Child of the Night Guild – Andy Peloquin

Today, another review, this time of the fantasy novel Child of the Night Guild by Andy Peloquin.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00060]Andy Peloquin isn’t afraid of a challenge. He likes his fantasy to explore the darker side of human nature, and with his book Child of the Night Guild (Book One in the Queen of Thieves series), he has certainly done that. His story about an innocent girl transformed through brutal training into a thief and killer is a gripping read all the way. This is partly because it’s a damn good story. The other reason is that, like his heroine, Peloquin successfully tackles a number of challenges many authors would quail at. In the hands of a lesser writer, much of this story could have gone tragically wrong.

The first of these challenges is the fact that his protagonist is a thief. She steals without remorse or compunction in order to survive. We like to think of our heroes as the good guys, but this girl is no noble-hearted Robin Hood, robbing people for a higher cause; she’s a crook. Making a criminal into someone we admire is a hard ask for a writer.

Secondly, he writes from the point of view of a pre-teen, and later teenage, girl. From Peloquin’s promotional photograph, I assume he isn’t one (the beard is a bit of a giveaway). As a writer of female protagonists myself, I understand how hard it is for an adult man to think like an 8 to 18 year old girl.

The final challenge he sets himself is that the premise of the book is based on child abuse. There’s no polite way of saying this. The dark side of humanity that he chose to write about in this book is the brutal, unforgiving—and unforgiveable—abuse of innocent children. There are publishers out there who refuse to deal with such stories, and so basing an entire series of novels on the idea takes guts. At times reading the book was a little disturbing, even for a seasoned horror and fantasy writer like myself.

Fortunately, Peloquin comes out on top with all three challenges.

The book is a bildungsroman, the story of an individual’s growth physically, mentally, morally and emotionally. We follow the heroine as she learns about the world in which she lives. There is no long introductory world-building in this book. Our view is as limited as the lead character’s for most of the first half. It is only later that the view opens out and we find out more about the world of the book. We adapt with her, suffer, eat, train, win and lose with her. I found within a few pages of the book that I desperately wanted to know more about her, empathised with her, cried for her. The reader learns along with her to hate the Night Guild as much as she depends on it to survive.

Peloquin has done his homework. The detailed descriptions of how to pick pockets, how to fight, how to climb walls, how to acquire other people’s property without their knowing add verisimilitude to this already character-rich book. I’d love to have dinner with the man sometime to find out more about him.

I look forward to the second book in the series, Thief of the Night Guild, out in mid-2017. I also will avail myself of Peloquin’s other books.

So I conclude with a heartfelt thank you to Andy Peloquin for writing probably the best story I have read in the last year.

Check out the excerpt below for a taste of Child of the Night Guild. And go to the links and buy a copy. If you don’t, the Night Guild might pay you a little visit when you least expect it, and you wouldn’t want that to happen.

Want to buy his book? Go Here for Amazon Kindle or here for Amazon Canada.

Peloquin

Writer Andy Peloquin. The beard is a giveaway: he ain’t no girl.

Andy Peloquin’s website here.

EXCERPT from Child of the Night Guild:

“Are you sure you’re doing it right, Seven?”

Seven scrunched her face, concentrating hard. “I’m doing it just like he showed us, Three. See?” She attempted to snatch the purse.

Three patted the oversized waistcoat Master Velvet had given him.

“I could still feel it. So you’re doing something wrong.”

Frustration mounting, Seven tried again, doing exactly as Master Velvet had taught them. Walk toward the mark. Bump into him. Dip two fingers into his pocket to hook the purse. Apologize to the mark and touch him with my free hand. Hide the purse in my palm and hurry away.

He shook his head. “That time, too. I can feel you pulling the purse out when you move away. Maybe you need to do it faster.”

“I can’t do it faster, Three. Not yet, at least.” Seven clenched her fists in frustration.

He held up a hand. “It’s okay, Seven. Give it time. You’ll get it.”

“Here.” She threw him the bulging, cloth-stuffed purse. “Let me try again.” Even as she tugged the purse free, the look on Three’s face told her she’d failed.

Her friend shrugged. “Still felt it.”

Seven ground her teeth. Master Velvet said this is supposed to be easy. So why can’t I get it right?

Three tugged the vest over his head. “Let’s give the bump a break for a moment.” He pulled a dun-colored cloak around his shoulders. “What say we give the snatch a try?”

Seven nodded. The snatch required timing and dexterity, but she’d grown adept at it. She walked toward Three, brushed against his cloak, and lifted the purse from the hidden pocket, all without breaking stride.

Three’s eyes widened. “Damn, Seven. I didn’t feel a thing!”

She beamed. “Well, at least there’s one thing I’m good at.”

Master Velvet strode up behind her and took her small, muddy hands. “You’ve got good finger-work, tyro.” He ran his calloused hands over her fingers. “They’re quick and nimble. With the right training, you could become quite the purse collector.”

“Thank you, Master Velvet.” She flushed at his praise. It was the first full compliment she’d ever heard pass his lips.

“Keep it up, Seven. Three.” With a nod, he moved to the next pair of tyros.

Three slapped her on the shoulder. “Look at that! You’re getting there.”

“Yeah. Now if only I could get the bump down properly.” She held out her arms. “Here, give me the vest and cloak. You’ve got to practice, too.”

As Three passed her the clothing, Twelve’s shout echoed through the Menagerie. “Damn it! You’re doing it wrong, you stupid sack of shite.”

Two met Twelve’s glare without a trace of fear. “How in the Keeper’s name can I be doing it wrong, Twelve?” Two was taller than Twelve, though not as broad. “I’m standing here in this vest. You’re supposed to be pulling the damned purse.”

“Well…” Twelve faltered, his face reddening. With a snarl, he threw the purse in Two’s face and stormed off.

Three snorted. “Looks like he’s not doing much better than you are, Seven.”

Seven glared at her friend. “That’s not saying much for me, you know. With those fat sausage fingers, he can barely fit his hands in the pocket.”

“There you go.” He gave her a broad grin. “You’ve got the advantage, at least over him. Just give it time and you’ll get better at it.”

She rolled her eyes. “Well, let’s see how good you are.”

“I’ll bet you a peach I can do the bump better than you.”

“You’re on!”

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More about Andy Peloquin:

I am, first and foremost, a storyteller and an artist–words are my palette. Fantasy is my genre of choice, and I love to explore the darker side of human nature through the filter of fantasy heroes, villains, and everything in between. I’m also a freelance writer, a book lover, and a guy who just loves to meet new people and spend hours talking about my fascination for the worlds I encounter in the pages of fantasy novels. Fantasy provides us with an escape, a way to forget about our mundane problems and step into worlds where anything is possible. It transcends age, gender, religion, race, or lifestyle–it is our way of believing what cannot be, delving into the unknowable, and discovering hidden truths about ourselves and our world in a brand new way. Fiction at its very best!
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The Horror of Children’s Stories

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This is repost from an earlier one. It’s still relevant though.

Picture this: a little girl has just thrown a bucket water over a Witch. What happens next is quite disturbing.

With these words the Witch fell down in a brown, melted shapeless mass and began to spread over the clean boards of the kitchen floor. Seeing that she had really melted away to nothing, Dorothy drew another bucket of water and threw it over the mess. She then swept it all out the door. After picking out the silver shoe, which was all that was left of the old woman, she cleaned and dried it with a cloth, and put it on her foot again.”

Now let’s get this straight… a little girl calmly melts an old woman, sweeps the gooey slime she has become out of the door like so much swill, and then calmly cleans her shoe like this sort of thing happened every day.

You might think the extract is taken from the latest gore-filled treat from Permuted Press, but it’s actually from L. Frank Baum’s children’s classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900. A children’s book. Of course, if you are only familiar with the 1939 Judy Garland film, you may remember the witch-melting scene was a little more wholesome. Certainly in the movie Dorothy didn’t have to clean up the disgusting sewage of what used to be a human being like she was doing a simple household chore. And in the movie version Dorothy felt pretty upset about the whole thing as well, even though the witch was evil and had tried to kill her.

Take another story: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Now there are no violent scenes in that timeless classic, surely? Admittedly the Queen of Hearts threatens everyone with having their heads chopped off, but no one is unfortunate to actually have it done. But most of the violence of the Alice books is more subtle. According to Hugh Haughton in his introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Carroll’s books (1998), there is an underlying theme of eating and being eaten in the book. The characters are in more danger of being consumed by other characters than anything the Queen of Hearts might threaten. Alice eats and drinks various substances and changes size; the baby oysters are consumed by the Walrus and the Carpenter; the Hatter is obsessed by tea and bread and butter. There is also, of course, more overt violence: the Duchess physically abuses her baby son, the March Hare and the Hatter try to drown the Dormouse in tea, and the terrifying Giant Crow threatens Alice in the forest.

It doesn’t end with those books. In Peter Pan by J.M Barrie, the fairy Tinker Bell is a right bitch. Her first act on seeing Wendy is to get Tootles to shoot her with an arrow in an attempt to kill her. He almost succeeds. Tootles is so distraught he asks Peter to kill him.

Now, the point is that these are probably not events most people recall when remembering these tales. But they are there in the original books.

There have, of course, been many criticisms of traditional fairy tales as being too violent. Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and so forth contain considerable murder and mayhem. The difference between them and the more modern stories I’ve referred to is that these stories are folk tales, handed down over many years and added to, extended and changed over generations before being recorded by people like the Brothers Grimm. They were not written specifically for children. The adventures of Alice, Dorothy and Peter Pan were.

So what do we make if this? Are these stories in their original forms just too violent? I say “in their original forms” because each of those I mentioned has been “toned down” when made into films. Disney and Warner Brothers made a point of changing things so the stories were more wholesome for tender readers (or, in their case, viewers). Dorothy melts the Wicked Witch, but feels bad about it at least. Admittedly, modern versions of Alice (I refer specifically to the recent Tim Burton CGI extravaganza) may take liberties with the plot in which they do present a more dangerous version of Wonderland than the Disney version. But this is a modern trend, I submit, and I’ll mention it again later.

My point is (and I’ve taken a while making it) is that there is a wealth of trauma available to writers in children’s tales. Quite often where you wouldn’t expect it. In The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, Toad not only steals a motor vehicle, he is actually in involved in numerous car accidents and is thrown in prison as a result. And I’m sure most of us remember the Narnia series by C. S Lewis, which tells of children not only fighting in wars but killing their adversaries with barely a nod at any feelings of guilt afterwards.

Writers might well find ideas in these tales. And that’s a good thing. While I’m not condoning the exposure of children to violence, death and horror, it certainly can entertain the adult reader and inspire the adult writer.

Back when these stories were written, I submit the world was a more violent place. There was no such thing as being an adolescent. One went from the caterpillar stage of childhood to the butterfly stage of adulthood without any inconvenient chrysalis stage of adolescence in between. People grew up earlier. Children’s books were violent because life was violent. It still is these days, but we don’t like to admit it and try to protect our children from its excesses. An example of this is the scene in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland where the Duchess throws her baby boy to Alice (who only just manages to catch him) after singing a song about how beating a child was a justifiable punishment for it sneezing. This would hardly have raised an eyebrow back in 1865. Children were beaten. The world was perhaps no better or worse than it is today, but violence was condoned more and seen as an acceptable solution to social and domestic problems. Carroll was using violence as nonsense, and perhaps as a comment on the philosophy of child-rearing at the time: the air in the Duchess’s house was full of pepper, the baby sneezed as a result, and so the Duchess beat him. Problem solved.

We would not condone such a practice today, even as nonsense, which is why this incident has not, my knowledge, been incorporated into any film adaptations of Alice so far ( I don’t include the Burton film there, as it is so far removed from the original story as to be a separate entity).

Burton’s film does, however, seek to make an adult vision of Wonderland (with a bit of Looking-Glass Land added into it). And that is how the horror of children’s stories can be used to good effect. Tales like Frank Beddor’s The Looking-Glass Wars is a classic use of a classic to create something new and insightful.

So horror is there in children’s stories. If you sit and read the originals and wonder why they all seem so different to what you thought they were about, or what you remembered when you read them as a kid, then I hope you can take a whole new delight in these children’s stories for grown-ups. And, as a writer, that they inspire you in your own tales of horror and fantasy.

The Next Book

This year, 2015, has been an interesting one for me. I have two novels published, with a third due out in December. I have also had three short stories appear in print, with another two also due in December. So as far as writing goes, things have been going pretty well. More than a lot of writers achieve, less than others, but for me, very credible.

However, lately a couple of darker matters have reared their heads to remind me that life isn’t always the way you’d want it.

First up, yes, I have had two novels published with a third one on the way. However, I have my fair share of rejection slips and some stories and books that have been completed but have yet to find a home. This always leaves a writer frustrated, especially those stories that have gone out several times and been knocked back with polite “no thank yous”. You start to feel just a bit sorry for them, as well as yourself as a writer.

I’m working on it.

On a more personal level, my mother has Alzheimer’s and requires more and more care as time goes on. I am her full-time carer, so quite a bit of my day is taken up looking after her and coping with her inability to remember things. This leaves less time for writing and even when I am writing means a lot of interruptions.  Not that I begrudge her need for ongoing care, but I think you know what I mean.

Besides, I’m not the picture of health myself. I have glaucoma and psoriasis, both of which are inconvenient if not particularly dangerous in us if treated. I’ve had to live with them all my life.

So it isn’t all going my way, particularly recently.

But back to the good things. At the end of October this year I decided to enter NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which is an international writing challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November. To save you doing the Math, that’s 1666.6666 words a day. Call it 1667. There’s no prize other than the satisfaction of having completed the challenge. I decided to use NaNo to kick start a new science fiction/horror series, The Scream of Years. Now, on Tuesday 24 November, I am on 54,000.

That’s something to be proud of, with 6 days to go and already four thousand words over the target. Of course, it isn’t necessary to stop at 50,000, so I can keep going and really make a start on the first draft of the first book, which has the working title Shine and Shadow. It’s been a full-on experience, given that my writing technique consists of having some sort of vague idea of what I want and making it up as I go.

So, I have a books and stories without homes at the moment, although they will get one, don’t fear about that. And my personal life isn’t one I’d recommend. But here’s the thing: I’m focusing on the next book.

And that’s really the heart of being a writer. The next book. Not this one, or the ones that have found homes or are still at the orphanage, but the next one. That’s the most important book of all.

A writer should never stop being a writer. Whether you spend a lifetime plugging away and get one short story printed in your local paper, or whether you’re the next John Grisham, never stop being a writer. Always make a start on that next book.

That all that counts.

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

Supernatural Love – A Guest Blog by Michelle Irwin

I always like reading posts by other writers. Cross-pollination of ideas and inspiration is always beneficial. And today I’ve secured a great article from writer Michelle Irwin. Readers of my work may have noticed there’s not a lot of romance in my stories. To get all stereotypical, as a guy I find it hard to write romance. But that doesn’t mean there’s no place for it in tales of the supernatural and the paranormal. Michelle presents her views, and it makes great reading.

Michelle writes:

The things that go bump in the night—werewolves, vampires, shape shifters, and a whole slew of other creepy characters—are often represented in movies, TV shows, and books as the stuff of nightmares. The reason for this is obvious. In these stories, these creatures are driven by bloodlust, hunger, or just plain evil natures to seek out and destroy humanity and sometimes even each other.

However, in recent years there’s been a trend toward romanticizing these beasts. Vampires and werewolves in particular have become the subject of romance novels. Why? Who knows, maybe it’s the fact that all that neck-sucking can be a little erotic, or that most women like the bad boy and what guy could be worse than one who turns into a wild animal. Perhaps it all started when the ever loveable Michael J Fox played a werewolf that the boys wanted to be and the girls want to be with (or wanted to be). Regardless of why it started, personally, I’m really glad it did. Why? Because I write paranormal romance/urban fantasy and I love it.

I guess the question people who haven’t read a lot of paranormal romance might ask after, “Why?”, is “How?” After all, these creatures often aren’t all that loveable in their horror form. With the fangs and claws, slobber and jaws, they should make us run screaming not swoon into their willing embrace. How do you turn something so inherently evil into something that is worthy of a romance? For me, the first step is finding the thing that makes them inherently human.

In every intelligent creature you can imagine, be it a mermaid or an alien from out of space, there is a spark of something which makes them relatable to us humans. It’s a matter of finding that something and then asking the same questions of the paranormal creatures which you would ask of any human character. What do they want deep in their heart? Do they want to kill, maim, destroy (some might) or is it simply to be accepted? To find someone willing to look beyond their flaws, or their fangs, and find out what is important to them? To be loved? Once you know that core of who they are as a person, it’s just a matter of finding out what they are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve that goal.

As I said, the questions to probe a paranormal creature with are similar to those a writer might ask any human character, especially in a romance, but they’re also different. You can’t just learn that a vampire needs to forgo human blood to be with his sweetheart, you also need to learn what will happen if he does, and whether it’s even possible. This can be the fun part. It offers a chance to learn about the lore of different paranormal creatures and develop new ways to torture the hero and heroine before their happily ever after (or not as the case may be). Honestly, the only real rule when it comes to any sort of paranormal or fantasy story, whether it has a romance theme or not, is to be consistent within the rules created for the world.

In my Son of Rain series, my main character, Clay Jacobs, isn’t a monster—he hunts them. His job is to wash the world clean of all paranormal creatures because the organization he works for believes that all others are inherently evil. That each one deserves to die long before it can be given a chance to take a life. When he meets Evie Meyers, one such creature, he finds himself forced to answer questions about her. Why is she regarded as a monster just because of the way she was born? Does her lineage determine her character or can she choose her own fate? Should he kill her as he’s been trained to do or should he look beyond what she is to see who she is? Being able to examine a unique paranormal creature through the eyes of someone who believes they are all inherently evil has given me a chance to review all the above questions and more. It’s a classic Romeo and Juliet style love, just with a paranormal twist.

You can find out more about Michelle Irwin and her books on the following: Website, Facebook, Blog, Goodreads, and on Amazon.

The Sequel Got Me!

I’m writing a sequel.

This isn’t necessarily something odd. A lot of writers write sequels. I’ve just finished writing a trilogy* myself, so that’s two sequels one after the other I guess. It’s even expected these days that writers write sequels. Series, we are told. sell. Movies are the same. No one just makes a movie these days, the make entire franchises. They even split books in half to make two movies out of them. All right, that’s fine…a little desperate, but fine. However, this time it’s a bit more noteworthy.

You see, I’m writing a sequel I never intended to write.

A few years ago I finished writing a book called Days of Iron, which was a science-fiction thing I had started writing when I was 17 and scribbled at and tinkered with for years and years until eventually I self-published out of sheer frustration to get the damn thing off my mind.

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By the time I’d finished it (140,000 words in total), I pretty much had the story out of my system. I killed off one character and made sure the others had nothing left to do by the end. I tied up loose ends and added enough information for the readers to piece together any minor plot points not explicitly resolved.

Then it got published. Then I had people reading it (which is something every writer wants to have happen when they publish) and people were suddenly asking me when the sequel was coming out.

‘What sequel?’ I would reply innocently, my heart going pitter-pat just a little faster because (a) I was excited that readers liked the book enough to want more and (b) There was no sequel. Who sent round a memo saying there was a sequel?

What I’d forgotten in writing the thing was that when I was 17 (which was deep, deep in the Twentieth Century) sequels were not the thing. Writers occasionally wrote series, but they weren’t expected to if they didn’t want to. By the time I’d finished writing it (it took me the best part of thirty years) things had changed drastically. Now it was you write a book, you write a sequel. And follow it with a series. Personally, I blame Star Wars. George Lucas made a block-busting ride-of-a-lifetime movie and then casually announced it was the first of nine films. Suddenly Hollywood wanted sequels. And so writers were expected to write series, to the point that publishers and agents now expect writers to write series. And so did the fans.

And don’t get me started on prequels, which as a word didn’t even exist when I was 17. In the old days if any prior information was needed to understand the book the author wrote a Prologue. J. R. R. Tolkien of course went the whole hog with The Lord of the Rings, including both a Prologue and a novel-length set of Appendices. But we can forgive genius its excesses.

So anyway, here I am, writing a sequel, Shepherd Moon, that I am contractually obligated to produce. Actually, it’s rather good fun visiting the old characters. And I have no need to world-build, given that the world already exists. The politics, economics, social structure and cultures of the universe in question are already in place and I just have to write.

But it wasn’t that easy to think of a story I didn’t know existed. It’s there now, and simmering away quite nicely. Now I’m into it, I’m as interested in the story as I hope readers will be. I discovered that the story was there, lurking in the corner, desperate to make itself known. And once I got into the story, I managed to slam down over 90,000 words in a couple of months.

Now I have to turn it into something worth reading, which is where the work comes in. Of course there are inconsistencies, plot holes and that eternal question of which characters do I bring back and which do I let go their merry ways, and are my new characters interesting enough to belong there and yet not too interesting that they over-shadow the efforts of the regulars?

I have until December this year to deliver the manuscript, which might seem like a long time but isn’t really. Not for me. Being a perfectionist with detail isn’t doing myself any favours.

So there we are, a sequel in the works. And the really scary thing was that I discovered lurking in the corner of this new story was another one, that hints of its own existence and put its hand up tremulously to enquire, about half-way through, ‘Excuse me, when is it my turn?’

So Days of Iron looks like becoming a series. But that’s a good thing.

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*The first volume of The Jabberwocky Book is now out from Permuted Press. The Red King. The rest of the series, An Unkindness of Ravens and The Looking-Glass House, will be out this year and next year.

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Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

 

 

Interview by Thomas J. Wolfenden.

Recently I was interviewed by talented author Thomas J. Wolfenden. Thom has penned two great post-apocalyptic books, One Man’s Island and One Man’s War. I’ve read both and recommend them heartily.

Anyway, Thom sent me thirty-nine questions a little while ago asking me about myself and I gave thirty-nine answers. Let’s face it, who doesn’t mind talking about themselves?

So here’s the link to his blog and the interview.