Monday, September 28, 2009

Crossing Genres with Lettie Prell's Dragon Ring

I first met Lettie Prell when making my premiere trip to the wonderful DemiCon this past spring, which is located in the beautiful city of Des Moines, Iowa.

Lettie and myself were scheduled on a panel regarding the paranormal, along with author Shirley Damsgaard (Aby and Ophelia Mystery Series). I was immediately intrigued by her book Dragon Ring after listening to her talk during the panel, where it was very clear that she was a writer who was not bound by genres. Sharp-witted and energetic, Lettie is a great ambassador for her book. Later, I was able to attend her author's reading session, where she displayed considerable talent in the art of live readings. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to Dragon Ring by the time that the weekend was over.

Dragon Ring (Flying Pen Press) is Lettie's first novel, and I found it to be a great example of what small press releases are capable of doing, both in terms of quality and the risks that can be ventured in the small press realm. It is not a book that can be easily classified, and it is intensely original in nature.

It is my feeling that the reading world will be hearing alot more about Lettie Prell in the future!

-Stephen Zimmer for the Seventh Star Press Blog Site, October 1, 2009

SZ: What is your background as a writer?

LP: Early emergence. I wrote as a kid. When it came to college, I talked myself into majoring in something practical – accounting first, then a switch to public administration – but all my electives were in writing and literature. I hung out with writers. One of my poems was accepted into the campus journal. College ended and so did my writing, until one day, I was walking with a friend in the park, and out of the blue I said, “I’m going to start writing science fiction.” Where did those words come from? I had surprised myself a lot more than my friend, who took it all in stride. But I did start writing science fiction, and soon I was getting my stories published, and taking writing workshops whenever I could. It became my passion.

SZ: When did you begin Dragon Ring?

LP: Nadine (the protagonist) surfaced in 1992, in a short story that was published in a zine called The Crystal Tower Intuitive Magazine of the Midlands. Much later, on one of those days when it’s time to start a new story, I thought instead of going to the trouble of making up a whole new character, I’d use one I already had on hand, and chose Nadine. Fifteen Nadine stories later, I let myself admit I was on my way to creating a novel.

SZ: What was your path to being published by Flying Pen Press?

LP: I started going to science fiction conventions to get involved in the sf community and meet people in the business. I became a member of Broad Universe, an organization of women science fiction, fantasy and horror writers. Through that organization I met Carol Hightshoe, who was an editor with a new small press out of Denver that was open to submissions. I sent my query to Carol, she requested first chapters and eventually the full manuscript. Dragon Ring became one of six novels Flying Pen published in their second year of existence.

SZ: What brought you to choose Guatemala in particular as one of the settings in Dragon Ring?

LP: Latin American story-telling has a well-known tradition of magic realism, where fantastical things can occur in the ordinary world. I wanted to ground the novel in a setting where Nadine’s special abilities would be believable, and part of her cultural background.

SZ: In the book the entire country of Guatemala is one big corporation. Do you see something like this as possible in relation to trends that you recognize in today's world?

LP: What can I say? I minored in economics in college. There are two “what ifs” at play here. One idea comes from the realities of third world exploitation. What if people in those countries could gain control and transform that exploitation into a real economy? The second idea comes from the trend a while back, to run government more like a business. That was the buzz phrase, anyway. There was at least an attempt in some places to transform bureaucracy into a creative entrepreneurial environment so it could innovate, become more efficient and so forth. Granted, in reality those efforts only went so far. Nevertheless, what if government was so much like a business, that it actually becomes one?

SZ: Similarly, do you see an evolution in virtual reality-type technologies becoming applied in ways like those in your book? (especially beyond entertainment applications)

LP: We seem to come out with neat, new uses for technology all the time that we hadn’t anticipated. Full sensory virtual reality for statisticians does seem a stretch, however. Mainly I was having fun with the idea. Some years back, I played virtual reality games at the Navy Pier in Chicago with a couple of my colleagues from work. One was the type where we wore helmets and tried to shoot each other with these pathetic little guns that shot pellets that looked like marshmallows in the VR environment. I thought at the time that the technology should be better, so I made it better in Dragon Ring.

SZ: One of the bolder elements in Dragon Ring is that the mystical/spiritual and the scientific are not mutually exclusive or antagonistic towards each other. How have reactions been to this element of the story, given that many people tend to be staunchly rooted in either one or the other?

LP: Brace yourself. A relative of mine is a fundamentalist Christian, and she told me she enjoyed reading my book. A research colleague of mine has also read Dragon Ring, and he mentioned that the first scene where the mystical reveals itself was the point where the book really grabbed him. So in short, no negative feedback so far. People might not be as polarized on this as one might suspect. Or maybe they’re just willing to suspend their opinions for the sake of a good story.

SZ: In both Guatemala and the United States, there is an underlying presence of ancient wisdom reflected in both the Mayan and Native American heritages of some of your main characters, as well as the notion that valuable elements have been lost over time. Do you believe that modern society has forgotten or lost valuable lessons and knowledge from the ancient world, even as we have brought forth technological marvels? Do you think that rediscovery of that knowledge, and the idea of harmonization between the mystical/spiritual and technological, would result in even greater advancements in a scientific sense?

LP: Wow, I can just imagine someone picking up this interview and being surprised we’re discussing all this in relation to a science fiction novel! Yet this is one of the reasons I love reading this genre. Sure, one of the themes I hope people get when they read the book is we can’t go back to old ways of thinking, but that it’s okay not to. We’re meant to move forward. Every generation reinterprets the wisdom of the past so that it’s relevant to them, and increasingly this process appears to be moving away from organized religion. More people are marking None as their religious preference on the surveys. So the “what if” of the novel explores what if in order to move forward, humanity has to embrace all aspects of what it is to be human, including what it has considered spiritual or mystical? Do I think if we did, that it would result in even greater scientific advancements? That’s not a fair question for a fiction writer.

SZ: Without giving away too many spoilers, is there an established scientific basis for the fascinating alternative energy system represented in Dragon Ring, or is it more of a theory of your own?

Lettie: I’m fascinated with stories of science on the edge, where it gets just a little bit whacky. Nikola Tesla, the inventor of alternating current, was both brilliant and eccentric, so of course he inspired me. Early on, I thought up an alternative energy system, which later I described to an electrical engineer over beers. Good thing because one aspect in particular was laughable, and my acquaintance did not hesitate to tell me so. I was treated to a twenty minute lecture on what we know and don’t know about electricity, and what part of my idea was completely off-base. As a result, I modified my system to make it less of a stretch for people who know about such things. It’s still a stretch, mind you. But there’s only one big leap there now.

SZ: Nadine's path involves very strong elements involving the pursuit and embrace of self-discovery, as well as individual empowerment. Were these principle themes that you set out to accomplish with this character?

LP: In science fiction it’s sometimes okay to focus on the speculative idea and write to that level. I chose to go for a strong character in addition to the idea, and explore how her personal journey meshed with the larger events around her.

SZ: Dragon Ring is a real crossover book, with elements of hard science fiction, general science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, and even the paranormal. It does not fit neatly into just one category. Has that presented any difficulties with marketing the book or has it proven to be a strength?

LP: What comes to mind is what happened early on. The publisher decided to market Dragon Ring as adult science fiction, but then the cover comes out and it looks like young adult fantasy. It was too late to have the cover redone. It made me very nervous for a while, until I noticed quite a few people, adults as well as teens, were perking up when they saw the cover art. I learned how to describe the book in different ways to different people. For men and teen boys, I often emphasize the science element. For women and girls I emphasize the dragon and the female protagonist. Maybe that’s stereotyping, but the book is selling to a wide range of age groups, and both sexes. I’ve done lots readings now for mixed audiences, and it’s generally well-received.

SZ: What do you see as the most difficult or frustrating aspects about the small press world?

LP: We often have to be proactive and persistent to get our books into bookstores. Just because one Barnes and Noble carries my book, doesn’t mean all of them will. There is still some misconception that small presses are akin to vanity presses. It’s a ridiculous notion, but it still lurks out there.

SZ: Conversely, what do you see as the strengths and benefits of being on a small press?

LP: Small presses have a reputation for treating their authors very well, and that has been true of my relationship with Flying Pen Press. I can actually phone my publisher and talk to him when I need to.

SZ: What are you working on right now?

LP: My second novel, of course. This one is not the sequel to Dragon Ring, although I assure my readers that sequel has been started. The second novel is science fiction, but something completely different. I’ve also been taking some breaks from the novel to write short stories.

SZ: Where can folks find more information about you, your work, and where to buy your books?

LP: My website has links to some reviews and interviews, and where I’ll be next. I urge people to walk into their favorite bookstore and order my book. Any bookstore can order it, and you’d be showing support for your local bookstore in the process. Dragon Ring is also available on Amazon, so it’s easy to get if you want to go that route.

Dragon Ring, a Visionary Novel that Encompasses Several Genres Successfully
-review by Stephen Zimmer for Seventh Star Press Blog Site, October 1, 2009

Dragon Ring (Flying Pen Press, ISBN: 978-0-9795889-6-9) is that rare sort of novel that not only crosses genres, but does it quite well.

The first novel from Iowa-based author Lettie Prell, Dragon Ring tells the fascinating story of a young Guatemalan woman named Nadine who has a transcendant experience while partaking in a virtual reality game.

The setting of the story is the near future, laying out an intriguing vision where Guatemala has essentially become one large corporation in order to rid itself of corruption. Nadine's father was highly involved with the development of the new Guatemala, before he left to participate in a United States-based corporation that is involved with some momentous and visionary research with energy systems. When Nadine learns that he was killed suddenly in a plane crash, she sets out for the United States on a journey that takes her to the roots of mystical elements that she was skeptical about, as well as the circumstances concerning her father.

The writing paces quickly, while having enough description and exposition to satisfy the reader's curiosity. The plot and story are kept tight, such that there are no loose ends hanging by the end of the adventure.

Dragon Ring takes a great risk in that it involves both hard science fiction as well as the mystical, two things that are not often comfortable neighbors in literature or other forms of entertainment. Both are essential elements of the plot, and neither is positioned as innately superior to the other. Lettie is to be commended for this approach. This refreshing harmony of the two is rarely seen in realms where the subjects of science and the spiritual are often polarized, or one is propped up at the expense of the other.

Aztec and Native American mysticism flow into the plot, right alongside an amazing plot element involving energy systems. I can't say too much because I don't want to unleash big spoilers, but suffice it to say that Lettie may be onto something big here! Lettie also portrays some very interesting concepts regarding the future applications of virtual reality technology, in both entertainment and non-entertainment arenas.

There are many very captivating characters that emerge along the way, from the spiritual Juan Carlos (who almost plays out like a wizard-mentor to Nadine as the heroine in this story), to Three Crows, a young Native American man who factors into Nadine's profound VR experience, to Norman Lee, a brilliant scientist who turned out to be one of my favorite characters in the book. They are all very alive and vibrant, and Lettie did an excellent job at developing a supporting cast for a main character that is strong and captivating enough to sustain the leading role effectively.

This book will resonate with fantasy fans, science fiction fans, and even readers who are not normally into speculative fiction. The pacing, plot twists, sense of mystery and intrigue present in Dragon Ring is just as potent as any thriller/adventure type novel. All of it races towards a very powerful conclusion, which results in one of the biggest revelations of the entire novel.

My only regret is that this wonderful reading experience was over too soon! I wish that Dragon Ring was a five-hundred page book, and that another installment was on the horizon. Dragon Ring is simply that clever, visionary, and compelling. Take a chance on Dragon Ring and you will discover a very special book indeed!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Seventh Star Press Podcast Episode 4, featuring D.A. Adams of The Brotherhood of Dwarves Series

In episode 4, we take you to Tennessee to visit with D.A. Adams, fantasy author and writer of The Brother Hood of Dwarves series. The visit covers his recent trip as a panelist to DragonCon, his work, and the progress on the forthcoming 3rd book in his outstanding series.

Be sure to take note of all the author tags throughout the show as well, and discover some great small press authors in the process. Thanks again to Zero King for the hard rockin' tune Black Friday, which bookends this episode! Leave a comment and let us know what you think of the show!

Click here to listen to or download Episode 4 of the Seventh Star Press Podcast!

You can subscribe to the podcast as an RSS feed here:

or find the podcast on iTunes through this link: Seventh Star Press Podcast on iTunes

Friday, September 11, 2009

TammyJo Eckhart, Destined for Great Things in the Literary World

I met TammyJo Eckhart in Indianapolis, IN. this past summer, while I was attending the InConJunction convention held during the July 4th Weekend. Sharing a panel with her, and getting to talk to her later, I became more and more intrigued with TammyJo and her literary work. I found her very pleasant and engaging, and discovered yet another excellent writer in the process.

TammyJo is an established author, with several published works, by multiple publishers. She also holds a Ph.D in Ancient History, has published in the academic realm, and even hosts an increasingly popular blog for chocolate connoisseurs, The Chocolate Cult (of which she is the High Priestess). Needless to say, TammyJo is a very multifaceted individual, and I really enjoyed reading her novel, Servants of Destiny, which serves as my introduction to her literary work (and is reviewed by me, below the interview with her).

She has a strong erotic element in her various works, heavily BDSM in nature, which have a genuine flair, as TammyJo has an active BDSM lifestyle herself. TammyJo is an author who will challenge you, push boundaries, and make you look at things from non-traditional perspectives. Her work is not derivative, and she works the erotic elements into practical aspects of plot and characterization.

TammyJo Ekhart is pursuing her own destiny, and doing it quite well, and I hope that readers of all genres take a moment to give her work a try.

-Stephen Zimmer for the Seventh Star Blog Site, September 13, 2009

SZ: How would you describe yourself as a writer, being that your body of work entails many different genres?

TJE: I have a few goals with all the writing I do. First, I want to reveal the truth about any given situation or question. That might sound odd when the story is science fiction but then the truth is about human relationships, human reactions and feelings. Second, I want my reader to think. Even the most fluffy stuff I've written hopefully gets people to think about what they might do in that situation or how the events in the work or study relate to other things they already know. Finally, I do want to entertain in my fiction, but also in my non-fiction I want to engage the reader at some level, keep them turning the page even if it's to argue an interpretation of a piece data.

I think those three goals work well together. If a truth is revealed it should never just be blindly accepted, you should think about it, hopefully engage with it, and through that have it affect you in some fashion.

SZ: What was your first book published, and when was it released? Give us an idea as to the books that you have had released since then.

TJE: My very first solo book was a collection of five stories entitled "Punishment for the Crime" from Masquerade Books in June 1996. It came after I had a short and an essay accepted by two anthologies and the fiction anthology editor, Cecilia Tan, suggested I contact the publisher at Masquerade. We lived in NYC at that time and when he called me to invite me in, he actually presented me with two contracts, one for this five story collection and another for whatever project I wanted. That was a collection of seven stories and related essays about the legends connected to Amazons in the ancient world, which is what both my Master's and Doctoral theses were on as well. That book "Amazons: Erotic Explorations of the Ancient Myths" came out in summer 1997.

I parted ways with Masquerade not because I wanted to so much as I felt I had to, and I wasn't alone in that decision, so that left me with a third collection and with no publisher. I ended going with Greenery Press which was and still is a big name in non-fiction works about alternative sexualities. They put out "Justice and other short erotic tales" in 1999, but in a few years they decided that most of their fiction was not selling, so they stopped that side of publication.

Since then, between my doctoral studies and college teaching, I've put out four more books. Three collections of short stories again: "Eroscapes: Erotic Fiction from the Mind of TammyJo Eckhart" from Wells Street in 2004; "Sweet Memories of Pain & The Future of Pleasure" from Nazca Plains in 2007; "Mistress Loves Me This I Know" which reprints my earliest out of print material from Python University Productions in 2009. My first published novel "Servants of Destiny" was also from Nazca Plains in 2006. I've had six short stories in anthologies or magazines as well. It is hard to write and be a full-time graduate student and teacher, though that hasn't been a problem for a year and a half now.

SZ: To date, what books have been the best received, in your opinion?

TJE: My first two books sold well, sold out their initial 5000 book run, but Masquerade made some editorial decisions and I wasn't comfortable with their suggestions for another book because I felt it was crossing into less serious fiction, more pornographic than erotic in nature. Plus I don't like being told what to write, not even in school when I was a student. My third book also sold as well, selling out it's initial book run, but in a similar fashion that publisher decided to stop doing fiction.

Most reviews and communications I get about my fiction have been very positive. In the erotica populations, both kinky and not, I have had fans from all orientations. That pleasantly surprised me, so crossing those boundaries has become a goal for me as well in my writing. I have seen one review, and that was for my first book on, from a reader who felt if women in the story were powerful then it wasn't erotic or appropriate for some reason. Some people have very limited minds, I think. It's something I must work on as a scholar and a reviewer myself.

SZ: Which books have been the most satisfactory for you personally, as writer, and why?

TJE: The ones that are most satisfactory for me right now are one that haven't been published yet. I have a science fiction series I started many years ago. It's a series of 5+ books that explores how societies work to maintain systems of inequality, and that no matter how much you may oppose that on a personal level you are still a construct of that system, and therefore you, too, are doing things to support that system. It is not nearly as erotic as many of my works, but the truth which I always want to tell is that human beings are sexual creatures, so it still has some erotic parts and potential depending on the reader.

In terms of my published work, I like it all. I'd never sent something to a publisher that I couldn't be proud about, though I'm open to honest constructive criticism. My greatest satisfaction is when someone tells me "I loved this" especially if they thought they might not because I'm female, or white, or it is classified as "erotica", or whatever they believe may make my work unappealing to them.

SZ: What are the areas that you feel you have grown as a writer since your first releases?

TJE: This is going to sound very odd, but I think my greatest growth has been technical. I have dyslexia and so spelling, grammar, those sorts of necessary technical matters are a huge challenge. Yet I note with my in-house editor, my husband, who is brilliant in those matters, and in publisher suggestions/corrections, their need to "fix my work" has decreased dramatically.

I also think I've gotten more confident and gained more knowledge both through my scholarly background and as a book reviewer myself. I think that makes me more willing to do edgier things, and to try different viewpoints in my stories. I've always tackled edgy topics, I think, but I hope now I do them with more clarity and empathy.

SZ: You are obviously well-known for your portrayals of "dominant women", and you are also known for busting stereotypes of these types of characters. How do you feel you have accomplished that?

TJE: We have two models in the western world for strong women. One is a mommy figure, which in many ways is more sacrificing as her form of strength than necessarily a leader as we think of male leaders. The other is the "Bitch", to put it bluntly. I reject them as the only two models for competent women, for female leaders. I think that since we socialize boys and girls differently, encouraging them to play into the very small biological and psychological differences we may have, that how women and men react will be different. When I write, I want to show the reasons that go beyond those two models into reality. So a character of mine may be a very capable captain of a star ship, but she will also have her own social baggage that may have nothing to do with babies, or men, or other women for example. I don't know if you've notice that, but often in fiction women's motivations are really around one of those three things: children, getting/keeping a man, or competing with other women.

I reject the limiting nature of role models for men as well. I just hope I can show them equally well. I want to show the fuller and more realistic range of human motivation and emotions. Which isn't always pretty.

SZ: Now that you have several books out, and have worked with several different publishers, what do you look for these days in a potential small press publisher?

TJE: What I need now, from any publisher, is getting my work out there so people can find it. Don't just bury it on, don't expect me to do all the publicity, you are getting the bulk of the profits here. Average royalties are only 5-8%, so you get the money, you do the bulk of the marketing and getting into stores please. I go to conventions, I hope to add one or two more in 2010, I'm happy to go do readings to small groups, but if I wanted to do it all, I'd self-publish. I want to be able to work into a Borders or Barnes & Nobles and find my books on the shelves again as I did with Masquerade and Greenery.

I also like more feedback. It's nice to hear that my work is "clear" and "we want it" but help me improve it too, ask me a few questions, make a suggestion or two at least. I'll grow with more feedback and constructive criticism.

SZ: What are some of your frustrations with the small press world?

TJE: I can't say this is a problem with all small press but of the three small publishers I've had, only one so far has made me happy. That's Python who pays me my royalties and books come off the press and is taking my books where they promised, into difference conventions around the Midwest. Another hasn't marketed the book well at all and this was after a very unfortunate printing error that made us recall the book and have it reprinted. One of the publishers simply has not fulfilled the contract. I haven't seen one dime in royalties and nor are my books in stores as promised. Since I can't afford a lawyer, I've had to take more books as "payment" which is BS.

SZ: In regards to your writing, being that it contains quite vivid erotic elements, have you had difficulty with how your work has been received or defined(i.e. Have you been misconstrued as a writer of erotica with fantasy elements, as opposed to a fantasy writer whose work contains erotic elements?)

TJE: I have no problems saying I'm an erotic writer when that's what I'm writing. The biggest problem I have is that too many people see "erotic" and they think it is dirty, you can tell me if you think "Servants of Destiny" is dirty or that it should contain about 75% or more sexual activities. My characters have the amount and type of sex that is appropriate to them and their situations. No more, no less.

But "erotica" isn't really a genre because you can have erotic elements and plots in all types of stories. Even traditional folktales can be highly erotic when you read their uncensored versions, religious texts can have highly sensual and erotica language if not outright topics. If you define yourself only as an erotica author, I think the danger is that you allow other very important matters to falter such as historical facts or scientific possibilities or just plain physical limitations.

If my characters have sex, there is a reason. No reason, no sex. They reason can be positive or negative, that reflects reality. The amount varies widely. Even in my first book, which was marketed as erotica, there was one story that had no sex in it. I have to do what works for the major genre of the piece whether it's contemporary, science fiction, fantasy, historical, strange undefined speculative fiction where you mix genres.

SZ: Does having a strong erotic element in your work prove to be a challenge when reaching out to potential publishers? (Does it severely limit the range of publishers you are able to query?)

TJE: Not so far but I think that's more because I've been so busy with school. Right now I'm hoping to propose one book I've been working on for two years on and off to a bigger publisher. We'll see if it makes it over the initial query level what they make of the erotic elements it has. One thing that does annoy, something I won't do even if it breaks for publishing, is I won't make my sex all "bad" just to get published, I won't play into gender stereotypes. Someone wants me to change the sexes of my characters or have them become mental patients to explain their actions, sorry, nope, if it was meant to be that way, I would have written it that way to start.

My biggest challenge other than time will probably be connections. I don't have an agent with contacts in the publishing world. I've heard so many negative things about agents that I'm turned off a bit.

SZ: Do you have any sense of whether a majority of your readers come more from the erotica side of things, the fantasy/sci-fi world, historical fiction, contemporary fiction, or a does a majority of your readership come from an even spread of all of the above?

TJE: No doubt that they come mostly through the erotica world. Part of going with Python is the hope that they'd get me into the hands of sci fi, fantasy, horror people at conventions. Same reason I'm going to those conventions now myself. I will never turn my back on my own subculture, my own tribe, but I think my work can speak to a much wider range of people and I want a chance to do that.

SZ: Some people may not realize that you have achieved a Ph.D in Ancient History. How have you been able to draw upon your academic background in your writing?

TJE: My very second book "Amazons" came right from my research and studies. I really see that book as a hybrid between fiction and non-fiction. Even in my science fiction, I utilize what I know how societies, families and individuals work. I've had a few folks tell me that my worlds seem so plausible, so real, and complex just like real ones. That is because I'm thinking of the range of human societies and the various studies I've learned from when I write or design the worlds.

SZ: Along similar lines, tell us a little about the scholarly articles/publications that are part of your body of work.

TJE: I've had a few articles published throughout the years on mythology, women, slavery, and teaching. I've also presented at a few conferences. With the job market failing me the past two years, I've put that writing aside to focus on three other projects, two fiction and one non-fiction. I've love to have the tough choice of doing I take a tenure track position or keep writing and publishing.

SZ: What's on the near horizon for TammyJo Eckhart? Upcoming and new releases?

TJE: I just turned in a novella to Python called "Beyond the Softness of His Fur" which is "a science fiction tale of genetics, sex, and love between owners and pets". It looks at how science can be used by the elites and non-elites in society to create new systems of hierarchy as well as the question of what defines us as "human". Hopefully that will be out later this year.

I want to propose a book that collects some of what I've done on The Chocolate Cult, something I started to help me fight off depression and my chocoholism and which has taken on a life of it's own. I also will add new materials in as well and I think it would be a great gift book for Valentine's Day so I want to get that proposed in the next month.

I'm also revising a novel told through short stories that I will be proposing to publishers in October as well. I've read parts of this at conventions and an online community I'm a member of and they have been very well received. It is a very dark and scary novel but also it has a lot of hope, our main are fighting on the good side of things even if they are often unaware of that fact. This draw explicitly on my training in ancient history since I'm using Sumerian mythology as the basis for everything.

SZ: Have you been having fun being the High Priestess of The Chocolate Cult?

TJE: It is a lot of fun though it's less fun than when I started. I just can't get the historian out of me at all so when I read a report I have to ask questions and do research. When I learn something I feel the need to share it. I always want my reviews to be what I promised: honest, all five sense engaged descriptions. All of that takes work. Now if I'd only make money from it, it might be nice. I do get some samples from companies but I'm spending more of my own money still. The Chocolate Cult did hit over 10,000 unique visitor since March 2009 though on September 8, 2009, so I guess folks are learning about it and reading it.

SZ: What are some of the main links where people can find you, your work, and even The Chocolate Cult?

Main website: it has links to everything, my books, Live Journal accounts, Facebook, things like that.

Chocolate Cult:

Servants of Destiny Fulfills What It Set Out to Achieve
review by Stephen Zimmer for Seventh Star Press Blog Site, September 13, 2009

Servants of Destiny (Fem Fist Books, ISBN: 978-1887895774), by TammyJo Eckhart, is a fantasy novel that takes chances, challenges the reader, and blends compelling original ideas into a solid fantasy narrative.

The story centers around Marelda, a strong, magic-wielding woman, who has a sagely mentor named Sigrid. Marelda is on a quest that is tied to a prophecy, one concerning the restoration of the Divine Couple, reflecting a long-lost time of harmony and peaceful order.

While on her quest, she observes a young runaway slave who is about to be sold in a slave market. Recognizing something unique about him, she buys him, and seeks to take him with her on her quest.

This leads to a clear-cut relationship where Marelda is dominant and firmly in control, something she wastes no time in asserting. The idea of this kind of relationship is certainly not out of the bounds of fantasy literature. Robert Jordan's Aes Sedai have some undercurrents of this type of woman, as do the Mord Sith found in Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series.

TammyJo Eckhart paints a clear and effective picture of the type of predicament that Dolan is in, existing in a culture that has slavery as an accepted institution and way of life. There really is nowhere that he can run to, as the best that he can hope for is to evade the inevitable for a little longer than most others. I have more than a hunch that TammyJo was able to draw off of her expertise in ancient cultures and history (which she has a Ph.D in) in crafting such a society, as slavery was an accepted institution in numerous ancient cultures all across the world. Dolan's plight is believable, and the reactions of other characters encountered along the way is genuine, as to assist Dolan in any way is to invite great trouble to oneself.

When Marelda buys Dolan, and places a set of magical cuffs on him, there truly is no way out for the young man. Resentful of the situation, angry, and embittered, Dolan is understandably resistive. What follows is a very intensive process by which Dolan becomes resigned to his fate, and begins to embrace his destiny. It is a process of self-discovery, leading to more than Dolan ever imagined.

Marelda is a very strong character, and the dominant of the pair, but Dolan is by no means a quivering weakling. He is clever, strong-willed, and skilled, and becomes invaluable to Marelda's own quest to recover three ancient artifacts which have fallen into the hands of powerful enemies. To even have a chance at success in her quest, harmony in her relationship with Dolan is imperative. She is not perfect or invincible, and TammyJo has developed a very credible character with Marelda.

There is also a rather creative fusion between magic and sex portrayed in the book that proves to be a very critical factor in Marelda's fulfilment of destiny.

Servants of Destiny is an excellent fantasy novel with strong erotic elements. A good quest story, an excellent mentor figure for Marelda (Sigrid), and other parts of this tale will resonate well with any type of fantasy audience. The dominant-submissive relationship between Marelda and Dolan is an area where TammyJo lays down a challenge to general fantasy readers, and she crafts some very vivid, quite intense scenes, but she has developed consistent characterization and plot with these elements that testify strongly to her abilities as a writer. The erotic elements do not overwhelm the plot, and nor are they frivilous. TammyJo has done an excellent job in maintaining consistency and relevancy, something that she should be commended for in areas of literature where all too often the erotic aspects saturate the work to the sufferance of all else.

While the dominant-submissive relationship between Marelda and Dolan would not likely be considered "mainstream", a potential reader would be missing out on alot if he or she chose to see this type of relationship as a stumbling block to giving this well-crafted book a chance. Good writing involves good character construction, and is what a possibly tentative reader should focus on the most.

Servants of Destiny showcases a very talented author, and will satisfy readers of fantasy as well as those who enjoy erotic-laced tales. It will be interesting to see the kinds of science fiction and fantasy stories that TammyJo Eckhart brings us in the future, as I know that she will not settle for the conventional or status quo in those genres. Here's hoping that major publishers, or well-established small press publishers, with an eye for talent and originality will come across this very gifted, promising writer, and help her to reach her destiny.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Seventh Star Press Podcast Episode 3, featuring H. David Blalock, author of Ascendant

In the 3rd Edition of the Seventh Star Podcast, we will be visiting with fantasy author H. David Blalock, writer of Ascendant (Sam's Dot Publishing). Focused around the southern-most island of the Atlantean Archipelago, Ascendant features a rich fantasy world that involves Byzantine-style intrigue, epic battles, imaginative creatures, and a whole lot more, woven into a story that David has made very believable.

Based out of Memphis, Tennessee, David is also showing himself to be a maverick in the small press world in regards to the Imagicopter project that he spearheads. Imagicopter is a rather unique promotional organization that creates events and appearances for small press authors.

This podcast interview covers David's career, writing, and a little about Imagicopter, so be sure to check it out! (and you will notice several more short author tags, so be sure to look up the authors that introduce themselves during the show!)

Extra special thanks to the guys in Zero King for providing some brand new music for the show. "Black Friday" ROCKS!

Click here to listen to or download Episode 3 of the Seventh Star Press Podcast!

You can subscribe to the podcast as an RSS feed here:

or find the podcast on iTunes through this link: Seventh Star Press Podcast on iTunes