Category: Stuff That’s Important

Book Review: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Review written by David Ploskonka

Looking foScreen Shot 2016-02-07 at 2.30.21 PMr a book you can truly sink your teeth into? A book practically designed for the winter months when you’re trapped inside?

The Luminaries is exactly what you need.

Think HBO’s Deadwood set in New Zealand during the 1860s gold rush. It’s a jigsaw puzzle of a book with a dozen interlocking mysteries; a cast of characters so compelling you will change whom you’re rooting for every time you turn the page; and a plot chock-full of dead bodies, adultery, opium addiction, con artists, gold prospecting, prostitutes, and séances. Yes, séances.

We follow Walter Moody who has come to make his fortune during New Zealand’s gold rush, but finds much more than he was looking for. We are pulled into the town’s story as well, following the lives of over twenty key characters as they struggle for wealth, love, power and, sometimes, for life itself.

The Luminaries is not a beach read. But, worry not, for Catton manages to make every page compelling with her gorgeous writing, sumptuous world building, and unyielding eye into the mysteries of what makes us all human. (And, yes, it even won the Man Booker Prize.)

I defy you to examine even a single piece of this jigsaw, and not play until the entire puzzle has been revealed.

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Book Review: Incarnations by Susan Barker

Review written by Patrick Stuart, SiCCO President

0You know, everyone has a different genre they prefer. Some like books that are comfortable, tried and true . . . like snuggling under an old comforter, with an equally old dog across your feet, on a cold winter’s day when the house is empty and it’s just you and that cozy or whodunnit that’s been tempting you for yea so many weeks. Ain’t nuthin’ wrong with that.

And then there are books that bitch-slap you repeatedly across the face, then drag you semi-conscious into a dirty bus station restroom to do even worse. The Incarnations belongs in that category.

The story takes place in current China (Beijing) with the protagonist Wang Yu, a man in his early thirties, and his young wife and daughter. Wang is estranged from his father, an upper-level party official used to nights of binge-drinking and wanton decadence, now brought down by a stroke and trapped in a wheelchair piloted by his spiteful and much younger mistress. Wang’s mother is just a memory, having suffered a bad marriage and dying under mysterious circumstances, now only briefly appearing in her son’s thoughts. As the story unfolds, Wang also appears to have suffered in his youth, paying for his acts with various forms of abuse and imprisonment.

Wang throws away his vaunted education to become a taxi driver, and eventually starts receiving notes on his cab from an anonymous soul-mate who claims they’ve been together for centuries, reincarnated in different bodies, sexes and nationalities. The notes describe their different pairings in detail, without offering a clue as to the author. Wang first thinks it’s a joke, then slowly descends into a cycle of schizophrenia as he tries to determine the source. The growing swirl of events and physical acts culminates in an ending like a broken mirror, shattering the reflected lives of everyone involved.

The modern parts of the story are timely and strong, but the real interest is the interweaving with the historic passages of past lives. All involve acts of depravity and violence, both fascinating and disturbing in their detail. As someone with part-British, part-Chinese backgrounds, Susan Barker combines ancient and modern China with fantastical British story-telling, and I often found myself comparing this to one of several books by David Mitchell (e.g., The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet or Cloud Atlas). It’s a blend of Chinese history with a unique sense of magical realism, resulting in a story that’s, quite simply, difficult to put down. The Incarnations may not be for everyone, but if you’re looking for something that’s equal parts inventive and engrossing . . . step into that bus station restroom.

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Lucy A. Snyder, Past SICCO Speaker, Makes Stoker Award Ballot

Lucy A. Snyder spoke to us last year about writing, publishing, and the specifics of the horror and dark fantasy genres. Her newest book, While the Black Stars Burn, was just listed as a contender for a 2015 Bram Stoker award. In keeping with our support of SiCCO speakers, we asked her to keep us updated and she shared the following guest blog post. Thanks for sharing and good luck Lucy!

0Raw Dog Screaming Press published my latest book While The Black Stars Burn two months ago, and since then it’s been well received by readers and reviewers. Most recently, it was selected for the preliminary Bram Stoker Awards ballot (titles which advance to the final ballot become official award nominees.) I’m very excited about being on the Stoker long list; other working horror writers vote on the award, and it’s always a joy to know that your peers enjoy the work you’re creating.

Publishers Weekly had this to say about the collection: “Malevolent lineages and emotionally fraught familial relationships propel the plots of most of the 13 genre-spanning stories in Snyder’s strong collection. … Snyder (Soft Apocalypses) excels in her depictions of characters struggling desperately—and often futilely—to extricate themselves from terrifying snares set by loved ones. Readers will find her stories a cut above most other tales of interpersonal and supernatural horror.”

While the Black Stars Burn is the follow-up to my previous RDSP collection, Soft Apocalypses. I think that readers will enjoy While the Black Stars Burn even more than Soft Apocalypses, and if you’re new to my short fiction, it’s an excellent place to start. It’s got a gorgeous cover from Italian artist Daniele Serra; he’s been creating covers for a whole lot of Lovecraftian and weird fiction books lately, and it’s easy to see why! He’s an amazing talent, and I’m thrilled that the folks at Raw Dog commissioned his work for my book. This is hands-down one of the best covers my books have ever received, and it’s even prettier on the trade paperback than it is on screen.

About three quarters of the stories in this book are tales I’ve written in the past two years. The collection is a mix of horror, dark science fiction, and dark fantasy. Several of the stories have Lovecraftian and King in Yellow mythos themes, and the stories all feature female protagonists, most of whom are struggling against terrifying family situations.

Here’s the Table of Contents with a quick description of the stories:

  1. “Mostly Monsters” – A literary short story about a woman attempting to cope with a recent PTSD diagnosis.
  2. “Spinwebs” – A medieval fantasy story about a family in a mutualistic relationship with giant spiders.
  3. “The Strange Architecture of the Heart” – A near-future science fiction story about a woman with an intrusively helpful android.
  4. “Approaching Lavender” – A horror story about a woman artist whose family is destroying her identity.
  5. “Dura Mater” – A science fiction horror story about a woman who encounters a malevolent force during a faster-than-light space journey.
  6. “The Still-Life Drama of Passing Cars” – A horror story about a desperate family on a road trip.
  7. “Through Thy Bounty” – A science fiction horror story about a female chef who’s forced to cook humans for her alien captors. It’s one of my older stories, and a reader favorite.
  8. “Cthylla” – A Lovecraftian story about the daughter of a cult movie star.
  9. “While the Black Stars Burn” – A horror story about a young violinist; this ties in with the King in Yellow mythos.
  10. “The Abomination of Fensmere” – A story about a girl detective named Penny Farrell who goes to visit her Southern relatives and quickly finds herself ensnared in a plot to summon Lovecraftian horrors.
  11. “The Girl With the Star-Stained Soul” – The continuing adventures of girl detective Penny as she finds herself transported to Carcosa and trapped in The King in Yellow’s sinister plans.
  12. “Jessie Shimmer Goes to Hell” – A horror adventure story featuring Jessie Shimmer, the protagonist of my urban fantasy novel series (the first book in the trilogy is Spellbent). This tale also features Lovecraftian monsters.
  13. “Fable Fusion” – A Doctor Who story that originally appeared in Doctor Who Short Trips: Destination Prague. It features the Seventh Doctor (portrayed on television by Sylvester McCoy) and his companion Ace.


Lucy A. Snyder is a four-time Bram Stoker Award-winning writer who wrote the novels Spellbent, Shotgun Sorceress, and Switchblade Goddess. She also authored the nonfiction book Shooting Yourself in the Head for Fun and Profit: A Writer’s Survival Guide and the story collections While the Black Stars Burn, Soft Apocalypses, Orchid Carousals, Sparks and Shadows, Chimeric Machines, and Installing Linux on a Dead Badger.

Her writing has been translated into French, Russian, Italian, Czech, and Japanese editions and has appeared in publications such as Apex Magazine, Nightmare Magazine, Pseudopod, Strange Horizons, Weird Tales, Steampunk World, In the Court of the Yellow King, Shadows Over Main Street, Qualia Nous, Seize the Night, and Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 5.

She lives in Columbus, Ohio and is a mentor in Seton Hill University’s MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction. She also writes a column for Horror World. You can learn more about her at and you can follow her on Twitter at @LucyASnyder.



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Book Review: Writing a Novel With Scrivener by David Hewson

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Review by David Ploskonka

Writing a novel is a daunting prospect, and writing mystery novels pose their own unique challenges: clues, motivations, timelines, red herrings, suspects, and keeping all of that straight. Thankfully, there is a piece of software to help. It is called Scrivener.

Depending on what you want to do, you can dive right in to Scrivener just as easily as you would a standard word processor. But its real power resides in its more advanced features. Scrivener includes tools for every step of the writing process: brainstorming, outlining, and researching, and tracking key story elements during the writing and revising process. When you’re finished, you can export your novel into Microsoft Word or formats compatible with Kindle and other e-publishing services. (Yes, it works for short stories as well, and even has versions for Windows and Macs.)

However, as great as Scrivener is, it is not without a learning curve. It takes a little practice before it becomes more of a benefit than a burden. But, trust me, once you mess with it a bit, you’ll wonder how you survived without it.

Scrivener provides tutorials on YouTube, but my favorite resource is David Hewson’s Writing a Novel With Scrivener (

Hewson’s guide is practical and concrete. It covers all of the basics for the software and then digs deeper into each feature and its use. Each key feature is covered in its own section, enabling you to refer back to it as you’re writing. Even better, the book is chock-full of screenshots to help you understand exactly what part of the software is being discussed. Hewson is a writer himself and has lived and died by Scrivener for years. Because of this, Writing is more than technical book. Writing is as much a helpful primer on writing itself as it is on the technical aspects of Scrivener.

If you’re struggling to start writing, or want to better organize a work-in-progress, give Scrivener and this book a shot. Scrivener retails for $45, but they offer a special for NaNoWriMo each year.

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