Book Review — The Crimson Queen by Alec Hutson (Epic Fantasy)

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Below is the review I submitted to the book’s Goodreads and Amazon. If you’ve read the book, but haven’t submitted a review yet, please consider doing so! More good reviews means more sales for the author. With that out of the way, here are my thoughts on Alec Hutson’s The Crimson Queen.

The Crimson Queen is one of those rare and wonderful books that manages to be both unique and familiar at the same time. Wizards, paladins, rogues, monsters, dungeons and treasure are all present and accounted for, so fans of traditional fantasy need not worry. But in addition to these familiar elements are warriors styled after Chinese swordsmen, eldritch abominations, creepy demons, and truly weird and awesome new elements. The worldbuilding here is on point, and every character from the heroes to the villains feels real and fleshed-out. The plot will have you guessing all the way, and the ending was a satisfyingly epic conclusion that sets up the events of the next book smoothly.

One “flaw” I feel this book has is the lack of a cohesive magic system. Magic in this book, is less like Mistborn and more like Dragonlance and Lord of the Rings. You never quite understand the mechanics behind it, but it still remains cohesive and believable. It’s by no means a deal-breaker though, and everything else on offer more than makes up for it. Overall, if I had to sum up The Crimson Queen, I’d say it feels like a more mature, HBO -ified version of the 80’s and 90’s epic fantasy paperbacks. There were certainly whiffs of Wheel of Time and the aforementioned Dragonlance to be had, but the conflict and characters are way more fleshed out in my opinion. Easily a 5/5 recommendation for me, and worth the hype.

Final Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Stan.

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Every generation has a handful of people who seem larger-than-life, almost like something from well…a comic book. People who in a strange sort of way, seem almost immortal, in that they bleed into the very fabric of the current culture in a mythic way.

As far back as I can remember, Stan Lee was always one of those folks. Those living, immortal icons who was just always there. Even if you weren’t a big comic book guy, he was a recognizable name and personality, someone who not only created Spider-Man, but was in many ways, a character as well. I’ve always kind of had this suspicion that to Stan, these comic book stories he wrote were almost real to him. Not in the “factually in front of me” sense, but in the “I put a piece of myself in this art” sense. Again, any interview with the man is a sure-fire giveaway. Stan had this wholly unique cadence to him, where the way he talks almost feels like the way he wrote his characters. Very upbeat, with sharp-as-a-tack dialogue and almost super-heroic certainty in what he was doing.

While I’ve always been more of a book reader than a “comic book guy,” I got my start as a writer doing comics. And back when I started doing that, I watched hours and hours of different creators. Jim Lee, Dave Sim, Todd McFarlane…and of course, Stan Lee. And I think the biggest takeaway I got from watching Stan was just how sincere he seemed. He was a person who loved his fans and loved people in general, regardless of their color or creed. He wanted to tell positive stories, to make the world a little brighter…but never to talk down to or pontificate. If there’s two things Stan mans to me personally, it’s love and respect. Love of what you do and who you do it for, and respect for your consumers as thinking, meaningful people.

So rest in peace, Stan. You were always a hero to me.

The Tide is Turning in Indie SFF Publishing, #SPFBO

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When I first posted my Self-Published Fantasy Guide, I had no idea just how far self-published and indie SFF lit has come. I still remember a time when “self-published” was synonymous with horrible paranormal romance books and…stranger things.

As of 2018 however, we’re seeing some major authors and titles emerging from the self-published and indie scene. Books with stories and covers comparable to (or better than) traditional offerings. This trend has increased to the point where the Barnes and Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog revealed the cover art for Rob J. Hayes’ Never Die.

Yes, this is real. The genre promotion blog of America’s biggest book chain just featured a self-published book. I remember talking to a fairly well-known author who’ll remain anonymous, and having him mention that “indie is the future.” That was not even a year ago, and as far as I can tell, we’re reaching that future at a shockingly rapid pace.

So yeah. The tide has definitely turned, and indie is getting bigger and bigger. I was told by the author Rob J. Hayes that some folks “took notice” of his SPFBO win, which goes to show what a useful tool that is for curating these titles. Which is something to keep in mind if any of you are planning books of your own.

If you haven’t bought any of his books yet, you can check out Rob J. Hayes’ Amazon page here. I recommend his piratical Best Laid Plans books, as they’re fairly unique in the fantasy space. Which is a trend Never Die seems to continue with its chanbara influences. It’s a book I think looks really kickass, and I’m glad Barnes and Noble seems to think so too!

Beware the Red Ripper! My Horror Short Story is Coming Soon From Gray Haven Comics (The Gathering: Horror V)

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So a while back, before I decided to write prose, I took a stab at writing comics. I made it into a couple of anthologies, and it’s largely thanks to these that I got my start as a writer.

The story is a riff on the classic “teenage boy becomes superhero” story, only said superpowers turn him into a slasher killer! Can Raul Garcia stave off the slow but inevitable transformation into a masked monster? Or can he save a piece of his humanity?

It’s worth noting here that I’m credited as “Alex Moya,” which…is my real name. Yes, Martin J. Ashwood is a pen name. Not for anonymity’s sake, but because I designed some mockup (novel) book covers and the name “Alex Moya” looked like garbage on all of them. Not exactly the most exciting Secret Origin of my author superhero name, but it is what it is.

The Gathering: Horror V will hit comic store shelves soon, so keep an eye peeled for the Red Ripper if you enjoy some horror/urban fantasy goodness. And check out the Gray Haven Facebook page for more info on Horror V and all their other comics anthologies!

I Bagged a (Book About a Were-) Deer, and Other Cool Stuff!

So recently, indie author C.T. Phipps was kind enough to send me these two books. I’ve been meaning to check out his Wraith Knight series for some time, and I’ve heard nothing but great things about his Bright Falls series of comedic Urban Fantasy novels. The blurb on the back of  Teenage Weeredeer had a masterfully so-bad-it’s-good pun that honestly made me laugh out loud. Think I’m gonna enjoy this one quite a bit.

I haven’t really done book reviews yet on this blog, in part because I’ve taken a bit of time when I read as of late. I used to be a lightning-fast reader, but my own writing projects have kind of taken a bit of that free time away. That said, once I get around to reading these, I’ll be sure to share my thoughts. What little I have read has been awesome so far, and once I finish some of my current epic fantasy reads, I will be checking these out for sure. In the mean time, I highly suggest you give C.T. Phipps’ Amazon Page a looksie. He has everything from Sci-fi, to Spies, to Superheroes to something called Cthulhu Armageddon, so there’s plenty of flavors to choose from here.

In unrelated news, I’ve found the cover artist for my own book! It’s quite exciting stuff, and his work is extremely impressive, unique and old-school, reminding me a bit of Mike Ploog’s work on Lord of the Rings. Much as I like the Warcraft aesthetic in games, I do find this gritter, more down-to-earth AD&D style much more to my liking. And my artist really captures this, but add a modern level of polish that really elevates it to a new level.

So yeah, between this and the books (Thanks, C.T.!) and the recently announced Warcraft 3 Reforged…November’s already shaping up to be a pretty kickass month for me.

The Spooktober Report! #SPFO, Writing, and more Author Interviews

October is probably one of my favorite months of the year, period. While I love the heck out of Halloween, it’s the whole cozy feeling of Fall that really makes me fall in love (no pun intended) with this time of year. October’s been a busy year for my writing as well however, and so I figured I’d post a quick update of some of what I’ve been up to…

As of now, I’m gearing up to write my book’s second draft. I’m working on a very, very detailed outline, as well as supplementary worldbuilding notes, which I suspect will occupy me well into next November. Draft 2 proper will likely carry me over into 2019, and will be ready sometime around summer or fall of that year, including edits and formatting and all that junk. Sometime in December-January-ish, I may be sharing some concept art for my book, as well as giving you all a sneak peek at just what in the heck it is. I can’t say too much at this point, though I will say I’ve been watching more than a few videos from the Townsends Youtube channel.

Author interviews are something I plan to invest a good amount of time in, and you can check out my most recent one here. The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off is getting closer to declaring finalists, and when it does, I’ll be reaching out to them, as well as a few of the semi-finalists. Michael R. Baker, author of the Thousand Scars, is also doing many SPFBO interviews, and I strongly recommend you check those out! There’s also a possibility I may be interviewing a Special Guest related to the contest, so keep your eyes peeled for that as well!

Aside from that, I am continuing to work on some writing stuff in the game development space, and may be able to share some of what I’m doing sometime next year. When that happens, I’m hoping to begin writing about game narratives, and how to get started writing lore for video and tabletop gaming IPs. It’s a subject I’m really passionate about, and something I hope to share with you all very soon.

Anyways, that’s about it! Hope your October is festive and as full of tricks and treats as mine is!

An Interview with Christopher Wolf, aka “Slimebeast,” Creepypasta Author Extraordinaire

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‘Tis the season for spooks and scares, which means I’ll be taking a break from my general focus on fantasy to bring you some Horror! And not just any horror, but a sneak peek at the web’s weirdest and wildest writing sub-genre…the Creepypasta. These short scare-stories often make their debut as writing simply done for fun, but occasionally go viral in a big way, propelling their authors to internet stardom.

Christopher Wolf is one such author, responsible for the infamous Abandoned by Disney short story, and writer of several other horror-themed stories. I sat down with him recently to discuss Creepypasta, how the internet shapes writing, and the viral nature of web-based media.

MARTIN: So Christopher, as a fan of horror fiction and Creepy Pasta, I’m already familiar with your work. But I’m sure there’s still a lot of folks out there who have no idea what it’s all about. Why is it creepy, and where do noodles fit into all this? Can you give us all a quick rundown of what exactly this web-based horror subgenre is?

CHRISTOPHER: “Creepypasta” began as corruption of the word “Copypasta”, or “copy/paste”. The original term referred to bits of text that could be easily copy/pasted on various forums in order to share them. Creepypasta, naturally, is the horror version. Usually short horror stories that could be spread across the web. Creepypasta as an idea has grown a bit beyond that, including a lot of different forms of creative work. People consider images and games to be part of the Creepypasta “world”, now. It has also produced a lot of sub-genres, such as Cr*ppypasta, Trollpasta, Iconpasta, and so on.

MARTIN: You’re the author of one of the more famous Pastas, Abandoned by Disney. It’s gained a bit of viral fame, with dramatic readings and reactions on Youtube. In fact, I watched a Disney Parks fan video not too long ago and even they referenced the story! How does it feel knowing that a short web story you wrote has become that huge?

CHRISTOPHER: It’s nice to know people enjoyed it, and are still enjoying it. “Abandoned by Disney” was written during a period of time when I would sit on a forum at 2AM and just write out something strange until I was tired and went to bed. So, naturally, to see any of those stories shared on a global scale, translated into various languages, and inspiring other creators, can be confusing and wonderful.

MARTIN: So aside from the aforementioned “Pastas”, what other stories have you worked on, web-based or otherwise?

CHRISTOPHER: I’ve been trying to make the move away from Creepypasta, to “FearFic”, or “Fear Fiction”. Something that will ideally provide a more open area to work in, even if it’s just a label. With Creepypasta, there’s a strong idea that you must be writing something similar to Slenderman, Jeff the Killer, and so on. When you present work that very much doesn’t fit any of those molds, it tends to be overlooked or
rejected as not following the tropes and traditions. Prior to getting involved in the genre, I wrote comic book scripts. Mostly unpublished, but a few found homes with indie presses. I wrote a tongue-in-cheek graphic novel reimagining the 1920s film “Nosferatu” as a modern film in 2010, which is probably still available online somewhere. I also have another comedic look at horror, titled “Love Monster: The Ballad of Baghead”, which is available on Amazon. Beyond that, I’ve written short fiction here and there over the years, but nothing people would probably recognize. More for my own enjoyment and local distribution through zines, and the like. (You might also find something kind of interesting if you were to look up facelessinc.com, but it’s in the middle of getting a redesign.)

MARTIN: As a horror writer, do you ever feel that Creepypasta or horror fiction in general is a current target of scapegoating or censorship? I recently watched the HBO Slenderman documentary, and while I found it interesting, I also felt the film carried with it a slightly unfortunate message. The idea that internet-based independent entertainment is “dangerous,” especially for children. It almost feels as if it’s a modern (albeit less prevalent) version of the EC comics scare. Would you happen to have any thoughts on this?

CHRISTOPHER: In this case, I think Creepypasta benefited a lot from being a largely unknown genre. At least as far as mainstream news and entertainment was concerned at the time. Blaming video games, movies, and music brings in a lot of interest. Creepypasta, not so much. I think that, at a certain point, the majority of the “controversy” was coming from the community rather than outside sources… Sort of like a major PR issue would actually validate us. It was a weird time. I feel like we’ve successfully gotten past the problem. Slenderman as a character will always have the stigma, but I think the general realm of Creepypasta is unaffected, personally.

MARTIN: Can you tell us a bit about your Kickstarter project? Looks like some scary fun!

CHRISTOPHER: A few years ago, I wrote a story that “explained” where lost episodes of TV shows and movies come from. Essentially, it was a meta origin for a really popular sub-genre of Creepypasta. People would write stories about haunted VHS tapes, episodes of cartoons that suddenly turned scary, and so on. In my story, they were all created by a single person who was obsessed with re-cutting and replacing recordings of popular media. So now, I’ve sort of expanded on that general concept with the Creepypasta Field Guide. It lists 30 (or more, based on stretch goals) Creepypasta monster and killer “types”. The Stabby Teen, the Faceless Stranger, the Redactive Researcher, and so on. I then gave them various original origins and histories. Each character is described in detail so any prospective “victim” can identify them on sight. Basically, I’ve tried to disassemble all of the cliches and tropes regarding Creepypasta characters, and form them into a fun, funny read that will show off just what makes each type of creature unique… or not so unique, in some cases.

I’m hoping to fund the book well enough to commission an artist named Nikita Kaur to illustrate each of the original entries in the book. I feel like it lends an additional “Monster Manual” style to the project. Hopefully, this book will be something to go back and read over and over again as time goes on. Every time you see a new Creepypasta Icon emerge, you can go back and determine which type it is!

MARTIN: So what are some future projects you’d like to work on, or are currently planning?

CHRISTOPHER: Right now I have a bunch of projects going. I launched TooSpooky.com a while back as a place for authors to show their work, get critique, etc. without having to be “ready” to post them to other Creepypasta sites that require a finished version. There’s also FearFic.com, where I’ve enabled people to archive stories without the fear of having it deleted by staff for “not being horror” or being unrealistic, etc.
Beyond that, I’ve also launched a “Fear Fiction Podcast” on YouTube along with Abysmii and Dead Palette. We essentially take a look at any and all horror-related stories from the internet (even romantic fan fiction) and just have a good time discussing the content… and our reading errors. Pretty much anything I’m doing is linked at my main homepage, Slimebeast.com. Every so often I write an original story “inspired by” a popular pre exsting tale. I’m thinking of working with Eyeless Jack next.

MARTIN: How do you see the Internet affecting writers as a whole in the future. Like you said earlier, you were just writing these stories for fun, and they really kind of blew up. But with the advent of Youtube, Podcasts, Self-Publishing and even web serials like Worm, what do you feel the future of writing will be like?

CHRISTOPHER: I think the internet makes it a lot easier – and harder – for authors. It’s easier because anyone can (and should) publish their own work online, quickly and easily. It’s harder because that makes it very, very simple for others to take your work and use it inappropriately. For example, a Halloween mask company recently not only made a bootleg mask of a popular Creepypasta character (Laughing Jack), but actually had the audacity to copyright it. We’re in a weird place where creator’s rights are being trampled on a large scale. Since we’re talking about amateur authors for the most part, there’s little they can do about it. I feel like the future of writing on the internet will end up skewing toward authors becoming well-known/popular and then moving to closed platforms like Patreon. The more people are punished for freely sharing their art, the more we’ll all move away from the public forum. At least, that’s my personal prediction.

I guess if I had to give “advice” to anyone hoping to post “Creepypastas” or other creative work on the web, it’d be this… Enjoy yourself, do it for your own pleasure, and be ready to fight for your work. Don’t be shy about telling people what you do or don’t want. Look into Creative Commons licensing and pick the license that works best for you, then attach it to your work wherever you post it.

MARTIN: Aight, now for a spooky Halloween Question! As of now, you’re trapped in a room with the last horror monster you read about. You have at your disposal an iron crowbar, a crucifix, and a small bowl of mellowcreme pumpkins. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being “not very” and ten being “I’m already dead,” how screwed are you?

CHRISTOPHER: I’d use the crowbar to open the door. 🙂

Christopher’s latest spooky creation, The Creepypasta Field Guide, is currently up on Kickstarter. With 40 days to go, there’s still plenty of time to jump on in and get yourself some backer rewards! You can also check out his website at http://slimebeast.com, or check out a narrated version of his original viral story for free on Youtube. Also, please consider liking and sharing this post on social media. Every share helps me get the word out about writing, and keeps the man with the traffic-cone face far away from your vital organs. Your precious…slippery vital organs….

And remember…avoid mirrors at 3:45 AM, or else ✡︎□︎◆︎🕯︎●︎●︎ ♌︎♏︎ ♐︎□︎❒︎♍︎♏︎♎︎ ⧫︎□︎ ❒︎♏︎♋︎♎︎ ■︎□︎⧫︎♒︎♓︎■︎♑︎ ♌︎◆︎⧫︎ ⧫︎♒︎♏︎ ♏︎❖︎♓︎●︎ ♍︎♒︎♓︎♍︎🙵♏︎■︎ ♌︎♓︎⧫︎ ♐︎❒︎□︎❍︎ ⧫︎♏︎❒︎❒︎⍓︎ ♑︎□︎□︎♎︎🙵♓︎■︎♎︎🕯︎⬧︎ ⬧︎⬥︎□︎❒︎♎︎ □︎♐︎ ⧫︎❒︎◆︎⧫︎♒︎📬︎