Interview With Francis Knight

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Today is release day for Francis Knight’s Fade to Black, the first book in the Rojan Dizon series. If you would like to see my review, please click here And here is the blurb:

It’s a city built upwards, not across—where streets are built upon streets, buildings upon buildings. A city that the Ministry rules from the sunlit summit, and where the forsaken lurk in the darkness of Under.

Rojan Dizon doesn’t mind staying in the shadows, because he’s got things to hide. Things like being a pain-mage, with the forbidden power to draw magic from pain. But he can’t hide for ever.

Because when Rojan stumbles upon the secrets lurking in the depths of the Pit, the fate of Mahala will depend on him using his magic. And unlucky for Rojan—this is going to hurt.

I am in the lucky position of being one of Francis Knight’s beta readers. However, I would like to point out, if you are thinking of kidnapping and torturing me for spoilers, I also have an alternate set of plot points, and no matter how badly you torture me, no matter how high you play the Justin Beiber, you will not know if you are getting the real goods….or the alternate goods. So just be good (see what I did there?) and wait like the rest of us.

To try and sate your need for more info, I asked some questions to get to the nitty gritty of this series. Below is my interview.

Fade to Black has so many levels (no pun intended) of genre. It has shades of fantasy, sci fi, dystopia, alternate history (I say this because they do have a definite English tone to their slang) and urban fantasy. How do you classify it? Or do you?

It’s difficult – it’s not really UF, it’s not really this or that. I like to call it fantasy noir, which is the closest fit. Cynical main character, check. Femme fatale, check, lots of rain…check. Or as one crit reader put it about the setting, ‘Demented’. Pretty sure that was a compliment!

So, Rojan tells us what a scamp he is, but he has a habit of behaving like a decent human being. Does he not realize this? 

He does, but he doesn’t want anyone else finding out! He has trouble – or more like is afraid of – connecting with people. If people think he’s actually OK, next thing you know he’ll be having friends and things. Which scares him silly, down in the deepest parts of his heart. So he puts on this show, and hopes like hell no one will notice.

Rojan is a great narrator – probably one of my favorite 1st person POV depictions. He’s definitely got his own voice. Where did that come from? Was it cultivated, or did it come fully formed?

It pretty much came fully formed, I’m not sure exactly where from. He just kind of…turned up. But let’s say I know a man or two like him. Cynical and brittle on the outside, soft as teddy bears on the inside.

First I have to congratulate you on the cover. It really brings Mahala to life. How involved were you in the cover design – and did it come out like you expected?

Hehe – it was nothing to do with me! My editor said they had plans for something using perspective, which I thought sounded pretty cool. Then they sent me the art work (by the fantastic Tim Byrne) and my big input was ‘OMG I LOVE IT!’. Wait till you see the art for book 3 – the best yet.

Religion plays a big role in the life of Mahala, as there is no separation of church and state. The Ministry rules with an iron fist and uses religion to keep folks in line. I felt that the Goddess has two faces. The Downsiders have her vibrant and colorful, or “primal and raw” to use Rojan’s description. The Upsiders have a toned down sort of “Buddy Goddess”. She looks benign and slightly constipated. She is usually depicted with the Tiger, Namrat, who is the death that stalks us all. This is a fascinating concept. What inspired it?

Well it wasn’t exactly conscious at first – but I think with religion, people see the facet that is most useful to them, and that’s part of the strength of it, but can also be its weakness. The Downsiders believe that it’s the fight that’s the thing, that while Namrat will win in the end you have to fight him every step of the way so that’s what they see in their Goddess. Back in the past of Mahala this was, well, a pretty useful way to be. Nowadays, Upside and the men who run it would rather people didn’t fight them so much, so they changed the message. Now it’s more behave nicely – read: do not revolt against the Ministry –  and you’ll get a pat on the head and a biscuit in the afterlife (sorry, that’s Rojan talking there…) so they see her differently.

If you look at a lot of religious artwork (I’m not talking only Christianity) you can often see this sort of duality, depending on the times it was created in/was depicting. Most gods seem to wear more than one face….and people take the one they need at the time.

Just as the Goddess has a dual nature, so does the city itself. Or is it a triple nature? We never see Clouds or Heights, where the sun shines, but we understand it’s pretty sweet. We lurk in Under and then learn the city goes even deeper, and the life down there, while miserable in a lot of ways, has more freedom of religion, music, and more color. That’s almost the exact opposite of what you’d expect for a totalitarian regime. (Is that a question?)

In the Pit – well, not to spoiler, considering everything else that’s going on *cough* then certain freedoms are allowed as a sort of sop to that. What they give with one hand, they take with the other….For some time, no one knew that anyone survived down there and their society evolved away from that Over. Once they were discovered it was more difficult to enforce changes, so they let some slide, in return for turning a blind eye. Also, hey, those big shot Ministry dudes want somewhere nice to go and have their secret, impious fun. If they tried half of that Over, everyone would pitch a fit.

Your main character is a man, but you also have an ass-kicking female gladiator, Jake. Where did your inspiration for her come from? Was there ever any thought of turning things around and doing the POV from her angle?

I did initially consider doing the book from Jake’s POV – originally it was her story. Like most of my characters, she was inspired from several sources, for instance, partly a real life article about a woman who was a born survivor, and once survived, spent her time making sure others caught in the same trap survived/escaped. There may have been slightly less magic and swords in that case…. But the story that came out, it wouldn’t have worked so well from her POV, I think. Also, I’m not so sure I could have done her justice.

 I know this is a trilogy – do you want to tease where we go next?

Ooh, well. Rojan is going to discover a lot about himself, and about the city and the people in it. There’ll be murders, mayhem, old faces and new mages, and he decides that women will be the death of him. Top of the World will never be the same again after Rojan visits….he does so like to make an impression.

Thanks so much for answering my questions. I’m excited for you! I think you’re gonne be BIG! 

That’d be nice! But honestly, just glad to have my stuff out there, which I couldn’t do without my trusty betas….

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Things have been a little bit quiet on the ol’ bloggeroo – because I’ve been reading like crazy. I’m in the first blush of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, and loving it – but I’m also reading one of my own manuscripts in an attempt to start the editing process. It’s hard. I’m enjoying my own book, but wishing the world would stop so I could disappear into The Historian’s world. I’ve also gotten two really great looking books from the ebook library *in monotone* “All Hail the Ebook Library”. World War Z by Max Brooks – which I have been DYING to read, and picked up something that just caught my eye – The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian. Start your blurb with “In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house….” and I’m pretty much yours. But…onward to one from the vault.

we need to talk about kevin

The blurb:

The gripping international bestseller about motherhood gone awry

Eva never really wanted to be a mother – and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin’s horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.

It’s hard for me to read a book where I really loathe the main character. The mom here is caustic, superior, racist and homophobic… only she would probably cringe that I referred to her in those terms. She’s racist and homophobic in that rich, elitist way; as if to say “I have a right to these opinions. I am well educated. I have travelled the world.” She might even say her view on other races and gay people has something to do with her being European, or Not American, something she points out ad nauseam, and confused the hell out of me. I don’t remember her revealing a big backstory of herself (we know her mom and dad were Armenian – father killed in the genocide) so I was very confused about this whole not-American thing. Eva’s mom lives in Racine, WI, and Eva went to school there since at least middle school. How do you grow up and go to school in Wisconsin and not consider yourself American? She’s one of those people who call upon the oppression of her own people as an adult, but is oblivious to the oppression of others.

Sorry – that is a bit of a tangent. It’s why I don’t like the character. I wish I could just hate her. But then the book wouldn’t be as good as it is. Why do I feel any guilt at disliking her so much? Because of her suffering. She forces herself to suffer. She doesn’t move away from the town where the tragedy occurs. During the civil suit, where she was sued by her son’s victims families for being a bad mother and making Kevin the way he is, she doesn’t follow her lawyer’s advice and comes off like a cold, heartless bitch on the stand. If she would have minded her P’s and Q’s, the whole case probably would have folded. Instead, she shows everyone what a monster she really is, and loses her business and house, not to mention continuing the “see, she’s a horrible mother” thing she is so wishing to redeem herself from.

And she is horrible. At times I am convinced that her son is evil and was born to be bad. At other times, I wonder if she hears what comes out of her mouth and can’t blame the kid for the way he is. In so many ways, Kevin is just like his mother. He looks like her, he is unfeeling. He is cold. He doesn’t give her what she wants in a little boy. Kevin is also racist and homophobic, but he uses the slurs and slang she avoids. He throws it in her face to get a reaction – even though she has no business saying anything. What can she say? “Can you be a little less obvious of a biggot, like mother is?”

However. Monstrous son. Mysogenist prick of a husband (I won’t go on about him, we’ll be here all day.) Insufferable main character. And this is all so beautifully written, that at times, I am pulling for one or the other of these horrible people. I feel sorry for that miserable bitch of a woman. Then for all of them. I want them all to get what they want/need. But you know that’s not how this is going to go down. Sort of like the duck and the snake – the duck knew what the snake was when he picked it up…. pick up a snake and you will get bitten. And I was bitten by this story. I can see I am not going to be able to stop thinking about this for days.

Fade to Black (Rojan Dizon #1) by Francis Knight


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I am very excited about this. If you will note, the release date for Fade to Black is in the side bar ———–>

What I’m excited about is that I have snagged an interview with the author, Francis Knight. It will be on the blog on February 26th, release day! Whoo hoo! A major coup. It doesn’t hurt that I am one of her minions, who got to beta read this bad boy before it went to press.

Oh yeah. I admit it. I am proud of it. Here is the blurb:

It’s a city built upwards, not across—where streets are built upon streets, buildings upon buildings. A city that the Ministry rules from the sunlit summit, and where the forsaken lurk in the darkness of Under.

Rojan Dizon doesn’t mind staying in the shadows, because he’s got things to hide. Things like being a pain-mage, with the forbidden power to draw magic from pain. But he can’t hide for ever.

Because when Rojan stumbles upon the secrets lurking in the depths of the Pit, the fate of Mahala will depend on him using his magic. And unlucky for Rojan—this is going to hurt.

My take:

First person POV has become a hallmark of the Urban Fantasy genre. But this is more than urban fantasy. The author uses the term “noir” and that’s fitting. Noir needs voice, grit, and colorful characters. Add to that a government that holds its people in an iron grip, poverty, lingering seepage of a substance called Synth that was an alternate power source until they realized it was killing everybody, and the sorts of people that flourish in the dank and dirt of a city choking on it’s own populace, darkness, and fear. This is the setting alone.

And luckily for us, Rojan has a gift for description. He paints the city with a verbal brush, so you almost shrug your shoulders in, made aware of the claustrophobia of the buildings all around.

Mahala was built to make you look up, and then up again The other side of Trade, the merchant houses, shops, arcades, markets, show rooms and laboratories were all covered by more buildings, so that all I could make out in the lowering light were facings, flashing red Glow lights shouting out wares, and black chasms between. Walkways clung to them like spider’s webs, if they were spiders trying to spin a city. Above lay Heights, on graceful spires and spindles, then Clouds, giant platforms that I would never see except from underneath, full of gardens and rarer wonders, or so I’d heard.

Please allow me one more:

So, just under Trade, beneath the factories that were the pumping heart of the city, their rumble echoing through every brick and girder and bone. This place wasn’t a factory. It was a shack with graffiti that would make a whore blush painted over the shutter. It looked derelict, as though the only thing holding the place together was the neighboring buildings, to the sides, above and below. In the shuddering darkness, the shop hulked like a giant abandoned baby, unwanted, unloved.

As for plot: Rojan is a pain mage who prefers not to resort to pain. He’s good at finding people, especially through magical means, but as that is illegal, he does his best to do it without cutting himself or dislocating a finger. (ouch) So, you know what’s ahead, right? You don’t get to be a pain mage and sit on the sidelines when your niece is kidnapped. He has to use his magic to find her, and it tells him she’s in a place she should not be. A place cut off long ago due to the Synthtox. But down there he must go.

This book gets going and really rolls. Snappy pace, great characters, secrets upon secrets, I’m almost afraid of giving too much stuff away! I really recommend this if you enjoy Urban Fantasy, dark fantasy, thrillers with fantasy elements. It’s a great read.

Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters

stuart a life backwards

Warning: I use language in this review.

I don’t know how to sum this up. It’s not the typical book I read, but then again, this isn’t a typical biography. Most biographers hold their subjects at arm’s length. That’s the rules, normally. But Stuart (the subject) and Alexander (the writer) are buddies, and not only is Alexander in the book, but Stuart is reading it along with you. The first line is “Stuart does not like the manuscript.” As a matter of fact, “It’s bollocks boring.” Which I think in American is “this shit sucks”. Stuart wants his autobiography to be a bestseller, “Like what Tom Clancy writes.” So Alexander starts over. And he takes Stuart’s advice, to write it backwards, to make it interesting.

Here is the link and here is the blurb:
In this extraordinary book, Alexander Masters has created a moving portrait of a troubled man, an unlikely friendship, and a desperate world few ever see. A gripping who-done-it journey back in time, it begins with Masters meeting a drunken Stuart lying on a sidewalk in Cambridge, England, and leads through layers of hell…back through crimes and misdemeanors, prison and homelessness, suicide attempts, violence, drugs, juvenile halls and special schools–to expose the smiling, gregarious thirteen-year-old boy who was Stuart before his long, sprawling, dangerous fall.

Shocking, inspiring, and hilarious by turns, Stuart: A Life Backwards is a writer’s quest to give voice to a man who, beneath his forbidding exterior, has a message for us all: that every life–even the most chaotic and disreputable–is a story worthy of being told.

After all, Stuart is not your typical subject for a biography. Alexander met Stuart while he was drunk and begging on the streets of Cambridge. The next time he meets him is at a campaign to free two social workers that have been arrested because homeless were dealing drugs in a shelter. The attempts to right this social wrong is where their friendship begins.

Stuart is what Alexander calls “a chaotic” and the kind the social workers try to help: a violent, homeless junkie, an alcoholic, a victim of sexual abuse, a mental patient, a criminal, and a sufferer of muscular dystrophy and self-harm. I saw the movie and watched an interview with Tom Hardy, who played Stuart. He said it perfectly. When it comes to Stuart, there are a lot of gongs to ring. But despite all the crime, the life on the street, the time in mental health or prison facilities, Stuart has another side, and it’s not at all what I was expecting. For instance, he takes his son to task for having a rude message on his outgoing answering machine. He believes politeness is important. He is an advocate for the homeless (being one, who better to speak for them than a member of that fraternity) and he tries to teach the “middle class” (such as Stuart and the other members of the campaign as well as the local Member of Parliament) things they just don’t understand about helping the homeless: how the increase of puppies and the limited space for homeless with pets leads to increased deaths during winter, the limited storage space in jail, and how to make convict curry. He tries to make his suicide attempts look like murders or accidents because his brother committed suicide and he doesn’t want his mother to go through that again. In other words, he’s a conscientious chaotic.

Despite Stuart’s violent temper, clashes with police, and penchant for knives, Alexander repeatedly refers to him as gentle and soft-spoken, insists that he has no fear of Stuart at all. They drink together, go shopping for furniture, eat a string of horrid meals, and Alexander accompanies Stuart to his court cases. Alexander even takes Stuart into the country to visit friends. All the while, he listens to Stuart’s story, for the book, and tries to show you what Stuart was, and then how he got that way.

Stuart is an enigma. I don’t know how to sum up this book. How do you sum up a life? I don’t think you do. I think you just read Alexander’s attempt – and it took a whole book. A very engaging, well written, funny, intense, sad, heartbreaking, enlightening and occasionally dirty (as in “dude” humor dirty) book. I don’t read much non-fiction, and it’s rare I recommend it to people – but I strongly recommend this book. I’ve always said that is one of the best compliments you can give a book. But the very best thing you can say about any book is that, at the end of the day, I’M glad I read it. Is reading books good for you? I think it must be. I don’t think you can read something that moves you and not be affected by it, or bettered by it. I think I was bettered by reading this. I think a lot of people could be. If nothing else, it makes you think about the nature of compassion; towards those people you walk by. What are there stories? How did they end up there? What could be done for them, what can they do for themselves? And, how is it that I am not among them? What is so different about me?

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge for 2013**

In celebration of two hundredth anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I’m taking part in the Austenprose Bicentenary Challenge for 2013. Here is the original blog post if you are interested.

The idea is to pick a challenge level (Ie: how many Pride and Prejudice inspired books, be they prequels, sequels, non-fiction, fan-fiction, etc., or movies or miniseries) then post our review on your blog. I am going gung-ho with 11 books and a review of the 2005 movie starring Keira Kniightly.

But that is for next month. This month, I am reviewing the original. The darling child of Miss Austen herself. In case you’ve been living under a rock and have just stumbled out from under it, here is the blurb from Goodreads. Also, a warning. This “review” will contain spoilers.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

So begins Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s witty comedy of manners–one of the most popular novels of all time–that features splendidly civilized sparring between the proud Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet as they play out their spirited courtship in a series of eighteenth-century drawing-room intrigues. Renowned literary critic and historian George Saintsbury in 1894 declared it the “most perfect, the most characteristic, the most eminently quintessential of its author’s works,” and Eudora Welty in the twntieth century described it as “irresistible and as nearly flawless as any fiction could be.”

My intersection with Jane Austen and all her books is not that old. Only a few years. But I have already read Pride and Prejudice five or six times. I adore it. It has what I love about old books. A bit of rambly plot, where you go to lots of dinners and hang out at other people’s houses for months and months. Letters. Doings in the town. And that thorn in the side of most young ladies at the time: maiwadge. That is the end-all be-all for Mrs. Bennet, who has five daughters she needs to see tie the knot before she dies. And it has one thing that I adore above all in a book.

A broody Englishman.

I don’t know what it is about this archetype that pushes my randy buttons. It always has. As a very young girl, watching Masterpiece Theatre at my grandmother’s house, I was far too young to know that what I was feeling were the first stirrings of attraction toward a certain type of man, but I was always held captivated by the men on the screen, in their severe black coats and cravats. Maybe it wasn’t the men. Maybe it was the cravats. Because I love me a man in a cravat, especially if he is sporting a healthy set of sideburns. Man whiskers. Mmmhmm. It’s something that has stayed with me. Forever.

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Of course, in the book, we get Mr. Darcy’s brood via description. Here is how we meet him.

...but his friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. The gentleman pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening…

Well, of course, then we learn that he’s proud and stand-offish, and despite having the good manners to be both handsome and rich, he cheats everybody by acting like it. Then he really sticks his foot in it when he insults our heroine. Despite the limited number of gentlemen at the ball, he doesn’t dance with her, claiming she isn’t handsome enough.

Hmph.

However, in true Elizabeth fashion, she can’t be bothered. She makes it a joke among her friends, and the next day, she famously says “I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.”

But Mr. Darcy speaks in haste. Shortly after this, a few dinners, perhaps there is another ball, I don’t exactly remember, his opinion changes. And we get the joy of knowing what Elizabeth doesn’t.

Occupied in observing Mr. Bingley’s attentions to her sister, Elizabeth was far from suspecting that she was herself becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of his friend. Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticize. But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes…. he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their playfulness.

If that doesn’t make you quiver, I’m going to need you to hand over your woman card.

The trouble is, Darcy doesn’t know how to let her know how he feels. They’ve verbally sparred, well, clashed might be a better word, and she clearly enjoys discomfiting him. He does what awkward men do. He stares at her. She imagines he is only looking at her to find fault. Too shy to talk to her himself, he listens in on her conversations. Lizzy catches him at it and calls him out. However, Elizabeth is having a great time. She doesn’t like him, but she doesn’t shrink from him. She likes pushing and pulling at him, knowing he is too reserved and well-bred to really quarrel or even lose his temper.

Just when you are starting to feel real pity for Darcy, they part. Darcy and Mr. Bingley go to London. But Lizzy soon goes to visit her best friend who has had the (mis)fortune to marry Lizzie’s lump of a cousin. And who should show up but Mr. Darcy and HIS cousin. The two households pay polite respect to one another by visits. And as Lizzy wanders the grounds, who should also suddenly have need of exercise? Mr. Darcy. He joins her, but he does not speak. After a few such encounters, she makes sure to tell him “This is where I walk. I like this walk. I walk here all the time,” thinking “he doesn’t like me, he doesn’t mean to meet me, he will surely not come this way tomorrow.”

I guess Mr. Darcy can’t take a hint, because sure as a vicar squats in the privy behind the vicarage, he’s there again the next day. Elizabeth doesn’t know what to think.

mr darcy omg ican't even

Finally, when he can bare it no longer, the poor fool throws himself on his sword, shows up out of nowhere and pops the question…while insulting her family and telling her how hard he tried not to like her because of what he considers “low connections.” After some spluttering, Elizabeth tells him she doesn’t give a hoot about his feelings, oh, and there is also the matter of his removing Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth has discovered their trip to London was all about splitting up Mr. Bingley and her sister, who were well on the way to K*I*S*S*I*N*G before Darcy dragged him off.

Double hmph.

Well, they verbally spar some more, and part in high dudgeon. At this point it’s harder to decide whose stick is farther up which butt. Mr. Darcy writes her a beautiful letter, trying to explain his side of the situation. He also makes her aware of some falsehoods put forward by a young man who has been representing to everyone that Darcy is a heartless bastard who robbed him of his rightful inheritance. That’s gotta sting. He writes well and at length. She is softened. She reads his letter again and again. Even thought it stirs up anger and feelings of betrayal, she tries to look at it through his eyes. He doesn’t know that he is almost forgiven. He has to leave.

I have brought you my impression of the upright, broody Englishman of Pride and Prejudice through 50% of the book. There is a lot more broody English-stuff that goes on. Makeups. Breakups. Absconsion. It’s a word. “To abscond.” Or it should be. All to the trembling end, Mr. Darcy keeps his stiff upper lip, he does what he believes to be right. He did it in the case of Mr. Bingley and Jane, and he does it again when another of Elizabeth’s sister’s gets into a scrape. But this time, he does it for Elizabeth. The first half of the book, he is closed to us, and we do not know why he behaves as he does. In the second half, and after the beautiful letter, we see more into his soul. We see his house and hear of his character and behavior from others who have no stake in the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy. Only then does Elizabeth decide that perhaps she was too hasty in painting him with the brush of her opinion. That her own pride made her prejudiced against him.

See what I did there?

But seriously. You must read this book if you haven’t, and read it again if you have. It’s one of the great English novels. That’s reason enough for me. That it should also have a great English hero (and Heroine!) is just the icing on the Austen cake of deliciousness.