Author Interview: C.J. Brightley ~ The King’s Sword

C.J. Brightley is an independent author who has released the first two books in her fantasy adventure series, Erdemen Honor. I recently read the first book in the series, The King’s Sword. It is at its root a story about friendship. The story follows Prince Hakan Ithel as he flees the castle following the death of his father, the king, in an effort to survive a deep political conspiracy that could end his life. Desperate and on the run he meets up with an ex-soldier whose sense of honor compels him to aid the young royal.

I love a good adventure tale, and The King’s Sword did not disappoint. Finding it an enjoyable read, I contacted the author to see if she would be willing to participate in our Author Interview & Review series. Not only did she say yes, but she arranged to have King Hakan Ithel, one of the main characters stop by during our recent interview.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Be sure to stay tuned to hear more details about the Swashbuckler Giveaway Contest!

DV:  Hello, C.J. Thank you for joining me for this interview.

CJ:  Thank you for having me.

DV:  I understand that King Hakan Ithel of Erdem will be stopping in to talk to us later, on his way to a State meeting. But, for now, let’s talk about you.

What did you do before you decided to become a writer?

CJ:  I actually began writing The King’s Sword back in 2007 during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November, right after finishing my master’s degree in international affairs. The first drafts of both The King’s Sword and the sequel, A Cold Wind, were finished by January 2008. I worked on edits for nearly a year before beginning to query agents. I received some very encouraging feedback, but didn’t find a good match.

In the meantime, I put the books aside and focused on my other career. I worked in several positions in national security from 2007 to 2011, spending most of the time on nuclear issues. I left an intelligence position to go on maternity leave and did not return. However, I still do some consulting on a part-time basis while I stay home with my daughter.

I stopped querying for a long time, but I kept reading about publishing and writing. I began seriously considering indie publishing in early 2012.

DV:  HOLY SHMOLY! You were a spy! Don’t try to convince me otherwise, I have decided that it is really cool to interview author and former spy, CJ. True or not, it is now my reality. (Big grin)

CJ:  Ha! I wish it was that exciting. Mostly I read a lot of emails.

DV:  I could so go down a rabbit hole here, so let me get back to your writing. When did you first know you wanted to become a writer?

CJ:  I’ve always imagined stories, and I made a few attempts throughout middle school and high school to write them down. I didn’t take fiction writing seriously for a long time, although I always excelled in academic writing. In high school and undergraduate, I struggled to get my papers long enough; I can’t write “fluff” the way some people can. In graduate school, clarity and conciseness were more appreciated. That validation of my natural writing style was encouraging.

I knew I loved writing, but I didn’t consider writing a novel until I was looking for a job in 2007. My husband had gotten a job in DC, which was in theory where my education had led us. But since I didn’t have a security clearance yet, my job hunt felt like hitting my head against a brick wall. I began writing The King’s Sword as something to do. In a new city, with my husband at work every day and discouraging job applications, it was nice to feel like I was participating in something big. I didn’t expect to ever publish the book. I received a job offer in the middle of the month and began work the first week of December, so it worked out well! As I mentioned, I put writing fiction aside for a while to focus on my career, and came back to it after my daughter was born.

DV:  What was the first fiction you ever wrote?

CJ:  The first? I can’t even remember. The earliest one I still have is a fanfic of The Scarlet Pimpernel that I think I wrote in seventh grade. I was so irritated by Marguerite! I had to fix her and make her a stronger character. Now, not only do I look back on my fanfic and laugh, I can laugh at my irritation with Marguerite. I’m not sure how much she was supposed to be a character in her own right… she serves more as a foil for Percy.

DV:  How does your family feel about you being an author?

CJ:  They’re proud! My husband and family all read and enjoyed The King’s Sword. My mother doesn’t read fantasy, but even she enjoyed it; I think she appreciated the realism. Her view of fantasy is rather dated, because there are amazing fantasy books out there. She thinks of fantasy as a lot of non-fantasy readers do – that it’s an excuse for magic and magic users to swoop in and solve everything. I wasn’t consciously going against that trope when I wrote The King’s Sword, but I am glad the book appeals to her.

DV:  Your author bio describes many of your hobbies and interests, including: making jewelry, baking, and teaching karate. How do these interests influence your writing?

CJ:  I tend to alternate between phases of making jewelry and writing. I enjoy them both, but sometimes I get stuck with a problematic scene or run out of inspiration for new jewelry pieces. Having a different creative outlet helps exercise my imagination without spinning my wheels on something that’s frustrating me. I’m working on improving my silversmithing skills. I think it’s very important for authors, and people in general, to be constantly learning and exploring. Facing challenges is a way to grow as a person. Technical challenges in a setting a stone in a pendant or editing a novel keep me interested and creative in solving problems.

I’m sure you could see the influence of karate in Kemen’s life! The biggest influence my karate experience had on him was actually his love of teaching. I enjoy teaching, but I don’t train soldiers. He does. The more I explored his experiences and his personality, the more I realized how important that responsibility would be to him. He’s tough and he’s supremely skilled, but he’s not harsh for the sake of being harsh. He’s demanding because he knows how important the skills are in keeping the men under his command alive. He cares about them.

DV:  Author, spy, ninja, and silversmith?? Plus your primary genre is fantasy? I may be developing a girl crush, here. What is your favorite fantasy story/series of all time?

CJ:  Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but I haven’t read as much fantasy as I would like. I didn’t read much fantasy after I began graduate school in 2005, and since then I’ve read more nonfiction and international fiction. Feel free to hunt me down on GoodReads and recommend some recent fantasy books.

Some of my all-time favorites are The Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis, and Children in the Night by Harold Myra (there are two other books in that series as well, but Children in the Night is truly phenomenal). I love The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, and A Wrinkle in Time as well. I enjoy Neil Gaiman and Guy Gavriel Kay.

DV:  What about urban fantasy, since I see you are working on a UF project?

CJ:  My project started as UF, but I’m not sure what it would called now. It’s something that fans of Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti would like. I enjoyed This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti and the Circle Cycle by Ted Dekker. I love Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. I’m not as well-read in UF as I’d like to be (again, please recommend books to me!).

My new project/series has something of the story-within-a-story that characterizes the Circle Cycle. It’s a fast-paced, urban adventure with monsters, brainwashing, a dystopian government, supernatural entities,  and a lot of questions about what it means to be human and how we relate to God. I am a Christian, and the books do have a Christian perspective, but I think others will enjoy it too.

DV:  That recommends list could get pretty long. I read all over the board in genre, but I always seem to circle back to Sci-fi/Fantasy. So, which would you rather be, spell caster or superhero?

CJ:  If I could cast spells, I would be a superhero! But I’m all about the good guys, so if it’s one or the other, I’ll go with superhero.

DV:  Any thoughts on what your superpower would be?

CJ:  Getting things done. I’m easily distracted by new shiny things, and I tend to overbook myself. I’d like to be superfast and have the ability to complete everything I intend to do.

DV:  How did you discover indie publishing and get started?

CJ:  I read several self-published ebooks from Amazon and even a few blog posts about self-publishing before I realized, “Hey, I could do that!”

I did query agents for a while, but despite some very positive feedback, I didn’t get the response that I’d hoped for. As the publishing world was changing so fast, I eventually decided that self-publishing might be the wiser choice anyway. Since I’d hoped for the validation of a publisher “picking” me, it was a difficult decision. I’m glad I choose to go indie, though. Creative control is important to me.

As the publishing world continues to change, I believe indie publishing is becoming even more appealing, not just for books that didn’t find traditional representation, but for those that have been traditionally published too. My only regret is that I didn’t publish The King’s Sword and A Cold Wind earlier.

DV:  What has been most challenging for you in self-publishing?

CJ:  The most challenging thing for me is getting publicity and attention. Although traditionally published authors have to do a great deal of their own marketing work too (unless they’re a HUGE name), I’m new to the marketing world. I blog on my website, and I love to connect with readers and other writers. Marketing is a never-ending task, and honestly, I don’t want to spend too much time on it. I’d rather spend time writing the next book!

The King’s Sword has picked up some good reviews, which is helpful and encouraging. Reviews are important, especially to indie authors, so it’s very much appreciated when readers take the time to rate and review a book.

DV:  The King’s Sword is the first book of the Erdemen Honor series. What made you decide to write this story?

CJ:  I discovered NaNoWriMo at the end of October 2007, so I spent several days outlining and planning before I could begin writing. The initial concept was a basic coming-of-age story, just told from the mentor’s perspective. As I began writing, I realized the story was at least as much about Kemen as about Hakan. I loved his voice and the way he described things. He wasn’t as hard and harsh as I’d thought. He was reserved, but he had a gentle, poetic streak that he kept hidden. The events of the story didn’t change too much as I wrote the novel, but the focus and layers changed from a simple adventure story to something with more depth. It’s not complicated, and I’m not sure I’d call it an epic fantasy. But there’s more to it than just adventure and sword-fighting.

DV:  Did you have the entire series mapped out before you began? How many more books will be in the series?

CJ:  No, I thought The King’s Sword would be the end. But I discovered the world had greater depth than I’d explored in the first book. I wanted to do more with the characters. The story arc of the first book was complete, though, so I needed a new book.

A Cold Wind is published and the third book, as yet untitled, is in progress. There’s also a fourth book set in the same world but much later in history with all new characters. That one is in progress as well. I’ve thought about a book 5, but don’t have plans for it at the moment. Each book ends at a satisfying place – there are no cliffhangers that leave you asking: “What???” The books follow naturally from each other and there are common threads, but you’re not going to be left angry and unsatisfied at the end of any of the books.

I’ve also written a few short stories in the same world: Street Fox (a prelude to book 4), Heroes (concurrent with book 4), and Color (after book 4). I have ideas for a few more short stories and novellas as well, but none in progress at the moment. You can find a recommended reading order on my website.

As far as my UF series, it’s much of a giant story, more like the Lord of the Rings or the Circle Cycle than a series of mostly self-contained books that deal with the same characters. I want to have the third book in that one drafted before I publish the first, because so much of the story is really interwoven from one book to the next.

DV:  How long did it take for you to write The King’s Sword?

CJ:  The first draft was done at the end of November 2007 (about a month), but it was very short and incomplete. I wrote it mostly in order. The internal story arcs weren’t evident in the text… I knew them, but I expected the reader to read between the lines entirely too much. Editing was largely a matter of filling in those gaps and took several months (I was working full-time too). My beta readers were essential.

DV:  What about book two, A Cold Wind? Was it easier or more difficult to write the second installment?

CJ:  A Cold Wind actually started with a scene near the end of the book. I had to figure out how to get my characters to that point; of course, by the time I got there, the scene had to be rewritten! But the process was very different – I had a better idea of where the story was going and how to get there, and I wrote a lot of scenes out of order, shifting between viewpoints. The first draft took about seven weeks.

Like The King’s Sword, it was very short. Editing was mostly a matter of adding in the depth and layers that were in my head but hadn’t made it onto the page. Editing was a little easier, because I’d learned so much from writing The King’s Sword. However, I did have a number of issues that took some time to resolve. One of the challenges of A Cold Wind was that although I knew Kemen, I didn’t know my other point of view character at all.

DV:  Living in near DC, did the political climate of the capital influence your perspective when writing about the King’s castle in Erdem?

CJ:  Not directly. I’m definitely aware of politics, but I don’t enjoy political infighting and didn’t want to make that the focus of the story.

DV:  What influence did your karate background have on Kemen’s fighting style?

CJ:  It was very influential. Writing a fight scene blow by blow isn’t the way to keep things interesting though… fighting can be very technical. If you detail everything, it slows the story down too much, and only another martial artist may understand what’s going on anyway. What’s important is the emotional impact of the action on the characters and bystanders.

But if you’re interested, I imagined Kemen using a blend of traditional Japanese karate and taekwondo, as well as Okinawan kobudo, or weapons techniques. I have experience in all of those, so I felt confident writing them, and I know they’re effective. However, I didn’t want his style to be an exact analogue. Erdem isn’t Japan, and the military is more akin to the Roman legions than samurai warriors. They have an appreciation for teamwork, military chain of authority, and education.

DV:  Speaking of fighting styles, Jedi or Ninja?

CJ:  Ninja.

DV:  I knew it! (Grin) If you were in Erdem, what would be your weapon of choice?

CJ: I like escrima sticks, which are basically a practice weapon for short swords, as well as any short club. I also like the bo, which is basically a long pole. Both of those exist in some form in Erdem. I would be terrible with Kemen’s favorite weapon, the long sword.

DV:  Would you say that A King’s Sword is more about Kemen or Hakan as told through Kemen’s eyes?

CJ:  I think it’s more about Kemen and about their friendship as it develops. Hakan draws Kemen out. But I do love Hakan’s character; the story isn’t primarily about him, but his growth is important to the story.

DV:  Which character was your favorite character to write?

CJ:  Is it cheating to say Kemen? I love how understated he is. I enjoy the contrast between what he thinks and what he actually says out loud. I love how he doesn’t think of himself as a hero; he can’t help doing what he thinks is right. He’s not perfect, but he is defined by honor.

DV:  Not cheating at all. Kemen is a strong character. There did not seem to be any magic in the world of Erdem. This is a bit of a departure from usual fantasy. Was this conscious choice or did it just evolve this way?

CJ:  I kept my mind open to places where it seemed appropriate, and it just never seemed like the right choice for this story. This world does not have magic – it would be too strange to introduce it at this point. I didn’t want magic to be a major factor, but I was open to it early on.

DV:  It seems like you went with traditional gender archetypes from sword-wielding days gone by. Do you plan to stick to this model, or will we see any heroic female characters in the future?

CJ:  This world, especially Kemen’s slice of it, does conform to traditional gender archetypes. I think you’ll see a slightly broader range of female characters in A Cold Wind, but it’s not a world where sword-wielding women make sense. There might be exceptions, but it wouldn’t be common. That said, women don’t have to handle swords to be heroic. My short story Heroes has a little girl who is pretty feisty. I might explore her story in more depth later.

My UF has some strong female characters, so I hope you’ll check it out when it’s published too!

DV:  The friendship that evolves between Kemen and Hakan is very strong. What relationships in your life inspired this relationship?

CJ:  It’s not based directly on any relationship in my life. But I spent several years working in the Pentagon, and I imagined the type of friendships men develop when going through something difficult such as war. Women don’t always get to see those forged-in-fire relationships, and men don’t demonstrate their friendships the way women do. I wanted to be true to the characters’ personalities when I showed their friendship and how it developed.

DV:  (Responding to some commotion) It sounds like our esteemed guest has arrived.

(Turning to King Hakan with a curtsey) Your Majesty, it is an honor to have you join us today.

King Hakan: Thank you for inviting me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

DV:  You have had an eventful year. Let’s go back to when you first fled the castle, what was your plan at that time?

King Hakan:  I didn’t have time to make a plan; I didn’t even have time to grab a cloak! When I first fled the palace, I thought my best course of action would be to head toward Rikuto and hope Ashmu Tafari would grant me refuge. I was not sure whether I wanted to be king at that point and was more concerned with staying alive than regaining my throne. Within an hour or so, I realized I’d be lucky not to freeze before I made it to the nearest town. If the assassins didn’t kill me first.

DV:  What was your first impression of Kemen upon initially meeting him?

King Hakan:  (hesitates) The first few moments, I was terrified. He’s… big, and he’s difficult to read. He hadn’t killed me yet, but… I’d heard reports that brigands were doing some unsavory things to travelers who got caught alone. He might have intended to rob or murder me, or worse.

It became apparent quickly that he wasn’t an ordinary bandit. But I didn’t realize who he was for quite some time. That was my fault; he told me his name the first day, but I’d forgotten the names of the officers my father had honored.

DV:  Why do you think that he was willing to help you?

King Hakan:  (snorts) He couldn’t help himself. If I hadn’t been the prince, he would have taken me to the nearest town, given me his last coins to pay for my lodging and then tramped off into the snow to be alone. Since I was prince, he couldn’t get away that easily; he was compelled by his own honor to protect me from assassins.

I think, at first, he wanted to take me to Rikuto himself and make me Tafari’s problem. It would have been easier for him.

DV:  Begging your pardon, but it sounds like you had a hard time adjusting to life on the road. What was most challenging for you during this time?

King Hakan:  (he straightens a little) I admit, the physical adjustment was difficult. I’d spent my life in the palace being pampered and coddled. When I tired of swordplay, my tutor didn’t have the authority to make me continue. I enjoyed riding and most of my studies, as well as singing, so my other tutors rarely had cause to discipline me, but when they did, they were limited to pleading with me that my father would be disappointed in their performance if I did not study harder. My father… was never pleased with me. Studying or not studying made little difference.

The most difficult physical ordeal I experienced before fleeing the assassins was a hunting trip when I was fourteen. A squall developed, and the wind and rain were so strong our tent collapsed. We had to ride four leagues back to the palace in the storm. From the first drop of rain to arriving back at the palace was perhaps five hours; the servants followed behind us after packing up the tent. I was responsible for only myself; servants carried the gear and cared for the horses once we returned.

Suddenly, after the coup, I was alone with a soldier who thought nothing of walking eight leagues through the snow. I thought I would freeze, my feet blistered, my shoulders ached, and my lungs were not used to the exertion. I was always tired and sore. I can laugh at myself now, but I struggled then. It didn’t help that Kemen seemed to find everything easy.

DV:  People seem to fear Kemen based on his appearance. Why do you think that is? How long did it take for you to get past this fear?

King Hakan:  (chews his lip a moment, as if considering his words) Well, he’s a good head taller than most Tuyets, and he’s obviously a soldier. Men of arms sometimes intimidate civilians for no reason other than their familiarity with weapons. He is difficult to read at any time, and his dark skin makes it even more difficult to interpret his expressions, especially in dim light. Now that I know him better, I realize he hides his emotions out of long habit.

He doesn’t give you anything to work with in his words, either; he’s terse, bordering on rude at times. It was more pronounced when I first met him; he’s softened since then. He might not have told you, but he’d been in a kind of self-imposed exile for several years. I think he’d gotten out of practice at speaking to anyone.

He probably understated it, but Dari are not always treated well in Erdem. It’s a problem I’d like to address. Perhaps some hate him because he’s Dari. More likely, most people fear him because they fear retribution for what Tuyets have done in the past.

Once I realized he wasn’t a bandit, I was no longer afraid of him. But I was intimidated. If you’d met him, you’d understand why. He gives off this air of supreme competence; on anyone else it would be arrogance, but he’s too quiet for that. Just… competence. Nothing ever flusters him. He never looks fatigued, worried, or concerned. He makes you want to sit up straighter and answer questions with a “sir” at the end.

DV:  On more than one occasion, you offered your throne to Kemen. Why?

King Hakan:  (quick, embarrassed laugh) Erdem needs a strong leader. We need someone who loves this country, who is wise enough to guide us back to the glory we had generations ago. I’m… (looks down) I’m not entirely sure I can be that king. Kemen could, if he had good advisors.

He’s not a politician. My fear, if he’d accepted the throne, would be that someone would stab him in the back. He wouldn’t expect it. As much as he drilled me on guarding against an opponent’s treachery, he doesn’t think like a snake, and he wouldn’t be as wary as a king must be.

I don’t believe my father died of natural means. I don’t know if I’ll ever know who did it. I hope it was either Vidar or, more likely, Taisto. I have no proof.

Kemen was probably wise to turn down the throne. It’s… knowing him, he couldn’t accept it. Perhaps it was cowardice that made me offer it. Fear. But he’s right; it is my responsibility to reign. A crown is heavy, though.

DV:  How does a king find a suitable wife? Do you have anyone in mind?

King Hakan:  A king may court whom he pleases. My father’s marriage was not happy, though, and I wish to be cautious.

DV:  You heard it here, ladies, another eligible bachelor! (Smiling) Seriously though, how has close contact with your citizens influenced you as a new ruler? Does this context make the weight of crown any easier to bear?

King Hakan:  I’m changing a number of the tax laws. I didn’t realize how poor the people were; my life was even more privileged and sheltered than I’d realized. I don’t wish to make myself poor; that isn’t the job of a king. But the taxes could be more fairly applied.

I will rely on Kemen for advice on how to address the border incursions by the Tarvil.

I have plans for several schools for common children, similar to those for the foundlings who serve the army. It will be some time before the schools are ready to operate, but I am excited about offering new opportunities. Education is important, and I think it will benefit Erdem if more people are better educated.

I am also considering some way to offer loans from the treasury for business development. Trade diminished greatly during my father’s reign and the country suffered for it. I’m not sure whether it would be most effective to have the trade minister manage trade with Rikuto directly, or serve more as oversight for private businesses. It is difficult to make wise decisions with so little historical information.

As for whether my experiences the last year has made the crown easier to bear, no. Quite the opposite. Before, I considered the consequences of my actions in the abstract, and it was frightening. Now, I have faces to imagine as I sign edicts into law. Yet… I am stronger than I was.

DV:  How have you grown since you fled the castle?

King Hakan:  How haven’t I? (smiles) I’m not afraid of ruling. I’m cautious, and there is a weight to the responsibility, but I am not afraid. Kemen taught me that.

DV:  I am getting the times up signal from one of your advisors. I know that you need to get back to your Kingdom. Thank you for stopping by, Your Majesty. We appreciate your time. (another curtsey)

King Hakan:  Thank you for your interest. If you are ever in Erdem, please allow me to offer the hospitality of the palace. (He is quickly swept out of the room)

DV:  Wow. What an impressive young man. If I were younger . . .(laughing). Thank you for coordinating his visit.

Ok, C.J., back to you . . . if you were going to cast your characters with current actors, who would play Kemen? How about Hakan?

CJ:  I try to avoid thinking of actors in the lead roles, because I don’t want to prejudice how I write the characters. I found some good headshots a few years ago that fit the general look, but they’re not online anymore.

DV:  What songs might be included on the soundtrack?

CJ:  I’d hope to get a new score for the movie! Preferably by John Williams, and mostly instrumental, like the soundtrack for The Lord of the Rings.

DV:  When you finished the book, how did you celebrate?

CJ:  Ha! When I finished the first draft, I was sad for about a week because it was over, and then I realized I had to write A Cold Wind. I celebrated when I finished editing. My husband and I went out to eat and I got some decadent dessert. I forget what it was… possibly chocolate cheesecake.

DV:  Speaking of dessert . . . what is your chocolate of choice: milk, dark, or white?

CJ:  Dark.

DV:  Good answer, everyone knows I love the dark side (grin). Is this going to be a tradition now when you finish your books?

CJ:  Next time we will celebrate better! I’ve never had a book launch party, and I’d love to have one.

DV:  That sounds like a lot of fun! Do you have any other milestones that you celebrate as an author?

CJ:  I was really proud when I published The King’s Sword. The book had been ready for years but I hadn’t made the decision to jump into self-publishing. I’m glad I did. The story deserves to be shared, and I’m glad people are enjoying it. Selling the first copy was incredibly exciting. Friends and family have bought copies, but my very first sale was actually to someone I didn’t know, so that was momentous. I still appreciate every sale.

DV:  Who was the first person you let read the completed story? What did he/she have to say about it?

CJ:  I sent the completed first draft out to a group of beta readers, Andi, June, Peggy, and Garry. That first draft had problems (every first draft does!), but they pointed out that the problems weren’t “first novel” problems. That was actually very encouraging – they saw what I wanted to do with the book and believed in it. June in particular helped me realize what gaps needed to be filled so that the story on paper was the story I imagined. I really appreciate their help and excitement.

DV:  What has it been like to have fans? Any particularly cool fan moments?

CJ:  The first fans were actually writing buddies that I shared bits and pieces with as I wrote, as well as the whole thing once it was completed. Several of them said that parts of The King’s Sword and A Cold Wind made them laugh out loud or brought tears to their eyes. One of them was proud to be the first Kemen fangirl. Kemen and Hakan both have fans now, and I love knowing other people care about my characters.

DV:  How about you as a fan . . . what are the top five books that you read this past year?

CJ:  1421: The Year China Discovered America – Gavin Menzies
Shardik – Richard Adams
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
Red – Ted Dekker
Under Heaven – Guy Gavriel Kay

DV:  Hunger Games and Under Heaven were also high on my list last year . . . more fuel for the girl crush! What about now, what are your currently reading?

CJ: Wolf Totem – Jiang Rong (translation by Howard Goldblatt)
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China – Jung Chang
The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order – Samuel P. Huntington
Perdido Street Station – China Mieville

DV:  We touched on your Urban Fantasy project earlier. Can you share any details about that project?

CJ: I’m working on the first edit of the first book and beginning the first draft of the third book in the series. I think there will probably be four books in the series. If you’re interesting in finding out when it’s available, probably early next year, please sign up for my newsletter. I send out newsletters only a few times a year, so I won’t clog up your inbox or anything.

DV:  Excellent! You heard it here, SSV fans. Comment below with your name & email address if you are interested in beta reading for CJ and I will forward your information along to her.

CJ, again, thank you so much for participating in the interview.

CJ:  Thank you! It’s been fun.

o-o-o-o

Aren’t you super-excited to check out her books? Never fear, SSV fans! You can win a copy of one of her books by sharing your favorite sword-wielder with us. Just click on this Swashbuckler Giveaway for contest details and check out the book review for the King’s Sword.

Cover Reveal: Almost Adept by Olga Godim

~ COMING SOON ~

Available January 6, 2014

For the seventeen-year-old mage Eriale, magic is a source of joy, and she often uses her magic to solve problems. Unfortunately, such solutions sometimes get out of hand. Her latest magical caper was a disaster, so she has to leave home in a hurry but she decides to turn her shameful fleeing into a quest to prove her Adept potential. She expects a glittering foreign escapade but ends up in Grumesh, the land rife with treachery and violence. A local courier Kealan becomes her only friend and ally. Together, they survive an explosion, a treacherous incarceration, and a daring escape. Sparks of interest ignite between them, but before Eriale can explore her attraction to Kealan, she discovers blood magic ruining amok in the city. Her priorities must change. As an aspiring Adept, she is duty-bound to find and eliminate the blood mage of Grumesh. She can’t allow her budding romance to distract her, or the blood magic will taint the entire land. No matter the cost—her life or her heart—she can’t let the vile mage win.

Mark your calendars!

Olga Godim’s new novel, Almost Adept, will be available on January 6, 2014.

Keep an eye out for SSV’s book review and other plans in the works!

~*-*~

You can find out more about Olga Godim’s work by checking out her website.

Little Ones of Holda In ~ Short Story

“There’s trouble coming, son. Take your sister and hide in the basement. Remember, always survive. Live to survive.”

Solemn brown eyes in thin oval face were bright with fear and determination. The sharp edges of his nose, cheeks and jawline become prominently displayed as every muscle in the young boy’s body coils close to act. His only answer was to give his Father a single nod of understanding and then he was off to gather his sister and minor provisions.

A tiny little girl with lopsided pigtail braids, bright smile and tattered boys clothes sat at a chipped wooden desk. Homemade ink splattered across her right hand as she tried to draw a lizard on an old magazine. Igwa the lizard was a present that her Father had given to her as a birthday present that year. She loved it! Her older brother called it a lazy animal but she didn’t care. She loved the way it scampers across the floor and flicks its tongue out to eat bugs. She was just about to finish drawing the spines on the back when her brother tapped her shoulder.

She looked over her shoulder and beamed at her brother. “Guguh! Look, I’m drawing Igwa!”

The boy’s sharp features softened as he looked at his sister. “That looks great! We have to go and play the hiding game. You ready to play?”

“Yes! I remember. We have to be quiet, take our bag and go hide.”

“That’s right. Go get your bag and be ready to go in one minute. Ok?”

“Ok, Guguh!”

As the youngest Park scootched off her seat and ran to get her backpack, the young boy moved to grab a water filter, a large bottle of water and the flat cakes that their Father had made for breakfast. He threw everything into a bag that already held a change of clothes for each of them and zipped it closed. He swung it onto his back and met his sister by the main door to their suite of rooms. He put a finger against his lips and she nodded. He opened the door slowly and listened hard.

Nothing.

Nothing but the rush of blood pumping hard in his chest. The angry hiss of him trying to breathe sounded too loud. So loud that anyone could hear it. He knew it was nothing but fear spiking into paranoia but he couldn’t strangle it silent. Taking a big breath, the young boy that has yet to see his teen years, took his baby sister’s hand and they ran down the shadowed hallway, past the stairwell, rusting metal doors, and stopped at the maintenance closet just long enough to open the door and closet themselves inside.

His heart pounded louder than their soft footfalls on the carpet when they ran in the hallway. He put one hand on the wall and held onto the little one with the other. Uneven texture of pitted and paint peeling wall turned into a cold rusted metal. He pulled the chute open and whispered, “Remember to keep your arms and legs together and roll once you get to the bottom. Ok?”

“Ok,” she whispered back. She felt him pick her up, and she gave him a quick hug and kiss on his chin before he placed her into the chute. There was a moment where nothing happened at all and then she was off! She almost gave out a whoop of glee before she remembered that they were playing the hiding game.

The little girl loved the way the world seem to pass by in a hissing whoosh. She knew she was falling but it felt more like an adventure ride that ends in a pile of old pillows. She couldn’t help but giggle when she landed with a whumph and a cloud of dust danced into the air. She was about to jump up and down on the pillows but remembered to roll away instead and hide behind the large grey laundry cart. She tucked into herself, became as small as she could be and waited. She started to count to a hundred the way her Father taught her to.

One one thousand.

Two one thousand.

Three one thousand.

Her bubbly joy began to fade as she reached the thirties without a sign of her brother and started to count into the forties. A ping of unease wove into her heart and the palms of her little hands became moist. The feeling of foreboding crept over her slowly with the passing of each thousand and she was ready to give up on the game when a hissing noise tempered the silence and a darker figure flew into the air to land with a whumph! She didn’t wait like she’s suppose to. She ran fast as lightning, threw herself on her brother and hugged him tight.

“I was scared, Guguh.” she whispered into his side. Her eyes closed tight. She felt him hug her back awkwardly, patting her thin shoulder.

“Shh– shhh. It’s ok. Don’t forget the rules. We have to be very quiet and hide. Let’s go hide in the basement storage room. We’ll hide until Father finds us.”

The little girl nodded. One of her pigtails loosened and wavy little locks of blue black hair bounced as she moved her head. This time, she grabbed her brother’s hand and held tight. Her small, heart shaped face no longer held a bright smile.

They moved quickly in an almost jog. He lead her in a maze of turns that they both knew well. The whole building was their home, haven and playground. They knew every inch of it. Though, he had a better grasp of it than she did. The darkness didn’t frighten them. It never did. It would be hard to live in the desolate wastelands if one is afraid of the dark. Yet, the tension in the young boy’s frame only coiled tighter and the littlest Park could feel it. She didn’t understand why but she could feel that there’s something wrong.

It didn’t take long for them to reach the small storage room. He was careful to lift the door slightly and then open it. Otherwise, it would make a screeching squeal of worn and rusting metal. He tapped her on the back to let her know to go in. She felt for the edge of the door frame and walked in slowly with her hands held up in front of her. She only took seven steps into the room before turning around. She listened hard.

A noise of cloth moving against cloth. A huff of breathe. A ting-cked of metal and a definite click of the door setting into the place.

“Guguh?” she whispered.

“Go to the corner. We’ll wait on the little couch.” he whispered back.

They settled down onto the old, lumpy couch. He unrolled a blanket that their Father had left down there and pulled it over them. “We may be here for a while. Why don’t you try and take a nap?”

He felt her nod her head against his narrow chest and she snuggled in closer. It was a while before her breathing evened out in sleep. He tried to keep himself occupied by going over the plans for surviving in the desert. What to do if their Father didn’t come for them by nightfall. What he would have to do to keep them both safe until they reached Dodge City. It wasn’t safe for kids to be out in the desert alone.

Trouble was the code for raiders. Raiders came to toss Holda once every few years. Different ones for different reasons. The world’s gone to hell in a hurry when the bombs were let loose. Now everything is a wasteland and life is far from normal. Survival wasn’t for the smartest or the most fit. It was for whoever was strong enough to fight for life and smart enough to keep it going after victory.

Disjointed memories flooded his mind. He couldn’t just sit there and think about plans. No matter how many times he went over it all, it may not matter one whit. It could have been a false alarm. The Holda people may fight off the raiders. Their Father may die in the fight. Memories of the last big raid pushed over his denials and clogged his brain.

Screams.

The sharp Hai of fighting turned into harsh denials that turned into screams of fear and pain.

Dark red.
Everywhere.
It flowed quickly like a creature with a mind of its own. Searching for him. It came so close. Within inches of his face before stopping. A thin flow of red that grew thicker and darker. The rounded edges bloomed and made a lake of red out of the thin flow.

It grew each time Mother screamed.
Her screams grew hoarse and weak.
Wet sounds and masculine grunts took over.

He doesn’t remember when she stopped screaming.
When she stopped making any noise at all.
But the grunting and cursed filled satisfaction of the strangers didn’t stop.

He woke up in the darkness with a jerk and a whimpering scream clawing his throat dry. A rush of fear driven adrenaline and heat flooded his system. The cold quickly ate away the jagged warmth from his uncovered face as knowledge of where he was took root. An uncomfortable weight pushed down in his tummy. It didn’t help that the little one was snuggled tight against his side. He needed to go but he didn’t want to do it in the room.

He froze.

A loud clank and the sound of people moving. Muffled voices. He shook his little sister awake with a hand over her mouth. It muffled her questions. Her sleepy confusion. He put his lips near her ear and whispered fiercely, “Keep quiet and stand up with me. People are coming. They may find us. If it’s not Father, we have to run. Ok? Just nod your head.”

She nodded.

They stood up. He reached into the cushions of the couch and pulled out a metal rod. He rolled his shoulders and loosened his muscles. They were light from sleep but sore and tingling from were the littlest Park slept on him. He put her hand on edge of the back of his shirt. She knew to stand there. To be out of the way if he had to fight. To run.

Only minutes passed as the noises and voices grew louder but it felt like eons to the children. They waited. Growing more tense as time edged by. They didn’t have to wait too long before the heavy metal door was thrown open with a screaming metallic clash.

The shadowed outlines of a large man filled the doorway and wetness quickly puddled in the young boy’s pants as his bladder let go. The sharp smell of fresh urine filled the air and his body shook in shame wrapped fear.

With a roar of defiance, he tore away from his sister and rushed the enemy.

The Chimera Vector ~ Nathan M. Farrugia

The Chimera Vector cover

  • Title: The Chimera Vector
  • Author: Nathan M. Farrugia
  • Genre: Action & Adventure
  • Format: E-book
  • Source: Courtesy of the author
  • Reviewed by: Emma – The Greedy Reader
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  The Fifth Column: the world’s most powerful and secretive organization. They run our militaries. They run our governments. They run our terrorist cells.

Recruited as a child, Sophia is a deniable operative for the Fifth Column. Like all operatives, Sophia’s DNA has been altered to augment her senses and her mind is splintered into programmed subsets.

On a routine mission in Iran something goes catastrophically wrong. Bugs are beginning to appear in Sophia’s programming and the mission spins out of control.

High-speed chases, gun fights, helicopter battles, immortal psychopaths, super soldiers and mutant abilities are all in the mix in this edge-of-your-seat action-packed techno-thriller.

Review:
A copy of the Chimera Vector was supplied to me by the author for review. This has not influenced my review of this work.

I must confess that this book was a pleasant surprise to me. It’s well written, with real intrigue and suspense. The reason I say it was a pleasant surprise is because many indie published books are let down somewhat by the poor punctuation and grammar, but I’m pleased to say this was not much of an issue with The Chimera Vector. Mr Farrugia has really taken time to present this work in its best possible light, and for that I thank him for his attention to detail.

Mr Farrugia has a very complex imagination and a vast knowledge of his subject matter. However, I found some of the descriptive passages in the story to be a bit too fact dense for me to fully understand. My lack of scientific expertise didn’t interfere with my overall enjoyment of the story, which leads me to conclude that some of the techno-speak could be omitted or simplified for the benefit of the average layperson such as myself.

My favourite character was Sophia and I admired the fact that Nathan made the main character in an action book female. I enjoyed how he revealed her back-story throughout the book and finding out how she, Jay and Damien came to be involved in the 5th Column.

My main criticism of this book was that it lacked a certain finesse, that extra added layer in the writing, that really gives the reader an emotional connection to the story and the characters.  You know when you read certain passages in a book and you feel what the author was feeling, it draws you in and you really care for the characters and what they’re going through; you can’t stop turning pages and thinking about the characters even when you’re not reading it. In places, he almost got there, but it felt like he bailed just before he arrived. Perhaps it needs a little less “tell” and a little more “show” to fully engage the reader. Without it the story is a little disjointed. With smoother transitions it would be an easier, more satisfying read.

My criticisms of this book are really not negatives. They are simply my observations that, as a reader, would really improve the overall quality of the writing. However, this is certainly one of the best self-published books that I’ve read in a while, and I see genuine potential in Nathan as a writer. There is much to admire and I will be interested to see how Mr Farrugia’s writing develops.

All told, readers of action-packed adventure books will love this read. The action is non-stop, relentless, from beginning to end. I would love to have been able to give this book a higher rating than 3.5*, but for that to happen it needs a bit less head and a little more heart. C’mon, Nathan, I know you’ve got it in you!


Evil Villain Contest Winner

SHOW US YOUR DARK SIDE!!!

An International Contest

Enough talk about the GOOD guys and heroes! It’s time for the VILLAINS to come out and celebrate! What would the heroes do without a bad guy? Wallow in self pity? Bask in a boring life without tension, excitement and crazy experiments to save the day? Villains get a bad rep but they’re in the spotlight and on center stage this week on Silk Screen Views!

Are you ready?
Here’s the Evil Winner!

Evil Villain:  Gerald Tarrant
Coldfire Trilogy by C.S. Friedman

Susan:  You have a guy who in the beginning of the trilogy murders his own wife and children for power. How then could you possibly identify with such a person? He is evil personified. Someone who does not compromise in the pursuit of his goals. He will chase down victims in a vampiric manner. But then you understand *why*. That doesn’t lessen the impact of what he did, but you understand it. *That* is an anti-hero, I guess, but, evil? Oh yeah.

PRIZE:  eBook of First of Her Kind   by K.L. Schwengel

The Coldfire trilogy tells a story of discovery and battle against evil on a planet where a force of nature exists that is capable of reshaping the world in response to psychic stimulus. This terrifying force, much like magic, has the power to prey upon the human mind, drawing forth a person’s worst nightmare images or most treasured dreams and indiscriminately giving them life. This is the story of two men: one, a warrior priest ready to sacrifice anything and everything for the cause of humanity’s progress; the other, a sorcerer who has survived for countless centuries by a total submission to evil. They are absolute enemies who must unite to conquer an evil greater than anything their world has ever known.

o–o-o–o

If you haven’t done it yet, head on over to read the Author Interview for K.L. Schwengel and see a bit of what’s behind the screen of this author. Read Bookaholic Olga’s review of  First of Her Kind and get a peek into the story.

Find out more about K.L. Schwengel and her work on her website.

 

The Land of Painted Caves ~ Jean Auel

  • Title: The Land of Painted Caves
  • Author: Jean Auel
  • Series: Earth’s Children #6
  • Genre: Prehistoric Romance (?)
  • Format: Hardback
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: GRD
  • Rating: 1 out of 5

Description:  The highly anticipated sixth book of Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children® series, The Land of Painted Caves, is the culmination fans have been waiting for. Continuing the story of Ayla and Jondalar, Auel combines her brilliant narrative skills and appealing characters with a remarkable re-creation of the way life was lived more than 25,000 years ago. The Land of Painted Caves is an exquisite achievement by one of the world’s most beloved authors.

Review:  Oh dear. The description above already says it all really: even the publishers haven’t got a clue what the plot of this book is, so all they can do is rave about generic things.

But let me start at the beginning. Most people looking to buy or read this book will have read the entire series prior to this. They maybe got bored reading part five, which is entirely understandable, because I certainly did. So here they are, wondering whether they should bother with part six.

For those people I have one piece of advice: Don’t. Seriously, just leave it be. Spend your money and time on something more worthwhile, like painting your walls and then watching them dry.

Technically you could stop reading here, because you have your answer, but if you’re curious as to why, do keep reading. For the completely uninitiated, this book is the sixth and last (hurray!) part in the Earth’s Children series. I’ll give a quick rundown of books one to five:

The Clan of the Cave Bear is a brilliant, gripping tale of a prehistoric girl, Ayla, who loses her family in an earthquake and ends up being raised by a tribe of Neanderthals. Five stars.

The Valley of Horses is a gripping tale of Ayla’s struggle for survival after being expelled from the tribe, interspersed with the adventures of Jondalar and his brother as they go on a big walking trip, until the two finally meet. Five stars.

The Mammoth Hunters is a pretty gripping tale of Ayla’s struggle to understand, and fit in with, other people of her own race, and the subsequent misunderstandings between her and Jondalar. Throughout the book I wanted to slap them both silly for being idiots, so four stars.

The Plains of Passage is a tale of the year-long trip Ayla and Jondalar have to take to go back to Jondalar’s home. A decent read if you don’t mind half of your book being descriptions of the landscape they’re travelling through and mammoths having sex. Three stars.

The Shelters of Stone is about when they finally reach Jondalar’s home. To be honest, I don’t really remember much about it other than some incident with some really tight leather shorts. (Down, fetishists! It wasn’t as exciting as it sounds.) Two stars.

And then this one which is about… Well… What is it about? I’m not sure anyone really knows, because I’ve rarely read a book which lacked a plot as much as this one did.

Let me try anyway. People familiar with the series will know by now that Ayla is some sort of combination of Wonder Woman, Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci, having invented pretty much everything from the domestication of wild animals to stitching up wounds. If there’s ever a book seven she’ll probably invent the wheel as well. Oh, but she’s not perfect, because she can’t sing. I can just imagine Jean Auel desperately trying to think of something to ensure that us normal mortals can relate to Ayla, before coming up with that. Anyway, in this book she has to learn to be even more awesome and become the tribe’s main shaman-type person.

Jondalar is the perfect man and the perfect lover. Well, not to me because he’s blond, so he can keep his oversized penis away from my vagina, but that’s by the by. Except he’s not smart enough to realise that shagging your ex-girlfriend repeatedly because your wife is too busy watching the sun go down is a Bad Thing To Do.

So anyway, the books have always been pretty heavy on description. Auel has done a shedload of research into both the time period and how to survive in the wild, to the point that if the books were illustrated, you’d probably be just as good at surviving out in the wilderness with Auel’s back catalog as you would be if you had Bear Grylls with you. This was fine in the earlier books, because it supplemented the plot. In book six, there is little else but description. Jondalar’s tribe lives in what is now southern France, near the Lascaux caves which are full of prehistoric art. Most of the book consists of detailed descriptions of the pictures in these caves. Or maybe it wasn’t, but it sure felt like it, and I can remember little else about this book. Even the sex was boring.

So, to wrap this up, here’s some more advice:

~ If you’re interested in the Lascaux cave art, get yourself one of those pretty, glossy coffee table photo books, not this piece of drivel.

~ If you’ve only just started reading this series, stop at book three, or maybe book four, because it does have some good bits, and know this: Ayla goes home with Jondalar, they have a kid and they live happily ever after. Because really? That’s all you need to know about how this series ends. One star.