Book Co-Review: 25 Perfect Days by Mark Tullius

25 Perfect Days by

Mark Tullius

Expected Date of Publication: June 30, 2013

25 Perfect Days is a collection of twenty-five short stories all linked together in some way, each written from a different character’s point of view. The book spans decades and generations, showing the decline of society into a totalitarian state where the government and a radical religion are one and the same, and overpopulation is leading to massive food shortages, congested cities and pollution. It’s a scary look at how extreme measures to counter these problems can cost the people their personal freedoms.

And as a special treat, since blog contributors Mogsy and Wendy both recently read this, we thought we’d try something different and do a co-review! Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing review copies.

What did you think of 25 Perfect Days’ concept of a dystopian world compared to other books with similar themes?

Wendy: I liked the way things gradually moved into this dystopian future, rather than the usual way the reader is plopped into the chaos and has to learn as we go along. Here, we got to learn with the characters as they were forced into ever worsening situations. Otherwise the concepts that were presented were their own
reasonably unique twists on many things we’ve seen so far, such as the all powerful church combining with state to create this oppression. Some elements, like the weight requirements, were new to me. That chapter was particularly shocking and it was frightening to see the lengths people were going to to remain under the ever decreasing weight cut off.

Mogsy: Yeah, I agree that as dystopian novels go, I thought Mark Tullius did a great job creating his disturbing vision of what could happen if a government is given too much power over its people. And I feel the same way as you regarding the gradual move into the dystopian future. Usually when I read these kinds of books, the dystopia is already in place, as in whatever took place to bring the society to this state has already happened and is in the past.

In 25 Perfect Days, however, we get to see an interpretation of the actual process, the slippery slope which leads to the downfall of a society. Like the book’s blurb says, something like this simply doesn’t
just happen overnight. It happens by degrees, and I thought the
author’s way of presenting the novel was a brilliant idea and also quite realistic.

What did you like about the book? What did you think the author did well?

Wendy: I liked the entire concept of moving through these twenty-five days, spelling out this horrible world and the people within it. I liked the way the chapters made you have to think and infer what the different situations meant in order to paint the overall picture of this society. I liked the way the chapters intertwined with the ramifications of actions in the previous chapters weaving through the story, along with the various players.

Mogsy: Yep, the aspect I liked about the book was its creative format, letting the story unfold over a series of short stories that each have their own focus, but are also interlinked through either events or the

relationships between characters. It wasn’t obvious at first, but after
the first few stories, I think a bulb suddenly flashed on in my head and
I understood. After that, trying to figure out the connections between
the stories became an enjoyable part of the reading experience itself.

Of all the characters in 25 Perfect Days’, whose story did you like the most and why?

Mogsy: Of
all the characters in the book, I think I liked Maria Salazar and her
family the best. She was one of the more memorable characters, and since one of the major themes in this book is about the love and sacrifice needed to survive and overcome the tyranny, I thought the Salazars’ stories were all perfect examples.

One of the earlier chapters about Maria’s fight to come up with the money to keep her newborn daughter was heartbreaking to read, especially for a mother. And then of course there was the story about Enrique and how he risked everything in order to procure food for his family, not to mention Vanessa Salazar, just an infant at the beginning of this book, who grows up to be a major part of the resistance along with her own child. Their family just seems to be quite central to the book.

Wendy: Honestly, none of the characters really stuck out
for me enough to like their stories or the characters themselves
because they weren’t around long enough. There were characters that I wanted to like and know more about, like the Salazars, but because of the format of the book, we never get enough time with any given character and when we see them next, years have passed.

What didn’t you like about the book? What aspect of the book needs improvement?

Wendy: Unfortunately, what I liked about the book is also, I think, its major flaw. The brief chapters developed the world, but it didn’t strongly develop the story, and worse, it didn’t give me enough time with the characters. Many of them had some really great moments, particularly the ones that sacrificed themselves to help others escape, but other than the obvious nature of their motivations, there just wasn’t enough depth to any of them. And since many would show up in the future chapters, it was a bit frustrating when other characters that I thought were important, based on the amount of time spent with them in their chapters, didn’t show up at all. By the end of the book, I was just confused with the names, feeling like I needed a spreadsheet on the wall to keep track of everyone. There is a character glossary in the back, but even that proved too confusing. 

Mogsy: I had a similar problem. While I liked the format with all the linked stories and the twenty-five perspectives, this also made it very hard to connect to any one character. Personally, that’s very important to me as  reader. It’s why I usually hesitate to pick up anthologies or collections of short stories. 

Like I said, there were some central characters or families that play a larger role or are more central to the overall story, but that left the more minor characters in the background. It was hard to keep track of the relationships, especially when it was a struggle to remember certain people. If it weren’t for the list of characters and their connections at the end of the book, I wouldn’t have been able to remember most of them on my own. I just think that in a book like this, where almost everyone and their stories are linked in some way or another, not being able to recall the details for some of them or why they’re important diminishes the full effect somewhat. Interesting how our opinions have such similarities.

Wendy: I wasn’t a fan of the ending, where
we suddenly have new creatures to deal with. I didn’t feel like this was as gradually developed as the other horrific aspects of this future and therefore when these creatures appeared, I had to check if I’d missed some pages. The end felt a bit rushed. It felt
like it wanted to prepare for a sequel, but then changed its mind and
decided to decimate the remaining characters to ensure a unhappy,
reasonably hope-free ending. 

Any final comments about the book?

Mogsy: Overall, 25 Perfect Days was a good read that kept me turning the pages and wondering how much worse this dystopian society could get. Though, now that Wendy’s mentioned it in her answer to the last question, I do think the writing could have used a bit more tightening up, especially when it comes to the action scenes. Some of them were quite difficult to follow, especially when it comes to who does what and who speaks certain dialogue. Just some more description and detail into the setting and action would help me play the scenes out in my head and see them a lot clearer. Other than that, I enjoyed this and didn’t mind the darker ending too much. It’s also nice to read a dystopian novel with elements in it that are more reminiscent of the classics.

Wendy: I’d give this book a B for the effort, but the execution could us some more work to make it cleaner. The chapters could have used more fleshing out to, in turn, allow the characters to be more fleshed out. But I do love the concept and loved that I was completely thrown off of my expectations with the very first chapter. I suppose I was expecting something a lot more pleasant, at least to start, from a book with the word “perfect” in the title!

Mogsy’s final verdict:
 3 of 5 stars


Wendy’s final verdict:

 2.5 of 5 stars

Film Review: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

What is a movie review doing in a book blog, you might ask? Well you see, I would reply conspiratorially, I cheated.

Persepolis – the graphic novel – was the topic of discussion in our recent Ladies Night Comic Club meeting, but procrastination various distractions and priorities got in the way of me reading it. Since the film is so close to the source material, I decided to check that out instead.

This is an autobiographical story about Marjane Satrapi’s coming of age during the Iranian Revolution. The  majority of the animation is in black and white, which gives the film a more universal appeal. The simplicity of the imagery manages to convey so much complexity and emotion. Often times as I watched it, I forgot when it takes place (1980s) and that it takes place in Iran – which was the author’s intent. It was easy to realize how alike we are and to wonder about the potential for such events to occur within our own cultures at any time. I recently walked away from The Handmaid’s Tale thinking that, while frightening, we are not quite there yet with some of the political and religious movements in North America. But, watching Persepolis made me realize just how close other nations are to that kind of dystopian future. And maybe we’re not so far away here either.

Marjane’s story begins with her as a rebellious child who wants to be a prophet and idolizes Bruce Lee. She is outspoken and throughout the story I often thought her rebellious moments would lead to her own punishment, like her Uncle Anouche who is imprisoned and later killed for his left-wing ideals. Undoubtedly, her greatest influence and my favourite character is Marjane’s grandmother, who provides moral guidance for Marjane and admonishes her when she forgets to stay true to herself or takes for granted the sacrifices others have made. Her parents are depicted in a quiet, subdued manner, but it is clear that their love, encouragement, comfort and support are also an important part of Marjane’s life. I loved the way they were always willing to stand behind her without questioning her or her mistakes, while her grandmother represented an unapologetic view that has no time for the indulgence of self-pity.

I expected Marjane’s life story to result in some sort of epic anarchistic moment where she firmly takes up the cause to fight the powers that be. Instead, we see a gentle coming of age story where Marjane goes through many of the trials and tribulations, loves and losses of any normal person – only, this life is set with the backdrop of war, political strife, revolution, repression, sacrifice and more. And then I realized the obvious: this film is the result of her life. This film is the moment of epic anarchy where she firmly takes up the cause. Only, she’s done it in such a way that nothing is forced on you. Nothing is preachy. It’s interesting to note that Persepolis was banned in many places, including Iran, of course, only to have the bans lifted (though with some restrictions still imposed in some places).


Book Review: The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

I won’t claim Young Adult speculative fiction as my main interest, though lately, it does feel like I’ve been on a YA kick. I like picking it up occasionally, but it always seems like my favorite books in the genre are the ones that can be enjoyed by all ages, the ones that don’t scream “YA!” the instant I open the book and meet its teenage protagonists. You know what I mean.

That probably has a lot to do with why I absolutely adored this book. I wanted a change from the paranormal high school romances, and the fact that The Monstrumologist is horror, told from the perspective of a 12-year-old boy, and takes place in late-1800s New England are all big pluses. The novel is presented as the diary of Will Henry, an orphan working as an assistant/apprentice to the odd Dr. Pellinore Warthrop who is a monstrumologist, someone who studies monsters.Still, some caveats: while this book is technically categorized as YA, I still wouldn’t recommend this lightly to any young reader. It contains plenty of content that are what I call the 3GRs: gross, gruesome, graphic. No question about it, if adapted completely faithfully, a movie based on this novel would get an R-rating…a solid hey-kid-how-the-hell-did-you-sneak-in-here-without-an-accompanying-adult resounding R-rating.

I can’t remember the last time I was this creeped out by a book. Again, here I am shocked that this is actually YA — for two reasons, really. First, the horror aspects were extremely well done, and while the book’s breakneck pace wasn’t so surprising, the quality of writing and descriptiveness is of a caliber I wouldn’t expect from a young adult novel. And second, maybe I’m just not savvy enough to the stuff going on in today’s YA fiction scene, but I was completely blindsided at how violently and vividly gory this book was.
Of course, good horror isn’t only about the blood and gore. Thankfully, the author has the other factors covered too, with plenty of suspense and atmosphere-building. It always impresses me when a book can immerse me so deeply and grab me like this, as in like, wow, I’m so glad I’m not a claustrophobe too, or those last few chapters would have been even more unsettling.
In fact, much of the book actually feels specifically crafted to enthrall and frighten, with a deliberate shock-factor involved perhaps, but I was still more than happy to go along with the ride. After all, I love this kind of stuff. My friends in my gaming circle will know how obsessed I am with a paranormal/horror-themed MMORPG called The Secret World, mostly for its spooky setting and atmosphere. I have to say The Monstrumologist sucked me in immediately as well, exactly because it was dripping with those very same vibes. I just eat this stuff up.
Anyway, in my humble opinion, it was the monsters that made the book. Rick Yancey chose to make it about Anthropophagi, which means “people eaters”…enough said. While they’re not Yancey’s original creation (mythology or literature buffs will probably recognize Anthropophagi from Shakespeare), the unique spin he adds to the creatures makes them absolutely terrifying.

From the Corner Ink Journal blog
For example, the book begins with a grave robber showing up at Warthrop’s house, presenting him with the corpse of girl with a dead Anthrophage wrapped around her body. She has half her face eaten off, her throat is chewed up, and then a tiny fetus of an Anthropophagus is found in her womb. Ick, ick, ick! See what I mean about disturbing imagery and description intended to give the reader chilling thoughts? If that stuff makes you uncomfortable, I would stay away.
The other factor that adds to the creepiness is the characters. I loved our main protagonist Will Henry and the narrating style the author gave him, which is believably suited to that historical period. That’s another reason why this book doesn’t read like a typical YA novel; not only has Yancey adapted the vernacular and vocabulary to the times, Will Henry also lacks the modern preteen/teen protagonist attitude that’s so common in YA fiction.
Still, as much as I adored Will Henry, compared to the rest of the cast, he was probably the most normal and boring. Dr. Pellinore Warthorp, if he were alive today, would probably have been diagnosed immediately with a personality disorder, but he was also very interesting, filled out and well-written. There are so many layers to him that I spent half the book trying to make up my mind about his character, and actually enjoyed figuring him out along with Will Henry. Then there was Kearns, who is, in a word, insane.
Anyway, bottom line? I think I’ve found a new favorite young adult author, and his name is Rick Yancey.


Book Review: The Remortal by Ramsey Isler

The Remortal by Ramsey Isler

Immortality is boring. This is one of the aspects of stories about immortality that I enjoy, but not many of the stories I’ve read deal with this. Or rather, they don’t focus on the desire of an immortal to move on. I was attracted to The Remortal specifically because this was the plot of the book. An immortal, Van Giles, is tired of his life on earth and wants to ascend to something greater in the unknown beyond. To do so, he needs a successor to kill him and take his place as an immortal. In a street teen named Telly Gonis, Van sees a good person in a bad situation and determines Telly to be the perfect choice.

There are other immortals in the book, each descending from a noble line, including the White Lotus Society, Julius Caesar and Spanish nobility. They are not entirely pleased with Van’s choice of successor. Nor are the pleased with Van’s choice to ascend in the first place. Or with Van in general, for that matter. There was potential for the story to focus too much on the concept of upper class versus lower class but, while the other immortals do have concerns, I really liked the way Isler let the others deal with Telly personally and come to their own conclusions beyond mere snobbery. I also liked the way Telly is torn over his loyalty to Van and all the choices that became wrapped up with the ascension process.

Van begins as a mostly likeable character with rational motivations, but once Telly agrees, Van’s “training” process reveals a cruelty that the other immortals already knew existed and fear will pass on into the afterlife. Van’s influence, along with the training and abilities Telly gains during the ascension process, change Telly from the innocent young man he was. Again, it would have been easy to turn this into a simple case of “Van is actually evil and Telly must free himself from that evil influence!” but I appreciate that Isler made things more complex than that.

Telly has to come to terms with his new self, his motivations, the choices given him by the other immortals, and Van. He also has to deal with the fate of his best friend, Mattie. Telly is presented as a reasonable character who does have a good heart and is able to show emotion without the story dwelling longer than necessary. There is one particular plot point with the Tree of Life that I’m not entirely certain was necessary to Telly’s progress, but otherwise, I enjoyed Telly’s journey and liked that I wasn’t entirely sure what Telly would choose to do in the end. I also didn’t expect the other immortals to make certain decisions in the end, though I suspected Telly’s friendship with Mattie and the circumstances of Mattie’s health would play a role.

Not Available in Canada

This morning, I wanted to buy a new book when I saw it featured on Goodreads and was intrigued by the description. I clicked the link which took me to, but was greeted with a now familiar message:

I dutifully obeyed the implied instructions and went to

Oh. didn’t have the title at all, which is something I’m also used to dealing with. I dealt with the same issue just last week, going through the author directly. He offered to give me the books for free after I explained the hassle, but I refused, paying him through Paypal instead. I want to support authors. I want to legally purchase their products but someone won’t let me and I don’t understand why.
Since opened its virtual doors at the beginning of the year, it was made clear  that we Canadians might have problems with content. There have definitely been issues, but they are so inconsistent. I, who do not own a Kindle, have still been able to purchase some digital books for my Kindle for PC and Kindle app for Android through Other ebooks are met with the detour and sometimes the subsequent wall displayed above. Supposedly, the problem isn’t with Amazon, but with publishers and how they choose to distribute through Amazon – but that doesn’t seem right. I suspect that, like me, the .ca introduction is forcing publishers to jump through some hoops too and either through choice or ignorance, they are missing the opportunity to reach a broader audience.
While I find it strange that digital products have such distribution limitations, I accept that there are rules and regulations behind the scenes that I just don’t know about. In my ignorance, I can’t help but think “People around the world want to buy your books, so why not make the digital versions available worldwide on the worldwide web?” Piracy remains a major concern for so many products, yet customers who legitimately want to purchase items are being prevented from doing so.
I’ve spent the morning discussing the issue with friends and doing some research, but the internet has been strangely quiet on the subject since the introduction of in the early months of the year. Fellow blogger Tiara has had numerous discussions with authors and others on various publishing topics and the conclusion I’m getting is that no one really knows what the answer is. Presumably the problem is being addressed, as digital rights – well, digital everything – is a huge topic that has changed many industries. Hopefully, someone will figure out something soon enough so that when I say “just shut up and take my money!” it can actually happen.

Book~Film Comparison: Nightwatch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

This book, along with the movie, was chosen for February 2012’s book club read based on the praise of some members who really loved the film.

The premise involves the existence of supernatural beings, “Others,” who choose to ally themselves with the Light or the Dark. Both sides, through the Nightwatch and Daywatch respectively, keep a close eye on each other in order to maintain the uneasy truce between them. The story takes place in Russia, but indicates that the watches exist worldwide.

Anton, the main character, is a member of the Nightwatch who’s assignment, a young boy named Igor, is being hunted by vampires. Igor is an Other who has yet to come into his powers and therefore has not yet chosen a side. Anton crosses paths with a woman named Svetlana whom he realizes has been cursed. In this story, curses, even the little ones we utter in moments of frustration or jest, can be deadly if left unchecked. Whatever curse has been inflicted on Svetlana has the potential to destroy the entire city and it becomes the goal of the Nightwatch to find the source and stop it, while protecting Igor from the Daywatch.

This is one of the few cases where a movie far outshines the book. Lost in translation is always a problem when a book is literally translated into another language and culture, but that was not an issue for me here. I felt that the book spent a lot of time with convoluted plots that Anton would figure out without actually letting the reader in on the process. The characters weren’t particularly interesting or well developed. The purpose of the whole mystery  seemed to change and lose focus along the way and, well, I eventually just got bored of the plot twists

The movie, on the other hand, was very interesting. It boiled the story down to its essence, gave it far more purpose in a pithy manner and strengthened several other elements, including the main character and his motivations. The movie was more focused than the book with the overriding issue of the curse and the conflict between Dark and Light, allowing far greater character and relationship building, even within the time constraints of a film setting. The end result was a truly engaging story with an unexpected ending.

The only issue I had with the film was that, initially, it was very visually chaotic. I assume the goal of this was to shock and frighten, as the opening scenes involved a gory battle between Anton and a pair of vampires. It helped that I’d read a few chapters of the book before watching, so that I could piece the chaos together a bit better. Fortunately, the visual chaos settled down after this.

I finished the rest of the book after watching the movie, but it was a struggle to do so because of how often the plot meandered off in various directions.

Book Rating
Movie Rating

Character Appreciation Post: Phèdre no Delaunay de Montrève

As painted by Lee Moyer for the 2013 Literary Pin-up Calendar

Who is Phèdre no Delaunay de Montrève? Born flawed by a scarlet mote in her left eye and given an ill-luck name, Phèdre was sold into indenture at Cereus House when her parents, traveling merchants, ran out of funds. Her flaw and her rebellious nature made others certain that she would amount to very little, until Anafiel Delaunay recognized her as an anguissette, one who derives pleasure from pain. It is said that the gods use their chosen hard – an understatement for Phèdre, chosen by Kushiel, the punisher.   Beginning in the book Kushiel’s Dart, Phèdre’s adventures would take her across the world, through wars, conspiracies, violence and love to become the most desired courtesan in all of Terre d’Ange and beyond. But who is she? As a child, Phèdre could never accept her apparent fate. She constantly ran away from Cereus House, intent on seeing what was beyond the walls of the Night Court and reveling in the danger. When the Dowayne of Cereus House discovered Phèdre cutting herself and taking pleasure in the pain, the Dowayne obeyed her instincts and summoned Anafiel Delaunay. As a member of Delaunay’s house, Phèdre truly came into her own. Delaunay allowed her every opportunity to learn and her inquisitive and brilliant mind gobbled it all up. As long as she did not defy him or common courtesy and protocol, Delaunay encouraged her willingness to speak her mind. She came to understand the power of knowledge, as this was all part of Delaunay’s plans. Where best to learn the secrets of men and women but in the bedroom and, as an anguissette who chose to study Naamah’s arts, Phèdre was highly desired. Circumstances painfully removed Delaunay from her life and whisked her away to the northern wilds. Despite being raised in a lifestyle of indulgence in the Night Court, Phèdre is an incredibly adaptable woman and her will to survive ensured that she not only endured her exile in Skaldia, but ensured that her then protector, Joscelin Verreuil, survived too. For those she loves or considers to be under her protection, there is no end that Phèdre will not go for her friends. Whether she is forced by fate or it is of her own choosing, she is an unstoppable force when it comes to those she cares for. Being chosen by Kushiel could be considered a curse by many, but Phèdre embraces it and its responsibilities, no matter how cruelly fate leads her. If Phèdre makes a promise, it will be kept. I consider Phèdre to be warrior woman – not one that wears armour or bears a weapon. Phèdre’s armour and weapons are her mind and body. She earns loyalty and respect through her compassion and willingly submits when she deems it necessary. Through all things, Phèdre endures.

“That which yields is not always weak.”

Image Comics: You’ve Come a Long Way Baby



I maintain a sordid, lovehate relationship with Marvel Comics, but back in the 1990s, there was a time when we kind of sort of broke up. That is to say, I cheated on Marvel. With Image Comics. I know I know, but you have to understand that I was young and naive and easily swayed by the shiny!

I followed my favourite X-Men artists, Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri over to Wildstorm and jumped head first into Cyberforce and WildCATs. Some intelligent part of me was aware that these books were just X-Men with shinier costumes and bigger boobs, but I persevered, picking up other titles like GEN13, Wetworks and Witchblade. I became a Disciple of the Blade, I moderated Top Cow message boards for Fathom (RIP Michael Turner), designed outfits for Pez and I was (am) hopelessly smitten with Ian Nottingham.

But eventually, I grew up.

The thing is, so did Image.

Over the past few years, I’ve slowly been getting back into the comic book scene and more often than not, Image books are popping back up on my radar. Long gone are the days of extremely perky nipples and spine-adjusted women. Image now boasts Eisner Award winning titles. A friend recently stubbornly spoke about how he’d never read another Image comic after he too had woken up from the foil covered ’90s. But when my friends and I started listing off some of the fantastic titles Image has been pushing out for the past while, he realized he’d been reading and loving Image Comics all along.

A lot of credit goes to their push for creator owned comics. A lot of comic companies accept original submissions, but I doubt you’ll ever see that happening with DC and Marvel. Image has opened its doors and as a result, we’ve gotten some really amazing and off the wall books. Not all of them are good, but all of them feature some fantastic ideas. Yes, even Ziggy Marley’s Marijuana Man has its merits. Here are just a few of the goodies that we’ve reviewed here at The BiblioSanctum.

Not to mention Saga, Mind the GapFatale and a little something called The Walking Dead. These days, its hard not to make a list of critically acclaimed comics and not find a few Image titles on there. Image still has some of its old titles like Witchblade and Cyberforce, but even those books have matured. I’ve not read the new versions yet, but I definitely want to.

Worlds without End

As if I need another book-related site to belong to, I’ve recently discovered Worlds Without End, a fan-run community site for award-winning science fiction, fantasy and horror books. Their motto is “We don’t want you to ever have to read a bad book again.” In theory, I don’t agree with that notion because not all award-winning books are to everyone’s liking and not all non-award winning books are bad. Focusing only on award-winning reads means missing a lot of gold!

Not that choosing to focus on award-winning, recognized books is a bad thing. What the site chooses to focus on is, of course, their prerogative. Says Dave Post of Worlds Without End:

“The goal of the site is to give you the tools to find the best books for you. We’re not suggesting that you only read the award winning books but the awards do give you a glimpse into what was considered the best or at least what was popular for any given year. We cover a bunch of different awards so you can find the ones that you like and compare the awards and best of lists to see what rises to the top. From there you can read reviews and excerpts and talk to other folks about the books you’re interested in and hone in on the likely ones for you. Time has not been kind to all the award winners and there are more than a few right out stinkers in there too. We hope to help you avoid those where we can.”

WWE is a well organized and active site inviting you to discover great books. Sign up and you gain access to their BookTrackr that tracks your reading history, highlighting your statistics towards reading all the award winning/nominated books and/or books on various lists of recognition. There are the typical book giveaways, interviews, podcasts, forums and a lot more.

They also run challenges, such as the 2013 Woman of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge, which resulted in me staying up too late last night adding books to my reading list and selecting the authors I want to read for the challenge. Twelve authors for twelve months, including reviews. Gee, how ever will I manage? Challenges like this will help me chip away at that massive to-read pile, helping me to focus on what to read next. Since I’m starting five months late, I don’t feel guilty using some of the books I’ve already read this year.

And here are my plans for the rest!

New Author Spotlight: Ramsey Isler

Ramsey Isler has figured out how to keep himself busy, balancing his professional techiness and column writing with his many novel writing projects. Somewhere in there he also finds time to blog about the geekier things in life, publishing and more.

1. What are your favourite books and how have they influenced your writing?

When I was 12 years old, I committed to reading Stephen King’s The Stand during my summer break from school. My much older brother had read it and I decided, as little brothers often do, to take interest in the same things he liked. The Stand is a massive book at around 1200 pages (I read the uncut edition), and to my twelve-year-old self it was the equivalent of trying to scale a mountain. But I did it. I’m sure many would question whether King’s graphic tales are “appropriate” for a kid that age, but I was mature enough to understand and enjoy the way King created a realistic fantasy (and the nightmares only lasted a couple days; no problem). That book really started my interest in writing and reading contemporary fantasy.

As a bona fide geek and engineer by training, I’ve also always been a fan of sci-fi. Shortly after college I really got into the Star Wars expanded universe novels, and discovered a book called Traitor by Matt Stover. Most people probably wouldn’t expect something as seemingly trivial as a Star Wars story to have a huge impact on a writer’s life, but this one really changed the way I write. It was more than a sci-fi story — it was filled with complex, mature philosophy and raw emotion. The plot focuses on Han and Leia’s son Jacen, a young Jedi trying to find his place in the universe as he struggles with reconciling his Uncle Luke’s teachings with a violent and cruel alien enemy. Jacen eventually becomes an unwilling student of Vergere, an avian alien who was a member of the Old Jedi Order back before Palpatine took over. She takes Jacen on a far different spiritual path than his Jedi teachings ever did — a journey that deals in many moral gray areas — and she does so through remarkably cruel tutelage. Throughout the book, you’re never quite sure what her motives are, but there’s a definite method to her madness. In the end, Vergere is on the side of the protagonists, but it’s not clear if you can call the protagonists the “good” guys, or if the antagonists are really the “bad” guys. It’s all a matter of perspective, and each character has elements of both light and dark. That book has become my guide for writing stories that go beyond simple black and white morality tales. I strive for something more thought-provoking instead.

2. What authors have inspired you?

As mentioned above, King and Stover definitely had an impact on me. Although King is often classified as a horror writer, he really is a master of many types of speculative fiction and he’s done some remarkable work in my favorite genres. The Dark Tower series is another of my inspirations.

Neil Gaiman has also been a big influence through what he does beyond his novels. He is a remarkable speaker and a wise tutor with plenty of practical advice that has guided my writing career.

Maya Angelou has been an inspiration since I was in grade school, but I came to appreciate her work more as I grew older. Her work taught me that you can say something extremely profound with only a few words. There’s an art to telling a big story in small passages. Her poetry provides many lessons on efficient storytelling.

3. Describe your writing process. How do you handle writer’s block and other challenges?My writing process is very cinematic (in my mind, at least). All my stories start out as cool ideas that I envision as “scenes” in my head. Then I develop these major scenes in the manner of a theatrical director choosing a setting, moving set pieces around, and guiding the actors to deliver the best performance. Then, once I have a series of juicy scenes that encompass the main plot points, the rest of the story develops organically from them. I very rarely know what a story will be from beginning to end when I start writing. It all develops during the process of coming up with these scenes and connecting them to each other.

I don’t really get writer’s block in the sense of not knowing what to write next. My writing challenges come when I know exactly what I want to say, but I have to ensure that it all make sense and fit in with other parts of the story. I despise plot holes, and I really dislike speculative fiction where elements aren’t explained adequately or the rules of the world aren’t consistent. But I also understand why so many writers are guilty of these things, because it is HARD. It’s hard to create fantastical worlds and fill them with believable characters, events, and inventions that just intuitively make sense to the reader without having them think too much about it. Much of writing is actually about thinking, and the most difficult parts of my writing come when I just have to sit down and hash out all the logical and factual issues with a part of my story. It can take a lot of time, but the story always comes out better because of it.

4. What are your future writing plans?I’m currently finishing up my new novel, Clockworkers. Here’s the plot in a nutshell: an entrepreneurial young woman inherits a special gift from her father – an elf. She puts him to work building products for her luxury watch company, but she soon discovers that there are certain dangers involved with employing elves. The book puts a brand new perspective on elf tales. The European-based work of Tolkien and the Grimms dominate what we think of as “elves”, even though almost every culture in the world has some sort of native folklore about mystical little people. Part of my motivation for writing Clockworkers was to show a more diverse elf cast, but I also just love creating modern folklore, and elves are a topic I’ve always wanted to explore and reinvent. Plus, I always wanted to write “scary” elves; there’s always a tiny bit of Stephen King in my writing.

I’m also working on a sci-fi novella. This one is about video games, artificial intelligence, death, and what happens when all three collide. Look for it on digital book stores in Summer 2013.

There’s also an impending sequel to my second novel, The Ninth Order. Sequels can be tough to write, and I want to spend a lot of time getting this one right, so it probably won’t be out until next year. But so far it’s proving to be very fun to write, and that usually means it will be very fun to read too.