And the winner is not….

…me.

Oh well. Boo hoo and all that.

The finals have been announced for the Booklife Contest.  As per previous blog posts, my novel, The Princess of Asylum had made it to the quarter finals, and then the semi-finals. Really good review, really good score.  Check it out here:

https://booklife.com/project/the-princess-of-asylum-49518

Alas, not quite good enough.

The Finalist, Fantasy/Science Fiction/Horror for is E.M. Hamill’s Peacemaker.  You can check it out here:

https://booklife.com/project/peacemaker-46487

E.M. Hamill, according to her bio on Booklife is  “a nurse by day, unabashed geek, chocoholic, sci fi and fantasy novelist by nights, weekends, and whenever she can steal quality time with her laptop. She lives with her family, a dog, and a cat in the wilds of eastern suburban Kansas, where they fend off flying monkey attacks and prep for the zombie apocalypse.”

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The Past is a Horrible Country

I was recently on an alternate history panel for the World Fantasy Convention. Technically, it was about alternate history and fantasy, to wit…

“Alternate history has long been the domain of science-fiction writers, but it is now being enthusiastically colonized by writers of fantasy, who are bringing in magic, dragons, and the full panoply of the uncanny into what used to be an orderly and rational sub-genre. Who’s doing this and what’s going on?”

Actually, I don’t think it’s that big a deal. A lot of alternate history has had or assumes magical elements. It goes all the way back to Robert Heinlein and his story, Magic Inc. I’m not one of these guys who draws hard and fast lines between fantasy and science fiction, or fantasy and magical realism, or whatever. All of Speculative Fiction simply assumes that at least one thing, and sometimes many things, goes unnatural and you take it from there.

I just want to talk about one thing that struck me during the panel, that I never got a chance to talk about.

Steampunk. I find it interesting, but the entire steampunk genre seems to be in the process of being colonized by, or is entirely colonized by Fantasy. Blame it on Kim Newman and his Anno Dracula perhaps, or the novels Gail Carriger, or the Weird West subgenre. But as often as not, when you’re reading steampunk, there’s strong fantasy elements – ghosts, vampires, goblins, weird creatures, magic, etc.

I think part of that is that when you’re writing in this genre, you’re reaching back into the literary traditions of the ‘weird tales’ of the day, and it all starts to melt together.

But there’s another element to consider.

Victorian, England was a pretty horrific place.

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World Fantasy Convention – Panels and Reading

The World Fantasy Convention is the great ‘Business Convention’ of the SF/F/H Literary World.  It’s not a Comic-Con, it’s not a fan con. There’s dealers, but they’re just one room.  Mostly, it’s Writers, Agents, Editors, Publishers and Artists, people in the trade, and people trying to get in the trade, hanging out, hobnobbing, socializing, enjoying each other’s company, and sometimes wheeling and dealing.

Go there, and odds are you’ll meet all your favourite writers.  You can walk down a hallway, and see the writers you grew up with, the writers that helped form your identity, the people you passed time with, the writers who were guilty pleasures, and the ones you’re reading now.  You can just go up and talk to them.  It’s a business Con, the panels are about writing, serious writing, genres, where the industry is going, insider views.

It’s the place to be if you’re dedicated to the craft.  This year, it’s in Salt Lake City, and due to Covid-19, it’s online.

I’m doing two panels and a reading!  Wow!  I feel like Pinochio when he turns into a real boy!

Check out the panels I’m on….

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Booklife Contest: Update – The Luck

The review came in finally, with The Luck, my second entry into the Booklife Contest.  Just to recap, it’s a legit contest.  All the entries get a professional review, which you can use, or bury forever in a lead lined vault, depending on how the review turns out. Some of them are pretty scathing, I gather, looking at previous comments (complaints).  After the initial round there’s the quarterly finals, the semi-finals, the finals and then a First prize of $5000.00.  My first entry, The Princess of Asylum, has made it into the quarter finals.

Plot: Valdron’s The Luck is a sequel/prequel to The Mermaid’s Tale, but it succeeds as a stand-alone title. Valdron’s complex, well-woven work of fantasy immediately thrusts readers into a detailed world occupied by a menagerie of beings living at odds with, and in suspicion of, one another.

Prose: Valdron’s writing is immersive and colorful, providing a a fine blend of descriptive worldbuilding, exposition, and dialogue that lifts the storytelling.

Originality: The world of The Luck is filled by familiar beings, but provides freshness in the dynamics between these occupants and communities in conflict, as well as its mystery element. The journey of an orc and her unlikely gnome companion, is a rich and enjoyable one.

Character/Execution: Valdron’s protagonist is immensely intriguing. Her identity is slow to emerge and readers expecting a quick moving fantasy may grow frustrated. Those willing to invest in her and other creaturely characters’ story arcs, will be deeply rewarded.

Score:

  • Plot/Idea: 8
  • Originality: 8
  • Prose: 8
  • Character/Execution: 9
  • Overall: 8.25
You are welcome to use this Critic’s Report as promotional copy or as a blurb to promote your book. Please note: When attributing quotes from this Critic’s Report, you must credit The BookLife Prize.

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Local Heroes: Joan Havelange and the Mystery Tour

My genre is speculative fiction. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Surrealism, Magic Realism etc.  But  there are other genre’s.  Mystery is the kissing cousin to speculative fiction.  Both mystery and horror were founded by Edgar Allen Poe, and the genres cross back and forth.

Today, I want to showcase Joan Havelange, a Manitoba mystery writer, and absolutely gracious lady, following in the footstapes of Agatha Christie.  Her sleuth, Mabel Havelock, has featured in two novels with a third upcoming, and hopefully many more. I hope that you enjoy this brief glimpse and that you search out Mabel’s adventures…

I  directed a  theatre for 15 years. I find writing is a lot like directing; only my characters show up on time and always know their lines. Although sometimes they do go off in a direction that surprises me.  All fictional stories, I think, start out as ‘what if?’ What if you were golfing and your wayward shot ends up in the middle of a dead man’s forehead?

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Demon Hotel, Based on a True Story

The Demon Hotel is a real thing. Or it was. Demon Hotel used to be an abandoned three story apartment block at 44 Hargrave in downtown Winnipeg. It was a formidable brick structure dating from around 1910, with a red brick facade and old fashioned bay windows which loomed ominously. The stone stairs that fronted it had been slowly worn by thousands of feet going back and forth over decades. The front lobby was covered with mosaic tiles, and featured a long broken pay phone.

Inside the building was a maze of resident staircases going up and down, emergency stairs, and service stairs which concealed the ancient wiring and plumbing. I’d actually visited it decades ago, passing by the broken pay phone, its casing cracked, and hanging out with street kids in the basement, as they hot knifed hash and talked music and gossip.

I’m not sure why the building closed down. Perhaps settling or subsidence of the soil following the great Winnipeg flood a decade or so ago, you could see visible cracks running up from the foundation, crawling the length of the building, and skewing the window frames, giving the front of the building a wicked twisted smile, as if it knew something you didn’t, something dark and disturbing.

But close down it did. The last tenants moved out, died or were evicted. Desultory efforts at renovation were begun and then abandoned. The windows on the lower floors were boarded up, but now and then, lights seemed to shine from the unboarded upper windows. Shapes were sometimes glimpsed in those upper windows, the fleeting impressions of windows looking down.

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The New Doctor – How Very Peculiar

A few years ago, I did a novel length piece of work called The New Doctor.

Basically, what happened was back in 1991, there was a local actor named David Burton.  He was a semi-big deal in a small town, he had a radio show, a column, did theatre.  Anyway, he was trying to get the local dealership to give him a car, for promotional purpose.  To help persuade them, he embellished his resume a little bit. Doctor Who was off the air, he figured what harm was there in attaching his name to a defunct children’s show. So he claimed that he was going to be ‘The New Doctor Who.’  It looked good, and when it failed to materialize, he could just say the project fell through, as these things often did.

Unfortunately, Doctor Who was kind of a cult thing, with legions of crazed fans, so he got a lot more attention than he intended. So much so, that he had to make up a more detailed story. A mysterious company, a hush hush pilot project called ‘Monsters of Ness’; shooting at caves, in a small town, a warehouse; even a location shoot in Austria; a red phone booth instead of the blue Tardis; twin girls called Heart and Diamond as companions. None of it was ever verified, and people did try. Eventually, the whole thing faded away.

Okay, that’s the ‘true part’ of the story. The consensus is that it was all a hoax, and personally, I don’t fault Burton at all. He told an innocent little white lie to polish up his resume, and it kind of exploded on him. If anything, I’m sympathetic.

So, I got the idea, what if Burton’s story was true.

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Booklife Contest: Princess of Asylum, Update

So here goes… I’ve entered my unpublished novel, Princess of Asylum into the Booklife Contest.   It’s a legit contest.  All the entries get a professional review, which you can use, or bury forever in a lead lined vault, depending on how the review turns out. Some of them are pretty scathing, I gather, looking at previous comments (complaints).  After the initial round there’s the quarterly finals, the semi-finals and then a First prize of $5000.00.

Anyway, I got my review back….

Blurb: A fast-talking actress makes her scrappy way across the wasteland, surviving by her wits — and shaping empires with her lies. Imagine a vivid high fantasy, full of beasts and sieges and cults, narrated with the wit of Anita Loos.

Plot: D.G. Valdron’s bold, funny, fast-moving fantasy The Princess of Asylum follows quick-witted actress Dae Zea Lors after the destruction of her city. Dae survives in the wasteland by improvising a series of increasingly outlandish lies and personae, convincing bandits and orgus and more that she’s, variably, a princess, or an expert in jewel magic, and eventually a priestess. The story’s scope is epic, with airships and military sieges galore, but its tone is light and its perspective intimate, always tied to Dae. Inevitably, the hero’s lies make her a leader, and she’s surprised to discover herself caring about people beyond herself. The novel opens as a picaresque, with Dae bumbling from encounter to encounter, but by the end, as the plot takes shape, readers will actually care for Dae’s world and companions. The sense of urgency that powers the novel’s final third, though, is sometimes missing in the book’s middle, especially in the occasional cases when the balance between comedy and fantasy storytelling proves uncertain.

Prose/Style: Valdron excels at both the narrative perspective of his protagonist, a savvy actress who finds being on a fantasy adventure something of a comic imposition, and at the demands of epic fantasy storytelling. His worldbuilding is memorable and unique but communicated to readers in Dae’s offhand observations; his descriptions of the fantastic or terrifying are quick and powerful. Much of the novel is driven by dialogue, as Dae improvises new selves and lies to stay alive; at times, the characters she’s hoodwinking, such are written as if they’re willing participants in a comedy routine, such as the tyrant who apologizes for scheduling conflicts with her upcoming execution. The novel’s pleasures and occasional problems rise from the same source: the tricky balance between the comedy of Dae’s improvisations and the threatening reality around her. For the most part, though, Valdron aces that balance.

Originality: It is rare for a fantasy novel to center on such an exciting new character and idea. Besides the strength of the premise and Dae’s general delightfulness, the world of The Princess of Asylum is itself original, wrought with care, and revealed in tantalizing glimpses.

Character Development: There’s no doubt about it: Dae is a character readers will love, and her wit and sensibility drive the book. She faces hard choices, makes surprising sacrifices, and movingly comes to care about more than her own life. At times, especially in the novel’s middle, the complaints and patter of Dae’s inner monologue cut against the narrative urgency, especially when she’s joking or crabbing about the book’s cast as if they’re all in a play together rather than continually facing their own deaths. At such moments, she seems not to have grown during her adventures, reverting to being a comic type rather than a fully-shaped protagonist. That makes the novel feel long, even as it’s entertaining: If she’s not taking the situations seriously, readers will be tempted to join her. The saps, villains, monsters, and occasional upstanding folks she encounter also prove memorable, driven by their own coherent but interesting motivations.

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Local Heroes: Casia and the Rose Princesses

I hate people like Casia Shreyer.  I started noticing her at conventions, this petite whirlwind of activity, organizing group tables for multiple authors, helping out people, keeping journals, going camping, raising children with her husband, running a household, yarn crafts, studying tae kwan do, and writing up a storm, blasting out twenty books so far (twenty!), all with inexhaustible energy, irrepressible good cheer. She’s one of these good people who can’t help trying to make the world better, and inadvertently making the rest of us look like lazy cynical gits in the process.

I’ll tell ya, lazy old monster that I am, my response to such cheerful brilliant souls is usually just to do something horrible, usually with a wood chipper, and bury the remains where it won’t annoy people.  But Casia, she’s probably reorganize the underworld, chug out another book series and bring pilates classes to hell.  We don’t really want pilates classes in hell, do we?.  So there’s no point, really. What can you do?

Casia’s Rose Garden is a five book series, a young adult adventure series for teen girls.  With allusions and similarities to everything from the Fisher King and Tibetan Buddhism, to Sailor Moon, they’re about young women growing as they struggle with a difficult and complex world and challenges of life that are not always cut and dried.  It’s an impressive body of work and I think it deserves to find a wider audience. 

Take it away, Casia….

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Covers are a Pain in the Ass

Covers are a giant pain in the ass. Seriously.

I love writing. It’s my sane place, it’s my compulsion. I’ll just happily write away, stories, novels, briefs, what have you. There’s nothing like a good piece of writing to soothe the soul.

But then I do this self publishing gig, and it’s not enough to write. You have to edit, revise, arrange, assemble, format. Most of this I can do myself, with varying degrees of skill, or lack thereof?

But covers? Oh geez. What do you do for that?

I’ve been told, and I have reason to believe that the best selling covers are images of shirtless young men with six packs.

Yeah, okay, sure. That’s pretty much every romance novel cover ever! So I guess it appeals to women, and gay men. And come to think of it, that’s every Tarzan, every Doc Savage, every superhero, and a hell of a lot of adventure stories. So women, gay men, teenage boys, etc. It’s got universal appeal.

Maybe that’s what I should be doing for covers?

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