Thursday, July 30, 2009

*Yuppy*, Vacation time

Well, vacation time has finally come. I was eagerly waiting for this vacation, because lately I felt a bit tired and therefore my activities dragged a little. For example, I am just half way on “Fall of Thanes” and although I finished a novel I wasn’t able to finish writing its review. And I am sorry to say that my comments on the great blogs I usually visit dragged a little too. But I am certain that I will recover pretty quickly since this year the vacation is a bit longer than usual, with two already planned trips. From this evening I and my wife will be away until next Friday on the island of Zakynthos, Greece and for the second one we will travel to Fiera di Primeiro, Italy, visiting my mother-in-law from 11th of August until 21st of August.
So, for this period my blog will enter in a small hiatus with scarce posting. But we will see each other a bit next week and in full force once again from 25th of August (I believe), I hope to see you all then. Until I begin the regular program please visit the great links you see on the left and you can read my previous posts if you like. I hope you all will have a great time and please take care of yourselves!
See you soon!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Guest post: JC De La Torre

JC De La Torre is the author of the critically acclaimed underground success “Ancient Rising – Rise of the Ancients Book I”. His next novel, “Rise of the Ancients – Annuna” will be released on July 31st. You can find more information about the author and his books on JC De La Torre’s website.

Taking on Established Fantasy Realms
By JC De La Torre

Imagine if you will you had the power to create worlds as you see fit. You were a god able to create man, alien or mythological beings, strange new worlds, and orchestrate what happens to them in those worlds.

That’s a bit of what it’s like to be a fantasy author. You need to grasp the inner reaches of your imagination to come up with things that are new and original or a new interpretation on something that has already been written about in literature.

I’ve written science fiction, horror – I’ve pretty much delved into all the different subgenres of speculative fiction. My first foray into the fantasy realm came to me after reading an interesting book by an author named Herbie Brennan called the Atlantis Enigma. The book was well researched and introduced me to the concept of ancient astronauts. I wondered if these ancient astronauts could have been mistaken for gods and that if Atlantis existed – perhaps they made their home there.

It wouldn’t be the first time the story of aliens posing as gods was used – Stargate comes to mind for many. However, my story differed in that these beings would actually be gods – by definition of the term. At first I categorized it in my mind as science fiction but as I researched mythology and ancient religions – it became evident that this would be my first work of fantasy.

In a way, writing fantasy evolved me as an author. When I first set out on creating this saga I envisioned an Indiana Jones-meets-Clash of the Titans fantasy adventure and that’s what I got with the first installment, Ancient Rising. When I began writing the next installment, Annuna, I noticed something very different. It was no longer a Dan Brown-esque search through musty dusty finds for a scarce chance at discovering Atlantis – but a full fledge knock down drag out fight to save humanity from forsaken gods. It spun the creation of life on Earth, the rise of a young prince of Atlantis and the final fall of the lost continent. It was truly a fantasy novel.

I enjoyed the process immensely, more than I could have ever imagined. I know my style isn’t traditional for fantasy readers. I can be overly descriptive at times (I like to put my readers into the middle of the action, paint the picture in their mind if you will), and to keep the novel rooted in the contemporary, I make use of pop culture references. I do that to let you know that the hero Dan Ryan is just an everyday guy like you and I, he is from our world and through a tragic combination of events is thrust into this world of gods, demons, and lost civilizations.

In the end though, the power of creating a new story based on established mythos was intoxicating. I originally set out to have the Rise of the Ancients saga be a trilogy, but I enjoyed it so much that I decided to continue it as a series. I finished the story arc of Dan Ryan in Annuna so that my future installments could focus truly on the fantasy realm of Atlantis, Nibiru (the gods’ homeworld), the battles, loves, and life held within those worlds.

While I definitely plan on returning to my other speculative fiction genres, namely sci-fi – I can definitely say my new favorite is fantasy.

What is like to be a fantasy author? It’s like being Zeus.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fantasy Art - Marek Hlavaty

© 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.

Marek Hlavaty is a Slovak artist who currently resides in Bratislava. He graduated a classic art school and is familiar with the traditional techniques of drawing, but Marek Hlavaty is specialized in modeling and texturing in 3d art. Marek has worked from 1999 until 2005 with different companies in modeling and texturing and from 2005 works as freelance artist making illustrations, in game and animation backgrounds, covers and visualizations.

Interview - Marek Hlavaty

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Marek thank you very much for this interview.
How did you start to draw? How did you become interested in art?
Marek Hlavaty: I’ve started when I was kid and been bored in school. Later I’ve discovered scifi literature and I was fascinated by covers of books.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Through your studies and development as an artist which one do you consider to be the most influential figure on your style and art?
Marek Hlavaty: There were many artists but Craig Mullins was probably most inspirational because he does digital art which looks like oilpaintings and not digital at all. And I like his way.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Who are your favorite artists? What art movement do you enjoy the most?
Marek Hlavaty: I like popart, art deco, art noveau, renneisance style, romanesque style and various native arts.

M(DW): Do you consider that an artist can develop his talent better following a specialized school? Do you consider that a same grade of development can be achieved through self teaching?
MH: I’m mostly autodidact so it is possible I think. If you think I’m good artist of course :)

M(DW): Your works seem focused on the fantasy and sci-fi genres. Are these your favorite themes? Do you enjoy working in these themes?
MH: Yes, I like depicting fictional themes and worlds. I like pictures which can draw your imagination to other universes.

M(DW): Also many historical elements are present in your works. Do you enjoy working on the historical theme more?
MH: It’s probably because of fantasy clichés. I don’t focus on historical themes.

M(DW): I’ve noticed a few pieces which mix the historical elements with the fantasy ones. Is this a personal approach on your works? Do you enjoy bringing new elements in the established themes?
MH: Sometimes yes :)

M(DW): Speaking of new elements, do you try to make a personal imprint on your works? Do you want for your works to be easily recognizable as yours?
MH: Well, we are not machines so after some time every artist develops his own style and so did I. I like loose brushstrokes and painterly style and hate precise lines and detailing so maybe it is recognizable.

M(DW): You made many book cover illustrations. What involves the process of making a cover art? How much different is from the usual work on an art piece?
MH: Difference is that I have to read part of book and follow some ideas of author. Sometimes it’s not very easy and sometimes the reading of some books is really annoying :)

M(DW): Which cover did you enjoy the most to illustrate? Is there a novel for which you would like to illustrate the cover or an author with who you would like to work?
MH: Sorry but I have no favourite writer to make covers for him.

M(DW): Your working experience also includes projects of computer games. How was the work on computer games? How different is the work on a computer game than that on a book cover illustrations?
MH: Well, years ago computer games was my hobby, after working in games industry it is not :). I don’t play games. From hobby to job and that’s something completely else.

M(DW): From all the projects you have worked on, which one do you consider to give the most freedom of work and why?
MH: My personal project I’m working on right now and it’s obvious why :)

M(DW): What aspects of your skills and technique would you like to develop and improve further on?
MH: I’m not very good in painting characters and I should pay more attention to details I think.

M(DW): At what are you working in the present? What future projects do you have?
MH: I’m working on my own online-browser strategy/RPG game right now. It’s fun to do some game when you are your own boss :)

Thank you very much for your time and answers.

For more information about Marek Hlavaty and for a comprehensive portfolio 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.

Monday, July 27, 2009

In the mailbox

Here are the last arrivals in the mail before my vacation starts:

- "The Nightfarers" by Mark Valentine (through the courtesy of Ex Occidente Press);

To find the “light of lights”, you must first know the darkness of night, said the 17th century German mystic Angelus Silesius. It is a truth found by all the characters in Mark Valentine’s new full collection of stories since Masques & Citadels. Carden, the quester after lost languages, finds there are some things that cannot be named. The narrator in "The Seer of Trieste" finds the old city harbours an image that has pervaded the most advanced literature of our time, while the strange and tragic secrets of another liminal city are explored in "The Seven Treasures of Bucharest". The voyages of "The White Sea Company" seem to sail beyond any mortal shore, while the smouldering sunrise in "The Dawn at Tzern" brings different illuminations to a priest, a postmaster, a prophet and a soldier. In "Their Dark & Starry Mirrors", a blind Moorish poet receives messages from the Master of Night. In "Undergrowth" a searcher after rare works finds it is possible to get truly lost in books, and in "White Pages" we learn that even blank books have their secrets. And which author should have won "The 1909 Proserpine Prize" for dark literature – Blackwood, Shiel, Hodgson, Stoker, Marjorie Bowen – or another ? As well as these tales, two more curious pieces appear: "The English Leopard" eavesdrops on a conversation about a great lost heraldic beast, while "The Left Temple" provides six startling experiments in evoking the rites of dusk. The author of The Connoisseur stories and editor of Wormwood offers a book of wonder, where neither light nor shadow are ever all they seem. Two years in the making, The Nightfarers is not only the most eclectic and exquisite Mark Valentine collection to date but also his finest. We here at Ex Occidente Press trust this is one of the very few contemporary masterpieces of the weird and the fantastic.

- "Tender Morsels" by Margo Lanagan (through the courtesy of David Fickling Books);

Liga endures unspeakable cruelties at the hands of her father, before being magically granted her own personal heaven, a safe haven from the real world. She raises her two daughters in this alternate reality, and they grow up protected from the violence that once harmed their mother. But the real world cannot be denied forever . . .
Magicked men and wild bears break down the borders of Liga’s refuge. Now, having known Heaven, how will these three women survive in a world where beauty and brutality lie side by side?

- "Operation Motherland" by Scott Andrews (through the courtesy of Abaddon Books);

Lee Keegan travels to Iraq on the trail of his missing father, only to find himself caught between desperate rebels and a general who wants to strap him into an electric chair. In England, Jane Crowther, one time matron of St Mark's School for Boys, attracts the wrong kind of attention and has to fight to protect her new school from unlikely enemies. And in a bunker underneath Washington, a madman issues orders that will tip two devastated countries into total war.
This is the first year of St Mark's School for Boys and Girls. It will be a miracle if it sees a second!

- "A Mage of None Magic" by A. Christopher Drown (through the courtesy of A. Christopher Drown).

Folklore tells how magic came to be when evil gods shattered the great, fabled gem known as the Heart of the Sisters. Those same stories speak of one day the Heart being healed and unleashing a power that will bring the end of humankind.
While traveling to begin his magical studies, young apprentice Niel suddenly finds himself at the center of the Heart’s terrifying legend. Caught in a whirlwind of events that fractures the foundation of everything he’s believed, Niel learns his role in the world may be far more important than he ever could have imagined, or ever would have wished.
A Mage of None Magic begins an extraordinary adventure into a perilous land where autocratic magicians manipulate an idle aristocracy, where common academia struggles for validation, and where after ages of disregard the mythical finally refuses to be ignored any longer.

Thank you all very much!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Graphic novel - "Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft"

"Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft"
Written by Joe Hill
Illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
Hardcover, 152 pages
Publisher: IDW Publishing

Locke & Key tells of Keyhouse, an unlikely New England mansion, with fantastic doors that transform all who dare to walk through them.... and home to a hate-filled and relentless creature that will not rest until it forces open the most terrible door of them all...! Acclaimed suspense novelist and New York Times best-selling author Joe Hill (Heart-Shaped Box) creates an all-new story of dark fantasy and wonder, with astounding artwork from Gabriel Rodriguez.

If you ask me what is the first thing I can think of when it comes to Joe Hill I’ll answer momentarily that I know he is the son of Stephen King. That is a bit unfair since he is building an own career as a writer, but with each Joe Hill’s work I read my perception changes. And his collaboration with the artist Gabriel Rodriguez at the graphic novel “Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft” brought me one step closer to my recognition of Joe Hill as a wonderful author and as one of my favorites.

“Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft” is the story of a family shook by a tragic event. Joe Hill builds a good story, with a conflict that will discover roots in the family history. And that roots will build a second storyline that as this volume suggested me will be developed in a future book. The novel mingles a dark and unfortunate reality with mystic and supernatural aspects in the creation of a page turner story. And in the center of this story we find the Lockes and it is here where I believe that Joe Hill excels. All the characters, with a smaller or bigger part in the story, are strong. Each one of the characters is uniquely defined, with a different personality, an inner turmoil and a personal way at dealing with their problems. From these characters my favorites are Bode, the younger member of the Locke family and who behaves as a very true six year old child, innocent, playful and funny, and Sam Lesser one of the negative characters, a very convincing villain, intelligent and disturbed.

All that Joe Hill builds with his writing is perfectly complemented by the art made by Gabriel Rodriguez. Each character receives a proper visual characterization, each of their actions and emotions is reflected in the drawings. The settings are beautiful realized, with the Keyhouse, the main setting of the story, the piece of resistance of “Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft”. All the images contribute in full to the atmosphere of the story, helping it to build the tension and helping to raise the pulse of the reader through visual effect too. It is true that in some places the images are a bit too gory and violent, but considering that at its basis the story is a horror one than maybe there is no exaggeration in them. But with such a perfect relationship between the story and the art is no wonder that I was drawn instantly into the heart of the novel and I couldn’t stop until the last page was turned.

“Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft” is a magical graphic novel, where once again Joe Hill convinced me of his talent and where I discovered a talented illustrator, Gabriel Rodriguez. I can’t wait to get my hands on their next graphic novel, “Locke & Key: Head Games”, and why not on another future collaboration between Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cover art - "The Club Dumas" by Arturo Perez-Reverte

As I mentioned in a previous post Subterranean Press will release a new edition of Arturo Perez-Reverte’s “The Club Dumas” and the artwork for the cover and the interior illustrations will be made by Vincent Chong. “The Club Dumas” is a very interesting and captivating novel which I enjoyed a lot, as I enjoyed the others Arturo Perez-Reverte’s works I read, and Vincent Chong is a very talented artist who produced amazing artworks in his career. And once again he made a wonderful cover artwork, a powerful image that matches perfectly the book. On the title page at the Subterranean Press website you can find also a few of the introduction illustrations for the each chapter of the book. This edition of Arturo Perez-Reverte’s “The Club Dumas” will be published on late 2009 or early 2010.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A choice of cover art

Gary Gibson and Tor UK are asking for our opinion in regard to artwork for the cover of the author’s next novel, “Empire of Light”. You can make a vote either on Gary Gibson’s website or following the instructions on the site of Tor UK. I am not sure until when the poll on Tor UK will run, but that on Gary Gibon’s website is open until late Friday, so there is still time to cast votes. I voted for the one on the right, because I find the left one to be a bit too bluish and because I find the right one to be more suggestive.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Comic book - "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"

"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"
Written by Philip K. Dick
Art by Tony Parker
Issue #1, 24 pages
Publisher: BOOM! Studios

Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” is one of my favorite novels and I absolutely loved the movie adaptation of the novel, “Blade Runner”. Usually I am not that thrilled about movie adaptations, but this one was a very good one and one which complemented the book very well. Lately there is also an increase in the adaptation of various novels into comic books. And one such novel is “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”.

The first issue of the comic book introduces the readers in the world imagined by Philip K. Dick and the initial action point. For those familiar with the novel all the major aspects and elements of our future world described in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” are present in the comic book adaptation, the Empathy Box, the Penfield Mood Organ and the Mercerism. The story concentrates on the main character, Rick Deckard, for most of the time, but also on John Isidore, another key character and a familiar one for me.

However, the art of the comic book is not very much on my liking. The characters seem too common and a bit inexpressive, the setting treated too lightly and without much attention given to the details. I am certain that I am influenced by the way I pictured all these in my mind while reading the novel and by the images from the movie adaptation and it is almost impossible for the artist to match all this. But the result is the least I have expected and I think it doesn’t live up to the expectations raised by the novel.

I am more than conscious that we live in a commercial world and many ideas can turn into profit in different ways. Such is the case with novels, movies and comic books too. I admit that this is not always on my likings and that I found many adaptation results unsatisfactory, but I also admit that this process lead to some wonderful results as well. Unfortunately, it is not the case here. Although the story is caught pretty good and true to the one of the “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” novel I find the relationship between the story and the drawings, which make comic books so interesting, to be poorly executed. I don’t know if I was influenced by my experience with the novel or the movie, but I honestly have to say that the comic book adaptation didn’t have a positive effect on me and I will not pick the future issues of the “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” comics.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

Yesterday I found out through Tia’s blog, Fantasy Debut, about the upcoming Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Following the link in Tia’s post I discovered a very interesting event, already at its second edition, a week dedicated to the blogs about books. The event will include also the BBAW Awards (I already voted for some of the blogs I love) and Giveaways. With the mention that I just signed up for the Book Blogger Appreciation Week, here is the event presentation quoted from its blog:

WHO Anyone who blogs about books is invited to participate. In fact, we want everyone who blogs about books and reading to be a part of this week!
WHAT A week where we come together, celebrate the contribution and hard work of book bloggers in promoting a culture of literacy, connecting readers to books and authors, and recogonizing the best among us with the Second Annual BBAW Awards. There will be special guest posts, daily blogging themes, and giveaways.
WHEN September 14-18, 2009
WHERE Here at the new Book Blogger Appreciation Week Blog! (Please note that this year there are three separate blogs and feeds—one for the main event, one for giveaways, and one for awards.)
WHY Because books matter. In a world full of options, the people talking about books pour hard work, time, energy, and money into creating a community around the written word. I, Amy, the founder of Book Blogger Appreciation Week love this community of bloggers and want to shower my appreciation on you!

Monday, July 20, 2009

An awaited title

Before starting my blog one of the series I discovered through the blogosphere and otherwise I don't believe I would have found was John Twelve Hawks' “Fourth Realm”. Two years ago I won a contest which has as prize a copy of John Twelve Hawks’ novel, “The Dark River” and that led me to his series, “Fourth Realm”. With some very interesting reviews for his novels, “The Traveler” and “The Dark River”, my interest was caught pretty quickly and the reading of the two novels was more than satisfying. A cross between thriller and fantasy John Twelve Hawks’ novels are very interesting and make a very disturbing dystopian. “The Dark River” left me in an eager wait for the outcome of the story and now I am glad to find that my wait is almost over. In September Random House will publish the third novel of the series, “The Golden City”, one which promises many interesting things.

A world that exists in the shadow of our own . . . the thrilling conclusion to John Twelve Hawks's Fourth Realm trilogy, The Golden City is packed with the knife-edge tension, intriguing characters, and startling plot twists that made The Traveler and The Dark River international hits.
John Twelve Hawks's previous novels about the mystical Travelers and the Brethren, their ruthless enemies, generated an extraordinary following around the world. The Washington Post wrote that The Traveler “portrays a Big Brother with powers far beyond anything Orwell could imagine . . .” and Publishers Weekly hailed the series as “a saga that's part A Wrinkle in Time, part The Matrix and part Kurosawa epic.” Internet chat rooms and blogs have overflowed with speculation about the final destiny of the richly imagined characters fighting an epic battle beneath the surface of our modern world.
In The Golden City, Twelve Hawks delivers the climax to his spellbinding epic. Struggling to protect the legacy of his Traveler father, Gabriel faces troubling new questions and relentless threats. His brother Michael, now firmly allied with the enemy, pursues his ambition to wrest power from Nathan Boone, the calculating leader of the Brethren. And Maya, the Harlequin warrior pledged to protect Gabriel at all costs, is forced to make a choice that will change her life forever.
A riveting blend of high-tech thriller and fast-paced adventure, The Golden City will delight Twelve Hawks's many fans and attract a new audience to the entire trilogy.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cover art & an author I like - Andrzej Sapkowski

A month ago, Andrzej Sapkowski won for his novel “Blood of Elves” the first edition of the David Gemmell Legend Award. I’ll admit that I was pleased to see Andrzej Sapkowski win, between us my vote for the David Gemmell Award went for him, because besides the fact that I really enjoyed “The Last Wish” I wish someday to see more names in the fantasy genre and why not a globalization of fantasy literature would be very interesting. Anyway, two of his works are already available in English, “The Last Wish” and “Blood of Elves”, and with the third, “Times of Contempt” scheduled to be released on October 2010. Like I said I liked “The Last Wish” and “Blood of Elves” is one of the books I plan to read in my summer vacation, but until then let me ask you, if it were possible which cover art would you like to see on his novel and which one attracts you more. Naturally there are a few more editions, but I picked just three of them, from left to right are the English edition published by Gollancz, the French edition published by Bragelonne and the Spanish edition published by Alamut. I personally like the simplicity of the English cover, the teasing of the two crossed blades and the elven (I believe they are elven) writing behind them.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Interview - Michael J. Sullivan

Michael J. Sullivan is the author of the fantasy novels “The Crown Conspiracy” and “Avempartha” (both reviewed here on my blog), the first two novels in The Riyiria Revelations series. Michael’s series is scheduled for a total of six novels with the next one, “Nyphron Rising” due to be released in October.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Michael, thank you very much for this interview.
When was the moment when you decided to pick up the pen and start writing?
Michael Sullivan: Monday, March 18th, 1974…3:38 pm est. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I can’t put that precise a point on when I started writing, but it was around there, give or take a month. I had just finished reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings—the first book I ever enjoyed. I wanted the story to keep going so finding my sister’s old manual typewriter, I picked up where Tolkien left off. I got about twenty pages into it (complete with title pages, contents and a cover I illustrated) when I realized adding on to Tolkien’s world wasn’t a good idea. I should create my own story.
I began with a series of very small (pamphlet-length) stories about creatures I invented called Fibbits. Then I retired them and began what would become a trilogy that would foreshadow the Riyria Revelations, about a skilled warrior and his partner turned rogue who become embroiled in a conspiracy and then a war.
As I grew older I set aside fantasy and began writing “what if” stories. What if you had the power to do anything? What if you found an alien spaceship buried in your back yard that still worked? What if Gargoyles were real?
Once my wife finished college and landed a job that could support us, I stayed home to raise the kids and began to take writing seriously. I studied the classics and the Pulitzer Prize winners and learned from their style and started to teach myself techniques. I wrote thirteen complete novels and did a half-hearted attempt to submit a few of them to agents, and they were rejected. Those original works were read by only one or two people before being lost in the attic. After ten years, I watched my friends move on with their careers while I sat like Linus in the pumpkin patch. I gave up and was sick of both writing and reading. I revived my old career as a graphic designer and soon opened my own successful advertising agency.
Ten years later, my daughter was having troubles reading. She didn’t like it. In an effort to get her interested in books, I purchased this new novel called Harry Potter. I read it myself and rediscovered the magic that I had found in Tolkien. I was inspired to write once more. I set aside hopes of publishing the great American novel and decided to simply write something fun, something with great characters and a good story, the kind of book I would like to read.
That story started with two thieves stealing a sword only to find a dead king where the sword should be, and so began the Riyria Revelations.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Why are you attracted by the fantasy genre and what inclined the balance towards this genre as a start in your writing career? What inspired the creation of your fantasy world, Elan?
Michael Sullivan: Initially I chose to write fantasy because of Tolkien. It was the second book I ever read and the first I ever liked. I returned to fantasy because I wanted to write something fun. I wanted to enjoy the writing process and I didn’t want to get bogged down with a lot of research. I remember writing a story that had a brief scene in the backseat of a police car and had no idea how to describe it. I’d never been in the backseat of a police car. This was back before the Internet and the nearest library was two hours away. I also didn’t want to bother police officers for an incidental scene in a book.
By writing in a made-up world, I could avoid all that. It limited my ability to use common experience, but as long as I stayed consistent, I could never be wrong.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): How do you try to avoid the clichés of fantasy works? Do you find yourself sometimes in your writings using some of these clichés?
Michael Sullivan: I assume by cliché you are referring here to the broader plot concepts, the idea of “a youth destined to save the world from the terror of some dark lord” kind of thing, rather than the descriptive, “raining like cats and dogs” kind of cliché. With that assumptions let me continue.
When Star Wars first came out, I read a review in the local paper. It said that the movie was a collection of clichés from old films. This more than anything convinced me to go see it the first weekend it debuted. This was in 1977 and most films at that time were depressing, realistic movies that reveled in how they were different from the old clichéd westerns and heroic adventures. I hated the new movies where the bad guys won, or there was no good or bad, just confusion.
I like clichés—or put another way—I like the classic themes, that never get old. The trick is presenting them in a fresh way. Vampires were an exhausted topic when Stephen King wrote Salem’s Lot, and while he didn’t really change anything in the vampire canon, he brought a fresh viewpoint to the old idea. Clichés are only bad if that’s all there is to a story.
I personally believe there is so much that can still be done within the old classic heroic adventure tale. How I approached my books was to think small. Too often fantasy writers want to create a big story; the world always has to be at stake. Justifying this often leads to the same place—the same rut. The story often becomes too big and unwieldy. I decided at the start to begin my series with just a simple theft that goes bad. The world isn’t at stake, there’s no ancient evil, no prophesy. Sure there is your classic, save the kingdom theme and a bit of the youth coming of age, but it is all kept on a much smaller scale allowing me to better develop the characters and a more eventful story that is easy to follow but hard to anticipate.
I’m not certain if it is possible to write a completely original idea, however, there are an infinite number of ways to combine and rearrange existing ideas to produce the equivalent of a new concept. There is nothing terribly new about any of the basic elements of the Riyria Revelations. Thieves, wizards, elves and dwarves have all been used, but never the way I use them. In this manner, my books are unique.
I also stray from the norm in several other ways.
The form I use to present my story appears, (judging from the reviews,) to be shockingly original. I unfold my story over six books, which means the characters develop, and are revealed slowly over the full length of the series. People were sometimes confused when they don’t know everything there is to know about the main characters or the world in general after the first novel. Now that the second book is out, I can see readers are starting to understand how this system works and many find it refreshing commenting that, “In real life you don’t get to know everything there is to know about a person upon first meeting either.”
I avoid the long-winded, archaic sounding language so prevalent in modern medieval fantasy as to be considered required. I prefer to present the world as if the reader was a native to it. The language should be familiar rather than alien sounding. I think this helps to both immerse the reader as if they were part of the story and reduce the reading difficulty to make the story more accessible and fun. In this same vein, I try to keep my names simple and easy to pronounce.
I reduce the wall-of-information so often encountered at the start of many fantasy epics that concentrate on world-building that often reads like a history textbook with dozens of strange names and sometimes even dates. There have been a number of books whose walls were so dense I was prevented from reaching the story within. My solution is to provide the story and characters first and let the world unfold along the way. If I do my job right, the reader will know all they need to about the world without ever remembering when they learned it. Fantasy reading should be fun, not a chore.
And let’s not forget that the books are normal length, the kind the average person can finish in a week and evaluate, rather than a daunting thousand page tome that requires a huge investment of time just to get to the good parts.
So to answer your question, I don’t avoid cliché’s, I use them to my advantage. I just use them in new, never before seen, ways.

M(DW): Who are your favorite authors and works? Did any of these authors influence your writing?
MS: As I mentioned I “studied” various writers and their techniques absorbing them keeping what I liked and throwing away what I didn’t. I learned plotting from Tolkien. Setting from Steinbeck. Brevity from Hemmingway. Characterization from King. Fun from Rowlings. Trusting the reader from Hosseini. Character descriptions from Rand.

M(DW): Your novels are published by independent publishing houses. Did you try at first with the small publishing houses or with the major ones? What were the reasons for the refusals received?
MS: I assume you are referring to the present Riyria series here and not my ten years of dismal failure. I had an agent for The Crown Conspiracy who sent my book to the standard fantasy publishers. I was not given the reason for denial. It is likely that the book just wasn’t good enough. Although I’ll admit the version that was finally published is much improved from the manuscript my agent had to work with. After my agent retired for personal reasons, I re-worked the book adding chapters and cutting others and had it professionally edited before sending it to the smaller houses where it was picked up. It is possible that I might have landed a bigger publisher with the new re-vamped version, but I never tried.

M(DW): Still, your novels get a lot of positive vibe around the Internet. Do you hope that this will attract the attention of major publishers? Do you hope to sell the publication rights to a bigger publisher in the future?
MS: Honestly, I’m not looking for a bigger publisher. I’m pretty independent by nature. What many outside the publishing world don’t realize is just how little say over their books the authors have...title, cover design, back of the book blurb, inside formatting, price, distribution channel, release schedule, is all controlled contractually by the publisher. When working with small presses (if you know what you are doing and ask for things that make good “business sense”) you have an opportunity to influence these things…contractually you still may not have any say but they are more willing to listen. You have no such sway “with the big boys”. When AMI sent me the original cover design for The Crown Conspiracy I was “less than pleased”. So I did a cover myself and convinced them to use it. When it came time for book two the publisher wanted to change the title of Avempartha. Again, with some sound reasoning I was able to keep the title I wanted.
For some, they equate the worth of their work by the size of the publisher, I’m not perusing that avenue so I don’t feel “diminished” in anyway . My wife has suggested sending the yet to be published works to places like Tor and I’ve resisted because I think it would present a whole different set of problems – especially to my publishing timetable which I’m pretty adamant about. I’ve often chided that I would like the contract only to turn it down. I’ve been published through a legitimate publisher, so I have credibility that says someone who knows about the book industry thought my work was good enough to invest thousands of dollars on it. I would rather keep control rather than have the perceived prestige of saying I’m published by a big company.
There is no doubt that being with a major publisher helps with distribution, but that too is a double edge sword. If your book gets buy-in but not sell-through they will pull it and sometimes in just a few short months. (Buy-in means a place on the shelf in bookstores – sell-through means someone walks out the store with it). The larger publishers “buy” shelf space and it is expensive and very cut-throat so if your book from a big publisher isn’t moving it can quickly be replaced by another. The returnable factor is also a huge potential danger. Books are one of the few pieces of merchandise that are 100% returnable to the manufacturer so having thousands of copies on shelves in bookstores is actually a big risk to a publisher. If the bookstore is having cash-flow problems they just ship back slow moving stock before their bill for it “comes due.” This can be devastating especially for new authors that no one knows about.
In contrast, smaller presses are more likely to give books time to grow and discover an audience. They work with longer timetables. They make the books available to be ordered through stores but don’t purchase shelf space. Any books on the shelf are due to demand therefore the risk of returns is lessened. They are more willing to roll the dice on a new author and love authors with multiple titles as cross-selling is huge to their bottom line. They see significant sales spikes of early books with each subsequent release so series are a “sweet spot” for them. The biggest concern I have at the moment is ensuring the entire tale is released. My books are self-contained but the real “bang” of the series will be when the last one completes a tale that evolves over a longer story arc. To be honest I feel more comfortable with the sales model of the smaller press when it comes to a six-book series the risk is much less than with a large house that all the books will actually see the light of day. The fact is, if my books are good they will sell, and if they sell they will be in every bookstore. If on the other hand my books are crap, then I shouldn’t be on the bookstore shelves.
Whether published through a large firm or a small press the deciding factor in both cases is the reader and their all-powerful word-of-mouth. If people like my books and tell others about them, that’s better than any advertisement in the world. That’s what makes an unknown author successful. I’ve been very fortunate that so many people, like yourself, have gone out of their way to promote my books either by suggesting them at their book clubs, asking local libraries to stock them, posting reviews on places like Amazon and GoodReads, or just telling their friends and family to get them.
I heard from a mother of a ten year old girl who read her copy and then went to school and told her class how great my books were. When the teacher asked to borrow the books so she could read them, the girl replied, “You should get your own copies.” And then provided her with my website address. Even the biggest publisher can’t buy that kind of publicity.

M(DW): Speaking of the positive vibe, from your book tours, conventions and on-line reactions how do you think that your novels were received? How was the interaction with the readers on the book tours and conventions?
MS: My first book has only been published for nine months. It feels like a lot longer, but really it hasn’t been long at all. Almost no one knows me. At most conventions we (my wife and I) spend time trying to convince people to “take a chance”. When they buy it’s usually due to my wife’s enthusiasm or because they like the covers. The few people who have read one of the books are easy to spot. They come straight over while pulling their wallet out – you can tell immediately they are already familiar and no convincing is necessary. That of course makes me think I’m doing something right.
A few weeks or months after a convention or signing I get the emails. They always start out the same… “I was really surprised…” and then they go about how much they liked the book. You can tell that ninety percent of them didn’t expect much. While I’m ecstatic they liked the book, I’m not happy with the obviously low expectations.
The better emails are from people who come across the book online either by seeing a review, or hearing about it from someone else. These are the ones that mention the book exceeding high expectations. That will keep me on a “high” for weeks. To date I’ve not received a single email that has been anything other than complimentary. Now, I’m not egotistical enough to think there are no people out there that don’t like the books, but so far no one has hated it enough to bother to write to me personally. Because they are always so positive I love getting email from readers and encourage readers to write any author that they find enjoyable. I don’t think people “outside” the business really know how tough publishing is. Almost all writers are solitary but they write to connect with others so hearing that someone liked their books really makes the long nights and low pay (most writers don’t make a “living wage”) worth while.
One of my favorite places to get feedback from is book clubs. So far everyone of them that had The Crown Conspiracy for their monthly read have immediately picked up Avempartha when it was released – there are even a number of them that have already picked dates for Nyphron Rising so again keeping to my release schedule is pretty important. It is the face-to-face interactive nature of this forum that makes it so worthwhile. Again everyone is very complimentary, but I sometimes wish I got “dinged” more if only to know they were not “just being nice”. But when the end comes and they start enthusiastically asking about the release date of the next book. Again I gain confidence that they are indeed enjoying the series.
The last bit of “reader” feedback is reviews on Amazon and book sites such as GoodReads. Again the results there have been very complimentary so much so that a few people have questioned if they are all from friends and family. This makes me laugh as the “solitary” thing comes into play again and I don’t know that many people. In fact of all the posted reviews only 2 or 3 of them have been from people I know. I will say that when I come across someone through an email or at a book club who says they like the book I do ask them to be honest. Again, for a new author it’s all about creditability so I’d rather have 50 reviews some positive and negative than 2 positive reviews.
The last feedback point is the bloggers and I have to say this is the thing that truly blows me away. Their opinions carry a lot of weight with me because they read a lot (and many established authors in the genre) so when they say the books are enjoyable I definitely feel that whole credibility thing coming into play. I consider myself very fortunate that this series is hitting a good note with this audience. I think all authors are looking for that Sally Fields moment…. “You like me, you really really like me.” if for no other reason than to think they have some amount of talent and that they are not just deluding themselves into “thinking” they are a good writer.
So, so far so good. Around three hundred people have posted reviews of my novels in one way or another and many more have sent me personal emails. Some unequivocally love it. Most find some little thing they didn’t care for, but really liked them just the same. Only a handful of people have said they did not care for them. I’ve actually acquired a few ardent fans who I think might break my legs if I fail to put out the next installment in the series on time…again that timeline thing coming into play.

M(DW): Besides writing the novels you also made the illustrations for your book covers. Was it easier for you to choose a representative image for your novel? Why weren’t you satisfied with the initial illustration proposed by the editor?
MS: Before turning to writing I was an illustrator who dreamed of being a book cover artist. I went on to be the Creative Director and Chief Designer of my own advertising agency. I’ve won awards. So I’m very good at designing things like covers and book layout. Where most authors might be very pleased with the proposed designs, I can be very particular and suffer from the knowledge that I could do better.
I have certain preferences about covers. In general, I don’t like depicting the characters as I like the reader to form their own impressions of what people look like. I also think that some of the “standard” covers used in this genre tend to kind of blend together over time and it makes it difficult for any of them to stand out.
From my advertising experience I know that it is important to make the books appear “coordinated” and part of a bigger whole. I also use color scheme to set a tone for the books – again too often the covers have every color under the rainbow in them and fonts that tend, in my mind, to cheapen them.
The proposed sketch for Crown, while based off my own idea, suggested that the artist was having trouble. It wasn’t a matter of concept but one of execution. The river looked like a road with sharp corners. Fearful of being stuck with a hideous image I painted my own and sent it to AMI. The bottom line was the cover I produced was better than the ones being worked on by their standard cover artists so they contracted me to do them.
As far as scenes for the other covers there was no question what I wanted for Avempartha – it should be the elven tower that is the main setting of the book. The trick was whether I could “pull it off”. My first few attempts did not have the grace I wanted. I just kept at it and refining it further and further until I got what I think is a good representation. All in all I’m happy with the way the covers turned out and I get a lot of compliments on them so that tells me something as well.

M(DW): How important do you consider to be the collaboration between the author, editor and artist in the process of making a good cover illustration?
MS: It all comes down to what the editor is doing for you. At the large presses, the editor plays a much bigger role. Another reason I’m shying away from the large publishers. They can request wholesale changes on everything from plot to pacing and many times the writers initial vision is changed, sometimes for the good, other times the results can be disastrous, particularly when new authors don’t trust their own instincts. I would rather have a book that is “mine” that is bad than one that has been altered to please some marketing focus and therefore sells more.
At the smaller presses the editors are just tightening sentences, checking grammar and spelling. They really are not doing anything to change the story line as a whole. For authors at small presses, this can be a problem because almost all books need to have someone other than the author put them through their paces – to be critical when the book is running too fast or too slow, point out dialog that does not ring true, and find plot holes that someone could drive a truck through. I’m fortunate in that this role is played by my wife, Robin. She is a fan of the series and understands what I’m trying to do so we are very much “on the same page” (no pun intended). We are one of those obnoxious couples who have been together for 30 years and finish each other sentences it is easy for us to debate items of contention because she doesn’t have to “pull any punches” or try to stroke my ego. Many times we disagree, some changes I’ve made, some I haven’t but all in all she really puts them through the ringer – for Nyphron Rising (book 3) I’ve added three chapters it was painful to do but after she made her case I can see it was worth it.
As for artists, in my opinion they need to serve two masters. They have to satisfy the author while at the same time creating the most appealing cover possible for the “business side”. I’ve actually created covers for other authors. I’ve painted beautiful images only to have the author explain that this, or that, was inaccurate. I then re-worked the idea. Sometimes I did not feel the result was as good as the first, but I certainly understood their points and reasons so I made the changes. Ultimately, both the author and the artist have to listen to the marketer in order to create the most effective selling tool, because that is really what the cover is. This is why authors rarely have any input on covers – it is first and foremost a business decision. As it happens, I am a professional in all three of these areas so I have an advantage.

M(DW): You owned for almost 10 years an advertising company. Did this fact help you create an illustration with a marketing impact? Did your experience in advertising help you promote your books?
MS: Absolutely. I happen to really dislike most of the fantasy book covers on the market. Most of them look childish presenting cartoonish images of characters. This is the result of marketing research that states that in the US characters on the cover sell better, (in Britain, they prefer landscapes.) What has resulted is a forest of books that all look alike. The first rule of marketing is to stand out—hopefully in a good way. My books therefore don’t look like the rest. They are simple, subtle, even tranquil landscapes of places central to the story. I also branded the series by deciding early on to present each in a separate color scheme. I had hoped to match the colors to the season the story takes place in, but I’m not certain I can do that. So far, everyone I’ve spoken to love the covers. They are standing out, and in a good way.

M(DW): Your wife helps you and does an amazing job in the promotion of your novels. Does the fact that you are helped by someone very close to you leads to a better planned publicity strategy? Does it bring you more comfort and confidence?
MS: In our relationship, I am the dreamer and Robin is the one who makes my dreams come true. When I wanted to move to rural Vermont, she found a way to make a living in a place few can so we could move there. When I decided to create an advertising agency, she was the one who established the business and brought in the clients. When I decided to be an author, she is the one who got me published. Now she is the one out there promoting my books. And she’s good at it—very good. I think her secret weapon is that she truly loves the books.
She is one of two people in existence to have read the whole series. She—like others—found the first few books to be fun, escapist entertainment. When she got to the last few she became riveted, and when she read the last book in the series, she was blown away, concluding this was the best thing she’d ever read. For her, this is a crusade to bring a wondrous treasure to the world. That enthusiasm comes through when she speaks to people, and that makes all the difference.
As to strategy, and having confidence…I think most authors are clueless when it comes to promotion and don’t know what a marketing plan is let alone how to come up with one. They know how to write books, and are for the most part timid about blowing their own horn or doing anything promotional. There is no question I’m fortunate to have someone willing to take on this part of the business, as it is essential to success. Robin actually works with a lot of authors, she is always trying to help people new to the industry avoid pitfalls and scams. I’m always having to remind others – they can’t have her … she is mine!

M(DW): The Riyria Revelations is a planned 6 novels series. Being planned for 6 volumes is your series already finished or there is still room for changes?
MS: The series is done. Nothing will change the story. As I’ve mentioned a few times the whole series was actually written before the first book was released. This was essential as there are subtle threads that run through the story arc. There are small mentions of things in early books that will have no real significance until much later. It is very much like “The Sixth Sense” in that when you get to the end you will really want to go back to the beginning to verify if everything really does fit into place. Sometimes it may seem that something is “coincidental” or obvious but several books later you’ll learn that there were other forces putting things into motion and it all makes sense. There is no way I could do this by writing them one at a time. The book took me in unexpected directions as it unfolded and the ability to go back and add an Easter egg to book one or book two won’t make or break the series but it is a nice little surprise that I couldn’t have had otherwise.
That being said, each book does go through rework before release. I do make minor changes insofar as adding a new chapter or cutting sections as Robin and I edit it, but that is merely to improve the existing story. As I mentioned Robin is very good at finding plot holes, dull spots or areas where more is needed. This really improves the books, but doesn’t fundamentally change them.

M(DW): Each novel can be taken as a standalone too, but each one of them builds a wider story. Is the story built until the last volume? Is the highest climax reached in the last novel of the series?
MS: Each book in the series follows the traditional story arch in that they all have their own beginning, middle, and end, complete with climax followed by a resolution. The series as a whole does the same thing. The first three books are just letting you get to know the characters and the setting, along the way the real story begins to pick up and I believe that they do get better with each one. While I try very hard to avoid cliffhanger endings, and make the conclusion to each novels satisfying in themselves, I do plant seeds that make the reader anxious for the next one and I think that pressure will increase with each volume. I’ve said throughout this interview that the release schedule is important to me. I don’t want to have the readers waiting years between releases. Six-months is a break-neck pace even with a fully written series and as we near books five and six I think yes the intensity does build and I suspect readers will be very glad for the adherence to the production schedule. For by then, the story will be racing at a rather riveting pace. And while, like a good father, I feel all my books are good, I must say that book six—the final book—is amazing. When I finished it, I knew I had done something great. So far, those two people who read it agree. Book six should actually transform the first five books in the minds of readers. What they thought was just a series of fun adventures will be revealed as far more profound and moving.

M(DW): Do you plan sometime in the future to return with a story in the world of Elan? Would you like to use the characters of Hadrian and Royce in others novels too?
MS: I know my wife wishes I would. Her greatest regret is that she can’t forget what she already knows so she can read it all again for the first time.
If I wanted to, I could write several related books, or series. I could write the ancient story of Novron—quite a lengthy and interesting tale in itself. I could write the story of Esrahaddon (although you will get quite a bit of that before the end of this series.) There could be many tales of Royce and Hadrian in “the early years”. And of course I could write what happens after the series. I did in fact, leave one secret thread in the series to allow me to write another set based off the first. I am certain it will be imperceptible to any but the most ardent readers. Still if I wanted to, I could pull on that thread and build another story out of it. At this time however, I do not intend to do that. Yet, should Royce, Hadrian and the world of Elan become as big as Harry Potter, or Middle Earth, I suppose I might consider it.

M(DW): What do you plan to write next after finishing “The Riyria Revelations”?
MS: I’ve worked a bit on a novel called Antithesis. It is a standalone novel, not a medieval fantasy and nothing like the Riyria books. It is set in modern times but does have a bit of “magic” in it. I actually wrote it long ago when there really wasn’t much in the realm of contemporary fantasy. I realize that most authors find a style and a niche and stay there, but to me that is like seeking to be a stereotyped actor. I happen to be capable of writing in a variety of styles and choose which style to use based on the kind of novel I am writing. It is possible that I will upset fans wanting more of the same, but I suppose it is also possible that I could develop fans in other genres that might then cross over. As it turns out, some of my most zealous fans have been those who never have, nor ever expected to read a fantasy book. Others are those who absolutely dislike fantasy, so that might not be so far-fetched.

Thank you very much for your amiability and answers.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fantasy Art - Alex Popescu

© 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.

Alex Popescu is a Romanian artist specialized in digital art. He discovered his passion in high school and developed his skills through self-teaching. He will receive his Bachelor in Computer Science this year. Alex currently works as a matte painter at MediaPro Magic. Alex also worked as a matte painter for movies like “Hush”, “The Escapist”, “Shine a Light” and “Fire & Ice: The Dragon Chronicles”. His works were featured in publications like “Exposé” and “Digital Art Masters” and recently Alex Popescu was awarded with Master Award in “Exposé 7” for his work “Sail City”.

Interview - Alex Popescu

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Alex, thank you very much for this interview.
How did you become interested in art? How did you start drawing?
Alex Popescu: I think I was always attracted by the visual impressive things. Although I used to draw a lot as a kid, I stopped at some point and rediscovered this passion in high school. I found the freedom given by the digital medium to be extraordinary and at first I was impressed by the power of the tools. Now I try to rely on software less and less and focus more on the fundamentals.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Which are the artists who inspire you? What influences your work has?
Alex Popescu: If I were to name all the artists that inspire me this would be a very long list. Having learned all the basics from the web, submitting my work to several communities for feedback, I was first inspired by web celebrities like Dylan Cole, Dusso or by a really talented guy from Romania, Dragos Jieanu. But as I got more and more into this I learned about a lot of amazing artists that aren’t that active on the internet but are the best of the best in what they do. I am trying to learn all I can by looking carefully at these masters’ work and not copy but understand the principles and apply those with my personal touch.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): I’ve noticed that you are a self taught artist. Do you feel that a self training is sufficient? Do you think that following the art courses at a specialized school can improve your technique?
Alex Popescu: I think education is extremely important when trying to get past a certain standard. There are a lot of talented people that lack the basic principles taught in an art school, like the understanding of light, perspective, composition, color, etc. I am one of the lucky people who is able to learn pretty fast and I studied all that on my own. But another important thing is the position you are going for if you work in the visual effects industry for example. For me, working as a matte painter, having a technical background education helped a lot, because this is a position that also requires technical skill not just artistic vision. But I would encourage anyone to at least take some classes of classic art theory because those are the basic skills that everyone needs.

M(DW): Where do you think that your work needs improvement? Is there a particular technique which you would like to learn?
AP: As I said earlier my work is a combination of technical and artistic skill. At the moment I master the technical side and I believe I don’t have any trouble in this area. But the artistic side is something you are always improving and at the moment I am working on my painting skills.

M(DW): Your works are exclusively made digitally. Do you also draw using the traditional methods? Do you feel more comfortable using the digital tools?
AP: I do use pen and paper from time to time to sketch my ideas or explain something to others and quickly show how I see one particular scene, but I do feel more comfortable in Photoshop. Although I can see myself concentrating more on traditional methods in the future.

M(DW): Looking over your portfolio I’ve seen that the fantasy and SF themes are a majority. Do you prefer working in these themes? What other themes attract you?
AP: Because as a matte painter you have to imitate reality, most of my work on my day job is realistic. That is why in my personal studies I often try to do something different, like Sci-fi or fantasy. You will notice that the colors get a lot more saturated in my personal works, there is much more contrast, opposed to the realistic approach I have on the matte paintings used for film. Of course you can say that Star Wars and LOTR have a lot of “illustrative” matte paintings and I am a huge fan of those, but I am referring to the majority of films that need work, and most of the stuff you do has to be invisible.

M(DW): You worked as a matte painter on several movies, including the first movie produced by a Romanian company for the US market, “Fire & Ice, The Dragon Chronicles”. How was the work on this project? What rewards offered you this project?
AP: Fire and Ice was the biggest project I ever worked on at that time. The sheer amount of visual effects shots that had to be done in the given time was scary. More than that I had the chance to be the lead matte painter, so actually worked in one way or another on all the shots that needed digital sets. And there were a lot. But what I loved most was the team I worked with. All the guys at Media Pro Magic are very dedicated and everyone did the best they could possibly do given the restrictive conditions. It was a very intense experience that taught me a lot about film production.

M(DW): Would you like in the future to work in a similar project?
AP: Ha, hopefully I will. But I would also love to get involved in a science fiction. I guess this is what I’d like most right now.

M(DW): You’ve also made a book cover illustration for a German publishing house. How did this commission opportunity arise? Would you like to repeat this experience in the future?
AP: I made a lot of book covers. Actually my first paid job was a book cover for a Romanian publishing house. I really like doing it, as I find it is a challenge and an honor to give the first visual impression for the text. And most of the times someone sees your portfolio on the web, they send you an email, and your work gets on the cover.

M(DW): If it were possible, for which novels would you like to make the cover illustration?
AP: Creating an illustration for Dune would be one of the things I’d love most.

M(DW): I think that job opportunities for a digital artist are limited in Romania since we don’t have many computer games companies, movie production or the book companies using original cover art. Do you find difficulties in finding such job commissions?
AP: I am currently employed at Media Pro Magic, the postproduction division at Media Pro Studios. So, I am not actually looking for commissions right now. But I have to agree that the market in our country is limited to just a couple of companies. But if you are good enough and serious and reliable about your work, you shouldn’t have trouble finding work, here or abroad.

M(DW): Do you believe that working in a country with more such job opportunities will help you develop as an artist?
AP: Of course. The environment you are working in has great influence on your work. I love a competitive environment where you need to push your limits to stay in front. If there aren’t any job opportunities it is easy to get distracted, lose focus and stop growing as an artist or as a professional. And that is the worst that could happen.

M(DW): You have been featured on several specialized publications, including the latest digital art annual album, Exposé. Also in the “Exposé 7” you received a Master Award in the futurescapes category for your work “Sail City”. How did all this make you feel? Do you think that this award raises the standard of your works?
AP: I was really happy to find out I received the Master of futurescapes Award. The quality of the work in the book grows by the year and I was proud to be selected in the top few. This of course puts a bit of pressure on your shoulders. If I have the time I would love to work on another personal image and hope it gets included in the book.

M(DW): At what are you working and what other future projects do you have?
AP: Our studio is involved in a cool project at the moment but I cannot talk about it. And on the personal side, I just graduated from the university, where I studied computer science and finished my degree paper on procedural generation of cities which was really fun to work on. I got some very cool results and I hope I have the time to develop it further in the future.

Thank you very much for your time and answers.
Thank you. It was a pleasure.

For more information about Alex Popescu and for a complete portfolio 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.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"The Alchemy of Stone" by Ekaterina Sedia

"The Alchemy of Stone"
Format: Paperback, 304 pages
Publisher: Prime Books

Mattie, an intelligent automaton skilled in the use of alchemy, finds herself caught in the middle of a conflict between gargoyles, the Mechanics, and the Alchemists. With the old order quickly giving way to the new, Mattie discovers powerful and dangerous secrets - secrets that can completely alter the balance of power in the city of Ayona. However, this doesn't sit well with Loharri, the Mechanic who created Mattie and still has the key to her heart - literally!

The last book I finished last year was Ekaterina Sedia’s “The Secret History of Moscow” and that was a very good conclusion for a reading year. But nothing in the reading of the Ekaterina Sedia’s second novel prepared me for her next published work, “The Alchemy of Stone”.

If in “The Secret History of Moscow” Ekaterina Sedia locates her story in our world and in a real city adding it fantastical elements, in “The Alchemy of Stone” locates the story in a world and a city built from scratch. And here the author doesn’t hold anything back, developing through vivid imagination and powerful visions a wonderful world. With reach elements of speculative fiction the world of “The Alchemy of Stone” and its story will feel like a dream, a strange but beautiful dream. With elements of steampunk, science fiction, fantasy and why not, horror, but not played in the usual way, the novel will be hard to be set in a particular genre, but will create a unique setting.

On this setting the story will develop, followed from two perspectives one of Mattie’s, the intelligent automaton, and of gargoyles’, the builders and the protective of the city. From these perspectives the story will begin to branch out in a few directions and explores the conflicts of each direction. But these conflicts are not only building the story and action of the novel, but are as many philosophical themes of human conditions and emotions lived by a human being. Although lived and seen by Mattie, an automaton, every single emotion can be found in humans. The pages of the novel engulf themes and emotions such as discrimination (racial and sexual), freedom, adaptation, a sense of belonging, love, death and the list can go on. Also with a political conflict, between the two factions of the city, The Mechanics and The Alchemists, the story goes deeper in the panoply of emotions offering new elements such as progress and its costs, a conflict between the logical minds and the more romantic ones, between the old and the new, a struggle for power.

All these are the ingredients used by Ekaterina Sedia in the creation of a beautiful novel. I enjoyed turning each page and discovering the outcome of the conflicts of the novel. However, there are elements in the story which attracted me a lot, but felt a bit disappointed for them not being just a bit more developed. For instance, the element that left me wanting more was the Soul Smoker. I found this idea very imaginative and the story of Ilmarekh, the Soul Smoker very interesting, but I certainly would have liked to learn and see more of him. Besides this aspect, there are a couple more as imaginative as the Soul Smoker, but which left me with the same desire to see more, such as the alchemy process, the Stone Monks or the spider miners. And although I felt on a few moments that the action is dragging, not a single one of these aspects made me enjoy less “The Alchemy of Stone”.

I liked my first encounter with Ekaterina Sedia’s works made through “The Secret History of Moscow”, but I found my second meeting with her works to be even better. “The Alchemy of Stone” is not only a very good and beautiful novel, but it is also a confirmation that Ekaterina Sedia is a very imaginative and talented writer. And I can honestly say that she became one of my favorite authors.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In the mailbox

Once again here are my latest arrivals in my mailbox. A few of them are from different genres, but they are interesting and are appealing to me nonetheless.

- "The Strain" by Chuck Hogan & Guillermo del Toro (through the courtesy of Haper Collins UK);

A plane lands at JFK and mysteriously ‘goes dark’, stopping in the middle of the runway for no apparent reason, all lights off, all doors sealed. The pilots cannot be raised. When the hatch above the wing finally clicks open, it soon becomes clear that everyone on board is dead – although there is no sign of any trauma or struggle. Ephraim Goodweather and his team from the Center for Disease Control must work quickly to establish the cause of this strange ocurrence before panic spreads. The first thing they discover is that four of the victims are actually still alive. But that’s the only good news. And when all two hundred corpses disappear from various morgues around the city on the same night, things very rapidly get worse. Soon Eph and a small band of helpers will find themselves battling to protect not only their own loved ones, but the whole city, against an ancient threat to humanity.

- "Claudius" by Douglas Jackson (through the courtesy of Transworld Books);

The year is 43AD . . .
In Southern England, Caratacus, war chief of the Britons, watches from a hilltop as the scarlet cloaks of the Roman legions spread across his lands like blood.
In Rome, Emperor Claudius, newly risen to the imperial throne, dreams of taking his place in history alongside his illustrious forebears Caesar and Augustus.
Among the legions marches Rufus, keeper of the Emperor’s elephant. War is coming and the united tribes of Britain will make a desperate stand against the might of Rome. The Emperor has a very special place for Rufus and his elephant in the midst of the battle – as a secret weapon to cow the Britons with the visible manifestation of Rome’s power.

- "The Victoria Vanishes" by Christopher Fowler (through the courtesy of Transworld Books);

One night, Arthur Bryant witnesses a drunk middle-aged lady coming out of a pub in a London backstreet. The next morning, she is found dead at the exact spot where their paths crossed. Even more disturbing, the pub has vanished. Bryant is convinced that he saw them as they were over a century before, but the elderly detective has already lost the funeral urn of an old friend. Could he be losing his mind as well?
Then it becomes clear that a number of women have met their ends in London pubs. It seems a silent, secret killer is at work, striking in full view...and yet nobody has a clue how, or why - or where he’ll attack next. The likeliest suspect seems to be a mental patient with a reason for killing. But knowing who the killer is and catching him are two very different propositions.
As their new team at the Peculiar Crimes Unit goes in search of a madman, the octogenarian detectives ready themselves for the pub crawl of a lifetime, and come face to face with their own mortality…

- "Echoes from the Dead" by Johan Theorin (through the courtesy of Transworld Books);

Can you ever come to terms with a missing child? Julia Davidsson has not. Her five-year-old son disappeared twenty years previously on the Swedish island of Oland. No trace of him has ever been found.
Until his shoe arrives in the post. It has been sent to Julia's father, a retired sea-captain still living on the island. Soon he and Julia are piecing together fragments of the past: fragments that point inexorably to a local man called Nils Kant, known to delight in the pain of others. But Nils Kant died during the 1960s. So who is the stranger seen wandering across the fields as darkness falls?
It soon becomes clear that someone wants to stop Julia’s search for the truth. And that he’s much, much closer than she thinks . . .

- "Primal" by Robin Baker (through the courtesy of Virgin Books).

Presumed dead, a group of undergraduate students who go missing on a deserted Pacific island emerge one year later in two groups of ragged (and naked) survivors. All but one of the surviving women are pregnant, and two students, plus their professor, are said to have died. More disturbingly, a child that was born on the island to one of the girls has perished too. In the glare of the world’s media, every survivor sticks to the same unconvincing version of events.
Piece-by-piece the narrator examines the evidence and conducts interviews with the survivors, to work out exactly what happened on the island during that year. Slowly, a terrifying picture emerges of feral human beings stripped of dignity and resorting to the behaviour of warring primates. Rivalry and sexual tension leads to division, tribalism, perversion, rape, baby-snatching, and eventually murder ... a Lord of the Flies scenario for adults, proving the dead professor’s theory that human beings are no different from chimpanzees in the wild.

Thank you all very much.