook as well as for the Ipad and other android tablets.

You can follow me on twitter:  @phillipswriting.  I am quite active on there and I update progress and special promotions often.

Beyond Sanctuary is FREE today on Kindle! Get it While you Can

For a limited time, Janet Morris is offering the first book of her renowned "Beyond" trilogy FREE for Amazon Kindle.  Folks DO NOT HESITATE to grab this book!  This is a tremendous example of sword and sorcery fantasy written in a style that approximates the great Robert E. Howard.  For fans of fantasy, the work of Janet Morris is on the short list of required reading.

This is one of the most sophisticated fantasy books I’ve ever read. It’s one of the few fantasy books I’ve come across that indulges in an eloquent, poetic style of writing that suggests rather than explicitly states its meaning. In fact, I was a little disoriented by the style at first, but as I continued along with the adventure of Tempus and Nikodemus in their pursuit of a ruthless, powerful foe, I found myself becoming more and more comfortable simply surrendering to the rhythm of the language.

Much that happens in “Beyond Sanctuary” is of the “blink and you’ll miss it” variety. There are moments of “real time” intensity to be sure, but, especially early in the novel, hugely important plot points can be swept up within a few sentences or paragraphs. A torture scene, for example, takes about three sentences even though it’s a moment that has repercussions that echo until the end of the book. These are all interesting choices on the part of the author, Janet Morris, and as I write this, reflecting on the book, I have to concede that they were effective ones. The “torture” scene is just as reverberating as if Morris had spent pages and pages skillfully relating every painful detail. To achieve the same effect with an extremely minimal amount of words is remarkable.

This is not to say that the book is short. It’s a lovely, hefty volume that is packed with instance after instance of concise and effective storytelling. Reading it is a very hypnotic experience, and some of the sections only seem to make sense within the context of historical literature. Tempus evokes personalities from the Illiad--not one character in particular but the general perfume and thunder that must have accompanied a hull full of warriors sailing off to war in a rickety vessel. “Beyond Sanctuary” is a story of heroism, but more importantly the responsibility of leadership, as well as the burden. This novel is not the typical Hollywood dreck that paints everything in broad strokes of white or black and leaves no concern over contradiction or irregularity at the end. Instead, Morris elects to live in the gray zones, and the consequences of that choice cause the characters to linger like ghosts at the fringes of your thoughts. There is more glory in reality than in the cartoon version of heroism we’re too often forced to swallow.

If you’re still not quite sure of the ride you’re in for, just have a look at the expertly matched cover artwork. The jumble of warriors tumbling from the heavens in a knot of limbs, horses and chaos is exactly the kind of fray you’re likely to find yourself in the midst of within the pages of “Beyond Sanctuary.” Don’t be too discouraged if you pick up this book and find yourself confused for the first ten or twenty pages. It takes a while to find the thread, but nothing good comes easy.

This edition is the “Author’s Cut” of the original 1985 release, and it’s interesting to note that although this book is approaching its 30th anniversary, it seems as fresh as a new release. “Beyond Sanctuary” evokes a classic mythos and succeeds in achieving that rarest of literary feats: timeless relevance. Pick it up and enjoy the ride!

What are you waiting for, grab Beyond Sanctuary right now for FREE and then help Janet out by writing a review!  Spread the word about this great fantasy classic now available to you, in an author's cut no less, for absolutely FREE!

Steampunk Sherlock Holmes Novel a Hit!

Our friends over at Harren Press have released an interesting little Sherlock Holmes Steampunk novel that has been selling well for a new release.  "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Man Made Vacuum:" is a tight little mystery/adventure that brings an added twist of steampunk to the Sherlock Holmes legend.  As you might imagine, Sherlock fits in with the conventions of Steampunk quite perfectly, and the authors Roy C. Booth and Nicholas Johnson reveal themselves to be quite versed in the Sherlock Holmes mystique (there's even an appearance from Mycroft).   Whether you're a fan of steampunk or Sherlock Holmes, this book si a must read!  Get it here!