You think you know fairy tales, but you have no idea…

What a wild week of adventure, sex and violence for me… Phew!

In keeping with this week’s blog theme of racy book reviews, allow me to introduce V.M. Sawh, who boasts some impressive authorial street cred (see below). No doubt, each accomplishment could not have been achieved without the shedding of blood, sweat, and tears—though not his own. Rather, his wildly imaginative series: GOOD TALES FOR BAD DREAMS pays in pounds of flesh, depicting some sick twists on classical princess tales.

Sawh didn’t always know he was going to be a writer, but from the age of six he’s been putting pen to paper, creating serialized fiction. Hailing from the humid jungles of South America, Sawh crossed oceans to arrive on Canada’s snow-covered shores at age nine. He continued writing, creating serialized fiction year after year until he challenged himself to write a novel. His first trilogy of novels was completed by age sixteen, but despite encouragement from his Writer’s Craft professor, never published, as the publishing industry was as intimidating then as it is today. He continued writing poetry and fiction for the next decade and a half until an open call for fairy-tale submissions changed everything. V.M. Sawh resides in a small town north of Toronto, with his beloved wife and two cats. He continues to spin fairy-tales that will haunt your dreams.

Check out these creds!!!
i) As part of the launch for “Cinders”, he was featured in the January 2014 issue of the Toronto Sun newspaper.
ii) Announced as winner of the Ontario Writer’s Conference Story Starters Contest
iii) “Cinders” and “Hontas” have made it to #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases List.
iv) “Anastasia” has over 1.5K reads on Wattpad, Toronto’s free story-sharing website.
v) Completed his first trilogy of novels by age 16.
vi) Decided to publish “Cinders” after a face-to-face meeting with Guillermo Del Toro (Director of Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Pacific Rim & Crimson Peak) (JC: Really? I mean, really?)

Contact Links:
Website: https://www.vmsawh.com (for The Official)
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/VMsawh/ (for The Pretty Pictures)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vmsawh (for The Issue Discussions)
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/VMSawh (for What Readers Think)
Twitter: @VMS_author (for the Random & the Immediate)

Purchase Links:
Cinders on Amazon
Anastasia Free on Wattpad
Hontas on Amazon

Onto the review…
I WAS PROVIDED FREE COPIES OF THESE BOOKS FOR AN HONEST REVIEW:
cindersanastasiahontas
First and foremost… Look at these covers! HONTAS is my favorite, it’s just gorgeous and evocative.

As previously noted, Sawh gives us some sick spins on classic tales. Let’s just start with CINDERS… never in a million years would I correlate a whore house and Cinderella in the same thought process, but dammit all if he doesn’t make it seem natural. Poor Rella, she’s still the little peon in the house, but she gets hers while they lose theirs… blood, I mean. Yes, we still get the prince and the ball, but Sawh takes this fairy tale to a whole new corporeal level that is both beautiful and tragic.

As an instant follow up to the first story, I love how he blends the glass slipper tale with that of the lost Russian princess, ANASTASIA, and Rella’s wicked step-sister. While the tale of Cinderella would never elude to it, Sawh offers us insight into Anna’s chain of circumstances that provoke her mistrust and hate toward the world. It was just a lovely tale full of pirates and harlots. In the end, I guarantee you look at the step-sisters differently.

Wrapping up the series (as it is available today), Sawh moves away from the Cinderella theme with some frontier feminism in HONTAS. She and John Smith are bounty hunters, and their current commission may just be their undoing. Pocahontas is still the strong, self-assured woman I think we’d expect, but now she’s riding bareback and wielding a firearm. Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up—that’s what Sawh does. I would kill to gain more back story on Hontas and John. What a wonderful partnership.

Throughout the series the prose is fluid and eloquent. Sawh’s style is descriptive and visual, sensual and grotesque. He keeps it dark and sexy, just the way I like it. Now, my one little grip—because you can already see this coming, right… these are novellas!!! I’d be hook, line, and sinker for full novels. I would love to delve deeper into all of the characters, their dynamic, and plots.

So, let’s pick Sawh’s brain a little…
1. Please tell us a little bit about what sparked your inspiration for this series? Why novellas as opposed to full-lengths?

This current series “Good Tales For Bad Dreams” was conceived as a out-of-the-box exercise to stretch my writing legs and try something new. I’d been writing and re-writing my main novel for a while and wanted a different kind of challenge entirely. I saw a posting for a fairy-tale anthology which was open for submissions, so I mulled it over for a couple of weeks, but didn’t actually go through with it until one night when I was driving home with my wife. The road was particularly dark and we’d been listening to some classical Japanese music when I mentioned to my wife that the music had made me think of a girl drowning in freezing water. Bless her heart, my wife actually started asking me questions about the girl: who she was, where she’d come from and how she’d ended up there. The answers poured out of me as if they’d always been there. That’s when I realized that I had my Cinderella. I bled all over the keyboard for three weeks, until I had a story that cast Cinderella in a completely original light. Then, fearing what the readers might think, I censored it before submitting. After months of waiting, “Cinders” made the publication’s short-list but was ultimately rejected for being too dark, sexual, and violent. Crushed, I decided to give it another go, this time working with my delightful and insightful editor to bring it back to its more brutal roots, to where it was always meant to be. That story became “Cinders”.

I prefer working in the short fiction format because it forces me to be ruthless with my narrative. Every word, every sentence, every emotion has to count because there is literally no room for error. I wanted to provide readers with something that they could absorb in a single sitting if they wanted to.

2. Your writing is at times gruesome, at other times very sensual. How do you describe your writing style and process?

I didn’t know it was either of those things until a reader remarked to me that my work was like “John Steinbeck meets Quentin Tarantino”. I think that’s awesome, if it’s true. If it’s not, I’m totally going to pretend to believe that anyway so HA! Sometimes I want the reader to see, feel and hear the knife going into their chest, other times, I don’t want them to know it’s there until it’s already scratched their heart. It all depends on the tale, but either way, I want my readers immersed in the tales.

Generally speaking, I will draft an outline of what the story is going to be, what elements need to be included, what the plot points are and how it’s going to end. Everything else is free to grow and change. More than once I’ve had a story reveal itself to be a different kind of tale than what it started out as.

3. Are you planning to add to the series? What projects do you have lined up?

“Good Tales For Bad Dreams” will have a new addition soon, a sci-fi take on the ‘Hansel & Gretel’ fairy-tale called “GR3T3L-1”. Next, we’ll journey to feudal Japan for a tale of rebirth, revenge and regicide in “Setsuko and the Seven Samurai”. After that, we’ll be travelling to Medieval Scotland for “Wraithuponzell”, which will be followed up by a collected edition of all the tales in Volume One. Then I’ll take a break and if all goes according to plan, may be releasing the first of a trilogy of novels set in the future, in Los Angeles. That project also has a slew of associated short stories set within that universe. Each short story will serve as chronicles of the main characters within the trilogy.
(JC: Absolutely brilliant!)

4. If you could have dinner with any of your characters, who would they be? (you may pick more than one)

That’s a tough one, Rella and Anastasia are teen-aged European prostitutes, Hontas is a Native bounty hunter and all of the supporting characters are generally bastards of the varying degrees. It’s very difficult to pick just one, because while I feel for Rella, and her situation, it’s going to be hard for her to trust any man. Anastasia is never going to let you see past her many adaptive facades, so while she may be the most entertaining, there will always be that aspect of performance to any interaction she has with a man. Hontas, on the other hand is in a position where she isn’t going to sit down at a table for anyone if she doesn’t have to. So I will have to pick “GR3T3L-1”. That book’s not out yet, but I am hopeful that once readers give it a chance, they’ll see why. Did I mention that GR3T3L-1 is a sentient robot with access to the cumulative knowledge of human history?
(JC: I am all about sentient robots… I’ll be eagerly anticipating that one!)

5. Is there a book that has made a lasting impact or an influence on you?

Anything Alan Moore has written can fall into this category. I feel like I’m learning something every time I read any one of his works. Sure, he’s insane, but most of the best writers are. I read his “Anatomy Lesson” story when I was far too young, and that was hugely influential on my development. Likewise for Stephen King’s “Dark Half” and Robert Mason’s “Solo”. In the classics realm, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” also count as influences. On the graphic novel front any of the works from Alan Grant, Greg Rucka, Garth Ennis, Jamie Delano, Brian K. Vaughan, Grant Morrison and many others.

For more contemporary authors, I’ve enjoyed Kelly Thompson’s “The Girl Who Would Be King”, Andy Weir ‘s “The Martian” and Jeff Vandermeer’s “Annihilation” as well as several of the writers from the SupportIndieAuthors group. Superhero fans should check out Ann Livi Andrews’ “Rehab for Superheroes” series. Zombie fans will find plenty to love in offerings from Christina McMullen and Riley Amos Westbrook. Fantasy lovers should take a look at BB Wynter’s “The Lament of Sky”. And for those readers out there looking for something just a little west of the Twilight Zone, Dwayne Fry’s your man.

6. If you could live in any other time, when might that be?

The Future! I want to know how it all turns out. Also, I’m assuming there are giant mechs that we can use to fight the inevitable giant monsters we either create or invite here from another planet. I want mine in blue.

7. What’s currently playing on your iPod/CD player/music app?

Well after the tragic loss of Grooveshark, rebuilding of the playlists is underway. Daft Punk is a fixture, as is Florence and the Machine. Prodigy – in all their raucous glory is a mainstay. At the moment, The Weekend is soothing me to sleep.

8. Top “bucket list” item?

Never understood this turn of phrase.
Why would I kick a bucket when I die?
Does the bucket have a rusty nail sticking out of it?
Am I dying from the resulting tetanus infection?
Am I stranded on a desert island away from civilization and medical care, with only the smartass bucket to taunt me with its tin facade???
… I’m never getting off this island am I?

Oh…um… publishing my novel and holding the hardcover in my hands – that’s definitely on the list.
(JC: leave it to a writer to whisk off on a tangent here….)

And just for fun…
1. Live without your phone? OR Live without your computer, iPod, and clean clothes?
So live naked with a smartphone or have things normal human people enjoy without constantly staring at a 6 inch screen?
Muahahhahahaha
(JC: You can still have the clothes on your back… you may develop a nasty funk after a while though.)

2. Be a vampire? OR Be a werewolf?
Wolfpire! I get to suck blood and be my own shag carpet. Plus being able to hypnotize people into doing your bidding would definitely come in handy when I’m waiting in line at the grocery store. Plus, turning into a giant person-eating monster wolf is a great excuse not to come in to work.
(JC: Great… can’t wait to see all the wolfpire sub-genre titles flooding the market now.)

3. Receive $5 a day for the rest of your life? OR Receive $50,000 right here, right now?
Some reluctant math calculations later… I’ll take the 50k… This is tax-free right? No?
Wait… what do you mean I have to get the 50k myself?
Oh, so I get to keep ski-mask, shotgun and getaway van afterward right?
Awesome, I know some people at SIA that will jump at the chance to crawl through some bank airducts.
(JC: you can try, but you better cut the lines to the security alarms first)

Final words of encouragement to fellow writers?
Know your reasons for publishing. If it’s for the glory of combat, then you’re better off building a time machine to travel back to the age of Vikings and try your hand there. If it’s for the money, then I might have a capital procurement venture that may interest you… if you can drive the van. Most of all, be patient. The superstars writers who had their debut novel sweep the New York Times are anomalies. And witches. Point is you’re only in this business against yourself. Listen and learn from those who’ve gone before you. Forge your own path. Always be gracious. Never let your ego get in the way of a good lesson.
(JC: I couldn’t agree more)

Again, it’s been a real pleasure having V.M. Sawh by the blog. I hope everyone takes this opportunity to feed their sadistic side today and sample this series.

Harlots and Heros and Espionage, Oh My!

Today we’re sitting with co-authors: Ben R. Marsten and Rhissana Collins. Their adventurous historical fantasy, MABEL BUNT AND THE MASKED MONARCHS (A Mabel Bunt Novel) sets the scene for what is sure to be a bumpy and thrilling ride for readers as the series unfolds. You can snatch up your copy of Mabel’s debut on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1Bnb1dQ – and I suggest you do! They were kind enough to swing by my blog with their characters for a review and some interview questions.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of an online encounter with these authors, then allow me… Ben Marsten is a writer with delusions of grandeur, who spends his time plotting tales and screaming in outrage at the internet. I don’t keep tabs on his plotting, but he’s very active online. He’s found his way to Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. His books can be found on Amazon under B.R. Marsten. As for Ms. Collins, you can check out her Etsy shop for dolls much like the famed Mabel Bunt, who inspired this wonderful read. She’s quite the multi-medium artist, you know!

Links:
http://thescrawlerswall.blogspot.com/
https://www.facebook.com/narrator.storyteller?fref=nf
https://twitter.com/BRMarsten
https://www.etsy.com/shop/Rhissanna
http://rhissanna.blogspot.com/
https://www.facebook.com/rhissanna.collins?fref=ts
https://twitter.com/Rhissanna

Onto the review…
Screenshot_2015-06-01-21-08-19-1
MABEL BUNT AND THE MASKED MONARCHS is the first in a series featuring a rambunctious and carefree harlot (Miss Bunt). When she’s hired to send off a nobleman before his meeting with the executioner, Mabel finds herself thrust head first into a tale of espionage and opportunity following a less-than chance encounter with one mysterious Lord Guise. He’s challenging the powers that be and unintentionally creating hope for the deprived people of Stestia. This story is filled with well-developed and unique characters (including one villain that makes my fan girl knees weak, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention him… go see for yourself), vivid imagery of a well-plotted fantasy realm, along with heart-racing action scenes and some blood-pumping shenanigans. I enjoyed every bit of this story. Marsten and Collins blend their styles beautifully, and together they challenge the limited POV rationale. If I were to have any opinion beyond wanting the second book out now, dammit, it would be to say that I love Miss Bunt, but her speech is a bit rough and can be difficult to work through at times. There’s good reason for it though, and I respect the artist’s poetic justice in applying such a thick accent to the rough-around-the-edges girl. Overall, this is a fun read that should take no more than a few days to enjoy.

As this was a partnership, I took the opportunity to ask both authors a few questions…
1.How did your collaboration come about?
Rhissanna: I was on an MMO and Ben was part of a circle of friends/writers who Hubby and I hung around with. Everyone talked about writing, but Ben was one of the few people who actually did any.

Ben: I met Rhissanna and her husband on an MMO that we all played. She got me hooked on blogging. I had an idea for a swashbuckling fantasy I wanted to write, and Rhissanna had an amazing character that became Mabel. It sort of developed from there.

2. I’m so very impressed by how seamlessly this story was co-authored. If you would indulge me, what was the writing process like?
Rhissanna: The method has its madness and we both came to the project with different techniques. Usually, if its Mabel’s point-of-view, it’s (almost always) mine, otherwise it’s likely to be Ben’s. Ben has the final say on fight scenes and dialogue, I’m descriptions and historical colour. He assembles the draft, I do a long edit, then he checks my edit and we’re done.

3. And on the flip side, there must have been disagreements, bumping heads, how’d you cope?
Rhissanna: Ben writes fast. Like, really, really fast. I’m a chronic procrastinator. When he says on Facebook that he has a chapter in my inbox, he’s not joking. And spelling/ phrasing is an issue as I’m British English and he’s American English. I use American spellings, but I also weed out USA idioms if they appear too anachronistic.

Ben: Disagreements were few. Mostly about tone, or motivation. We have a simple rule system. I am in charge of story. Rhissanna is in charge of Mabel. I have final say over plot. She has final say over how Mabel reacts and involves herself in that plot. Once you write following those rules, you know where you can and cannot tread.

4. If you could have dinner with any of your characters, who would they be? Why?
Rhissanna: The Poker. He has such nice manners.

(JC: Ooooh… this is a good one. I loved this character!)

Ben: Mabel. She likes beer and wouldn’t chide me for not using a napkin. And there might be sex after if I have enough pocket change.

5. The historical element is apparent in this fictitious realm. Who set the scene and tone for the story?
Rhissanna: Oooh, this is a good question. The era came from Lord Guise’s weapon. Once we’d focused on clockwork, we had to find an era that fitted and it seemed to be a time that History largely ignored. After the Great Fire of London and before Marie Antoinette and powdered wigs. For a USA reference, after the Salem Witch trials but before the Stamp Act. Corsets and swords, people. Corsets and swords.

6. From which barony would you hail? Why?
Rhissanna: I’m not staying in a Barony! I’m off to Filbrecia, where they know how to treat a girl!

Ben: Hepstead. They’re the most rural and agriculture based barony. The women wear breeches in some of their fashion and the men smoke long pipes like wizards and comment on the weather a lot. I’d probably feel at home there…

So, let’s meet Miss Mabel Bunt:

1. If you could go back in time and change any of the circumstances that brought you to this day, what would you change… if at all?
I’d have charged more. Lots more.

(JC: Hell yeah, girl!)

2. What do you miss most about your “old” life?
The romance, mainly… If I were to be honest, I miss getting three good meals a day, a bed to sleep in when I wanted sleep and not being on posters with a price on me head.

3. Let’s talk girl-to-girl. It’s fun getting all dolled up like a lady and having men ogle, isn’t it?
If yer’ve got the goods, might as well sell them and if yer gonna sell them, best make them look like they’re worth the coin. So, yes, I likes a pretty dress as much as Lord Guise seems to and even he’ll tell yer they look better on someone what has the proper bits. Not sure about all the soapin’ and scrubbin’ people insist on.

4. You seem to have a carefree-no bull take on life. What’s your overall motto?
“Get up an’ keep goin!”

Let us not forget the intriguing Lord Guise:

1. What is your weapon of choice?
An eastern saber is a beautiful thing. Designed for both speed and strength. But I prefer a sword cane. As a former instructor once said, “A man who can’t win a duel with a stick, has no business holding a blade…”

2. How do you remain so calm under pressure?
Calm? You think I’m calm under pressure? No. Sadly, every conflict comes with its own fears and uncertainty. Being calm under pressure is simply putting on another mask for others. I’m as terrified as the next man. I just wouldn’t be foolish enough to let the next man see it…

3. Which conflict is worse: the physical or the mental? Why?
“A man can think himself into defeat,” goes the old saying. Wounds heal. Bad memories and uncertain thoughts remain. They join you for dinner and sleep in the same bed with you at night. I’ll take a sword cut over an uncertain thought any day.

4. What does it take to pique the interest or earn the trust of a man such as yourself?
Why, a miracle, my dear…

(JC: somehow, I think I should have expected this answer.)