Monday, September 9, 2013

Interview: Ken Scholes author of The Psalms of Isaak series

Leaping Ken

We have an interview with Ken Scholes, author of Requiem (The Psalms of Isaak #4).  Let’s welcome him as he answers a few questions about his fantasy series. 

Faith is a major theme for your series – The Psalms of Isaak. Tell us about the role of faith within your series and how you went about creating it.

Well, faith often plays a major role in life so it seemed to me that it would translate over into a fictional setting as well. I wanted to show different worldviews in collision and I wanted to explore religion in the sandbox that fiction provides.

I have three faiths of a sort at work in the world of the Psalms of Isaak – with a fourth and possibly fifth emerging in the last volume. Requiem

The Androfrancines have been the dominant group in the Named Lands for two thousand years when the series opens. They are a group of secular humanists who’ve used the trappings of religion to create a hierarchy worshiping the light of human accomplishment that they believe will protect this last pocket of human survivors on a world decimated by continuous apocalypse. Juxtaposed against them is what they perceive as the “mystic madness” of the Marshfolk and their Dreaming Kings. The Marsh Kings have dreamed in the Named Lands of a promised home and a Home-seeker, their visions written down and kept within a massive cave.

As the series progresses, we meet the Y’Zirites, followers of the ancient Moon Wizard who established his reign and the reign of the Wizard Kings to follow. The Y’Zirites believe that the shedding of blood and the manipulation of bloodlines will ultimately heal the world and they cut the words of their gospels into their flesh as testament to their faith.

All of these worldviews provide a rich sandbox for me to explore the ideas of religion – “institutionalized faith”, if you will – being used as both a weapon and a tool within a survival-based society. In creating them, I drew a great deal from my background as both a former clergyman and a history major to find that mythic cadence and rhythm that religious beliefs have at their core.

I understand that your series is also a blend of fantasy and science fiction. Can you give us some details on this genre blending mix?

With the Psalms of Isaak, I’m telling a story that all of my protagonists would insist was fantasy but as readers progress through the series, they learn that things are not what they seem. In writing the books, I’m intentionally using the tropes of epic fantasy characters (the dashing prince, the dangerous courtesan spy, the orphan boy of promise, the hidden king) but trying to tip them on their heads into a world that, with the discovery of a robot early in the first book, seems more and more like an extrapolation on Clarke’s Third Law.

Of course, when I’m writing I’m not thinking about genre. I’m thinking about the characters and the problems they are facing and throwing whatever Leroy (my redneck muse) cooks up at the wall to see what sticks. My own tastes are wide-ranging and I read a lot of different stories across many genres. So it’s never really crossed my mind when I’ve shifted across genre borders to borrow this or that trope. I’m told the series has elements of technothriller, mystery and even literary fiction woven into it along with the obvious science fiction/fantasy elements.

Tell us about some of the female characters in the series.

The first that we meet is Jin Li Tam, the forty-second daughter of Vlad Li Tam. She and her brothers and sisters serve House Li Tam as spies with unflinchingly loyalty to their father. She is ruthless, deadly and beautiful and, until now, has been content being one of her father’s many arrows. But as events unfold, she finds herself facing a life different from any she ever imagined in a world collapsing under the weight of loss and war…and she finds herself torn between who she was made to be by her family and who she is becoming by her choices.

Winters was born into the series when my wife observed that I had a shortage of female characters in my cast. I’d fallen into a pit that many male fantasy authors fall into but this young Marsher woman helped me start my climb up and out. We know little about her when we meet her in the first book, but she takes on a central role by the second book as she balances young love, shifting faith and her role as a spiritual leader among her people during a time of growing unrest in the Named Lands.

Marta showed up and surprised me in Requiem. She is the twelve-year-old daughter of a woman killed when Windwir fell and for me, she took over the book despite how few scenes she actually has. Following her journey from that first encounter with the mysterious metal man in the forest through her later interactions with Charles to the last scene of the book really moved me (which doesn’t often happen) and I’m excited to see what awaits her in Hymn.

Of course, there are other female characters – Lynnae, Ria, Queen Meirov of Pylos, Sister Elsbet – but these are the ones that are most central to the story. I’ve been really grateful for the women in my life – including readers of the series -- who’ve taken the time to help me learn how to write better female characters. Before the Psalms of Isaak, I was largely too afraid of getting it wrong to even attempt it but this part of my evolution as a writer (and a human) has been one of my biggest takeaways from writing the series and something I’m committed constantly improving upon.

Which of your characters did you enjoy the most when writing about them?

I don’t think I had one that enjoyed more than the others. It’s a pretty even spread and an almost familial kind of love-hate relationship when I spend time with them. On a good day, I have a great time with whichever character I’m writing and am caught up in their sorrows and joys as they go about their business. On a bad day, they become unwelcome house-guests and it can get a little grueling to even see their name on my screen.

You have one more book to complete in this series of five, where do you plan to go with your writing once this series is finished?

Well, I have a few ideas. I’ve been wanting to tackle a YA urban fantasy novel. I also have another more traditional fantasy series in mind, tentatively called “Tears of the Gods.” But I’d like to take a break and do something outside of the genre, too, as I diversity my writing career.

Ken Scholes is the author of the acclaimed series The Psalms of Isaak, which comprises Lamentation, Canticle, Antiphon, and now Requiem. His short fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Polyphony 6 and Weird Tales. He is a winner of the Writers of the Future contest. Ken’s background includes service in two branches of the military, a degree in history, a brief stint as a clergyman, an even briefer stint as a label-gun repairman and over ten years experience managing nonprofit organizations. Originally from the Puget Sound area, Ken currently lives in Gresham, Oregon, with his amazing wonder-wife Jen, two cats, five guitars, and more books than you’d ever want to help him move.

Blurb for - Requiem:  Ken Scholes’s debut novel, Lamentation, was an event in fantasy. Heralded as a “mesmerizing debut novel” by Publishers Weekly, and a “vividly imagined SF-fantasy hybrid set in a distant, postapocalyptic future” by Booklist, the series gained many fans. It was followed by Canticle and Antiphon. Now comes the fourth book in The Psalms of Isaak, Requiem.

Who is the Crimson Empress, and what does her conquest of the Named Lands really mean? Who holds the keys to the Moon Wizard’s Tower?

The plots within plots are expanding as the characters seek their way out of the maze of intrigue. The world is expanding as they discover lands beyond their previous carefully controlled knowledge. Hidden truths reveal even deeper truths, and nothing is as it seemed to be.

Tor Books | June 2013 | Hardcover | 400 pages

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Review: Descent by Sandy DeLuca


Review by Shellie for Descent by Sandy DeLuca

Shellie’s quick take:   A slowly intensifying and terrifying page turner that details a woman’s descent into abuse, addiction, and hell and/or insanity. It’s not a novel for the faint-of-heart.

Shellie’s description:   The story alternates between two different times in the main character’s life, the past (occurring during the 1970’s) and the present. The main character, Julia, is a creative personality, an artist who paints pictures and cares for her ailing mother at the family home. She also has a terrible past and secrets that come to light as the story of her youthful life unfolds.

As a young girl she didn’t have the emotional support of her parents who dismissed her art, asserting that her life should be one of traditional domesticity. In fact her mother, the only surviving family member, is still verbally abusive. This created a background which led her to choose the wrong man – a deranged psychopath. As the story moves along her secrets and the reasons for succumbing to the lure of mind-numbing substances and horrible men become clearer. 

With themes of demons, angels and the beings that exist in between the realms of good and evil, Julia finds power, retribution, and some kind of peace in spite of her descent.

Shellie’s thoughts:    This is a wonderful and horrifying novel. It has a writing style that is easy to read and follow, the author moving back and forth between the past and present as the main character’s terrible story is told. With no issues in the pacing or editing to mar the reading experience, it’s a seamless read.

Additionally, what Sandy DeLuca does is to lead the reader into the darkness slowly, increasing the tension so that the book becomes difficult to put down. It’s hard to turn away as the plot slowly crashes to its climax – and just like a gawker at a crime scene or auto accident, the reader is left wanting to see what’s happening even though we know it’s not going to be pleasant.

I would recommend Descent especially to women who love horror or crime fiction since it involves issues that are important to and about women, but I’d also recommend it to anyone who loves literary horror, since they too will enjoy the book. A word of caution though - this book is extremely dark, has strong language, and is at times violent. It’s NOT for persons of sensitive or delicate sensibilities. But since I love tastefully dark, visceral and shocking reads it’s a 4 star in my opinion.

Paperback | 308 pages | June 13, 2011 |Uninvited Books | (first published January 1st 2005)

For more information about Sandy DeLuca, her artwork, and writing link to her website:

Friday, September 6, 2013

Guest Post: Gabriel Madison ~ author of The Thorndike Legacy

The Thorndike Legacy

We have a guest post from Gabriel Madison who recently published his first science fiction novel – The Thorndike Legacy. Here he tells us some of the reasons that inspired him to write his latest novel. 

Let’s welcome Gabriel!

After the Apocalypse

When I first sat down to write my new novel, The Thorndike Legacy, my main objective was to entertain readers. I wanted people to read my story, and place the book down feeling satisfied they’d been able to escape whatever obstacles they had to endure in the real world. The story came to me easily, a futuristic world with a misunderstood princess being the best of humankind.

It wasn’t until halfway through the story that I realized what direction I wanted to go in. Let me state I am a huge fan of post-apocalyptic stories. From the books I read to the movies I see, to the TV shows I watch. Okay, I’m not a big fan of zombies, but any other post-apocalyptic story and I’m there.

I also love the Dystopia novels, but as I wrote TTL, I realized I didn’t want it to be like most of the post-apocalyptic stories I’d read or seen. I wanted to take it in a different direction because I wanted to think better about humanity.

A bestselling author posted on Twitter that people will be crying at the end of her trilogy. From her tweet, I summarized someone asked her why her story had to end in tragedy. She said what if the main character ended up with a puppy and gave a few other boring examples of how she could end it. She stated, “People don’t like happy endings.” I, for one, disagree with her completely.

First, let me start off with a theme through all post-apocalyptic stories I wanted to stir away from. It seems most people think if an apocalypse hits, the worst of human kind will be left. The taking of human life would be easily executed. We would turn on each other, oppressing and treating each other in the worst possible way. Maybe we would, but I’d like to think instead of the worst of humanity taking over, the best of what makes us would shine brighter.

Yes, we do horrible things to each other, from murder, to rape, to genocide to other monstrosities. But we also have the capacity to do extraordinary things for each other. We care about things and people on the opposite side of the world than where we live. We protest injustices and a large amount of people actually dedicate their lives to helping others.

The Thorndike Legacy takes place seventy years in the future, after the apocalypse. A part of the story is about a small group of people taking on the worst traits of what it is to be human: selfishness and placing their lives over those less fortunate than them. But the largest theme of the book, the thing I wanted to do different than others, is that humans can be more than that.

We seem to focus on the worst of humanity. I wanted to tell a story about what humanity truly is to me. When the world is made dark and hopeless. When those living in safety while many more live in horror, we as humans come together and place ourselves in danger to help those that were lost. I wanted to tell a story about people that believe the only thing that matters is that all humans are safe and have a chance of freedom.

Yes, we have our flaws. Yes, we can do unthinkable things to each other. Yes, humanity can be ruthless. But it can also be beautiful. We can have happy endings and show the best of who we are beyond our dark sides as storytellers.

The Thorndike Legacy is about a future surrounded by darkness and death, but with people living in safety after surviving the apocalypse saying they would risk jeopardizing their own lives to make sure all humans have the opportunity to live in peace.

About The Thorndike Legacy:  Eydis Thorndike carries two secrets with her: the first, she can see glimpses into the future and read people's thoughts, and the second secret is so horrible it could destroy what's left of the human race - a sub-fleet has been created to kill the people left behind in the Old World.

In the year 2086, seventeen-year-old High Princess Eydis Elisabet Thorndike finds herself graduating from the Rangers Academy, despite the controversy. Royalty usually joins one of the other fleets. It's unheard of to have a high princess become a ranger.

Eydis feels a responsibility to the people left behind, because she knows Survivors are in more danger now than ever before, and because her mother, the High Queen, is one of the people behind the secret sub-fleet. Eydis will place the love of her mother in jeopardy, as she does all she can to protect the Survivors.

Paperback | 254 pages | July 4th 2013 | Whimsical Publications

Gabriel Madison started writing when he was in high school, mostly short stories and poetry, and then developed a passion for screenplays. He attended a private art University in Atlanta Georgia for Media Production where he wrote a few screenplays and made a few short movies, including a twelve-minute vampire movie he adapted from a short story called Midnight Diner. Later, he returned to writing novellas and novel length projects.

Gabriel was once asked to describe himself; the answer he came up with was: storyteller.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review: The Widows of Braxton County by Jess McConkey

The Widows of Braxton County

Review by Shellie for The Widows of Braxton County by Jess McConkey

Shellie’s quick take:  A women’s thriller with a slight paranormal bent that includes domestic abuse and family secrets as major themes.

Shellie’s description:   When Kate, a public accountant from the city, moves in with her new husband, she has dreams of marital bliss and a family. But when she arrives at his family’s Victorian farm house in the country she is surprised and upset to find that they will be living with her terse mother-in-law. However, Kate is determined to make her marriage work, even though her husband (Joe) has not been completely upfront with her in a variety of areas, including the family finances.

Alternating with Kate’s story is the story of Hannah Krausse, Joe’s great great step-grandmother who lived in the old house in the 1890’s with her husband (Joe’s great great grandfather) and their young son. Hannah’s story shows what life was like for women living in the late 1800’s, exemplifying the fact that women had little control of their lives; they were essentially owned by their fathers and then their husbands.

Predictably drama arises for Kate, her mother in law, and her husband, based on the difficulties of their living arrangements – not helped by there being a variety of family secrets from the past that are being kept. It also becomes apparent that Kate is expected to subordinate to her husband and his escalating temper. Kate must decide whether to stand up for herself or to abdicate to her husband’s demands.

Shellie’s thoughts:  I really liked this novel and would say that it’s definitely a woman’s book since most of the subject matter centers around women’s issues - like the historical and social status of women in the 1800’s, domestic abuse, the family’s roles in perpetuating the abuse, and the role of a woman’s strength and confidence in being able to extricate herself from that abuse. And although it sounds like the story could be heavy going, the author handles these difficult issues well and keeps the story moving and positive.

Since I read this book in several sittings, I would say that it has a page-turning style and is easy to read. It also has well-paced thrilling events with an edge to them that are slightly paranormal. There is also a slight horror element though that is contrasted with a romantic side which creates a subtle balance making it very readable. 3.5 stars for this page-turning thriller for women. I will be reading more from this author.

William Morrow Paperbacks | 7/23/2013 | Trade PB |Pages: 384

Find out more about the author at her website:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Interview: Douglas Lain author of ~ Billy Moon

Douglas Lain

We have an interview with Douglas Lain who has just published his magical realist novel - Billy Moon

Below are some questions that came up when I was doing some digging on what his book is all about.

Let’s welcome Douglas!

BILLY MOON is a work of Fantasy and Surrealism. Why did you choose Surrealism as the book’s genre and could you describe it to a person who has never read it before?

It’s not that I chose surrealism as my genre but rather surrealism chose me. The surrealists were influential, their ideas held sway with students and workers involved in the uprisings of May 1968.

But beyond that I think anyone who writes with the aim of expanding the realm of freedom, anyone who starts with the premise that the human imagination can be used as a political weapon in a struggle for emancipation, will have a bit of surrealism in their blood and in their prose.

Surrealism isn’t an aesthetic technique so much as an approach to understanding life. I’d describe it as a process of realization, a process that uses juxtapositions and contradictions to create dissonance and strangeness. The aim is to take the every day world, those things that are perceived to be simple or natural facts, and to transform these into artifacts of an alien mind.

Philip K. Dick once wrote that true paranoia is not when you think your boss is out to get you, but when you think your boss’s phone is out to get you. That kind of paranoia is surrealist, or would be if it weren’t for the reality of the NSA and the Snowden revelations about smart phone data.

Billy Moon

What in particular led you to use the French uprising in 1968 as part of the background for this novel?

I first learned about what happened in 1968 when I read Sadie Plant’s book “The Most Radical Gesture.” This was around 1991 or 1992. I encountered her book and Greil Marcus’s “Lipstick Traces” and that started me down a certain path. After that I read Debord, Vaneigem, Henri Lefebvre, started my own ‘zine, tried out writing short stories, and eventually became the weirdo responsible for Billy Moon.

During all that time May ’68, the moment when France seemed to be standing on the precipice of not only a revolution but also a social transformation, has been a touchstone for me. I’m convinced that the events of May 1968, despite all their shortcomings, are significant.

What are you trying to say politically in your novel? And why should we read it?

I’m not trying to only say something with this book, but rather I’m trying to think about something. The aim is to invite other people to join me in thinking about how we might change the world and live in and change ourselves. That’s what literature is about I think, or it’s how I choose to think about literature. We’re all of us trying out ideas and meanings, writing them down, and proposing them, without always knowing in advance where these ideas are going to take us.

In Billy Moon I’m inviting readers to consider is this: maturity and sustainability require understanding the necessity of illusions.

Tell us about your philosophy podcast called Diet Soap and if or how it’s connected to BILLY MOON?

Diet Soap is an eclectic weekly philosophy podcast. I might interview a college professors about Nietzsche or Dunayevskaya one week, talk to my 16 year old son about Hegel and Charlie Kaufman the next, and then turn around and dedicate an episode to a critique of Mister Rogers neighborhood.

The novel and the podcast are very different, but perhaps both share a certain surrealist tendency.

Very intriguing indeed. Thank you!

DOUGLAS LAIN's short fiction has appeared in many magazines and journals here and abroad. Since 2009, he has produced the weekly podcast Diet Soap, interviewing a wide range of fascinating, engaging people with insights for the new millennium: philosophers, mystics, economists, and a diverse group of fiction writers. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and children.

You can find out more about him at his website:

Here’s the blurb for Billy Moon:    In Douglas Lain's debut novel set during the turbulent year of 1968, Christopher Robin Milne, the inspiration for his father’s fictional creation, struggles to emerge from a manufactured life, in a story of hope and transcendence.

Billy Moon was Christopher Robin Milne, the son of A. A. Milne, the world-famous author of Winnie the Pooh and other beloved children's classics. Billy's life was no fairy-tale, though. Being the son of a famous author meant being ignored and even mistreated by famous parents; he had to make his own way in the world, define himself, and reconcile his self-image with the image of him known to millions of children. A veteran of World War II, a husband and father, he is jolted out of midlife ennui when a French college student revolutionary asks him to come to the chaos of Paris in revolt. Against a backdrop of the apocalyptic student protests and general strike that forced France to a standstill that spring, Milne's new French friend is a wild card, able to experience alternate realities of the past and present. Through him, Milne's life is illuminated and transformed, as are the world-altering events of that year.

In a time when the Occupy movement eerily mirrors the political turbulence of 1968, this magic realist novel is an especially relevant and important book.

Tor Books | 8/27/2013 | Hardcover | 272 pages

We also have a current giveaway for three copies of BILLY MOON for US and Canadian residents.

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