Saturday, December 31, 2011

Notable New Book Releases [Dec. 25 - Dec. 31]

I hope everyone has been having a wonderful holiday season. I took myself a bit of a blogging vacation last week, but these are the new releases that managed to catch my eye. What did I miss? Be sure to let me know what books you were excited about this week.

The Innocent by Taylor Stevens
Publication Date: December 27, 2011

[The sequel to The Informationist. I'm looking forward to reading this next.]

With The Innocent, Taylor Stevens, the bestselling author of The Informationist, returns with another blockbuster thriller featuring the fearless Vanessa Michael Munroe.

Eight years ago, a man walked five-year-old Hannah out the front doors of her school and spirited her over the Mexican border, taking her into the world of a cult known as The Chosen. For eight years, followers of The Prophet have hidden the child, moving her from country to country, shielding the man who stole her. Now, those who’ve searched the longest know where to find her. They are childhood survivors of The Chosen, thirty-somethings born and raised inside the cult who’ve managed to make lives for themselves on the outside. They understand the mindset, the culture within that world, and turn to Vanessa Michael Munroe for help, knowing that the only possibility of stealing Hannah back and getting her safely out of Argentina is to trust someone who doesn’t trust them, and get Munroe on the inside.

Tautly written, brilliantly paced, and with the same evocation of the exotic combined with chilling violence that made The Informationist such a success, The Innocent confirms Taylor Stevens’ reputation as a thriller writer of the first rank.



77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz
Publication Date: December 27, 2011

[I'm looking forward to reading some reviews on this. I still haven't made it through The Moonlit Mind...]

I am the One, the all and the only. I live in the Pendleton as surely as I live everywhere. I am the Pendleton's history and its destiny. The building is my place of conception, my monument, my killing ground. . . .

The Pendleton stands on the summit of Shadow Hill at the highest point of an old heartland city, a Gilded Age palace built in the late 1800s as a tycoon’s dream home. Almost from the beginning, its grandeur has been scarred by episodes of madness, suicide, mass murder, and whispers of things far worse. But since its rechristening in the 1970s as a luxury apartment building, the Pendleton has been at peace. For its fortunate residents—among them a successful songwriter and her young son, a disgraced ex-senator, a widowed attorney, and a driven money manager—the Pendleton’s magnificent quarters are a sanctuary, its dark past all but forgotten.

But now inexplicable shadows caper across walls, security cameras relay impossible images, phantom voices mutter in strange tongues, not-quite-human figures lurk in the basement, elevators plunge into unknown depths. With each passing hour, a terrifying certainty grows: Whatever drove the Pendleton’s past occupants to their unspeakable fates is at work again. Soon, all those within its boundaries will be engulfed by a dark tide from which few have escaped.

Dean Koontz transcends all expectations as he takes readers on a gripping journey to a place where nightmare visions become real—and where a group of singular individuals hold the key to humanity’s destiny. Welcome to 77 Shadow Street.



Empire State by Adam Christopher
Publication Date: December 27, 2011

[This sounds like a fun read.]

THE EMPIRE STATE IS THE OTHER NEW YORK. A parallel-universe, Prohibition-era world of mooks and shamuses that is the twisted magic mirror to our bustling Big Apple, a place where sinister characters lurk around every corner while the great superheroes that once kept the streets safe have fallen into dysfunctional rivalries and feuds. Not that its colourful residents know anything about the real New York… until detective Rad Bradley makes a discovery that will change the lives of all its inhabitants. Playing on the classic Gotham conventions of the Batman comics and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, debut author Adam Christopher has spun this smart and fast-paced superhero-noir adventure, the sort of souped-up thrill ride that will excite genre fans and general readers alike.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Book Review: The Becoming by Jessica Meigs

The Becoming is the first book in a zombie series by Jessica Meigs.

Book Description
The Michaluk Virus is loose.

In the heart of Atlanta, Georgia, the Michaluk Virus has escaped the CDC, and its effects are widespread and devastating. Most of the population of the southeastern United States have become homicidal cannibals. As society rapidly crumbles under the hordes of infected, three people—Ethan Bennett, a Memphis police officer; Cade Alton, his best friend and former IDF sharpshooter; and Brandt Evans, a lieutenant in the US Marines—band together against the oncoming crush of death and terror sweeping across the world.

As Cade, Brandt, and Ethan hole up in a safe house in Tupelo, others begin to join them in their bid for survival. When the infected attack and they’re forced to flee, one departs to Memphis in search of answers while the others escape south to Biloxi, where they encounter more danger than they bargained for. And in Memphis, the answers that one man finds are the last answers he wanted, answers that herald a horrific possibility that there may be more to this virus than first suspected.

Zombies!

Some things to note going into this review: it contains minor spoilers for season one of The Walking Dead, and I still haven't seen season two.

I appreciated a lot of the traditional zombie elements of The Becoming, but what I really loved was the fast paced beginning. I was hooked right away and tearing through the pages. I think it is safe to say Meigs is an old school fan of zombies. Even though her zombies are the 28 Days Later flavor, they do have some Romero tossed in and a nice twist on the intelligence of the zombies.

A funny thing happened on the way to the zompocalyse, though. My personal experiences and preconceived notions started to get the better of me. The best way I can relate this is to compare The Becoming to The Walking Dead. If you love watching The Walking Dead, you will probably also love The Becoming.

The Walking Dead and The Becoming have some of the same problems for me. I couldn't get past the fact that they were able to drive in and out of Atlanta (both). Just panning down to the bumper to bumper abandoned cars on the highway below (The Walking Dead) wasn't enough for me. I live in hurricane alley. I know when everyone needs to get up and go, there are no roads and there is no gas. I also have preconceived notions about the CDC. If it didn't bother you that the man's wife in the CDC footage at the end of season one (The Walking Dead) ran the CDC and still managed to get infected, it won't bother you that the Michaluk Virus (The Becoming) originated at the CDC.

I also know when the gov'ment clears a city, there is no going back.


There are two distinct parts of The Becoming with a jump in time between the two. The characters were far more likeable in the first part - which contained most of the creepy zombie build up and page turning action - than they were in the second part where everyone's frustrations, fear, and cabin fever were closing in upon them. By the end of The Becoming, however, the characters had joined back together, gotten closure on some things that were eating at them (no pun intended), and they seemed ready to band together for survival. This shows a lot of promise as to where this series could be heading.

Much in the same way I'm still a fan of The Walking Dead, I will keep my eyes (and my mind) open for the next installment of The Becoming.

5/10: I'm torn down the middle

Review copy provided by the author

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review: The Theatre of Curious Acts by Cate Gardner

The Theatre of Curious Acts is a dark fantasy novel from Cate Gardner.

Book Description
Returned home from the Great War, his parents and brother in their graves, Daniel walks a ghost world. When players in a theatre show lure Daniel and his friends, fellow soldiers, into a surreal otherworld they find themselves trapped on an apocalyptic path. A pirate ship waits to ferry some of them to the end of the world, helmed by Death. Already broken by war, these men are now the world's only hope in the greatest battle of all.

I've been struggling with a way to describe Cate Gardner's writing. A few pages into The Theatre of Curious Acts I had to figure out how to highlight in my favorite reader app just so I could mark all of my favorite quotes. It was brain candy on a deeper level for me. The mix of Gardner's intelligent prose and her dark, visual tale had my brain all delighted.

The Theatre of Curious Acts is located at the end of the world, but only the wise few will notice.

The Theatre of Curious Acts is a unique tale of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. I felt like I was watching the apocalypse through a nickelodeon. Gardner had me walking through the mouth of a dragon and hopping aboard a pirate ship to the end of the world. It was a bit of a whirlwind with lots of vivid imagery. I really loved that the four horsemen were vile and memorable women, too.

If you are in the mood for a dark and intelligent tale, you will find it in The Theatre of Curious Acts.

7/10: Recommended Read

Review copy provided by author

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Notable New Book Releases [Dec. 11 - Dec. 17]

These are the new releases that caught my eye this week. What did I miss? Be sure to tell me what books you were excited about this week!

The Trip by Aaron Niz
Publication Date: December 13, 2011

[This was a random Amazon find. After looking up Aaron Niz, I discovered an interview where he said "My ideal reader would be someone that enjoys thrillers and a fast-paced, creepy read." There you have it.]

It starts out innocently enough.

A group of fraternity brothers embark on their annual trip to the woods of New Hampshire, planning to spend a weekend partying in an isolated cabin.

But soon after the group arrives, they find their car tires slashed. And without cell phone reception or internet, the brothers realize their isolation is all too real. Someone wants to make sure they stay in the cabin --- and when the first dead body appears, it won't be the last.

As the body count rises, paranoia and suspicion mount and the group begins to suspect everyone and everything around them. In the end, nobody can predict just how twisted this weekend of brotherly love will end up...

At approximately 32,000 words, THE TRIP is a pulse-pounding, page-turning descent into madness, written by bestselling suspense author Aaron Niz.



The Theatre of Curious Acts by Cate Gardner
Publication Date: December 15, 2011

[Expect a review next week for this one! It is doing good things to me.]

Returned home from the Great War, his parents and brother in their graves, Daniel walks a ghost world. When players in a theatre show lure Daniel and his friends, fellow soldiers, into a surreal otherworld they find themselves trapped on an apocalyptic path. A pirate ship waits to ferry some of them to the end of the world, helmed by Death. Already broken by war, these men are now the world's only hope in the greatest battle of all.



Baal by Robert McCammon
Publication Date [Ebook Release]: December 15, 2011

[McCammon's first novel - released as an ebook.]

Baal was Robert McCammon’s first novel, a debut that would lead to some of the finest popular fiction of our time. Written at the age of 25 and published as a paperback original in 1978, it has been out of print for years. This deluxe new edition from Subterranean Press will give McCammon’s many readers — both newcomers and longtime fans — the opportunity to trace the development of an extraordinarily talented man.

The story begins with a horrific rape on the streets of New York City. Nine months after that violation, a most unusual child is born. His name is Jeffrey Harper Raines, but he quickly assumes his true name — and true purpose — as Baal, a new incarnation of the ancient prince of demons. The narrative recounts his lethal progress through the 20th century, which begins with the destruction of his earthly “family.” From there, Jeffrey/Baal moves to a doomed Catholic orphanage, where he unleashes carnage on an unprecedented scale, then out into the wider world, where he embraces his destiny as the Prophet of the Damned, generating a legacy of chaos, violence, and despair.

Baal is very much a young man’s book, raw and brimming with emotion. Listen closely and you’ll hear the voice of a gifted storyteller struggling to be born. In 1980, the career that would encompass Swan Song, Boy’s Life, and The Five still lay waiting several years down the road. This is where it began.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Guest Post: How The Mill Came About by Mark West

I'm very excited to welcome Mark West to Book Den. Mark is joining us today to discuss how his novelette The Mill came about. You can read my review of The Mill here.

My name is Mark West and I write horror stories. I’ve been writing them for a long time (since I was eight, in fact) and when I discovered the world of the small/independent press in 1998, I started to get them published.

In 2005, my son was born and I was whacked by a writers block that took me a long while to climb over. What helped was a friend of mine, Gary McMahon, asking me to contribute a story to a forthcoming anthology he was editing (I later found out that it was all lies - he felt bad for me, asked for a story, then realised he was going to have to put something together). I wrote “The Mill” and it duly appeared in Gary’s “We Fade To Grey”, which featured four other cracking stories and was short-listed for the BFS Best Anthology in 2009 - and my block had started to fall.

Earlier this year, after some prompting from my friend Tim Taylor - who's not only in my writing group, he's also the publisher at Greyhart Press - I decided to give “The Mill” a fresh crack of the whip and it was released as an ebook. What's nice is that it's finding a new audience, it's getting fresh reviews that are very positive and it's doing my confidence a world of good.

So where did “The Mill” come from? I'm a strong believer in the school of 'write-what-you-know', in so much as you can place your characters in the most outlandish situations but they should always react how you - or your friends - would. I first started getting building blocks of ideas for the tale in the early noughties, the concept of a ghost story that wasn't really about ghosts but more about the place though it didn't matter what I did, I couldn't get the story to fly.

It took a while, after Gary’s request, to realise that what I actually wanted to write about was something that I did indeed know, that had been rattling around in my head for a long time. In 2003, after six months of illness, my younger sister passed away (my novel “Conjure” is dedicated to her) and I was still - four years later - trying to process my thoughts and feelings. So why not exorcise it all in a story, get down on the page what I thought and how I felt? And that’s what I did, though for the sake of dramatic licence I changed the bereavement to the lead characters wife.

“The Mill” was a difficult story to write, as you can imagine - although there are moments of brevity in it and some flashbacks to a more pleasant time, it’s about bereaved partners who would do anything to spend more time with their departed loved ones. I ploughed a lot of my thoughts into Michael, the lead character and conversations he and his peers have are ones that I had with friends.

The story was a big departure for me - whereas before, in my short stories and my first published novel “In The Rain With The Dead” (now also an eBook from Greyhart), I used gore as a tool and used it gladly - my sensibilities had changed considerably (this is also noticeable in “Conjure”). I didn’t want to gross people out, I wanted to scare them and make them think and make them cry. In that sense, I think “The Mill” marks a step-change in my writing career - I’m still a horror writer, make no mistake about that at all, but I now want to move the reader without splashing blood and body parts around. I will still spill blood, I will still lop off limbs, but that hopefully won’t be the bit that chills the reader.

As with most of my work, a lot of the places in the story are real. I grew up in a small town called Rothwell, in Northamptonshire and if you take a walk down Shotwell Mill Lane, you’ll see in real life exactly what’s described in the book. There was a mill at the bottom of it, though only the cellar areas now remain and when we were kids, we’d go there in the summer holidays to play war and a variety of other games. The cellars are still there now, but massively overgrown. The hall where the group meets up is based on the one in Kettering, where my first writing group used to meet and the cafĂ© in town is one that my parents like to frequent (and my son loves it too).

The story is set in Gaffney, which is the location for most of my stories. It’s an amalgamation of my home town, Rothwell and Kettering, where we lived when I started publishing and other places - Northampton and Leicester - pop up as and when required. I started using the town in the early days because I didn’t want to inadvertently kill someone in a particular street and then discover that someone of that name did actually live there. Once I’d started publishing the stories, I realised that I had to create a reality of the town,
so there is a basic layout - in my head - to Gaffney and it doesn’t matter if you read a short, the novel or this, the main streets are the same, the town has the same layout and the cinema is always on Russell Street. Gaffney is also the location for a forthcoming chapbook I have coming out through Spectral Press, though I’ve now added a railway line to the town.

“The Mill” is a novelette (that’s the length Gary was looking for - it was the first time I’d tried to write to 15,000 words or so and a process I quite enjoyed) that is now, thankfully, enjoying a new lease of life. And I’m pleased with that.

Thank you so much sharing your story with us, Mark!

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: The Mill by Mark West

The Mill is a ghost story novelette from Mark West.

Book Description
Michael struggles to come to terms with the death of his wife. He has visions of her calling to him, inviting him to the beyond.

At the Bereaved Partners’ Group, he learns that he is not the only one left behind who can hear the departed beckon them… to the Mill.

I've been fortunate to read a few books this year that have moved me emotionally. A Monster Calls, The Five, Apartment Seven, and now Mark West's The Mill.

West's writing had me turning the pages, but I also had to take breaks for fear my heart would shatter.

If you are a fan of shorter fiction (this would equal about 64 pages) and you love stories you can connect with emotionally, you will certainly enjoy The Mill. It was a powerful read.

7/10: Recommended Read

Review copy provided by publisher

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Notable New Book Releases [Dec. 4 - Dec. 10]

What a great week! J.E. Medrick released all of the current volumes of her YA series into one massive volume. I totally dig the cover, too.

Lee Thompson's latest Division novel got the surprise Kindle pre-release treatment much to my excitement.

Another total surprise ebook release was Robert McCammon's The Hunter from the Woods.

In other news, I also want to point out all issues of Shock Totem are now just $.99 and Glen Krisch's collection Commitment and Other Tales of Madness is free at Smashwords. UPDATE: Shock Totem #4 is free today on Amazon. RUN!

Here are the new releases that caught my eye last week. What did I miss? What books were you excited about?

The Safety Expert by Doug Richardson
Publication Date: December 5, 2011

[Written by the screenwriter of Die Hard 2 and Bad Boys.]

Ben Keller lives life by one simple rule. Safety first. Ben is keenly aware of life’s hidden dangers. Ben never smokes. Ben always uses the crosswalk. Ben always drives within the speed limit. He has to because safety is his business. From his home in Simi Valley, California, one of the safest cities in the United States, Ben works hard at living a perfectly normal, perfectly uneventful, perfectly safe life. And life is good until the past reaches into the present. In the dark of the night, a man crosses a lonely intersection and is struck by a car, setting events in motion that will unravel the finely stitched strands of Ben’s cocoon, from a recently retired porn actress who is desperate to be a mother to the butch cop determined to shield her young son from the whisperings of the queen bee moms at his private school to the addict who is clawing to hold onto the sobriety that cages the violence within him. A long dismissed demon has resurfaced, presenting Ben with a most unsafe dilemma: preserve the haven he has carefully built for himself or confront the evildoer who decimated his carefree young life all those years ago. Ben is in danger. Ben’s world is unsafe. Ben’s life will be changed forever. Again.



Emergence (Icarus Helix #1-5) by J.E. Medrick 
Publication Date: December 6, 2011

[Read my reviews of the Icarus Helix series here.]

The first five episodes of the "Icarus Helix" series have been collected here, in one volume. Enjoy an almost 40% discount from buying them individually when you pick up this collection!

"Emergence" includes:

"Cheat"
How far would you go for money? For Marcus Tiller, gambling debt was an overwhelming shadow on his life. As a neonatal attendant at St. Mercy Four Cities Hospital in need of cash, he became CGT-Inc's ideal pawn. The contract: secretly inject newborns with an experimental compound - for $1,000 a head. But, three years after he began, he disappeared.

Now, 14 years later, the effects of the compound are starting to show. 17-year old Ian Reynolds, an aspiring varsity football player, suddenly finds he can control things with the power of his thoughts. Footballs miraculously end up in his hands, girls' skirts catch sudden drafts and life is good. But the gift comes with a price, both physical and mental.

As Ian tries to understand his power, the big rivalry against the Waredo Firehawks looms. But when a stranger who may know his secret begins leaving him cryptic notes, will Ian decide his power is best left... undiscovered?

"Liar"
Marcus Tiller gambled away all of his money to the Bad Men. No sweat - they gave him more. But when his new bets went sour, he became desperate. He signed on with Icarus Consulting to inject newborns with an experimental compound.

Fourteen years later, Ellen discovers a startling ability - she can tell if people are lying. Not only that, but when they do, she can hear their true thoughts.

When a smooth-talking stranger hints at her powers, paranoia starts. Ellen finds herself drawn into best friend drama, tip-toeing around boys and fearing a divorce.

With the masks of people around her shattering, will Ellen learn to live with her power... or be struck down by it?

"Coward"
David West is a normal, nerdy boy. His parents are never home, he is small for his age and he can't get up the courage to get a girlfriend.

But when he accidentally absorbs a shower handle, he realizes he might not be so average, after all.

His freshman year heads quickly for disaster as he crosses paths with the football team. Now with stress building and nowhere to turn, David's power may be his last road out of mediocrity. At the moment of truth, will he decide it's easier to be brave... or wicked?

"Thief"
Single parent household. One friend in the world. Father in jail for double homicide. Poor. Mute.

What would YOU do if you suddenly turned invisible?

15-year old Mason is dealing with just these problems. When he uncovers a crippling family secret that he blames on himself, he knows things need to change. He needs them to change. Not just for himself - but for his mother.

The ability to become a ghost just may be his answer...

"Thug"
Anthony Leeman is an over-sized, twice-flunked, nineteen-year-old senior with a history of misunderstood violence. His whole world revolves around his sister, Anna. He would do and give anything to see her succeed.

When he witnesses an unbelievable event, his life is rocked out of its familiar groove. Anthony searches for answers as Anna falls mysteriously ill. With his family, health and very sanity on the line, how can he save them all?



The Dampness of Mourning by Lee Thompson
Pre-Release Date [Kindle Edition]: December 8, 2011

[One of my most anticipated 2012 releases!  It's available exclusively for Kindle 90 days early. I could not be more excited.]

A ringleader of phantoms and collector of souls, he played rhythms on bare flesh, hellish melodies on bone. Fifty years ago he disappeared as quickly as he came and the town of Division gladly swept his tortured acts from memory.

But John McDonnell and Michael Johnston have drawn him home—he hears their names in his sleep, tastes their blood on his tongue, and fantasizes about the rapture birthed of their mourning.



The Hunter from the Woods by Robert McCammon
Publication Date: December 8, 2011

[This is the ebook release, but I did notice the hardcover is back in stock.]

The Hunter from the Woods marks the much-anticipated return of Michael Gallatin, the lycanthropic hero of Robert McCammon's 1989 classic, The Wolf's Hour. These all-new, interlinked stories offer a full measure of McCammon's trademark narrative excitement, and comprise a fascinating composite portrait of a unique fictional creation.

The volume opens with a pair of brief glimpses into Michael's early life in Russia and his initial recruitment into the British Secret Service. It ends with a haunting vision of the werewolf at twilight. In between, McCammon gives us three stellar novellas depicting different phases of Michael's long, brutal war against Nazi Germany. 'Sea Chase' is a nautical tale about the hazards of transporting a defecting German scientist to a place of sanctuary in England. 'The Wolf and the Eagle' is the account of an unlikely friendship between rival 'men of action' and a harrowing portrayal of a lethal forced march through the North African desert. 'The Room at the Bottom of the Stairs' tells of an impossible, ultimately tragic love affair set in the embattled city of Berlin during the latter stages of the war.

Erotic, visceral, and filled with moments of desolating horror and unexpected warmth, The Hunter from the Woods is a triumph of imaginative storytelling. Like the best of McCammon's earlier work, it offers intelligent, world-class entertainment. In the process, it shines a welcome new light on one of the most uncommon heroes in contemporary fiction.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review: Apartment Seven by Greg F. Gifune

Apartment Seven is a new novella from Greg F. Gifune.

Book Description

It's Christmastime in the city, but all is not merry. Something is happening in Apartment Seven. Something evil.

Charlie Cerrone thought he had it all—a loving marriage, a good job, a nice home and financial security—until the night his wife betrayed him and his entire world came crashing down.

Angry and confused, Charlie wanders the streets of Boston after dark, dazed and searching for answers, trying to figure out why his wife has apparently taken up with another man and why she's been frequenting a strangely ominous and otherwise abandoned building late at night in one of the worst neighborhoods in the city.

Throughout the cold winter night, Charlie descends deeper and deeper into a nightmarish journey that encompasses his past, present and future, a terrifying and surreal odyssey that leads him through the darkest alleys and most dangerous streets of a haunted city, and that will eventually put him face-to-face with the horrific riddle behind his own troubled existence and the shocking mysteries of Apartment Seven.

After enjoying Greg F. Gifune's Dreams the Ragman earlier this year, I was looking forward to his release of Apartment Seven. I have a tendency to avoid book descriptions when I already know I want to read the book so I was pleasantly surprised to find Apartment Seven is a Christmas story. A dark, dark Christmas story.

Clearly inspired by Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, Gifune takes us on a journey of regret and redemption.

If you are looking for a great seasonal read, grab yourself a copy of Apartment Seven and wait for a cold, dark night between now and Christmas to cozy up tight and give it a read.

7/10: Recommended Read

Review copy provided by publisher

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Guest Post: Why Bother Doing Research When You Write Fantasy? by Resa Nelson

Resa Nelson is joining us today to discuss the very important topic of research!

If you write fantasy, one of the great advantages is that you can make up anything you want. So why bother doing research?

Most writers don’t. But my readers tell me it’s obvious to them which writers do their homework and which ones don’t. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with making everything up from scratch – some writers who take this approach write exquisite books. But my experience has been that research shapes and changes my idea of what I think I want to write.

I got the research bug in 1988 when I made my first professional short story sale. It’s a science fiction story about a female soccer star who suddenly becomes a quadriplegic and learns to walk again with the aid of technology. One of my fan letters came from a paraplegic who told me I nailed the emotional side of the story but that the science could have been better if I’d done some research. I thought a lot about his letter and decided he was right. From that point on, whether my short stories were science fiction or fantasy or horror, I got into the habit of doing research. So by the time I began selling novels, doing research had become part of my process. But I had no idea what kind of rollercoaster ride I was about to get on.

My first book takes place in a medieval world. I see the world as being a parallel world to ours, but I wanted to learn about the Middle Ages because history is one of my weak points. I started out doing book research and decided to read as much as I could, from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. I did have one ace up my sleeve: I’ve always loved ancient cultures, including the Vikings. For many years I’d collected books about Vikings and gone to museum exhibits and even traveled to countries and visited ruins where Vikings once lived. I modeled my book on the Viking era, but I wanted to know about what led up to that era, what was going on in the rest of the world, and what happened after the Vikings were converted. While I read, I discovered interesting tidbits here and there that stayed in my head. Those tidbits became details in my book. When I decided to turn my first book into a 4-book series, those interesting little tidbits I found in history books evolved into major influences that shaped the rest of the books in the series. In other words, those tidbits made it easy for me to see the path the series should take, and I’m not sure I could have expanded the first book into a series if I hadn’t read dozens of history books.

But I took an extra step while researching my first book. My main character is a woman who makes swords for dragonslayers. So I thought, how can I write about a woman who’s a blacksmith unless I try it myself? I was at a science fiction convention and went to dinner with a bunch of friends and fellow writers. I started talking about how I was writing a novel and needed to learn blacksmithing. One of my friends piped up and told me where I could find a blacksmithing course! So I signed up and soon became the only woman surrounded by big, burly men who had no trouble standing at an anvil and hammering iron for four hours straight. At first I felt frustrated. I couldn’t keep up with my classmates and I failed to finish my projects. Instead of ending up at the end of each night with a nicely forged fire rake or coat rack or pair of tongs, I had a half-forged, useless lump of iron. I asked my teacher and classmates for advice and took it. By the end of the course, I was keeping up with the men.

During the last class I brought a small notebook with me and wrote down all the details I could see and smell: the different colors of smoke and how the smoke moved as I built a forging fire. The way the color of the iron changed when heated. The touch and feel of the tools I used and the surface of my anvil. All of these details went into my book, along with my experience of figuring out how to keep up with the men. These details fleshed out my main character in all kinds of ways. And because these details changed the character I thought I was going to create, it changed the course of the first book and the entire series. If I’d never done research, I probably would have written just one book and it would have turned out very differently. I think it would have been a much weaker novel.

I’ve also had the opposite experience of “write what you know,” which I think is incredibly good advice. I’ve been a lifelong fan of ancient Egypt and always wanted to write a book about it. I came up with an idea to write a fantasy/mystery/thriller that takes place in our world right now – but somewhere in the world there’s a place where people live like they did in ancient Egypt, and they don’t like foreigners. I already had most of what I needed to write the book – except for one thing. I have a few different translations of the Book of the Dead, which is essentially a book that tells you all the spells you need to say when you go on a dangerous journey through the Underworld after you die. The idea is that the journey is fraught with peril, but as long as you have the right words to say, you can get past any monster you face. I’ve always known that the journey consists of 12 hours and that you face a different monster or obstacle in each hour. I thought I’d like to include someone going through this journey in my novel, but I thought, “Where exactly does each hour take place? What exactly happens in each hour? And what are the monsters like?”

I belong to an online group for Egyptologists (even though I’m not one), and someone recommended a book that answered my questions! Once I read the book, I realized my original idea of watching a character go through every hour of this journey would be boring. I’d have to change my original plan. But that led me to come up with other ideas that sent my plan for the book in an exciting new direction that I never would have thought of if I hadn’t done the research.

At the end of the day, writers are individuals and have to decide what’s right for them. What’s right for me may be wrong for another writer, and vice versa. Doing research isn’t going to work for everyone. But I sure do love it!

Resa Nelson is the author of The Dragonslayer’s Sword (Book 1 in her 4-book Dragonslayer series), which was nominated for the Nebula Award and was a finalist for the EPPIE Award. Book 2 (The Iron Maiden) is scheduled for publication on December 13, 2011, and Book 3 (The Stone of Darkness) is slated for a June release. She is also the author of Our Lady of the Absolute, a novel about a modern-day society based on ancient Egypt. Her books are available in e-book format (from www.mundania.com) and trade paperback (Amazon.com, bn.com, mundania.com). To get a free “mini” e-book of the two short stories that inspired her Dragonslayer series, sign up for her monthly newsletter at http://www.resanelson.com.

Thank you so much, Resa!

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