Saturday, July 8, 2017

A New Voice in Dark Fantasy: Sean M. Hogan

A week ago, my good friend Sean M. Hogan published his first novel on Amazon, The Crow Behind the Mirror. Now, you'd think that accomplishment would be enough, but he also decided to publish two other works at the same time: a novella called The Marauder and a book of short stories titled The Devil, the Grim Reaper, and a Ghost.

I first met Sean when he walked into the Brea Library Writer's Club, and from the beginning, his work just blew me away. I thought, Why doesn't this guy already have his book in Barnes and Noble? Later, when he joined my writing group, The Pendragons, he was a machine, constantly bringing in new chapters. Sean's forte is dark fantasy, and he can write humor, drama, and horror--and sometimes all three at once--but he never lets go of the character's humanity. He's got one of the strongest eyes for description I've ever seen.


I've reviewed his work in this blog and on Amazon. Obviously, I know him and want him to succeed, but more than that, I think his work is amazing and I hope people will discover him and fall in love with the complex world he's created.

Currently, The Devil, the Grim Reaper, and a Ghost and The Marauder are both 99 cents on Amazon, and The Crow Behind the Mirror is $2.99, but all three will be FREE on Monday, July 10th and Tuesday, July 11th. If you're uncertain or broke, you can pick them up then. But if you can afford it, buy it now, since they really are a bargain buy. And remember to review.

Book Review: The Crow Behind the Mirror




Author: Sean Hogan
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Epic Fantasy

Note: Sean M. Hogan is a friend from my writing group The Pendragons.

Summary

Ages ago, Eric, a warrior and a man of faith, saves a boy on the eve of war--and sets himself on a path of sin, power, and destruction.

In our world, a social misfit named Sharon Ashcroft has never forgiven her father for abandoning her. After a wretched first day in a new high school, she follows a strange crow to an old house where a mysterious mirror lurks in the basement. But this mirror is more than it appears--a portal to another realm.

In the pink-skyed world of Tuat, pig-runs war with humans under the rule of a lizard god, a boy with clown make-up and red eyes conspires with a cloaked man, and endless winter consumes the land--except at the pyramid of life. Thrust into the center of the discord, Sharon finds she's become a valuable pawn that everyone is desperate to get their hands on. Who can she trust? How will she find her way home?

To survive, this lost girl must find the strength to know what she believes in.

Review

Sean M. Hogan has created an epic fantasy with dark overtones that spans different worlds, eras, and cultures. The world building on display is fantastic. Myths and magic tease at the start of the story, but it is when Sharon finally enters Tuat that the book picks up the pace. In addition to vivid imagery and beautiful prose, the book is anchored by a thread of philosophy that runs deep through the book, as characters discuss faith and doubt, reality and illusion, and the nature of the soul.

My biggest issue with dark fantasy is that it can easily become too bleak, but I didn't have that problem here, mainly because Sean M. Hogan infuses his book with characters I can root for. My stand out favorite was Michelle Lionmane (who also stars in Sean M. Hogan's novella The Marauder), who is easily one of the most heroic characters in the book. But I also found myself sympathizing with the pig-runs, goblin pig hybrids, and their lizard god, Khaba. Although they appeared to play role of the nameless barbarian hoards, they actually have their own reasons for fighting in the war, which I found refreshing and compelling.

The weakest point for me was the Eric chapters. Although he and Sharon are definitely connected, their stories never really align. Unlike Sharon, whose chapters move in chronological order, Eric jumps back and forth in time, making it difficult for me to follow his character arc. Many questions are raised, but there are few definitive answers.

The ending of The Crow Behind the Mirror absolutely blew me away. In the last chapter, events from throughout the book are re-interpreted, themes fall into place, and Sharon is forced to make a decision about who she is and who she wants to be. It was amazing.

The Crow Behind the Mirror is a must for anyone who loves dark fantasy and epic worlds.

Book Review: The Marauder



Author: Sean M. Hogan
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Novella

Note: Sean M. Hogan is a friend from my writing group the Pendragons.

Summary

Gray-eyed, blond-haired Michelle Lionmane is on a quest to avenge her mentor, the previous Marauder known as Atlas. But when she arrives in post-apocalyptic New York City, she finds ghouls, wraiths, and demon dogs standing in her way. Fortunately, Michelle has just the weapons to handle them--a broadsword that can channel elemental magic and a demon-eating vortex attached to her left hand. (She calls him Lefty.) A Marauder struggles onward, no matter the cost. But when a new threat rears its head, will it be too much for Michelle to take?

Review

This story is like the pilot episode of a really awesome anime. There are visceral images, snarky banter, cool fights, and an anything-goes world that contains a surprising amount of philosophy. The only problem is that, like an anime episode, it was short and had a minor cliff-hanger ending that ultimately left me salivating for more.

Considering how short it is, The Marauder contains a surprising amount of world-building. This may be because Sean M. Hogan draws upon his own mythology from his epic novel, The Crow Behind the Mirror. The Marauder isn't merely a spin-off of Crow, but instead appears to be set in an alternate universe. Places and characters are name-dropped, but they are presented very differently. For example, Michelle Lionmane appears in The Crow Behind the Mirror, but her backstory is noticeably changed. There's currently no explanation for this alternate world, although later episodes may fill in the blanks.

Michelle, the main character, is awesome. She is tough but vulnerable and very witty. Of her two companions, my favorite was Lefty, the sentient "hand goblin" with a voracious appetite. His interactions with Michelle are sometimes disgusting, often hilarious, and always fun. I didn't personally care for Michelle's other companion, a gun-totting cowboy named Jon, but his backstory surprised me with its heart.

Should you get it? Definitely. It's a fun, action-packed read with lovely prose and strong characters. But don't be surprised if you're left wanting more.

Book Review: The Devil, the Grim Reaper, and a Ghost



Title: The Devil, the Grim Reaper, and a Ghost
Author: Sean M. Hogan
Genre: Short Stories, Dark Fantasy

Note: Sean M. Hogan is a friend of mine from The Pendragons, my writing group.

Summary

Four dark short stories with fantastical elements provide chills, thrills, and laughs.

"Motel Black"

A newbie hitman is given the devilish opportunity to double his money--but more is at stake than he realizes.

"The Grim Adventures of Meryl and Doug"

When fluoride poisoning kills Meryl, she strikes a deal with the Grim Reaper. A single good deed can restore her life.  Shouldn't be too hard, right?

"The Voice of the Beyond"

After 10-year-old Justin is threatened by a man in a clown suit, his only chance for survival is to listen to a supernatural voice.

"The Monster with No Eyes"

A monster learns the true meaning of happiness--stealing everything he doesn't have.

Review

Two of the short stories, "Motel Black" and "The Voice of the Beyond," have previously been published individually under the name Sean Michael Hogan. They've been repackaged here along with two new stories and sample chapters from Sean M. Hogan's novel, The Crow Behind the Mirror.

Sean M. Hogan is great at dark fantasy, and here he shows off both his dramatic ("Motel Black," "The Voice of the Beyond") and comedic ("The Grim Adventures of Meryl and Doug," "The Monster with No Eyes") chops. The stories are well-written, with a surprising amount of character development, vivid imagery, and a rather wicked use of irony. My personal favorite was "Motel Black," probably because I can't resist a good "deal with the devil" story, but those with a taste for irreverent humor and pop culture references should enjoy "The Grim Adventures of Meryl and Doug."

These stories are not for little kids. "Motel Black" and "The Grim Adventures of Meryl and Doug" both contain profanity and violence, and the subject matter of "The Voice of the Beyond" may be disturbing to some. I would recommend it for older teens and up. The stories are dark, with some elements verging on horror, and if that doesn't appeal to you, you may want to hold off. However, those who want short twisty tales with a dash of dark fantasy are sure to be delighted.

Why I've Been Gone

Hello.

I know I've been absent for a while now. The truth is, I've been undergoing a bit of a career change and with that comes less time and less willpower. I've been working on getting my teaching credential for English. Wish me luck on it.

As a result, I'll be less consistent with my blogging. Sorry.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Weekly Update: 11-17-16 Books and Pondering Escapism

 Is fantasy just
an escape? No. We explore
life as it could be.



So last week the election happened.

It hung over me like a dark cloud. I was doing my unpatriotic best to ignore the whole thing, feeling rather poisoned by the bad atmosphere. But come Wednesday morning, I woke up to the news that the world had changed. Reality TV gave us Donald Trump as a president, and I really don't know what to do with that.

Between that and the slight break in homework, I decided to do something I hadn't done in a while and bury my head in a book. I read The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. In it, a vast Library acts as a portal to alternate worlds. Librarian Irene is sent to a steampunk version of Victorian London to retrieve a rare copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales, only to find it's already been stolen. Teaming up with an apprentice who is more than he seems and a meddling detective, Irene is soon plunged headlong into danger when an old enemy of the library emerges from the shadows.


The Invisible Library was a fun book to read, though I was a little underwhelmed by the mystery portion of it. I solved it midway through. Like so many books I read, it started to build on some interesting ideas of the notion of chaos, but ended up eschewing the debate for an action climax. This made the book fast-paced and enjoyable, but I felt a little sad that it did not trigger as much deep thought as I would have liked. It was a solid read, and I'd recommend it.

Since I feel pretty helpless about what's happening in my country, I decided to focus on what I could do, namely, write. My earlier fears about failing to make it to 50,000 words have died, so I decided to challenge myself with another goal. I want to write everyday. It seems like a simple thing, but I've never actually done it. So far so good. I haven't missed a day of writing, even if I don't always make it to 1667 words.


On Saturday, Brea Library invited three science fiction and fantasy authors to speak in a panel, as they unveiled their new shelf of Sci-Fi/ Fantasy books. Given my history with the Brea Library and my interest in fantasy, I had to attend, and I dragged three other Pendragons with me. Apparently, I was networking like no tomorrow. Or at least using the opportunity to chat with people and hand out a couple of my bookmarks.

At the panel, we met:

John Joseph Adams, publisher of Lightspeed and editor of Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, an anthology of short stories. He spoke about the process of choosing selections and told us about the Clarion Workshop in San Diego. When I got to speak to him, he introduced me to a couple of veterans of the workshop and we exchanged information.



Kim Vandervort, a professor at Fullerton College and the author of The Song and the Sorceress and The Northern Queen. I was going to buy one of her books, but Rita bought the last copy. Kim spoke what makes female heroines both strong and different from men. She identified three strengths of women heroines: they use words as a weapon and communicate, they can't rely on their physical abilities so they use their brains, and they build networks of support. I really related to those qualities, which I often stick in my own heroines, and I told her as much.



Todd McCaffrey, the son of Anne McCaffrey, who wrote the Pern series and is probably the superstar of the group. He told us about some of his upcoming books and urged writers to enter The Writers of the Future contest and the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards (for 7th-12th graders). When I spoke to him, I asked him which of the Pern books to start with and he said Dragonflight.



Jill Patterson, a librarian, moderated the panel.

Among the intriguing questions brought up was why science fiction and fantasy are important as genres and why they don't seem to get respect the way normal fiction and mysteries do? The panel expressed the idea that SF/ F is "the genre of tomorrow," that it is not an escape, but a means of exploring ideas and possiblities. And I heartily agree with that. Most of the writers are dreamers and engaging in play, something that more pretentious genres may look down on. I think that play is necessary, though. There is so much that we don't know that if we do not use our imagination, we are limiting ourselves.
Todd McCaffrey said that as time passes, science fiction either becomes fact or fantasy. I leave that quote for my father, a budding science fiction writer, who has been noticing the merging of science fiction and fantasy. There you have it, Dad. A reason your genre and mine look so much alike.

When discussing trends, they spoke about how fantasy has become more international, both that settings are taking on a less Euro-centric sweep and that authors are emerging from other countries. Apparently Atlantis has been popping up a lot as well, which may have to do with Global Warming. They left us with these authors/books as recommendations:
  • Lois Mcmaster Bujold
  • Yoon Han Lee
  • Linda Nagata
  • Ken Liu
  • Red Rising
  • Leviathan

Monday, November 7, 2016

Weekly Update: 11-7-16 Monster of Productivity


I fear I have become
A Monster of Productivity.
My skin has hardened into
Scales of armor:
A prison for my soul,
Small and groaning
From the pit of my stomach,
Giving me indigestion.
 
I fear my hands have sharpened into
Claws to shred soft young skin.
I fear my tongue has become a slab,
My voice a gravelly rumble.
I fear my eyes have become
Deadened to sunlight. I cannot see
A duck fishing on a rippling pond
In autumn. My mind are gears
That crunch and crunch as they
Grind together.

I fear
I have nothing left to fear
But myself.

* * *

Today I had the sudden realization that this week might actually be--comparatively--easy. So easy, that I might be able to spend this morning doing something fun and spontaneous.The revelation shocked me to the core.

Last week, I was busy with three jobs, two projects, and one Nanowrimo. But I wrote up a schedule, calculated my hours, and executed like a 5-Star General. For all my angst and fear of Nanowrimo, I ended up ahead of my word count. (Incidentally, last Friday, I also got a letter saying I got into my Credential Program--so yay for me--student teaching, here I come.)

Having decided that I had some free time, I took a walk this morning and read some poetry by Pablo Neruda. My mind was filled with motion and took quite a bit of coaxing to adapt to stillness and contemplation. I thought about how the plants of So-Cal never seem to change, that the seasons are indistinguishable, that it seems so timeless. And yet, when I went to the park, I could recall the me of yesteryears, angsting about where my life was going.

I haven't felt that sort of angst in a while.

Which is good, I suppose. I feel settled, I have a routine, I'm happy. But I worry that I spend too much time doing and not enough time being. Does that make sense? Take writing, for example. I've developed a considerable set of skills. I can outline, knock out word counts, revise, and edit. But do I actually have anything to say? Have I somehow lost the art in the obsession to master skills?

Maybe what I really want is time to relax. A large chunk of time where I'm not juggling schedules, projects, and expectations, where I can walk and read and have adventures and not worry about the To-Do List waiting for me at home.