Saturday, October 13, 2018

REBLOGGING: Dystopian Fiction

A Brief History of Dystopian Fiction 

For the sake of this blog, and not relying totally on memory, I have used a brief synopsis of each novel mentioned here courtesy of Wikipedia.

I haven’t read a dystopian novel in decades. Why? First, because I read enough of them; and second, because I started to see the direction in which our governments and our world were and are heading. Reality intruded upon fiction, and such novels began to depress me, even if they ended on a happy, upbeat and optimistic note. I now read for escapism, to be entertained, or educated if I’m reading history or biographies.

During the Depression of the 1930s, and even through WWII, escapist entertainment was extremely popular, especially in films, because people wanted to forget, even for a few hours, what was happening in the real world. Today, in the Information Age, we are bombarded by both real and fake news, and by the landslide of dark, world events. And yet, dystopian fiction, in both literature and the cinema, are more popular now than ever. Is this the new escapist entertainment for the 21st century? Perhaps. I don’t know what every writer and film maker had in mind, but I do know that in the past, authors always had a clear agenda: they were writing cautionary tales.

What I intend to do with the first 3 parts of this 4-part blog is to introduce readers to early and perhaps all but forgotten dystopian novels that I’ve read. These are books I think should not be forgotten, and are must-read novels. Part 4 will deal with more recent fiction, as well as an "incomplete/partial" list of films. So let’s begin, shall we?

While it's recently been said by others that William Golding's 1954 classic, Lord of the Flies is the most relevant novel of our current times, and it's a great novel, I have to say that the most famous of all dystopian novels is 1984. Published in 1949 by George Orwell, this novel has twice been made into films, to my knowledge. The novel is set in Airstrip One, formerly Great Britain, and a province of the superstate called Oceania, whose residents are victims of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance and public manipulation. Oceania’s political ideology, euphemistically named English Socialism (shortened to “Ingsoc” in Newspeak, the language invented by the government) is enforced by the privileged, elite Inner Party. Via the “Thought Police,” the Inner Party persecutes individualism and independent thinking, which are regarded as “thoughtcrimes.”  (While Orwell’s Animal Farm is a satirical tale about Joseph Stalin and Communist Russia, it can also be considered a dystopian novel.)

Another famous dystopian novel is Brave New World, written in 1931 by English author Aldous Huxley, and published in 1932. Set in London in the year AD 2540, the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning that are combined to make a profound change in society. The novel opens in the World State city of London, where citizens are engineered through artificial wombs and childhood indoctrination programs into predetermined classes (or castes) based on intelligence and labor. It has been adapted for the theater, radio and two television movies.

If you'd like to read more of my series of articles on Dystopian Fiction, I refer you Our Author Gang blogsite. Just click on each part below.





I write Heroic Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, Space Opera, Sword & Planet, Horror, and Children's books. Please visit my AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE

Friday, October 12, 2018

Spend Halloween in Creepy Hollow!

Hi. My name’s Jack Brady. Nikki Sweet is my cousin. Well, she’s not really my cousin, not by blood, anyway. But our parents are best friends and I’ve always called her grandmother Grandma Sweet. We’re family, and no one better say we’re not, because we are. So there. 

Tomorrow, October 13, is Nikki’s birthday, and I’m kinda writing this as a sorta birthday present for her. I’d better not tell you how old she is because she’d punch me right in the eye, if I did. Nikki’s one tough girl, I can tell you that. She’s brave and strong and way more smarter than I am. She likes to collect river stones, which I think is just really weird, and there’s one awesome stone she found one Halloween that became part of an adventure we had together. Nikki’s also really, really bossy and treats me like a little kid. I don’t always like that, even though we’re both still kids and almost the same age, though sometimes she acts like she’s my mother or my big sister. But she’s cool and awesome, and she has magical powers, too. That’s really cool, too, ya know?  She doesn’t have any parents, which always makes me sad, but she’s my best friend in all the whole wide world, and I love her. Just don’t tell her I said that or I’ll never live it down.

Now, not long ago, me and Nikki got ourselves mixed up in a couple of pretty crazy wild adventures. Not long after that, we met two authors named Erika M Szabo and Joe Bonadonna. We told them our story but didn’t really think they’d believe us. But ha-ha — guess what? They believed us! They believed us so much that they decided to write two books about our Halloween adventures in Creepy Hollow, a really cool world of magic and strange places and creatures. Pretty rad, right? The first book is called Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin, and the second book is called The Power of the Sapphire Wand because that Black Pumpkin is what started our first adventure, and that Sapphire Wand was pretty important to what we had to do on our second trip to Creepy Hollow, which took place a year later, on Nikki’s birthday.

I think both these books about what we saw and did and learned in Creepy Hollow are not only spooky and funny, they’re also totally awesome adventures for middle-grade kids to read, too. We also learned a lot of really good lessons about friendship, good manners, loyalty, family and courage. 

It all started when me and Nikki found this weird black pumpkin in the forest near Grandma Sweet’s house one Halloween day. That was about the same time Nikki also found some crazy stone in the river — a magical stone it was, too! We also met this little silver skeleton that was some kind of talking wind chime named Wishbone, who told us that the ghosts of the Trinity of Wishmothers were trapped inside the black pumpkin and couldn’t get free without their magical Wands, which had been stolen by this evil dude named Hobgoblin, but then got stolen from him and hidden away by Wishbone. Of course Nikki and I jumped at the chance to help, so Wishbone took us to Creepy Hollow to get the three Wands he hid in three scary places: Red Crow Forest, the Tower of Shadows, and the Cave of Spooks. Wishbone’s friends joined us, too. One is named Ghoulina, and she’s a really beautiful vegetarian ghoul. The other is called Catman because he’s part man and part cat. Now that’s really, really, really rad! Believe me, we had a wild time, and we had to face danger and conquer monsters and bad guys every step of the way as we searched for the Wands before the wicked Hobgoblin and his sicko henchman, Tasmanian Devil, could find where they were hidden. And that’s all I’m gonna tell you about that adventure.

Now a year later, on her 13th birthday, Nikki discovered that she had magical powers. Totally amazing! But there were some bad people in Creepy Hollow who found out about that and wanted to kidnap Nikki. Then one night at Grandma Sweet’s house we were attacked by this ugly giant named Mutanto, who had a henchman called Howler and a whole gang of Werewolves with him. But before they could take us all back to their wicked witch of a boss lady, Evila the Grim Witch, Wishbone, Ghoulina and Catman arrived to save us and tell us about Evila’s plans to conquer Creepy Hollow. That’s when Nikki learned the truth about what happened to her parents twelve years ago. So me, Nikki and Grandma Sweet went back to Creepy Hollow to help our friends defeat Evila. That’s when I found out that I can talk to the animals in Creepy Hollow. How cool is that, right? We also met a herd of Wild Horses and I became good friends with Champ, a clumsy young colt. Hey, I even adopted a young, orphaned dragon I named Sparky. This adventure was so much more dangerous and scary than our first adventure, but I gotta tell you, me and Nikki conquered our fears and got really brave. In this awful big battle against Evila and her army we suddenly, with the help of some magic, became real warriors. And that’s all I’m gonna tell you about this story, too.

You’re just gonna have to read the books to find out more.

Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin is a 2017 Golden Book Award Winner.

The Power of the Sapphire Wand 

Creepy Hollow Adventures Books 1 and 2 are also available in a single, paperback volume with b/w interior illustrations.

Amazon b&w PRINT:

And both books are now available in this lovely, special hardcover edition from Barnes-Noble, with full-color interior illustrations. 

A few illustrations from the books:

Now here’s some really great stuff a couple of people have said about our adventures in the magical Land of Creepy Hollow.

“Szabo and Bonadonna’s story crackles with action and excitement. Their storytelling moves with the speed of lightning, but never lets the reader get lost. The atmosphere is just spooky enough to be fun but never enough to be too scary. Nikki and Jack are terrific characters. Their humorous bickering and genuine affection for each other make them very relatable. Wishbone Jones and Catman are good-natured foils for the snarky, sometimes cranky Ghoulina. Together, the band of heroes’ quick wits and courage in the face of deadly crows, evil Shadows, and wicked Spooks, will thrill anyone who picks it up. The megalomaniacal Hobart T. Hobgoblin is a great villain, who chews up the scenery every time he shows up. Though we never feel sorry for him, we learn enough about his past to understand him. There are also some valuable lessons to be learned along the way. Nikki and Jack must figure out for themselves that while selfishness and greed can lead to a bad end, courage and self-sacrifice can help defeat evil. Szabo and Bonadonna weave this into the story with great skill.”
~Fletcher Vredenburg

“I had the pleasure of editing The Power of the Sapphire Wand: Creepy Hollow Adventures 2, by Erika M. Szabo and Joe Bonadonna, and was instantly swept up into an adventure of limitless possibilities. Though written for children, I as an adult felt drawn into a mystical place where anything can happen—where children can be mighty warriors, and battle the forces of evil; where animals talk, and join in the fight; where queens and princesses join forces with commoners to save their people and their land; and where wishes really do come true. The Power of the Sapphire Wand is a wonderful, imaginative tale of adventure that is filled with exquisite original illustrations by Erika Szabo, and though it is the perfect Halloween treat, I find that it is a timeless tale that can be enjoyed by children of all ages anywhere, at any time of year.”
~Lee Porche

Erika M Szabo

Erika became an avid reader at a very early age, thanks to her dad who introduced her to many great books. Erika writes alternate history, romantic fantasy, magical realism novels as well as fun, educational, and bilingual books for children ages 4-12 about acceptance, friendship, family, and moral values such as accepting people with disabilities, dealing with bullies, and not judging others before getting to know them. Erika also likes to encourage children to use their imagination and daydream about fantasy worlds.

Joe Bonadonna

Much like Erika, Joe’s dad introduced him to books, as well as movies and music, at a very young age. He was encouraged to write as soon as he could hold a pencil. While Joe writes mostly Heroic Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, Horror and Science Fiction for an older audience, he decided to reach out to a younger audience and write something entertaining, as well as educational. This is his first collaboration with Erika, and his first children’s book.

Hope you enjoy this video trailer for 
Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin.
You can check out Erika's special Children's Books for Halloween blogpost HERE

 Thanks, everybody!
Jack Brady

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

RE-BLOGGING: From There To Here

How It All Started For Me

It was the summer of 1969. Very much like the one described in the song by Bryan Adams.
I quit the rock and roll band I’d been playing with since high school, went to work with my Dad, and had just finished reading The Lord of the Rings; a year earlier, while still in high school, I’d read The Hobbit. Now, after completing my magical journey through Middle-earth, I was totally hooked. I had found a liking — no, a craving for Heroic and Epic Fantasy. 

Not long after that, I discovered the Ballantine Books Adult Fantasy Series, wonderfully edited and championed by Lin Carter. Novels by Mervyn Peake, Lord Dunsany, E.R. Eddison, David Lindsay, William Morris, James Branch Cabell, Poul Anderson, and others fanned the flames of my passion. To say I was addicted would be a gross understatement. No, I had found novels that had changed my life and would continue to do so for the next 48 years!

Then one day, while browsing through a used book store on State Street and Congress in downtown Chicago, I came across three more novels that would further alter my life. The Tritonian Ring, by L. Sprague de Camp, The Swords of Lankhmar, by Fritz Leiber, and an anthology of short-stories by Lin Carter, Beyond the Gates of Dream. What was this new and exciting genre of fantasy fiction I had discovered? Sword and sorcery, of course! I was not only caught like an unwary Hyrkanian soldier, I was taken captive — axe, mace, and broadsword. I finished reading Leiber’s and de Camp’s novels in less than a week, and then I opened the “Gates of Dream” to Carter’s collection of stories. 

One story, in particular, hit me like a blow from a Cimmerian war hammer — The Hand of Nergal. Yes, the first Conan story I ever read was not even pure Howard, but a pastiche completed after his death by Carter. At the time, I didn’t know too much about Howard and his work. Sure, I had read some things about the big guy with the volcanic blue eyes in some articles and reviews in the old Castle of Frankenstein magazine. But I didn’t know anyone who had ever read Conan, or knew anyone who had even read sword and sorcery fiction, for that matter. Everyone I knew was familiar with Tolkien . . . but not with Howard. So I set out on my quest to find anything and everything I could that Howard had written. Going to major bookstores like Kroch’s and Brentano’s, and B. Dalton’s revealed even more of Howard’s treasures. Conan the Adventurer was the first all-Howard book I delved into. “The People of the Black Circle” was the first “pure-Howard” Conan story I ever read, and I was magically transported back to the Hyborian Age through the purple-edged pages of those grand old Lancer paperbacks with the amazing Frank Frazetta covers. After that, I discovered other Howard titles: the excellent Wolfshead, the grim and atmospheric King Kull, the even grimmer but no less grand adventures of Solomon Kane, and the dreamy Burroughs-inspired world of Almuric. And even though music and playing in rock and roll bands would lure me back time and again for the next 14 or 15 years, I was forever hooked on heroic fantasy and sword & sorcery fiction.

If you'd like to read this blog in its entirety, please visit Our Author Gang. Just click HERE and you'll be taken right over there. 

Thank you! 

Monday, October 8, 2018

REBLOGGING: Creating Dialog: Give Each Of Your Characters Their Own Unique Voice

My good friend and “mentor” Ted Rypel (author of The Deathwind Trilogy, Fortress of Lost Worlds, A Hungering of Wolves, and Dark Ventures), was of immense help to me in the creation and shaping of my tales of Dorgo the Dowser, star of my (so far) two books in the Mad Shadows series. He writes great dialog, and he’s a master at choreographing battle scenes. He taught me how to write a fight scene from a personal point of view, to put myself inside the fight and write the scene as if it was something I had actually experienced. But more importantly, he taught me how to write dialog, how to make my characters “talk like real folks,” and to him I owe a great deal of gratitude.

The Cecil B. DeMille Syndrome

One of the things I stumble over, especially in the genre of Heroic Fantasy, is that so many writers have their characters “speak” in a very formal manner, like stilted dialog from an old Cecil B. DeMille Biblical movie. Every line of dialog is a declaration, a proclamation that sounds unnatural and unrealistic, at least to my ears. Every character sounds just like every other character; this is something I’m guilty of, too, and I do my best to give each character his or her own distinctive “voice.” Many writers also try to outdo Shakespeare by using way too many words like “thee,” “thou,” “thy,” “thine,” “whence,” “whilst,” etc. In “olden times,” uneducated peasants surely didn’t speak the same way as educated aristocrats.  How many English-speaking people, for example, speak without using contractions? Not everyone says “cannot,” “it is,” “that is,” “will not,” and “shall not.” And slang isn’t an invention of the modern era; surely different classes of people in ancient Greece, Rome, Britain, and other countries had their own dialects, their own slang words and phrases.

When I first started writing, my dialog was atrocious, to say the least. No contractions, too many “Biblical” words and phrases. I didn’t know what my characters’ voices sounded like. I didn’t know how they would talk to one another or what they would discuss. And they all spoke as if I was trying to channel the Bard. While I knew the “show, don’t tell” rule, so much of my narration, my exposition broke that rule, something I’m still guilty of to this day. Then I gradually learned how to turn a lot of my narrative into action, to “show it,” rather than tell. Even more importantly, I learned how to turn narration into dialog, to have my characters tell the reader what was going on in the story while they carried on conversations and discussions. Still, my dialog rang false, and every character sounded alike. I had a “tin ear,” so to speak.

But I was learning. 

If you'd like to read the rest of this blog over at #OurAuthorGang, just click HERE

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Gunsmoke Serenade, by Thomas McNulty

The Gunsmoke Serenade


Thomas McNulty

Reviewed by Joe Bonadonna

Thomas McNulty writes 5-star westerns on par with Zane Grey, Max Brand and Louis L'AMour. I've now read and enjoyed five of his westerns, and he just keeps on getting better and better. From his prose to his characterization and action-packed climaxes, he helps keep the western genre alive and kicking. One day I hope to see him write his own epic, a magnum opus like Larry McMurty's Lonesome Dove.

In The Gunsmoke Serenade, Marshal Maxfield Knight see three gunslingers in the town of Cherrywood Crossing, CO, one afternoon. When they try to draw down on him, he outdraws and guns them down. Later, Knight learns that the gunmen had been hired to kill him by one Silas Manchester. Why? Could it possibly have something to do with the hanging of a bank robber and murderer named Cal Randal? Does this all tie in with the murder of Knight's wife? Knight doesn't yet know, but he intends to find out. 

This is the start of manhunt that soon turns into a deadly, guns-blazing cat and mouse game that Knight is determined to win, even though the odds are stacked heavily against him. When Knight is pinned down in the mountains by Manchester's men, a mountain man named Albert LaCroix saves his life, and together they hole up in a cave while they join forces and plan their strategy. 

Meanwhile, Deputy Cole Tibbs, growing more and more worried because Knight has been gone too long, sets out to find and help the marshal -- if he's still alive. From here on the action is fast and furious -- sort of a guerrilla warfare in the Colorado wilderness, and you'll soon see why the title of this excellent novel is The Gunsmoke Serenade. 

The game then becomes more interesting when an educated tracker named Castellanos, who was hired by Manchester to find Knight, makes contact with the marshal. He delivers a note from Manchester to Knight, who is basically calling him out to a face-to-face confrontation. This leads to a final showdown between Knight and Manchester, a battle royale between the two men that rivals John Wayne's and Randolph Scott's two legendary fistfights in the films "Pittsburgh" and "The Spoilers." 

With an graceful yet gritty style and a sharp eye for detail, as well as crackling dialog, colorful characters, and plenty of action that is well-written, well-choreographed and easy to follow, McNulty once again hits the bull's eye. You'll wince at every twig and bit of foliage that's stepped on, smell and taste the crisp mountain air, duck at every gunshot, and smell the tangy gunsmoke drifting on the morning breeze. McNulty is a master at writing westerns, and I look forward to reading more of his work. 

The Gunsmoke Serenade:

Thomas McNulty's Amazon Author page: 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin: Heroic Halloween Fantasy for middle-grade children

If you liked "The Nightmare Before Christmas," then you're sure to enjoy the world of Creepy Hollow!

Winner of the 2017 Golden Book Judges’ Choice Award for Children’s Fantasy.

In Creepy Hollow, it's Halloween all year long! "Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin" -- a spooky Halloween story for children, ages 8 to 14, written by Erika M. Szabo and Joe Bonadonna. Also illustrated by Erika M Szabo. Adults might like it, too!

Spooky and funny, a heroic fantasy adventure for middle-grade children. Nikki and her impish cousin, Jack, find a mysterious black pumpkin in the forest on Halloween. A wise talking skeleton, Wishbone, tells them that the ghosts of the Trinity of Wishmothers are trapped inside the pumpkin and can’t be freed without their wands. The children offer their help, so the skeleton takes them on a journey to the world of Creepy Hollow to retrieve the three wands he hid long ago in Red Crow Forest, the Tower of Shadows, and the Cave of Spooks. Ghoulina, the beautiful vegetarian ghoul, and Catman, who was once a man, join them on their quest. They must face danger and conquer evil every step of the way as they search for the Wands before the wicked Hobgoblin and his henchman, a Tasmanian Devil, can get their hands on them. This is a fun, humorous and touching story for kids, with plenty of character interaction woven into a backdrop of scary danger, heroic action and lessons to be learned.

“Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin” is available worldwide in paperback, Kindle, and Nook editions, and at a very reasonable price, too! Brand-new edition featuring a new cover and even more interior illustrations


Barnes & Noble: 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

WIND FROM THE ABYSS, by Janet Morris: A Review


My Review of Book 3 

Janet Morris'

The Silistra Quartet

This is the official Author's Cut, published in 2017 by Perseid Press.

This third volume is Morris’ masterful The Silistra Quartet delves deeper into the heart of her world, which is not only an echo of our own, but even a dark shadow of what the future might possibly bring. One of its themes is power — the power of technology, the power over our own natures, and the power to control others. Events take place shortly after those of recounted in The Golden Sword (book 2), and this time around, the main character of Estri, after having gone through so many changes and experiences in the first two novels, has been captured and held hostage for over two years by Khys, the tyrannical ruler of Silistra. She has become a pawn and a slave of this tyrant whose power over his world is all but absolute, a puppet master who will allow no one to stand in his way or speak out against him. Estri is forced to make sacrifices throughout her odyssey in order to liberate herself. He has had Estri’s memories “blocked” in such a way that it prevents her from being able to take control over him. This is a story about her soul, the loss of hope and even her sanity. It felt to me that as she gazed into the “abyss,” where the winds of despair howl and whine, she saw nothing but the abyss staring back at her. But there is hope and triumph to be found in her personal journey of rediscovery and the recovery of empowerment. This is a complicated, engrossing novel filled with prophetic, philosophical and socio-political themes, as well as complex, all-too real characters. Morris, so good at giving us characters we can identify with, characters we can love and hate, strikes at the very heart of the human condition and the duality of humanity — both good and evil. Her prose is lean and spot-on, every word carefully chosen to enhance the milieu of her imaginary world and advance the plot, giving us access to the thoughts, emotions and machinations of the people whose stories she is presenting to us. Once again, she gives us a “thinking man’s” science fiction/fantasy that explores the nature of power and sexuality, and how they can be used, misused and abused. This is a brilliant, mature and very adult novel that will not only leave you thinking about your own place in the universe, but questioning the very nature of existence.