Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jeff Jacobson Interview

Jeff's name may jog a memory of a previous review of his I did this year, Foodchain. This man is just hysterical and his novel was insane!! Take a glance at what he has cared to share with me.

Your newest novel, "Food Chain" was released last month. Can you tell us a little about it?

Foodchain is a crime novel about Frank Winter, a disgraced veternarian who works for the mob at a Chicago horse racing track. When a job goes bad, they take Frank out to a roadside zoo out in the desert and try to feed him to a bunch of starving alligators. He ends up in an isolated small town where the tyrannical mayor puts Frank's talents to use in a series of exotic animal hunts that escalate into animal death matches. And of course, Frank is pushed to the brink, and has to decide whether to side with the humans or the animals. Basically, it's a story of bad guys and even worse guys. I mean, to be totally honest, when I started, all I wanted to write was a compelling, really vicious shoot 'em up. And Foodchain was the result.

Columbia is one of America's most prolific colleges. Did you begin writing before teaching? Or vice versa?

I'm one of these guys who started writing stories as soon as I learned how to read and write. I think my mom has a few of my early efforts, thirteen page epics with painstaking illustrations like "The Creature From the Black Swamp." I suppose the subject matter hasn't changed much over the years, but hopefully my skills have grown a bit sharper.

Do you incorporate your own work into your teachings? Why?

Oh sure. Columbia College Chicago is a liberal arts school that takes a lot of pride in hiring teachers that work in whatever field they're teaching. As a writer, it's impossible not to bring my own experiences into the fiction workshops. Not so much my voice or the content of my stuff; in fact I work very hard at keeping neutral so students can develop their own voices and stories. The last thing I want is for my students to go out and write stuff just like mine. But I definitely talk about my experiences in publishing. I especially talk about my mistakes, so the students can learn from my dumbass moves, and they can go on and make their own mistakes, which is how we learn.

You seem to travel a bit? California, Chicago, Taiwan, Australia...What did you take away from your acting in "the land down under?"

Yeah, I like to travel. There's something very appealling about dropping everything, throwing shit in a backpack, and hopping on a plane. Of course, it's different now, since I've got a family and a job, so it isn't quite as simple. It started in high school, when a buddy was going to apply to be a foreign exchange student. He ultimately wanted to go the Air Force Academy, and apparently they frowned on anybody spending an extended length of time outside the States, so he dropped the application. God forbid you might actually learn there's a whole other world out there. The more I thought about it, the more I said what the hell, and within a year, I was living in Melbourne, Australia. There, I met some fantastic folks, and ended up acting in a non-profit company called "No Mates", directed by my good pal Craig Christie, who has gone on to become quite a celebrated playwright/songwriter. In terms of what I took away, I think it was probably a heightened awareness of your audience when you're telling a story. When you're acting, you get this immediate feedback, and so you can alter whatever you're doing, stretch moments out, stress certain things, etc. When you're writing, you don't have the luxury of that immediate audience, so it helps if you can imagine one and try to anticipate how they might react. Of course, there's also a flip side; when you're acting and the audience isn't into your story, then you've got nowhere to hide. When you're writing, you can keep rewriting, keep sending it out to your friends and gauging their reaction, you keep fiddling with things until your happy.

You mentioned to me that "Wormfood" has changed since the ARC, Advanced Reader Copy. What was the reasoning for the changes?

Oh, nothing major, just a few small things, like fixing a few clunky sentences, some dumb continuity errors on my part, things like that.

If you had to pick three of your top favorite most gory, blood-fest movies, what would they be?

Jeez, I don't know. It's too fucking hard to nail down just three, you know? I tell ya, in terms of movies that have influenced me the most, I've got probably five or six crammed into the top three spots in a kind of strange tie. But if you put a gun to my head, let's see... My life wouldn't be complete without Dawn of the Dead, Jaws, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. There's some others I can't live without, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Road Warrior, The Killer and Hard Boiled, Escape From New York, The Thing... Man, I could go on and on and on. But you'll notice, most of those came out within four years of each other, right around '78-82. I was ten in there, so yeah, it was a hugely influential time in my life. I was one big-ass, thirsty sponge. But if I had to pick three of my favorite most gory, blood-fest movies, I'd probably recommend Peter Jackson's Dead/Alive (Braindead), which has, quite possibly, the most bodily fluids ever spilled in a movie. It's also one of the funniest movies ever. For me, anyway. Then I'd go with Cannibal Holocaust, which is excrutiating, and always leaves me a sweating, nervous wreck. Then maybe something like Doctor Butcher, M.D., just 'cause.

What about novels?

Hell, this is even harder. If you're looking for some authors that don't take any prisoners, that aren't gonna hold your hand and tell you everything is gonna be okay, that aren't fucking around... First off, Jack Ketchum's Off Season. If you like horror, and you haven't read it, then you owe yourself. Jump up right now and go get it. Actually, pretty much anything with Jack Ketchum's name on it is required reading. Then I'd have to go with Edward Lee's The Bighead. I can't describe it. I'm not even going to try. Just trust me. It's not scary exactly, but it'll test your gag reflex. I just read J.F. Gonzalez's Survivor, and it kicked my ass. And one more, even if it isn't shelved in the horror section. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. It's flat-out brilliant.

What is it about crime and horror fiction that appeals to your writing skills?

Maybe not so much my writing skills as my sensibilities I guess, but I'd have to say that for whatever reason, I was born with this love of dark stuff. The thing about horror and crime is that they don't have to play by the rules of "traditional" or "mainstream" books. You can get away with a lot of really subversive shit. I mean, I just read Jason Starr's Fake ID. It's a first person crime novel, and when you start, since it is narrated in the the first person, you kind of automatically want to root for the character, but Starr yanks the rug out from under you. It's a lot like what Jim Thompson was doing. I guess, in these kinds of books, you have an opportunity to examine these awful people, the kinds of characters that most popular fiction shies away from. Hell, I don't know. Bottom line, it's FUN.

So many classic horror flics are being remade- A Nightmare On Elm Street, Night Of The Demons- the list goes on. What is your take on classics being remade?

Well, you gotta remember that filmmaking is a business, first and foremost. Pretty much every single decision is made with an eye toward the bottom line. That said, I try not to get too upset when I hear that they're planning to remake one of my favorite movies of my youth. I mean, look at my list a few questions back-- damn near every single movie I listed has either been remade or is in the planning stages. When I first heard that they were going to remake Dawn of the Dead, I was fucking furious. But when I had a chance to calm down, I realized that the original will still be available, so no big deal. And hell, I thought the Dawn remake was kinda cool. I hope they'll do a good job with the Escape From New York remake, but whether it is or isn't, hey, I can always still pop in my DVD of the original. And I think it's important to not be a hypocrite here; I mean, let's be honest--John Carpenter's The Thing is a remake. So is Cronenberg's The Fly. So is Friedkin's Sorcerer. Same with Scorsese's The Departed. And even Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, even if he won't admit it. So I'm not against remakes exactly, I'm just sick of bad filmmaking. That piece of shit remake of The Fog comes to mind, you know? So yeah, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't curious about the Nightmare on Elm Street remake, and frankly, I'm fired up about the Piranha 3D remake. Bring it on.

How do your students react to your accomplishments?

I don't think it's a big deal to them. In the Fiction Department at Columbia College, there's tons of teachers and professors that are published authors. Most are far more accomplished than I am. So to the students, it's pretty routine. I mean, I'm nothing special, you know? My students are the first to tease me and keep me grounded. It's a good reality check.

Jeff, wow! Where can I begin. Your brutal honesty and dark sense of humor make me smile. I can't express how much I appreciate how frank you were without a care. Some author's tend to tip-toe around and be courteous. I don't want that. I want reality. So thank you for showing that. I truly enjoyed your interview just as much as I did your novel, Foodchain. Congratulations once again on your success with both your novels and in your teachings. I hope that we can read more from you in the future.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Alaya Dawn Johnson Interview

You may recognize Alaya's name from earlier this year when I reviewed her novel Moonshine. She so graciously has since allowed me this interview. So let's see what this beautifully talented authoress has to say.

What inspired you to become a writer?

I can't remember exactly when I decided I wanted to be a writer, but I was definitely younger than six, because I attempted my first novel at the age of seven. I've been writing pretty much continuously ever since, with varying success.

How long have you been writing for?

Twenty one years, give or take a few.

Of your work, which is your favorite, or that you hold dear for one reason or another?

Probably out of everything I've written until now, I'm most proud of a short story that ran last year in Fantasy Magazine called "A Song to Greet the Sun." Of my novels, Moonshine is probably my favorite (though that's a close call).

As an author who is your favorite to read from?

I love them for different reasons, but two of my favorite authors are Guy Gavriel Kay and Diana Wynne Jones. One writes adult fantasy and the other YA, but they're both masters of their field and consistently surprise, entertain and shock me with their prose. My other favorite writer is Dorothy Dunnett, whose Lymond Chronicles continues to have a huge influence on my writing.

 What is your favorite genre?

I grew up reading fantasy voraciously, so that's probably still my biggest love. But at the moment I'm far more likely to read historicals or just straight-up literary fiction.
or your fans and readers?

Words of wisdom? Probably not, but I will say that if you like my books please visit my website ( ) and let me know. Reader feedback is the fuel for my writerly engine--it really helps me keep going!

Can an interview possibly be considered cute? Well this one was! If her novel was intriguing, then she has since surpassed it. Thank you Alaya for allowing this interview and the opportunity to review Moonshine. Congratulations once again on the publication and continuing success in the writing field.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Jennifer Estep Interview

This year I had a great opportunity to do reviews for both of Jennifer Estep's Gin Blanco "Elemental Assain" series, Spider's Bite & Web of Lies. I also had the chance to interview her as well. Read on below to see what this talented author has to say.

It's rare anymore to see a female character without being strong in more ways than one. What are your thoughts on this?

I’ve always loved strong heroines in books, TV shows, and movies. Some of my favorite characters are Sydney Bristow from Alias, Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena from Xena: Warrior Princess, and Wonder Woman. So I really enjoy all the strong female characters out there, and I hope folks think that my assassin character, Gin Blanco, is a good addition to the mix.

Nobody likes reading about wimpy characters, whether they’re male or female. If the fate of the world rests on your heroine’s shoulders, then she needs to know how to take care of herself and save the day. I’m not saying that she has to be a Rambo-type character, but she needs something that she can draw on to help her – whether it’s magic, weapons, or just her own street smarts. Those are the characters that I like reading about, and those kind of strong female characters are what I write about in my own books.

 With that being said, how do you feel about feminism and "Grrrrl Power" and all that?

I’m all for feminism and “Grrrrl Power.” I think that women can do everything that men can do – women are just as strong, smart, and sexy as guys are, so why shouldn’t we be portrayed that way?

Is it hard writing a paranormal novel and keeping it based to one specific mythos ... werewolf, vampire, fairies, zombies etc?

Not really. I have four main types of creatures/magic users in my Elemental Assassin series – vampires, giants, dwarves, and elementals (or folks who can use one of the four elements, which are Air, Fire, Ice, and Stone). So I’ve got a lot of different magic and powers to play around with in the series.

 I also have another urban fantasy series in the works, as well as a young adult series. The magic system in both of those is different from the Elemental Assassin series. For me, half the fun of writing a novel is coming up with new powers and problems for my various heroines. I have a different system in each series, so when I get tired of one, I can always go write in another world that I’ve created.

Do you ever use your stories as a sense of therapy? Such as getting revenge on someone via the novel? Or anything like that?

Not really. Although the one thing that I really enjoy about writing Gin Blanco is that she gets to do and say whatever she wants to – whether it’s being a smartass to someone that she shouldn’t or taking out a bad guy. She’s just a really fun character to write in that respect. Gin can say and do things that I would never dream of doing!

You have two current series, "Elemental Assassins" and "Bigtime." What is the diversity between the two?

My Elemental Assassin series is urban fantasy, and the books focus on Gin Blanco, an assassin codenamed the Spider. Titles in the series are Spider’s Bite (which came out in February), Web of Lies (coming out on May 25), and Venom (due out on Sept. 28).

My Bigtime series is paranormal romance, and the books feature sexy superheroes, evil ubervillains, and smarty, sassy gals looking for love. Titles in the series are Karma Girl, Hot
Mama, and Jinx.

 Basically, the Elemental Assassin books are much, much darker and grittier than my Bigtime books, which are really comic book spoofs/romances.

Have you ever thought of crossing the two? Or would that not work?

I do this a little bit now. In each one of my Elemental Assassin books, I try to give at least one a little shoutout to my Bigtime books as well. For example, in Spider’s Bite, I mention that someone is wearing a Fiona Fine suit – Fiona happens to be a fashion designer/superhero in my Bigtime series.

I think that casually dropping in characters like that is a little treat for all my Bigtime fans out there, and it’s a lot of fun for me too. ;-)

How do you accomplish a scheduled time frame for a novel?

I have a day job so I do my writing at nights and on the weekends. I write a rough draft pretty quickly, usually in about three weeks, just getting the words down as fast as I can. Then, I let the book sit for a while before going back and seeing if the story holds together and what changes need to be made. Then, I start working on a second draft. Once that’s done, I go back through it and see what changes need to be made. I usually do this about three or four times before I have a finished book. It can take anywhere from two to six months, depending on how busy I am with various projects.

Is it easy coming up with character names? What is the process in doing so for you?

This is pretty easy for me. First of all, I think about the names that I’ve used already and make sure that I don’t repeat any of those, at least not for a main character. Sometimes, I’ll look up names online to see what their meanings and origins are and see what might fit my story. But basically, once I have my character in mind, I just sit down and come up with a name for them – something cool and catchy that fits the story.

You have a crazzzzzzzzy tour schedule for 2010. It must be exhilarating. What parts of your tours do you look forward to the most?

My schedule isn’t really that crazy – I try to go to a few conferences every year. The best part of any conference is just interacted with folks – readers, authors, and industry professionals – because we’re all there for the same reason. We love books – reading them, writing them, and talking about them.

How have you coped being around so many great colleagues? (Cope may not be the right word feel free to do a substitution!!) Is it numbing? Like you just can't believe it's happening still?

There are so many great writers out there. It’s always very humbling whenever I go to a convention and get to meet someone whose books I’ve loved for years. I’ve signed books in the same room as folks like Nora Roberts and Debbie Macomber – it really is an honor just to be in the same room with best-selling authors like that.

Thank you Jennifer for this insightful and fun interview with you. I truly enjoyed the Elemental Assassin series. I can't wait for Venom this month. Hopefully Mab Monroe gets a beat down!! Congratulations once again on all of your publication success to date, as well as your up coming urban fantasy series. Thanks again for the review, gifts, and interview opportunities you have so kindly allowed.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Readers just another update for myself to keep track of ARC's I currently need to read and the ones on their way.

Currently Reading:
Darkborn - Alison Sinclair
Moonlight Bleu - Renee Rearden

Need to Read:
Dogfood - David Moody
Past Midnight - Mara Purnhagen
Lightborn - Alison Sinclair
We Were Here - Matt De La Pena
Down Among The Dead Men - Robert Gregory Browne
Red-Headed Stepchild - Jaye Wells
The Mage In Black - Jaye Wells
Hunted By The Others - Jess Haines
The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi

ARC's Coming In The Mail:
Mermaid - Carolyn Turgeon

Monday, September 13, 2010

Blood Feud by Alyxandra Harvey

The action and romance continue as the Drake family faces a new vampire with a 200-year-old grudge

As the clans gather for Helena's royal coronation as the next vampire queen, the rifts left over from Lady Natasha's reign are slowly beginning to heal. But a new common enemy-Leander Montmartre-has a thirst for power that must be stopped before he destroys the newfound peace they've just begun to enjoy. With their new status as vampire royalty, it's up to the Drake family to unite the clans against him.
That includes Isabeau St. Croix, who is intent on confronting Montmartre's top lieutenant, Greyhaven, the evil British earl who left her for dead centuries ago when he turned her into a vampire. But after meeting Logan Drake-a vampire whose kiss is as sweet as the revenge she seeks-she'll have put her own mission aside to fight for the common cause.
This second adventure in the Drake Chronicles, has all the same butt-kicking action and heart-pounding romance that readers loved in Hearts at Stake, as well as exciting new revelations about the vampire dynasties to keep readers coming back for more.

So this is the continuation into the Drake Chronicles series. In the front of this novel there is a Drake family tree. I actually wished that it had been included in the front of book one as well to give the readers a heads up on the family lineage. I also didn't realize that Connor & Quinn were twins. Maybe I read over that info in Hearts At Stake?

I was disappointed that the story wasn't focused on Solange like I had expected it to be. However I do like the fact you get to know more on her eccentric brother Logan. I also enjoyed the prologue of Isabeau's history. A good thing for new readers is that the author recapped Hearts At Stake making it easy for people to follow. There was one section with a Marie Antoinette flashback that I enjoyed as well.

Some of the French terminology should have been translated or had a reference guide to in the back. The Montmartre/Greyhaven battle had an enormous intensity and impact on the end of this novel. It clearly set the pace for book three. However with the resolution of Montmartre and I am wondering what's in store for book three. Hopefully it is a Connor & Quinn conjoined novel that tells their story intertwiningly. Most of all though, I am hoping for the Nicholas & Lucy one! Does she get turned? Or does she live a human life to the end of her days with Nicholas???

Favorite Quotes:

"I don't know what it said about me that it kind of turned me on that she could probably kick my ass if she wanted to."

"Sense doesn't have a lot to do with being a man."

Once again I would like to thank both Alyxandra Harvey for writing these awesomely kick-ass novels, and to Kate Lied who so kindly sent them to me when she didn't have to do so.