A blog showcasing Indie and Small Press books and authors

The publishing world is changing and the boom in e-publishing has allowed both small press publishers and self-publishers to gain greater exposure than ever before.

The Roaring Mouse aims to bring you the best selection of those books as reviews, interviews and features. You don't have to look to the Big Six for quality literature, you can look towards the little guys.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Covenant of the Faceless Knights by Gary Vanucci

In the endlessly running sitcom ‘Friends’ there was an episode where Joey was in Vegas and saw a croupier with the same hands as him. He dubbed him his 'hand twin.'
In a similar fashion, via the medium of Tweet I have located my author twin- Gary Vanucci.

Gary writes fantasy with an unashamedly DnD influence, focusing on detailed action and intricate world building. His Wothlandia books are set in the Realm of Ashenclaw, a land populated by adventurers, dwarves, elves, demons and dragons. Gary has developed a wealth of material to support his books- a DnD sourcebook, a great web-site, and a fantastic partnership with author-artist William Kenney. The covers are fantastic, bringing to mind the classic sixties and seventies styles that adorned sword & sorcery classics by Moorcock et al.
But a book is far more than its cover, and Gary's work doesn't fail to impress. My first exposure was one of his prequels (now collected in a single volume) and from that I went on to read Covenant of the Faceless Knights.
Covenant tells the tale of Garius, a rather dour Inquisitor, who assembles a group of disparate heroes to accompany him on a mission to rescue some priests. The heroes struggle to integrate initially - as you'd expect from a barbarian, a thief and an elf alchemist. However their journey brings out their extraordinary talents and they knit together as the story progresses. In the backstory we have a demonic warlord making alliances with succubi queens, evil dwarves and a lich. Yep, a lich! Only one down from a beholder for sheer classic DnD! The main purpose there seems to be to set up books 2+, which is something that I (as well as authors like Martin and Erikson) like to do.
The characters are great: lots of fun, interesting, with abilities verging on super powered. In fact I could pick up a big comic-book influence in Gary's style ( just like me :-D ... Truly we are author twins).
I felt genuinely curious about what happens next when the book finished, and look forward to reading the sequel. I interviewed Gary about being a self-pub author, so without further ado, over to my US 'twin.'
Me: Where did you draw the inspiration for the Wothlondia series from?

Gary: I wanted to do a series of prequel short stories that actually added not only history to my world, but character development. I am attempting to set the characters up in the mind of the reader to allow them greater depth, motivation and a sense of what makes them tick. The whole series came to me from decades of writing my own D&D adventures, campaigns, etc. Most of the story, background, maps, etc. came from those years with quite a bit of tweaks and changes to give them the feel of the Realm of Ashenclaw setting. All of the characters are my own creations. They are not old characters.

Me: You've assembled a great cast of characters. Who do you like writing the most out of them all?

I can’t choose that! It’s like asking “who is your favourite child?” I do enjoy writing them all. Orngoth to me is kind of like the Hulk. I picture this massive monster of a man and go from there. Garius is your typical leader-type with very little in the way of emotion or humor. He is slightly emotionally stunted I guess, though this is a kind of social impedance in that regard. He puts his work and his devotion above all else. Saeunn is a cold, heartless warrior with a chip on her shoulder. She has suffered great loss early on, especially if you have read Tears of Blood, and it continues in Covenant. She has become very callous and guarded emotionally, aside from her mother. Elec is a kind of young adult to me. He is very na├»ve and growing, kind of inexperienced and yet, extremely intelligent and full of potential. He is becoming more and more addicted to the adrenaline rush of combat as well as his elixirs. It should be a very relatable tale with him moving forward. And Rose is really developing on her own, moreso than any of the others. She started out with a rough childhood, got used to a certain lifestyle afforded her by Ganthorpe and the Thieves’ Guild and currently, she is realizing that she was missing out on the action. She has a hidden side that really enjoyed working hard and she misses the ‘thrill and excitement of her youth. And, above all else, I try to write my characters so that they seem real, with real emotion and motivations.

Me: How much has playing (and presumably DMing) role-playing games influenced your writing? Do you worry that such influences may pigeon-hole your work amongst fantasy readers?

Gary: Playing and DMing has given me more to draw on and opened my mind, as has everything else I have ever done with regards to creativity and exposing myself to other imaginary worlds. All of my past hobbies have influenced me greatly. I feel that I can place a spin on the typical good vs. bad and make it unique, fun and even engaging enough to make people want to read it. I don’t think that pigeon-holing is what I would worry about. I am telling high fantasy and a reader comes along with certain expectations in that genre, which I am fully capable of providing. However, I feel that I can place an exceptional stamp on my characters, my writing and my world that will make the experience very unique.

Me: What are your big literary influences?

Gary: R.A. Salvatore. He is amazing. I have never read an author that can put so much detail in the world, speak so uniquely, introduced so many awesome characters and still give you a fight scene that is incredibly written. I also enjoy Michael Moorcock, George Martin, Terry Brooks, Robert E. Howard, Frank Miller, Peter David, and Alan Moore. There are really too many to name. Also, I must say that there are seriously tons of good fantasy writers on the indie side that need to be read as well. Mind you, there is also a lot of garbage, which is the con about self-publishing, but there are quite a few gems out there as well. Visit Skulldust Circle and you very well may find some good ones there! *hint-hint* As a side note, I am currently reading your Darkness Rising novel and feel that I must say, your writing is brilliant and elegant, and more people really need to discover your prose as I believe they will greatly enjoy it. As a fan of epic fantasy, I would recommend it!

Me: The covers are amazing- tell us something more about them.

Gary: They developed from my mind and I give Mr. William Kenney (also another Skulldust Circle author and my artist!) the descriptions and he churns out something amazing for me. It is truly amazing to work with someone who shares your vision on what the quality of the covers should look like, what the characters need to look like and the overall feel and ambiance of the world I am trying to create. If you need some amazing, character-focused artwork, please look him up!

Me: Fun question: in the Hollywood blockbuster who would play your main characters?

Gary: I’ve been asked this before and still have no good answers. I’d really love Olivia Wilde to play Rose in my movie. I think she would be amazing as a smart-ass rogue-type. I think I’d like Karl Urban to play Garius. The dude is extremely intense and his scowl is unmatched. Imagine him shaved bald with a long beard…lol. The elf-like character that appeared in Hellboy 2 might make an awesome Elec. Aside from a few stars to carry the movie, I’d try to introduce some new actors in an attempt to give some fresh talent a chance to make it in the big town of Hollywood!

Me: With the advent of e-publishing, people have been predicting the end of print. I recall the same predictions with the boom of multi-player Internet based gaming that the same would happen with RPG. What are your thoughts on this?
Gary: My opinion, albeit a strong one, is: It will never happen. Never. Mark it down. There will always be a want and therefore a need for publishing houses to continue on in print. It may never be lower than it is now, but it certainly will never disappear completely. I think it would be foolish, irresponsible and short-sighted. What if something happened to the internet? All we would have left would be print.

Me: So what are your current projects? 
Gary: I am currently writing Book 4 in my series, called Dance of Deceit, which continues the saga of my heroes and which I expect to be released by this Christmas…if all goes well. There will be quite a few reveals and (teaser) quite possibly a death of a character in there. (WHAT?!)

I also have a short story that will be out shortly with some of the guys from Skulldust Circle! You may have heard of them. My story is the Legend of Ashenclaw (the giant red-dragon queen whose namesake is the branding of my world!) IT should be epic for any fans of my world and there are several other amazing short stories in there that need to be perused as well. I think this cross-promotion anthology will be an awesome endeavour that introduces many readers to our work that otherwise may not have taken the chance.

Thanks for having me and I look forward to an interview with you as well!

Thanks, Gary, especially for the mention of my work!!! The Skulldust anthology will be out soon, and in the interim check out Gary’s excellent style at the links below and on his website.

Gary's Amazon page

Realm of Ashenclaw website

Covenant of the Faceless Knights

Thursday, 23 August 2012

The Charm by Alana Siegel

One of the coolest things about Twitter, and something that compensates for its vampiric ability to devour time, is meeting new authors. I met Alana in my earlier days on there and downloaded her book during a promo. The first thing that struck me, and this is something I have later learned is THE key factor for self-pub books, was the awesome cover. The Charm is perfectly pitched: a teen modern sci-fi/paranormal/fantasy mash-up.

The story is taken from the perspective of Olivia Hart, an average insecure sixteen year old in a US High school. Olivia is struggling after her relationship with the school bad-boy, and moreso as her older brother has left for college. So far, so Degrasi Junior High, until Olivia is sat in the canteen with her friends and sees her ex getting angry... and lightning bolts arcing out of his head.

There is a glut of paranormal romance in the YA market at the moment, jolted along by the runaway success of Twilight and Vampire Diaries. To an old Marvel fan like me it was refreshing to see one that is essentially a superhero story, agreeably with a Percy Jackson-esque mythical bent. As Olivia discovers weirder and weirder events, she finds that strange powers are coming to fore in both herself and her friends... The Gifted.

The emergence of powers and the effects they have on the characters and their relationships is setting the series up well to run and run. There is a continual cinematic feel to the book, and for me to get all interested in a US high school novel is an achievement Alana should be proud of!

I interviewed Alana about her first novel, The Charm, not long after the release of her second in the series. So, without further ado, let's quiz Alana...

Me: The high school setting of your book, The Charm, suited the YA genre of the book perfectly. It's difficult to avoid stereotypes in such a well-used setting, though. How do you go about designing your characters to do that?

Alana: I’ve heard people say that you should write what you know, and so I allowed my personal life to inspire the dynamic characters in the Olivia Hart and the Gifted Program series.  Many of the situations are based (loosely) on people and events in my life.  For example, in high school, my ex-boyfriend brought flowers to a girl in the same class as me, just to make me jealous (it didn’t work!).  I dream of the day that I am on the Ellen DeGeneres show with my high school friends and readers get to see real live versions of my characters.  ;-)

To answer the next questions on the tip of your tongue, I didn't have super powers when I was in high school, but who wouldn't want to add special abilities when you are rewriting history? 

Me: Olivia is a wonderful and complex main character. I think we all put part of ourselves in our creations. How much of you is in Olivia- or indeed any of the characters?

Interesting timing for your question!  The Retreat, book #2 in the series was launched a week ago, and I received a review on the Amazon page from a reader who wasn't a family member or friend.  He wrote, "Alana Siegel is a girl at heart, and enjoys writing the joys and challenges of enduring love, and friendship."

For a minute, I was stunned.  How did this random reader know me so well?  Then, I was unbelievably happy because I realised Olivia had translated my passions perfectly.  I am a self-professed Tween Queen.

Me: I'm just completing a series of fantasy novels and have tied up my story arcs. Is your series a pre-determined length or have you left it open/flexible?

Alana: I always hoped to write a trilogy or a series.  I love to get lost in an adventure with old friends.  My outline maps out Olivia's path, however, there are still open ended questions about her relationships and journeys.  I love feedback from readers and will incorporate their ideas into my writing.

The Retreat added 2 new characters - Great Aunt Evelyn who is a 97 year old woman with spunk and Luca Hale who knows a thing or two about charming.  I am toying with an idea for book 3; perhaps having the book begin by questioning Aunt Ev's innocence and building up a Team Justin vs. Team Luca rivalry for Olivia's affection.

Me: The boom in e-publishing has created a whole new generation of writers putting their stuff out there. What advice could you give to those starting out on the path to self-pub?

The publishing industry is changing for the better.  Great books can now be read by the masses without getting tangled up in the politics of the publishing industry.  With websites to post book reviews, the end users (the readers) are now the final judges of a book, instead of the large publishing houses.

Joining twitter, I was able to contact thousands of authors (like yourself!), and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they were welcoming and willing to help.  They retweeted my novel to their followers, shared my story on their blog, and passed along helpful tips and advice.  Goodreads is also a fantastic place to connect with fellow readers and writers.

If you turn writing into a hobby instead of a job, you will find instant gratification. Enjoy the journey, and never give up.

Me: My preconception of New York comes from superhero comics and cop shows. What's it like living and working there?

Haha!  Growing up in New York was great.  It is truly the city that never sleeps, and Manhattan was my playground when I went to New York University.  This past June, my fiance and I moved to San Francisco.  I miss the skyscrapers, but my lifestyle is definitely more relaxed!  I insist you take a trip to both cities!

If only! Thanks very much to Alana for a fun interview, and good luck in the cool city of San Francisco. Here are the links to her books and web-sites. Hope you get chance to look in.

Website: http://www.oliviahartbooks.com
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/embed/fO7GhrerfgU
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Olivia-Hart/198744080212227
Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/AlanaSiegel