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Guest Post: When the Dead Just Won’t Stay Down



Guest Post: When the Dead Just Won’t Stay Down by Gail Z. Martin


Dying might be the only way to ever get free of your cell phone. So far, neither  Verizon Wireless nor Vodaphone have come up with a signal that can reach across the River Styx.

It’s not for lack of trying. I suspect that people have been trying to talk to the dead and bring them back to life since the very first death. Some want to reunite with loved ones. Others want the secrets the dead took with them to their grave, or want to enslave them for labor or armies. Whatever the reason, necromancy—magic that gives the user power over the dead—never goes out of style.

For someone who’s pretty normal (twitch, twitch), I spend a lot of time thinking about necromancy. My first epic fantasy series was the Chronicles of the Necromancer. The main character, Tris Drayke, learns that he is a Summoner, with the ability to intercede between the living and the dead, and he has to learn to control that magic before it destroys him in order to avenge his family.

Over the course of the four books in the Chronicles series and two more in the Fallen Kings Cycle, Tris becomes the most powerful necromancer of his generation. Along the way, I had to figure out how to create a system of magic that was believable and yet breathtaking in its power. 

In my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, Tormod Solveig is a necromancer, and his take on the magic comes with a whole different sensibility and set of moral constraints than Tris’s magic did.

In my Deadly Curiosities series, all manner of evil nasties want to get their hands on human souls or use the dark magic generated by shedding blood to increase their own power. Not only that, but since I draw on Voudon (what Hollywood calls Voodoo) in the series, we run into supernatural figures like Baron Samedi and his Ghedes, beings that escort souls into the afterlife. And even in the new Iron and Blood series which I’m co-writing with my husband, Larry N. Martin, there are resurrectionists who want to pick up where Dr. Frankenstein left off.

I don’t think it’s an accident that Mary Shelley and the novel Frankenstein is often hailed as the originator of the science fiction genre. Our desire to raise and control the dead is very primal. For one thing, no one really wants to die. So if we can validate what lies beyond, we remove the fear and mystery from death. And if we can control resurrection, we become gods.

Or not. Tris Drayke struggles with how to use his necromancy and remain a Light mage. He learns that there are rules to using his power which he cannot break at the risk of his own soul. One of those rules is that a spirit cannot be forced to return, and that it is immoral to force a spirit back into a rotting corpse. Spirits may not be enslaved. Corpses should be treated with respect. On the other hand, he also finds that the dead have their own agendas, and he must be wary of spirits who would seek to control him or trick him into doing harm. And more than once, Tris discovers that old grudges, deep-felt emotions and loyalty transcend death, making the dead powerful allies if they can be won to the cause.

The peril of necromancy is also clear in the Chronicles books. The Obsidian King, a necromancer from a prior generation, gave in to the lust for power and not only paid with his life and soul, but plunged the kingdom into a devastating war. Blood mages use minor necromancy to torment and bind spirits. In The Dread, Tris comes up against Scaith, an enemy necromancer who allows no constraints on his magic, giving Tris the choice between compromising his own soul and honor and protecting his kingdom.

Tormod Solveig, whom we meet in War of Shadows, the third book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, plays by different rules. He has no compunctions about raising corpses like puppets in the midst of battle, using the reanimated dead as shock troops in battle, or compelling the spirits of dead warriors to fight on his behalf.

In Deadly Curiosities, both the book and the short story series, we run into a number of creatures that can manipulate the dead. Voudon loas like Baron Samedi and Papa Legba open and close the gateway to the afterlife, and a person does not die, it’s said, unless the Baron consents to dig his grave. The short story Wicked Dreams involves someone trying to control the spirits of the dead with blood magic, and we’ll run into people with necromancy and spirit magic in the second book of the series as well.

Since the steampunk era gave us the scientific version of necromancy in Frankenstein, it only seemed fitting to revisit resurrectionists in Iron and Blood. Grave robbing as big during the Victorian era, as were clandestine experiments on corpses as doctors tried to gain forbidden knowledge. Our two mad doctors, who make an appearance both in the upcoming novel and in the short story, Resurrection Day, attempt to create clockwork copses with horrific results.

Necromancy and the line between the living and the dead will intrigue storytellers as long as there are people telling stories. So stoke up the fire, gather round, and let’s tell some scary tales about people who just won’t stay dead.

My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for stories and books by author friends of mine. And, a special 50% off discount from Double-Dragon ebooks! You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Details here: www.AscendantKingdoms.com

Trick or Treat: Enjoy an excerpt from The Summoner, Book One in my Chronicles of the Necromancer series here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/books/chronicles-of-the-necromancer/the-summoner/the-summoner-chapter-one-2/


And a second bonus excerpt from Wicked Dreams, one of my Deadly Curiosities Adventures short stories here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/short-stories-and-more/the-deadly-curiosities-adventures-2/wicked-dreams/excerpt-from-wicked-dreams/

Book Review: Ghosts of Manhattan

Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann, The Ghost

1926, New York. Jazz. Flappers. Prohibition. It’s the roaring twenties but not as history remembers it. Coal-powered cars line the streets of Manhattan, while zeppelins and biplanes occupy the skies. And the US is locked in a bitter cold war with a British Empire that still covers half of the globe.

This is the alternate vision of the most opulent era of New York. A 1920s that provides the setting for Ghosts of Manhattan and Ghosts of War. It’s a darker version of history. One steeped in fantastical steampunk innovations and a dark undercurrent of supernatural treachery. Organized crime rules the streets, with speakeasies on every corner. And while a run-down police force battles mobsters and their protection rackets, the “Lost Generation” is drinking away the recent nightmares of the World War.

The United States finds itself locked in a diplomatic standoff with a British Empire who has only just buried Queen Victoria, her life artificially preserved to the age of 107. The hub of both the excesses and power of the states, New York stands as a gaudy beacon for a country trying to drown its troubles in illegal gin. It’s a society on the brink of destruction, where any low level crook could be the tipping balance into lawlessness and disorder.

It’s a time in need of a hero. 


It’s a time in need of The Ghost.  


I have had the pleasure of reading some of George Mann's Sherlock and Newbury and Hobbes books and I have to say I was and still am impressed his writing is very good and addictive. Luckily for me Titan is reissuing his The Ghost series over the course of 2014-2015, and this means more reading adventures. This series does fall a bit in the lines of the detective adventures of Newbury and Hobbes and Sherlock but instead of taking place in Victorian London, the story of Ghosts of Manhattan takes place in the bristling city of New York in 1926, added to this comes the addition of a superhero vigilante instead of an investigative duo. And once again I am taken by the cool story that George Mann has written. 

Ghosts of Manhattan falls in one genre that George Mann knows how to write best. Steampunk. It's also one genre that I like to read a lot as this genre can be viewed from many different directions with purely a focus on steam and cogs or with a more scientific or supernatural approach. George Mann story of Ghosts of Manhattan falls in the latter category. I am always very intrigued by the world that George Mann builds and Ghosts of Manhattan wasn't an exception either. I liked the more natural influences that were then completely thrown overboard by some of the supernatural and science fiction influences, thereby creating a very dynamic and bristling world. There was something familiar to the story, mainly so the background of the Ghost himself that could be compared to one superhero, namely so Batman. But within the setting that George Mann has created, our superhero vigilante does make one great appearance for himself and the references to the aforementioned superhero do disappear and to be completely honest, I haven't seen Batman battle it out against Golems and Demons, or did I miss something? Ghosts of Manhattan takes place in a cool surrounding with a kick-ass protagonist. 

The story of Ghosts of Manhattan picks up with a most brutal and viscous scene, introducing the vigilante Ghost, he has been named this by his audience as he appears from out of no where. He tries to stop a bank robbery and though he does succeed in stopping it, it isn't without an innocent causality and this does raise the question whether he is in for the good or for the bad. This aside, already early on in the story you learn that he carries a nifty array of weapons and other gadgets, modified flechette guns and rocket boots! After this you are introduced many different and yet unexplainable murders that have occurred in New York city, this case is assigned to agent Donovan, who doesn't really know where to start and give the slightest explanation as to why and how. Luckily our vigilante hero mixes himself in the fray of it and together they lead the investigation. The evidence that is left behind at each crime scene are two ancient Roman coins in the eyes of the victims. This should be the fare to take them to the otherworld. These hints start the fingers pointing in the direction of a person known as "The Roman", it is said that he runs a dangerous gang. Now all the bets are off to stop the Roman and for more horrendous crimes to appear to the city of New York. 

The first 3/4 of the story deals mostely with the natural side of the world but the plot twist in the end was one that was very cool. The ancient coins and the name hints only toward an Italian person but when you find out what The Roman really is... it changes everything and does give an nice premise for the continuation of the story. Looking back on George Mann's earlier works I could have seen this coming but I was to focused on the dark and gritty aspect of the investigation that it did caught me by surprise. cool stuff. 

The characters that you follow are a bit standard when you look at their actions but when you take into account that Ghosts of Manhattan is written with a pulpy influence in the background, you should have expected this and to be frank. For me these characters, The Ghost even though he has some references towards Batman and detective Donovan, work. Yes these characters in the story work and readily make the story come to live. The Ghost has an interesting background and on the first take doesn't seem to know just what he is doing in between. yes, it is a different personality. this is where I stop with the explanation. The Ghost is just the type of vigilante that you want to have guarding the streets,. he is commited to see wrongs be put to right and he has compassion, he wants to save the innocents and not cause any casualities. In the end some stuff happens to a certain some one (sorry have to be cryptic here) that further bolsters his nature as said above. I like the Ghost already and look forward to see more action of his and of course his gadgets!

Ghosts of Manhattan further marks George Mann as one of my favorite authors at this moment. His book continue to surprise and seeing that he is involved in many different stories like Newbury and Hobbes, Sherlock, The Ghost and Doctor Who, makes him a very versatile author. His writing style is addictive and I already cant wait to read his next book. Ghosts of Manhattan is a great take on a vigilante superhero story and though it does have some links to other works of fiction, in this story, the "stereotypes" worked really well with each other and produced and action packed edge of your seat book. For me it's move over Batman and let The Ghost do your work!

Author interview with Stephen Gregory



Author interview with Stephen Gregory

Author bio: 
Stephen Gregory (b. 1952) was born in Derby, England, and earned a degree in law from the University of London. He worked as a teacher for ten years in various places, including Wales, Algeria, and Sudan, before moving to the mountains of Snowdonia in Wales to write his first novel, The Cormorant (1986), which won Britain’s prestigious Somerset Maugham Award and drew comparisons to Poe. The book was also adapted for film as a BBC production starring Ralph Fiennes. Two more novels, both set in Wales, followed: The Woodwitch (1988) and The Blood of Angels (1994). After the publication of The Blood of Angels, he worked in Hollywood for a year with Oscar-winning director William Friedkin (The Exorcist). More recently, he has published The Perils and Dangers of this Night (2008), and his new novel, The Waking That Kills, will be published in late 2013.


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I’m Stephen Gregory, an Englishman living and working and writing in Brunei Darussalam in SE Asia.  I’ve been out here with my wife Chris for thirteen years – I teach English and French to cheerful, cheeky teenage girls in a local government school.  Our son Nick is here too and we have two grand-children in Thailand.  Brunei is a ‘tiny, oil-rich sultanate’ (it says in the guide-books) on the north coast of Borneo, hot and tropical, with everyday bright sunshine and torrential rains ... we have a little bungalow surrounded by bits of jungle, a backyard with snakes and monitor lizards and monkeys, and our two ‘local’ dogs Poppy and Marmite.  I get up at 5.30 and teach in the mornings, we take the dogs to the beach late afternoons, and in the evening (after it’s gone dark with the wailing of the mosque at 6.30) it’s time for a gin and tonic and then either stay in or go out and eat somewhere in the capital city Bandar Seri Begawan.  I write in the evenings too.

Starting to be a writer?  I was writing in my 20s when I was a young teacher in England and Algeria and Sudan, I published a few stories, and I was planning one day to escape and try writing properly full-time.  At last, after ten years’ teaching, I ran off to Snowdonia and rented a little cottage  ... and wrote THE CORMORANT.

Inspiration for WAKENING THE CROW?  It shares the bird-theme with THE WAKING THAT KILLS and really all my other books.  Ever since THE CORMORANT I’ve had some bird or other marvellous piece of wild nature as the iconic, symbolic centre of my writing ... whether it’s a toad or a fungus or a brittlestar, and more birds.  In THE WAKING THAT KILLS I had the amazing swifts, and in WAKENING THE CROW it’s a scraggy, sinister crow, discovered in the belfry of a church, which carries the spirit of Poe throughout the story ...

Selling the book in one sentence?  Another of my ‘fierce little novels’ (as one reviewer described my writing), ugly and beautiful, cruel and tender, original yes, but with the spark of Edgar Allen Poe glimmering throughout ...

Problems writing the book?  Not really, except maybe the 7,000 miles between me and my setting.  I mean, I was feeling homesick out here in sultry, steamy Borneo and decided to set my book in a freezing sub-zero January, in a nondescript town in the midlands of England ... a world away.          

So I especially enjoyed the iciness ... I’d be sitting in my writing-room here in Brunei with a nice swirly g & t, outside the darkness of the trees pressing around the house, and writing about the frozen fields of Long Eaton park, ice-skating in the open air, or else taking my little boat along the Trent & Mersey canal, crunching the bow of the boat through thin ice, with the cattle steaming in the frosty fields etc etc!  Delicious!

Retract anything?  Yes, I would always change this or that ... it goes for every one of my books, and things I do or say every day. 

Fears?  I draw my material from bad dreams and fragments of bad reality, from other books and films and newspapers.  Yes, I’ve drawn from my own experiences in my visions of horror, places I’ve been to and situations I’ve imagined in those places and situations.

I think people are drawn to a horror story with a lovely shivering anticipation of what’s lurking somewhere inside it ... there’s a delicious inevitability about the page-turning, the dread of what’s waiting on the next page or maybe the page after that ... the closer the story is to real life, a real place and situation, the more dreadful the expectation of horror ... that’s why I’ve set my stories in fairly ‘normal’ or ‘real’ places ... a seaside town, a school, an English suburb, a Welsh village ... where everyday people meet an extraordinary event which breaks them down ... 

I don’t know about boundaries and ‘keeping it clean’ when I’m writing a horror story.  Certainly the material I’ve touched on is quite unusual and some people find it disturbing ... Cormorant, Woodwitch, Blood of Angels, Perils and Dangers of this Night ... and some uncomfortable reading in Waking that Kills and yes in Wakening the Crow too ...

Other projects?  I have another new book, PLAGUE OF GULLS, to be published as an e-novel by Pigeonhole in January 2015 ... exciting and new and different.  Meanwhile, in USA, Valancourt are bringing out superb new paperback editions of THE CORMORANT, THE WOODWITCH and THE BLOOD OF ANGELS.  So, with Solaris doing THE WAKING THAT KILLS and WAKENING THE CROW, there’ll be six new publications out there.

My favourite books?  As a young reader I immersed myself in the deep, dark, natural worlds of Henry Williamson’s TARKA THE OTTER and SALAR THE SALMON, the woodlands and riverbanks and deep dark pools of the English countryside ... then it would be DH Lawrence’s WOMEN IN LOVE and LADY CHATTERLEY and THE FOX, again it’s the countryside really, and Thomas Hardy ... and a gem like WATERSHIP DOWN ... for something more modern and urban it would be Ian McEwan and Paul Auster ... and the best book of all books and simply unmatched by anyone ever, Malcolm Lowry’s UNDER THE VOLCANO.  

 A sneak peek of WAKENING THE CROW?  My muse, the evil genius of Poe ... it glimmers and gleams through my mean little story.         

Stephen Gregory
Brunei Darussalam, September 2015

Short Fiction Friday: Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza


Short Fiction Friday: Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza

The Wild Cards universe has been thrilling readers for over 25 years. In Carrie Vaughn’s “Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza,” ace Ana Cortez discovers that sometimes to be truly healed, you must return to your roots.

There is one universe where I just cannot get enough of is the Wild Cards universe. So far there have been published over 20 books in this world and numerous short stories written by the different authors. The latest book Lowball, Wild Cards #22 will be published next month and just to get in the reading mode I picked up this recently release short story by Carrie Vaughn

Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza picks up after the events of the TV show American Hero which was the first storyline in the reboot series of Wild Cards and started with Inside Straight. Due to the publicity that the Aces got on the TV show they were assembled in a special team to quell some threats in Egypt. Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza shows the "aftermath" of it and raises some important questions for me. Because in the end aren't we all human? 

The story focuses on the Ace Ana Cortez who goes by the handle of Earth Witch, her Ace powers allow her to manipulate Earth, creating holes in an instant or raising pillars just to name a few. After the events of Egypt Ana is stricken by the horrific scenes that she witnessed and things that she did with her own two hands and she seeks help and guidance by from God. Should she continue in the way that she is or should she swear of her powers? What is the best direction for her. She get the advice to stop using her Ace power as it is evil. Upon returning home she has her first real conversation with her father about her powers and convinces her to visit her grandmother in the Mexican desert. From this point onwards I will stop talking about the storyline as you will be in for quite a few surprises. 


I really enjoyed this Wild Cards story as Carrie Vaughn plays very well into the make believes and the stereotypes of the Aces that the general population has. In many ways the Aces get a lot of praise but other would only care to see them removed from the picture and see them as freaks. It was great to see this brought to the front and more so by the personal emotions that Ana has about whether her powers are for good. I in particular enjoyed the confrontation between her and her grandmother and the things she learned and to which conclusions she came in the end. Carrie Vaughn has created a very powerful emotional story in these few pages. 

Yesterday saw the release of the upcoming Age of Ultron movie, to be honest I am not impressed. All the current superhero adaptions are the same, I watched the first episode of The Flash and was underawed as well. Now what could bring a refreshing voice to this genre would be an adaptation of Wild Cards. I vote in favor! gogo.

Read the original story by following this link

Author interview Mark Charan Newton


Author interview Mark Charan Newton


Author bio: 
Mark Charan Newton was born in 1981, and holds a degree in Environmental Science. After working in bookselling, he moved into editorial positions at imprints covering film and media tie-in fiction, and later, science fiction and fantasy. He currently lives and works in Nottingham. His major label debut is Nights of Villjamur, which is published by Tor UK (Pan Macmillan) and Bantam Spectra (Random House).





Hi Mark, welcome over at The Book Plank and for taking your time to answer these few questions for us. 


BP: First off, could you give us a short introduction as to who Mark Charan Newton is? What do you like to do in your spare time, what are your likes and dislikes?

MN: With the risk of this sounding like a dating profile, I’m a 33 year old who lives in Nottingham. In my spare time I run a whisky blog (malt-review.com) and spend a lot of time on my allotment. Likes include tweed, reading and exploring the countryside.



BP: You have been writing for a while now, do you still know the moment when and where you decided that you wanted to write a book?

MN: Sort of. I was working in bookselling and picked up The Scar, by China Miéville  one day when browsing the shelves. I thought the cover looked cool, and was immediately gripped by an aesthetic intensity I’d not experienced before. I wanted to write something of that sub-genre, whatever it really was at the time, as there was nothing else like it. Even though I’d dabbled with the odd bit of prose, that was the moment I decided to take it more seriously. But it was a long road to publication.



BP: Lucan Drakenfeld is your latest series which got published last year, what gave you the idea behind the series?

MN: A mixture of things, really. A sense of excess of blood and death in epic fantasy, which seemed – to me – to not be justified well enough. I wondered if I could write a series that involved a protagonist for whom death was something to loathe. To make him a detective character seemed obvious, and to make the setting inspired by Ancient Rome fitted in with my love of history.



BP: You are well known from your Legends of the Red Sun series, did you gain any valuable experience that you used when you were writing Lucan Drakenfeld?

MN: Every book is a learning curve. In particular I learnt a more considered style of writing, a simpler form of storytelling. For me, though, it’s often hard to say what I improve on – I know I’m getting better with each book, but it’s a more abstract process to describe.



BP: Starting up a new series is a hard task, how did you go about and plan it?

MN: Every writer is different, and finds different parts of the process challenging. This time around I first fleshed out the politics of the world and the various nations before I put pen to paper. Normally I tend to write a little, then plan a little, to almost feel my way around a world as I’m writing it. But for Drakenfeld I had to have a lot prepared beforehand.



BP: With Drakenfeld being so well received did it add any pressure when you were writing the sequel, Retribution?

MN: Not especially. I’d written most of it when reviews were coming in! But generally speaking I’m not one to get attached to positive reviews. Like many writers, we focus on the negative ones…



BP: Retribution will be released on the 23rd of October, if you would have to sell it with a single sentence how would it go?

MN: A serial killer begins taking down high-profile members of a classically inspired city. 



BP: Did you encounter any specific problems when you were writing the Lucan Drakenfeld books?

MN: I was writing in first person prose for the very first time, and that look a little getting used to, but it soon began to feel natural enough.



BP: What has been the hardest part in writing Lucan Drakenfeld so far?

MN: Being in a single character’s head for so long can be tough, especially since I used to jump from multiple POVs. The character has required a lot more focus from me.



BP:  Besides the hardest part, which chapter/scene/character did you enjoy writing about the most?

MN: There’s a character called Senator Veron, who had quite a nice sense of humour. Given Drakenfeld is largely a serious character, with a serious purpose, Veron provided a lot of comic relief for me.



BP: Lucan Drakenfeld has some historical influences from the roman times, did you have to carry out any additional research when you were writing either Drakenfeld or Retribution?

MN: I used ancient worlds as the building blocks of the world in which Drakenfeld is set, so I basically binged on ancient texts or biographies of Roman figures. It was more a process of absorbing what I could and repurposing that in a new creative expression, reconfiguring it to the story’s needs. So… lots of research, but nothing specific, if you see what I mean.



BP: If you would be able to retract Retribution and change one final thing would you do so? If yes, which part and why?

MN: No writer would be 100% happy with the book they’ve put out there, but I’ve grown used to accepting that I can’t change anything once it’s ready for publication!



BP: Everyone enjoys science fiction and fantasy in his or her own way, what do you like most about it?

MN: When I was younger I would say something about its abilities to comment on the real world in unique ways, and that still stands true today. But more important today is that desire to escape. SFF flexes a mental muscle that other genres can’t quite seem to do.



BP: Retribution is the second book in the Lucan Drakenfeld series, have you already mapped out how many volumes the series will run?

MN: I’m not really one to talk about future projects, especially as you never quite know what’s around the corner, but I’ve got plenty of plans and schemes. There is, however, a short story coming out in August featuring Lucan Drakenfeld. It’s called “The Messenger”.



BP: Do you have any other projects that you wish to pursue in the near future besides Lucan Drakenfeld?

MN: Plenty of ideas, yes. I’d like to dabble in slightly different sub-genres and maybe even one day whole new genres. Writing for so long in the same setting – without any break – is quite mentally exhausting. 



BP:  If you would have to name your top 5 favourite books, which would they be?

MN: Oh they change all the time. I’m pretty useless at being able to pin down what they’d be, but going from instant recollection of favorites, they’d include Underworld by Don DeLillo, the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell and Notes from Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin.



BP: and just lastly, can you tell us a bit about what Lucan Drakenfeld is about and what we can expect in the Retribution and the books to follow?

MN: What Lucan Drakenfeld is about? Well, both him – and the series – are experiments to see if good characters can be interesting and complex too, whilst exploring the fringes of genres: fantasy, crime and history. Retribution goes a little deeper into this, but with a much darker storyline – as I mentioned earlier it features a serial killer and attempts to look at some moral grey areas.



BP: thank you very much for your time Mark, I am looking forward to reading Retribution!