Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Blogger Book Fair 22nd - 26th July 2013: Wittegen Press is setting out its stall!

Blogger Book Fair 22nd - 26th July 2013

We at Wittegen Press are excited to announce that we're setting out our stall at the Blogger Book Fair this July (22nd to 26th). 

It's going to be a huge, fun event featuring 203 authors and book bloggers and 417 books! Every day you'll be able to travel around hundreds of blogs and read about books, characters, author information, book reviews, fun events and giveaways. Whatever your genre preferences from romance through to steampunk, there'll be a book in there for you and many others besides.

I'll be posting again in a few days about the authors I'll be hosting here on this blog and where you'll be able to find my posts and books during the fair. Also, I'll have news of a fantastic giveaway that we'll be hosting during the Book Fair, here on this blog, over at Tasha's Thinkings and on Fantasy Boys XXX as well.

So, Check-in to Blogger Book Fair Resort, and BOOK your trip to Far Away Places!

Monday, 10 June 2013

The ICE Blog Tour - Austin Camacho

Today, I am very happy to welcome Austin Camacho, author of, The Ice Woman Assignment and many other detective and action novels, to my blog as part of his ICE Blog Tour to talk about character creation, specifically Morgan Stark and Felicity O'Brien, the protagonists from The Ice Woman Assignment.

Also, Austin is giving away a copy of his book in Kindle format, so for a chance to win a copy, check out the competition details at the end of the post.

Now, without further ado, I'll hand over to Austin.


How I came up with Stark & O’Brien

In The Ice Woman Assignment, ex-mercenary Morgan Stark and retired jewel thief Felicity O’Brien take on a Colombian drug cartel.  For two people to undertake such a mission they would have to be pretty extraordinary.  I’ve been asked to explain how I came up with such astonishing characters.

My original concept for the series revolved around three basic ideas I thought would be fun to play with.  First, I wanted to write partners who were exceptionally capable, yet fallible.  Growing up I loved the Batman comics and was attracted to the idea of writing characters whose skills and training would be near the limits of human ability.

Next, I wanted to create characters not often seen in thrillers.  So I started with Morgan Stark, an African American although there are very few African American stars in adventure thrillers.  That is an odd fact, considering the high number of non-whites in the Special Ops community.  Where they do most of their work, in the Middle East and Central America, it’s easier to move around unnoticed if you have darker skin.  Morgan lied about his age to get into the Army at the end of the Vietnam War.  As a member of the group that grew into Delta Force he learned every useful soldier skill before striking out as a Mercenary.  This adventurer has an unerring sense of direction and is a perfect judge of distance.  These skills, I thought, would get him through any jungle. And to make him more unique, he can sense danger approaching.

Starting with the ultimate warrior I considered creation of his partner based on the third concept I wanted to explore, the idea that opposites attract.  So it had to be a woman, neither African nor American.  And instead of travelling in the world of soldiers and adventurers she would be part of a more sophisticated underworld.  So arose Felicity O’Brien, a native of Ireland.  I invested her with all the skills that would make for the perfect thief.  To mirror Morgan’s extra abilities, Felicity has an unerring sense of time and a similar awareness of danger.

The partners complement each other, with Morgan perfectly suited to a career in personal protection and Felicity ideally qualified to protect people’s property.  Their personalities grew organically out of their abilities and their reasons for acquiring them.  Morgan became a grim fighter with a smart mouth.  Felicity is a lighter soul with her own quirky sense of humor.  Morgan’s personality may have grown out of Bogart and McQueen, only from the African American community.  Felicity’s personality may trace back to Cary Grant and Errol Flynn, if they had been women.

Once these characters became real to me I realized that I loved them equally and needed them to be equal partners.  Too often in fiction a pair that begins as a team becomes a star with a sidekick.  Neither of these people had the kind of personality that would allow them to be someone’s sidekick.

The paranormal edge surfaced last.  My characters were sexy, but they wouldn’t work as partners if they became romantically linked.  They already had exaggerated abilities – why not link them?  I realized they would sense danger approaching each other as well as themselves.  And under extreme circumstances they would each actually feel what the other felt.  That offered a number of fascinating story ideas to explore, while also making it impossible for my heroes to be lovers.

There’s also a redemption tale hidden in Stark and O’Brien’s history.  After meeting and forming a legitimate business, they are both growing into better people.  After her life of crime and his years killing for hire, these two friends are working to clear the evil of their pasts.

So after creating Morgan Stark and Felicity O’Brien I am fascinated by their journey.  All good fictional characters come to their story with unresolved pasts.  The rising and advancing of these two spirits drives every adventure, even their daring flight into Colombia to face an army of drug producers in The Ice Woman Assignment.

Austin is the author of five detective novels in the Hannibal Jones series:

plus four action adventure novels in the Stark & O'Brien Series:

His short stories have been in six anthologies; including Wolfmont Press’ dying in a Winter Wonderland; which was an Independent Mystery Booksellers Association Top Ten Bestseller for 2008. He is featured in the Edgar nominated African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study by Frankie Y. Bailey.

He is active in several local writers’ organizations - a past president of the Maryland Writers Association and past vice-president of the Virginia Writers Club. He teaches writing courses at Anne Arundel Community College. By day, he handles media relations for the Defense Department. For more than a decade the American Forces Network carried his radio and television news reports. He has settled in Upper Marlboro, Maryland and launched Intrigue Publishing with my lovely wife Denise, my special friend Sandra Bowman and Princess, the Wonder Cat!

For more information about Austin; please visit http://ascamacho.com

The Ice Woman Assignment (Stark & O'Brien Thriller Series #4)

This is the 4th novel in the Stark & O Brien adventure series.

A drug called Ice is being imported by a Colombian group known as the Escorpionistas. Morgan Stark, a retired mercenary soldier, and Felicity O’Brien, a retired jewel thief, operate a security business.  Federal agencies hope their street connections can help them trace the source of the new drug before it becomes too popular to stop.

Stark and O’Brien have a special gift, a psychic link that also alerts them to danger.  But Anaconda, the leader of the Escorpionistas, has a secret weapon too: clairvoyant brothers who warn her of the threat Stark and O’Brien pose.  Even before they begin the case, Stark and O’Brien are attacked, and in their first contact with the Escorpionistas, O’Brien is injured in a way that shakes her confidence.

Frederico, one of Anaconda’s psychics, escapes her control and asks O’Brien for protection.  This begins an extensive chase, as our heroes dodge killers from California to Texas while following the clues that lead to discovering how the Ice is getting into the USA.  But that victory is short lived.  When the Escorpionistas recapture Frederico, Stark and O’Brien must take the battle to Colombia, leading to an explosive finish as they face death suspended beneath Anaconda’s helicopter.

To enter is simple:
  • Hop on over to Austin's blog and comment on his post, which you can find here.
N.B. Please add sandra.bowman@intriguepublishing.com to your authorised sender list for your Kindle, so that if you win, you can be sent the book to you Kindle device.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Heroes & Villains Blog Fest - My Favourite Good & Bad Guys

The Heroes & Villains Blog Fest, organised by Jackie 'The Heroic' Felger and Dani 'The Virtuous' Bertrand, is all about sharing our favourite good guys and bad guys with you today, so, without further ado, on with the sharing :).

I'm a big science fiction and fantasy fan, been watching the movies and tv shows, and reading the books since I was a wee thing, plus I also like the occasional horror story as well. Thus, I thought I'd present to you some of my favourite genre heroes and their nemeses (I had to look up the plural of nemesis ;P). Being a writer as well, I thought I'd finish by picking out some qualities I favour when I'm creating my own good and bad guys.

So, let's start with a classic, Star Wars. Now, I've always been a Luke kinda gal, so, sorry folks who prefer Han - it's all the mystical power stuff, y'see, I'm a sucker for it (there might just be a running theme among my favourite heroes, and some of my favourite villains). Luke is young, naive, wounded - he is 'the fool', just starting out on his life-journey in A New Hope. I identified with him in A New Hope, he was the blue-eyed, cute hope for the universe, and that is pretty much all that first movie is about - good against evil, good triumphing over evil.

However, it is Luke's progression as a character through Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi that keep me watching him as an adult. His journey is difficult and painful. Empire does not give any of the 'good guys' an easy ride, but Luke grows up in that film, discovering as much about his own psyche as he does about Vader. As a child, I had difficulty grasping the fact that Luke actually loses in Empire, but as an adult, I can see how important that is to his development as well as the plot.

My favourite incarnation of Luke is from Return of the Jedi: he's darker, more sure of himself and he's on a mission. He carries the secret of who Vader is with him for much of the story, a shadow that has made a boy a man and he is determined to save his father. With his conviction in the face of imminent death, Luke comes of age.

Of course, if I mention Luke, then my villain of the piece has to be Darth Vader: no conscience, no empathy, no mercy, all that matters to him is the glory of The Empire and his service to The Emperor. His is an example of power corrupting absolutely. Anakin embraced the Dark Side and became Vader, although Obi-wan, I think, was pushing a metaphor when he said Vader killed Anakin, he did bury what was left of the powerful, overconfident young jedi inside that bitter, black shell.

Vader is such an icon, a person only has to begin breathing heavily into their hand and everyone knows who they're imitating. He is a classic villain, not much depth in the original movies, he's just bad, bad, bad. And yet, he does not have a classic villain ending. Instead, thanks to a long-buried love for his son, he finds redemption.

Anakin and Luke, father and son, equally gifted in The Force and therefore maybe destined for the same fate, with father urging son to come to the Dark Side. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Luke had turned and joined Vader, it's an interesting idea, but, then again, I'm a happy ending junkie, so I was very glad when Luke wins out. :)

Returning to heroes, I've always had a soft spot for Jen in The Dark Crystal. He's another in the same vein as Luke, young, protected and thrown in at the deep end of an adventure. What I particularly like about Jen, though, is his vulnerability. If you want a strong character in The Dark Crystal, it's Kira, much more worldwise and sassy, and Jen follows her lead much of the time. I like that about Jen. He's not go-getting and chest-beating, he's just trying to do what he has to and he'll take all the help he can get.

Of all the films from my childhood, The Dark Crystal has villains that still make my skin crawl: the Skeksis. In particular, the villain I will pick from the crowd is The Chamberlain, with his shuffle and whining mew and his ability to change allegiance in a heartbeat. He's the perfect example of the oily villain, the back-stabber, the turncoat - the creature with his own agenda and damn everyone else. This type of villain is the most dangerous, in my opinion, because they cannot be trusted even to follow their own dogma. Vader is a merciless despot, but he has his reasons, his goals, the glory of The Empire. The Chamberlain has an ultimate prize in sight, to be master of the Skeksis, but his deviousness along the way puts everyone in danger.

My choice of heroes and villains have been pretty black and white, so far, which is understandable, since I've been talking about children's films. However, a recent villain I like very much was Raoul Silva in Skyfall. On the surface, he's a classic Bond villain, out for power and money. Yet, from the very beginning, there's much more to Silva.


Let's start with the fact that he's ex-MI6, one of M's favourites and she betrayed him to the Chinese. It's not that simple, but that's how he sees it and, plain and simple, Silva wants revenge. His petulance is childlike, stunted, his ingenuity staggering. He is more than merciless, he enjoys the power he has, he revels in ruthlessness only matched by his cunning. Silva has gone through madness to the other side, where his clarity of hatred is as raw as it can be. We see this in the scene where he, a prisoner, meets M once more. We see the child/man whose hero-worship has turned to bitter loathing and he is spitting mad. Silva is driven by his need for revenge, but also, he has a need for M's approval, still. He is complex and twisted and just plain nasty.

The beauty of Skyfall as a movie, for me, are the parallels between hero and villain. Bond, as the hero of the piece, is as grey as Silva is mad. In a fight, he can be as ruthless as Silva, but whereas Silva has thrown out all rules, Bond has his principles, his duty, keeping him in check. Silva is convinced that, given a little push, Bond could be exactly like him, but, to believe in Bond, the viewer has to be sure he can't be. Maybe it is merely the approval of their matriarch that is all that is keeping Bond from going rogue, or maybe it is more, the question is not one that is answered, but it is a tantalising proposal - what would Bond be without M?

Heroes and Villains, My Own Take

The heroes and villains from my favourite films and books have always inspired me in my own writing and have always helped me understand how these classic tropes can drive on a story.

There are many different types of hero, but the one thing that a hero mustn't be is perfect. This is where a writer can get into the realm of Mary Sues, where the hero/ine is loved by everyone, has wonderful powers, so wonderful no-one can beat them and, of course, is totally sure of themselves. There's one word for a protagonist like this: boring. A hero/ine has to have flaws, make mistakes, be human (or whatever race they happen to be). It is the fall Luke takes in Empire Strikes Back that is the making of him, that gives him depth in Return of the Jedi.

'The fall', as I'll call it, is an important part of any hero/ine for me. This doesn't have to be a literal calamity, or failure, but something that gives them their colour and depth. Anything from self doubt, all the way through to discovering a parent was a 'xyz'. 'xyz' translates to 'vampire', in my book, Death In The Family, where my protagonist, Tom, discovers his father was of the supernatural persuasion. What drives the plot here is Tom's need to understand what that means and find out what and who he really is.

It's not only heroes who need to be believable, though, villains do too. They have to have their raison d'etre. I can't remember who said this, probably lots of people, but even a madman has his reasons, and they make sense to him, so, however dark, however twisted and monstrous a villain is, he/she has their reasons for doing what they do and being who they are. The quest for power is a good start, be that political, or magical, and this can be seen in a lot of classic fantasy, like Star Wars and Dark Crystal. Revenge, as in Skyfall is also a juicy place to start. However, what evolves from there is not a cookie cutter villain. Silva, with his mummy-hate is on the edge of being a pantomime villain, just like many Bond Baddies, but his conviction is what made him 'real' for me.

There is a villain in the Haward twins' back story in Sacrifice of An Angel, Francis, an ex-partner of Theo's, who betrays both brothers when he tries to bind Theo to him. His motive for this, is, on the surface, very simple - power - since controlling Theo would give him access to a lot of magic. Yet, Francis' ideals, at least in his own mind, are not so simple. He claims he still loves Theo and he believes he was acting for the greater good in binding him. It does not make what he attempted to do any less barbaric, but those motives are much more obtuse than simple craving for power. Francis is quite a juicy character for me, I enjoy working on his plot lines, and we'll be visiting him again in further books in The Haward Mysteries series.

So, there you have it, my brief journey through my favourite heroes and villains. What makes a good hero, or villain for you?

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Den of Eek! eBook in aid of Geeks vs Cancer now available


Last year she was selected  in a competition to take part in Den of Eek, run by the lovely people at Den of Geek. This was a live evening with twelve authors (3 of them, just three from all the entries to the competition that Den of Geek ran, plus the others were established writers) reading aloud their works of horror written specifically for the event in aid of the Geeks vs Cancer appeal.

I got to very proudly, but also enviously watch Tash, as she read her own work live and now hers and all of those stories have now been put into an eBook, which is also being sold for Geeks vs Cancer appeal.

The link above goes to Den of Geek's post all about the book with links where to buy it. This is a great cause and all the stories were fabulous so it's a great book too :).

Clayton Littlewood
Leila Johnston
CJ Lines
Sarah Pinborough
Natasha Duncan-Drake (me :))
James Moran
Mary Hamilton
Joff Brown
Neil Jones
James Brogden
Johannes Roberts
Kevin McNally

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Les Miserables - A review

I finally watched the movie version of Les Miserables yesterday. I've been reticent about watching it, because I enjoy the stage musical so much and I knew, out of necessity, it would be different. Also, there have been so many opinions flying round about it that I didn't know which to believe, is it horrendous, or fabulous, or maybe even something in between? So, I decided to see for myself.

Firstly, let me say, I bawled my eyes out during a good 50% of the film, and I don't mean sniffed away a tear, I mean full on waterworks. I will admit this may be to do with the fact I do the same in the stage show, but since the film had the same effect on me, it was a notable start. ;) However, there are differences to it as well, one being something I had to get used to: the film is not as emphatically sung as the stage show, which, again, some folks may think would be obvious, since on stage, the actors are projecting to thousands of people, whereas on film, there emoting to camera. 

However, I found this applied to the chorus numbers as well as the intimate solos and duets where the camera was right on the singer most of the time.This meant I didn't get as rousing a feeling around the chorus numbers, but actually, the solo/duet numbers gained something from the intimacy of the camera: I felt the actors had more of a chance to nuance their performances. The best example of this for me was Javert's suicide scene. It's a fabulous, dramatic mess of conflicting emotions on stage, but it has a hard edge on stage (at least in the versions I've seen). In the film, Russell Crowe pulled it back and there were levels of anger and confusion and despair. It also enabled a pause between the song and the suicide, a time for the camera to focus on Javert's conflict, which would not have worked on stage.

I wasn't always happy with the full on close ups for most solos and duets, it began to feel claustrophobic, but it did work sometimes.

Going back to the chorus numbers - maybe my surround sound system was not good enough, but there's a lot of emotion a crowd of people on a stage only yards away from you can convey and I didn't get the same effect from the movie. In fact, for me, these songs came off muted. The only one where it really, really worked, was the funeral of LeMarc, where the song starts small, the camera focusing in on individual faces, and grows through both the music and the action, widening out to a full ensemble scene. This is where the new medium added to the story, because you could not have done this kind of movement of cast on stage. There weren't many places where this scale helped the story, though, since the barricades creation I thought was more impressive on stage, due to the stylising of the barricade. That bit felt as closed in as the stage show, so didn't gain anything.

I thought the performances of the main cast were excellent; Javert was hard and blind to the nuances of life until the very end of his life, when he is so confused; Jean Valjean is beautifully muted about the world until he rescues Cosette; Marius is, well, Marius, school boy on an adventure who falls in love; Cosette was much better than any Cosette I've seen before, maybe because her love for both Marius and Valjean can be shown better close up; Fantine captured hearts as she descended to desperation. One of the best performances, I think, was given by little Gavroche - feisty, defiant and braver than any man, and yes, when he gets shot was one of the moments I bawled my eyes out. Eponine, too, the tragic lover, never to be recognised until it's too late, kept me enthralled during 'a little drop of rain'.

I don't think I can pick out one single performance that beat all the others, though, because this was truly an ensemble cast. No-one was trying to upstage anyone else. They told the story together. So, all in all, I liked the movie. it had depth and gave me a different way of enjoying Les Mis. It may be unfair to compare it to a live performance, because they are very different mediums, but I'm going to anyway - this film was good, I'd recommend people to see it, but the stage is where this musical was born and where it has the most impact.

P.S. Oh, oh, I nearly forgot, Helena Bohnam Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the dishonourable Thenardiers are just exquisitely nasty. Nothing subtle about those two :)

And P.P.S - Note for my slash-writing friends, who might not have seen the movie - Javert/Valjean, the tension between those two is well filmed and performed and there are so many (little and big) shifts in the power dynamics, especially at the end where Valjean turns away from Javert and Javert lets him go, gun in hand, that there's enough material to keep an army of slashers going for years. ;P