Friday, April 18, 2014

HOLLOW WORLD by Michael J. Sullivan

We are back today with a look at a standalone novel by Michael J. Sullivan. Remember, the contest to win a novel of your choosing by Mr. Sullivan is ongoing until the 27th. All you have to do is e-mail me and let me know your name (if it is different from your name on Facebook) and which book you want. Also, make sure that you like Craig's Book-ends on Facebook.

The standalone novel we are discussing has been something of a publishing event this year. Mr. Sullivan has retained the ebook rights himself (which is quite rare) so while you can get the print version from Tachyon Publications, as Sullivan explains on his website, retaining the ebook rights allowed him to (among other things) keep the ebook DRM free, bundle the ebook with print and audio versions, and enroll in Amazon MatchBook which allows the reader to get a free ebook if they buy the print version. This is pretty darn cool.

So how does the book hold up? Well, let's see.

This is another book by Sullivan that I'm not going to do much talking about in terms of plot. This is because I don't want to spoil it for you. In fact, I'd rather you go in knowing as little as possible. That's how I went into Hollow World. In short, however...

Hollow World is the story of Ellis Rogers, a man who has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Down on his luck, he decides to take a chance on something he has been working on quietly for some time now -- Rogers has a time machine in his garage and he plans to use it. But where and when will it take him?

That's a pretty simple set-up and, in fairness, the book hearkens back to an earlier time in science fiction, much like Sullivan did with fantasy in his Riyria novels. However, this is not a simple book. It is a book, like the best of science fiction, that asks the most fundamental questions about what it means to be human. It's a book about utopia (or dystopia). It's a book about love and hate. It's a book about individuality and a book about community. I'm not saying that you'll agree with the book's conclusions. I'm also not saying Sullivan does. Fiction doesn't work that way. I'm saying that the questions the book asks are ones that everyone asks themselves at some point. Wouldn't you like to engage with a great writer like Michael J. Sullivan on such important topics? Hollow World is your chance.

Also, it's got time travel. Things are nearly always better with time travel.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


This week we are going to have a look at a series and a standalone novel by SFF author Michael J. Sullivan. We hosted a contest to win a book of your choosing by Mr. Sullivan earlier in the week and I am going to extend the end of the contest another week! This means you have until Monday April 27, 2014 to e-mail me with your information.

Formalities aside, let's get to the action...

The Riyria Revelations is a series of three novels published by Orbit Books. Originally, however, the series was self-published by Sullivan and consisted of six volumes. This three-volume version is the way to go. The story lends itself to being broken up this way. But what of the story? What are you getting yourself into when you turn to the first page of Theft of Swords?

If you are a fan of classic sword & sorcery fantasy like Fritz Leiber filled with adventure and characters you will want to follow around for an entire series, The Riyria Revelations is for you. If you'd like, you can leave now. That's basically all you need to know. The Riyria Revelations is very entertaining, Sullivan is very talented and has a real knack for this kind of writing, the whole series is solid. This is a classic secondary world fantasy, the kind that is less common nowadays, and Sullivan pays enough respect to the tradition while still adding his unique voice to the mix.

The series features the characters Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater. The story is quickly set in motion with the two main characters being charged with killing the king. It is up to Melborn and Blackwater to prove themselves innocent and get down to the bottom of what is really going. The set-up is simple and the plot gets moving right away. Sullivan provides many twists and turns and it is much like a well-written television show in novel form.

Just as you would want from this sort of series, the plot gets thicker in volume two. There is more of what you enjoyed from the first one -- the same witty banter between the "heroes", the same adventure and action, the same wonder and danger -- and the story twists and turns further, more puzzle pieces are revealed. Sullivan's style is very straightforward and the pages practically turn themselves. If you enjoyed the first volume, happiness with volume two is almost guaranteed.

Now I know what you're thinking: these things always run out of steam. A novelist has a great idea but at some point he overextends himself and the once great series outstays its welcome. Well, you can place those fears aside for The Riyria Revelations. As could be hoped, volume three is perhaps the strongest of all three. The grand narrative leads to an epic conclusion. Things remain fresh and fun and Sullivan never misses a beat.

So what's wrong? What should give you, dear reader, pause regarding The Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan?

In short, nothing. Also, everything. It all depends on where you're coming from. As I said before, if you like the writing of Fritz Leiber or Robert E. Howard or even someone like David Eddings, you'll be happy with this. It's fun, it's adventurous, it's exciting, it's full of a classic familiar yet new fantasy world for you to get lost in.

That said, if your kind of fantasy is the unique, challenging type of those like Mark Lawrence, you should not expect more of that here. This is not a criticism of Michael J. Sullivan or his series because to consider it such would be like condemning Star Wars because it is not like the Alien series. The Riyria Revelations knows what it is and you'd be hard pressed to find a set of books written in the past fifteen years that does it better. Similarly, Sullivan's own style is very straightforward and designed to keep the pages turning and the story moving at a breakneck pace. There are no, or at least very few, artistic flourishes like you would find with a Rothfuss or a Lawrence. Again, not that kind of book. This is not to say that Michael Sullivan is not a brilliant writer or capable of provoking deep thought. Later this week we will have a look at a novel by him that does just that. However, with The Riyria Revelations, be advised about what you're getting. If it's your thing, you are going to love every minute.

Monday, April 14, 2014

CONTEST: Michael J. Sullivan

Hello again, friends. What I have for you now is quite a wonderful opportunity. This week I shall be reviewing The Riyria Revelations and Hollow World, all by the great Michael J. Sullivan. Given what a big deal Mr. Sullivan has been in the fantasy and sci-fi community in the past few years, I'm sure you all know who he is.

However, I'll give you a little taste: The Riyria Revelations are a series of fantasy novels that were initially self-published and took the community by storm. Later, Orbit Books grabbed them and released them in three volumes -- Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire, and Heir of Novron. If you like sword and sorcery the likes of Fritz Leiber and the greats, you will love The Riyria Revelations. You'll have to wait til Wednesday for my official opinion, but the books are a rollicking good time.

Hollow World is one of the most significant SFF publishing events of 2014. Yeah, that big a deal. It is a old-school time travel novel in the tradition of H.G. Wells. You'll also be getting a review of this from me this week, so far now I'll just say that if you like sci-fi, dystopian fiction, and time travel, you are going to want to track this one down.

And now the tracking might be done for you. Mr. Sullivan has so graciously allowed for ONE lucky Craig's Book-ends reader to win a copy of any Michael J. Sullivan novel of their choosing. He'll even sign it. This guy, he's one of the good ones.

Here's what you need to do....

1) Make sure you like Craig's Book-ends on Facebook.
2) E-mail me at telling me which book you want. If your name is different on Facebook, make sure you let me know.

Monday April 27th, I will randomly choose one of you wonderful people to win and we'll go from there. That's it.

Now, go! Also, keep reading!

Interview with Todd Robinson

Hello again, friends. Hope you had a great weekend. We are back today with an interview with Mr. Todd Robinson AKA Big Daddy Thug, chief editor of Thuglit, crime fiction writer, and all-around awesome guy. In the short time that I have known him, Todd's shown himself to be a human being of the highest order. I definitely do not have to say good things about him for fear of Todd taking any number of my internal organs and leaving me to bleed out in a bathtub. His intellect knows no bounds, every woman that encounters him experiences great pleasure by proxy, every man is made stronger, smarter, and faster through his presence.

With that established, let's turn it over to the man himself.

Todd Robinson saw a group of people in trouble. He read from his own novel and the the words were so wonderful that it made everything all better.
Thuglit is one of the greatest publications around. Certainly it has been instrumental in bringing notice to many great writers like Frank Bill and Stuart Neville so anyone can see how Thuglit has left its mark and even changed the crime fiction community. How do you think the crime fiction community has effected or changed Thuglit over time? 

It hasn't. Like David Byrne said, "Same as it ever was."

You have a nutpunch of a novel in the form of The Hard Bounce. How did the novel-writing experience differ from the short story for you?

The process is the same in my head. The novel-writing experience—for me—is just writing a series of short stories, connected through theme or time-frame. Not that every chapter can (or should) necessarily stand alone as a short story, but in my mind, that's what I'm writing. One piece at a time.

If you could be God of the Crime Fic community (kind of like what you are now, but with actual superpowers), what is the one thing you would change or give to it that it currently lacks? 

I…I'm not even sure how to respond to that title. Thanks? Jeez… (That's just what God of the Crime Fic community WOULD say -- Craig)

If I had the powers, I'd make spastic adjustments to confidence dials. Some writers are so damned good, but don't believe in themselves, in their voices. I'd crank them up a notch. Then there are those that get a taste (if not a full meal) of success and then stop writing with the same fervor and passion that they once did. I'd crank them down a bit. Just because you haven’t reached what you consider success doesn't diminish your talent. And if you have reached a certain level, that doesn't now mean that your shit don't stink.

What writers were most influential on you in your early years? 

Stephen King. Elmore Leonard. Garth Ennis. Andrew Vachss. John D. MacDonald. Robert Parker. Dennis Lehane.

What influences you now?

The names above still apply, but add Harry Crews and Brian K. Vaughn. Josh Bazell's BEAT THE REAPER really did a job on me. Made me rethink my own game severely. Gonzo and ballsy. Matthew McBride's upcoming novel A SWOLLEN RED SUN did the same. I finished my review copy and just stopped dead, thinking, "Damn…I gotta do better work."

Have you felt a strong kinship with the crime fiction community?

Absolutely. As far as the community is concerned, there's so much support amongst the writers. We're all reaching for the same goal—to tell the best stories we're capable of.

How do you think it has ever helped or hurt you as a writer?

It helps in the sense of having a support system. Having people to celebrate your victories with and to hold your head up when the inevitable (and multiple) metaphorical dick-punches comes your way. Nobody understands your pain more than those in that selfsame community.

What's next for Todd Robinson? 

I'm currently working on the follow-up to THE HARD BOUNCE. After that, I'm deciding on which of the three non-Boo-and-Junior novels to work on that I've already begun. By the way, since I'm going to assume that nobody seeing this has read THB—and my publisher has the numbers to back that up—Boo and Junior are the series characters. (If that's true, and I sincerely hope it isn't, then we should bump those numbers way up. Here's the link to buy The Hard Bounce on Amazon. Do it! You won't regret it. Let's show Mr. Robinson how much we care. Here's to you, Mr. Robinson...)

Any chance of Big Daddy Thug tackling another genre?

Two of those three other novels are horror. The third, while crime, is straight up comedy. Think in the vein of Donald Westlake's heist novels, but with a shitload more anatomical humor. I love genres. I'm a genre writer, period. I've got concepts drawn out for sci-fi, superhero stories, comedy, western… But I'm getting ahead of myself. I can't really talk shit about all the novels I'm going to be writing until I put my money where my mouth is and finish what will only be my second. 

Time is the enemy, brothers and sisters.  Put your words down while you can.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Read for the Weekend: THUGLIT and ALL DUE RESPECT

This week the standalone review comes with two changes. First, it's a little early. Second, I'm actually going to be reviewing two different things -- magazines. Both due to the short size and the great quality of these publications, I'm going to discuss them as a whole rather than reviewing actual issues. Believe me, these are ones worth following. With that in mind, I'll quit slapping gums and we'll get down to business...

All Due Respect is a crime fiction magazine -- no detectives, few happy endings. The stories within its pages are filled with characters you probably don't want to know in real life and if you do know them, you probably wish you didn't. ADR frequently features some of the best writers that the genre has to offer. The zine began online but is now also in print, published by Full Dark City Press. There have been two issues of the print version and that's the incarnation I'll be talking about because that is what ADR is now.

Edited by the great Chris Rhatigan (whose name reminds me of Lovecraft), ADR is a quarterly magazine featuring crime fiction, interviews, and non-fiction like reviews. The first issue contains Craig's Book-end favorite Chris F. Holm with a short story and an interview about the COLLECTOR series, which I previously reviewed here. You'll also get to cozy up to some deranged tales spun by the likes of Todd Robinson, Renee Asher Pickup and more.

The second issue features a story by Owen Laukannen and an interview with Laukannen by the previous interviewee, Chris F. Holm. In both issues, the main attraction was chosen well -- great stories, great interviews. Also in ADR #2, you'll find Eric Beetner, David Siddall (who has a book coming out soon...stay tuned!), and more. It features more of the gritty, dark, hardboiled noir fiction that you should expect when these names pop up.

One final feature of ADR is their attempt to review every book published by Hard Case Crimes. If you know your way around crime fiction, you should know this name. Hard Case Crime publishes books by the greats like Jason Starr and James M Caine. This is a daunting, noble and somewhat insane endeavor on ADR's behalf and I applaud them for it. When you pick up an issue of ADR, you also get to read about other great crime novels to read.

One word of warning: the one-two punch of Todd Robinson's "Good Dogs" and Renee Asher Pickup's "Amanda Will Be Fine" in ADR#1 will mess you up. These stories are expertly crafted and almost too effective in their execution. I don't know if there's a "Congratulations. You done gone and disturbed your readers' brains" award, but there should be and these two should win it. Unbelievable but if you're not into dark fiction, perhaps you should tread lightly.

Speaking of Big Daddy Thug (Todd Robinson)...

 Todd Robinson is the creator and chief editor of His short fiction has been featured literally friggin' everywhere. He's done all kinds of cool things in cool places and should not be suspected of any wrongdoing and deserves your total trust. (Please don't hurt me, Mr. Thug)

As it says up there, Thuglit contains "writing about wrongs". This, again, is crime fiction. The characters are losers, drifters, grifters, crooks, and thugs. Thuglit is another publication that is not afraid to take you to the dark side of town. The only potential difference, of course, is that Thuglit may just drop you off and leave your ass when you get there.

There are a whopping 10 issues of Thuglit available and they're all full of twisted, dark, mean fiction. If this is your thing, you can find other publications out there but you won't find any better than Thuglit and ADR. All the fiction published in Thuglit is not created equal but I've never run across a single story in a Thuglit that did not satisfy overall. I don't know what kind of dark magic Todd Robinson is practicing over there, but whatever he's doing works because Thuglit is still just as solid as it ever was.

In a world full of television shows and novel series and video games, it's sometimes easy to forget that fiction magazines exist. Indeed, some of them may not have made it in the current literary climate. However, ADR and Thuglit come with the highest possible recommendation from Craig's Book-ends, as do the folks involved. Whenever you see the name Todd Robinson or Chris F. Holm or Chris Rhatigan or Ed Kurtz or any of these folks, you can expect quality. Check them out. Let me know what you think.

I'll be here to talk after you stop shaking.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Last year, the great and beardly Patrick Rothfuss did a book signing and Q&A that I was fortunate enough to be able to attend and it was a wonderful experience. As anyone who has heard him speak can attest, Mr. Rothfuss is as skilled at the public appearance as he is at writing. At one point during the Q&A, someone asked what he recommended for people who liked his books and he mentioned THE CHRONICLES OF AMBER by Roger Zelazny. To his  and my surprise, no one in attendance had read it. Because of this, I have decided to talk a bit about the series and what you'd be missing out on by not experiencing it. If you check it out because of this review or if you've already read it, please let me know what you think. It is one of the greatest fantasy series ever written.

"Amber is the one real world, casting infinite reflections of itself - Shadow worlds that can be manipulated by those of royal Amberite blood. The CHRONICLES begin in a hospital on the Shadow Earth, where a man is recovering from a freak auto accident. Since he is also suffering from amnesia, and has been for some time, he has no idea that he's Prince Corwin of Amber - until his memory receives a succession of jolts: He meets a sister who speaks in riddles of plots and counterplots... and a brother who abruptly involves him in a life-and-death battle against pursuers from a fearful Shadow world. He discovers a deck of tarot-like cards, with himself, his sister, and strangers whom he guesses to be other relatives, pictures on their faces. Then comes the most shattering jolt of all... Corwin's confrontation with an intricate design created by a master manipulator of reality - the Pattern. As Corwin sets foot upon that coldly glowing inscription, memories come flooding back to him... more and more with each step. And finally, knowing his true identity, he acknowledges his true ambition - and resolves that the crown of Amber will be his. But unknown to Corwin, there are dark forces massing against Amber ... and before too long he will discover just how great a burden a king's crown can be...."

At first glance, one can see several tropes at play here: the amnesiac-turned-hero, the dark forces, the man-who-would-be-king, etc. However, the story is in the hands of Roger Zelazny who is one of the best writers that the fantasy genre has ever known. Witty dialogue, great characterization, and thrilling plots keep the pages turning through all TEN volumes of this brilliant series. The series can be had individually but has also been released in a one-volume edition called The Great Book of Amber and two-volumes called the First and Second Chronicles of Amber respectively.

You are introduced immediately to Corwin, the main character. The prose is first-person and Corwin is a funny, witty, smart, savvy character that the reader will want to follow around. He reminds me of someone like Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade, using his keen intellect to try to get the other characters to reveal themselves and not betray his amnesia. Zelazny does a lot to make you intrigued by Corwin with phrases like "...I was garbled all in white, the color of Moby Dick and vanilla ice cream." and '"?" thought I.'

As you can see, Zelazny is very funny.

He also knows how to keep the pages turning. Since Corwin is an amnesiac and you are getting his perspective, the world is revealed to you as it is revealed to him and what a world it is! Essentially, Amber is the one true world and there are countless other worlds (called Shadows) which are just reflections of Amber. Corwin is a Prince of Amber, one of the few who can travel between the Shadows. This sets up ten novels of magic, political intrigue, castles, and characters who may not be who they seem.

As I said before, there are two series here. The First Chronicles of Amber deals with Corwin while the Second Chronicles introduces his son Merlin. Not content to simply rehash what made the First Chronicles so successful, Corwin's son Merlin is a very different character than his father and the saga of the Second Chronicles is his own. Readers will, as I did, relish the opportunity to stay just a little longer in the world that Zelazny has created. On top of that, there are an additional six Amber short stories available. If you like witty and interesting characters, edge-of-your-seat plots, action, magic, and Shakespearean allusions this is the series for you. The Chronicles of Amber is one of those series of novels that will stay with you for the rest of your reading life.

Does It Hold Up to the End?

It probably won't surprise you to learn that the answer to this question is 'yes'. Of course, that is not to say that each of the ten volumes in this series is as good as the last. Sadly, that is not so. The First Chronicles of Amber are probably five of the best fantasy novels ever written. The Second Chronicles are flawed and problematic novels written by one of the best novelists in the genre but they are still flawed and problematic.

Merlin is a less compelling character than Corwin. The Raymond Chandler meets Tolkien vibe of the First Chronicles is absent and in its place Zelazny has the stakes perhaps stacked a little too high. The worst that the Second Chronicles is capable of still allows for more time spent exploring the City of Amber and the magic and wonder that Zelazny has dreamed up. To put it into perspective, if I were to assign number ratings to these series out of 5, the First Chronicles would be a sure 5/5 while the Second would be a 4/5. There is a noticeable difference in quality but Zelazny is still one of the best.

If you have not, go and buy these books as quickly as you can. Read them, savor them. Reread them next year. Let them rest for a while and read them again. The Chronicles of Amber, like any great books, change with you while retaining the things that you always loved about them in the first place.

Monday, April 7, 2014

MONDAY'S MUSINGS: Building Up Instead of Tearing Down

Today we are going to be talking about something that is very important to me here at the blog -- what I like to call the bookish community. Essentially, I define the bookish community as anyone involved in the creation, selling or support of books. This includes writers and readers, of course, but also publishers, booksellers, blogs like my own and other professional reviewers, among others. I like to think of the bookish community as a world comprised of many smaller communities demarcated by genre and other specifications. Every member of these communities has a part to play.

My roles, for now, in the communities that I have taken part in are reviewer and reader. That sounds pretty simple: people write books, other people publish them, I pick them up, read them, and say "Hey man, read this one." However, it's more important than that. The reviewer, in theory, has influence on readers and readers have a great deal of control over the books that are released in the future.

Nobody reads a book? That book likely isn't getting a sequel. Its author is going to have a harder time getting their next project off the ground, sequel or not. If you like an author, you can have clear influence on whether or not you see more from that author in the future. There is much to say about this but I'll keep in short and direct: buy books. If you like them, tell other people to buy them, buy other things by the same authors, vote with your wallet. It is the power you have and it is a great power and you know what Uncle Ben says about great power.

The rest of this rant of mine is going to be about my other role: reviewing. I review because I love books and I love talking about them because I want to share the things I love with other people. I want to talk to the people who create the things I love and express my gratitude. I want to build up the bookish community because it is my community. I want to see it thrive. I don't want to see it fall upon hard times. I don't want to see it die.

It's natural to want your community to get even healthier and better and part of that is pointing out the things in it that don't work or could work better. That said, you shouldn't demolish the entire community just because one part of it isn't to your liking. That is why I don't write negative reviews.

Sure, there are books I don't like. One of the stated purposes of Craig's Book-ends is reviewing entire series of books as a whole (one volume at a time for series like The Dresden Files which go on indefinitely and all-at-once for series like The Kingkiller Chronicles which has a fixed end) to answer the question "Does it hold up to the end?" Since I am asking the question, I am prepared for the answer being "no". Every book I encounter won't end up on the blog and I won't be in love with every book here either. However, if I hate a book I'm not going to talk about it here. If the book simply was not for me then I'll leave it to all the people it works for. There is so much to talk about that the blog won't suffer if I don't explain why I dislike A Song of Ice and Fire. I know many, many visitors to this blog love the series and the Game of Thrones TV show. That's cool. I don't and why I don't does not matter.

I do love Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber and I am going to talk about that here. I love Mark Lawrence's Broken Empire trilogy. You can bet that I'll be covering that one. I dig the hell out of Myke Cole and John Hornor Jacobs. I'll be talking about Daniel Polansky. More people should be talking about Daniel Polansky. George R.R. Martin is going to be fine without me. In fact, he'll never even notice my absence and I'd certainly do him no favors by complaining about a series that never was going to work for me to begin with. However, maybe one of these other folks will benefit by me telling you how great I think they are. Believe me, they really are great.

Back in March, I came across another blog post related to this topic. It's a great read. Apparently some reviewers can be really nasty. You're not going to get any of that here. If a series ends up poorer than it began, I'll tell you and I'll tell you why. As far as standalone books are concerned, if you see it here you will be reading about why I liked it not whether I liked it. Maybe I didn't like it all. Maybe it faltered occasionally. However, a post on Craig's Book-ends means that the book is something that deserves your time and attention. I came to praise Caesar, not bury him. There's been too much burying in this here town.

See you next time. Keep reading!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A TITLE TO LOOK FOR: Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson

Hello again, fellow readers. This has been something of a quiet week at Craig's Book-ends as I have had non-bookish things to deal with. However, this coming week should see things return to how they are supposed to be. In the mean time, I'd like to introduce you to a new feature on the blog. A TITLE TO LOOK FOR will be a bi-weekly spotlight on a book that is coming soon. Sometimes it will be a book that I have had a chance to read in advance and sometimes it will be a book that will be as new to me upon release as it is to you, but in all cases it will be a book worth getting excited about for one reason or another! Let's get started with the very first TITLE TO LOOK FOR: Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson.

As you can see from the cover art, this here book features minotaurs predominately. I could pretty much just stop there and expect you all to check it out because everyone knows how cool minotaurs are. However, there's more than minotaurs between the covers of this book. Here's the blurb:

A hundred years ago, the Minotaurs saved Caeli-Amur from conquest. Now, three very different people may hold the keys to the city's survival.

Once, it is said, gods used magic to create reality, with powers that defied explanation. But the magic—or science, if one believes those who try to master the dangers of thaumaturgy—now seems more like a dream. Industrial workers for House Technis, farmers for House Arbor, and fisher folk of House Marin eke out a living and hope for a better future. But the philosopher-assassin Kata plots a betrayal that will cost the lives of godlike Minotaurs; the ambitious bureaucrat Boris Autec rises through the ranks as his private life turns to ashes; and the idealistic seditionist Maximilian hatches a mad plot to unlock the vaunted secrets of the Great Library of Caeli-Enas, drowned in the fabled city at the bottom of the sea, its strangeness visible from the skies above.

In a novel of startling originality and riveting suspense, these three people, reflecting all the hopes and dreams of the ancient city, risk everything for a future that they can create only by throwing off the shackles of tradition and superstition, as their destinies collide at ground zero of a conflagration that will transform the world . . . or destroy it.
Unwrapped Sky is a stunningly original debut by Rjurik Davidson, a young master of the New Weird.

Grimdark Fantasy Reader, another blog you should be checking out regularly, has reviewed this one already. You can check out the review here. With mentions of steampunk, ancient mythology, and comparisons to the great Mark Lawrence, you can bet that Unwrapped Sky is on my to-read list!

The novel drops on April 15th from Tor Books. They've provided an excerpt here. You can read more about Mr. Davidson here while you're waiting to get your hands on the book. If you read it, let me know what you think. Remember, keep reading!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

CHRIS F. HOLM Interview

Last week, we had a look at a number of books by Chris F. Holm -- his series of novels in THE COLLECTOR and a short story collection entitled 8 POUNDS. Holm was gracious enough to answer some questions for Craig's Book-ends. Mr. Holm is better with the words than I am so I'll let him take it from here...

Thank you again for agreeing to answer some questions. I hope this e-mail finds you well. I told you that I would ask you 10 questions or less but I must confess that this interview goes to 11. There was just so much to talk about.

1) When you began Dead Harvest, did you know then that it would become a series of novels?

I did. As anyone who's read my books has probably noticed, I'm a big fan of old-fashioned detective fiction, and one of the reasons is because settling in with Philip Marlowe or Lew Archer feels like visiting an old friend. I'd long wanted to conceive of a character who could support a series arc. The key is coming up with a character who could plausibly wind up involved in a number of tales worth telling. The second Sam introduced himself to me, I knew I'd found my guy.

2) How much of yourself do you see in Sam Thornton?

Sam's more a man of action than I am, to be sure. He's coarser. Less educated. But we share a sense of humor. A preoccupation with what it means to be a good person. And we're both, at heart, corny romantics. He was just dealt a crappier hand than me, is all.

Really, I see this series -- and Sam -- as my way of showing my work. Wrestling with big existential questions is a fundamental part of being human; I just do it on the page for all to see.

3) THE COLLECTOR delves into a collection (pun intended) of genres that I like to think of as "All Things Craig Loves", but in the main it seems to be equal parts hardboiled and fantastic. What were your introductions to these genres?

My mom's from a cop family. They're all voracious readers of mysteries and thrillers. We used to exchange stacks of mass market paperbacks at Sunday dinner. I probably started reading them way younger than I should have. And eventually, I traced them back to their pulp roots.

My dad's side of the family leans more toward fantasy and science fiction. I remember his father giving me a box of yellowed old books when I was little. Arthur Clarke and Isaac Asimov, Terry Brooks and Anne McCaffrey. I read them all, but found I preferred the fantastical to the hard sf.

4) You write with a confident voice that I assume comes from years of practice. How long have you been writing and how long did it take you to get your first publication, either short story or novel? 

Writers like to say things like, "Deep down, I always knew I was meant to write," and I suppose I'm no exception. But even though I was one of the millions who tell themselves they'll write a novel one day, I spent a long time on another path entirely.

After college, I entered a PhD program in infectious disease research. I thought I wanted to be one of those bug hunters the CDC dispatches to far-flung locales when outbreaks occur. Turns out, it wasn't for me. So, with my wife's encouragement, I dropped out, and focused on another dream: writing. This was back in 2001. It took me until '06 to actually finish my first novel, which thankfully never saw the light of day. My first published story was in '07. "The World Behind" in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. I remember my acceptance came on Friday, October 13, 2006. I've published twenty-something short stories since. But it wasn't until 2012 I had a novel out.

5) Your short fiction is among the best and, at times, reminds me of Stephen King. Do you prefer writing novels or shorter works and how does the two processes feel different to you as a writer?

Thanks! That's very kind of you to say. The stock answer writers are supposed to give is "I like them both equally," but in my case, that's horseshit. I prefer novels. The second part of your question -- how the processes differ -- gets at my reason why. A short story is small enough to fit inside my head in its entirety. I know every beat before I begin writing. Putting them on the page is satisfying, but there's not much thrill of discovery. Novels, on the other hand, are too big for me to see the whole picture. All I get is a glimpse, and a distorted one at that. Which means I write them to find out what happens, and that -- while challenging -- is writerly crack.

   6) You included a wonderful essay in The Wrong Goodbye called "Why The Hell?" What was your reason for writing this essay?

There are two reasons: one banal, and one less so. The banal reason is, my publisher likes to include bonus content in their books, and my first choice -- an excerpt from THE BIG REAP -- wasn't an option, because I hadn't written it yet. The less banal reason -- which answers the question of why that essay specifically -- is, loads of fans and reviewers reacted as though Biblical noir was the weirdest combination ever, when to me the connection was obvious. The essay was my chance to make my case.

7) Do you think you will ever dabble in other genres?

That depends. What genre(s) do you consider the Collector books to be?

The truth is, I've written short fiction that'd be considered crime, horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Any of those are on the table when it comes to longer works for sure. My agent and I are about to go out with a straight-up crime novel. I've got a small-town mystery/ghost story manuscript I suspect will see the light of day as well. The book I'm working on now is a high-concept thriller with a slight sf bent. And I've got notes for a YA series and a sprawling tale of post-apocalyptic horror kicking around somewhere as well.

About the only genres I can't see tackling are romance and Westerns, and that's only because I lack the familiarity -- and therefore the skills -- required.

8) What have you read recently?

Marcus Sakey's BRILLIANCE knocked me flat. BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS by Hilary Davidson was terrific as well. For comics, I've been digging Brian K. Vaughan's SAGA, and Mike Carey's THE UNWRITTEN. And there's a book by Kieran Shea coming out this year called KOKO TAKES A HOLIDAY that's gonna light the sf world on fire.

9) As a reader, do you prefer standalone fiction or series fiction? 

I find both tremendously satisfying. Like I said earlier, popping in on a series character can be like dropping in on an old friend. But there's nothing more thrilling than reading a well-executed standalone, because you're operating without a safety net; anything can happen. There's nothing to stop the author from burning everything to the ground.

10) At Craig's Book-ends, I try to call attention to the wonderful communities of writers, readers, and publishers that exist and the notion that we should support and champion one another. How strongly have you felt the community of writers, readers and publishers in your own career and what would you like to see different in the community? Do you think it could be stronger?

I cannot overstate the effect the crime-fic community has had on my life and my career. While I've got feet in both the crime and fantasy communities, I came up through crime first, and I'm amazed how gracious and supportive they've been of me and my work, especially when much of it falls well outside the average mystery-reader's comfort zone.

Many members of the sf/f community have lent their support as well, and I'm tremendously grateful for it, but the community is more fragmented and more contentious than I'm used to. Maybe that's because any community with room enough for the many iterations of fantasy and science fiction is necessarily a big tent. Or maybe it's the fact that there's been a demographic shift toward a younger, more diverse reader/writership, and the old guard's getting tetchy. But the fact is, the community's treatment of women and minorities has been less than stellar of late. We need to work to fix that
11) What's next for Chris F. Holm? Do you ever see yourself returning to the world of THE COLLECTOR?

As I mentioned, I suspect my next book out will be a straight-up crime novel. After that, though, who knows?

And I hope I do get the chance to tell some more Collector stories. In my opinion, THE BIG REAP closed off the first cycle of Sam's story, but his journey's far from over. Publishing is a goofy business, though, so regardless of my opinion, I don't have a lot of say as to whether that'll ever happen. Keep your fingers crossed.

Thank you again for taking the time to chat with me. Take care.

It was my pleasure, Craig!