Blog
Blog

Blog (66)

Interview with M.L. Spencer
29, Dec

Fantastic news, folks! We've got an interview with M.L. Spencer about her awesome finale to the RHENWARS SAGA. I've reviewed every book in the series and loved them all.

So tell us about the RHENWARS SAGA. What's it about?

The Rhenwars Saga is about an overpowered mage--the last of his kind--who is tasked with the job of defending a Western-type society called the Rhen from an invasion of an “Enemy” horde from the Northern “Black Lands”, an intentionally Mordor-esque region on the map. The mage, Darien Lauchlin, commits terrible atrocities in order to defend his homeland. But then, in a turn of events, he is taken to the Black Lands, where he discovers the Enemy are a people living in perpetual darkness, who will die without a means of escape. Darien switches sides and soon begins using his appalling power to help the Black Landers invade the Western nations he had formally sworn to protect, committing more atrocities in the process.

What is the set up in DARKFALL?

By the time we get to Darkfall, we have seen Darien’s character go through a tremendous transformation from hero to a haunted man driven by desperation. He has now become a demon, tasked with fighting for the other side against his former allies. This has caused him tremendous mental anguish. However, Darien has now resolved this inner struggle, and he is committed 100% to his new cause.

Can you tell us about Darien and Kyel?

Kyel Archer was Darien’s acolyte, who has become the mage Darien had always wanted to be. Of the two, he is the more traditional hero-type character. He sees both sides of the war as equally human and deserving of protection, while Darien swings from 100% support of one side to 100% support of the other. In Darkfall, Kyel stands against Darien and resists him as much as he is able, while keeping his oaths, morals, and integrity intact—which is no easy thing to do.

Who are the villains in the book?

There really are no true villains in the Rhenwars Saga, at least none that exist in that state permanently. Villains become allies and protagonists become antagonists fluidly throughout the course of the series. The main “villain” in Darkfall is Zavier Renquist, an ancient mage whose goal is the protection of magic. He wants to go about doing this by releasing the equivalent of Iblis (think of Satan-but-not-really) from the Netherworld. To most people, this solution sounds worse than the problem. But not to Renquist, who sees magic as worth any price.

How did you subvert traditional fantasy expectations?

The first book in the series is written to resemble a very typical Lord of the Rings setup, where you have the beautiful Western civilization filled with white people who are resisting an invading horde of evil creatures from some dark area on a map (these creatures being evil because, well, evil.) You have all the typical fantasy tropes: a dashing, powerful hero with a broken heart. His noble fellow-adventurer who trails after him like a faithful puppy-dog. And the beautiful love interest who remains steadfastly by his side through it all. This should end as expected, right? Boy falls for girl and they share a never-ending true love. Our hero repulses the invading horde with the help of his faithful Samwise-type friend. Good triumphs and Evil is vanquished. And they all live happily ever after in the Great White West.

Nope. Not in this world.

It turns out the invading horde are very human, with a very real and dire problem. They are not white, but brown. They are not invaders, but refugees. Not evil, just desperate. Our Western society is not as good and pure as we thought, but rather barbaric and sanctimonious. Our hero is a damaged man capable of atrocity. Romances devolve into betrayal and heartbreak. Friends and allies become enemies, oaths and loyalties are shattered, and there is no Happily Ever After for anyone. The Rhenwars Saga de-fantasizes the fantastic and brings it crashing into reality.

Can you describe the Westerners and the Darklanders?

The people of the Rhen are the typical people we are used to meeting when we open a fantasy novel. The Rhen resembles Western Europe, filled with kingdoms, towns, temples, and all the usual trappings.

The people of Malikar (The Black Lands) are based on a Middle Eastern society, both Bedouin in the outlying areas and the Ottoman Sultanate in the northern region. They have a strict code of honor, a rich culture that has adapted to the lightless conditions they have been forced to suffer, and are highly disciplined.

What were you going for in your epic? Themes and ideas behind it?

The Rhenwars Saga is an allegory for the modern-day relationship between the West and the Middle East. Rhenwars was conceived after 9/11, when I was still trying to wrap my mind around why anyone would want to fly an aircraft into a building (or three). So I started trying to understand the conflict between the West and the Middle East from both sides of the War on Terrorism. After learning a bit about the area’s history with the West, cultural climate, religious perspectives, etc., I was able to get a better understanding of both sides of the picture, and how each side believes they are morally justified in employing sometimes atrocious tactics in order to advance their political agendas. It’s really a very fascinating topic, how two sides can view themselves as justified and morally righteous, while labelling the other side as malevolent and morally bankrupt. It all comes down to a perspective shift.

How has response been to the books?

Mixed. I get a lot of reviews on Book One complaining that it is very generic. Unfortunately, some people don’t go on to Book 2, where you find out the “point” of the entire series. With the launch of my Box Set, more people are reading through, and the response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. I’m getting a lot of fantastic feedback from readers who say they love the direction the Saga goes in, and that it is wonderfully different from any fantasy series they’ve ever read before. There seems to be a great deal of excitement over it.

Any advice for self-publishers?

Advertise your book. And do so in ways that get you the best return for your advertising dollar. Above all, don’t try to sell your book to other authors. Sell it to readers.

Is it true there's a collection available and on sale?

Yes! The entire Rhenwars Saga is available as a box set for only $0.99 right now, which is a steal!

What's next for you?

Right now, I am committed to helping a fellow author who passed away finish his series, so I will be helping to ghostwrite that over the next several months. After that… Well, that’s where it gets complicated. I had a new series in a different world planned, world-built, and ready to go. But then I started getting a lot of feedback from my readers that they really wanted another Rhenwars series. So I am now writing a spinoff series that takes place roughly 20 years after the Rhenwars Saga.

Can you recommend any other authors and their work?

Absolutely! I love the works of C.T. Phipps, Richard Nell, Eric T. Knight, JA Andrews, Jesse Teller, Frank Dorrian, Rob Hayes, and Sean Hinn.

Pick up your copy of the series here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07KLXCH5X/

Interview with Matthew Dawkins II
21, Dec

Hey my fellow tabletop gamers,

We have a great new interview today with MATTHEW DAWKINS, Onyx Path Publishing's best writer and content maker. Today, he's here to talk to us about the company's newest Kickstarter for THEY CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA. It is a retro-scifi 1950s B-movie influenced roleplaying game.

You can check out the Kickstarter here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/200664283/they-came-from-beneath-the-sea-a-tabletop-roleplay/updates

1. What is the premise of THEY CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA?

The premise of They Came from Beneath the Sea! is that you get to play the strong-jawed veterans, plucky journalists, mad scientists, and grizzled everymen of the 1950s, where the Cold War is starting to boil and suddenly, without warning, aliens invade our perfect towns! It's a game strongly set in the world of B-Movies of the era, which can be played as seriously or as farcically as the table desires.

2. TCFBTS is inspired by 1950s B-movies. What ones in particular did you draw from? Why did you choose this as a format? What made you think this would be a great game? (three questions in one, I know)

There are so many fantastic B-Movies. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) is of course a classic, but don't overlook It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) and Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), the former of which is a magnificent Ray Harryhausen piece and the latter is a Roger Corman oddity. Of recent movies, I strongly recommend the work of Larry Blamire, especially The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001) and The Trail of the Screaming Forehead (2007). Both really evoke the humour present in these kinds of movies. I enjoy this format for cinema, but it took many playtest iterations to land upon it as an RPG medium. I've found groups love to have fun and laugh around the table, and a game that encourages that is a rarity in this market.

3. What sort of rules system does this game use?

We use the Storypath System (d10, dice pools, standard difficulties of 8) for They Came from Beneath the Sea!, as established in Scion, Trinity, and Dystopia Rising. However, our version is slightly modified to account for some of They Came From's unique powers and features.

4. How would you describe the game's tone? Funny? Horrific? Horror comedy?

The tone of this game is what you make of it. I've now run so many games of it with different tone and flavour, I can honestly say They Came From can be horrific or comedic, or any mixture of the two. While the game is set up to allow you to make a funny game, it doesn't dictate to you what good humour is. We're very conscious of allowing groups to find their own levels of fun.

5. Do you think fans of the Fallout or Bioshock games will like this game?

There's definitely a little of the Fallout tongue-in-cheek humour to this game, especially with all the talk of atomic devices in day-to-day life. I love BioShock, but we've not really attempted to emulate any sort of genetic splicing-Randian horror. Not yet, anyway.

6. Will the communists in the game be evil baddies or sensual slavs seduced by the heroes or heroes themselves?

While the default setting of the game is 1950s America, making "commies" default bad guys in the eyes of G-Men and other stalwart American "patriots", this game doesn't dictate that all communists, Soviets, Russians, or indeed any other group acts in a set way. Think of how they're portrayed in your favourite movie of the era and roll with that in your game.

7. What can you tell us about the enemies of the game?

There are so many! The writers on this book knocked the Threats out of the park. We have gill-folk, crab people, were-lobsters, teenage shrimp, centopus, the Prefecture of the Pod, the Sirens of Ness... So many! There are plenty more than that, each divided into the brackets of Destroyers, Invaders, Enslavers, Spies, and Primordials. Each has its own ecology and motivations, and they don't necessarily get on.

8. What sort of heroes will be the players be expected to play?

Heroes will tend to be the kinds of characters portrayed in B-Movies of the 1950s and 1960s. A little wooden, a little hammy, but ultimately earnest in their beliefs and ambitions. You'll have everything from the small-town sheriff just looking to get a restful night's sleep, to the blue collar everyman wanting to defending his patch of land. There are five Archetypes: Everyman, G-Man, Mouth, Scientist, and Survivor.

9. The 1950s are a frequently satirized period of history. Will this book engage in any social satire?

There's definitely some social satire. In some of the fiction within the book, men underestimate women, communists are taken as uniformly black-hearted villains, governments want a pacified populace, and scientists are unpredictable lunatics. In most such cases, expectations are thwarted with the foolish party soon taken to task. Also, Joseph McCarthy gets eaten by a giant clam.

10. What are some of the Kickstarter rewards which donors will be able to get?

The Kickstarter is the best place to look for such things, but at bare minimum we're offering the PDF of the game, through to the book, a Director's screen, and cards for your Quips and Cinematics. If the Kickstarter hits stretch goals, we might see additional supplements or artwork for the game, among many other things.

11. Do you see this as a potential ongoing series of books or a limited collection of them?

I could see a whole series of They Came From games if this one were successful. Spitballing here, but I could see a Hammer Horror-influenced game, a Goosebumps-inspired game, and others that take inspiration from other forms of cinematic media. I'd love to do one based on Italian giallo cinema, but I understand that would have a limited audience (outside Italy).

12. Describe to us a typical adventure of this game in your view.

The typical adventure sees your characters reacting to a rapid invasion of bodysnatchers such as the crab people, or a ship offshore going missing and your heroes having to investigate the whereabouts of its crew. Adventure thus unfolds!

13. What projects will you be working on after this?

I have a few V5 books to develop, the Contagion Chronicle to get finished, and a bunch of projects for companies other than Onyx Path such as an unannounced Chaosium book, Solemn Vale for Dirty Vortex Games, and pushing forward with my Onyx Path media role! If you've not subscribed to Onyx Path on YouTube and Twitch, please do so! Content will be thick and fast come 2019!

SPFBO 2018 - BookNest's Finalist
05, Dec

I am happy to announce that BookNest is done with the first round of this year's SPFBO. Like last year, our team, consisting of 3 guests (Rob J. HayesDyrk Ashton & Lynn Kempner) and 3 of our very own members (C.T. PhippsMichael McLendon & Katerina Papasotiriou)  read and reviewed all 30 books assigned to us, picking 6 Semi-Finalists in the process. You can see all 30 reviews HERE. The 6 Semi-Finalists are:

Runeforged by Justin DePaoli

Orconomics by Zachary J. Pike

The Stars Were Right by K.M. Alexander

We Ride The Storm by Devin Madson

The Tainted Crown by Meg Cowley

The Curse Recalled by J.E. Merritt

I was then tasked to read those Semi-Finalists and pick the best one among them to represent BookNest.eu in the 2nd round of the SPFBO, as our Finalist. Over the course of the last 4 days, I eliminated 4 of those Semi-Finalists on our FB Group (The Stars Were RightRuneforgedThe Tainted CrownThe Curse Recalled) and now I'm here to let you know which one of the final two (We Ride the StormOrconomics) will be our finalist. Without further ado:

.

.

.

In a surprise plot-twist, I've decided that my very own anthology Art of War: Anthology for Charity will represent us on the se... Alright, alright. Here's we go:

.

.

.

.

We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson is one of the best books I've read this year. With a personal score of 8.5/10, I think it's capable of winning this year's SPFBO (As a comparison, last year's winner finished with a 8.1/10 avg rating). Alas, it has the misfortune to be paired with Orconomics, one of the best books I've read in my life. Therefore, my pick for BookNest's Finalist for this year's SPFBO is Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike, sent forward with a perfect score of 10/10

I'm utterly perplexed by the fact that none of the Big 5 has acquired the rights to publish Pike's work, but I'm confident that it will be so by the end of this year's contest. Orconomics is not only better than most of the self-published books out there, but better than most of the traditionally published ones as well (Although the difference between Self-Published books and Traditionally Published books has significantly thinned throughout the years, and the way an author gets his book out there is no longer an indication of its quality, if it ever was). Orconomics is well written, fast paced, with great flow and even greater prose, and most importantly, it's a great story to boot. It's full of heart and joy, but also regret and pain. It is, as GRRM would say, how Fantasy ought to be written. I would also say it's unique, but that it isn't. For it is quite similar (and I hope I'm not doing it a disservice here) to one of my favorite fantasy books ever: Kings of the Wyld. As a matter of fact, I was joking with Nicholas Eames the other day, that if he hasn't in fact ghost-wrote Orconomics himself, then surely Zachary Pike ghost-wrote Nick's books instead. I considered including a full review in this post, but then again I wouldn't be able to tell it better than Dyrk Ashton did. If you want to know more about Orconomics, you can read Dyrk's review HERE.

Now, some of you may have noticed that something didn't add up in what I said above. When I mentioned We Ride the Storm, I said that it's capable of winning this year's SPFBO. But how can this be, you'll wonder, if it's been eliminated, with Orconomics being BookNest's Finalist? Simply said, We Ride The Storm can be someone else's Finalist, for I am pushing it through as a Senlin Safety Net Candidate. For those who are not familiar with the term, the Senlin Safety Net is a safe mechanism, for the rare occasion where one of the Judges has more than 1 book in his batch capable of winning the contest. How it works? I simply push it through as a candidate, and if one of the other Judges isn't happy enough with the books in their own batch, can take it up and promote it to the second round of the SPFBO as their Finalist instead. You can learn more about the Senlin Safety Net HERE. So, worry not, fans of We Ride The Storm. All hope is not yet lost. The book can still make it through, as long as one of the other Judges decides it's better than what their own batch has to offer! 

Thank you all for joining me here today. Huge congratulations to Zachary Pike, and best of luck to Devin Madson with her second chance! I'm looking forward to the rest nine Finalists in the Second Round of the SPFBO

 

Best,

Petros Triantafyllou

Interview with Matthew Dawkins
07, Nov

Hey folks,

I am one of the biggest fans of Chicago by Night 1st Edition that exists. For those who wonder what the hell I'm talking about, it is a supplement created in 1992 for the tabletop role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade. The premise was the city of Chicago was secretly controlled by vampires ranging from the beautiful Annabelle to the unliving Al Capone. Further figures like Critias of Athens, Helen of Troy, and Meneleus were also undead inhabiting the Windy City. You, as newly created vampires, had the job of navigating the city's complicated politics in order to avoid another sunrise.

Eventually, the focus of the game changed as it became less about city-based gameplay and more about globe-trotting adventures between sects. Chicago by Night had a good half of its vampire population slaughtered by werewolves and after a follow-up edition, Chicago by Night 2nd Edition, ceased to be relevant to the setting for the rest of the original line's history.

However, the legend of Chicago by Night would not die. With the return of Vampire: The Masquerade after a decade-long absence with the Vampire 20th Anniversary line, it was to my delight they managed to bring back the supplement. I had done a read through of the supplement on RPG.net and also had been touting it for years. I wanted to see how old friends, fictional or not, had adapted to the 21st century.

Presently, they're raising money for the supplement on Kickstarter. They've already passed the funds necessary for the supplement but are now raising funds for supplements to the setting. I hope people will chip in a bit and pick up a copy if they have any interest in vampires and role-playing games. What I've seen so far of it has been awesome.

Thankfully, Matthew Dawkins, one of the writers of the supplement has decided to sit down with me and give an interview about this awesome book. He was a chief contributor to Beckett's Jyhad Diary and is the man behind the excellent Gentleman's Guide to Vampires Youtube video series.

Here's a video introduction to Chicago by Night 5E.

And here's the interview.

1. What inspired making a 5th Edition of Chicago by Night?

Chicago was the iconic city for Vampire: The Masquerade for the longest time, so it made sense to revisit it, give it a facelift, a lot of new plots and characters, and bring it forward into fifth edition.

2. What was your thoughts on the original supplement?

I'm a big fan of a lot of the old city sourcebooks, with Chicago being in my top three. Chicago was the template that many books went on to follow, and my hope is that any city sourcebooks following this one will match or build on its design.

3. Do you have a favorite Chicago-area supplement to that period? (Diablerie: Mexico, Milwaukee by Night, Succubus Club, Under a Blood Red Moon, Ashes to Ashes, Blood Bond)

My favourite supplement for that period and location would be Milwaukee by Night, which still ranks as my #1 city sourcebook. I love it due to its simplicity. It has a lot of stereotypical characters in its pages, but I enjoy that, and consider it an excellent introductory book for anyone looking to get into Vampire.

4. Did you prefer 1st Edition or 2nd Edition?

I don't really have a preference between first and second edition Chicago by Night, as they both have a lot of strong elements. The thing I feel is missing in second edition are the chronicle hooks at the back of first edition, but it makes up for it with a more diverse, interesting cast of characters.

5. What can players expect from this supplement?

Players can expect rules for playing the Lasombra, lots of interesting Kindred with whom a character can form alliances or rivalries, benefits and drawbacks for operating out of certain parts of the city, and a beautiful campaign setting in which to grow a character.

6. What was the design philosophy for updating Chicago and its characters to the year 2018?

The core design philosophy was to ensure this book had the horror of the Beast, Humanity, and Hierarchy. Bleeding out from that we strived to introduce a diverse cast of characters with multiple interesting agendas, plentiful plots a Storyteller can introduce to their chronicle, and to make the book feel exactly as Chicago should.

7. Do you have a favorite character from the book?

My favourite character is a new Nosferatu named Adze. He's a lot of fun and teases the possibility of Chicago moving away from the Camarilla.

8. What sort of changes can we expect to the setting with the transition to 5th Edition?

There's a new Prince, some new Primogen, old foes might have fallen, new ones may have arisen. The changes to the Camarilla and Anarchs in fifth edition sends ripples across Chicago as well, meaning previously quiet clans receive prominent position while others, once powerful, sink into the shadows.

9. The Lasombra clan will be detailed in this book. Can you explain why they'll be included in this book, in or out of universe?

I pitched for the Lasombra to be included in this book for a few reasons: 1.) I wanted them playable in V5, 2.) There's a strong metaplot reason for them to be in the North American crown jewel of the Camarilla, and 3.) It adds an exciting plot vein to this book.

10. The Kickstarter lists some additional supplements that have already been unlocked. Can you tell us a bit about them?

The Chicago Dossiers will be books largely consisting of in-universe artifacts you can print and use for your chronicles, though there's the hope it will receive expansion so we can include some more characters and loresheets in there too. Let the Streets Run Red is a chronicles book a little like the Succubus Club sourcebook of old, with as many as four decent-sized chronicles, the first being set in Chicago, the last (if we reach it) going out as far as Milwaukee and Indianapolis.

11. How has your experience been on writing for 5E?

I've enjoyed my work on V5 a great deal. Certainly, it's had its stresses from time to time. That's natural for a new edition of a game, especially when a new team has been put together. It can also sometimes prove tricky to create something that exactly matches what the licence owner (White Wolf, in this case) would like to see. But all in all, I'm very pleased with how V5 has turned out, and especially how Chicago is looking.

12. You wrote about the Ministry (formerly the Followers of Set) for the Guide to the Anarchs, right? What can we expect to find out about them in that book?

The Ministry have gone through a bit of a re-brand, ostensibly accepting a plethora of non-Caine faiths into their ranks and re-embracing their polytheistic roots. They're the spiritual arm of the Anarch Movement, providing advice to fellow Anarchs on how to temper their Beast by working for a higher power, while of course profiteering from other vampires' spiritual corrosion. I've heard a lot of good things from fans of the Setites who were apprehensive about the Ministry, but enjoy the fresh coat of paint the clan's received.

13. What projects will you be working on after Chicago by Night?

They Came from Beneath the Sea!, the Contagion Chronicle, Book of Oblivion, Mummy: The Curse, and Shunned by the Moon are the big projects on my list right now. There's also the stretch goals following the Chicago by Night Kickstarter, but we won't get started on them until we know how big they're going to be.

Winners of the 2018 BookNest Fantasy Awards
01, Nov

In the first stage, nine popular Fantasy Blogs (Bookworm BluesFantasy Book CriticFantasy Book ReviewFantasy-FactionGrimdark MagazineThe Fantasy HiveThe Fantasy InnThe Grim Tidings Podcast & The Weatherwax Report), three big Fantasy Imprints (GollanczHarper Voyager & Orbit), and two well-respected Agents (John Jarrold & Joshua Bilmes of JABberwocky Literary Agency) helped us create the Longlist for this year's BookNest Fantasy Awards by nominating their favorite books in each of the first three categories (Best Traditionally Published Novel, Best Self-Published Novel, and Best Debut Novel), published between October 1st 2017 and September 30th 2018In the second stage, the culling began, and the public chose which ten books from each category would made it to the Shortlist. In the third and final stage, again with a public vote, the winners were chosen, and we're happy to announce them right now!

You can learn all about the Awards and  the Winners in the video bellow. And don't be afraid - there are subtitles for those who can't use sound! 

 Congrats to those who won the engraved swords, & best of luck next year to those who didn't! 

.be

BookNest's second Semi-Finalist, by Dyrk Ashton (SPFBO 2018, Phase 1)
21, Oct

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to have been a guest judge for Booknest in this year's SPFBO competition. The brainchild of Arch-saint of indie authors, the Almighty Mark Lawrence, the SPFBO has become one of the most significant things to happen to self-publishing since, well, maybe ever, and Booknest has waved the torch high for indie books for quite some time. I have to thank Petros T. for asking me to do this. It's been a hell of an honor to be involved.

My task was to read five of the thirty books in Booknest's group, and forward my choice for semi-finalist. Time for a rolling of drums...

2018 BookNest Fantasy Awards (Shortlist)
15, Oct

In the first stage we created a Longlist with the help of nine popular Fantasy Blogs (Bookworm BluesFantasy Book CriticFantasy Book ReviewFantasy-FactionGrimdark MagazineThe Fantasy HiveThe Fantasy InnThe Grim Tidings Podcast & The Weatherwax Report), three big Fantasy Imprints (GollanczHarper Voyager & Orbit), and two well-respected Agents (John Jarrold & Joshua Bilmes of JABberwocky Literary Agency), with each one of them nominating their favorite books in each of the first three categories (Best Traditionally Published Novel, Best Self-Published Novel, and Best Debut Novel), published between October 1st 2017 and September 30th 2018.

In the second stage and with the public's help, the ten (10) books and five (5) Imprints with the highest number of votes in each category, made it to the Shortlist (revealed bellow), gaining the chance to compete for the title of the BEST, and the engraved sword that comes with it! 

Now, it's time to pick the winners. You can vote for your favorite books, authors and Imprints by Wednesday 31st October 2018. The Winners will be reveled a day later.

Best of luck to all contestants! 

This stage is now over. You can no longer vote.

The Winners will be announced tomorrow, November 01, 2018. 

 

 

This stage is now over. You can no longer vote.

The Winners will be announced tomorrow, November 01, 2018. 

 

This stage is now over. You can no longer vote.

The Winners will be announced tomorrow, November 01, 2018. 

 

 

This stage is now over. You can no longer vote.

The Winners will be announced tomorrow, November 01, 2018. 

 

This stage is now over. You can no longer vote.

The Winners will be announced tomorrow, November 01, 2018. 

Interview with David Niall Wilson II
11, Oct

Hey folks,

I have an interview with David Wilson, two time Stoker Award winner and owner/operator of Crossroad Press! We're here to talk about his classic book, THIS IS MY BLOOD, which I recently reviewed here.

1.    So, tell us about THIS IS MY BLOOD.

This is My Blood is a different telling of a very old story.  I changed none of the order of things, nor did I change the outcome – only the road to reach that outcome.  Mary Magdalene, raised by Lucifer in the desert to tempt Jesus in the guise of a woman, instead refused – wanting to return to Heaven.  Lucifer cursed her to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, feeding on the faithful, and claimed she would become his undoing.

That is where my story starts.  You will find the king’s daughter, raised from the dead, Lazarus, all the apostles in their flawed faith, and a narrator – in Mary – who does not depend on faith, but sees with the eyes of one who KNOWS what is truth, and is not impressed with the spirituality of men.  Lilith also plays a sizeable part in this book.

All that I learned, figured out on my own, and wanted to repeat of The Bible, Christianity, faith, and – I suppose – of shadows – was tied up in this early work of mine.  I have since come to believe that ancient myths should be left to the ancient societies who created them, and that we should worry more over our own self-worth than that of others.  I don’t believe there are any spiritual rules laid down in the words of long dead men that I should follow, but I do believe that men know, inherently, the difference between right, and wrong, and that all choices made in that area are their own.  No free ticket out for asking forgiveness, and no pit of fire for failures.

2.    How did you come up with the concept?

One day, in the middle of the ocean, a group of us were sitting around, playing music, drinking coffee, and working on the various creative endeavors that kept us sane.  Out of the blue, someone said: “What if Jesus was a vampire?”  There are a lot of flaws in such a story – though others have tried to write it – and I was quick to point them out.  I was, after all, not that far past the period of my life where Christianity and I parted ways.  I had studied with an eye toward the ministry at one point, and I’d read the book – several times.

What I proposed, eventually, was that it made much more sense if someone close to Jesus was a vampire.  Someone he trusted.  Someone who could account for the rising of the dead in three days, without it actually being the man himself behind it all.  I didn’t write about it then, I thought about it, and I filed it away with a lot of other ideas.  Eventually I wrote a novelette – A Candle in the Sun – that was published in Starshore Magazine, then reprinted in Year’s Best Horror XIX, edited by Karl Edward Wagner, and has since been reprinted nearly a half dozen more times.  It was good – everyone agreed that it was good, but I knew that it wasn’t complete.  I just wasn’t ready to do the thing justice.

Then, on a completely different cruise, locked in a transmitter room with a 386 computer, a Deskjet 500 inkjet printer, and a CD Player loaded with Concrete Blonde & Depeche Mode, I realized it was time.  I had a marked up, four inch tall copy of the New Testament that the Gideon Society had presented the ship with, and I had notes.  I started out, jumping from gospel to gospel when some part of the story either had a hole, or was missing something important.  As I went, I crafted large chunks of The Gospel According to Judas Iscariot, because I’d always thought he got a raw deal in the original mix, and I wanted him for a hero.

3.    How would you describe Mary?

Mary is the key to the story. I’m working on a treatment and screenplay – adapting this novel – and the book I’m reading describes the type of book I’m writing as a “Superhero” story. Someone with extraordinary ability dropped into an ordinary setting (If you can call the fictional times of the gospels ordinary).

She is a fallen angel. She has suffered… she has been offered hope. During the novel there are several key moments in her development as a character… and I would dearly love to get into those, but I don’t want to spoil the story for people who have not read it. Suffice it to say – she does not require faith. She does not doubt Jesus, or God, or Satan – she knows them. Stuck in human form – albeit powerful and vampiric – she learns about pain and death and emotion as only men can celebrate them. She learns about the “Heavenly Father” and prophecy in the same way. She has n irresistible perspective on mysteries we can only ponder.

4.    How do you handle figures like Jesus, the Devil, and other historical/theological personages?

Most of the points where these characters interact with the story are told through passages from the fictional Gospel According to Judas Iscariot. There are scenes with Jesus, of course, and many with Judas, who is something of a hero himself – a counterpart to Mary who was born human, with all of our faults and fears.
The rest I tried to portray in the same way the unknown authors of The New Testament did. In the form of biblical verse, or in a very carefully worded narrative. They all serve the same purposes they did in the original story – but I did not want them to intrude in the story I was telling and I also did not want them to overshadow my main protagonists… they are very much the God, and Lucifer, people would recognize from Bible school. I was careful not to just write something blasphemous… it was never the intent.

5.    What do you hope people take away from this book?

QR codes for all of their friends and relatives to buy the book?

Seriously, I didn’t write it with other people in mind. I wrote it because I spent a number of years of my life reading and studying a book of ancient mythology I thought (at the time) was the answer to life, the universe, and everything… then I grew up. I started to take charge of my thoughts, and my life, and to think – really think- about all those years spend feeling guilty for things that should inspire no guilt, and spreading the same nonsense to others… There is a meme out there in social media – a group of religious leaders gathered around a table… the caption says … Religion – where grown adults argue over who has the best imaginary friend.

So I think what I hope people will take from my book is the experience behind it, the part of me that I wrote into the words and pages. I hope they take something out of it that sticks with them, or leads them to another of my books.  I hope it influences them in some way. But I didn’t write it for them… I wrote it for me, and then I gave myself to the readers. That’s what one of my other projects is all about – a non-fiction half-memoir, half book on writing titled “Writing What Hurts.”  This one did.

6.    Do you think vampires mix well with religion?

Traditional vampires are tied straight in with traditional religion. Crosses, sanctified graves, holy water. One would not be the same without the other, but in the case of my novel, it was just a marriage of convenience. There were too many ways a vampire might fit into the holes in the original plot. And as is the case in most urban horror and fantasy, modern monster tales, and stories about creatures beyond the standard limits of mankind… the point of the story is not that there is a vampire, or that there are monsters. The vampires, fallen angels, etc… are just characters. They are *in* the story… but their powers and situations are outside that story.  In the days of Dracula, the story was about a monster that was a vampire. Mine is a novel that happens to have a vampire in it.

7.    How was the response to the book?

Critical response was wonderful. Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal loved it.  I can honestly say that the closest to a bad review I’ve ever gotten from an actual review site, or a reader, was one person who had no biblical background and admitted that she liked the story, but was probably missing something. The response has been unbelievably positive… and small. It’s like a cult thing. Those who know the book will go on about it at length… but there just aren’t enough of them (yet).  It’s even listed in the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mary Magdalene…

One reader (back in the Navy) actually came to me with tears in his eyes after finishing it – which was bizarre. The original publisher bought it over a phone call from Crete (two weeks after I finished it and sent it to him) but – as noted above – he never published it. I have had the odd reaction from several that this book renewed their faith, and others have asked the (kind of silly) question “Did you make up the Book of Judas… or can I get that somewhere?” (Yes, I found a long-lost text that explains that there were vampires in Jerusalem… the church has (of course) suppressed this)

8.    Have you ever considered doing anything similar?

Define similar? I’m currently writing a novel titled “Jurassic Ark” wherein Noah is building a great boat in the desert. There are dinosaurs, and the people of the city nearby believe he is crazy. This could have been a comedic story, but is turning into something much more similar to This is My Blood, without vampires. There are Elohim and very, very old men – the aforementioned dinosaurs – the point of it is to sort of show how ridiculous the notion of a 6000 year old earth with living dinosaurs would have been, but along the way it gathered substance, and the characters started to matter… and just like with This is My Blood, I’ve heavily researched Noah’s family, the Ark, and all the notes on his family in the book of the Great Space Fairy.

I wrote On the Third Day where I explored what might happen if a priest actually experienced the Stigmata … how the Church might react, how others might react… how the world might treat it…

I wrote “The Grails Covenant Trilogy” for White Wolf where a vampire is on a quest to find the Holy Grail…

There are similar themes in a lot of my books… not all, by any stretch, but many. Even in Deep Blue – my big book, Stephen King and Dean Koontz style supernatural thriller, there are elements of spirituality and explorations of odd Christian folklore.

9.    What appeals to you about vampire fiction?

People always ask questions like this about vampires, horror, etc.  Nothing in particular. I write the stories that occur to me – I never (ever) set out to write “a vampire story” or a “horror novel” – I just write what moves me in the moment. Vampires are familiar modern icons – they are characters people are comfortable with now in ways they were not in Stoker’s time… The one thing I will say (and I wrote a very short story about this once) is that the thing that I wonder about with vampires is … after so many years… so much experience… how do they fight off the boredom? I also explored that in the Grails Covenant Trilogy with a character named Kli Kodesh who spent his years creating intricate puzzles and games for others to live out to keep from going even madder than he already was.

10.    Do you recommend any other vampire stories?

I have read a lot of other vampire novels that I loved. George R. R. Martin’s Fever Dream, The Golden by Lucius Shepard, Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite, Vampire$ by John Steakley (Still cracks me up, that name for a vampire novel author) – Dracula, of course, and Christopher Golden’s Of Saints and Shadows. For humor, it’s hard to beat Bite Club by Hal Bodner, or your own Straight Outta Fangton, but as I’ve said in other parts of the interview… those are novels that have vampires in them, and not necessarily “vampire novels” in the traditional sense. If the fact there is a vampire or vampires is not the central plot, for me, the vampires just become accepted characters.

11.    What are some other books you have written you'd like to recommend?

Well, I recommend them all, of course. The problem with a question like this is that I’ve written in so many genres. For Horror I have This is My Blood, Deep Blue, Ancient Eyes, On the Third Day, Maelstrom and others, for Science Fiction I have Star Trek, Stargate, The Second Veil, and more, fantasy and urban fantasy fans might prefer my “Donovan DeChance” novels, and fans of southern or gothic horror might like the Cletus J. Diggs supernatural mysteries.

I have a small stack of collections spanning 200 plus short stories, and a book about baking pies… American Pies – Baking with Dave the Pie Guy – and even a political satire written with Patricia Lee Macomber- Remember Bowling Green – The Adventures of Frederick Douglass -Time Traveler - where 80% of earnings go to the ACLU. It’s a question, in other words, that requires perspective – knowledge of the particular reader. Then, of course, I’ve written a lot of books for White Wolfand their World of Darkness – mostly medieval vampires, but also in their worlds of Wraith and Exalted.

12. Do you have any upcoming new works?

Next in print will be my historical thriller The Orffyreus Wheel, already available in eBook and audio. I’m currently writing five books… A Midnight Dreary- Book V of the DeChance Chronicles, the aforementioned Jurassic Ark, a serial killer thriller titled Tattered Remnants, a writing / memoir non fiction book (also mentioned in the above rambling) Writing What Hurts – and a photo / meme / lol book with my dog Gizmo – Everything I needed to know about Dogs I Learned from Being One.

Purchase THIS IS MY BLOOD from Amazon.com
Purchase THE DECHANCE CHRONICLES from Amazon.com
Purchase THE O.C.L.T. novels from Amazon.com
Purchase DEEP BLUE from Amazon.com
Purchase ON THE THIRD DAY from Amazon.com

2018 BookNest Fantasy Awards (Longlist)
01, Oct

Nine popular Fantasy Blogs (Bookworm Blues, Fantasy Book Critic, Fantasy Book Review, Fantasy-Faction, Grimdark Magazine, The Fantasy Hive, The Fantasy Inn, The Grim Tidings Podcast & The Weatherwax Report), three big Fantasy Imprints (Gollancz, Harper Voyager & Orbit), and two well-respected Agents (John JarroldJoshua Bilmes of JABberwocky Literary Agency) helped us create the Longlist for this year's BookNest Fantasy Awards by nominating their favorite books in each of the first three categories (Best Traditionally Published Novel, Best Self-Published Novel, and Best Debut Novel), published between October 1st 2017 and September 30th 2018. Now, with your help, we will begin the culling. Only the ten (10) books with the highest number of votes in each category will make it to the Shortlist, gaining the chance to compete for the title of the BEST, and the engraved sword that comes with it! Aside from the three Awards we hand out every year, this time around, we're introducing a brand new category. You can now vote for your favorite Fantasy Imprint! Who brings you the best Fantasy books every year? Whose logo adorns most of the spines on your bookshelf? You can now thank them for it! From the initial ten (10) contestants in the Longlist, only five (5) will make it to the Shortlist

You can vote for your favorite books, authors and Imprints by Sunday 14th October 2018. The Shortlist will be revealed a day later.

Best of luck to all contestants! 

 

This stage is now over. You can no longer vote.

The Shortlist will be revealed on October 15, 2018. 

 

Note: Some of you may get the error message "You've already voted in this poll today".

You can ignore it. Your vote has been counted in *without* an issue.

 

Note: Some of you may get the error message "You've already voted in this poll today".

You can ignore it. Your vote has been counted in *without* an issue.

 

 

Note: Some of you may get the error message "You've already voted in this poll today".

You can ignore it. Your vote has been counted in *without* an issue.

 

Note: Some of you may get the error message "You've already voted in this poll today".

You can ignore it. Your vote has been counted in *without* an issue.

 

This stage is now over. You can no longer vote.

The Shortlist will be revealed on October 15, 2018.

Interview with Ulff Lehmann
15, Sep

1. So, tell us about Shattered Hopes.

It’s a book. (insert canned laughter). Ok, more serious answer. (insert canned applause, moderate). Shattered Hopes is the recently published sequel to my first novel, Shattered Dreams. It used to be bigger than its 150k words. Around 300k words, to be precise. David Wilson, my publisher, suggested I cut it into two parts because it was too big. Dreams, in comparison, was only 158k words or thereabout, so I looked for the perfect cliffhanger; and I think I found it.

When I was still planning to self publish I wanted a trilogy, because fantasy trilogy is a thing, and it’s cool. Now it’s a pentalogy, more of a tongue twister, but David’s correct, at almost 700-800 pages, it would have been freakishly huge. I should know, I had a proof copy of the initial version. If I make it big, this will be a one of a kind collectible… if not, a handy doorstopper.

Starting with Hopes, I have changed my approach. Gone are the in-chapter viewpoint shifts, now it’s like A Song of Ice and Fire, one chapter, one viewpoint.
The story begins almost immediately after the events of Shattered Dreams come to a close, things are shit, the enemy army is at the gates, and winter is coming. (Yeah, that’s a trigger phrase, but that’s actually something the defenders are hoping for because the besiegers can’t maintain the siege, if supply routes are snowed shut) And more shit is piling on… good stuff.

2. What separates your universe from other fantasy on the market today?

The realistic mythological approach, I believe. What’s that? I love mythology, Greek, Roman, German, Norse, Celtic, always been infatuated with the tales of gods and heroes and all the good stuff. So I approached my world that way. If you look at any of the old myths, everyone is, basically, Greek or Roman or Viking, even Etzel who appears in the German Nibelungenlied is a Germanic king, even though he is Attila. They all speak the “native” language, worship the same gods, etc, and it has to be that way because if the Greeks were, for example, to meet the Phoenicians with their different gods and whatnot, the entire thing would fall apart. How can the titans have formed the world and the gods created it, if there are other gods?

So I started with what I like to call creation fact. This is how it all began, and I developed it from there. There is only one language, yes, but over the years it changed, like every living language does. So while the language the, say, elves use is the same the humans learned, there are differences (not that I write things phonetically, but still) -- think American and British English. It’s the same gods that are worshiped everywhere, skin tones will, of course vary, but even that has an in-world explanation.

Since I wanted a more Dark Age-y feel to humanity, I made the conscious choice to have my humans be a young people. They are the inheritors of the elves, at least in the region the story takes place in, and they are technologically far less advanced than the elves of old. Where does the realism kick in? Well, the world is brutal. You don’t see knights in shining armor. There is no good or evil, people are, by and large, just people. (cue Depeche Mode) And while there are places where people fling shit out of windows, it’s not the places that also have running water.

3. Would you consider your work to be grimdark? Why?

I don’t know. My characters are flawed, for the most part, sure, but I don’t relish in having bronze broadsword cut through silver mail to have guts spill out onto the marble. If the Saw-esque torture porn of psychotic killers doing their super-heroic butchery on the pages while swearing like Hit-Girl on an acid trip is grimdark, then I would not consider it grimdark at all. If that is the definition of grimdark, I don’t want any part of that kingdom.

I’ve always loathed the good vs. evil shit that is going on in far too much fantasy, and I agree with you, Charles, that A Song of Ice and Fire has, ultimately, become the same black and white thing. The white walkers are evil, humanity is not. Sure, there might not be a straightforward goodness to most characters, but overcoming the evil from without is still the endgame.

Are there monsters in our world? Yup, some even rule countries. But I think most people just want to get by. You know, do what’s right, care for their kids, work, help others. The psychopaths are the exception. And even most of them aren’t categorically evil, because that would require a direct agenda other than “I do what I want because no one is my equal” or “The rest of humanity is but meat”. Good and evil are concepts that go along with monotheism. Even Loki or Hades weren’t evil, they just did their thing.

Look at our society; does the CEO of Monsanto see himself as evil because they produce toxins that fuck up the planet’s eco system? Most likely not, he just doesn’t care. That’s not evil, that’s sociopathic. Or sociopathetic if you will. You have people like Rockefeller who thought they were chosen by their deity to be grand, which was reason enough for him to manipulate and sabotage all his competitors. I bet he didn’t see himself as evil either, far from it.

So, taking a mythological world and populating it with real people, people who doubt, smile, fear, fight, even kill to make it just to the next day or week or month, that’s what it is… whatever that is.

4. What is grimdark to you?

To be honest, the bit of grimdark royalty that I read is as appealing to me as poking my eye with a chili peppers. What others might consider grimdark is, to me, merely realistic fantasy, scifi, or whatnot. The really revolting psychotic stuff is like rape porn, to me, shit I don’t want to watch, find in no way appealing, and don’t want to touch again.

5. Tell us about your protagonists.

Drangar Ralgon – a broken man on his path to uncovering more of his past.
Kildanor – a warrior bent on helping Drangar find peace.
Ealisaid – last of the Phoenix Wizards, a novice mage with delusions of grandeur.
Rheanna – a priestess of the god of justice, one of the Riders, warriors who kill wrongs.
Jesgar – a spy in training.
Anne – warleader of the invading army.
Urgraith Mireynh – High General and warlord of the invaders.
Lloreanthoran – an elven mage with a mission.
Darlontor – leader of the Sons of Traksor.
As you can see, it’s quite a list and I can’t really talk about that much since it’s all tied to the story somehow. Suffice it to say that there’s a lot going on and to explain one story thread would also unravel the rest.

6. What inspired you to write this universe?

I wanted to get away from good vs. evil, shining heroes vs. vile villains. I wanted something that is wholly my own. Sure, I put a twist on almost every cliché in the book, my elves are vicious, my humans aren’t much better, but I didn’t want the “oh – an orc kingdom here, let the gnomes live there” D&D-ish approach. There’s a reason the elves are farther along than the humans, it may not make sense to most readers, but it has to make sense to me. There has to be a logic to everything on a grand scale. Developing languages doesn’t interest me, especially when there’s bronze broadswords to avoid.

One day, I’d love for someone to just take a step back and look at what I created and say something like “Damn, that is brilliant…” not as praise, I couldn’t care less about that, but appreciation of the logic that went into the world. I want things to be there for a reason, not the haphazard shit with “wouldn’t it be nice to have a Viking culture next to this renaissance society?” or “Hey, there’s a huge desert with this city in the middle” with no river or major roads that people still use, you know the shit that actually causes cities to be built. If they’re missing, people will abandon these places. Cahokia, Pi Ramesse, Petra, all places that were abandoned because the circumstances changed!

7. Who is your favorite character?

Truth be told, I have two. Drangar, of course, since he’s been with me since 1992. And the squirrel I killed off in Dreams. And YES! I know people hate me for it. But I needed at least one hero in the story. (Heroes are those that give their lives to save others, the rest are survivors.)

8. What would you say the themes of your book are?

In the end, I think, it all boils down to choices and living with the consequences. Who am I? Part is my surroundings, part is my parents. We’re all so many parts of something or other, and in the end we must decide which parts we allow to dominate our lives. Some parts we can’t escape, or if we try, we cut off a part of ourselves. Which are the parts worth keeping? Which are save to discard?
Life… life’s the theme.

9. What sort of things bother you in fantasy today?

To be perfectly honest, I barely read fantasy anymore. First it was because of it distracting my own work, now it’s that and I have discovered a passion for crime/thriller books and such. But in essence it’s the same thing as I addressed over various prior answers. Lack of consequence, realism, even normal physics. Sure, one might say that physics have no place in fantasy, but since the people still wear boots, use rain coats, and horses, we can be sure that gravity does work, rain still falls down, and mounted movement is still more comfortable than walking. So yes, this stuff matters, and a city without fresh water for fields and such is about as useful as nipples on a Batsuit.

10. How has the response been to your book so far?

Shattered Hopes has just been released, but the reactions so far have been very positive, but only time will tell.

11. Would you recommend any other indie fantasy writers?

See 9, but Dyrk Ashton comes to mind, his Paternus stuff is out of this world. Damien Black, his work, the level of detail and the richness of his world reminds me ofKen Follett. I’ve a few books lined up that I’m giving a try soon. (Once I’ve finished Lucifer’s Star by this dude called Charles Phipps, mad as a hatter, I tell ya! And I love him for it.)

12. What can we expect from you next?

Right now we only have the ebook version of Shattered Hopes out. The city map my friend Faith has been sweating blood and tears over for over a year now requires a further touch up for the print version of Hopes, when that’s done, the dead tree version will be released. After that I have a short story coming out in an anthology edited by Charles Phipps (shameless plug, I know, but still).

Shattered Fears, the third book in the series, is complete, but we haven’t determined when to release it yet. Another short story is in the works. All the short stories take place in “Drangar’s world” (for lack of a better word), including the one published in Booknest’s own Art of War. (plug again!) And last but not least I’m developing something super insanely amazing for Charles Phipps’s Lucifer universe… seriously, I almost shat myself when I came up with this idea.

Purchase Shattered Dreams
Purchase Shattered Hopes

Page 1 of 5