Thursday, April 30, 2009

Zombie Chicken Award

One of the joys that my blog offers me is when it receives blog awards. And once again my blog received such an award, Zombie Chicken Award, from Kristen, the amazing blogger of Fantasy Cafe. Thank you very much, Kristen!

The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken - excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all…

Since I don’t know if I can handle a wrath from the zombie chickens here are my nominees:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cover Art - "The Ghost King" by R.A. Salvatore

When it comes to Forgotten Realms novels one of my main sources of information is the website dedicated to these novels, Forgotten Realms: The Library. Through this site I found out the other day the cover art for the upcoming novel in the Drizzt Do’Urden’s series of novels written by R.A. Salvatore, “The Ghost King”. I am in love with Drizzt Do’Urden and his adventures and although I believe that his series went just a bit too far I still enjoy these novels and I will always have a weak spot for them. R.A. Salvatore’s “The Ghost King” is the third novel in the “Transitions” series and it will be published in October this year. And once again the cover art for one of the Drizzt’s novels is made by the magical artist, Todd Lockwood.

When the Spellplague ravages Faerûn, Drizzt and his companions are caught in the chaos. Seeking out the help of the priest Cadderly-the hero of the recently reissued series The Cleric Quintet-Drizzt finds himself facing his most powerful and elusive foe, the twisted Crenshinibon, the demonic crystal shard he believed had been destroyed years ago.

Monday, April 27, 2009

2008 Nebula & James Tiptree, Jr. Awards

This week-end two more awards named their winners, Nebula Award and James Tiptree, Jr. Award.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America announced the 2008 Nebula Awards winners:

Best novel: “Powers” by Ursula K. Le Guin

Best Novella: “The Spacetime Pool” by Catherine Asaro

Best Novelette: “Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel

Best Short Story: “Trophy Wives” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Best Script: “WALL-E” by Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy: “Flora’s Dare: How a Girl of Spirit Gambles All to Expand Her Vocabulary, Confront a Bouncing Boy Terror, and Try to Save Califa from a Shaky Doom (Despite Being Confined to Her Room)” by Ysabeau S. Wilce

The James Tiptree, Jr. Award Council announced the 2008 James Tiptree, Jr. Award winners. The Award was founded in 1991 to honor Alice Sheldon, who wrote under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr. and is presented each year for works that explore and expand gender roles in Science Fiction and Fantasy. This year we have two winners:

“The Knife of Never Letting Go” by Patrick Ness

“Filter House” by Nisi Shawl

Congratulations to all the winners!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

In the mailbox

The poll is close to the finish now and it looks like Mark Charan Newton's "Nights of Villjamur" is the winner if major changes won't appear. Anyway you will see the winner soon lined up at my reading queue (thank you all for voting). Until then here are my latest arrivals in the mailbox:

- "The Born Queen" by Greg Keyes (through the courtesy of Pan Macmillan);

War is coming.
With the usurper Robert Dare having fled, Princess Anne has finally ascended to the throne to the Kingdom of Crothney, but it may already be too late to stop the approaching destruction. Dark monstrosities prowl the countryside, and as the holter Asper soon discovers, the Sedos power that granted humanity its freedom may now be responsible for the corruption that will eventually destroy it.
As the combined forces of Hansa and the Holy Church mass against the Queen they claim to be an unnatural shinecrafter, Anne’s mother Murielle sets out on an embassy of peace to Hansa, accompanied by the knight Sir Neal MeqVren. But, there is more to Murielle’s mission than first appears, a fact that puts both of them at the mercy of Hansa’s unstable king, and the unkillable Robert Dare.
The world has been poisoned, and only the one who gains control of the legendary Sedos Throne can heal it. Anne knows that it must be her, but as she embraces her powers, and the violent impulses they bring, she finds herself changing. Only she can stand against the forces that threaten Crothney, but the cost of her victory may be too great for the world to bear…

- "Line War" by Neal Asher (through the courtesy of Pan Macmillan);

The Polity is under attack from a ‘melded’ AI entity with control of the lethal Jain technology, yet the attack seems to have no coherence. When one of Erebus’s wormships kills millions on the world of Klurhammon, a high-tech agricultural world of no real tactical significance, agent Ian Cormac is sent to investigate, though he is secretly struggling to control a new ability no human being should possess . . . and beginning to question the motives of his AI masters.
Further attacks and seemingly indiscriminate slaughter ensue, but only serve to bring some of the most dangerous individuals in the Polity into the war. Mr Crane, the indefatigable brass killing machine sets out for vengeance, while Orlandine, a vastly-augmented haiman who herself controls Jain technology, seeks a weapon of appalling power and finds allies from an ancient war.
Meanwhile Mika, scientist and Dragon expert, is again kidnapped by that unfathomable alien entity and dragged into the heart of things: to wake the makers of Jain technology from their five-million-year slumber.
But Erebus’s attacks are not so indiscriminate, after all, and could very well herald the end of the Polity itself . . .

- "Shadow of the Scorpion" by Neal Asher (through the courtesy of Pan Macmillan);

Raised to adulthood during the end of the war between the human Polity and the vicious arthropoid race, the Prador, Ian Cormac is haunted by childhood memories of a sinister scorpion-shaped war drone and the burden of losses he doesn’t remember.
In the years following the war he signs up with Earth Central Security, and is sent out to help either restore or simply maintain order on worlds devastated by Prador bombardment.
There he discovers that though the old enemy remains as murderous as ever, it is not anywhere near as perfidious or dangerous as some of his fellow humans, some of them closer to him than he would like.
Amidst the ruins left by wartime genocides, he discovers in himself a cold capacity for violence, learns some horrible truths about his own past and, set upon a course of vengeance, tries merely to stay alive.

- "Avempartha" by Michael J. Sullivan (through the courtesy of Robin Sullivan);

When a destitute young woman hires two thieves to help save her remote village from nocturnal attacks, they are drawn into the schemes of the wizard Esrahaddon. While Royce struggles to breech the secrets of an ancient elven tower, Hadrian attempts to rally the villagers to defend themselves against the unseen killer. What begins with the simple theft of a sword places the two thieves at the center of a firestorm — that could change the future of Elan.

- "The Stranger" by Max Frei (through the courtesy of Overlook Press);

Max Frei’s novels have been a literary sensation in Russia since their debut in 1996, and have swept the fantasy world over. Presented here in English for the first time, The Stranger will strike a chord with readers of all stripes. Part fantasy, part horror, part philosophy, part dark comedy, the writing is united by a sharp wit and a web of clues that will open up the imagination of every reader.
Max Frei was a twenty-something loser—a big sleeper (that is, during the day; at night he can’t sleep a wink), a hardened smoker, and an uncomplicated glutton and loafer. But then he got lucky. He contacts a parallel world in his dreams, where magic is a daily practice. Once a social outcast, he’s now known in his new world as the “unequalled Sir Max.” He’s a member of the Department of Absolute Order, formed by a species of enchanted secret agents; his job is to solve cases more extravagant and unreal than one could imagine—a journey that will take Max down the winding paths of this strange and unhinged universe.

- "Lamentation" by Ken Scholes (through the courtesy of TOR).

An ancient weapon has completely destroyed the city of Windwir. From many miles away, Rudolfo, Lord of the Nine Forest Houses, sees the horrifying column of smoke rising. He knows that war is coming to the Named Lands.
Nearer to the Devastation, a young apprentice is the only survivor of the city – he sat waiting for his father outside the walls, and was transformed as he watched everyone he knew die in an instant.
Soon all the Kingdoms of the Named Lands will be at each others' throats, as alliances are challenged and hidden plots are uncovered.
This remarkable first novel from an award-winning short fiction writer will take readers away to a new world – an Earth so far in the distant future that our time is not even a memory; a world where magick is commonplace and great areas of the planet are impassable wastes. But human nature hasn’t changed through the ages: War and faith and love still move princes and nations.

Thank you all very much!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Richard Starkings' Comicraft to letter Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"

Award-winning letterer and designer takes on "the full novel fully illustrated" bold experiment

Issue #1 Features Covers by Denis Calero, Bill Sienkiewicz, Scott Keating & Moritat
Issue #1 also Includes Backmatter by Warren Ellis
Issue #2 to Include Backmatter by Matt Fraction
Issue #3 to Include Backmatter by Ed Brubaker

"Philip Dick, to my mind, was the great visionary writer of the 20th Century." - Warren Ellis

"After I finished reading the screenplay for BLADE RUNNER, I got the novel out and looked through it. The two reinforce each other, so that someone who started with the novel would enjoy the movie and someone who started with the movie would enjoy the novel." - Philip K. Dick

Earlier this month, BOOM! Studios, in partnership with Electric Shepherd Productions, proudly announced that worldwide best-selling sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick's award-winning DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? is coming to comics this June. Today BOOM! Studios reveals that Richard Starkings' Comicraft has committed to letter the entire series, tackling BOOM! Studios bold experiment of taking the entire novel and fully illustrating it.

Richard Starkings brings his unique eye and talent to BOOM! Studios new maxi-series DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? The Eisner Award-winning designer has won "Best Letterer" six times in a row from The Comic Buyers' Guide and "Best Letterer" nine times in a row from Wizard Magazine and revolutionized comic book lettering digitally with his company Comicraft.

"Anyone who's been paying attention to ELEPHANTMEN knows I have a special place in my heart for BLADE RUNNER and Philip K. Dick," said Richard Starkings. "I read DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? when I was a teenager and have been working my way through Dick's novels ever since. It's really nice to be involved with the comic book. 'Nice' is English for 'Awesome,' by the way."

Also known as the creator of ELEPHANTMEN, published by Image Comics, Starkings has authored the definitive guide to digital lettering entitled COMIC BOOK LETTERING: THE COMICRAFT WAY with John Roshell. Starkings and Roshell also sell fonts they create through the company, including fonts based on lettering from top creators such as WATCHMEN's Dave Gibbons, HEROES' Tim Sale, X-MEN's Jim Lee, and TO MUCH COFFEE MAN's Shannon Wheeler.

"Starkings has changed the way we read comics today," BOOM! Studios Marketing and Sales Director Chip Mosher stated. "And pairing the writing of Philip K. Dick with the lettering of Richard Starkings was a no brainer. It doesn't get any better than this!"

"They say that the letterer is the writer's inker," BOOM! Studios Editor-in-Chief Mark Waid said. "And when you are dealing with the best writer in science fiction, you have to pair him with the best lettering in the business. Starkings is that guy."

The first issue of BOOM! Studios' DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? will include backmatter by Warren Ellis and ships with three covers in a 50/25/25 split by Denis Calero, Bill Sienkiewicz and Scott Keating. A fourth cover by ELEPHANTMEN artist Moritat will be offered as a 1-in-25 incentive.

Additionally, UNCANNY X-MEN's Matt Fraction will be providing backmatter for issue #2 and CAPTAIN AMERICA and CRIMNAL's Ed Brubaker will be providing backmatter for issue #3.

Along with Starkings for the full 24 issue run will be Tony Parker (WARHAMMER 40,000: FIRE AND HONOUR) on line art and Blond (ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR) on colors.

DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? ships this June (Diamond Code APR090725) and will present the full text of the novel fully illustrated, mixing all new panel-to-panel continuity in an innovative, ground-breaking 24-issue maxi-series experiment.

About BOOM! Studios
BOOM! Studios ( is a unique publishing house specializing in high-profile projects across a wide variety of different genres from some of the industry's biggest talents, including Philip K. Dick's DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?, The Henson Company's FARSCAPE, and the original Mark Waid series IRREDEEMABLE. BOOM! recently launched its youth imprint, BOOM! Kids, with Pixar's THE INCREDIBLES, CARS, and TOY STORY, as well as Disney's THE MUPPETS. This year, BOOM! Studios celebrates its fourth anniversary.

About Electric Shepherd Productions
Electric Shepherd Productions LLC ( was founded by Laura Leslie and Isa Dick Hackett, daughters of the late Science Fiction author Philip K Dick. "ESP" is the production arm of the Dick Estate, dedicated to the stewardship and adaptation of the Philip K. Dick library across all media.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Abaţia" (The Abbey) by Dan Doboş

“Abaţia” (The Abbey)
Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Publisher: Millennium Press
An excerpt in English can be found at the author's website

Saint Augustine defined six times of humanity, the last of those times being about to end with the Armageddon, when the armies of humans, lead by Jesus, who has come down on Earth, from the second time, will have defeated the forces of evil. After more than three thousand years from this prophecy, in circumstances slightly changed in relation to the ones predicted by the bishop of Hippo, the Abbey is the only religious entity left for the humanity. Radoslav, the Abbot who rules the Augustinian Order knows that the Armageddon is about to break out soon, but he can’t decide which will be the thing that will trigger it. It might be the humans contact with an extraterrestrial civilization; it is possible that the attempt of imperial administration of replacing the clones from the Agrarian Worlds with aliens to degenerate into a cosmic conflict; the super–soldier sent to spy the Abbey isn’t also a reason to look serenely at the future.

“Abaţia” (The Abbey), which is the first novel in the Dan Doboş’s “The Trilogy of the Abbey”, was released in 2002 by Nemira and re-published in 2008 in a revised and added edition by Millennium Press. “The Abbey” was named the best Romanian Science-Fiction novel of 2002 and the trilogy received the “Vladimir Colin Award” in 2006.

Dan Doboş creates a powerful and rich vision of the universe and an interesting outcome of the human kind. The story is told through different characters involved in the novel’s conflict and who help the reader to see this conflict from all the angles and points of view. The majority of the characters represents the two sides in conflict, the Empire and the Abbey. The Empire rules over the most of the discovered planets, but it can’t feed its inhabitants without the help of the Abbey. The Abbey, set on the devastated Earth, is the last resort of religion, a little different from the Christianity as we know it, but not totally different. And their religion is offering the only methods to create and manipulate the clones that work on the Agrarian Worlds, the planets that provide the necessary food. But the Empire is trying to eliminate the Abbey from this process in a way or another.

The author treats with much more attention the part involving the Abbey and which is understandable in the general line of the novel. I liked how Dan Doboş built the notions and the aspects involving the Abbey and the religion it follows. There are principles and symbols making it believable and adding to the realism of the story. Through this part the author raises many questions over the religion in general and he captures many philosophical themes regarding religion. The Empire is not as developed as the Abbey, but it helps bring in the story the political aspects of the new world and like the religious part it captures the philosophical themes regarding politics too. And in some places the religious and political aspects can be seen as reflection of our present world in the future.

Like I said the story is told through many characters and points of view. Unfortunately I have to say that because of this all the characters are more or less under-developed. I found two characters to be interesting, but I think that with a little more care these two would have been very interesting and I would have liked them more. One is Rimio di Vassur, a quint (a soldier trained and transformed with the help of technology to become a powerful weapon and who serves only the Emperor), and the other is Radoslav, the Abbot. Both of them have great potential, brought in face of unexpected events and with powerful inner conflicts and if treated with just a little more attention it would have made them powerful characters. Also in some places the story jumps from the perspective of a character to another without a pause or a notice and that can be confusing. But I don’t know if this is the fault of the author or of the editor and there are few such places.

“The Abbey” is an interesting novel and one that sets the premises for a captivating trilogy. And I believe that the Romanian speculative fiction needs more such talented and imaginative authors as Dan Doboş is.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Giveaway - "Arthas: Rise of the Lich King"

Today Simon & Schuster releases another title in the World of Warcraft series of novels, Christie Golden’s “Arthas: Rise of the Lich King”. Through the courtesy of Simon & Schuster and Sneak Media Attack I have 5 copies of this novel for you to win. If you want to win one of these copies all you have to do is send me an e-mail with your name and address to MihaiTheDarkWolf AT gmail DOT com until Thursday, 30th of April. The giveaway is open to the US and Canada residents only, sorry. I’ll announce the winners here on the 1st of May.

Here is some information about Christie Golden’s “Arthas: Rise of the Lich King”:

It was caught in a hovering, jagged chunk of ice, the runes that ran the length of its blade glowing a cool blue. Below it was a dais of some sort, standingon a large gently raised mound that was covered in a dusting of snow. A soft light, coming from somewhere high above where the cavern was open to daylight, shone down on the runeblade. The icy prison hid some details of the sword's shape and form, exaggerated others. It was revealed and concealed at the same time, and all the more tempting, like a new lover imperfectly glimpsed through a gauzy curtain. Arthas knew the blade -- it was the selfsame sword he had seen in his dream when he first arrived. The sword that had not killed Invincible, but that had brought him back healed and healthy. He'd thought it a good omen then, but now he knew it was a true sign. This was what he had come to find. This sword would change everything. Arthas stared raptly at it, his hands almost physically aching to grasp it, his fingers to wrap themselves around the hilt, his arms to feel the weapon swinging smoothly in the blow that would end Mal'Ganis, end the torment he had visited upon the people of Lordaeron, end this lust for revenge. Drawn, he stepped forward.
The uncanny elemental spirit drew its icy sword. "Turn away, before it is too late," it intoned.


His evil is legend. Lord of the undead Scourge, wielder of the runeblade Frostmourne, and enemy of the free peoples of Azeroth. The Lich King is an entity of incalculable power and unparalleled malice -- his icy soul utterly consumed by his plans to destroy all life on the...
But it was not always so. Long before his soul was fused with that of the orc shaman Ner'zhul, the Lich King was Arthas Menethil, crown prince of Lordaeron and faithful paladin of the Silver Hand.
When a plague of undeath threatened all that he loved, Arthas was driven to pursue an ill-fated quest for a runeblade powerful enough to save his homeland. Yet the object of his search would exact a heavy price from its new master, beginning a horrifying descent into damnation. Arthas's path would lead him through the arctic northern wastes toward the Frozen Throne, where he would face, at long last, the darkest of destinies.

You can find other additional information (reviews, an excerpt, ordering information) at the Simon & Schuster’s book page and the pages dedicated to this novel at MySpace and Facebook. Also you can sign up for further information about the Simon & Schuster titles through their newsletter & alerts page.

Good luck to all!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cover art - "Boneshaker" by Cherie Priest

Last week through the very nice blog of the art director Irene Gallo, The Art Department, and then through the blog of the author of this upcoming novel, Cherie Priest, I discovered another very beautiful cover. It looks like the talented Jon Foster who illustrated with his amazing work many book covers has pulled out his magic from the sleeve once again. This is the preliminary cover for the new Cherie Priest novel, “Boneshaker”, due to be released by Tor this year, but it is an amazing image. What I love the most about this cover is the beautiful combination between black and white part and the colored one, but the whole artwork is eye catching.

And not only the book cover made me add this title to my shopping list already, but also the Scott Westerfeld’s quote from the cover: “A steampunk-zombie-airship adventure of rollicking pace and sweeping proportions, full of wonderfully gnarly details.”

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A poll

I finished a Science Fiction novel, “Abaţia” by Dan Doboş, and I’ll start to work soon on the review to show a glimpse of Romanian speculative fiction. Soon I’ll finish also Bill Hussey’s “The Absence”, but until I post that review too I want to try a feature that I was very curious about. I’ll run a poll for my next reading after the three ones you see on the left and to make a new interaction with the readers of my blog. So, if you want me to read one of the following titles next, please cast your vote:

- “Nights of Villjamur” by Mark Charan Newton
- “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” by Robert V.S. Redick
- “Blood of Elves” by Andrzej Sapkowski
- “The Way of Shadows” by Brent Weeks

Thank you very much :)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Fantasy Art - Marc Simonetti

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.

Marc Simonetti is a French artist, born in 1977 and currently living in Annecy, France. He graduated from the INSA Lyon School with an engineer diploma. After studying at the Emile Cohl School Marc Simonetti started to work in the artistic field as a background 3D artist for the video game industry. Then he began to work as a freelance artist, working with companies such as Fantasy Flight Games, Pocket SF, Bragelonne and Science et Vie Junior, and making the cover art for many Fantasy and SF novels. Marc won in 2006 a Blizzard art contest in Diablo category.

Interview - Marc Simonetti

Dark Wolf: Marc thank you for your amiability.
Marc Simonetti: Thanks for the interview, Mihai.

Dark Wolf: Do you remember when you started to draw for the first time? What attracted you toward art?
Marc Simonetti: In fact, I don't remember me not drawing. I've always been drawing when I was a child, and never stopped. But I must have to say, that I began getting really better when I made my job of it. Working 12 hours a day, every day, in a particular field, then you can truly learn something.
I've always been attracted toward arts, because my parents made me visiting quite a big number of museums, from the Office Museum of Florence to the Louvre in Paris.
Today, with Internet and media everybody has an approach on art, so the Stendhal syndrome doesn't exist anymore (you know, when someone is just struck by the beauty of an art piece), but discovering the Renaissance masters like Raphael or Caravaggio I had a chock of that kind. Then, many things caused my imagination to grow wildly like Star Wars, Willow, or John Howe and Frazetta's paintings on my fantasy books.

Dark Wolf: What are your sources of inspiration? Who do you consider to have been the most influential figure on your career so far?
Marc Simonetti: My sources of inspiration are endless indeed. It starts from movies, books, and music. But any real thing can be very inspiring such as the beauty of the sky or stuff like that. I also look a lot for other artists on Internet and in art books. I'm still fascinated by Georges Hull, Craig Mullins, John Wallin Liberto, Aleksi Briclot or Marko Djurdjevic's works. And I truly think that the artist who's been the most influential figure in my career is “Sparth“ Nicolas Bouvier. I was in awe looking at his art before getting in the field of art, and I had the chance to discuss it many times till this moment. He brought me a lot by his pictures and by the way he just considers art.

DW: You are specialized on 2D and 3D drawing, but do you prefer to work on one in particular?
MS: Well in fact, I've started with 3D as a video game 3D background modeler, but I don't do 3D anymore. It's far more time consuming to produce one single image, and it needs so much technical knowledge and huge computers too.
I do like 2D far more, because you can go faster to the essential. I use 3D from time to time to help me compose an image or to correct a tricky perspective, it's just a tool in my 2D process, now.

DW: What are the advantages and disadvantages offered by freelancing work?
MS: In the advantages I'd say:
- You can work on many various subjects, with very various publics. For example, you can do some dark fantasy or zombies cover art made for young adults in the morning and in the afternoon work for the concept arts for a long feature film for children. That somehow is really fun to do, impossible to get bored of a subject!
- Another advantage is that you can lead your own work in the direction you find the most interesting. By the choice of the commission and by the way you work on them.
- Last big advantage, you usually work from home, which means a place very quiet , perfect for focusing on the work.

In the disadvantages:
- You don't have real colleagues to create a synergy and learn new things. All you learn is by yourself.
- You're alone most of the time. I was a very social guy, talking far too much, and now I'm much more like a bear or something like that if you see what I mean.
- And you can't work on very confidential subjects, as most of them requires to be employed because of DNA's issues.

DW: Speaking of working at home may I ask if this is your favorite working place? Do you like to have other working conditions as well, I mean conditions of light, mood or quietness?
MS: Working at home is much more a question of circumstances, as I'm working for many different places, such as USA, France, Canada, or Italy. This way my schedule is quite flexible.
But I've got a place at home that I've arranged so that it's quite a good place to work. I can put some music when I need a certain feeling, or I can hear birds singing from my window...
About conditions, I need enough light not to have my eyes too tired, but not directly on the screen. Quietness is very important to me, as I need a lot of concentration to work.
A good chair is very important too, but that's not that interesting I guess...

DW: You made many book covers, especially for SF and Fantasy novels. Is your interest in these genres purely professional or is it a personal one as well?
MS: I've been a big reader before making cover art. I still read between 2 or 3 books a week, that's very important to me. I read every book I've got to illustrate. It's very important to me to do something both attractive and close to the text itself.
I know what it is like to look at a cover and saying “but it has nothing to do with the cover!”

DW: Being an avid reader gives you an advantage when you are making a cover art? What involves the work on such a piece?
MS: I think it's a great advantage when the book is good indeed. Then I have a precise idea of how the cover should look like. For example, I've made the cover of “The Green Brain” by Frank Herbert, which was one of the very first books that I read. I had a good knowledge of what was the story about.
The biggest issue is that I want people to read it. So I try to make covers that show a beautiful part of the book, with its mood, or I try to make covers that ask questions, and don't reveal answers until you've read the book.

DW: Does it happen for some of the cover artworks not to be accepted by the publisher? Do you have certain guidelines for your work on a book cover? Do you work sometimes with the author of the respective novel too?
MS: It happened once for me on more than a hundred cover arts I've made. I've read the book and it was very cheesy Sci-fi, with a violet planet, kangaroo aliens fighting plants in eggs like space ships...The story was good, but so hard to illustrate that the publisher and me didn't find a proper rough.
About the guidelines it truly depends on the publisher. Some already have a very precise view of what they want, and some send me the book and let me do the proposal. Most of the time I still have some freedom and I always can suggest things to improve a cover.
I've sometimes worked with the author of the novel and their opinion is very important to me. I've mostly worked with French authors, but once I had a feedback from an author which I was a fan before making covers, that he liked my cover: that was great!

DW: Is there a title or an author for which would you like to make the cover?
MS: Plenty! I already illustrate some of my favorite author, like HP Lovecraft, Neal Asher, China Mieville, Mary Gentle, Dan Simmons or Frank Herbert.
But I wish I could someday work on cover art for George RR Martin, Glen Cook or Fritz Leiber...

DW: You also have works in video games field. What involves the work in this field? How much different is from the work made on a book cover?
MS: It's somehow very different from the cover art field, it's all about moods and details. I remembered what Stephan Martiniere wrote about theme parks. He said that every aspects of a concept art made for theme park should go in the same direction that leads to the theme itself. It means that every object you draw should be coherent with the mood and the universe you depict.
You've got some more freedom in the rendering of the pictures too, you can make more graphical, or unusual compositions, there's far less constraints due to the marketing field. A cover art is often considered more like a selling advertisement than a piece of art. For example, making a cover art for a fantasy novel for children you often have to draw a youngster dressed in medieval fashion fighting a dragon: you have to represent archetypes that are directly a question of marketing and targets...

DW: Which was the most rewarding moment of your career until now?
MS: I've made a big part of the concept arts for a long feature animation film that should be released at the end of the year or next year. That was a tremendous experience, and I can't wait to see this on the big screen. This is being made by Nwave pictures.

DW: Today there are many websites that can be considered virtual art shows. Would you like someday your works to be represented in an actual art show?
MS: I wish someday, but I feel myself still too awkward to be considered as an accomplished artist. There are still many steps to climb to achieve that. And to be honest I'm much more interested in the road that leads to it than in the state of self-satisfaction.

DW: What aspects of your work would you like to still improve? If it were possible is there anything you would like to change in your career so far?
MS: Every aspect still needs to be improved for me and this is endless. Perspective, anatomy, colors, touch, composition are such basics and vast domains, that my whole life won't be enough to master them.
I think there's no ultimate truth in art, no unbreakable rule that leads you to a perfect piece. It's much more a question of tastes and trends, and of equilibrium of the pictures.
I wouldn't change anything in my career for now, because I'm having a great time, going on slowly but surely. Maybe some time later I'll try to find another freelancer like me to work with in order to share visions and processes to create a synergy.

DW: At what are you working right now and what other future projects do you have?
MS: Today, I'm working on two book covers and interior illustrations, one on dinosaurs and one on scientific police. I'm also making some cover arts for Sci-Fi and fantasy novels and one for a video game for Nintendo DS. I should soon work on concept arts for a video game and I'm in for a big car TV advertisement (matte paintings and concept arts)...and that's it.

Thank you very much for your time and answers. It has been a pleasure.
Thanks a lot Mihai :)

For complete information and a wider portfolio of Marc Simonetti please visit his website,

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

In the mailbox

This are the books I received lately and I added to this post the novels' blurb from their publishers websites since it will take a while until I review them all:

- "My Work is Not Yet Done" by Thomas Ligotti (through the courtesy of Virgin Books);

When junior manager Frank Dominio is suddenly demoted and then sacked it seems there was more than a grain of truth to his persecution fantasies. But as he prepares to even the score with those responsible for his demise, he unwittingly finds an ally in a dark and malevolent force that grants him supernatural powers. Frank takes his revenge in the most ghastly ways imaginable - but there will be a terrible price to pay once his work is done.
Destined to be a cult classic, this tale of corporate horror and demonic retribution will strike a chord with anyone who has ever been disgruntled at work.

- "Thieving Fear" by Ramsey Campbell (through the courtesy of Virgin Books);

Charlotte Nolan and her cousins may not have ended up in the jobs they hoped to have when they were teenagers, but they've made their way in life. Charlotte works for a London publisher, Ellen cares for the elderly, Hugh has left teaching to work in a supermarket while his brother Rory is a controversial artist. Then more than their jobs begin to go wrong as something reaches out of the past for them.
What has it to do with the summer night they spent on Thursaston Common? If the dreams they had that night are catching up with them, how is the Victorian occultist Arthur Pendemon involved? Before the nightmare ends more than one of them will have to enter what remains of Pendemon's house and confront what still lives there in the dark.

- "One" by Conrad Williams (through the courtesy of Virgin Books);

This is the United Kingdom, but it's no country you know. No place you ever want to see, even in the howling, shuttered madness of your worst dreams. You survived. One man.
You walk because you have to. You have no choice. At the end of this molten road, running along the spine of a burned, battered country, your little boy is either alive or dead. You have to know. You have to find an end to it all. One hope.
The sky crawls with venomous cloud and burning red rain. The land is a scorched sprawl of rubble and corpses. Rats have risen from the depths to gorge on the carrion. A glittering dust coats everything and it hides a terrible secret. New horrors are taking root. You walk on. One chance.

- "Dark Haven" by Gail Z. Martin (through the courtesy of Solaris Books);

Matris Drayke, king of Margolan, is faced with the challenge to rebuild his shattered kingdom. With his wedding weeks away, Tris must address the trials and executions of those responsible for the atrocities against Margolan’s people. Jonmarc Vahanian, the new Lord of Dark Haven, and one of Tris's allies, faces trouble with the Blood Council, where there is defiance against the prospect of a mortal lord. And beneath Dark Haven, the Flow, the vast river of power damaged when Arontala wrested the Soulcatcher from Dark Haven’s foundation, is becoming unstable, threatening the balance of magic itself, and the future of the Winter Kingdoms.

- "The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction Volume Three" edited by George Mann (through the courtesy of Solaris Books);

Solaris has become known for its high quality anthologies. This SF collection is no exception with a with all original short stories from some of the world’s finest genre authors including Daniel Abraham, Ken MacLeod, Stephen Baxter, Ian Watson, John Meaney, Alastair Reynolds and more.

- "Drood" by Dan Simmons (through the courtesy of Little, Brown and Company);

On June 9, 1865, while traveling by train to London with his secret mistress, 53-year-old Charles Dickens--at the height of his powers and popularity, the most famous and successful novelist in the world and perhaps in the history of the world--hurtled into a disaster that changed his life forever.
Did Dickens begin living a dark double life after the accident? Were his nightly forays into the worst slums of London and his deepening obsession with corpses, crypts, murder, opium dens, the use of lime pits to dissolve bodies, and a hidden subterranean London mere research . . . or something more terrifying?

- "The Terror" by Dan Simmons (through the courtesy of Little, Brown and Company).

The men on board HMS Terror have every expectation of finding the Northwest Passage. When the expedition's leader, Sir John Franklin, meets a terrible death, Captain Francis Crozier takes command and leads his surviving crewmen on a last, desperate attempt to flee south across the ice. But as another winter approaches, as scurvy and starvation grow more terrible, and as the Terror on the ice stalks them southward, Crozier and his men begin to fear there is no escape. A haunting, gripping story based on actual historical events, The Terror is a novel that will chill you to your core.

Thank you all very much!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Awards Round-up

The British Science Fiction Association have announced this week-end the winners of the 2008 BSFA Award:
Best novel: “The Night Sessions” by Ken MacLeod
Best short fiction: “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang
Best non-fiction: “Rhetorics of Fantasy” by Farah Mendlesohn
Best artwork: Andy Bigwood for the cover of “Subterfuge” edited by Ian Whates

The 2009 Philip K. Dick Award has two winners this year:

“Emissaries from the Dead” by Adam-Troy Castro

“Terminal Mind” by David Walton

The British Fantasy Society has released the longlist of nominees for the 2009 British Fantasy Awards and which can be found here. The winners will be announced in September at FantasyCon.

The newly created David Gemmell Legend Award for Fantasy has announced their first list of finalists:

“Last Argument of Kings” by Joe Abercrombie
“Heir to Sevenwaters” by Juliet Marillier
“The Hero of Ages” by Brandon Sanderson
“Blood of Elves” by Andrzej Sapkowski
“The Way of Shadows” by Brent Weeks

The voting is open until May 31st and the awards will be held at London on June 19th.

The BookSpot Central book tournaments reached the finishing line and the winners are:
2008 Book Tournament: “Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse” by Victor Gischler
2008 All-Time Tournament: “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson
2008 Dealers Choice Tournament: “Armed and Magical” by Lisa Shearin

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cover Art - "The Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss

One of the best books I read last year and which it became one of my favorite fantasy novels is Patrick Rothfuss“The Name of the Wind”. This novel is also a good example and backup for the expression “don’t judge a book by its covers” since I wasn’t thrilled by one particular artwork featured on one of the novel’s editions. Here it is the cover artwork for the French edition of “The Name of the Wind” ("Le Nom du vent") due to be released this month by the Bragelonne publishing house and made by the French artist Marc Simonetti. I am impressed by Bragelonne and considering that it was founded only in 2000 their work is truly amazing. I hope that Patrick Rothfuss“The Name of the Wind” will be translated for the Romanian market soon, because it is a great novel, and I hope that will have a cover at least as this one.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Interview - Jasper Kent

Jasper Kent made his debut this year with an impressive novel, “Twelve” (reviewed here), a captivating blend between historical and supernatural fiction. I had the honor and pleasure to make an interview with Jasper Kent.

Dark Wolf: Jasper, thank you very much for the opportunity of this interview.
Someone reading your biography after having seen that you are specialized in physics and that you worked as a software engineer will wonder where from comes the passion for writing fiction? How about the passion for writing music?
Jasper Kent: I think the music side of it is easier to answer. Music, both in terms of rhythm and harmony, can be very mathematical. Moreover, anyone interested in computers and electronics can have huge amounts of fun with all the gadgets around these days – although if pushed I’d still opt to stick with a good, old-fashioned piano.
As for the writing, there’s less connection. I’m just fighting the misconception that because a person is good at doing one thing, then they should stop trying to be good at anything else.

Dark Wolf: “Twelve” is a captivating blend between historical and supernatural fiction, but the initial idea behind the novel came from the historical side or from the supernatural one?
Jasper Kent: Ultimately I suppose it has to be said that the supernatural side came first, in that I was vaguely thinking of writing a horror novel. But beyond that, both sides of the idea came along pretty much as one. Napoleonic vampires came into my head as a single concept, and after that it was only a matter of a few hours for me to focus in on Russia.

Dark Wolf: Why did you chose to set the action of the novel in Russia and your main characters to be Russian and not other Napoleon’s campaign and characters from your country, which had a greater conflict with France?
Jasper Kent: It’s best to avoid getting into a long debate as to whether Russia or Britain played the greater role in the Napoleonic Wars, but having been brought up with history told from an essentially British (specifically English) point of view, I’m very much aware of the bias that can exist therein. Thus there is much more that is challenging for me discover as new – and for my target reader to discover – if I write from a viewport which is different from that with which I’ve been brought up.

DW: I really liked the details of historical events depicted in “Twelve” and also the details of novel’s location, Russia. How much time took the researches for the novel? I’ve seen that you had also traveled to Russia. Was the trip made before or after you had the idea for the novel?
JK: I certainly put a lot of research into the history and the locations, and perhaps less into the mythology, which I feel is more mine to invent. Thankfully there are plenty of sources, French and Russian, contemporary and modern, and all things in between, that provide more information than anyone could ever need.
I didn’t travel to Russia until after I had finished the main drafts of Twelve, so the trip was very much to check up on the details of what I’d already written and to do some research for the sequel. Had I been writing a contemporary novel set in Russia, I think I would have been more keen to do the research up front, but with something set two centuries ago, the modern location risks being somewhat deceiving.

DW: Aleksei is a very powerful and character and I grew quite fond of him through my reading. How much of Aleksei’s personality reflects your own personality? Did you find yourself in other characters of your novel?
JK: Apart from his lengthy, internal intellectualizing, I don’t think that Aleksei and I have very much in common. He may to some extent encapsulate a number of things that I might have hoped to be in another life. His ability with languages is certainly something that I genuinely envy, though his enthusiasm and success as both a soldier and a lover are things which, though they might appeal to me superficially, have never actually found their way very high up my list of goals in life.
Of all the characters in Twelve, I’m probably closest to Maks, though not all that close.

DW: My favorite Romanian historical figure is Vlad Ţepeş and one of the smaller characters of “Twelve”, Zmyeevich, resembles a lot with the legend behind Vlad. Is there a connection between these two? Will Zmyeevich play another role in the upcoming novels of the series?
JK: I don’t think the resemblances between Zmyeevich and Dracula really need to be commented on by me. Zmyeevich certainly reappears in Thirteen Years Later, and the fourth novel in the quintet, set in the late 1870s is provisional titled Zmyeevich.

DW: Considering that you are writing music as well, do you see “Twelve” turned into a musical? How about an ecranization? Who would you like, if possible, to play in or direct such projects?
JK: I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone else, but if it were suggested to me as a composer to turn Twelve into a musical, I think I would find it difficult to give a polite answer. With regards to anyone else doing it, I’d be quite happy to take the money and run. A film would have better prospects, but it would still take a lot of cutting down. If there were a film, it would be great to have Johnny Depp as Aleksei, although if I could pick any actor throughout history, I think a young Oliver Reed might best fit the role. In the unlikely event that I did have to cast a musical version, it would be great to get Philip Quast in there somewhere, with both his historical musical connections (Les Misérables) and his vampiric ones (Ultraviolet). I don’t think he’s right for Aleksei, but maybe as a singing Vadim.

DW: “Twelve” is the first novel in a series of five entitled “The Danilov Quintet” and will be followed by “Thirteen Years Later”. One of my favorite historical fiction series is the “King’s Musketeers” of Alexandre Dumas and the second novel of that series is named “Twenty Years After”. Is there a link between these two titles? Did you have an inspiration in Alexandre Dumas’ works?
JK: I never consciously made any reference to Dumas when writing Twelve, but looking back there are a number of similarities that I think come down to common intent rather than subconscious imitation. For a start there is the fact that Twelve is centred around a band of four military comrades; and then of course, as you can see from the previous answer, that my casting decisions coincide with Dick Lester’s when he was choosing who to play Athos. I came up with the title Thirteen Years Later before seeing the connection to Dumas sequel. (In fact, although Twenty Years After is the usual English translation, I think that Twenty Years Later is equally correct and might convey the sentiment a little better.) I’ll have to go back to Dumas and see what else I’ve picked up off him.

DW: How much of the next three novels in the series have the structure already established? Do you have a general idea about the action of each of these three novels?
JK: So far I know the rough dates and locations of the remaining three novels (dictated by the historical events which they concern) and also the births, deaths and undeaths of the major characters. Twelve was originally written without any specific plans for sequels, while Thirteen Years Later sets up a number of plot lines of which I have no idea of the resolution.
Before writing any of the remaining three, I do plan to put together some slightly more solid plotlines, but I don’t want to trammel myself too much. I see it as much more of a challenge to have to outdo myself in each new book, rather than having an end in sight which I’m simply not trying to arrive at too quickly.

DW: Will the next novels in the series have supernatural elements as well? Will other genres have an influence in these novels?
JK: It’s an interesting question. There is certainly no reason why Aleksei should ever meet another voordalak in his whole life, and there would be plenty of scope for him to have exciting adventures set in historical Russia. However, I just don’t see a readership being happy with that (to say nothing of my editor). Similarly, introducing other genres would equally break the pact between the author and the reader, as well as over-egging the pudding. Because of the nature of the period I’m covering, science and military technology are going to play an increasing role, but it’s certainly not going to be science fiction – it will be historically correct science and so will hopefully act as a useful further bridge between the two genres I’ve chosen.
The tricky thing is that it’s practically impossible for any sequel to strike exactly the same balance between history and fantasy, and it would be dull if it did. Currently Thirteen Years Later swings a little more towards horror (though other readers might see it differently) and I suspect later novels will swing back the other way.

DW: You also have written two other novels, “Sifr” and “Yours Etc., Mr. Sunday”. Can you describe them a little, please? When will these novels be published?
JK: Sifr is a contemporary thriller set mostly in Oxford and concerns the mathematics of cryptography, as well as a fair bit about the medieval scientist Roger Bacon. Because of the mathematics and computing associated with cryptography, it’s an area about which I have some degree of specialist knowledge. To some extent I was a little relieved to have Twelve published before Sifr, in that anyone who knows me might think that Sifr was just an example of me being typically nerdy and mathematical. I certainly think that there is some prospect of Sifr being published, but the problem at the moment is (I am told, and I think I agree) that it’s wiser for now to stick with the genre that readers are expecting.
Yours Etc., Mr. Sunday is another modern thriller, set in Brighton, where I live, and concerning the discovery of the diary supposedly written by a serial killer from the 1930s. Thus it looks at many of the issues related to the Jack the Ripper diary, along with the Hitler and Howard Hughes diaries. Of the novels I’ve written so far, I have to say it’s the one I’m least happy with, and so I’d like to do a major rewrite of it before it gets published.

DW: Beside continuing “The Danilov Quintet” series what other projects has Jasper Kent in mind?
JK: That would be telling.

Thank you for your time and answers. It has been a pleasure.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Heaven's Bones" by Samantha Henderson

"Heaven's Bones"
Format: Paperback, 320 pages

Devotion given through murder is no less loving.
Dr. Sebastian Robarts' days are spent building angels out of the bodies of women, gifts to his wife and child that he couldn't save. But there is a man who sees his angels as weapons to storm heaven. Trueblood, a Vistani gifted with Cursing and a searcher for arcane knowledge, finds Dr. Robarts. He sees only a weak man whose labor can be used to end the curse that stole Trueblood's name and cast him out of his family. As he tries to bend Robarts to his own ends, other people find them and some try to stop them, and through it all, Dr. Robarts works.
After all, Dr Robarts loves his wife very much.

Samantha Henderson's "Heaven's Bones" is a novel set in the gaming world of Ravenloft, but it can be taken as a separately dark fantasy/horror novel as well.

The author sets her novel in the 19th century, on three locations in the United States, the United Kingdom and the alternate world of the Mists. I find the action set in the Victorian England the most captivating one, especially since Samantha Henderson catches and builds the atmosphere through very good descriptions, through a constant and pressing presence of mists and through a location and events that reminded me of a notorious and still unidentified serial killer. All the characters of this part move naturally in this environment, making their contribution to the realistic atmosphere of the Victorian England through well caught class stratification, situations and prejudices of that period that surround them.

The events of the novel will bring the reader in front of the horror and fantasy aspects of the story. I really liked how Samantha Henderson worked on the horror ones and I wished that the fantasy ones would have been a little more developed. I liked that the author doesn't intent to shock the reader through excessive use of violence and gore, but through common situations and provoking images, grotesque ones but with their rightful place in the story. The fantasy aspects are interesting as well, but under-developed in my opinion and with a few missing links.

However, although I enjoyed the novel there are aspects which can make this read difficult and can drive some of the readers away. The novel start is confusing and slow, it follows storylines that at first can't seem to be related and left me wondering of their connection. It's only after almost half a book that the connections are made and the storylines start to interlock each other. Also I believe that the novel has too many characters, this aspect preventing the development of them (although I liked some of these characters) and with a few that left me wondering of their true purpose in the story. I honestly believe that the novel would have been stronger if some characters and a storyline would have been eliminated and if the story of Trueblood would have been more in depth built.

I enjoyed the novel, but I find it a little rough, with a first quarter through which I struggled not to put it aside and with its ups and downs. Samantha Henderson proves to be a talented author, but I believe that "Heaven's Bones" will not appeal to every reader.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cover art - "The Dragons of Ordinary Farm" by Tad Williams & Deborah Beale

Tad Williams and his wife, Deborah Beale, will publish this year a children book, “The Dragons of Ordinary Farm”. The novel is due to be released in the US by Harper Collins on June and in the UK by Quercus Books on August.

Tyler and Lucinda have to spend summer vacation with their ancient uncle Gideon, a farmer. They think they're in for six weeks of cows, sheep, horses, and pigs. But when they arrive in deserted Standard Valley, California, they discover that Ordinary Farm is, well, no ordinary farm.
The bellowing in the barn comes not from a cow but from a dragon. The thundering herd in the valley? Unicorns. Uncle Gideon's sprawling farmhouse never looks the same twice. Plus, there's a flying monkey, a demon squirrel, and a barnload of unlikely farmhands with strange accents and even stranger powers.
At first, the whole place seems like a crazy adventure. But when darker secrets begin to surface and Uncle Gideon and his fabulous creatures are threatened, Lucinda and Tyler have to pull together to take action. Will two ordinary kids be able to save the dragons, the farm - and themselves?
Expert storytellers Tad Williams and Deborah Beale take readers on an extraordinary adventure in their first book about Ordinary Farm.

I honestly say that sometimes I look for such books, it satisfies the children in me and makes me forget about all the worries and difficulties the adult life brings with it. But going through a library in search of a children title, despite the reason for it, which cover will catch your eye? Here, from left to right, you can see the cover art for the US edition, the UK edition and the German edition, published by Klett-Cotta on September. Certainly we will not find all three of them in the same place, but with today access to information it is easy to compare such covers. I will definitely go with the German edition cover art. I understand the US and UK covers, it is a children book and the covers are designed for their main target audience, but the German cover is far better. I think that the US cover is put in disadvantage in this case since the design is the same, but the execution differs so much. I also believe that the cover art for the German edition is more powerful and it appeals to the adult audience as well.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

In the mailbox

Here is another round up of my recently received titles. I have to speed up a bit my readings since I am very curious about these titles:

- "Nights of Villjamur" by Mark Charan Newton (through the courtesy of Pan Macmillan);
- "Twisted Metal" by Tony Ballantyne (through the courtesy of Pan Macmillan);
- "Madder Mysteries" by Reggie Oliver (through the courtesy of Ex Occidente Press);
- "Putting the Pieces in Place" by P.B. Russell (through the courtesy of Ex Occidente Press);
- "Handling the Undead" by John Ajvide Lindqvist (through the courtesy of Quercus Books);
- "The Magic Thief" by Sarah Prineas (through the courtesy of Quercus Books).

Thank you all very much.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Interview - Tim Stretton

Tim Stretton is the author of the fantasy novel "The Dog of the North" (reviewed here) released on July 2008 by Macmillan New Writing and of two other self-published novels, "The Zael Inheritance" and "Dragonchaser".

Dark Wolf: Tim, thank you for taking the time for this interview.
Your writing career is inclined so far toward the speculative fiction. What weighted the balance in favor of these genres when you had started to write?
Tim Stretton: When I was growing up, speculative fiction was what I enjoyed reading most. When I was about 13 I discovered the work of Jack Vance, the first writer who made me feel “I want to write like that.” That feeling hasn’t changed to this day. I love the ability of this kind of writing to take me away from everyday life; sometimes called “escapism”, as if this is a bad thing. Although I read in a lot of other genres these days—particularly historical fiction—it never seriously occurred to me to write outside of speculative fiction. There is a freedom in writing in such an unconstrained environment; although like all freedoms, it has to be used wisely.

Dark Wolf: Although “The Dog of the North” is your first work released by a publishing house the novel is not the first you wrote. You wrote other two novels, “The Zael Inheritance” (1997) and “Dragonchaser” (2005), and self-published all your three novels. Can you describe shortly your first two novels, please? Would you like to see them in print under a publishing house as well?
Tim Stretton: The Zael Inheritance was inspired by Jack Vance’s Demon Princes series – set in a far future universe where the dominant institutions were private corporations rather than local governments. It’s half mystery story, half satire and half love story—hang on, that’s too many halves, but you get the idea… The anti-hero of that book, Laura Glyde, remains my favourite of all the characters I’ve written, with the possible exception of Eilla in The Dog of the North.
Dragonchaser is the first fantasy story I wrote. It follows the fortunes of a ship’s captain who takes over a racing galley owned by a corrupt politician—although he’s a great seaman he’s figuratively all at sea with the political dimension. Like every novel I’ve ever written, the underlying structure is a love story, but this one has some great galley races too. I actually think it’s a pretty good novel and I haven’t given up hopes of finding a commercial publisher for it some day.

Dark Wolf: What road has taken “The Dog of the North” from a self-published novel to the commercial publishing? What changes did it suffer between its first publishing and its release under the MacMillan New Writing?
Tim Stretton: I had the feeling that my work wasn’t very commercial, so I was working on building up a fan base by word of mouth—not very successfully, I might add. After I’d self-published The Dog of the North, I submitted it to Macmillan New Writing (who aren’t a speculative fiction press) because they wanted work from new writers and you didn’t need an agent: they were recommended to me by Kate Mosse, who wrote the international bestseller Labyrinth. When someone that successful gives you advice, you listen. I was amazed when Macmillan New Writing wanted to buy it because they had never published a straight fantasy novel before.
My editor Will Atkins didn’t recommend that many changes; maybe twenty or so structural and continuity changes and a few dozen line edits. I had been worried about giving up control of my work in that way, but in fact working with a professional editor was one of the best parts of the experience. Will’s changes definitely made the book stronger.

DW: How was “The Dog of the North” received before and after your collaboration with MacMillan?
TS: The relationship with readers is very different with self-publication. As a self-published writer I had low sales but much more interaction with my readers: I knew many of them personally and knew the kind of work they liked. Many of them I met through Jack Vance fandom, so we had that shared sense of what good speculative fiction looked like. With Macmillan, I have many more readers, but the relationship with them is more impersonal (through my blog, for example).
As a debut author, in most cases you don’t attract very much attention even with a commercial publishing house. The Dog of the North has not had many reviews, even in the specialist media—and few of those have been favourable. In commercial publication you are looking for an audience which understands your ‘voice’; with self-publishing your readership may very well start on the same page as you.

DW: “The Zael Inheritance” has two characters based on unsympathetic former bosses. Are other characters of your works inspired by real persons? Did you imagined yourself as a character?
TS: I tend to do it less now than when I started. I will take bits and pieces from people I know, but I tend to digest it a bit more now before I put it down on the page. The Zael Inheritance was probably close to libelous in places, but I am a bit cleverer these days. And making up your own characters is more fun.
Writers of adventure stories like mine must have a bit of wish-fulfillment in them, and maybe my heroes are like I’d want to be: decisive, dynamic but with a hidden sensitivity—and all the time attractive to the women! But I have to admit it’s easier on the page than in real life… I think to create any believable character you have to put some of yourself in them—in The Dog of the North, if I’m honest I have more in common with the devious and manipulative Davanzato than any of the more sympathetic characters.

DW: Two of your novels, “The Dog of the North” and “Dragonchaser” take place on the continent of Mondia. How did Mondia come to existence? Would you try to develop your world further on?
TS: I had an idea that I wanted to write fantasy more than science-fiction and so I needed a place to set the stories. Mondia gradually evolved to fit that need—a range of different cultures to allow the political intrigues and ambitions I find so fascinating to play out. I started with a map and went from there. I certainly hope to use Mondia more in future. There are plenty more stories I want to tell and I hope Macmillan give me the chance to do so.

DW: I’ve seen on your site a few maps of Mondia. How important do you think that such maps are in a fantasy novel? Did the initial copy of “The Dog of the North” have a map of Mondia?
TS: I don’t think they’re that important to the reader—Joe Abercrombie, whom I particularly admire, never uses them—but as a writer I find them fascinating. You set a map down on the page and immediately it throws up stories: that natural harbour to the east, who owns that? What sort of culture would grow up there? What about those mountains? Then you start putting in cities and looking at the natural boundaries, or the areas which might lead to conflict. In the same way that human history is driven by geography, so are the fantasy worlds I dream up.
When I self-published The Dog of the North, I did include a map, but I don’t think the reader really needs it: it’s obvious from the text where the key locations are in relation to each other. It was more a vanity on my part!

DW: What is the first spark that ignited the idea behind “The Dog of the North”? Did you know the precise journey and the end of that first spark or the story changed while you were writing it?
TS: It’s hard now to remember exactly where it started: I had a spell of lengthy walks to work and the broad shape fell into place as I walked. I knew from the outset how the story would end, but I changed the structure quite a bit from that first idea. I had originally intended to tell the story from a single viewpoint in chronological order; the notion of interweaving two different strands only came just before I started writing. Some of the secondary characters—particularly Davanzato and Lady Cosetta—weren’t in my thinking to start with but came to be important as I wrote it up. The story was always in my head as a love story following the structure of Wuthering Heights and that aspect of it never changed.

DW: I’ve noticed in “The Dog of the North” many influences from the Italian culture, Mettingloom resembles with Venice, many characters have Italian names and a few things are present in the Italian expression. Are you interested in the Italian culture? What other cultures have influences on your works?
TS: You’re right to say that Mettingloom has a close similarity with Venice. The political intrigues of Renaissance Italy have always been very appealing to me as a story-teller so when I came to write The Dog of the North I set out to reinforce that element of the story by a deliberate use of Italianate names. Some of the names, like Davanzato, are taken directly from medieval Italian. The other strand of the book, set in Croad, has a French feel, which we see in names like Oricien, Jehan and Enguerran. I enjoy medieval history and try to reflect that in some of my naming conventions. In Dragonchaser, many of the names had Lithuanian roots because I liked the sound and consistency of those kind of names. In my current book I have based my naming structures around the Slavic model: again this gives me a pleasing consistency and I think the names look good on the page.
Maybe one day I will use Romanian as a model, uniting as it does Latinate roots with Eastern European influences!

DW: I really liked one of the ideas present in “The Dog of the North”, a kingdom ruled by two kings, one for half a year and another for the other half. What inspiration lies at the base of this idea? Can this idea be extended in future works?
TS: One of the things I like to do in my stories is to explore political conflicts and rivalries. Having the two monarchies creates a built-in tension as well as giving the reader a sense that you aren’t in the world you know. I’d love to revisit that one day—in The Dog of the North, Prince Laertio makes his ambition to unite the two crowns very clear, and there’s obviously a temptation for an unscrupulous person to make a bid for absolute power. As a writer you sometimes have a sense that you haven’t finished with a character completely, and there is plenty more I have to say about Prince Laertio’s ambitions.

DW: At what are you working now and when might we see your next work published?
TS: I’ve just submitted my latest work, The Last Free City, to Macmillan. It takes one of the characters (probably not who you’d expect) from The Dog of the North, and places him in a different city. It’s inspired by the medieval Republic of Ragusa (present day Dubrovnik): I’m interested in how these trading republics survived surrounded by the superpowers of the day like Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire. On another level it’s a love story which is played out against the backdrop of turbulent political intrigues. The protagonist is a poet and maybe I’ve invented a new genre: ‘swords and sonnets’.
If Macmillan wants to publish it, it’ll probably be out mid-2010; if I need to self-publish it, probably rather sooner.

DW: Is there a special reason for the existence of a love story in each of your novels? Would you like to write a love novel someday?
TS: Love stories are a gift to the writer. That sense of being overpoweringly attracted to someone is the most powerful of emotions, and it can make your characters act in a way they normally wouldn’t. That creates immense potential for characters’ internal and external conflicts. It’s a great way of upsetting an established equilibrium, which then propels your story.
I enjoy writing stories in which individual human dramas are presented alongside grand political intrigues, because those human dramas give the reader a way into the political stories. I don’t think I would want to write a story which was solely a romance—without some other context it would be like a stool with one leg.

Thank you very much for your amiability and answers.
You’re welcome. Thanks for your interest.