My Favourite Books of 2016 – Part Two

Hey everyone, 🙂 I’m back with my second ‘Favourites of 2016’ post, and in this post I’ll be telling you about books from Alex Marshall, John Burnham Schwartz, Justin Cronin, Christopher Golden and Suzanne Van Rooyen.

A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

This novel, which kicks off what promises to be a rollicking, ass-kicking trilogy, follows a mayor’s wife on her quest for revenge – obviously, she’s much more than initially revealed. 🙂 The novel is by turns incredibly funny, brutal, thoughtful and inventive, with excellent world building and stand-out characters; multiple points of view allow the reader to gain a wide-screen (if I can use that description, which I’ve just done…) understanding of the various conflicts and story lines, while also giving us the gritty, ugly, beautiful detail we Fantasy readers crave. There’s plenty of inventive and interesting magic, battles and skirmishes (skillfully written, brutal and entertaining), and intrigue a-plenty. One also gets the sense that the world Alex has created is absolutely filled with stories we only glimpse, which also serves to make the world live and flex and breathe more deeply. Undeniably, though, the characters of this novel are the stars – Villains without being the quintessential bad guys. 🙂 Highly recommended!

If you’re not aware, Alex Marshall is, in reality, Jesse Bullington. 🙂 Order your copies here.

Next up, Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz:

I’m not a fan of literary novels – a term, I have to add, which just doesn’t make sense to me, and smacks of incredible elitism. That being said, when I read something which falls into that bullshit category (which doesn’t happen often), the novel has to be accessible, and by that, I mean that I don’t want to feel as if I should be sipping a too-expensive wine while sitting in a too-expensive chair in my ‘den’. Reservation Road is a novel anyone can read. You don’t have to be part of some inaccessible circle of award-chasers to appreciate this novel. And yes, I watched the movie, years ago, but this novel… I completely forgot about the movie while reading it, and the movie was good. The novel is heart-breakingly sublime. Absolutely unflinching, incredibly emotional. It hits hard, folks – as it should. And I don’t have kids; folks who do have kids and read this might not be able to finish it, but I urge you to stick with it. Order your copies here.

Next up, Justin Cronin‘s ‘The City of Mirrors‘:

The Passage absolutely rocked me back on my heels. It is, to date, the only novel that had made me cry like a baby within the first 30 or so pages, due to Justin’s absolutely incredible prose and ability to evoke emotions. The Twelve continued the epic (and this trilogy truly is epic), ending with an incredible climax, and The City of Mirrors ends it all beautifully. What sets this trilogy apart from most post-apocalyptic Horror sagas is the sheer beauty and strength of the emotional journey the reader embarks on – as with Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead graphic novels, the focus is on the characters; their dreams, their heart aches, their losses and triumphs and decisions, and how who they are and what they do echo down through the years and decades. Yes, Justin has created a world which fell to a terrible, brutal plague, but this world is as filled with beauty and love as it is with terror and grief. And I’ve never truly, deeply sympathised with the ‘bad guy’, but here, I had no choice. Stephen King said that the trilogy “will stand as one of the great achievements in American fantasy fiction.”, and I completely agree. It’s a lyrical, intense, intelligent, brutal and beautiful exploration of relationships, terror, the collapse of society and the stubbornness of true survival. Massively recommended!

Next up, Ararat by Christopher Golden:

I’m a big Horror fan, and I’m also a big fan of novels that tread different genres. I enjoy it when writers are ambitious and take chances, and where they create expectations and proceed to fulfill those expectations in ways the reader (who is also a writer, in this case) could never predict. Ararat is one of those novels. On the face of it, the novel is a story about one of the biggest finds in Biblical and proper, scientific Archeology, to what lengths the characters go to cement their place in history, and what, inevitably, goes wrong. And I don’t mean ‘inevitable’ as one of those ‘people are digging where they shouldn’t and get into shit because of it’ tropes; I mean ‘inevitable’ in the sense that things go wrong, whether between people (relationship-wise), colleagues (who disagree and have varying levels of education and study), or representatives of governments (and the complications involved when these get-togethers are further hampered by religious constraints). Yes, there’s a helluva lot that does go wrong in this novel (and, in effect, goes exactly right), but Christopher doesn’t push for disaster simply to pile up the odds against the characters – there’s reason and sense behind what happens, and varying degrees and levels of disaster, too – emotional, professional, physical, etc. Cause and effect, for sure, but injected with a healthy dose of how the myriad characters would truly react (Humans make dumb decisions for very good reasons, and the opposite also holds true). Christopher also really enjoys tropes, man – in the ‘know the rules and break them’ sense, because what I expected and predicted didn’t happen, but what does is so much better. There’s plenty of menace in this book, coupled with a slowly-creeping sense of ‘oh, shit-shit-shit’, and I’m pretty sure readers will enjoy the hell out of it. Expect to be surprised, expect to feel the cold and experience the claustrophobia and terror, and expect this book to sit in your head for a good long while. Excellent stuff! Pre-order your copies here.

Next up, ‘I Heart Robot‘ by Suzanne Van Rooyen:

I don’t think I ever read a novel quite like this before. I was expecting the quintessential and stereotypical forbidden romance, and instead, what I read was one of the best explorations of humanity (in it’s various forms) I’ve ever encountered. If you want a love story, it’s here – and it’s sweet and dangerous, fraught with mistakes and realizations, constantly tested and evolving… In other words, real. If you want an epic confrontation between humanity and what humanity creates, it’s here – but it’s not Michael Bay-here; it’s Children of Men-here. It’s subtle and powerful and far-reaching, the kind of unfolding clash which really makes you think about what it means to be human, to have feelings and an identity, to seek connection. Suzanne explores the politics behind this clash, the philosophies driving the players, the varying effects of the technology… There’s so much going on in this novel, so much that it deals with, that you’ll probably be re-reading it or, better yet, discussing it in your group after everyone’s read it. And what also helps is Suzanne’s understated, almost invisible prose – damned well written. I’m extremely jealous. Read it.


That’s it for now – next week I’ll have some more of my favourites for you. 🙂 Until then,




Let’s Talk About: Exposure vs What You’re Entitled To

The dreaded ‘E’-word…

The vast majority of writers write for free. Read that again. For free. Am I talking crap? Nope. Because when we sit down to write a short story, or a novella, or a novel, most of us aren’t being paid to do it. What’s truly incredible about writing is that most of us give up time in which we could be earning money to spend time doing something we might not be paid for. Ever. I’ve got a whole bunch of short stories, sitting on my hard drive, which I’ll probably never be paid for, because they’re crap. Does that mean that the time spent writing them was wasted time? Nope. Does that mean that they are valuable, in and of themselves? Of course – but not in the monetary sense.

For instance, an utter noob has to begin somewhere, and while you might look back on your earliest attempts at writing and scream in horror, don’t. Comparison is an incredible teacher, folks – so hang onto those stories, even if you’re probably not going to re-write or re-visit them, because their value is incredible.

Are those stories good enough to earn you some money? Probably not. Come on, be honest. Being able to write a story (however short or long) doesn’t equate to being able to write a story that folks will be willing to pay for. I started out submitting to venues that didn’t pay a cent, because I wanted to get my work out there. I wanted my work to be seen and read. I wanted folks to know that I wasn’t just talking about a dream, but was actively pursuing the dream. And I don’t for a second regret not getting paid for those early stories, because they simply weren’t good enough.

It is, unfortunately, a realization many writers seemed to have utterly bypassed. We simply don’t start out as good writers. We start as terrible writers, and we learn. In most cases, who earns the money for teaching? The teacher. Children don’t get paid to go to school – so why should we get paid to learn how to write? Or to teach ourselves how to write?

Before you begin frothing and spitting, let me continue. 🙂

After my first couple of stories were published, unpaid (and here I focus on the monetary aspect; being given a free ebook is payment in and of itself, when you’re a noob), I began looking for venues which would pay me for a publication-accepted story. I didn’t just submit and then froth and rage when if a tale was accepted and I didn’t get money for it. Sounds stupid, right? I mean, who would do that? Submit to a venue expecting payment, without checking to see if the venue paid?

Well, I would be really surprised if this didn’t happen. After all, many, many writers can’t even follow submission guidelines, so it stands to reason that they’ll expect payment without checking… 🙂

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is this: you begin writing for free -not only for exposure, but to learn– and you gradually build up to being a writer worth being paid. That makes sense, right?

Of course it does. 🙂

So, what am I saying with this post? It’s simple, really – exposure has its place, and its uses.

BUT… (there’s always a big but)

Don’t forget what ‘exposure’ means – or what it should mean. Today’s writing landscape is incredibly, continuously cut-throat. And on many different levels. New writers are constantly trying to break into the industry, whether by querying agents, posting to wattpad (which also has its uses), self-publishing, submitting to anthologies, etc. That means that your game has to be utterly exceptional if you want to land the big deal and, let’s face it, your work isn’t. Your work has the ability to become exceptional, but no matter how many of your family or friends tell you it is, it isn’t.

The only way to get outside opinions of your work is by getting your work out there, and in the beginning, that usually means not being paid at all. Exposure. Unfortunately, though, and in most cases, that ‘exposure’ isn’t useful, is it? You’re not getting anything out of it, not even mentions in reviews (if the work gets reviewed, that is…). So, how do you go about getting ‘exposure’ while also upgrading your writing skills?

Join writer’s groups and communities where people read and critique each others work, for one; basically everyone in such a group is looking to improve, and since you’ll be ‘exposing’ your work to a wider audience and learning from their critiques and stories, that’s the kind of exposure you want. Not monetary exposure, but valuable exposure. There are plenty such groups on Facebook, and even Twitter has a groups going. The two big things about these kinds of groups are reciprocation and respect, so don’t join up thinking that you’ll get critiques of your work if you’re not willing or able to critique the work of others.

That kind of ‘exposure’ is what you should be looking for. 🙂

Getting exposure by having stories published by venues which don’t pay can also be a useful thing, though. Hear me out! Yes, you didn’t receive a cent and you signed an exclusive contract but (there’s that pesky thing again) you’re now on that specific editor’s radar. Being on an editor’s radar is extremely valuable, folks. Now, I’m not saying, ‘Keep on submitting to that editor / venue, and make peace with not being paid for your work,’ – what I’m getting at is that you should keep in mind that one editor, at least, accepted your work, remember that editor, and move on. After a while, you might see that the editor is in charge of a paying gig, and you might have something suitable to submit, and hey, if your tale is accepted, and you get paid for it, remember what led you to that sale: exposure.

Now, if you continue to submit your stories to venues which don’t offer payment, and your writing career stalls, that’s no-one’s fault but your own. If you want to get paid for your work, submit your work to venues which can pay, BUT (what an evil word, eh?) keep in mind that your work needs to constantly improve. No-one writes to the best of their ability from that first pen-to-paper / fingers-to-keyboard moment. No one.

Keep on writing, keep on reading, grow your craft, keep ticking off those levels, keep rising higher than you did before – use exposure. Don’t let it use you.

And just so everyone reading this knows: this blog post is based entirely on my experience, and no-one’s experience will be the same. Some people use writers groups and critiquing to gain exposure; others submit to non-paying venues for exposure. The kind of exposure you’re after, and what you, as a writer, seek to gain, is what’s important here.

So, don’t knock exposure. Use it to grow and learn.

Until next time,