Book Review: The Stone Mage and the Sea

The Stone Mage and the Sea by Sean Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Stone Mage & the Sea (First Book of the Change) by Sean Williams has been sitting on my book shelf for a couple of years and I thought it was about time I read it. I’m glad I made that decision.

Sean Williams is an Australian writer and I was pleased to see the Australianisms come through in his writing. In fact, it made for a nice change. The setting is clear and feels so real that I would almost be willing to guarantee that the author did his research by sitting in the Australian desert.

What I especially liked about this book was the mixture of modern everyday items in what seemed like a futuristic world touched by magic. Yet, on the other hand, the people in the story seemed backwards in their technology too. I liked the balance. It made me wonder how far we can go, technology wise, before we do something wrong and end up worse off than when we started.

Anyway, the main character is a young boy and the story falls into the “coming of age” category. At a guess, I would say this is a young adult book yet any avid reader will enjoy the storyline. It’s fresh and clean, and in a lot of ways different to other fantasy stories. It’s the first is a trilogy and I felt it nicely setup the world, the characters and the conflicts for the two following books.

I can’t say it was fast paced, but I didn’t find it boring or slow either. However, as the book neared the end, the tension raised and I had no choice but to follow the characters into a climax filled with everything that makes a good book.

This book is highly recommended.

I am already well into the second book in the series – The Sky Warden and the Sun.

Book Review: Rhett Butler's People

Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCraig is an authorised sequel to Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, which is a personal favourite, as is another authorised sequel by Alexandra Ripley called Scarlett. So when I saw Rhett Butler’s People I instantly knew that I had to buy and read it!

For three reasons I was a little disappointed. Although the title is not misleading, which is a credit to the author, Rhett Butler’s People isn’t really about Rhett and Scarlett. Whilst it touches on the main events of their (well known) story, I thought it would be a retelling of the original story, but from Rhett’s perspective. This book is mainly about Rhett’s childhood and then the people in his life as an adult. A large portion of the book is told from their point of view and is about their lives. I wasn’t expecting that, but I managed to get over it fast.

The second reason I was disappointed was because the story concentrates on the American Civil War far too much for my liking. I wasn’t interested in that side of the story at all and found it dragged the story down. (I’ve never enjoyed reading about battles or wars of any kind.)

Putting those two disappointments to one side, the book was good. Once I accepted that the book isn’t really about Rhett and Scarlett, I became riveted with some of the storylines, especially those which tugged at the heart strings. And it did expand on the original story to some degree.

I found the writing to be readable and in parts, absorbing. The characters were well written and had depth. The settings were realistic. Overall, a good read, but I would have liked the war to be in the background. It would have made a huge difference to my review, which as it stands is quite puny. There isn’t a lot more to say, because the book didn’t “speak” to me as the previous two did, which is a shame.

But what about the third reason for my disappointment? Donald McCraig chose to ignore the other sequel called Scarlett, therefore making up a different sequence of events after the “I don’t give a damn” moment. As his book is an authorised sequel, as was the book written by Alexandra Ripley, I felt he made a bad move when he made that decision. For me, it was tragic and a complete let down and I’m afraid to say that Rhett’s Butler’s People will not be given a place on my “favourites shelf” as a result.

Author Interview: Chris Howard

This month, I am proud to present an interview with Chris Howard, author of Seaborn.

It’s a pleasure to have this opportunity to interview you, Chris. Please tell us a bit about your writing background.

My mother was a writer and an artist, and growing up I had no concept of a “real job” versus an artistic pursuit–no pressure to take one over the other. (I ended up studying philosophy in school, and have spent the last twenty years developing software). I think, more than anything else, the idea of the arts as a valid career path opened up the world of writing and painting for me. My mother also made it pretty clear that if you don’t submit anything, you’re never going to get published. My first rejections were from F&SF and Dragon Magazine in the early ’80s, and my first publication was a short story, “Diminisher of Peace” in The Harrow in 2006. So, twenty-something years of writing on-and-off before an editor accepted something. I used to collect rejects, stick them in a folder, to go through every once in a while. I don’t bother anymore. I know I have well over a hundred and fifty.

That’s a lot of rejections, but you’ve already proven that a writer should never give up. Tell us about your latest publication?

Seaborn, which came out last July, is my latest novel. I’m also an illustrator with some pen and ink work in the last issue of Shimmer (came out a few months ago). Seaborn is actually the middle book in a series that begins with Saltwater Witch (young adult) and ends with Sea Throne. Both of these are complete, the first with a publisher. No idea when they’ll see the light of day, though. Sea Throne is presently a victim of the recent shifts in the publishing world, with Juno Books becoming an imprint of Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books division, and with a tighter focus on the popular and key elements of urban fantasy–that’s werewolves and vampires, and with people from the sea–any way you define “urban fantasy”–being on the fringe. So, Sea Throne’s sort of in limbo at the moment. Time to work on the next series!

I wish you the best of luck with Sea Throne. What project are you working on at the moment?

I have a new fantasy series going. It’s quite a bit different than the Seaborn books. It’s in the future, so you have nanotech, self-cleaning clothes, and my main character’s a dryad–an SF background with magic and demons and forest deities. I like the mix. I think readers will too. Instead of a loose 3rd person POV I used in Seaborn and Sea Throne, the new series, starting with the book I just completed–Winterdim, is all in first person POV, with each book from a different character’s perspective.

That does sound like an interesting mix. Do you know how the story will end when you first start writing it?

Depends how broadly you’re interpreting “how.” I certainly have a good idea of who’s going to come out the other end of the story alive, and whether they’re going to succeed or fail. I don’t have protags fail often–never completely. On the other hand, they never step out of the last chapter unchanged, undamaged, or not without a whole new set of problems.

As far as writing process goes, I typically begin writing the ending before I hit the middle of the story. This works to plant a stake in the ground and gives me a pretty clear direction to move the story. By the time I’m three-quarters done, I may have the ending complete–with minor tweaks when the rest of the writing catches up and then a few more after a post-complete edit pass.

I believe in having a concrete ending and often write the last scene at the beginning of the process. Do you work on more than one story at a time? If so, how do you manage it?

Usually. I may complete a short story or two in the time I write a novel, but I never get into another novel length work. That doesn’t mean I’m not thinking one or two books ahead, or even the next series. I’m always doing that. For me at least, it’s never the lack of ideas, it’s always about the lack of time to pursue them. I keep a journal–I use Moleskine notebooks, unlined so I can draw in them, too. I go through one of these a year, and by the time I’ve finished one book, I have enough notes, plot ideas, conclusions to get me started on another. I also draw and paint, and I’m usually way ahead of what I’m currently writing. As part of my writing process, I picture scenes from the next book or series and paint them.

I have always been interested in how other writers go about their business so thank you for sharing that part of your writing routine. Do you believe in writer’s block? Why?

I’m not sure I do. If we’re talking about writer’s block being the state writers run into when they don’t understand enough about a particular scene, plot direction, character motivation, and can’t continue without getting a better handle on these things, then I do believe. Everyone gets that, and the response is to sit back and think about those things that feel fuzzy, that don’t make sense, take time to put yourself into a character and play around, try to understand what they’re feeling, what they see when they step into that scene. Sometimes it works to try something unexpected. People aren’t robots–unless your character actually is a robot. They don’t always follow a script–they certainly don’t in real life. Why would readers expect a fictional character to behave that way?

I don’t think I’ve ever just sat in front of a blank sheet of paper, pen in hand, or in front of the screen, fingers hovering over the keyboard, waiting for the words to come. Maybe a long time ago, and the cure for that is to put the pen down and go read a book. Get some inspiration, look at some art, photographs, listen to some music. I’m still a newb at this writing thing. I’ve just completed my fifth novel (worth publishing–have a bunch that aren’t), and if I had to give some advice on this: A lot of the writing process relies on trusting yourself to tell the story–and not getting hung up on a particular scene. It could be that you’re just not ready to tell that part yet. Move on to the next. Pick a scene later in your story that you’ve been dying to write. Who says you have to have everything written prior to that scene? Skip ahead and start writing. You can always come back and fill in chapters, and when you do, you’ll have a better understanding of your story and characters.

What are your writing goals for the future?

Simple. Novel a year. That’s the plan. Do some painting and drawing during and in between–maybe sell a few. Near term I want to pursue this future fantasy thing to the limit. I’ve plotted three books, but I can take it to more. Beyond that? I have a hundred stories to tell, worlds to build, characters to create and their shoes to step into. I’ve written two YA novels, Nanowhere and Saltwater Witch. I may come back to writing more YA at some point, and when I do it’ll probably be historical fiction.

Thank you, Chris, for a very interesting interview. I’m sure visitors to this site will be as grateful as I am for the time you’ve given us today.

If you would like to know more about Chris and his writing (and even his artwork) be sure to visit his website –