Book Giveaway & Interview: Ryan Hyatt, Author of Rise of the Liberators

Join me in welcoming Ryan Hyatt to the blog! He’s the author of Rise of the Liberators, as well as his science fiction novel Stay Younger Longer. Don’t miss out on his thriller, The Death of Rock and Roll. GIVEAWAY!!! Scroll to the bottom for the chance to win a signed copy of either the military SF Rise of the Liberators or the futuristic SF Stay Younger Longer.

The public library of your dreams has arrived! What special collections does it hold? 

I think I’d have to go heavy on this one … the library of my dreams would contain the original drafts of the world’s great religious texts

I wouldn’t be able to read them, of course, because they’d be written in languages I don’t know, but I’m assuming there’d be scholars on hand in this awesome library who would be wiling to translate these books for me, so I could ask them questions like this: Who was the author of the Bible, really? How does the original draft of the Bible compare to the one people read nowadays in Sunday school? Have any important parts been changed or omitted? Which parts, and why do you think so?

Depending on the answers, more questions might follow: Is it fair to conclude that the Bible really is the word of God, then, because it sounds to me like a lot of people have had their hand in writing and revising this thing? Therefore, how can I be sure God exists, if even the author(s) of His book have come into question? And if God does exist, regardless of who writes His books, who created God, then?In fact, how can there be anything at all  — the stars, the ocean, my laundry, myself? In other words, how can anything come from nothing, including us?

Yet here I am, here we are. These concerns would likely bring me to the final question I’d have for the scholars about the original draft of the Bible and the world’s other religious texts …

How am I to believe in a book whose truths easily contradict my own line of questioning about them? Thus, can I conclude is life a miracle, a charade, or a little of both? To which I would listen attentively to the scholars’ response. I have a lot of questions on this topic, obviously, and some I suspect they wouldn’t be able to easily answer …

And that’s okay, because I’ve had these questions all of my life, but having access to the original drafts of the world’s great religious texts might shed some light on those who wrote these amazingly beautiful and terrifying stories, and perhaps help me and others think better about and beyond them.

What decade from the last century would you pick to have been a teenager in?

Easy. I always wanted to write a science fiction story about a Rock ‘n’ Roll fan (like me) who obtains a time machine and uses it to travel into the past to see all of the great concerts he’s missed over the years …

Therefore, the decade I’d choose to live in as a teen would be the sixties — an era of passion and protest and an explosion of the music I love, thanks to millions of youth who dared to make the world a better place. I’d hit up Woodstock the Monterrey Music Festival … I’d see bands like Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones and David Bowie before they were broken up or taken from this Earth or too old to care who wanted to see them play …

Perhaps these concert-hopping visits would be part of my investigation into some of the cosmic conspiracies associated with those famous rockers that died that same decade all at the same sweet young age — the famous ’27 Club’ — musicians like Jimi HendrixJanis Joplin and Jim Morrison

The sixties would probably provide the most bang for the buck for a sound junkie like me, closely followed by the punk rock and funk of the seventies, where maybe I could make a pit stop before returning the present?

If you could, what book or movie or TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

Back to the Future — Now there’s a funny, family-oriented film similar in theme to the eighties when it was released and worth a review — for me, at least — because that was the magical decade of childhood, a glorious time when suburbs were cool and my friends and I wore netted tank tops and Velcro pants and rode around our neighborhood on Gordon & Smith skateboards, the beginning and ending of innocence …

The Matrix — I’d also like to experience the power of this this film the first time all over again, because it was the first time in my young adulthood that I noticed that Hollywood was starting to finally gamble a little bit and put out edgy sci-fi movies that managed to be both thoughtful and entertaining. I wrote a short story, “Cerebral Cathedral,” years before The Matrix was released, which many of my friends read growing up, eerily similar to the movie — minus the bad-ass action and special effects, of course. (I dare say, the Wackowskis did it better). Still, seeing that movie on the big screen for the first time made me realize that maybe my writing was something others might enjoy, too.

Now we have Game of Thrones, Westworld, and The Man in the High Castle, of course, which makes me feel anything awesome is possible in entertainment, as long as Hollywood continues to give awesome a chance!

What future invention would you like to see not only created during your life time, but readily available to the public?

Artificially-intelligent bobbleheads, such as Mr. T, Hulk Hogan, Lady GagaVoltron, Kevin Hart or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which follow their owners around wherever they go and provide them with constant companionship, amusement and advice. These walking talking gizmos would be so distracting, they would not only help ween people off their smart phones for a minute, but they would also allow them to maintain moral standing in a world of ever-changing choices and possibilities, modern sages made in the image of pop culture icons — and to each of our own choosing — that guide us through this overly-complicated existence we have created for ourselves. They’d be available for $500 online or at the local shopping mall.

What has been your worst or most difficult job? How does it compare to writing?

I’ve worked a lot of terrible jobs in my lifetime, too many to count, and most in a pitiful effort to support myself as I write. Nonetheless, in one of my more desperate hours, I signed up with a temp agency to work in a call center on behalf of a famous Los Angeles fitness infomercial guru. I sat side by side a bunch of fellow losers, artists and misfits. We were comrades in customer service!

The first part of our job: when people called to place their orders, we charged them for additional items such as vitamins, video tapes, leotards, jump ropes that they never asked for or wanted or might ever use, and then the second part of our job: refuse to refund their money to them when they called to complain and yell and scream about what we did and how it was so wrong, explaining to them calmly and casually instead that we were “just doing our job.”

I quit at the end of my first day, but it was that first real powerful and ridiculous taste of mindless conformity — a taste of hell, really — which so many billions of people have to put up with every day on this planet, listening to dumb-ass bosses and Presidents of countries in order to put food on our tables and a roof over our heads for ourselves and our loved ones — that made me want to fight and resist in whatever way I could, even if it meant just writing a story once in a while about someone who fights and resists a little better than me, or worse.

You are stuck in space in dire straights. Which science fiction authors would you want with you?

Philip Dick and Kurt Vonnegut: we may not return alive, but we’d laugh trying.

If you could sit down and have dinner with 5 dead authors, who would you invite to the table? What would they order?

The two above, plus Hunter S. Thompson, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, and Henry Miller. They’d order two tofu steaks, whiskey, escargo, and strippers. It may not be the best meal I’d ever have, but I’m sure it would be an interesting one.

You have to run an obstacle course. Who do you invite along (living or dead, real or fictional)?

My grandfather, Arthur Hyatt, World War II and Korean war hero, a man of great humility and loving family patriarch, definitely one of the Greatest Generation. The odds would be a lot more in my favor with him in play.

Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

In April, I was named a finalist in the 2016 Book Pipeline Competition which “aims to deliver unique, compelling stories to the industry — with the specific intent of getting them on the fast-track to film and television production.”

A bio on me and more information about my award-winning sci-fi novel, Stay Younger Longer, can be found on the Book Pipeline website.

Stay Younger Longer (2015), along with the recent release of Rise of the Liberators (2017), are part of my Terrafide series, techy tales of woe and hope in which the characters grapple with the economic and environmental realities of their world falling apart.

More information about this series can be found on Amazon or Goodreads.

This summer I might take a stab at turning my print books into audiobooks or adapting them into screenplays, but really I want to start another novel in my Terrafide series. We’ll see. I work as a high school English teacher nowadays and have a daughter, so time is limited. We’ll see.

For more updates on the state of the future, visit my satirical sci-fi news site www.thelalalander.com

Places to Follow Ryan Hyatt

Website

Blog

Twitter

Facebook

GoodReads

Amazon

Book Blurb for Rise of the Liberators:

In 2022, the United States is in the throes of the Greatest Depression, and discharged Marine Corps Captain Ray Salvatore, a 34-year-old father and husband, must either allow his family’s poverty to continue or accept an employment offer to lead a band of military misfits with a new secret weapon into war in the Middle East.

Amazon

Book Blurb for Stay Younger Longer

Dick White, a 28-year-old Los Angeles bachelor and journalist, is put in peril after he learns a popular anti-aging drug called Euphoria is a biological weapon, leaving Dick to find the eccentric criminal who has developed a cure that might save countless lives, including his own.

Amazon

Book Blurb for The Death of Rock and Roll

Talented guitarist Darrell Breedlove is caught in the crosshairs of jealous psychopath Jake McKenzie, forcing Darrell to reconcile his past in order to embrace a promising future.

Amazon

GIVEAWAY!!!

Ryan Hyatt is offering up 3 signed copies of the military SF Rise of the Liberators and 3 signed copies of the futuristic SF Stay Younger Longer. Yep, 6 winners! Do the Rafflecopter thing below or answer these questions in the comments: Where do you live? Which book interests you the most? (You can choose a different book later if you win). Optional: Follow Ryan Hyatt any way you want and tell me in the comments how you follow him and under what name. Giveaway ends June 20th, 2017, midnight. Giveaway is limited to the USA due to shipping.

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The Best & Worst of 2016

2016 is finally over! It was a tough year for me, even right up to the end where I caught a nasty holiday bug. I did read a lot of great books last year. According to my Goodreads profile, I read 208 books, nearly 100 less than the year before. I blame my new found love of Netflix bingewatching for that. Here are my favorite 11 books of the year, in no particular order (no counting rereads).

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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Skin Game by Jim Butcher

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Cemetery Lake by Paul Cleave

Tofu will help me hide the bodies.
Tofu will help me hide the bodies.

Anne Manx on Amazonia by Larry Weiner

WeinerAnneManxOnAmazonia

Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

PriestChapelwood

The Green Children by Domino Finn

FinnTheGreenChildren

Dragon Gate by Gary Jonas (Jonathan Shade #3)

JonasDragonGate

Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Sword by Kiera Gillett

GillettZariaFierceAndTheEnchantedDrakelandSword

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Chupa being weird.
Chupa being weird.

Cthulhu Armageddon by C. T. Phipps

PhippsCthulhuArmageddon

I did some rereads this past year – The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (yep, from the beginning), Terre D’Ange Cycle by Jacqueline Carey (I’ve been reading with a great group of on-line friends and we’re up to Book 7 now), Dune by Frank Herbert (just because it’s awesome), Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delaney (I read this in paperback some years ago but now it’s available as an audiobook and it is incredibly well done).

Here are the top 3 books that didn’t do it for me:

Lover Eternal by J. R. Ward

WardLoverEternal

A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole

ColeAHungerLikeNoOther

Hair Power by Piers Anthony

AnthonyHairPower

I also joined a romance book club. I’ve never really enjoyed romance novels. I don’t mind if a book has romance in it but the main plot has to be something more than finding true love or getting laid for me to really enjoy it. So, I thought perhaps I was wrong in binning romance books all together and pretty much ignoring them. With that in mind, I joined this lovely group of people and gave the romance genre a real shot at winning my heart. We read several paranormal and urban fantasy romances, a few contemporary romances (some with suspense and one with BDSM), and 1 historical fiction romance. In general, I was underwhelmed. Some of the books did exceed my expectations and for romance novels they were good, but none of them made it into my top 50. Let me slightly amend that. I had the opportunity to host twice, which means I picked the book we read. Both times I picked books I had not previously read and one of them was Darkness Haunts by Susan Ilene. There is no romance in this novel. There’s a spattering of flirting, but that is all. While several people enjoyed it (including me), it does not count as a romance novel. Obviously, I’m not a good host for a romance book club but the group was great about it.

Also here are some of my notable firsts for 2016:

My first Stephen King novel – 11-22-63

King112263

My first Star Wars novel – Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne

Guess which side of the Force Chupacabr is on?
Guess which side of the Force Chupacabra is on?

My first Podiobooks audiobook – Marker Stone by Paul J. Joseph

JosephMarkerStone

My first Kurt Vonnegut novel – Cat’s Cradle

VonnegutCatsCradleTofu

As 2016 ends, I am looking forward to a better year in 2017. I spent all of 2016 sick and most of it on bed rest. It took quite some time and many doctors to get diagnosed. I now know that I have CTEPH and in February I will be in San Diego having PTE surgery to hopefully correct the issue. It’s a major surgery and I could be in the hospital recovering for up to 20 days. So if Dab of Darkness goes dark between Ground Hog’s Day and Valentine’s Day, it’s just me laid up in a hospital recovering. Life should get better after that surgery and I’m just really looking forward to being on the other side of it. 24/7 supplemental oxygen makes life rather boring, as I can now attest to.

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

VonnegutCatsCradleTofuNarrator: Tony Roberts

Publisher: HarperAudio (2007)

Length: 7 hours 11 minutes

Author’s Page

John, who starts off researching what family members of the makers of the atomic bomb were doing on the day when Hiroshima was bombed, but soon gets caught up in a minor mystery that involves the children of physicist Felix Hoenikker. Add in a calypso singer’s personal theology, the odd substance called Ice-Nine, and a large helping of satirical humor and you have quite the book!

This was my first Vonnegut book (yep, I know, where have I been?) and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Sometimes I don’t care for satire because so often it is tied to certain political events or a political climate, and if you aren’t versed in those happenings, lots of it flies over your head. Not so with this book! Sure, there is some satire that refers to people and events that I’m not familiar with, but much of it was easy to pin down. Plus there’s plenty of other humor and the whole plot going on to keep me entertained. I was especially interested in the Ice-Nine. I figured it was tied into the dystopian theme the book’s description mentions, but it took forever to get around to it. Indeed, Ice-Nine and the ending of the world don’t play a part until the very end of the novel. So if you’re going into this novel hoping for a dystopian story, you will be a bit disappointed.

The calypso singer, Bokonon, has this theology (called Bokononism by the practitioners) that kicks off the book as John relates his story to us as if it’s all over, said, and done. John, in his own tale, doesn’t come upon Bokononism until he travels to the island of San Lorenzo, where he meets two of the Hoenikker children. The theology is filled with little truths that gave me a chuckle here and there. One of the little rituals Bokononists partake in is touching the soles of their feet to one another, making them feel closer to each other. Oddly enough, Bokononism has been banned on San Lorenzo even as everyone is secretly a Bokononist.

Each of the three Hoenikker children are rather different, but it was Newton Hoenikker, the youngest child, who caught my attention. He’s a dwarf and also a medical student. I liked his recollections of his dad and older siblings, his sister being the care-taker of the family once their mother passed away. Indeed, his descriptions of his father, the physicist, reminds me of so many scientists I knew when I worked in Los Alamos.

It took me a while to figure out why this book is called Cat’s Cradle and if you’re wondering the same thing, the answer does eventually come. It seems much of the book is that way: there’s this set up at the front end but it takes time to eventually arrive at those same things once again so that we fully understand them. For instance, the book starts off with some Bokononism stuff but it’s only later that we learn the origins of Bokononism. John hints that the world has ended, but we only find out how and why towards the very end of the novel. In this regard, I think this is one of those novels that is best read all in one sitting rather than broken up over a week.

In the end, I liked it. Yes, I did spend the entire book eagerly awaiting the dystopian bit the book’s description promises, but when it comes it is indeed a bleak world and I’m not sure how humanity will survive it. I didn’t get all the Bokononism stuff but it did provide quite a bit of entertainment. Hoenikker and his kids are the backbone that made this book interesting to me. I really enjoyed hearing what the now-grown kids had to say about their now-dead dad and growing up in the shadow of the atomic bomb project.

The Narration: Tony Roberts was a good pick for narrating this book. He had distinct voices for all the characters and carried off the humor quite well. I liked his Indiana accent for Ma Hoosier and his Caribbean accent for the native San Lorenzoans. Also, this edition of the audiobook contained an older interview with Kurt Vonnegut that I found informative and amusing. In the interview, it’s rather informal as the interviewer is one of his good friends and it sounds like they are simply having a chat about his book and other things, like Vonnegut’s military experience. 

What I Liked: This book is odd and fun at the same time; the mystery of Ice-Nine; Felix Hoenikker and his kids; Newton and his stories about his older siblings and dad; Bokononism; how things end; the bonus interview with Vonnegut.

What I Disliked: Nothing – it was an interesting book.

What Others Think:

SFF Book Reviews

Honor Society

Teen Ink

Grown Up Book Reports

The Past Due Book Review

Audiobook Giveaway & Interview: Ashley Franz Holzmann, Author of The Laws of Nature

HolzmannTheLawsOfNatureDear Dabbers, please welcome author Ashley Franz Holzmann to the blog today. We chat about classics, running obstacle courses, warning labels, and plenty more! If you’re interested in the giveaway, then check out the awesome audiobook giveaway at the bottom of the post.

What now-dead author would you like to interview? What are some of the things you would chat about?

I don’t think I would enjoy interviewing any author, but I would love to get a beer with Edgar Allen Poe. Poe went to West Point for a few months and when I attended the academy we heard a few stories about a rowdy Poe who didn’t like following the establishment. He led such a rough life. I bet he had just as many stories that he didn’t tell as he did stories that he left us to read.

If you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

Cowboy Bebop. Hands down. Talk about a genre defining experience. I had watched a couple of animes growing up, but Bebop showed me that any art form has as much potential as the next. Bebop is what I show friends who tell me they hate anime. It has everything and the storytelling is so tight. The action has reason and the characters are all flawed with human traits we all can empathize with. That’s how you write a TV show. To me, Bebop is the definition of cool.

How does modern culture influence your work? Do modern cultural references date a piece or add touchstones for the reader?

I soaked up entertainment as a kid. I watched tons of TV and played tons of games in the 90s. I was unstoppable until I went to college. I read a lot more these days. I think my writing is a combination of all of my experiences in life and all of the things I’ve allowed myself to be exposed to. Bob Dylan wrote in his biography about how he would read anything he could when he was younger. He read On War and poetry and all sorts of stuff that eventually influenced his song writing. Maybe not directly, but at least indirectly. I believe in getting inspiration from everywhere. So, I would say that I have been influenced by modern culture. I insert themes about gender in my writing, and I indirectly and directly talk about parts of my life growing up. I do attempt to shy away from direct cultural references, because I enjoy the timelessness of storytelling and references to ebaumsworld.com aren’t going to hold up for the younger crowds. I like the idea of writing stories intentionally in different decades (I can be a history nerd at times), but that’s looking back in time and picking and choosing what you know the audience will understand as cultural references.

Reality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

I actually really enjoy inserting reality as often as I can. My current book is horror, so there’s moments that could absolutely not happen. But there’s so much we don’t talk about in our societies that I think are fine to talk about within the pages of a book. That’s one of the best parts of writing stories. Books are read alone and digested in a more intimate fashion than a movie in a movie theater gets to accomplish. I majored in sociology in college, and one of the things we studied was how societies always have the double standards of what is socially acceptable on paper (what we like to think is our reality) and what is truly socially acceptable. The concept of taboos fascinate me, and I enjoy trying to be honest in my writing when I can be.

What has been your worst or most difficult job? How does it compare to writing?

So I’m an officer in the army. I’ve met quite a few people who don’t realize just how much the jobs within the military vary. Army officers change jobs about every year, and we move to a new post every three years or so. So we’re constantly learning and adapting to new environments. All that aside, I was selected to be an Aide-de-Camp to a Brigadier General back when I was a young Lieutenant. That was my most difficult job. Some work days were 20 hours long. It’s like being the right hand of a fortune 300 company CEO. I saw a world I would not have otherwise known of. It’s a long story, but to keep it short and answer the question: it taught me how to really watch my words. Every word matters, and concisely conveying intent is very important. I enjoy reading Mark Twain and Hemingway and Vonnegut and Palahniuk, but it was the General who taught me to use my words precisely. He was hard on me because he was developing me professionally and personally. It’s easy to see now, but that was a long 14 months.

More and more we see fiction being multimedia – a book, a TV show, a PC game, a graphic novel. How do you see the publishing industry evolving to handle this trend? Any plans to take your works in the multimedia realm?

I grew up on all those formats. I’m still a comic nerd at times (I can’t say I’m super hardcore, as I have to admit that I’m the guy who buys trades and graphic novels), and I love that the film industry has finally realized the potential of the comics that all of us comic book nerds have known for years. Man, if they can figure out how to make Kingdom Come… that will be awesome.

I don’t see the publishing industry going farther than where it currently is. Amazon still sells paperback novels. I think that will keep being a thing. When I read to my sons, they like books. They want to hold them in their hands and help me turn the pages. There’s something about that experience. You have to teach a child to enjoy an eReader. They understand the book that they can hold way sooner than they understand the screen with the pictures on it. I don’t think we’ll ever move away from physical books. Not completely. I still buy books. I can’t use Kindles or iPads. I’ve tried. Maybe it’s a nostalgia thing and I’m wrong and 100 years from now we’ll all be doing the eBook thing. I suppose we’ll have to see. I do like how audiobooks have made the transition to the modern formats. They’re so accessible and it totally breathes life into a project. I know I had a great experience with Mr. Creepy Pasta, my audiobook reader. He has a YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/MrCreepyPasta) that’s rather popular and he’s a cool guy. You should check him out.

Which ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

I’ve read the Iliad but I still have to read the Odyssey. Which I know I need to get around to. Everyone tells me the Odyssey is the better book. I have a whole list of books that I need to catch up on. Mostly literature. The older I get (I’m only a year away from 30) the more I realize there’s so little time. I really like reading to my sons. So I figure I’ll just instill a love of books with them and read a lot of books to them while they grow up. If a few of those books happen to be literature that I still want to read off my list, then I get to educate my kids while also continuing to read the things I wish to read before I die.

Do you have any superstitions? How about phobias?

I have fears, but no superstitions or phobias. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff and give ourselves reasons to be walk on eggshells. Maybe that’s the army talking and I’ve been in the system too long, but I really enjoy soaking in as much life as I can whenever I get the opportunity. I believe in traveling and learning and trying to understand all I can about the world and the variety of people that live on it.

My fears are mostly realistic. I don’t like the idea of being in deep water, but I try to be rational about it. My fears haven’t stopped me from snorkeling in some really awesome places like Australia or the Red Sea. I do admit that I can be paranoid at times, but I try to rationalize that as me being careful. I’ve seen parts of the world that a lot of Americans will never see, so I’ve seen aspects of human nature that I try to be aware of.

If everyone came with warning labels, what would yours say?

Caution: this may get confusing.

You have to run an obstacle course. Who do you invite along (living or dead, real or fictional)? Will there be a tasty libation involved?

I’ve had to run my fare share of obstacles. I would take one of my army battle buddies with me, because I’m not going to finish that thing last and a good battle buddy gets you through events like that. We’d finish together and kick everyone’s ass. Beer would be involved afterwards. Always celebrate your accomplishments. You earned them.

HolzmannTheLawsOfNatureBook Blurb for The Laws of Nature:

There is a dark side to human nature that can be neither wished away nor completely mitigated. Ashley Franz Holzmann details just several of these laws in his introduction to The Laws of Nature: A Collection of Short Stories of Horror, Anxiety, Tragedy and Loss before taking his readers on a journey through the bizarre, the terrifying, and, ultimately, the disturbingly real truths that underlie much of modern American life. Ashley makes his debut into the horror genre with “The Stump”, a story about an afternoon trot through the woods that quickly becomes a bloodbath, and, much as it does for that story’s monster, the scent of fear will only lure veteran horror readers further through the forest. A teenager’s vanity will likely cause his town to be consumed by a roaming swarm of insects that burst forth from his acne-riddled skin in “White Heads”; entire populations vanish into the void of the Alaskan tundra in “Glass Houses”; and superiority takes the form of a murdering, sadistic woman in “Lady Macbeth”. But Ashley’s best retellings focus less on gore and adrenaline and instead take human psychology as their medium, as demonstrated in “Plastic Glasses”, where readers are brought into a world of disturbing personality and mental disorders. Ashley’s work abounds with stories in this vein, stories that grab a hold of a common failing, such as marital friction in “Hush” or American male frustration in “Orpheus’s Lot”, and take it to an extreme that is nevertheless not inconceivable for most people. Coming from the mind of a man who has experienced more than his fair share of humanity, The Laws of Nature is, at its finest, a description of universal emotions of loss, nostalgia, anxiety, and soul-penetrating terror. Ashley’s stories elicit empathy from his readers and draw them into worlds where they both acknowledge and cuddle with their fears and that leave them, ultimately, more human.

Places to Stalk Ashley Franz Holzmann

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Audible

Amazon

GoodReads

Barnes & Noble

GIVEAWAY!!!

For the giveaway, Ashley is generously offering up 5 Audible.com downloads of his book The Laws of Nature. To enter, do the Rafflecopter thing below or answer the following in the comments: 1) Do you have an Audible.com account? 2) Please leave contact info 3) If you came with a warning label, what would it say? Giveaway ends September 30th, 2015, midnight.

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Interview: Barbara Venkataraman, Author of Death by Didgeridoo

VenkataramanDeathByDidgeridooEveryone, please welcome Barbara Venkataraman to the blog today. I have enjoyed Book 1 in her Jamie Quinn mystery series, Death by Didgeridoo. Today we chat about Harry Potter, literary good guys, writing tips, and the childhood book nerd. Sit back and be entertained!

If you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

I think it would have to be the first time I read science fiction or fantasy, it changed my life forever.

Conventions, book signings, blogging, etc.: what are some of your favorite aspects of self-promotion and what are some of the least favorite parts of self-promotion?

Hmmmm, I really enjoy meeting new people, including my current interviewer! I’ve heard some amazing life stories and have ‘met’ some lovely people through e-mails and blogging. What I dislike about promotion/marketing is how it takes time away from writing. And it can be tedious sending out queries and requests for reviews, especially when you hit a dry spell and don’t get many responses. It feels like a variation on that old joke—if a writer asks for a review in the forest and nobody is there to hear her, what is she doing in the forest in the first place?  lol

Who are your non-writer influences?

Comedians—I love watching a good comedian and being surprised; I love laughing. My other influences are the stories I hear all around me and, of course, theatre. Writing a novel is like watching a play in your mind: the lines have to be clever and succinct; the gestures, the expressions, the scenery, everything counts. Watching theatre teaches me those things.

Who are some of your favorite book villains?

Iago is just the meanest, and so diabolical! Javert in “Les Mis” is so focused on the letter of the law, rigid and self-righteous that when he realizes good and evil are not what he thought, he has no choice but to commit suicide. He is a complex guy!

VenkataramanTripToHardwareStoreWho are your favorite hero duos from the pages?

Here’s where I can’t be original, but Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Sherlock and Dr. Watson, Prospero and Ariel from “The Tempest”.

What reboots (or retellings) of classics have you enjoyed? Are there ones that haven’t worked for you?

So many stories are a twist on an old story. There are many versions of Romeo and Juliet out there and  it wasn’t original even in Shakespeare’s time, but one of my favorite versions was “West Side Story”. And I have to admit, I’m a sucker for “Sherlock” on the BBC. I think Arthur Conan Doyle would have approved!

As a published author, what non-writing activities would you recommend to aspiring authors?

Taking a walk outside always helps me think, I can’t recommend it enough. And vigorous exercise for as little as five minutes is helpful, too. As for reading, I recommend reading your favorite books several times. The first time for the story because you enjoy it. The second and third times, to analyze the story, the voices and the overall technique to learn how the author pulled it off. It’s like being amazed by a magic trick and then figuring out how it was done.

I also recommend reading terrible books to see how not to do it. Write reviews of them so that you can analyze each aspect.

Finally, I recommend reading books on the nuts and bolts of the craft. I recommend Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” and Stephen King’s “On Writing”. I also recommend Orson Scott Card’s “Elements of Fiction Writing-Characters and Viewpoint,” and Ron Carlson’s short book, “Ron Carlson Writes a Story.” I also recommend, “Elements of Fiction Writing-Beginnings, Middles and Ends,” by Nancy Kress.

What does your Writer’s Den look like? Neat and tidy or creative mess? can you write anywhere or do you need to be holed up in your author cave?

It’s a mess, I’m sorry to report, but there’s a method to it. I can write anywhere and I started doing something strange by accident. I e-mailed myself the chapter I was working on and found I could write on my cell phone wherever I happened to be. The weirdest place I ever wrote was standing in line at a Mexican restaurant waiting to pick up my food! I had a thought that just couldn’t wait.

VenkataramPerilInTheParkWhat were you like as a kid? Did your kid-self see you being a writer?

As a kid, I always had a book in my hands. I’ve been told I took a book to a slumber party when I was 6 and I took one with me in the car on the way to Disney World! Luckily, I wasn’t driving since I was only ten, but my best friend was annoyed. I was the nerdy kid who got excited when the bookmobile came to my neighborhood and I was the kid who cried at seeing my first real library and realizing I could never read all those books.

I always wanted to write ever since I won a prize for my “Duck Poem” in second grade!

If you could sit down and have dinner with 5 dead authors, who would you invite to the table? What would they order?

Shakespeare, Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Vonnegut and Robert Frost. I’m not sure what they would order, but Shakespeare & Dickens would be pretty impressed with the large selection and Vonnegut would be bummed to learn that he couldn’t smoke inside anymore.

The Desert Island Collection: what books make it into your trunk and why?

Funny books, of course, anything that could make me laugh. All of Harry Potter because I never get tired of them and finally, a book about how to escape from a desert island!

What do you do when you are not writing?

I love to swim and to take walks in serene parks. Both of those activities always clear my mind and restore my perspective. And of course, read! Reading makes me laugh and cry and think about the world in new ways. But hanging out with my family and friends is at the top of the list.

VenkataramCaseOfKillerDivorceSide characters can make or break a story. What side characters have you enjoyed in other works? What side characters in your own work have caught more attention than you expected?

I wish I could be original here, but all of the side characters in the Harry Potter series were fun and interesting. Who wouldn’t want to be fussed over by Mrs. Weasley, or learn about magical creatures from Hagrid? In my own books, I was surprised at how much Duke Broussard took over. He has a large personality! And he seems to have a lot of fans out there.

Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers? 

Well, my second Jamie Quinn mystery, “The Case of the Killer Divorce” will be out on audiobook in August. And my fourth Jamie Quinn book, “Engaged in Danger,” will be out in September. Finally, my book of humorous essays, “A Trip to the hardware Store & Other Calamities” has been chosen as a finalist in the Readers Favorite Contest, Woo hoo! That’s all the exciting stuff going on in my world.

Places to Find Barbara Venkataraman

Goodreads

Amazon

Facebook

Interview: Michael Meyerhofer, Author of Wytchfire

MichaelMeyerhoferAuthorEveryone, please welcome the author of Wytchfire to the blog today, Michael Meyehofer. We’re going to chat about poetry, ways to burn down a city under siege, the Star Wars Holiday Special, a college course in SFF literature, sidekicks, along with a lot more! Prepare to be entertained!

What are your non-writer influences?

Being an unapologetic addict to the History Channel (Ancient Aliens notwithstanding), I get a lot of inspiration from documentaries. I’m fascinated by ancient and religious history, and of course ancient military history, and I try to weave those elements into my stories whenever I can. One small example: in The Knight of the Crane, the forthcoming sequel to Wytchfire, I needed a quick way for one of my more loathsome antagonist-generals to take down a well-fortified city. I recalled a documentary that mentioned how someone (I think it was Olga of Kiev) conquered a hostile town by capturing birds, tying burning twigs to their claws, and setting them free to spread the blaze around the rooftops of the town. I thought it was a fascinating, if macabre, story (those poor birds!) and decided to incorporate something similar into my book. I also tried to incorporate a lot of my nerdy interest in the history of the samurai and medieval European knighthood.

MeyerhoferWytchfireWhich ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

Ha, I’ve always wanted to sit down and read Paradise Lost but to this day, I still haven’t gotten around to it. I’m really fascinated by different religious texts (especially the Epic of Gilgamesh). Not sure if this counts because I technically read them piecemeal in college, but I’ve always wanted to go back and spend some time with The Odyssey and The Iliad, too.

Who are some of your favorite book villains?

Not to state the obvious but pretty much all of George R. R. Martin’s villains are chillingly awesome—I think because they’re so complex, never quite completely evil. In that same vein, I’m also really partial to Tolkien’s Boromir, Lloyd Alexander’s Ellidyr, and Raistlin from the Dragonlance books.

Often various historical aspects (people, locations, events) are used in fantasy and sometimes rehashed in a far-flung future. Are there examples of such historical aspects being used well in the SF/F genre? Examples of what didn’t work for you?

Not to sound like a broken record but GRRM is another great go-to for this. His rugged, realistic depictions of realistic, messy warfare seem heavily influenced by medieval history and political intrigue. I think Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books pull that off, too. Here are a couple more examples relating to warfare, since we’re already on that topic. As I mentioned earlier, I’m also a big fan of how Raymond Feist handles his battles (and even more so, the preparation for battle). There’s also the obvious example of how JRR Tolkien’s experiences with trench warfare affected his depictions of battle in his Lord of the Rings books, not to mention how Kurt Vonnegut’s experiences informed Slaughterhouse-Five and his other works.

There are plenty of examples of historical stuff woven into stories besides those involving warfare, though. I was recently impressed by the way Deborah Harkness uses her background as an academic to weave historical elements into A Discovery of Witches. I also love the echoes of “western” philosophy and “eastern” religion that frequently pop up in SFF, plus how the social and political strife in SFF worlds often mirror the social and cultural revolutions we’ve experienced throughout our country’s own relatively short history. Frank Herbert’s Dune books and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series are a couple examples. In terms of what doesn’t work for me, though, I don’t have specific examples so much as a general complaint. I find that I’m not all that interested in stories that propagate rather silly historical misconceptions. For instance, the Knighthood in my Dragonkin Trilogy is heavily inspired by the samurai, but I tried to steer clear of silly stereotypes that the samurai were always honorable, undefeatable paragons of virtue. I think that, like medieval European knights, they could be as terrible and repressive as they could be honorable and selfless.

MeyerhoferClayShaper'sHusbandWhat reboots (or retellings) of classics have you enjoyed? Are there ones that haven’t worked for you?

I’m a sucker for pretty much any dark re-imagining of fairy tales, ever since Anne Sexton did that in her poetry. I picked up My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me the other day and I’m already halfway through it, really digging the premise! Also maybe it’s just the English prof in me but I can’t help thinking that virtually all the stories we see today can in some way be traced back to Shakespeare (of which there have been plenty of excellent and awful adaptations, by the way). That’s not a bad thing, though, since probably all the basic story elements in Shakespeare’s plays can be traced back even earlier, maybe to Homer. And his stories echo even earlier myths, back and back, to cave-shadowed campfires near heaps of charred animal bones. Even back then, I think humans had the same basic fears, desires, and curiosities (but significantly less literacy and way more body hair).

In this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging?

There’s no denying the fact that self-promotion is as challenging as it is essential—especially with so many other fine, hard-working authors clamoring to get noticed! You need to write countless blog and forum posts, plus maintain very active Facebook and Twitter accounts, and maybe even more importantly, you can’t just promote your own work! Especially with so many books coming out all the time, readers don’t just want to hear from someone who pops in once a year to announce a book release, then disappears. They want authors who are also active members of the community. And it has to be genuine because readers are smart and they’ll see through insincerity pretty quickly. In other words, an author also has to prove that they’re a voracious reader, that he or she loves the genre they’re writing in, that they’re as willing and eager to talk shop and promote other writers they admire. Oh, and authors need to do all this while still finding time to write and revise three, four, even five-hundred-page manuscripts.

That’s all pretty daunting, sure, but I don’t mind. Actually, I like it because it’s worthwhile. Whoever said that it should be easy? I’d add that I first came to publishing as a contemporary poet, and poetry has an even smaller audience than SFF! So that made me more respectful of what it takes to “make it,” and even more grateful and humbled when I find a reader willing to give my work a chance, or a fellow author willing to promote my work aside her or his own.

What is your favorite fictional holiday (from books, movies, or tv)?

I’d love to sit in a big smoky hall and hoist a mug on Durin’s Day (the Tolkien Dwarfish equivalent of New Years Day). Whacking Day from The Simpsons would be cool, provided the snakes are unquestionably eeeevil! I’m also tempted to add Life Day from the Star Wars Holiday Special, though I’m not quite sure I can bring myself to do it.

MeyerhoferDamnatioMemoriaeWhat were you like as a kid? Did your kid-self see you being a writer?

Oh, I was the poster child for shyness and over-sensitivity! I recall spending whole days sitting with a book—sometimes because I was lost in a story, other times because I was afraid to go outside and face bullying for birth defects (a malformed right ear and a bad limp, which seemed like the end of the world back then). Eventually, though, overcoming this gave me extra ambition and some extra perspective that I could weave into my own writing.

If you could sit down and have dinner with 5 dead authors, who would you invite to the table? What would they order?

Li Po – hot and sour soup and a salmon bagel. Walt Whitman – a big plate of hot wings. D. H. Lawrence – mead and a turkey leg. Emily Dickinson – a Cinnabon. Raymond Carver – straight whiskey, probably.

If you were asked to create the syllabus for a college class in SFF literature, what books would be on there as required reading? As passing discussion?

Oh, that’s a tough one! I know there’s some disagreement as to whether or not this constitutes SF but Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five would be high on my list. I already mentioned George R. R. Martin earlier, though I’d probably start with The Tales of Dunk and Egg, his Song of Ice and Fire prequels. I’m also partial to the character development (particularly for Erik Von Darkmoor) and the realism in Shadow of a Dark Queen, the first book in Raymond Feist’s Serpentwar Saga. Of course, there’s Arthur Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (though I’m maybe a bit more partial to Childhood’s End). I’d also need Madeleine L’Engle, J.K. Rowling, and Philip Dick in there somewhere, too, though I’d have a terrible time picking one of their books over another.

KnaakReaversBloodSeaCare to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?

What, me be awkward?! Ha, actually, I’d have a hard time coming up with an instance when I met a writer (novelist or poet) that I really admired and I wasn’t kind of a dork about it! I tend to get really, really excited when I read something I like. In fact, I have kind of a strange rule that if I come across a book that blows me away (or a short story or a poem, for that matter), I make an effort to contact the author and let them know. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few readers do that for me and let me tell you, that kind of thing makes it all worthwhile.

Cover art can be so important for a book, making or breaking sales. What cover art has caught your eye, that you found stood above other books?

While part of me has a soft spot for minimalism, I also love the epic feel of pretty much every cover made for Richard Knaak’s books. And I’m still jealous of the cover of Raising Chaos by fellow Red Adept author, Elizabeth Corrigan!

CorriganRaisingChaosWhat do you do when you are not writing?

I’m really into exercise, especially weightlifting. Like I said, I love documentaries. And video games. And, of course, reading.

Side characters can make or break a story. What side characters have you enjoyed in other works (books, movies, plays, etc.)?

Oh, I have a soft spot for side characters! I absolutely love Tolkien’s Faramir, Lloyd Alexander’s Prince Rhun, GRRM’s Davos Seaworth, Terry Brooks’ Garet Jax, and Margaret Weiss and Tricky Hickman’s Hugh the Hand.

You are also a poet, and as such, what works would you recommend for a science fiction, fantasy reader?

I like poets who know how to tell engaging stories with humor and cool imagery, but without pretension. Luckily, there are plenty who can do just that! Here are just a few of my contemporary favorites: Dorianne Laux, Sharon Olds, Yusef Komunyakaa, Stephen Dobyns, Allison Joseph, Justin Hamm, Norman Minnick, Peter Davis, George Bilgere, Djelloul Marbrook, Travis Mossotti, and Tony Hoagland. For poets technically no longer listed among the living, some of my favorites are Walt Whitman, James Wright, Li Po, Emily Dickinson, D.H. Lawrence, Basho, Issa, Chiyo-ni, Wallace Stevens, and Ai.

Places to Find Michael Meyerhofer

Website

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K2DPJ60

Barnes & Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wytchfire-michael-meyerhofer/1119392198?ean=2940149291106

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/wytchfire-3

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20935130-wytchfire

Book Page on RAP: http://redadeptpublishing.com/wytchfire/

Author page on RAP:  http://redadeptpublishing.com/michael-meyerhofer/

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Interview: Georgina Garrastazu, Author of Jaguars

GarrastazuJaguarsEveryone, please welcome author Georgina Garrastazu to the blog. She recently published her first book, Jaguars, and even with the whirlwind madness of all that, she still had time to do an interview here. We chat about lucid dreaming, Divergent, dinner menu for dead authors, and a few historical texts.

Myths and beliefs that we would consider fiction or fantasy in modern literature once upon a time shaped history (think of all the hunts for unicorns & dragons). Do you see modern fantasy fiction affecting human cultures today and how?

I see modern fantasy definitely affecting human culture. It affords people the opportunity to examine concepts, such as good and evil, outside of the parameters set by religion, nationality, and race. By taking the reader into a new dimension, reality, and mindset, the author gently moves the reader into new and cleaner parameters. Cleaner because ideas, words, and their definitions become imbued with meaning through life and usage. By cleaning these extra meanings out, the reader can start anew with his/her examinations of core concepts without the weight that certain “items” have acquired.

I can give an example of this, kind of. I haven’t read the Divergent books, but I did see the movie this last weekend. In Divergent, you have what appears to be a society repairing and rebuilding itself by classifying its citizens into personality types. The real story, at least to me, is not about some girl who chooses a new more exciting life, but about whether one trait can truly be superior in a person’s life to the exclusion of all other traits. Can intelligence truly be what is best for society without the balance of the others? Without the balance of honesty, joy, action, or compassion? Bruce Lee would say no – “It is compassion, not the principles of justice, which guard us against being unjust to our fellow man.” I would agree. Any story is a simplification, in a way, yet this one successfully forces us to examine the idea of utilitarian intelligence unfettered by compassion and the dangers such a state might lead to.

I also see fantasy as a way to slip certain ideas into modern thought. More to the point, it is a way to reintroduce certain entities in under the radar for the “talented” to rediscover and contact. Not all fictional characters or beings are truly fictional. But this is another matter, entirely.

What fictional world would you like to visit for the holidays? Is there a fictional holiday that you would like to take part in?

I wouldn’t mind spending any solstice with the Elven peoples. Imagine the beauty and magic of how they must celebrate!

Which ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

They are on my t.b.r. list, I swear!
a) Three Books of Occult Philosophy – Agrippa
b) The complete works of Thomas Aquinas
c) The Hindu scriptures

a) & b) – because I want to know the thoughts they had before they repudiated, reconsidered, or recanted them.
c) – because the double is found in the Hindu pantheon. The double is what my own work concentrates upon and revolves around.

In my experience, some of the best fiction is based on facts and history. How do you build your research into your fictional works?

I agree with that, in general, just not in my book. My main aim is to teach people how to reach the double and how to use it. Everything else is extraneous. I use the story to frame this aim and put it into context or to explore other actions related to the double. My own research was in lucid dreaming and I first performed the double in 1996. Since then, I have experimented with it and other aspects of dreaming and related activities, such as gazing. All of these I write down in my practitioner journals. Then I lift them from the journals and insert them into the story. So the lucid dreams in the story are fairly factual, even though some of them are out of order to when they actually occurred.

That’s what I do. I don’t know what real fantasy writers do.

In this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging?

I don’t know enough about self-promotion and I despise the idea of telling people to read my book. I find it embarrassing. I would like to get to the point where I could talk and discuss the finer points with the readers, especially if they are practitioners of dreaming. All I’ve done is mention my book on Facebook and WordPress.

What were you like as a kid? Did your kid-self see you being a writer?

When I was real little, I was super-cute with long hair, a happy disposition, a smile, and little patent leather Mary Jane’s. Then I went to school and it was all downhill from there. I became very shy, introspective, and weird. The type of kid who doesn’t care to conform to how their peers think they should be. Since I went to Catholic school, I used to spend a lot of time in church, just sitting there in the early afternoons. So I was a loner at an early age.

I wanted to be a dentist. I had this incredible dentist named Dr. Thompson who had his office building framed with Mayan stone glyphs. He also had a little treasure chest that I would raid after my appointments. There were plastic trinkets in it along with lollipops. Then one day, he disappeared. He was piloting a small plane and was lost in the Bermuda Triangle. Except for that last part, I wanted to be like him. He was kind, compassionate, and a gentleman. That was a real loss to humankind.

If you could sit down and have a fancy meal with 5 dead authors, who would you invite to the table? What would everyone choose to eat?

I’d invite Kurt Vonnegut, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Anton Wilson, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff and Pyotr Demianovich Ouspenski for dinner. Wait, I also want to invite Ovid because he was the catalyst for me becoming a bookworm. So he stays even though he ups the diners to 7 for dinner. As far as I’m concerned, they will eat whatever I put on the table. People who aren’t cooking may not control the menu in my house. There will be fine wines to drink, along with Coke and water. For appetizers, we will have Tortillas de Patata which are Spanish omelettes made with fried potatoes and onions. There will also be chicken croquettes and Papas Rellenas which are fried and breaded potato balls filled with seasoned ground beef. Then for the entrée we will have a dish I make that is a cinnamon and ground almond chicken stew over rice. We can have espresso and flan for dessert.

Cover art can be so important for a book, making or breaking sales. What cover art has caught your eye, that you found stood above other books?

I’m not the right person to ask about this because I like plain books without cover art, those that just have the title printed on the cover. But those are non-fiction books.

Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

I have an article coming out in Affluent Magazine sometime in the summer. I’ll let you know if anything comes up. Oops, the print edition is coming out mid-April, so I guess that counts.

Places to Find Georgina Garrastazu

Blog – The Toltec Arts

Facebook

Amazon

GarrastazuJaguarsAbout The Book, Jaguars

Lonely and dissatisfied with eternity, Zaki Raxa Palo is an immortal seer from the golden age of the Toltecs, the time during the emergence of the great Lord Quitzalcuat. He is alive today because of the arcane secrets he learned. He describes the first twelve days of his instruction in the esoteric as they occurred thousands of years ago, when the tight knot of immortality was unraveled before him and he was taught to wrap it around himself.

Although he is a prince with a questionable birthright, once he hits puberty the learned seers and sorcerers around him seize upon the moment as they groom him for kingship. Suddenly, Zaki is forced to learn and take notice of the world around him; no longer can he be the isolated and lazy boy he was. Accompanied by his pet, Chahel, an orphaned jaguar, he is led into the reality of myth. The lead instructor of wisdom, the Cabicacmotz, introduces him to the frightening practices of the Toltecs. Who knew that awareness could dwell in one’s shadow?

Zaki has seen a few games of Bateh, the deadly ball-game, but he has never seen it as it is meant to be played, where intent can propel the ball towards the goal and defeat can be complete. On the day of the Festival of Adults, a private affair within the tribe, he sees the royal team upon the grand ball court. The Cabicacmotz leads him around the festival to receive omens from different groups he must learn from. The Chuchmox will teach him gazing, the sneaky Etamanel Evan will make him smoke a spiky plant, the Balam Ch’Ab will show him how to transform himself into a jaguar, he will learn to play Bateh with The Jaguars, and the strange Ahtoobalvar will show him how to fly over mountains in a new body.

Fate has conspired against little Zaki. His instructor, the Cabicacmotz has the ability to set Zaki’s hair on fire and he just might become his brother-in-law. Worst of all, the Cabicacmotz can read his mind and rifle through it at ease. How does one only think good thoughts? It’s a trick worth learning when one’s hair is on the line.

Being a boy was a luxury, no one paid any attention to Zaki. Now he is counted as a man, it seems, and all of the tribe knows his business. Disappear once while trying to gaze at one’s shadow and everyone hears about it. They even think he might have been transported away by the Xibalbans, the denizens of the underworld. Zaki can’t understand what all the fuss is about. He doesn’t understand that it’s best never to be noticed by those beings. Now he is under constant observation.

The only good thing that has happened is that Zaki now has friends. Only the noble-born children get to learn the arts or those who have been pointed out by omens. Two brothers, Hac and Cham, of the lowest caste are chosen to learn alongside Zaki. Quiet Hac and the cocky Cham are the only boys who are confident or stupid enough to befriend the prince. At least Zaki no longer feels invisible and unworthy. Friends can make all the difference.

Not everything is going well in the tribe, however. Spies have delivered devastating news to the Toltecs. Once, long ago, the Toltecs rebelled against false gods and their followers within the tribe. They thought they had destroyed them all, but now they know that is not so. The idolaters have thrived and they are forcing the tribes around them into subjugation. Do their gods still exist? No one knows. They only know that they must be stopped and war is in the air.

No matter what, though, he is still going to have to learn all that his teachers demand. He’ll have to wear a navel stone, practice dreaming, smoke things that make him think oddly, learn where his sense of self is at all times, live with purpose, and discover that the childhood stories of his tribe contain incomprehensible and esoteric truths. The world is much more mysterious than he ever imagined…