Fiction Blog, Guest Posts, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Geeky Things

Guest Post: Fear and Loathing in My Mind by Michael Bolan

Today, I’m pleased to welcome author Michael Bolan. He’s celebrating the launch of his new novel, The Stone Bridge, the third book in his Devil’s Bible historical fantasy series. (You can read my review of the first novel, The Sons of Brabant, here. Michael talks about the power of fear and describes the literary villains that still terrify him — did your favorites make the list?


sons-of-brabantWhen I was a young child, my parents moved us from the huddled safety of a village to the remote isolation of a newly-built house in the country. During the day, life was idyllic, with acres of space to run around, the beauty of nature everywhere, was so peaceful. At night, however, darkness fell, and brought with it a silence and foreboding I had never before experienced.

I had grown used to falling asleep with a dull glow sneaking through the crack in the curtains, the streetlights standing sentinel over my bed. In the countryside, there’s no light other than the moon, and in foggy, wet old Ireland, she’s loath to put in an appearance. The darkness of the countryside is the blackest of phenomena that no city dweller could contemplate. And alone in the darkness, with hours to wait before sunrise, a child’s imagination conjures the most devilish creatures and wickedest monsters.

I was a happy child, the typical mix of shyness and confidence that only a child can be, but in the stygian gloom, I was scared. Had you asked me to elucidate my fears, I would have struggled. After all, what did I really think would happen? In fact, if I had rationally worked through the list of possible outcomes, I may have realised that there was no monster, no tarantula, nothing coming to get me at all.

As a reader, I have dabbled with many genres, but I have always had a love/ hate relationship with horror. I don’t like being scared, but I do. IYKWIM. The problem that I have with most horror is that it’s just not scary. Maybe shocking or gruesome, but nothing that would turn my blood cold like those dark nights alone in bed. Just as voicing my fears as a child would have allayed them, so too does the written word. A gory murder scene? Predictable. But the thought of deliberately harming my loved ones in a fit of rage – now that raises the hairs on my neck.

What does it for me is me. My mind. My fears.

You asked me once, what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.
— O’Brien, 1984

Orwell had it right. Horror, and fear, is different for everyone, which makes the genre so challenging. But for me, the key to fear is to leave plenty to the reader’s imagination. It’s the not knowing that causes the heart to pump in a fight-or-flight reflex, it’s the suspense that is what we dread, not the denouement.

However, thankfully millennia of fascination with scary stories has produced some fairly bone-chilling baddies, and here are a few of my favourites:

1. Hannibal Lecter works as a villain in a way that Freddie Krueger can never manage. The sophisticated doctor of Thomas Harris’ books eats people, but is more concerned with the wine pairing that with the evil of his deeds. There’s a sense of dread in imagining what he will do next, and how directly you as a reader might be involved.

2. A Clockwork Orange has been cloaked in scandal since it was released, but it’s not the beatings or the rape or the brutal murders that make Alex scary: it’s the fact that he simply doesn’t accept that he has done anything wrong. His sense of purpose protects him from any humanising emotion. “Unfortunately there is so much original sin in us all that we find evil rather attractive. To devastate is easier and more spectacular than to create.”

hidden-elements3. Shakespeare’s Iago is a twisted manipulator, whose only motive for his evil seems to be that he enjoys it. Why would he wreak such destruction on someone he once called friend? Spite, jealousy, selfishness – Iago is a creature of the basest emotions. If he can’t have something, then no-one else will.

4. Mr. Hyde is a representation of the darkness that lives in all of us. That’s why he’s scary. How far would you go, what would you do, if you were pushed far enough? If each I told myself could be housed in separate identities life would be relieved of all that was unbearable. Hyde’s actions are bad enough, but the thought that he could be us or we could be him, now that’s truly scary.

5. If Mr. Hyde is ‘us’, then O’Brien from 1984 is definitely ‘them’. We all know that Big Brother is watching us, but O’Brien embodies the fear that someone or something knows what we are thinking: our hopes and fears, the brightest and the darkest of what is within us. His cruelty to Winston is usually what attracts attention, but it’s the depth of his understanding of Winston, and his simultaneous commitment to the cause, that is truly scary. “Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or laughter. You will be hollow.”

6. A dinner-party companion once described Heathcliff as a romantic hero. After I had wiped up the food that had sprayed from my mouth and apologised for my lack of manners, I offered my humble viewpoint. That his cruelty does not stem from his love of Cathy, but rather that he’s simply a sadistic bully. His weapons of choice are not only brutal violence, but insidious mental cruelty and neglect, meticulously planned and executed on those weaker than himself.

7. Lady Macbeth’s descent into evil is entirely of her own making. Seeing an opportunity to advance her husband, and hence herself, she invites evil into herself, feeding on its strength to achieve her goals. Once she has crossed that threshold, nothing is off limits. She loses her mind and eventually dies, but not before half the protagonists. Come, you spirits, That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe topful, Of direst cruelty!

8. The dichotomy of Cathy Ames’ alluring presence and her ‘malformed soul’ creates a sense of loathing in Steinbeck’s East of Eden. She believes that there is only evil in the world and, like Lady Macbeth, surrenders herself to it fully. She sees the good in others, but doesn’t understand it, so she uses others’ trust to achieve her own parasitic ends. Had she been alive a century earlier, they would have burnt Cathy at the stake.

9. Devotion to a cause is a common foundation for evil, and nowhere more so than with Star Trek’s Borg Queen, leader of a vast hive of forcedly-assimilated half human, half cyborgs. Her unwavering focus on the modern-communist Borg vision and an insatiable thirst for more bodies mean that no-one cannot be bettered by joining her collective, despite their screams of protest. Couple this with graphic visuals (her head and spine being lowered into a cyborg body) and a touch of ice-cold sensuality and you have the ultimate terrifying, if slightly sexy, baddie.

10. Rounding off the Top 10 is Reinald, Duke of Brabant from the Devil’s Bible Series. Sociopathic, psychopathic, schizophrenic, soulless, Reinald is only too eager to commit acts of senseless brutality because he wanted “to do the right thing”. Not only does he kill his brother, he seeks to destroy the entire world because there is nothing of substance in his. I’ll never forget the first time I saw his eyes clearly – there were beyond dead – like a Gorgon, they sucked the life out of everything they saw.

Nowadays, as I climb into bed an older and wiser version of my young, scared self, I have a (more or less) self-assured sense of confidence that these baddies are resigned to the page and celluloid, so I sleep a little more soundly than I used to. In any case, I am assured by my wife that my snoring would scare off the most fearsome of predators, so I guess I’m safe for now.


sb-cover-webThe Stone Bridge

The Rapture continues to wreak havoc across Europe in its quest to acquire the elemental Seals, the only thing preventing the Devil’s Bible from purging the world in fire. Brought to Prague by the Fianna, the Seals’ only protection lies in the secrecy that shrouds them.

Reinald, leader of the Rapture, enlists the world’s greatest minds to free the Devil’s Bible from the depths of Prague Castle, where it has languished under lock and key for centuries. Meanwhile, the plans of the Four Horsemen unfold, wreaking havoc and misery across the entire continent.

Not content with forcing his siblings from their ancestral home, Reinald sends a vast army to harry and persecute them, forcing them to flee ever eastwards. Taking shelter with their friends, Willem, Leo and Isabella commit to one last act of bravery, making a final stand to defend the city of Prague.

As each nation commits its final resources into the conflict, all roads lead to the Stone Bridge that divides Prague, where the Sons of Brabant and their Fianna allies will face the ultimate test of their strength.


More About Michael

It took Michael Bolan over two decades of running in the corporate ratrace to realise that all he actually did was tell stories.

There was no Damascene revelation for Bolan which caused him to pen his first work of fiction, “The Sons of Brabant”. An avid reader, he simply felt that he could do as good a job as many of the authors he read and decided to put his money where his mouth was.

Living and working in many countries left him with smatterings of a dozen languages and their stories, and his love for history focused his ideas on the Thirty Years War, the most destructive conflict that the continent has ever seen.

Now living in Prague (again), Michael brings alive the twisted alleys of the 17th century and recreates the brooding darkness of a fractured Europe, where no-one was entirely sure who was fighting whom.

Michael writes while liberally soused in gin, a testament to Franz de le Boë, who was mixing oil of juniper with neat spirit while the Thirty Years War raged around him.

His website (http://www.michaelbolan.org) is a place where he can post his thoughts and feelings – along with reviews of books he finds lying around the internet.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/michaelbolan225
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/michaelbolan225
LinkedIn: cz.linkedin.com/in/bolanov
Author Central: https://www.amazon.com/author/michaelbolan

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

How to Handle Book Reviews: Good, Bad, and Ugly

read-1702616_640.jpgBook reviews are the lifeblood of books. A healthy rating encourages potential readers to buy, makes an author eligible for merchandising from retail sites, and improves a book’s overall ranking on those sites. However, if enough readers read your book, eventually you’re going to get a bad review (probably several). Those dreaded one-star ratings are the cost of exposure.

After hearing a few author horror stories on the subject of reviews, I wanted to provide a public service announcement of sorts. Sure, several other authors have written on this topic already, but just in case mine is the first you read (or you want another opinion), here is my advice for how to handle your book reviews: good, bad, or ugly.

First, it is important to remember that you are not your book. Reviews are a subjective reaction to your creative work and not you as a person. (We’ll get to the 1% in which this is not the case in a bit.)

Personally, I try not to read reviews (good, bad, or ugly). This is not to say that I don’t try to cultivate them, or that I do not appreciate them (Seriously, if you’ve reviewed one of my books, thank you!). However, I know myself. A bad review can temporarily shatter my confidence and ruin a whole writing day. That’s not worth it to me, my work, or my readers.

My solution? I have my husband check my reviews for me (once a week or so). If there’s a good review, he lets me know. If there’s a bad review, he distills it down to only the constructive criticism (and leaves out any rudeness), so that I can learn from the review, without being upset by it.

You have to decide what’s best for you. If you’re a sensitive soul like me, try getting a spouse, friend, or family member to be your review buffer. If you’re a tough cookie, read all you want. As long as reviews don’t over-inflate or deflate your ego, there’s nothing wrong with reading them.

So, that’s my general policy. Now let’s drill down into the specifics. For the purpose of this article, “good” reviews refers to positive reviews, “bad” reviews refers to critical reviews, and “ugly” reviews refers to hateful or personal reviews.

five-stars

Good Reviews

Good reviews tell you two things: what readers like about your book and who likes your book. When you get a good review, take note of the reader’s praise and try to keep those themes in your writing. Also, do a little research on your reader. What other books have they liked or disliked? From their profile, do they fit within your target audience? These will tell you if your book is reaching the right market and give you an idea of where to advertise or how to promote your book in the future.

When I published my first novel, I checked my reviews often and responded to the positive ones (That’s all there is when only your friends and family are reading your book!) with a ‘like’ or comment on Goodreads. Now, I don’t respond to any positive reviews. It’s not that I don’t appreciate them (Again, I totally do — thank you!). It’s that A) I don’t want to offend anyone by accidentally skipping or not commenting on their review, B) it sets a precedent that I might also respond to neutral or bad reviews, and C) I really don’t have that kind of time. Note to my readers: if you want to have an actual dialogue about my books or receive a personal thanks, just shoot me an email via the contact page.

It’s worth noting that I have never responded to any reviews on Amazon or another online retailer. As a social network, Goodreads muddles the line, but on retail sites it is clear: do not respond to reviews. It’s unprofessional and the retail sites are likely to frown on it.

one-star

Bad Reviews

We all know these. They’re the ones that make us want to crawl under the covers or throw the laptop out of the window and never write again. But bad reviews can be good. Beyond providing you with constructive feedback, they tell other readers what this person did or didn’t like about your book, so that they can better judge for themselves. Your target audience can be persuaded by bad reviews (Is it full of cursing? Sounds up my alley!), and your non-ideal audience will be warded off (Sex? No way!), thus preventing another bad review in the future.

It is my policy to never respond to bad reviews. First off, I respect the reader’s right to their own opinion. Second, they’ve already “wasted” enough time with my book, they don’t need me saying anything to them.

Some authors make exceptions for this. For example, some will jump to defend a concept the reader clearly missed that could change their perspective of the book. Others will respond if a reader makes a factual error in the review. My professional opinion is to stay silent. Most times, you will only irritate the reader more, or never receive a response to your rebuttal anyway.

Here are a few other ways to react to bad reviews:

Remember, you are not your book. The conception of bad writing (or actual bad writing — let’s be honest, it happens) do not make you a bad person or unworthy creator. It just means you have more to learn. We all do.

Take comfort in that even the best books have bad reviews. This may come as a shock, but there are people out there who hate Harry Potter. I know, but it’s true. Go to the page of your favorite author and check out some of their book’s most scathing reviews. If they can survive it and have their work admired, so can you.

Go read some of your five-star reviews. Or social media comments or emails or whatever. Focus on the readers who get and love your work. They’re the ones that really matter.

Really need to respond to that disgruntled reader? Write a response and destroy it. Do this by hand so there is no temptation or possibility of posting it online. Craft your elegant defense or your childish slew of insults, then rip it up and throw it out. You’ll feel better without doing any damage to your professional image or online relationships. Venting to a trusted friend — NOT in online writers’ groups or forums — is another idea. Seriously, though, don’t put your gripes online. A) It can be found by readers. B) It still makes you look bad. C) Negativity will just bring other writers down. Don’t be that person.

If all else fails, I like to get existential. You are only certain of this one life. Is one person’s dislike going to keep you from pursuing your passion? I didn’t think so.

troll

Ugly Reviews

These are reviews that make personal attacks on your character, threaten you, or which are given to your book because the reviewer has a personal vendetta against you. Luckily, these are super-rare, but they can happen. Again, I strongly encourage you not to respond. Instead, contact the website administrator and ask for the review to be removed. If the review is not about the book or makes explicit insults or threats, this should not be a problem. It cannot prevent the reviewer from repeating the attack from a different account, but it is the safest and most responsible course of action.

No matter what praise or criticism, your books receive, remember that you are not your books. Their success or failure does not reflect your character or personality. While writing ability is very personal, it can be improved over time with patience and practice. Whether in book review responses (don’t do it!) or anywhere else online, always be respectful and courteous to readers. And most importantly, never let anyone else keep you from writing. 


How do you handle the different types of reviews? What are your best practices for authors? Share your advice in the comments.

Fiction Blog, Guest Posts

The Theme of Evil in Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I by Charles F. French

Today, I’m excited to introduce my friend and fellow author Charles F. French. Charles is an English professor turned author, who is preparing to launch his debut horror novel Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I. As you can imagine, the theme of evil features heavily throughout the novel, and that’s exactly what he’s here to discuss. Over to Charles.


maledicus-finalThe existence and nature of evil and the human response to it are central themes in my horror novel Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I. This idea is one with which I have been concerned much of my life. From the first Gothic novels I read as a youngster, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, through the myriad of reading I have done during the course of my life, including works of classical literature such as William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet as well as the contemporary thrillers of John Connelly and Tana French, and the numerous novels of the master Stephen King, evil has been present in a wide variety of forms.

I am deeply concerned not only with the nature and existence of evil, both human and supernatural but also with people’s response to it when confronted by evil. Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Unfortunately, it does not take much effort to search human history for occurrences of monstrous evil in the form of too many genocides.  The history of the 20th and 21st centuries is replete with these inhumane situations, and too often, the world turned its collective gaze away from these horrors, often until it was almost too late to do anything about them.

Ordinary people, as well as nations and larger collectives of persons, are also confronted with evil in their existences. When a person witnesses a terrible event, he or she must decide either to do nothing and leave the responsibility of action to others, or they chose to act directly at the potential risk of their safety or lives. They must decide either—“I don’t want to get involved,” or “I must do something.”

This moral and ethical dilemma is what the three older men who form the basis of The Investigative Paranormal Society face.

maledicusteeIn my novel, I posit evil existing in two forms. First, human evil manifests as a man who was a sadistic psychopath—a torturer, spy, pimp, and murderer—who lived during the realm of Caligula in ancient Rome. Supernatural evil also is real in my book.  In death, this man, who goes by the name of Maledicus, is seduced by a mysterious being into becoming a demon. As a new form of existence, Maledicus is able to manifest on Earth and target people for his victims. He causes mayhem, including murder, suicide, insanity, and disease.

While investigating what they believe to be a ghostly haunting, the three men who are the Investigative Paranormal Society—Roosevelt, Sam, and Jeremy—soon realize that this malicious thing that is threatening a five year old girl in their town, is far worse and more dangerous than any ghost.

They must choose either to abandon their investigation and this child or to choose to battle this demon at the risk of their sanities, their lives, and their souls. These men, along with the help of several friends, choose the path of responsibility as they confront the terrible demon Maledicus.

I hope that, in my novel, I deal effectively and thoroughly with this issue of evil and the human response to it.  Only the readers can truly make that judgement.


Thanks so much for sharing Maledicus with us, Charles! If you’d like to read Maledicus, it’s now available on Amazon. You can also learn more about Charles and his work by visiting his website at https://charlesfrenchonwordsreadingandwriting.wordpress.com. And be sure to come back to this site on Friday, when I’ll be sharing my review of Maledicus!

Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things, The Desertera Series

Go Indie Now! Bibliotherapy Box

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EDIT: Since the writing of this article, Go Indie Now! book box has become the Literary Vacation Club. You can visit their all-new website at: https://www.literaryvacationclub.com/

Okay, I’ve been sitting on this super-fun announcement for a while now, and I’m so thrilled that I can finally share the good news without spoiling anything. Earlier this year, Ashley Nestler, the founder and CEO of the Go Indie Now! book box subscription service contacted me and asked to feature The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1) in her September Alternative Realities box. Of course, I said yes!

So what is the Go Indie Now! box? It’s a book box subscription service (like OwlCrate) that sends readers a new book (or two) each month, along with a host of other really fun goodies! But here’s the catch: it only features independently published novels! Being an indie author herself, Ashley wanted to create a way for readers discover professional, well-written indie books (and help deserving authors reach new fans, too!).

What I love about Go Indie Now! is that Ashley has focused on making it a bibliotherapy box. As it says on the Go Indie Now! website:

“We are all about mental and emotional healing through literature, while also promoting the makers movement — a movement that promotes handmade items and artisans.”

Each box features at least one item that relates to each of the five senses. Here’s the full list of items that featured in the September Alternative Realities box (this represents The Full Scoop, General Fiction plan):

Ashley is one of the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever met. I’m not promoting her Go Indie Now! book box for my own gain, or even because I was featured in it. The truth is: Ashley is providing a wonderful service to the indie author and bookworm communities, and she deserves to be recognized for it.

So, thank you, Ashley for all you’re doing for readers and authors everywhere. I hope your boxes bring happiness, peace and creativity to all who open them!

If you’d like to learn more about the Go Indie Now! book box mission or sign up for a subscription, check out their website at https://goindienow.cratejoy.com.