Interview with Author Jeff Provine

By now, you’ve heard the name Jeff Provine a few times if you hang around here. I reviewed his book, Hellfire, a while back and he recently reviewed The Other Side of Hope as well. Today, I’ve got two more reasons to mention his name. First, I got the chance to interview him and ask some questions about Hellfirehis other works, and what he’s got coming in the future. But that’s not even the best part. What I’m really excited about is that he’s agreed to give a signed copy of his steampunk adventure Dawn on the Infinity to one of you. More details after the interview!

RF: There are lot of changes to the timeline, all stemming from the Newton’s Catalyst, in Hellfire. Can you tell us where the idea started for you? What was the original spark that got the whole thing rolling?

Jeff: Heh, “spark,” I like that! Steampunk has always been a huge source of interest for me, mixing the past with enormous new tech. The problem that keeps steampunk from being a reality, though, is that steam engines are so indirect with their energy consumption, something like 5% efficiency. That’s a lot of fuel to carry! So, I asked myself, “What if there were some kind of gateway that could just port in the heat?” It was a fun idea, and then it came with a great twist. What would have more ambient heat than the Lake of Fire?

RF: One of the best things about Hellfire is that you don’t spend countless pages telling us the whole alternate history of your world. But there is this one tantalizing tidbit where you mention Napoleon invading Britain with airships. Any chance we’ll get to see that time period explored in a future book?

Jeff: A prequel would be a lot of fun! There are a few bits dropped here and there about the influence of Newton’s Catalyst on the timeline, but they weren’t pertinent to the plot, just thought-experiments about what might have changed. One of my other favorites was the use of tanks in the Mexican-American War. Both of these could easily merit a short story at least. Perhaps there’ll be a Catalystverse out there someday.

RF: Tell us a little bit about Dawn on the Infinity. Why should we read it?

Jeff: Dawn on the Infinity is an adventure across the multiverse. Dawn’s your average fourteen-year-old: braces, contacts, and enough of a spitfire to headbutt a troll right in the solar plexus. She’s kidnapped by a space-pirate crew of doppelgangers, robots, vampires and more as part of a plot to steal a power generator from another timeline, but soon she learns that nothing is as it seems.

RF: Seems like you write in a few different genres. Is there one that you consider “your” genre or a favorite? If so, why?

Jeff: I’m all about asking, “What if?” That sums up why I tackle so many genres, from alternate history to fantasy, since they are all taking a world and seeing what we can do to twist it. My absolute favorite genre is Magical Realism, but it is a very narrow field and super-hard to write for. Always worth it, though!

RF: Where should we go to learn more about you and stay connected to your work?

Jeff: Check my website out at www.jeffprovine.com and on social media @JeffProvine and www.facebook.com/AuthorJeffProvine

RF: What are you working on now?

Jeff: I’m tackling some new alternate history and a middle grade horror project (Remember those Goosebumps books? Ask yourself, “What if it all happened to the same kid?”). As a side-project, I’m following up on my love of board games with a whole series of twists on existing games I’m calling, “New Rules for Games You Already Have.” 2017 should be a busy year!

Thanks, Jeff for answering my questions and for providing a copy of Dawn on the Infinity!

For those of you just itching for your chance to win that signed book, just click here!

New Review for The Other Side of Hope

Jeff Provine, author of Hellfire (click here to read my review) recently reviewed The Other Side of Hope and published his thoughts on BlogCritic.com. He wrote a fantastic review and I was pumped up to see how he really got the themes of the story.

Click here to read Jeff’s review.

Isn’t that great? I love it because it’s thoughtful and engaged with the content, not just a simple, “Oh yeah, I loved it.” I think it also does a great job of sharing enough details to get people interested without giving anything away. Probably even better than the blurbs and back cover copy I’ve written myself!

What do you think of Jeff’s review?

Interview with Author Marya Miller

Last month, I reviewed Tales of Mist and Magic by Marya Miller. At the time that review was posted, the flash fiction collection wasn’t yet available, but guess what? Now it is!

Click here to buy the book on Amazon, or if you haven’t seen my review yet and want to get my take first, click here to read my review.

Today, I have something even better than a review for you, though. I got the chance to ask Marya a few questions about Tales of Mist and Magic and her upcoming novel set in the same delightful fantasy world, Under the Splintered Mountains. If you’re not excited about her work yet, you will be by the time you finish reading this interview!

RF: Granny Maberly feels so real with all of her quirks and weird traits. Is she based on a real person, or combination of real people?

Marya: She’s got elements from both my own grandmothers; she looks like my Polish Babka and has her wisdom and strong sense of morality and duty; and she has my Nottinghamshire grandmother’s accent, plus her practicality, pith and bluntness.

RF: I loved the story, “Like Father, Like Son!” I’m curious if we’re going to see any more of those characters, or the tower that’s in the story, in the full-length novel?

Marya: Yes and no. Neither is in the first Dragonish full-length novel, Under the Splintered Mountains (which is mostly about Granny, Ushguk and Anno the Tarn), but the Tower is a key element that runs through the entire Morwen Trilogy that follows. Idalos plays a major role in Book One of the Morwen Trilogy, A Sliver in Time; and Feynrir too.

RF: I can see parallels between Elves/Tarn and Orcs/Moraggim but Ushguk stands out as a unique creation. What was your inspiration for his character?

Marya: The inspiration for Ushguk was my father, who never fit in anywhere. Ushguk’s accent is his. My father was Russian-Polish, of Mongolian descent; and in post-war Britain, he might as well have been a Martian. He grew up on a very isolated farm on a mountain (Baba Goria) and learned to play guitar from Russian gypsies who would visit the village every year–I loved hearing his stories about his childhood and I loved listening to him play.

My dad survived hard labor in a Siberian POW camp and a trek across the desert before serving with the RAF as a radio operator. Feasts and food were a huge part of his childhood, and starvation was the key event of Siberia for him. He spent all his time there trying to get more food for his fellow prisoners (and staged possibly the first successful sit-down strike in Russia) and for the rest of his life, feeding people was his big thing–he was incredibly nurturing. Though I am NOT sure he would appreciate being cast as a big, hairy monster! And my dad could run rings around Ushguk, who is very much his own person with his own history. But still, there it is: My dad was the original inspiration.

RF: The stories in Tales of Mist and Magic seem to span a considerable period of time. Can you tell us where the novel will fit in? Before these stories? After them? At the same time?

Marya: “Like Father, Like Son”, “The Metallurgion” and “A World Without Magic” take place well before “Under the Splintered Mountains”. “Cannibal” and “The Prophecy” occur at the same time of the novel. “The Rabbit who Lived in a Tree” and “The Meaning of Flowers” take place at the beginning of the Morwen trilogy. “The Bits that Count” takes place literally about a week before Ushguk and Granny run into Anno the Tarn in the novel. He’s still wearing his pink sparkly dress (courtesy of Volkurr the Despoiler) when they meet him.

RF: This one’s just for my curiosity. Where does the name “Dragonish” come from?

Marya: From two words: dragon + inis (pronounced “inish”). “Inis” is Scots Gaelic for “island” and Dragonish is an island. I was born and grew up in Scotland, and still speak a smattering of Gaelic so it works its way into everything (including the Tarn language).

RF: How can we make sure we don’t miss Under the Splintered Mountains when it comes out?

Marya: Follow me on my Facebook Page, because I’ll announce it there. Or sign up to my mailing list at http://maryamiller.ca. (If you like the Dragonish stories, the advantage with this is that signing up will land you a completely original Dragonish short story not found anywhere else, “A Tail in the Mist”.)

Thanks so much to Marya Miller for answering my questions! Be sure to check out Tales of Mist and Magic to get pumped up for Under the Splintered Mountains.

Click here to sign up for her mailing list!

Review: Tales of Mist and Magic by Marya Miller

The Bottom Line

A fun, (mostly) lightly-hearted collection of fantasy flash fiction. The stories are connected by virtue of being set in the world of Dragonish and sharing a few key characters.

B+

The Review

If flash fiction isn’t your thing, don’t let that stop you from picking up Tales of Mist and Magic. Because it’s not usually my thing, either. If light and funny isn’t your thing, you also shouldn’t let that stop you. I had actually come across Marya Miller’s website a while back (I don’t remember how) and wondered away without reading anything because I got the impression I wouldn’t be interested (again, I don’t remember how). So I’m very glad that Josh brought this book to me because it is well worth the read.

There’s not a whole lot of bad things to say about this one. Honestly, the biggest complaint I have is that it’s a collection of flash fiction stories and not a full novel. My second biggest complaint is that it’s a bit too light hearted for my tastes. I like fiction that’s heavy and on the dark side just a bit (pun intended). So let this be your warning that you won’t find much dark material in Tales of Mist and Magic.

You will, however, find quite a bit of wit. While they might not be as engrossing as a full-length novel, these bite-sized stories are packed full of humor and ironic twists. For some light, humorous reading, you can’t do much better than Tales of Mist and Magic. The writing is superb and I enjoyed almost all of the stories. My least favorite is actually the very first one, so don’t let it deter you when you pick it up. Most of the stories are entertaining but not necessarily enduring. A week after finishing the book, I can’t say I remember most of them. I do remember the key, recurring characters, though, and I harbor a strong desire to spend more time in the world of Dragonish. That is the great brilliance of Tales of Mist and Magic because there is a full-length novel coming that will feature those memorable characters and take us deeper into their stories.

So here is another warning: if you read Tales of Mist and Magic, you will end up buying Marya’s novel when it comes out.

I said I didn’t remember most of the stories, and that’s true. But there were some that stuck with me. Two to be precise: “Like Father, Like Son,” and “The Meaning of Flowers.” These two flash pieces stray ever so slightly from the light hearted humor that characterizes most of the collection to hint at a more complex world behind the jokes. “Like Father, Like Son,” is actually quite dark but in a subtle way. Since I enjoy subtlety as much as dark fiction, this one is easily my favorite in the bunch. “The Meaning of Flowers” hints at tragedy without exploring it in depth and gives us insight into one of the main character’s background. It retains the bubbly humor of the collection in most regards but still manages to inject a profound truth that resonated with me. So it makes my favorite list as well.

I don’t want to give the impression that the other stories aren’t good, because they are. The whole collection is an entertaining read, if not an engrossing one. This book is the perfect thing for those of you who “don’t have time” to read. Reading a single story won’t take more than two minutes and, by the time you’re done, you’ll be so hooked into the world that you’ll find the time to read Marya’s novel when it’s released.

Click here to read the first story from the collection. The full collection has not yet been released but I will tell you right here when it is. You can also sign up for Marya’s email list to stay up to date.

To Read or Not to Read

Read. Absolutely read. Tales of Mist and Magic is fun, quick, and easy to read but you’ll still come away with some nuggets to chew on. Best of all, you’ll find unique characters to love and look forward to seeing more of.

Interview with Author Carolyn O’Neal

I recently read Kingsley, the dystopian eco-thriller from fellow Virginia author Carolyn O’Neal and shared my thoughts both here on my website and over on The Wrambling Writers podcast.

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I loved the book so much that I wanted to talk with Carolyn a bit more. So I asked her a few questions about Kingsley, where it came from and what might be coming from her next. Also, keep your ears tuned to The Wrambling Writers where we’ll have Carolyn as a guest in the not-too-distant future!

RF: Where did the idea for Kingsley begin?

Carolyn: About 8 years ago, my son and a friend were playing video games in the den.  They were middle-schoolers and adorable.  (I might be the only mom in the world whose heart melts when she sees her son playing video games!)  As they were playing, I was reading a report about how certain chemicals in petroleum based pesticides and herbicides mimic estrogen and have a detrimental effect on male fish and reptiles.  Almost immediately the conversation between Bapsi and Charlotte in Chapter 16 popped into my head, when Bapsi compared men to tigers: beautiful and dangerous and mourned deeply when they were gone.

RF: Do you have a favorite character from the book?

Carolyn: I think I did a good job of creating very different characters, each with their own personality.   My readers say their favorites are Joyce and Charlotte.   I’m happy with that.

RF: What do you do besides writing?

dscf0176Carolyn: I volunteer for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program.   It’s important to me that I not just fret about the environment; I want to make a difference.   These two non-profits have improved the water quality of Virginia waterways.  I’m proud to be a part of this positive change.

RF: Can you tell us about what’s coming next from you?

Carolyn: I am writing another eco-thriller that continues the story in KINGSLEY and I’m working with an illustrator on a children’s picture book entitled TERRY AND THE MONSTER BEATERS that’s geared to preschoolers and early readers facing a frightening visit to the hospital.

In my next eco-thriller, I want to touch on the global effects of climate change. As with all momentous changes, there will be winners and losers.  Probably the best comparison is 1492 when North America was introduced to the rest of the world.  On the human scale, this accelerated the rise of the Spanish Empire and the fall of the Mayans, but the environmental impact s were arguably more devastating. The introduction of European and African plants and animals to the Americas drove hundreds, perhaps thousands, of native species to extinction.  Our beloved honeybee, which graces the cover of KINGSLEY, is a European import. It was considered a harbinger of evil to many early native cultures because it meant European settlers weren’t far behind.

A Quick Excerpt

I told you a few weeks ago about “The Waters Above,” a new short story I’ve been working on that blends sci-fi and theology. Now I’m almost finished with the first draft and I want to share a brief snippet of the story with you. In the next few days, I’ll be making the first draft available to my creative team for feedback, so if you’d like to get on board, head over to Patreon and join!


Anomaly detected.

The thin electronic voice of the Star Duster’s on-board computer cut through his stupor and dragged him back into consciousness.

Anomaly detected.

The voice was calm, almost soothing, and Waqaz’s body begged him to ignore it and go back to sleep for just a few more…

He came fully awake as he remembered where he was. And how long he had been “sleeping.” Of course, there was no way to know how long that had been. Sleeping wasn’t really the right word for it. What the body went through in carbon hibernation was nothing at all like sleep. If Waqaz had ever doubted that before, he certainly wouldn’t again. There was no REM in hibernation, no real rest at all. Only suspension. In fact, he was still plagued by the same headache that had been with him when he went down.

Waqaz spent a brief moment wondering how long ago that had been. The question was a useless one. When time was measured by the earth’s sun, it had little relevance beyond the solar system. And they were far, far beyond the confines of the solar system. It was impossible to say how long he’d been under in terms that meant anything at all.

Still, his eyes were drawn toward the place he knew the clock was positioned.

Except that he couldn’t see the clock.

Or anything else.

Before his rational mind could catch up and assure him that hibernation blindness was a perfectly normal reaction to spending so much time in suspension, the panic set it.

He had designed the pod he was in. He knew that once the outer barrier had retracted, there was a raised edge of about four centimeters to step over. He knew that the cylindrical hibernation pod rested at an angle of about ten degrees back from vertical.

He knew all of these things, but, in his desperation, it didn’t matter.

Waqaz surged forward, tripped over the edge of the hibernation pod, and went sprawling onto the cold floor of the Star Duster. The impact jolted him back to his senses and he closed his eyes — unnecessarily — to take long, deep breaths.

“It’s normal, it won’t last long.” He spoke the words out loud in an effort to reassure himself but the sound of his voice was so hollow and dry that the last word almost didn’t make it past his lips.

Anamoly detected.

The ship’s mechanical voice intoned its warning again and Waqaz pushed himself to his feet. Traveling in hibernation meant they didn’t need much room, so the Space Duster was small. Even though he’d only been in the cabin for a few days before going under, Waqaz remembered the layout well enough.

The pods were in the back, about five meters behind two chairs that were situated in front of a bank of controls he knew little about. Beyond the control panel, a broad, flat view screen would be pointed out into empty space. If had been able to see, he would’ve had an unobstructed view of countless stars.

The thought led to another spike of panic and he stumbled forward. His knee slammed against the hard base of the chair and he smacked my face on the firm, upholstered back rest as he doubled over from the pain. The combination of blows sent him reeling backwards and onto the floor again.

“Waqaz?” Another voice, this one thin and nasal, but definitely human. “Waqaz, are you alright?”

Waqaz got his feet under him and stood on shaky legs, ignoring the throbbing pain in his knee. A moment later, he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Waqaz, what’s the—” Faadi’s sentence ended a gasp, probably as he saw Waqaz’s blind, vacant stare.

His hand moved from Waqaz’s shoulder to his elbow and he guided him into one of the seats.

Waqaz hated being led around like a useless old man, but what choice did he have? When he was still a few centimeters away from being settled in, Faadi gasped again and released his arm. Waqaz could hear his boots striking the floor as he staggered back two steps.

“In the name of Allah…”

“What?” Waqaz demanded when Faadi didn’t say more. “What is it?”


That’s all I can share for now! The full story will eventually be available in a magazine if things go the way I’d like them to. But you can also read it early (and even improve it!) by joining my creative team at Patreon.

Review: Hellfire by Jeff Provine

The Bottom Line

An alternate history/steampunk adventure with a touch of supernatural thriller and strong spiritual themes that will hold your attention with its intriguing premise and interesting plot. Held back primarily by weak character development.

C

The Review

I was excited to get to Jeff Provine’s Hellfire because it’s the first alternate history we’ve reviewed on The Wrambling Writers. It’s also got a healthy does of the supernatural mixed in with the alternate history and that’s something I’m always down for.

The premise is that a crystalline fire-enhancer known as Newton’s Catalyst has jump started a steam-driven industrial revolution ahead of schedule. It’s set in an 1856 filled with airships, steam-driven wagons, powerful locomotives, and an abundance of steel technology. But there’s a catch. The catalyst is also opening doorways to another dimension and monsters are coming through. The resulting story is a supernatural, alternate history, steampunk adventure that tackles issues of faith, technology, and government corruption.

On a broad level, I really enjoyed it. It’s an interesting concept, the story is intriguing, and I was never bored. When you get down to the details, though, I found it lacking in a few places.

Hellfire’s biggest weakness is its characters. I wanted to like them, but never really felt a connection with any of them. Provine does a good job of not ambushing us with character backstory early on, mostly working their histories in throughout the story. There is however, a lull in the action near the book’s final act, during which we get exposed to one character’s story in more detail. It’s done through conversation, so it’s not awful, but it comes too close to info dump for my tastes.

The biggest problem, however, was that the characters simply didn’t feel alive to me. Perhaps because their battle against the evil Rail Agency has little connection to anything personal in their lives. They go on their quest because each of them is thrust into it and they have to either fight to survive or die. There are no real personal stakes or goals tied directly to the large scale events of the story. That leads to a cast of characters who all feel more or less the same, so that it’s sometimes easy to forget who’s talking.

If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you’ll know that I’m really picky about dialogue. Really picky. The dialogue in Hellfire is not bad by any means. It’s just not great either. It’s solidly average. There are some good moments, a few bad ones, and mostly just middle grade, passable dialogue. It gets the job done.

Another big point for me is a book’s ending. I haven’t decided what I think of Hellfire’s ending yet, even though I finished it a few days ago. The very final pages do a good job of wrapping up the immediate story while making it clear where the characters are going from here. That combination of resolved-yet-open-ended can be difficult to strike and I applaud Provine for hitting it. What I’m less sure about is the actual climax a few pages earlier. The story is full of the supernatural, with God and demons playing important roles. So the divine intervention required to save the day isn’t wholly out of place. But it is a bit convenient and takes some of the thrill out of the high point. Again, it’s not awful, but it didn’t knock my socks off.

Like I said, I did really enjoy this book. The alternate history elements are very well done and we get small hints about what’s different in the world without ever being subjected to a boring (alternate) history lesson. The passing reference to Napoleon’s use of airships to invade Britain was brilliant. I absolutely love those subtly dropped details. They create a world that was fantastically built and which plays an integral part in the story. I love world building and Jeff Provine nailed that part of Hellfire.

The story itself, in the sense of plot, is also very interesting. Even though I wasn’t particularly invested in the characters, I still cared enough about what was going to happen to keep reading. And that’s because the plot was interesting and the twist was surprising, while not coming from so far off the radar that it felt implausible.

To Read Or Not To Read?

If you enjoy alternate history at all, you should read this book, no doubt. The biggest caveat is that if you’re easily turned off by spiritual themes, it’s probably not for you.

New Patreon Page

I recently discovered the platform Patreon and knew right away it was something I wanted to get involved in. I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking of how to build a page that delivers real value to my potential patrons and now it’s ready. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already one of my core fans so I hope you’ll take the opportunity to take our connection to the next level and share the page with your friends.

What I’m most excited about is the way Patreon is going to allow me to get you involved in my work. I’ll be posting updates about new ideas all through the planning stage and inviting feedback on everything from character names to plot twists and beyond. You only have to pledge $1 per book in my upcoming series The Silent Path, to get on the team.

But if you give more, you get more. Lots more. Rewards for higher pledges include downloads and paperback versions of The Silent Path books, plus all of my new works. That means every time I publish anything, you get it. Directly from me.

I hope to see you on my team!

Free Kindle Copy of The Other Side of Hope

Exciting news! I’m giving away thirty copies of the The Other Side of Hope! All you have to do is answer a brief survey and you’ll be entered to win! Just click here to get started!

The Other Side of Hope is a war drama set in a world in which the global roles of Christianity and Islam are switched. It is a story of loss and revenge, of redemption and hope. You’ll see a virtually unrecognizable North America mired in poverty and religious extremism. A devastating terrorist attack in Istanbul, Turkey, the thriving economic center of the world, touches off a war driven by revenge and fueled by mutual hatred and misunderstanding.

Fast-paced and exciting, The Other Side of Hopehas been called “flawless,” “captivating,” and “powerful.” Don’t miss your chance to read it!

Review: Retaliation by Liberty Speidel

Bottom Line

Same intriguing world as Emergence with a better story and improved writing. An odd plotting decision holds it back, but a big step up for sure.

B

The Review

Retaliation is book two in Liberty Speidel’s superhero detective series, The Darby Shaw Chronicles. If you read my review of Emergence, you’ll probably remember that I wasn’t very impressed by it. I wanted to like it and I did like the world, but the book itself fell flat for me. However, Liberty told me that she thought the series got much better as it went along and it does make sense for a writer’s craft to improve with time and practice. So I was genuinely looking forward to reading Retaliation.

I’m happy to say that I was not let down. There is a significant improvement in the overall writing and the pacing of this story. Darby’s partner, Mark Herman, was my favorite character in Emergence and he’s back to play a big role in this book. He continues to be well-rounded and interesting and he’s really the main character here, making “Darby Shaw Chronicles” a bit of a misnomer. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but Mark is really center stage on this book. That’s not a complaint, because I like the character, just an observation that the title doesn’t quite fit.

My biggest critique concerns the plot and structuring of the story. It begins with a flurry of action that drew me in right away – then falls back to “six weeks earlier.” Even though I’m predisposed to dislike that strategy for hooking my attention, I resolved to keep an open mind. After all, people do get it right on occasion. Unfortunately, this did not prove to be one of those occasions and the story dragged until it caught up with its starting point.

Once we reach that point, the plot moves along nicely and I never found myself wondering when something was finally going to happen. It’s an engaging, though predictable, story that continues to explore the conflict between governmental authority and individual rights. The conflict is driven by a new development in Darby’s powers and we get hints (carefully placed, subtle hints) of another development that I suspect will play a role in book three.

If Emergence was not free (and very short), I would recommend that you begin your reading of The Darby Shaw Chronicles with Retaliation. The first installment of the series is inferior to this second one in many ways and is really more of an extended prologue. You can pick up on everything that happened in Emergence as a matter of backstory while reading Retaliation. However, Emergence doesn’t cost you anything but the hour or so it will take you to read it. So you might as well be fully informed going into book two unless you’re really pressed for time and storage space on your eReader of choice.

To Read or Not to Read

Read. If you liked Emergence, you’re sure to love Retaliation because there is nothing but improvement. If, on the other hand, you didn’t care for Emergence (like me), Retaliation is still worth your time and it just might redeem the series for you.