Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Jonathan Maberry Discusses His Best Selling YA Novel, Rot & Ruin

If you love awesome horror, with a human twist, you've gotta read Jonathan Maberry's Rot & Ruin. Get it below!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Book Trailer: The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead

You've seen the trailer, now purchase the first book in the exciting Bright Empires series!

Joyce Carol Oates on Writing Characters

Check out Joyce Carol Oates' best-selling novel The Gravedigger's Daughter today!

Friday, August 26, 2011

David Brin's Advice for Aspiring Writers

Check out David Brin's latest ebook, Tank Farm Dynamo!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lev Grossman Discusses The Magicians

Overcoming the BLOCK

We’ve all been there – staring at a blank canvas, a blank page or a mound of unformed clay, unsure of how or where to begin. Your eyes start to glaze over and you feel deep down inside that your trusty muse has chosen today to abandoned ship. As the paint starts to stiffen on the palette or the clay starts to dry and crack or the blank page stares into the depths of your soul, you can almost feel yourself starting to lose it. That weird feeling in the pit of your stomach is spreading and for some reason you’re starting to breathe a little differently, not quite hyperventilating, but off still the same. Soon, like a man crawling through the desert, your mind starts to wander and you find yourself thinking about anything other than your art, regardless of how hard you try to concentrate, and if you really have been in this position before, then you know that there is real life pain behind the intensity of your concentration. Before long, you’re getting a headache from furrowing your brows so tightly and your neck, shoulders and back feel as if Atlas (like your muse) has taken the day off and chose you to keep the world from spinning off its axis while he heads to the beach.

In the writing world, we call this “writer’s block,” but it’s something that affects practically everyone who creates for a living. So, since Artsy Avenue is a collective of artists of various trades, we’ll just call this problem “THE BLOCK.” Why the all-caps, you ask? Because if you’ve ever experienced it, you know THE BLOCK is so hardcore, lower case letters just won’t cut it.

What Brings On THE BLOCK?

THE BLOCK affects everyone differently, but odds are there’s something in your life that’s causing the bricks to be stacked up between you and your creativity. It could be caused by a problem within a relationship, financial troubles, the loss of a loved one or pet, car troubles or it can even be caused by negative people using their jealousy to try and bring you down to their level.

THE BLOCK loves it when we have challenges to overcome because it knows our minds can’t focus 100% on the creative task at hand, no matter how hard we try. So, it keeps pushing those problems to the forefront of our minds until there’s no point in keeping up the fight because our minds have become so clouded and convoluted that we convince ourselves that nothing good is going to come from trying today anyway.

So That’s It, THE BLOCK Wins?

Hell no, THE BLOCK doesn’t win! We are Creatives! We persevere! It’s what we do!

Beating THE BLOCK (or, What Your Muse Doesn’t Want You to Know)

I’m going to let you in on a little secret – your muse needs you just as much as you need him (or her) and at its core, the muse is a jealous thing. Plain and simple, you need your muse to keep THE BLOCK at bay, meanwhile; your creativity is the only thing keeping your muse alive, so in reality, unless you work together, you each suffer and THE BLOCK will win.

But what’s a creative to do when their muse has gone on sabbatical?

The great American poet, William Stafford, once said, "There is no such thing as writer's block for writers whose standards are low enough." While many may jump up and wonder aloud why William Stafford is suggesting we produce sub-par work, that’s not really what he’s saying at all. What Stafford is implying is that even if you know what you’re doing isn’t your best work; you still keep writing, painting, molding, etc. You don’t stop; you persevere! You can always go back and fix what you don’t like later, or, maybe, just maybe, some small part of what you did create might be a nugget of gold you can use in another project at a later time. Maybe it’s a single line of crystal clear prose, or maybe it’s a new painting technique that you just came up with. By choosing to forge onward, you not only keep THE BLOCK at bay, but you also show your muse who’s boss and that you are going to continue on with or without him or her.

Remember when I said the muse was a jealous bugger? Well, do this often enough and you’ll discover that your muse takes fewer and fewer vacations.

The key to beating THE BLOCK and finding success in your art is the same – don’t give up. Plant your butt in your chair and create! Everyday! Sure, you’re going to have some days when you’re not 100% pleased with what you produced, but you PRODUCED, baby. And that’s the most important thing.

Here are a few other tips for overcoming THE BLOCK:
  • When you’re feeling stagnant and uninspired, get up and go for a walk. Head outside or hit the treadmill for a few minutes to get your blood pumping. Fresh oxygen to the brain works wonders for creativity and it helps to wake up your sleepy muse.
  • Try something new. If you’re a photographer and you’re in a rut, try painting. If you’re a painter, try writing poetry. When you open up yourself to new experiences, you’re igniting a new part of your brain and that works wonders for improving your creativity.
  • Carry a small notebook and a pen everywhere you go. If you see a beautiful bird, draw a quick rendition of it. If you are enjoying the most delicious taco you’ve ever eaten, capture the experience by writing down the details. Inspirations are like lightning bugs; make your notebook the glass jar you use to collect them.
  • Don’t want to carry a notebook around? Use the camera on your mobile phone. Snap a quick shot of a beautiful flower or catch the sun as it glints off the surface of a nearby pond. Also handy on most mobile phones is the voice recorder. Use it to capture ideas that come at the most inopportune times or to capture vivid descriptions of something that stirs something inside of you.

Book Review: Wicked Things by Thomas Tessier

Wicked Things is Thomas Tessier's first original novel in ten years. That being said, I hope he has more up his sleeve than just this story. I was really let down by this book. Oddly enough, I found myself reading and reading, even though nothing was really happening. It always felt as if something was on the verge of happening and then...nothing. The ending sort of rushes in on you and I actually had to read the last page twice to realize what happened.

The story revolves around insurance investigator Jack Carlson and his investigation onto a series of strange deaths in the sleepy little town of Winship. The town is the ideal small town, but it has a dark secret. Can Jack overcome the roaming gangs, the secret religious sect, the town's red light district and the rash of murder/suicides that take place upon his arrival? In the end, reading this book gave me the exact same sensation that Jack was experiencing in the book - kind of strange, almost like a bad trip, surreal and ultimately kind of boring.  

Wicked Things is best left for when you're really hard up for something to read and you're too broke to go to the bookstore and the library's closed. It gets * out of *****.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book Review: Dead Man's Song by Jonathan Maberry

Ah yes, it feels good to be back in Pine Deep! Dead Man's Song is the second in a horror trilogy by Bram Stoker award winning author Jonathan Maberry and it is just as riveting as the first chapter, Ghost Road Blues. This book picks up right where the first one ends, with Crow and Val recovering from their battle with Karl Ruger. However, everything is still not right in Pine Deep. Tow-Truck Eddie is still on the search for the Anti-Christ, the dead walk, Mayor Wolfe is losing his grip, Dr. Weinstock makes a horrifying discovery and that's just the start of it.

This book is exactly what the middle part of a trilogy should be - a furthering of a complex story, while building up for a major finale. I simply cannot wait for the final chapter of this good versus evil epic. Don't keep us waiting too long Jonathan! My only beef with the book? The person who edited it. Jonathan, please, tell the publisher to find a better editor next time. Other than the poor editing, it's another stellar book from one of horror's best! ****1/2 out of *****!

Book Review: Under the Dome by Stephen King

What can you say about Stephen King? Like a fine wine, he gets better with age. And King's latest tome of a novel is one of his best. Under the Dome is a brilliant story that unfolds over a week or so in the tiny Maine town of Chester's Mill, where on a bright sunny day in October, a mysterious dome settles over the town, cutting off those within from the outside world.

The story brings us into the lives of those under the dome and we discover many secrets along the way. We share the fear, the heartache and the general pissed-offedness of Chester's Mill's residents. We follow Dale Barbara, the ex-lieutenant from the war in Iraq, Julia Shumway, the town's scrappy newspaper editor, James Rennie, Chester's Mill's Second Selectman (and one downright evil cotton-picking son of a buck) and a hundred or so others.

Yes, at over a thousand pages, the novel is large. But King writes this story like it's no big deal, and that's where the beauty lies. Start reading Under the Dome and you will become a townie. You will feel as if you are there. And that's the hardest trick of all for a writer to pull off, but this is why King is one of the greats.

In my opinion, Stephen King is the literary world's George Romero. Like Romero's zombie movies, King's tales have an underlying message relating to current-day, real-life issues. Sure, it may be covered by blood and guts, but the message is there. At its core, Under the Dome sheds a light on the all-too real horrors that are of growing concern in this country, such as the damage to the environment and power-hungry politicians with one hand on a gun and the other on a bible. King shows us how bad things can get, and how quickly, when the situation allows it. As entertaining as Under the Dome is, it is equally a sobering and contemplative piece of work. No, there are no monsters, but King shows us that sometimes, humans can be quite horrific if the situation is right, and in his work, Stephen King never lies, my friend, he never lies.

Read Under the Dome. It's a literary work of art that may change the way you view the world and those around you. Believe me, you'll never look at ants the same way again. Under the Dome gets ***** out of *****.

Book Review: Plague of the Dead by Z. A. Recht

Zombies are, and have been for some time now, all the rage in the horror genre. From books to movies, the undead are enjoying more success now than at any time in pop culture history. But, with so many variations on a theme, they can't all be good. And this brings us to Plague of the Dead by Z. A. Recht.

Plague of the Dead tells the tale of the zombie apocalypse, how it begins and the tough S.O.B.s that stand on the front lines of the war. Unfortunately, everything in this book is so cliched that at times, I wanted to hurl the book across the room. I'm telling you, there were times I had to close the book in mid-sentence, close my eyes and pray for patience. And this is coming from someone who loves over-the-top, B-grade horror! This book was the single hardest book for me to get through in years.

The story starts out promising enough, but once the Marines come into the picture, forget about it, it's all down hill from there. The dialogue was contrived and stereotypical. It was like all of these guys were withdrawing from steroids or something. And, why fill the book with so many characters whose names start with the letter D? Between the terrible "Marine dialogue" and trying to keep track of all of these similarly-named characters, it was just too much. Not to mention that there is not a single character who's appealing to the reader. When a character dies, who cares? Not me. It's a tough sell when you wish the zombies would take out the supposed good guys because the good guys are all such assholes.

Need another reason I didn't care for this tale of woe? The book is filled with WTF? moments. For instance, there's once scene where the Marines are trying to get into a gun shop because during a reconnaissance, they learned that there were some really old MREs and weapons available in the shop's basement. The leader of the group's like, "We have to get that food if we want to survive!" My first thought was - doesn't this town have a grocery store? I mean, with millions dead (and it all happened so quickly), the grocery aisles should be pretty clear and relatively well-stocked, don't you think?

But the biggest problem with Plague of the Dead is that it doesn't end here. This is the first in a series. If you really, really, really love zombie stories and you won't feel complete unless you see and read every last one of them, then by all means, pick up Plague of the Dead. But, as for me, this was the first book that caused me mental and physical anguish.

Plague of the Dead gets 0 out of *****.

Book Review: 33 A.D. by David McAfee

What if vampires were around when Jesus roamed the Jerusalem countryside? That's the premise we find in David McAfee's brilliant novel, 33 A.D. Now, I have to be honest. I bought this book for my Amazon Kindle not because I previously read Mr. McAfee's work, but because it was so damn inexpensive, I couldn't pass it up. I think I got it on sale for like 99 cents or something, but let me tell you, it was the best dollar I ever spent! This book is an action-packed extravaganza of entertainment.

McAfee's story introduces us to a society of vampires living in the age of Jesus. When one of the vampires decides to start following the teachings of this mysterious new Rabbi, the vampire elders send an assassin to dispatch the traitor and take out the Nazarene. What develops is an elaborate plot full of twists and turns that ensures the crucifixion of Jesus in what the vampires hope will eradicate his new threat. Filled with superb characters and crackling violence, this story doesn't relent until the final page is turned and once done, it leaves you wanting more. Thankfully, a sequel is in the works!

33 A.D. is hands-down one of my favorite reads of 2011 thus far. For a genre that's been all but drained of its blood, McAfee has managed to breathe some new life into it by concocting a fresh and original vision. Thanks for this excellent escape from reality Mr. McAfee, and I wait anxiously for your next chapter in this tale. 33 A.D. gets ***** out of *****.

Buy 33 A.D. for your Kindle for just $2.99 by clicking below!

Book Review: Frankenstein Lives Again! by Donald F...

Every so often, you can come across something that takes you back to a time when you were young and full of hope. A time when you looked at certain things with wide-eyed wonder. I can remember times like this, sitting alongside the creek, fishing pole in hand, chewing a huge wad of gum and a comic book or some other book sticking out of the back pocket of my pants. Odds are whatever book it was, it was swollen and warped to no end from being exposed to rain and God knows what else, but you know what? That book was special. It was your own personal escape to another place, another time, another world.

My reason for bringing this up is because as we age, that sense of wonder and excitement slowly degrades. Suddenly, we're adults and we have so much to worry about, we lose all appreciation for those tiny treasures. Well, as I was reading Frankenstein Lives Again! by Donald F. Glut, I have to say, those feelings came rushing back! Of course, I was reading this one on my Kindle, so needless to say, I wasn't sitting along the creek with it hanging out of my back pocket.

Frankenstein Lives Again! is unabashedly a fun book an one that sweeps you away just like those pulp books of yesteryear. And that's exactly what this book is -- pulp! It comes to us from Pulp 2.0, the brilliant publishing house that's striving to keep classics like this available for those of us looking for an escape to lands of adventure filled with busty beauties, evil professors, mad monsters and high flying adventure.

This is the first in a series of reprints labeled The New Adventures of Frankenstein, so there are many more supposedly in the pipeline and I for one am pretty thrilled about that. This is a fast and easy read that doesn't skimp on fast moving adventure. But, let's be frank, this is not Shakespeare (nor Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley for that matter) we're dealing with here, as some of the dialogue is kind of silly, but that's part of this genre's charm, isn't it? If you loved watching Saturday afternoon monster movies on television, or if you got excited every time Abbott and Costello Meet the Wolfman was on Sunday morning or if you were a fan of pulp stories of old, then you're going to love what Pulp 2.0 is doing and you're going to love Frankenstein Lives Again!

Now, on a side note, the copy I was given to review was a Kindle version of the book and it had an extraordinary amount of formatting flaws, but I am confident that by the time this book becomes available to the public that Pulp 2.0 will have these issues fixed.

That said, I had a blast enjoying the new adventures of Frankenstein and truly look forward to his and Pulp 2.0's upcoming adventures. I give Frankenstein Lives Again! **** out of *****.

Oh, and in case you need another reason to buy this book -- it only cost 99 cents for the Kindle!

Short Story Review: Charlie by Shana Hammaker

Charlie is the first short story in Shana Hammaker's short thriller series, Twelve Terrifying Tales for 2011 and let me tell you, you're going to be hearing a lot from Ms. Hammaker if I have anything to do with it because this is one fantastic read! You know, writing a short story is a specific art form all its own and not many writers can accomplish this feat successfully, but so far (and I've read three of Ms. Hammaker's stories thus far) I can tell you that she has it down pat.

First off, I want to thank Ms. Hammaker for writing such a well crafted and thrilling story, but perhaps even more importantly, this thing sparkled off the page with such clarity I was almost caught off guard. Allow me to explain. A few months ago, I bought my first Kindle, and to be honest, I'm addicted to the thing. However, there's one thing that drives me absolutely crazy about the e-book craze -- so many authors are rushing to get their stories out to the public that a little thing called editing is getting thrown to the wayside. Misspelled words, absent periods and terrible grammar have plagued many of the e-books I've read. That is, until I read Shana Hammaker. Shana's stories are professionally written and error-free which is truly refreshing to me. I just wanted to mention this because it tells me she really puts a lot into her work and I, for one, appreciate that.

Anyway, back to Charlie. Charlie focuses on a woman named Alex who finds a corpse in the basement of her newly purchased home. He wasn't there when she closed on the house, but the poor dead guy got there somehow. Now, as if finding the dead guy in your home isn't bad enough, it gets worse when "Charlie," as she eventually names him, starts popping up again and again. Who is Charlie and why does he keep coming back? The answer is going to surprise you.

Shana Hammaker fills her debut story with expertly-crafted characters, gorgeously realistic dialogue and a flurry of fine details other writers wish they were able to create. The fact that she does this in a short story is all the more impressive.

Take my advice and start reading Shana Hammaker's short stories. They're beautifully written, fun and fast, and yeah, a little disturbing, but that's the way I like it! I give Charlie ***** out of *****. Order it from Amazon today, it's under a buck for crying out loud!

Book Review: Luminous and Ominous by Noah K. Mulle...

When I originally read the synopsis of Luminous and Ominous by Noah K. Mullette-Gillman, I must admit I had my doubts. I mean, beautifully colored plants overtaking the planet and bringing on an extinction-level event? It doesn't exactly sound like it would work. But, for a number of reasons, it does!

Luminous and Ominous is a story about a group of friends and the decisions they have to make when it becomes evident that the world is ending. Who do they save when there's only a limited amount of time and space? What items do they take with them? What do they do when the people and the world around them change? Noah K. Mullette-Gillman brings us a very realistic look at these grim realities and that's what sets this story apart and what makes it so special. While the circumstances might be fantastic, the reactions are realistic and that's why this book works so well. You see, Noah never lies to us.

Noah fills his story with believable characters, strong and realistic dialogue (a little heavy on the exclamation points early on in the story, but that's me just picking) and a most interesting alien infestation. From his vivid descriptions of the plant-like invader to its strange and wonderful insects and animal-like hybrids, Luminous and Ominous is a fun read that plays in your mind just like a movie, sort of like a technicolor version of The Road, except this story made a better movie in my mind than film version of The Road actually was.

If you're a fan of horror survival fiction and you're looking for something new and different, you're going to want to read this book. It's unique, refreshing and pretty damn good. I give Luminous and Ominous **** out of *****.

And thanks Noah, here I thought I was the only one who has this sorta weird belief that the end of the world wouldn't be that bad of a thing. Maybe it comes from living in New Jersey. Pick up Luminous and Ominous for your Kindle and read it for yourself.