Tag Archives: Alan Baxter

Festivus Book Pimping: Primordial by David Wood and Alan Baxter

All right, who wants monsters? And here I’m talking monsters-of-the-deep variety. You do? Excellent! Well, have I the pimp for you! Book pimp, I mean, not… moving on. So, this monster thing I was talking about before you all fell into the gutter, is of the ancient ilk. Primordial, in fact (see what I did there?). And it’s of the big bitey kind.

Primordial by David Wood and Alan Baxter is a ‘creature feature’ novel with the search for a monster purportedly living in a Finnish lake. The book follows Australian marine biologist Sam Ashton, who take on the job of scientific sceptic for billionaire-come-batshit-crazy-dude, Ellis Holloway. Along for the ride is a documentary team, led by Joanne Slater; Holloway’s bodyguard, and a local fisherman. On shore, (yes, they get to shore), is local historian Old Mo, who keeps the legend of Lake Kaarme alive.

This book contains myths and legends, nods to Hollow Earth, Jurassic Park, and a little bit of Jaws thrown in to get the pulse racing in those underwater scenes (swim faster, you fools!).  There’s a lot going on in this story, and the authors take the readers on quite the ride… swim… boat… (shut up). There’s horror, suspense, some gore, a little bit of bow-chicka-wow-wow, but this is a slick novel that will have your pulse racing.

Back-cover blurb below:

Sometimes, the legends are true. When eccentric billionaire, Ellis Holloway, hires renegade marine biologist, Sam Aston, to investigate the legend of a monster in a remote Finnish lake, Aston envisions an easy paycheck and a chance to clear his gambling debts. But he gets much more. There is something terrible living beneath the dark waters of Lake Kaarme and it is hungry. As the death toll mounts, Aston faces superstitious locals, a power-hungry police chief, and a benefactor’s descent into madness as he races to find the legendary beast of the lake.

Primordial-full

(Killer cover by the uber-talented Dean Samed of Neostock.)

Buy this book for someone you love, or don’t love, or like a lot or just a wee bit. Look, this is an excellent read with a tight plot, excellent characters, and a monster that will make you wet your pants*. You can’t go wrong.

Recommended for lovers of horror, suspense, creature-feature stories, big-bitey things, legendary creatures, cryptozoology.

 

* No pants were soiled in the reading of this book.  

Print, dammit!

Any one who knows me, knows that when it comes to reading for pleasure, my preference is print books. Always print. I have overflowing bookcases (which means I don’t have enough bookcases), a mountain of ‘to read’ books on my bedside table, stacked neatly on the floor… and anywhere else I can find room. And I tell ya, every time I see them I smile. I mean… BOOKS!

So a couple of years back when Alan Baxter put out the first of his Alex Caine trilogy, Bound, I waited until Supanova Sydney to grab myself a signed copy. The only thing better than a print book is a signed print book. It was a kick-arse story, and you can read my review of it here. Pumped as I was to read the next, I was told, rather sheepishly by Alan, that print copies for books 2 and 3 were still up in the air, but ebook was available.

I flinched. Ebook? But no! I want print! PRINT, dammit!

It’s taken almost two years, but they’re here! Well they will be in June. And the new covers are just brilliant – so much more evocative and in-line with the story within. Take a look.

Caine-Bound-book-page   Caine-Obsidian-book-page   Caine-Abduction-book-page

This does, of course, bring up one problem. Well, not a problem per se, more… well… I can’t have mismatched covers, okay? There. I said it. It’ll drive me nuts. Niggle at me. Like an earworm… constantly whispering: not the same, not the same, not the same.  So three new books it will be. All of which will be signed.

Check out the book blurb for Bound, then do yourself a favour and put these books on your wish list.

Alex Caine, a fighter by trade, is drawn into a world he never knew existed – a world he wishes he’d never found.

Alex Caine is a martial artist fighting in illegal cage matches. His powerful secret weapon is an unnatural vision that allows him to see his opponents’ moves before they know their intentions themselves.

After a fight one night, an enigmatic Englishman, Patrick Welby, claims to know Alex’s secret. Welby shows Alex how to unleash a breathtaking realm of magic and power, drawing him along a mind-bending trajectory beyond his control. And control is something Alex values above all else.

Awards and Such Things

I meant to write this post before I left for my holiday but having two kids who’d rather video game than pack meant all my days blurred. But now it’s time to have a little chat about awards and such things most writers say they care little about but secretly (and sometimes not-so secretly) want. Sure, we write because we love it, because we’re driven to create words and worlds, because we’d go crazy if we didn’t, but recognition, be it via a sale, a kick-arse review, an award or recommended read is something every writer craves – that external validation that tells us we’re better than that little voice inside telling us we’re shit.

The first six months of the year are filled with awards (too many to list here), and the Australian Shadows Awards are the latest to hit my shores. Run through the Australian Horror Writers Association, it’s the premier awards for Australian and New Zealand horror that always presents really cool trophies – a different one each year, so you never know what you’re going to get.

AHWA

I had a pony in this race under the ‘edited works’ banner as co-editor (with Geoff Brown) for SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror. It was a strong field, up against Simon Dewar’s Suspended in Dusk anthology, and SQ Mag (issue 14) edited by Sophie Yorkston, and with just a week to wait from finalist announcements to the reveal of the winner, it was Sophie Yorkston and SQ Mag who took out the win.

Was I bummed? Sure – who doesn’t want to win an award for the work they’ve put in? Did I edit the anthology with the hopes of winning an award? No. I edited the antho because I got to work with some amazing authors with equally amazing stories. Of that I’m proud. An award win would have been a nice shiny cherry atop a kick-arse cake.

SNAFU cover art

There were four other categories: short fiction, long fiction, novel, and collected works – all with diverse and strong entries, and I was crossing my fingers and toes that two of my buddies (and fellow Sydney SHADOWS boozers) would take out a win.

Huzzahs happened when Andrew J McKeirnan won for his amazing collection Last Year When We Were Young. This is a fantastic collection of shorts that I reviewed here. If you haven’t read it, get off your bum and seek it out – you won’t be disappointed. Andrew’s been a Shadows Award finalist… well, heaps, so it was about time he took out the win. I’m sure he felt the same.

True to form, Alan Baxter took out the win for the short story category with Shadows of the Lonely Dead. He had two nominated works in this category, so that just shows you how much of a damn fine writer he is. Head over to his website and check out his work then buy it. Go on. What are you waiting for?

The novel category was taken out by Aaron Sterns and Greg McLean for Wolf Creek Origins (yes, of the Wolf Creek cinematic fame). Nightmare-inducing fun this! Fun? Okay, so maybe my idea of fun is a little different from yours…

Shane Jiraiya Cummings won the recently renamed Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction with Dreams of Destruction. While I haven’t read this story, I’ve read Shane’s work and I’m not at all surprised he took out this category.

So I didn’t win an award this year – that’s okay. I’ve been a finalist for the Australian Shadows Award, had SNAFU listed as a recommended read on the Bram Stokers’ ballot list, and the reviews for SNAFU have been incredible. I call that a win. I’d be lying if I said it was the ‘win’ I was looking for; you see, I’ve won a Shadows Award for my short fiction, and that’s an addictive high. I want to win another. Hell, I want a win a slew of awards. When I get hit with that writer-imposteritis, the trophy that sits atop my desk tells me I can do this writing thing; that I’m good enough to win an award, no matter what that inner voice says.

011

The big winner here, though, is Aussie horror fiction, which is going from strength to strength, with recognition and appreciation for the power of Australian storytelling making those around the world sit up and take notice. And well they should.

 

Writers and the ‘Real’ World

Writers, by and large, are a solitary folk. We live in our heads as much (if not more) as we do the ‘real’ world. Even when venturing into the gathering places of other humans, a part of our mind is ticking over with story plots, envisioning (and having conversations with) characters, trekking through worlds of our own creation. We function as other non-writerly folk do, but part of us is always lost in our words and our worlds.

imagination

The advent of social media has brought us solitary creatures together, given us a sense of community and understanding. Still, we continued to sit before our screens and ‘interact’ with other like-minded beings, and the sometime sense of isolation drew back a little. However, the thought of interacting face-to-face can often be an altogether different beast. A terrifying thing wrought with insecurity and panic. Our created worlds are safe havens, places we know and love that offer security and acceptance.

So it was with much trepidation (and a little fear, truth be told) that a couple of years ago a small bunch of Sydney horror writers who’d interacted online finally decided a meet was something we should try. You know, in person, face-to-face with conversation and all that jazz. And beer, let’s not forget the beer.

Jo and Cat Me, Tracy and Jase

And so the Sydney SHADOWS was born. That first get-together was a little daunting I have to say, but it soon grew into a core group of about ten who now can’t wait to meet up and talk shop and shenanigans. You see, no one understands a writer like another writer – they get that excitement of a new story/idea, the joy of publication and the suckiness of rejections. They know you live in alternate universes that are as real as the one our bodies inhabit. Among us there’s a wealth of experience and information we readily share with one another, but more than that we’re letting our hair down (well, those of us with hair), swearing up a storm, and acting silly as only writers can. Sure, we get strange looks from those at other tables, but we’re writers – even out in the world we bring our own worlds with us… while creating fantastical places in a hubbub of shouted ideas. (Cake drones! Ahem…)

Rob and Alan Me and Tracy  Jo and Rob Alan and Rob

Three or four years ago if this opportunity had come up, I’m not sure I’d have taken the leap, but now I can’t imagine not meeting up with this lot. We drink, we talk shit, bond over hats, and boy do we laugh. It’s a letting off of steam, of the build-up of all that we carry around in our heads, which can sometimes be very dark stuff.

There are times when my husband will ask: “When are you getting together with your people?” That’s his not-so-subtle way of telling me he can’t help me with the writing stuff that’s driving me crazy, and/or I need to get out of the house (and stop wearing my pyjamas all day).

Alan and Tracy Tracy and Me

Being (physically) around other authors brings a normalcy to what most of us experience when we tell other humans we’re writers (especially a horror writer) – a frown of distaste, a look of incredulity, a gasp followed by ‘but why?’. And meeting up with like-minded specimens is damn inspiring, no doubt about it.

So yes, writers are, by and large, a solitary folk, but when we get together it’s a celebration of what we do and who we are – warts and all. And for writers, there’s not a lot better than that.

Me, Alan, Jason  cat

(If you’re looking for fantastic writers and great reads, check out some of the work from Sydney SHADOWS members: Joanne Anderton, Catriona Sparks, Alan Baxter, Robert Hood, Andrew J McKeirnan, Marty Young, and Jason Crowe – you can’t go wrong!)

(All pics courtesy of the wonderful Cat Sparks, who can take a photo like no other!)

Review: ‘Bound’ by Alan Baxter

Yep, it’s review time again! Bound by Alan Baxter, is the tenth book I’ve sunk my teeth into this year, and that may not seem a lot to some, but when weighed against my work (which entails a tonne of reading) and my own writing, I’m doing pretty damn well.

So, in keeping with my reading of Aussie authors, Alan Baxter’s tome had crept its way to the top of my ‘to read’ pile. Now before we venture much further, this review comes with a disclaimer: Alan is a mate; we’re both part of a group of spec-fic writers (big up Sydney SHADOWS!) who get together as often as we can — but never often enough — to discuss all things writing and books and comics and life and stuff while we drink copious amounts of Fat Yak (but that’s a story for another day).

With the requisite disclaimer out of the way, now comes the requisite spoiler alert:

<insert Dalek voice here> DANGER! DANGER! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! DANGER! DANGER!

Bound is the first book in Baxter’s ‘Alex Caine’ trilogy, published through Harper Voyager. I’m familiar with Alan’s shorter works, so I was looking forward to reading one of his longer pieces. Bound introduces us to Alex Caine, an underground fighter (think MMA) with an uncanny ability to ‘read’ his opponents moves before they’re delivered. He does this via what he calls ‘shades’ (Magesign), and it’s made him top of his game. A usually solitary figure, Caine gets himself into some trouble from a local Sydney ‘gangsta’ (I’ve always wanted to write that word), and with the timely visit from an Englishman, Welby, who knows Alex’s secret, the adventure begins.

Caine-Bound-book-page

To avoid the veritable shitstorm coming Caine’s way, he accepts Welby’s invitation to travel to London. This is the beginning of Caine’s globetrotting quest, and an introduction to a world and magic and “people” (Fey), he never knew existed. Caine is somewhat of a ‘savant’ when it comes to the magic he possesses, and the Fey-world into which he’s been thrust is hard and unforgiving.

Welby needs Caine to decipher an ancient book no one (Fey or Kind) have been able to unlock. From here, things go from bad to worse then worserer (yeah, I said it). The book ‘Uthentia’ holds the remnants of an ancient Fey-godling that wants nothing more than to return chaos to all worlds – human and Fey – and no matter how much Caine wants rid of the book, it’s hitched its trailer to him. Add in the shards of a magical stone (on which his quest balances), Caine is in some serious shit. He’s a conduit, one who’s trying to conquer the bad mojo for survival. Not just his, but that of the worlds.

Baxter’s tale is fast-paced, and the magic he’s created is interesting, and something of which I wanted to know more. He touches on the monsters of popular culture and myth alike, which, for me, only placed me more solidly in Baxter’s world. He also take the writer credo: ‘write what you know’, to heart here. A kung-fu instructor himself, he’s incorporated the fighting skills and lessons of his sifu to see Caine through his quest and internal battle with the magic that’s ‘bound’ itself to him, and you can see that in the believability of the fight scenes.

Caine isn’t alone in travels. A half-Fey, Silhouette, has taken a shine to him, and Caine falls hard and fast for her. I was a little worried Silhouette was the ‘requisite love interest’, but she holds her own, and doesn’t shy from who she is and what she needs to do to survive. Something she doesn’t hide from Caine either. Theirs is a complicated yet strikingly honest relationship (regardless of the secrets each needs to keep).

The two make a formidable force, as do the antagonists in this tale – (the fantastically tuckerised) Hood and Sparks. Nasty pieces of work, both. But well placed against Caine and Silhouette. There are shades of grey through all the characters, and that’s something I liked most about this tale.

blood spatterThere are sections of this story that those with weaker stomachs when it comes to fiction, might have trouble reading. If vivid violence, rough sex, and a shitload of swearing aren’t your cup of tea then this might not be the book for you. But creativity is meant to push boundaries, to take us places that make us wonder at what humanity really means. What’s that saying? ‘Art should comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable.’ Baxter does this well while providing a hell of a story to boot.

My only concern is that with such a fast-paced, action-packed first book, sustaining this through books two and three, and upping the ante, might make this a hard act to follow. I’m looking forward to the ride, though, I gotta say.

I’m a bit of a hard taskmaster when it comes to star ratings (you need to really earn a five star from me), and while it took me longer than I wanted to read Bound, it was more that I’m extremely time-poor, than a reflection on the story itself. I didn’t want to put this book down, and I hankered to get back to it (Baxter’s “monsters” are pretty damn awesome), but real life and a tonne of work has a habit of imposing itself on my leisurely pursuits.

So, on a Goodreads scale, I give Bound 5 stars.

five stars

Supanova: You Be Crazy!

Yesterday, I broke my “convention cherry” (it’s a thing, it really is) at Supanova Sydney. Now before your mind starts taking you places it really shouldn’t, Supanova, for the uninitiated, is a pop-culture spectacular that covers all things geekdom: comics, books, anime, cartoons, gaming, cosplay… the awesome list goes on.

SNova 3

It was my first trip to a convention of this kind, but it certainly won’t be the last. There was much excitement in my household when I told the kids we were heading to Supanova (or Nerdvana, as my daughter happily called it), so much so they were dressed and ready without my usual cry of: “shoes, dammit, shoes!”

After gathering one of my son’s friends, we made the half-hour trek to the Sydney Showgrounds at Homebush. Much excitement ensued as we played ‘follow the cosplayer’ to the arena, but that was just a taste of what was to come. The outfits and costumes donned by some of those in attendance were brilliant, inspired, and the attention to detail in some was amazing.

SNova 1

Everywhere we looked there was something to nab your attention (there’s a bad ADHD joke in here somewhere). There were stalls upon stalls upon stalls of publishers hawking their books; stalls upon stalls upon stalls of comic and graphic novels; clothing of all kinds (including a ghillie-suit that had me do a double-take), collectables, two amazing sword and dagger stalls I tried not to salivate over; and did I mention books?

Two of my writerly mates and Sydney SHADOWS compatriots, Alan Baxter and Andrew McKiernan were there hawking their new releases. I picked up (and demanded) signed copies of Alan’s ‘BOUND’ (Harper Voyager), and Andrew’s ‘last year, when we were young’ (Satalyte Publishing). I also grabbed ‘Assassin’s Aprentice’ by the lovely Robin Hobb, who happily signed my copy then chatted graciously with me.

Books!

My kids (and my spare) were in their element, running from comic stall to comic stall looking for that something special that elicits a smile that lights them up from the inside – it was beautiful to see. And their pure delight at the costumes is something I know will stay with them forever.

I’ve read too much about the elitist and misogynistic crap that sometimes goes on at cons such as this, but I saw none of that, my kids saw none of that. They were happily caught up in the wonder of a community of people who had a love of all things fantastique. And a shout out to all those who happily posed with and for the kids – not once were they turned down; not once were they made to feel as though they were intruding. My daughter, who can sometimes be painfully shy, was hovering near Batman, when she was spotted by the Penguin (now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write), who smiled and beckoned her over, making her feel at ease as they posed. It’s acts such as this that make things right with her world, makes things right with mine.

Cloe and friends

So with my convention cherry well and truly broken, and with tired feet, a tonne of fantastic photos and armloads of books for us all, we bid Supanova Sydney adieu, for we will be back next year, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll have two cosplayers with me.

The Writing Process Blog Chain

My buddy, Andrew J McKiernan, tagged me into this Writing Process blog chain, and I don’t know whether to smack him or buy him a beer at our next writerly get-together. You can read all about Andrew’s writing process here, and as he was brought into this by Alan Baxter, you can read all about Alan’s process, too (guilt by association, Al!). It’s been a real eye-opener reading about the varied way authors approach their craft.

The idea behind this blog chain is for writers to answer four questions that discuss their work and their process (minus the tears and rocking in a corner, I’m guessing), then tag three other authors into laying themselves bare. I’ve enjoyed reading about the writing processes of other storytellers – each as diverse as the writers and the words and worlds they create.

Now it’s my turn to be uncomfortable…

1. What am I working on?

I’m currently working on the draft of my first novel – a horror story in a fantasy world. I know the term most used is ‘dark fantasy’, but I look at it as a horror story set in a fantastical world. I hate labels, by the way. The novel is based in the world of a short story I wrote for ASIM #48 in 2010 – The Whims of my Enemy. It’s a desperate, genocidal world, where the lines between right and wrong, of good and evil, are blurred.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

That’s always a tough question to answer. The best I can give is ‘voice’. Every writer has their own; their own way of building their worlds, their characters, and how each interacts with others and the world they’ve created – we all bleed differently onto the page. If I look back at the short stories I’ve written, the unifying idea behind them would be horror versus hope, be it an internal battle or all-out bloody war. I’d say my writing examines how different people react and cope with truly horrendous situations, and how it breaks some and makes others. Do I compare or liken myself to other writers? No, that does no one any favours, least of all me.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Aah, I’m asked that a lot. Actually, it’s more: “My god, why?” And that’s more with me being a woman who writes horror (and a mum to boot!). I’ve dealt with this in a post here, but one of the simple answers is: it’s what flowed. No doubt my writing was influenced by my reading habits, which have always been on the darker side of fiction. There was very little chance I was going to be a romance writer (sorry, Dad!). Why do I write it? I love it. I love putting characters into ghastly situations to see what they’re made of… or what they’re not. And I hope it makes for an uncomfortably thought-provoking read.

4. How does my writing process work?

It differs. For short stories, I’m a ‘pantser’ – I sit down with an idea and just write. Sometimes I have an idea of where the story will go, sometimes not. I’ve even worked a short from end to beginning.

As for my novel, this has been the steepest learning curve, and to be completely honest, the scope of it has been more than a little frightening. I’m actually on what technically would be my second draft, as I chucked the first one – it took me 52,000 words to realise it wasn’t working, and that was due to me constraining the novel to the boundaries of the short story (not smart, I know, but hey, you learn from your mistakes). Still, those 52,000 words gave me a greater understanding of the world and my characters, so not all bad. While I had very detailed character lists and a basic story outline, I tried to ‘pants’ my way through this, and that didn’t work either. So while I now have a very vague chapter outline, I still like to let my characters lead the way – they know the story they want to tell. Sometimes they let me in on it, other times, not. I’ve been pleasantly (and unpleasantly) surprised on more than one occasion by the decisions and choices they’ve made.

This first draft also has a deadline thanks to the awesome Black Friday Wager group, which was set up as a way to help a bunch of us achieve our goals. So the first draft of my novel needs to be completed by Friday, June 13, 2014 or I owe Marty Young a bottle of scotch. Unfortunately for Marty, he’ll be the one ponying up a couple of volumes of Gaiman’s Sandman, as I will get this first (second) draft done!

So that’s me then. Now it’s time to tag three other amazing writers into this blog chain. If you haven’t read their work (or those of Andrew McKiernan and Alan Baxter), go out and find it – you’ll wish you’d done so earlier!

Over to you:

Devin Madson

Marty Young

Greg Chapman

(Note: Devin, Marty and Greg will post their responses to the question next Monday, March 10th)

Inkwell on an old letter