Books with Creepy Settings

This is the perfect time of year to talk about creepy settings in books! There are all sorts of creepy creatures of the night that haunt All Hallow’s Eve… vampires, ghosts, zombies, the list can go on for quite a while… populate any location with these and you will have a pretty creepy place… BUT have you ever read a book and it was the actual place that was creepy?! Sure the idea you can run into a monster ups the tension… but what about the atmosphere… the mood BEFORE?

These locations all have the potential to give someone the heebie jeebies without being from the horror genre… and here are the books that prove it!

Historical Cities

There is something dark and eerie about history that clings to the stones of old cities. Could there be ghosts? YES, but even if nothing jumps out at you a chill lingers until you’re safely indoors.

London in Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

San Francisco in The Girl with Ghost Eyes by M.H. Boroson

Rural Dongxi, China in Hundred Ghost Soup by Robert Chansky

 

 

 

 

 

Enclosed Spaces

Have you ever been locked in a dark room? *shiver* When you’re forced into an enclosed space tension rises and you want out! Then people start dying and you can’t help feel it will be your coffin…

The Well of Ascension in the The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

Crazy Spaceship in Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Mysterious location with Piles of Bones and No Way Out in Alive by Scott Sigler

Circus and Carnivals

Clowns typically haunt these places and they scare the bejesus out of me, but it is their eerie and weird atmosphere that causes us to seek out books like these…

Le Cirque des Rêves in The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Gomorrah Festival in Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody

The carnival in Caraval by Stephanie Garber

 

 

 

 

 

Nature, Woods & Lakes

The big outdoors’ majesty can be breathtaking… and then you find yourself all alone with mother nature in the dark undergrowth and you wonder what may be hiding right nearby…

Cabeswater in The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Underwater world in Drown by Esther Dalseno

The Forest in The Wood by Chelsea Bobulski

 

 

 

 

 

Otherworldly

Not all places can be labeled so easily! They are not of our real physical world, the naked eye cannot see them… BUT we know they are there just out of sight…

The Afterlife in The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

Time Loop in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

On a River Blind in Bird Box by Josh Malerman

and the Cursed Season of Accidents in The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle makes everyplace creepy!

Whichever book you pick up will have a creeptacular atmosphere that is sure to leave you looking over your shoulder… just in case! Happy Halloween!

5 LESSER KNOWN HORROR STORIES YOU SHOULD READ NOW

It seems there is an undeniable connection between horror and the short story. Perhaps the quickened pace combined with pulse-pounding suspense creates the thrilling effect. Or, it is the twist, often ghastly or shocking, that punctuates the horror. Modern master of the horror short story, Stephen King, explained the appeal of the short form; “A short story is a different thing altogether, a short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger.”

Let these amazingly creepy stories embrace you in the shadowy night…

“The Doll” by Daphne Du Maurier

Written when Du Maurier was only 20, “The Doll” is a surprisingly adept masterwork. Marked with the gloomy atmosphere and gothic trappings of her later work, “The Doll” is an epistolary short story, a supposed suicide letter left by a man obsessed. It even contains a foreword explaining that the attached writing was found on the bank of a bay, tucked inside a soggy pocketbook. And, yes, the most satisfying piece of this story is the doll himself, Julio, as creepy and disturbing as a reader could hope for.

You can read “The Doll” for free here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/apr/30/the-doll-daphne-du-maurier

“1922” by Stephen King

First appearing in his 2010 short story collection Full Dark, No Stars, “1922” is a delightful departure from King’s modern day tales. Set on a rural farm in Hemingford Home, Nebraska (a town that has appeared in King’s work ranging from It to Children of the Corn) “1922” is a unforgettably bloody murder tale that evokes the guilt and mental anguish of Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart”. This story’s haunting ending will stay with you, long after you’ve shut the book. Make certain you read “1922” before you watch the movie, coming Oct 20th to Netflix.

You can pick up Full Dark, No Stars on Amazon.

“The Pomegranate Seed” by Edith Wharton

Although Wharton is best known for her novels exploring class and morals in nineteenth century New York, like Age of Innocence, she was also a talented writer of ghost stories. “The Pomegranate Seed” first appeared in Ladies Home Journal in 1931 and was later included in Wharton’s story collection The World Over. This tale is an example of a classic ghost story, with subtle, yet effective frights. Told from the perspective of a newlywed watching in horror as her husband receives letters from his late wife, “The Pomegranate Seed” is about the thin line between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

The World Over is available in paperback on Amazon.

“The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe

Though “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” are often required reading, Poe’s slightly lesser known story “The Black Cat”, published in 1845, is one of his most perverse, memorable, and shocking. Told by an unlikable narrator, “The Black Cat” is the story of a character quite common in Poe’s work, a man of dark obsessions who decides to be evil. This choice of course, will lead to consequences, brought about by a mysterious and clever black cat.

You can read “The Black Cat” and other Poe stories for free here: https://poestories.com/read/blackcat

“The Possibility of Evil” by Shirley Jackson

While it is almost guaranteed you read Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” in school, you may have missed her other phenomenal work. The author of such famed horror novels as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Jackson had a deft touch, particularly in the subgenre of rural horror. In “The Possibility of Evil” the main character, and the true villain of the story is rather unlikely. Mrs. Strangeworth is an elderly resident of a small town who believes she is justified in the vitriolic letters she sends to her neighbors. While this story is more in the quiet and subtle vein of Wharton’s “The Pomegranate Seed” and not as bloody as King’s “1922” it still conveys a creeping, endemic horror that exists in those with small minds.

If you’d like to read “The Possibility of Evil” for free, click here: http://www.wlps.org/view/2542.pdf

 

October Sequels Release Day

Don’t you just love that feeling when you’ve been waiting for a much loved series to return, and the day finally arrives? [Much like fans of The CW’s DC superhero shows must be feeling this week!] Well we have our own trio of “returns” for you, too, as three much-loved CQ series release their second installments.

Death by Cliche 2: The Wrath of Con, by Bob Defendi

Damico is trapped in a fantasy roleplaying game. Not “trapped at the table” like Thanksgiving dinner after a particularly unpleasant election. Trapped inside. Back in the real world he’s probably bleeding to death in the trunk of the game master’s car.

On a happier note, he currently rules this improbably-constructed world from the very plush Comfy Chair, which he ordered built to replace the previous overlord’s throne. It’s amazing what a true artist can do with hard wood, soft animals, and relaxation magic.

Unfortunately, this world exists to serve a fantasy roleplaying game, and players back in the real world have started rolling dice again. An artifact that grants complete control of the weather has fallen into the hands of a mad man, and Damico must join the adventurers in their quest to face-stab evil in the name of justice.

Also, he needs to decide whether to become the Dark God of Destruction, so his schedule is filling up quickly.

Amazon US | Amazon UK

The Dreamhouse (Paperdolls Book 2), by Nicole Thorn

Layla Hall is one of the Paperdolls. Four girls were kidnapped at the age of twelve, and held in an underground bunker that they called ‘The Dollhouse’. Seven years later, they’re free from their captor, and trying to rebuild their lives. Layla distracts herself with other people’s pain. She wants to heal them, and Bennett needs healing.

Bennett Posey is broken. He knows it, and everyone in his life knows it. His life changes when he decides to end it. Before he does, he calls the crisis hotline that Layla volunteers at. She promises him that life will get better, and that she would show him.

Bennett is gone from the start, obsessed with the girl who makes life hurt a little less. She can make him forget about his abusive mother, and passive father. He thinks he deserves what he gets, so what does it matter if they hurt him? As long as Layla doesn’t find out, everything will be fine. It has to be fine.

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Oracle of the Song (The Oracle of Delphi Trilogy Book 2), by Gail Strickland

Determined to save her best friend Sophia, Thaleia—the young Oracle of Delphi—descends into the Underworld, a forbidden land from which none escape.

But does Sophia want to be saved? If so, why does she trick Thaleia to drink from the River of Forgetfulness, so she no longer knows the reason she descended into Hades’ Realm?

Thaleia prays for the gods’ help. Instead of their guidance, she encounters Hades’ rage and Athena’s jealous fury.

Always, the gods defy her.

Beneath fire skies, Thaleia outwits Typhon, a hundred-headed sea monster; challenges the Graeae—three hags who share one eye and one tooth between them and risks being turned to stone with the gaze of Medusa, a snake-haired priestess.

Ultimately, all paths lead to Hades Palace and a box hidden beneath Queen Persephone’s bed. Can Thaleia stop blaming the gods for her friend’s death? Can she let honesty and courage guide her? Can she bring Sophia home?

Amazon US | Amazon UK

 

A to Z Manga

After reading my first volume of manga I was not excited. Yup, I hated it and didn’t really see the point. The pictures confused me and seemed to want me to read a lot into a little. I didn’t touch another volume for a couple years. I wrote off the manga book format as a fad for fanboys and nerdy girls (no disrespect for nerdy people or fans of pop culture icons).

Yet here I am a fangirl of manga. How’d that happen you ask…? I’m here to share A to Z of manga! If you have the right information, you too can fall in love with the wonderful worlds from Japan’s popular comic style… manga.

A

Anime many times has been adapted from beloved manga series.

B

Boy’s manga are called shônen and they have stories targeted at male teenagers.

C

Children’s manga are called kodomo and generally are single volume story arcs.

D

Dialogue is spaced into often short bits contained in text boxes so it’s easy to blast through an entire page of manga without actually looking at the mangaka’s (or artist’s) work. So pay attention!

E

Everyone (not most people, but literally all sorts and types of readers and non-readers alike…) can find a manga to love!! In Japan manga is read from the very young to men and women in their 40s.

F

Fusion is what manga is… a combination of a book, movie and television show… There is a distinct book beginning, middle and end to the story over the entire series. The movie comes in through the art. There is no space wasted… The television show is in the volume nature of manga. Everything isn’t resolved but some sort of progress is made just like an episode.

G

Genres range widely just like with novels, from fantasy and science fiction to slice of life and mecha. Often, these genres have blurred lines that allow for very imaginative stories and plot points.

H

Hello Kitty is an example of kodomo manga! The brand started out as a story and has spread to all sorts of goods and products.

I

Illustrations tell the majority of the story through careful, beautiful emotions (or for comedies, extreme exaggerated emotions) and distinct actions. Either way the art will tell you it all…

J

Josei manga are for women and have more mature themes. Many times depicting the reality of romantic liaisons. Seinen are the same thing for men!

K

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You is one of my all time favorite shôujo manga about an awkward girl who finally makes some friends in high school. New to interactions with classmates she’s unaware of the boy right by her side who quite likes her but who stays quiet about his feelings as she comes into who she is as a person.

L

Library Wars: Love & War is another fun shojo manga for those who want a more familiar story… In the near future, the federal government creates a committee to rid society of books it deems unsuitable. The libraries vow to protect their collections, and with the help of local governments, form a military group to defend themselves–the Library Forces!

M

Many different styles are a part of the manga art world… some you will be immediately attracted to and some will turn you off the story entirely. BUT there is a style for everyone and when you find that groove it will be a sweet story time…

N

Nodame Cantabile is a great example of a Josei manga. Nodame”, is a piano student who prefers to play by ear rather than according to the musical score; thus, is regarded as sloppy and playful. When she meets Chiaki, an arrogant, multilingual perfectionist, and the top student at Momogaoka College of Music She helps him grow so he can fulfill his secret ambitions to become a conductor.

O

Oh My Goddess! is a seinen manga that many will have heard of… Keiichi Morisato is a college sophomore who accidentally calls the Goddess Help Line. The goddess Belldandy tells him that her agency has received a system request from him and has been sent to grant him a single wish. Believing that a practical joke is being played on him, he wishes that she will stay with him forever, and his wish is granted.

P

Printed, originally, in a magazine with other story lines then gathered into their own volumes to sell once they reach a certain length. These volumes are typically what Americans are referring to by manga.

Q

Quick is the name of the game with manga… it’s fun to finish a volume in one sitting then go back and quickly read it over again!

R

Read right to left, all manga, translated or otherwise start at the back of the volume.

S

Shôujo are girl’s manga and they center on women empowerment and romantic connections.

T

The Ancient Magus’ Bride is my favorite shônen series of all time!! It’s new and taking the world by storm with its magical beauty and the beast retelling story. Chise and Elias have an unusual relationship that will challenge the idea of what it means to choose for oneself.

U

Understand that manga has taken the world by storm and is now translated into many languages including English. For Americans, like comics, manga is seen as aimed for child or people who won’t grow up, i.e. for those of us too lazy to read all the words in a novel.

V

Viewing manga this way simply isn’t true! It’s dynamic form of story telling that simply needs an open mind!

W

Webtoons are similar to manga but published as digital comics online originating from South Korean. They are in full color and have many fans…

X

X my heart… The best thing about manga is that it is for readers who LOVE comics and it is for readers who DISLIKE comics.Yes, a manga is a type of comic in that it has panels of illustrations and dialogue bubbles but the feels as you read a manga as compared to a comic are TOTALLY different!

Y

Yaoi and Yuri are words you’ll see thrown around in the manga world referencing homoerotic stories about men or women in love for any audience.

Z

Zip on out to your local library and try a manga for yourself! Aware of the growing popularity of this form of media libraries are dedicating more of their budgets to fulfill the need!

CQ at The Fredericksburg Independent Book Festival

Curiosity Quills is excited to announce that Courtney Sloan, Keith Fentonmiller, Marianne Kirby, J.P Sloan and Adriana Arrington will be manning a Curiosity Quills table at The Fredericksburg Independent Book Festival, September 23, from ten a.m to five p.m. They can be found at table H6 if you want to stop by, have a chat with our authors and grab signed copies of their books.

The festival is located at: Riverfront Park, Sophia Street, Fredericksburg, VA 22401.

About The Authors

A New Orleans native, Courtney Sloan relocated to the hills of Central Maryland after Hurricane Katrina. There she lives with her husband and fellow author, J.P. Sloan, their son and their crazy German Shepherd pup. Adding to her writing life, Courtney is also a professor at the local college and enjoys learning a world of new ideas from her students as she teaches them about writing and communicating.

Courtney’s New Orleans upbringing has left her with a love for the macabre and a flare for the next to normal. She writes speculative fiction with a variety of horror and sass mixed in for flavor.

She loves taking the world of politics that haunts us now, and adding the supernatural to create a gumbo of thrills to keep you up at night.
A self-proclaimed lover of way too many fandoms, Courtney also loves crafting. From blankets to jams to stories, it’s always better homemade.

Books by Courtney: Of Scions and Men

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Keith Fentonmiller is a consumer protection attorney for the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C. Before graduating from the University of Michigan Law School, he toured with a professional comedy troupe, writing and performing sketch comedy at colleges in the Mid-Atlantic States. His Pushcart-nominated short story was recently published in The Stonecoast Review.

Books by Keith: Kasper Mützenmacher’s Cursed Hat

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Marianne Kirby writes about bodies both real and imagined. She plays with the liminal space between vanishing and visibility: she thinks the things that go bump in the night need to spend some time in the sun.

A long-time writer, editor, and activist, Marianne is a frequent contributor to women’s interest publications, news outlets, and tv shows that require people to have opinions. She has been published by the Guardian, xoJane, the Daily Dot, Bitch Magazine, Time, and others. She has appeared on tv and radio programs ranging from the Dr. Phil Show to Radio New Zealand.

Marianne was born in Florida and returned there because Florida Weird calls to its own. She has briefly escaped again but is already plotting her eventual winter migration.

Books by Marianne: Dust Bath Revival

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J.P. Sloan is a speculative fiction author … primarily of urban fantasy, horror and several shades between. His writing explores the strangeness in that which is familiar, at times stretching the limits of the human experience, or only hinting at the monsters lurking under your bed.

A Louisiana native, Sloan relocated to the vineyards and cow pastures of Central Maryland after Hurricane Katrina, where he lives with his wife and son. During the day he commutes to the city of Baltimore, a setting which inspires much of his writing.

In his spare time, Sloan enjoys wine-making and homebrewing, and is a certified beer judge.

Books by J.P: The Curse Merchant, The Curse Servant, The Curse Mandate, Yea Though I Walk, The Dark Interest

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Born to an Air Force JAG father and an artist mother, Adriana Arrington learned from an early age there are at least two sides to every story, and each deserves to be told. After a nomadic upbringing, she married a southern charmer and settled down permanently in his home state of Virginia. To satisfy her enduring wanderlust, she transports herself to the sometimes scary, sometimes beautiful, but always interesting worlds of beautifully crafted novels. Formerly an IT consultant to the DoD, she now writes the stories banging around in her head.

Books by Adriana: Bleed Through

 

Interview with The SwitcH authors A.W. Hill & Nathanael Hill

Want to know more about the father-son duo behind our latest YA scifi thriller, The Switch? Well you’re in luck, as we have an interview with authors A.W. Hill & Nathanael Hill about writing a book together, the science behind parallel universes, and if there will be a The Switch 2.

Okay, so who gets credit for the idea?

A. W. Hill: That one’s easy. Nathanael does. But I’ll take credit for leading his mind down the forking path of parallel realities. It was the literalness of his concept of the switch—that it was a physical thing flipping Jacobus from universe to universe—that hooked me, because then it could become almost like another character, and it would also make the extremely weird physics easier to understand.

Nathanael Hill: I don’t want to undersell myself – I’m sure that if it weren’t for me, my dad wouldn’t have taken on this book, and certainly not in YA form – but he gets the credit for the way the idea was fleshed out into a big story. That’s something I don’t quite know how to do yet. One day, hopefully. I had a lot of input on the dialogue, and a lot to say about the way we should feel when certain things happened to the characters.

Do you think the fact that it’s a literal switch makes the book less…scientific?

AH: Only in the way that the old school phone booths in the original Matrix movie give a sort of grungy, analog realness to all the crazy metaphysical stuff. But there’s also something about the idea of a switch that feels scientifically right. A switch is either on or off, like a digital bit. And if you were actually going to flip into a parallel universe, there would have to be some kind of trigger, right? This made more sense to us than, for the time, than having the kids chant a magic word like ‘Abracadabra’ or click their heels together like Dorothy.

NH: If there’s a possibility that humans, or living things from our universe, could ever transfer into another reality, what other medium would we have than a physical object? We’re not trans-dimensional; if we could ever hope to go to another universe, the only plausible way would be to interact with something third-dimensional, since we can’t make contact with anything else. At least not yet.

Do you guys believe there really are parallel realities? A ‘multiverse’ where we all have these cosmic doppelgängers?

AH: The jury’s still out on this, and maybe always will be. I mean, how would we ever provide concrete evidence? But we have to keep two things in mind. The first is that the ‘many worlds theory’ is just a logical extension of what’s already high school science. Second, as the Youssef character says in the book, we “switch” all the time without knowing it. Every time we make a decision, we leave behind many roads not taken. These parallel worlds aren’t ‘places’ until we actually go there. They’re just probabilities. But that means there’s also a probability that someday we might become aware of them.

NH: Whether or not its existence in real life is as literal as our interpretation in the book, there’s no doubt in my mind that each opportunity you don’t take, and the things in our reality that never came to be, have to exist somewhere. I’m not sure if they exist in mirror worlds or dystopias like the ones we’ve created in The Switch, but even if they’re simply information, tucked away in some corner of the universe, it has to exist in some form. The wonderful thing is, since we know so little about the topic in general, anything could be true, even us being spot-on in the way it works in the book, as crazy as it seems.

Did you guys argue over any of the main plot points or characters? Psychology says that the relationship between a teenaged boy and his father is pretty competitive.

AH: I might’ve lost my temper a few times when he insisted on taking breaks from editing sessions to go play video games. But other than that, Nathanael was pretty much always there for me. It was like working with a really good editor, the kind who gets totally invested in the manuscript. The only times he called me out were when I’d lost the emotional thread of a character. I’m honestly much more interested in ideas than I am in people, not a great quality for commercial fiction. He kept me grounded to feelings.

NH: There were a few times when my dad introduced story elements or plot points that I disliked, and when I voiced that, he got understandably frustrated that I would shoot down something that he had spent time writing and thinking about. Normally, though, we would just talk through our differences in opinions and it would make me realize that I didn’t give his ideas enough a chance at first, or that he would agree with me after re-reading it. Sometimes we would compromise, and meet somewhere in the middle, whether that was with characters or story, which, I think, makes it even more of a collaborative effort.

Was this project a bonding experience for the two of you?

AH: I think so. I highly recommend it to dads who don’t fish, coach little league, or play Assassin’s Creed. We were kind of stranded over in a pretty dismal part of Northern Belgium after a music production deal I had went sour. Nathanael hadn’t had time yet to make close friends. I was restless, and it rained a lot. Like five days out of every week. And we didn’t have the money to jet around Europe. Doing the book meant creating an imaginary world that we could both live in when we wanted to. That’s a cool thing.

NH: I would say it was, but my dad and I were already pretty close. If I was ever thwarted by a metaphysical puzzle of some sort, I would always consult my dad first. We talk about the kind of stuff that the book is about all the time, so it was more of an exercise of putting our discussions into something real that we could hypothesize about and experiment with. Doing that sort of thing undoubtedly strengthens bonds.

Will there be a Switch 2?

AH: I hope so, but it’s in the hands of the gods, readers and Amazon now. Story-wise, I have to believe that once a group of smart, curious teenagers find a way to make their lives an adventure by pulling a switch, staying in one world will seem pretty dull.

NH:  As much as I would love to re-enter the multiverse and the life of Jacobus, the answer to that question is in the hands of our prospective audience. There’s a lot of room for more to come, and considering the number of worlds out there still left to discover, there’s surely no drought of possible misadventures for the crew.

About The Switch

IMAGINE THAT you could change your world with the flip of a switch. You might be prettier, more athletic, more popular, or even living on an exotic island, because your history—your world line—would be different. But here’s the catch: you have no way of knowing if the reality on the other side of that switch will be better…or much worse.

JACOBUS ROSE is a fifteen year-old who believes—as many fifteen year-olds do—that his life could use improvement. School is a numbing routine, and his parents’ marriage seems to be imploding before his eyes. ‘Maybe I was born into the wrong world,’ he thinks. Lured by his best friend, CONNOR, into a strange little house containing nothing but empty rooms and an oversized circuit breaker, he’ll discover that reality comes in a plural form, and that our choices create a continuous web of branching worlds, any of which is as ‘real’ as another.

A solo odyssey becomes a duo, a trio, and then a quartet, as Jacobus befriends other interdimensional travelers along the way: GORDON NIGHTSHADE, the veteran pilgrim and chief theorist; MOSES DeWITT, the alley cat with an old soul; JEMMA DOONE, a girl of many-worlds who becomes the main river home for Jacobus and his crew; and finally, his lost friend Connor, who just may have preferred an alternate universe to his own.

THE SWITCH is the story of their journey home. The question is: if they get there, will it be the same place they left behind?

Amazon US | Amazon UK

About A.W. Hill & Nathanael Hill

A.W. Hill is a classic late bloomer. He began his writing career in 1995, under the influence of California—a place that makes one believe that crazy things are possible. Until then, he was (and still is) involved professionally in one aspect or another of the music business. He was a rocker, playing the circuit until he turned 31. His last band was called TigerTiger, after the William Blake poem, which may indicate that his literary aspirations were already germinating. In 1995, when he began work on what would become his first novel, ENOCH’S PORTAL, he had just left a 9-year stint as Vice President of Music Production for Walt Disney Studios.

(PORTAL, in a textbook instance of beginner’s luck, was optioned by Paramount Pictures and slated for production as a $60mil movie, only to crash into turnaround when the producers, director and studio couldn’t agree on a script)

That was 2000. That same year, he won a Grammy Award, which ought to have made it his favorite year, except that it was also the one in which he reported the lowest adjusted gross income ever to Internal Revenue Service, consisting in part of his meager earnings as a pseudonymous writer of women’s erotica.

He wrote two more books with the same protagonist as in PORTAL—THE LAST DAYS OF MADAME REY and NOWHERE-LAND, published, respectively, by Carroll & Graf in 2004, and Counterpoint Press in 2010.

The fourth year of the new century was also the one in which he first had short works of literary erotica published under his own name, in Susie Bright’s BEST AMERICAN EROTICA and in an esoteric journal called Absinthe Literary Review, the latter of which awarded him its Eros/Thanatos Award for short fiction.

Along the way, he was introduced by his literary agent, Dorris Halsey, longtime agent to Aldous Huxley, to an Indian physicist in need of a ghostwriter.  Together, they dove deeply in quantum physics and the mysteries of the cosmos. He allows that his experience in editing two books on these subjects is perhaps the only thing that gave him the confidence to undertake THE SWITCH. Between 2012-2015, he spent four years teaching film composers in Europe, and along the way, produced an independent album, Another Country, for iTunes .

Nathanael Hill

Nathanael Hill, co-author of “The Switch”, has always been interested in the possibility of parallel worlds. Even at a young age, he and his dad would mull over things like wormholes and higher dimensions. But how, he wondered, could one ever experience these alternate realities? He went to his dad and said, “What if there were a Switch?” That was how things began.

Nathanael, born in Los, Angeles, currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his mom and dad. But these aren’t the only homes he has known. His family has also made moves to Chicago, Spain, and Belgium, which may also have influenced the main character’s world-hopping in “The Switch.” Nathanael’s hobbies include playing guitar, drums, writing, and video games. He is currently attending Nashville School of the Arts, and as of yet has no idea what he wants to be when he grows up.

Website | Facebook

 

 

Obscure Mythological Monsters

Mythology is one of the best premises a book can offer me when I’m looking to read something new! Many people use mythology, legend and folklore interchangeably… Did you know that a myth is simply a story created to explain natural phenomena? Today we have science but ancient people relied on myths to understand their natural environment. Everyone knows about Greek and Norse mythology but instead of nature taking part in the explanations gods and deities were used.

Now legends are a little different in that they don’t explain so much as relate events from a culture’s past and can get rather large in the telling. Folklore are more down to earth, are meant to entertain and almost never reference gods. The world is a very big place and there are all sorts of stories from mythology, legends and folklore that can be tapped into for inspiration… The more obscure the better! Lets meet some of the obscure mythological monsters I found for inspiration…

The Aztec culture comes from Central Mexico from 1300-1521 when three tribes banded together. They are technically a specific ethnic group but share many traits with the other people from the time. They believed in a pantheon of gods and many legendary creatures are associated with the Aztec mythology.

One is the ohuican chaneque which are small, sprite like beings similar to fairies but which are connected to elemental forces as guardians of nature. They make their home in the underworld and come to earth through a dry kapok tree. They confuse people who wander in the jungle and you must yell Juan 3 times to break the spell or become lost or worse.

The ahuizotl has fur which clumps into spikes due to the waterproof nature and is of a dog-like size. Due to its raccoon like hands it is supremely capable especially with the added benefit of a third hand on the end of its tail. If you appear near their watery lairs they will grab you with their tail and drag you down into the depths of their home to eat your eyes and feast on your nails and teeth. It is a natural creature who does the work of the god Tlaloc as those drowned by it are destined for paradise.

Hawaii is full of legends that mingle islander folklore with Japanese myths. Many of these revolve around water.

One of these are the nanaue, shark men who come from Hawaiian mythology. Nanaue was the son of the shark king and a maiden. He was born with a gaping fish mouth on his back but his mother hid it from the people. The king warned her not to feed their son meat. One day she gave in to his desire for meat and he shape-shifted into a shark man then went on a rampage around the islands eating maidens.

Another is the Mo’o, a giant lizard dressed in jet black scales that glisten. Thought to be guardian deities, they can shapeshift from huge dragons to small geckos and even to seductive women thus their ability to elude capture. Making their homes in underwater caves, pools or deep ponds, you can find their remains in the rock formations left behind as their bodies rotted. As a final protection they have the power to control water and the weather plus they aren’t afraid of using those for defense. You can check before entering water by offering a branch or flower and if it flows away swiftly then the area is occupied.

Iran is the birthplace of Persian mythology and has many similar legends and folklore as associated with medieval Europe.

The shadhavar is a creature whose bones gift music. Similar to the unicorn but with the body of a gazelle their horn has 42 hollow branches that when wind passes through them produces a sound so pleasant and seductive that animals come from far and wide to listen. When such a horn is taken it can be played on like a flute with one side producing an upbeat cheerful tune while the other a mournful, depressing shriek. Rumor has it that shadhavar attack their audience for food but it is believed that they can’t possibly be carnivores hence it is discounted.

Another they have is a phoenix like relative. The simurgh is a giant bird able to carry off an elephant with the plumage of a peacock and the head of a dog and the claws of a lion. It’s female and benevolent roosting the the Tree of Life, in the center of the world sea. When she took flight the seeds of all plants that had been deposited on it dropped out and floated on the winds all across the world. She gives out golden feathers to those she loves so she may be called to their side in times where they need her aid.

Japanese Folklore has a huge number of creature stories centered on yokai or supernatural monsters whose purpose range from the malevolent to the mischievous, but if the human reacts appropriately can bring them good fortune.

One fascinating yokai is the enenra which literally means lightweight fabric smoke and you guessed it is composed of smoke and darkness. It lives inside bonfires and when the time is right emerges in a human form. There is a legend that when certain people have died they’ve turned into a rare form of enenra who people have mistaken for a grim reaper.

The raijū is a legendary thunder beast from Japanese mythology whose shape might mimic that of a wolf, dog, fox, cat or weasel. It’s body is composed of lightening and can fly about like a lightening ball. It’s cry is the sound of thunder. It is a calm beast and harmless to humans except during thunderstorms when it will leap about trees, fields and building agitated until the weather calms.

There are many different myths surrounding the varied Native American nations but a few of these even cross tribe boundaries as belief in them spread far and wide.

The tah-tah-kle’-ah is a race of monstrous owl-women, by the time the Yakama Indians came to know them there were only five of the women left. They live in caves and enjoyed the flesh of children but would eat all manner of vermin that are considered inedible to most other animals. They lure in humans by mimicking their language. Legend says that when one of these owl-women drowned an entire species of owls were created using her eye and that owl is now an omen of death universally to almost all Native American tribes.

Teihiihan are thought to be child-sizes monsters, strong, bloodthirsty and fierce fighters who can outrun an Arapaho warrior. These cannibal dwarves often attack in large numbers and appear in many oral stories from many different Native American nations. One of the most dreaded of figures it is said that in a previous life these were fearsome warriors who died in battle and now must return to fight again.

Africa is filled with many different nations and communities each with their own folklore and legends.

The tikoloshe comes from Zulu mythology. It is an evil-spirited gremlin sent by a shaman to vex his enemies. They are much shorter than the corpse from which they are made, hairy, withered and grey which you can rarely glimpse as they can become invisible at will by swallowing a pebble. Their eyes have been gouged out but it is able to use its other senses to move around. They can be used to simply scare you, cause an illness or even in extreme cases cause death!

The adze comes from legends of the Ewe people of Ghana and Togo. It is a vampire that can take the form of a firefly. When you capture one though it changes into a human appearance all the better to attack you and eat your organs. Of course if you are mightier you can slay it in this form… as an insect it will suck your blood and spread malaria and other diseases. Those who are victimized by the adze are possessed by them and become a witch.

Will AI Replace Writers?

The capabilities of artificial intelligence have grown by leaps and bounds in the past half-decade. Some of this is driven by improvements in algorithm design, some by hardware, but the results are on the Internet for just about anyone to see: Facebook’s face recognition and Apple’s autocomplete are both supported by neural networks. And AI seems to be breaking new ground daily: thrashing Go champions, managing funds, and even writing news stories.

 

So is fiction next on the automation agenda? Like most of us on Team Human, I’m going to say no, at least for now. Here’s why.

 

Neural networks do have a legitimately eerie ability to mimic the surface features of text, where “surface” actually goes fairly deep. Andrej Karpathy’s modern classic on deep learning, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Recurrent Neural Networks,”, presents the results of a Shakespeare generator that creates remarkably plausible formatting, vocabulary, character names, grammar, and even meter:

 

VIOLA:
Why, Salisbury must find his flesh and thought
That which I am not aps, not a man and in fire,
To show the reining of the raven and the wars
To grace my hand reproach within, and not a fair are hand,
That Caesar and my goodly father’s world…

 

In my spare time, I trained a “Chaucerbot” on the Canterbury Tales to do something similar, with similar results:

 

With herte holy lotinge of the bagere

His wordes in my fekken it verealesage
Of the somm we good us, able noon ale up oyn,
wondo nat see clepte, in the pers, but,
See him proude, and doon the poina the of ese the boles.
No free mater, som a bren wef comes s hath it onle to lighge.

 

Chaucerbot didn’t train very long, so its Middle English isn’t as convincing as Karpathy’s Shakespearean English, but you get the idea.

 

Let’s check out another couple of examples. Robin Sloan (author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore) talks about his experiment [training a neural network to generate 20th-century science fiction magazine stories and hooking it into a text editor. You can see the results in his GIFs—it’s the same sort of stuff; give it a chunk of “seed” text, it returns something back. What comes back, here, is grammatical modern English with a distinctly science-fictional choice of words (although “the high goathemaker” is a little desperate even for the pulps). But it’s not necessarily a sensible choice of words—what do servo-robots have to do with two men’s enmity? What do a woman’s (grinning?) arms have to do with sunrise?

 

One more. The “not a poet” Ross Goodwin has a couple of articles on art and machine-generated text that are worth reading in their entirety, but let’s focus on the second one, which begins with a brief disquisition on Sunspring, a science fiction screenplay produced by a neural network trained on science fiction screenplays. Here’s a stage direction from Sunspring and Goodwin’s commentary on its interpretation by the crew:

 

He is standing in the stars and sitting on the floor. He takes a seat on the counter and pulls the camera over to his back. He stares at it. He is on the phone. He cuts the shotgun from the edge of the room and puts it in his mouth. He sees a black hole in the floor leading to the man on the roof.

The machine dictated that Middleditch’s character should pull the camera. However, the reveal that he’s holding nothing was a brilliant human interpretation, informed by the production team’s many years of combined experience and education in the art of filmmaking…

 

Which is as good a place as any to stop and talk about where we are.

 

It’s tricky to say where, in language, form stops and meaning begins. But wherever that boundary may be, it’s easy to see that AI hasn’t made it all the way across. These networks can learn spelling, formatting, some grammar and meter, even diction and vocabulary. But they don’t understand how events go together. It doesn’t understand that you can’t stand and sit at the same time, that Salisbury and Caesar don’t go together, that you can’t take your eyes out of your mouth.

 

Francois Chollet, the author of a popular deep learning software library, recently posted an essay on “The limitations of deep learning” that gets at the heart of this. Chollet really understands the math in play, and I don’t, but his basic insight is this: All neural networks do is learn to warp points in one high-dimensional space into points in another high-dimensional space. That’s it. Any association that can’t be represented this way can’t be learned by a neural network—and it is very hard to represent reasoning and abstraction this way.

 

Related: People are good at making long-range connections, seeing similarities in things that are superficially very different. This is arguably one of the core elements of creativity. In contrast, neural networks have trouble with inputs that aren’t close to things they’ve trained on. If a neural network doesn’t see rap and musicals and the American Revolution in close proximity in its training data, it’s never going to produce them together when you let it off the leash, and that means it’s never writing Hamilton unless it’s already seen Hamilton (which, at this point in history, is presumably unavoidable). And, of course, actual humans synthesize so much more than just fiction when we produce fiction; we have relationships, emotions, and experiences, and even sensory processing streams (smell, taste, touch) that have nothing resembling analogues in computers right now.

 

AI is more than neural networks, of course, and there’s no reason to think we’ll stop getting better at what we can program computers to do. But, in my mind at least, the current state of the art in machine learning doesn’t threaten or even have a path to threatening human narrative creativity. We might be better off instead, as Ross Goodwin suggests, using the strange productions of computers as inspiration—not in the spirit of a muse, but in the spirit of the I Ching or the tarot, a way of throwing the mind open to a logic it can’t produce on its own, where eyes come out of mouths and Salisbury shares a stage with Caesar and men sit on the floor while standing in the stars.

New Developments in Space Exploration – and Seven Stories to Create from Them

Space.

Spaaaaaaaaaaace.

Space is the absence of things.  Humans, composed as we are of matter and living as we do on the surface of a massive ball of the stuff and blanketed by miles of atmosphere, only know short lives of matter and small distances.

Space is the antithesis of all these things.  Devoid of anything, it destroys life in seconds and acts as the final impediment to our journeys of exploration into the known.  So of course we want to get out there and master it, right?!  I mean, what’s cooler than space?  Nothing, I tell you.  And since space is just a big open piece of nothing and nothing is cooler than space, then space is a great unstoppable perpetual motion machine of coolness.  Space is so cool, it’s 2.7 degrees kelvin. You can’t get cooler than that without getting into weird quantum effects where existence itself gets questionable.  Just trust me, space is very very cool.

So where are we when it comes to space?  In the 1960’s, we were racing the commies to the moon— or racing capitalists, whichever end of the thing you wanna be on.  I won’t judge.  In the 70’s, fresh off Trek, we were imagining utopian space societies living out a zero-g gonzo chic.  The 80’s were rock and roll and rockets, space shuttles and Space Camp.  In the 90’s we built the space station and expanded our fleet of resupply shuttles, maintaining a multinational continuous presence in space.  We kept that up in the 00’s, and shot robots the size of SUV’s at Mars.  By the teens, we were getting hi-res photography of Pluto and we could take 100 megapixel photos from our Mars Orbiter™ of our Mars Rover™.

As we transition into a new era of space exploration, it pays to consider:  what’s our cultural view of space travel?  What will advancements in technology do to evolve this understanding?  Let’s take a look at some upcoming moves in the space race and what it might mean for us as storytellers.

MARS

We’re going to Mars.  They say it’ll be 2027, but it’ll be 2035.  Whatever.  One way or the other, we’re gonna have boots on the red planet.  So yeah, we’ve walked on the moon.  That’s extra neat, but this is Mars.  It’s a whole other planet, and it’s so far away that we’re going to have to build a habitat there.  No halfway excursions and some flag waving this time.  We’re going to have people living on Mars.  Probably for shortish bursts for a while, but we’ll get something permanent going.  What does this mean for our stories?  Well, for one, we’re putting humans back in the front of the space race.  Humans will be at the driving wheel, kicking up the space dust, and taking selfies on the surfaces of foreign worlds.  It’s humanity’s time to shine, folks, and that means space is once again a human habitat.  It’s uplifting, and it ultimately means that we can get back to telling positive, uplifting stories about people going to other worlds and conquering the unknown.

ROBOTS

And yeah, humans will go to Mars, but robots have been going to Mars for 30 years already.  In fact, if a human goes anywhere in space over the next five decades or so, that human is going to be preceded by a few decades of robots busily doing the same thing and testing it out.  At the end of the day, humans are squishy great apes.  If you want to send a squishy great ape to another planet, you’d best send a smart, indestructible robot first to test the waters.  Robots have already been to the moons of Jupiter, the asteroid belt, Mars, Pluto, and even beyond the solar system.  Our army of soulless mechanical servitors are currently scouring the cosmos ahead of us, training their beady little murderous eyes on the furthest reaches of our cosmic neighborhood.  Meanwhile, we can direct and observe these little buggers from the comfort of our living room couches.  The folks at the cutting edge of space exploration are no longer the astronauts but the engineers.  This shifts the narrative of the space race from a dangerous adventure atop a rocket to a 9 to 5 job you do from home.  We’re exploring space now from right here aboard the great starship Earth, and that means that the story of space exploration can be increasingly set right here in our own backyard.  Stories of space are so often intrinsically linked to the vast open coldness of the cosmos, but now those same stories can be told from the bountiful everlasting lushness of our magnificent billions-years-old home.

EARTH IS DYING OMG

OK, so we might have messed up with this whole industrial society thing.  We’re pumping gases into the atmosphere and we’re warming the surface of the planet.  The combination of population explosion, industrial production, agriculture, and general human shortsightedness have resulted in a phenomenon that we’ve called The Anthropocene.  It’s a new geologic age we live in, characterized by mankind’s indelible fingerprint on the geologic history of this big, beautiful, sick and dying Earth.  We’re currently causing/living in on of the top 5 mass extinctions the Earth has had in the last 3 billion years.  We’ve turned our eyes to the stars for succor and sanctuary, promising to establish better societies in the stars.  Meanwhile, science tells us that most planets want to kill us.  Venus will melt you into a puddle of goo.  Even the robots don’t go there.  Mars will slowly gum you to death.  The outer planets are made of gas, so they would crush you while simultaneously denying you even the courtesy of solid ground to land on.  Yeah, there are moons.  That’s neat.  Let’s say we get something up and running.  How many people will live on Mars?  Maybe 20?  Give it 100 years, maybe we can get a colony of 500 going.  So what do we do with the 7 BILLION people here on the sickly earth?  We might make it to the stars, but a few billion people are gonna kick off in the process.  The sane thing to do is to knuckle down and fix the planet we already have.  It’s a fixer upper, but it has a magnetosphere.  That’s like the jacuzzi of planet features.  You’re gonna want that.  So we gotta get down to some terraforming.  We imagine turning foreign planets into lush green homes, but now we’re considering the implications of geo-engineering our home planet.  What does Earth look like when we start taking the concept of Earth as a spaceship seriously?  What does it look like when we start fixing it?  Stories of generations of humans working to undo the excesses of the past, stories of the triumph of science over largesse.  It’s enough to make you misty.

SCIENCE

Science may save us, but at the same time, it’s probably going to kill us.  Or at least alter us to a point at which we’re not human anymore.  And that’s a good thing!  At least as far as space is concerned— remember, we’re squishy apes, right?  What happens when we start monkeying around with our already-monkey-based genetics?  Stronger bones, smarter brainparts, better muscles, faster reflexes.  We can breed an entire generation of mutant humans designed for space travel.  We can send humans (or something roughly analogous) further into space than ever before.  And genetics are only part of the equation— remember our implacable robot minions?  If they don’t kill us first, then we’ll start incorporating their soulless mechanical parts and pieces into ourselves, establishing shared consciousness, enhanced senses, rocket fingers, and cyber-elbows!  Our concept of what is “human” will expand.  As that concept grows to incorporate more of a behavioral trademark than a genetic template, our concept of communication will evolve as well.  We’re wired for verbal and written communication. What happens when language becomes binary, or when expression can be a direct, unambiguous transmission of meaning across a mind-net?

ISOLATION

New frontiers in interconnectivity will change how we communicate, but in the vastness of space, the internet speed goes to garbage quickly.  It takes light from the sun 7 minutes to reach Earth.  Likewise, you’re never going to be able to download a copy of Neverwinter Nights from the Sun-net in under 14 minutes because information just can’t be transmitted any faster than that.  So in an era in which I’m mind-netting with my crechemates in New Old New York, my cousin on Europa is gonna be so out of the loop.  Space is isolating even under the terms of current human living, but in an era in which a conversation could be carried out in a femtosecond, a 30-minute delay is a lifetime.  The types of tribalism that will emerge out of gradation of data transmission speed is going to redefine how we see ourselves and others.  In an odd way, our proximity to one another will matter again.  In the 20th and 21st centuries, we broke down the borders between people in different parts of the world with interconnectivity, and in the near future, small variations in that same interconnectivity will cause us to drift back into relationships born out of proximity.  Getting stranded on a faraway space station is all the more poignant when you’re accustomed to living in such a hyper-connected society.

WACKADOO LEFT FIELD DISCOVERIES

All of this is fine, but it’s based on our current understanding of the universe.  If someone discovers a method for faster-than-light communication, then you can forget about latency tribalism.  If someone discovers a method for hyper-efficient carbon sequestration, then the prognosis for our species’ perpetuation on Earth is much better.  At any point in human history, every prognosticator has failed on every level to accurately paint a picture of the world beyond their generation.  Scientific discoveries shift the path of human history and render our worldview obsolete.  We as storytellers get to create the futures we want, use as much or as little science as we want, and tell the stories we feel like telling with the tools in front of us.  Keeping an eye on the current developments can give us a veneer of verisimilitude, open doors to new paths of understanding and stories associated with those streams of thought.  Our view into space is ever outward, and as we move forward and shine the light of human investigation into the unknown, we need to keep our ears open to the stories that float back.

Double 99 Cents Sale

Good news, book lovers! We have two titles on offer for you for a limited period. Wilbert Stanton’s recently released steampunk take on the fey world and Greek mythology, GEARS OF FATE, is 99 cents from July 25 – 26. Edward Aubry’s post-apoclyptic fantasy, PRELUDE TO MAYHEM, is 99 cents July 25 – 27, in celebration of release of the sequel STATIC MAYHEM, which is out today!

Gears of Fate

Centuries have passed since the Fey conquered Earth, forcing mankind and gods alike to flee to the sky city Olympus. Forgotten gods walk amongst man, lost and powerless. Little do they suspect a second Fey war looms, and an unlikely duo will set in motion the gears of fate.

Zak Walker is a fringe rat living in the slums who would do anything to protect his sister, Alice. His neglectful father threatens to consign him to a life away from home on an airship, but he yearns for his life to mean something more than drudgery.

Princess Seneca Rose is the last surviving member of the Seelie royals. They tried to establish peace with mankind, but fell to the forces of Queen Mob and the Unseelie Court. Fleeing for her life, Seneca arrives on Olympus in hopes of uniting the forgotten gods against the oncoming Fey.

Zak couldn’t care less about the fate of Olympus, until faeries kidnap Alice. He doesn’t believe Seneca’s stories of faeries or gods, but soon has no choice but to accept their lives are intertwined. All his life, he’s dreamed of something more. If he cannot face the dangers that await down on Earth, the gods, mankind, and his sister Alice are all doomed.

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Prelude to Mayhem

In the ruins of his world, Harrison Cody follows a mysterious voice on the radio as he and his pixie sidekick travel on foot across a terrifyingly random landscape.

They discover Dorothy O’Neill, who has had to survive among monsters when her greatest worry used to be how to navigate high school.

Together they search for what remains of Chicago, and the hope that civilization can be rebuilt.

Amazon US | Amazon UK