Thursday, February 22, 2024

Speculative Fiction Links of the Week for February 23, 2023


 
It's time for the latest weekly round-up of interesting links about speculative fiction from around the web, this week with Masters of the Universe: Revolution, Star Wars in general, Doctor Who past, present and future, Dune: Part 2, the new Avatar the Last Airbender, Madame Web, Constellation, Spaceman, The Space Race, the best SFF books of 2023, trubutes to Steve Miller and much more.

Speculative fiction in general:
 
Tributes to Steve Miller:
 
Best of 2023:

 
Film and TV:
 
Comments on Masters of the Universe: Revolution (spoilers) and Masters of the Universe in general: 
 
Comments on Dune, Part 2
 
Comments on Star Wars: The Bad Batch and Star Wars in general:
 
Comments on Doctor Who past, present and future:  
 
Comments on the new Avatar: The Last Airbender in animation and live action:
 
Comments on Madame Web:
 
Comments on Constellation:
 
Comments on Spaceman:

Comments on The Space Race:
 
Awards:

Writing, publishing and promotion:
 
Interviews:
 
Reviews:
 Classics reviews:
Con and event reports:
 
Science and technology:
 
Toys and collectibles:
 
Free online fiction: 
 

 

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Interview with Chantal Bellehumeur, author of Paranormal Investigation

 


Today it gives the Speculative Fiction Showcase great pleasure to interview Chantal Bellehumeur, author of Paranormal Investigation

What was the inspiration behind Paranormal Investigation, your ghost story published on January 4th, 2024?

There is a historical jail in the city of Cornwall Ontario with a reputation for being haunted.  Granted, a lot of them are, but this one is at the top of Canada’s most haunted places. 

I went on a guided tour of the old building during the day and came back in the fall to conduct a paranormal investigation with my husband and son.  The special activity was organised by a company called Phantoms of York, who specialises in this kind of thing. They conducted their own investigation there and have been giving tourists the opportunity to do the same in October.  They provided us with ghost hunting equipment and gave tips on how to potentially communicate with spirits.

Our two-and-a-half hours session was recorded with a night vision camera and the footage was uploaded on YouTube for us to watch and analyse. As I was having fun replaying certain parts and taking notes, it gave me the idea for the story.

 I must admit nothing much happens during these kinds of investigations. There was no guarantee we would experience anything, and it’s all a matter of interpretation too.  But, we did capture a few things so I used my own experience, those of others, as well as historical facts to create a fictional story. I made the ghosts a lot more active than during a real investigation to make it more interesting and added humour.  

How much is the story fact, and how much fiction?

It depends on your beliefs. 

Before conducting our own paranormal investigation, we watched a short video about the jail’s history as well as testimonials and clips from other people’s investigations.  My prologue which introduces the Cornwall jail and its past inmates is real.  That being said, some of the ghosts and supernatural activities were based on real people and claimed sightings. 

For example, there was a doll in one of the cell blocks. When I asked the dolls name, a voice on the radio transmitter we had on said ‘’Raggedy’’ and then ‘’Ann’’.  At least, that’s what I heard.  My family didn’t hear those specific words until we watched the footage at home. 

I included the most exciting parts of our investigation in my story and embellished. Everything that happens after the Roy family leave the jail, including the epilogue, is pure fiction.

What prompted you and your family to do a real-life investigation at Cornwall’s old jail?


I personally believe in the paranormal. 

A lot of people died inside the walls of the Cornwall jail and I was curious to see if I could actually communicate with their spirits. 

Part of me was a bit scared of messing with the supernatural.  Violent criminals such as convicted murdered were hung there.  Men and woman deemed insane also died there because the jail doubled up as an asylum.  It also held homeless people, including children.  I wanted to learn their stories and thought a paranormal investigation would be an interesting activity to do around Halloween. 

It felt like a safe environment; one in which I could leave any time and not have to return if I didn’t want to.  I don’t think I would be comfortable doing something like this in my home. 

Have you written other stories about ghosts and the paranormal?

Yes. 

My novel “Past lives’’ is about reincarnation. The main character goes under hypnosis to remember all her past lives, including times she roamed as a ghost. 

I’ve also written a few short stories involving ghosts. The first one that comes to mind is “Imaginary Friend” which was published in an issue of Mom’s Favourite Reads eMagazine.

As a writer, have you got a favourite genre?

No. It really depends on my mood.

I write a lot of slice-of-life type stories, but enjoyed writing romance, horror, historical, fantasy, memoires, and even poetry equally.  I don’t like writing typical poetry though.  Mine read more like stories.

How important is the humour in Paranormal Investigation?

The humour in Paranormal investigation is light and helps keeps things more realistic.  The main character is like me in the sense that she believes in the supernatural, but her husband Dave is more sceptical so keeps cracking jokes.  Its also a coping mechanism. He’s a bit spooked but won’t admit it. A lot of people react that way.

What prompted you to become a writer?

I always liked telling stories. 

When I was a young child, I asked my mother to note down my made-up stories for me, and once I learned how to write I started making little books with stapled papers.  I continued writing as a teen and wrote a novel in my early twenties. It was a fictional diary I never intended to publish but somebody encouraged me to do so. I find it quite therapeutic to write and got a lot of positive feedback from my first book so continued publishing my work.

Now I have 20 published books, and a lot of my short stories, poems, memoirs, and even recipes have been featured in anthologies and digital magazines.  I also wrote a few articles for a local newspaper to create awareness about Ulcerative Colitis, a chronic digestive illness I was diagnosed with in 2009.

Do you have a daily writing routine?

No. I write when inspiration strikes. I do prefer a quiet environment so I can concentrate.

How do you balance the demands of family, work and creativity?

When I am struck by inspiration, it’s usually at an inconvenient time.  It can be while I am in the shower, trying to sleep, or enjoying an activity with somebody.

I do my best to focus on my work while I am at the office but might quickly jot down a thing or two on a post-it so I don’t forget general ideas.  If I am elsewhere, I use my phone to write little notes.  At home, I will sit down at my computer to write as soon as I can.  My family knows when not to disturb me.

I’ve written a lot while on sick leave too and it has given me time to focus and do research.

What writers have inspired you?

I love a lot of different authors for various reasons, but none of them specifically inspired me to write. I try to avoid reading a book when I am in full writing mode because I don’t want another author’s writing style to subconsciously influence my own.

You have struggled with serious health issues, mentioned on your website. How has that changed the way you write and the subjects you choose?

Indeed. I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis around the same time I started publishing so it became my escape. 

The first few years of dealing with my chronic illness was tough, especially while trying to raise a child on my own.  I wrote to distract myself and feel somewhat productive when I was too sick to work. 

I mention the illness in a couple of my novels.  The first one was ‘‘Hope’’.  I was so desperate to make people understand what I was going through after being hospitalised.  Little did I know, I hadn’t even experienced the worst of it yet.  I hate to say it, but it was the worst book I’ve ever written.  I’ve since then written personal articles about my illness which were published in a local newspaper and their website.  I was later approached by Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, a foundation I volunteered for, to share my story to potential doners.  

As a writer of ghost stories, do you believe in ghosts? 

Yes, I do. 

Call me crazy, but sometimes I feel another presence in my home.  My sister said she feels the same when she comes over.  It’s a weird sensation; like I am being watched.

I felt it from time to time inside the Cornwall jail and other historical sites; in London, England especially! The London Tower felt haunted and going on a Jack the Ripper Walk was creepy, and not just because of the murders that happened over a century ago.  Those weird vibes I got in Whitechapel pushed me to write my novel ‘’Just.Another.Common.Killer’’ as well as a bonus story called ‘’Mary Kelly’s Diary’’ which I included in the second edition of the horror book.

Years ago, when I was visiting an old jail in Ottawa, I had this similar sensation. I felt something brush me while our group was standing in front of the original hanging spot, staring at a hanging noose.  I thought it was my friend, but he swore it wasn’t him and there wasn’t anyone else behind us.

I could go on…

Are you planning to carry out more investigations in historic buildings?

The same people who organised the paranormal investigation at the Cornwall jail do the same thing at other historic sites.  I am definitely interested in trying the experience at other locations.

What are you working on now?

My dad told me a crazy thing that happened in the early 80’s while we were moving from Timmins to Burlington. I have no recollection of it because I was only three at the time, but it inspired a short story.

How do you imagine the audience for Paranormal Investigation? 

I believe my book is ideal for people who enjoy reading light ghost stories. It’s spooky, but not to the point of giving you nightmares.



Amazon


About Chantal Bellehumeur:






Chantal Bellehumeur is a Montreal author born in 1981. She has 20 published books of various genres as well as numerous short stories, memoirs, poems and articles featured in compilation books, eMagazines, plus articles in The Suburban l newspaper.
For a complete list of publications, including free reads, visit the following website: author-chantal-bellehumeur.webnode.com/products-/

Monday, February 19, 2024

Interview with Joseph P. Macolino, author of The Battle for Erathal (Book 3 of The Evorath Trilogy)

 


Today it gives the Speculative Fiction Showcase great pleasure to interview Joseph P. Macolino, whose novel The Battle for Erathal (Book 3 of The Evorath Trilogy) has its debut on February 20, 2024.

The Battle for Erathal is the third volume in The Evorath Trilogy, which began with The Birth of Death. Where are we at the start of the book and how does it relate to volumes 1 and 2?


I like to consider this trilogy to be equal parts plot-driven and character-driven. So, in relation to the first two books in the trilogy, this novel concludes those character arcs readers have come to love during the first two stories. In terms of plot, this story kicks off a few months after book 2, which ended with the imprisonment of the main antagonist, Yezurkstal. And as he breaks from that prison, the entire continent of Erathal is in danger.


To what extent is The Battle for Erathal a stand-alone novel and how far is it an entry point for newcomers to the series?


While I’d say it’s possible for a newcomer to pick up and read it by itself, I wouldn’t think it’d have the same impact. The growth of Artimus and Savannah’s relationship, the personal development we see Irontail go through, the hateful and merciless attitude of Yezurkstal, the loss experiences by characters like Casandra and Zelag…all these things and more lead to the events in The Battle for Erathal. So, while you could technically pick up the book and fill in the contextual gaps well enough, I doubt the full emotional impact of the story will be felt.


What can you tell us about Evorath itself? What sort of world is it?


In many ways, it’s not dissimilar to Earth. It has 356 days in its calendar, 12 months in the year, and all four seasons we enjoy here. It has governments, religions, philosophers, artists, and all things good and bad you’d find in the real world. From an ecological perspective, the world of Evorath is more temperate than earth, with a heavy concentration of deciduous forest around the world. But it’s a world filled with magic and mythical creatures. The magic of Evorath flows all around, in rocks, in trees, and in the very people that call Evorath home. Centaurs, elves, dwarves, dragons, and all manner of mythological creatures have a home on Evorath. In this trilogy, you can consider the events taking place in a world similar to medieval earth.


Would you call The Battle for Erathal epic fantasy or high fantasy, and how important is that?


I always find the distinction to get muddy, but this is how I define the two terms. Epic fantasy is about the scale of the story, the scope of events. High fantasy is about the setting. In this way, I’d say it is an epic, high fantasy. That is, the stakes and overall plot of the story are epic in nature. And the setting, being in it’s own unique and original world, makes it textbook high fantasy.


What can you tell us about Irontail the centaur, and what is he doing at the beginning of the story?


Funny thing about Irontail is that he ended up being a much more important character than originally planned. I found the more he grew and developed, the more I loved writing about him. At the start of this story, he has worked with some others to organize the first ever Gratitude Festival. This holiday is being celebrated to give thanks to the goddess Evorath and serve as a uniting force among the various species that call Erathal forest their home. For him, recent years have been a time of great change as he’s taken on the reigns as Chieftain of his tribe. Of course, he still isn’t content with the status quo, always looking for ways to empower the people of Evorath.


When a new - and old - trouble returns, who are his allies in the fight?


Irontail is joined by Artimus and Savannah, a married pair of elves who were just hoping to enjoy a quiet winter. We also get to see Tel’ Shira again, a felite warrior and athlete who is always ready for a fight. Zelag, the shapeshifter introduced in Book 2 of the series also returns, along with Casandra, the lamia mage who is a student of Evorath’s. Additionally, the heroes are joined by a barghest (dog-person) Mojo and a troll, Oogmut. And the major heroes are rounded out by Evorath’s Avatar, that is, a creature akin to an angel who was summoned to help fight Yezurkstal in book 1.


How much can you tell us about your main antagonist, Yezurkstal?


As with the real world, nearly everyone on Evorath is simply a person. That is, no one is simply “good” or “evil” by birth or circumstance. Instead, the daily choices of their lives add up and culminate into various actions, some good, some bad, and some neutral. Yezurkstal is the exception to this rule. He is pure evil. Tyrannical, jealous, wrathful, and just all around unlikable. While I don’t believe this type of person is too common in the real world, the reason I made him so unredeemable is because people need that contrast. Evil is real. And while it seems popular today to make villains sympathetic, I wanted to make a clear line in the sand: there’s no excusing mass murder and genocide, no matter what hardships or character flaws you might have.


To what extent is Evorath a classic fantasy world?


I suppose that defends how you classify a “classic fantasy world.” If it’s about the magic and creatures, it has that. There’s also no shortage of fantastic locations like the living ritual mound of Dumner (a mass of living foliage that moves and responds to the will of the centaur living there). If we’re talking more philosophically, it is a world torn between the forces of good and evil, the goddess Evorath battling against Yezurkstal and his demonic forces.


How did you set about world-building and did you go about it systematically?


Quite systematically indeed. And at this point, there’s more fleshed out in the world of Evorath than most readers will realize; and it’s not done yet. Since I started building it over a decade ago, I can’t recall exactly where I started, but I can say this. I spent time building out the medieval setting first (around the time of this trilogy). That is, I worked on what species called Evorath home, how many continents there were, etc. I also spent time mapping out what the year looked like, wrote a timeline of ancient historical events, developed various governments and religious systems, and quite a bit more. Over the years, the source documents have grown, and new ones have been added. And at this point, I have about 1,000 years of Evorath mapped out for various series to take place in the world. Really, it might be easier to consider what I didn’t account for in worldbuilding than what I did.


How important are your religious beliefs and your politics in creating an imaginary world?


That’s a really tough question because I don’t know that I can accurately say. My politics have changed so drastically since I created the world, and I don’t think they were ever important to the world-building. Since I’ve adopted an anarchist/voluntarist philosophy, you can bet there will be more non-coercive communities showing up in Evorath’s future. Because even if you don’t agree with the practical implications of the philosophy, I’d be hard pressed to imagine anyone seeing a negative in a system that people voluntarily engage with, as opposed to all the governments and political systems of Earth. My beliefs as a Christian undoubtedly had some impact, but I don’t think too heavy on that front either. The reason I say this is simple. I read more on philosophies, religions, and politics that I don’t agree with than those that I do. And I built the world of Evorath accordingly. So, while the themes and moral messages of the story may be anti-tyranny, celebrate diversity, individual liberty, and similar ideals, the world itself was crafted in a way that resembles Earth. Said differently, I’m sure there is some impact my personal biases have had on the world-building, but that doesn’t mean the stories or events match those biases. In most cases, they don’t.


What writers influenced you when you were growing up, and more recently?


Tolkien was influence number one. If I hadn’t read The Hobbit and followed up with Lord of the Rings, I likely wouldn’t have started writing in the first place. I read other books growing up like Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, Animorphs, and some Goosebumps. But all of that followed from learning how fun books could be. Here’s the funny thing about me though…by most standards, I haven’t read any recent fantasy authors other than myself. I’m sure I will one day, but right now I exclusively read nonfiction. Why? Because I constantly thirst for knowledge and understanding. So, I’m often reading history, philosophy, religious books, political books, etc. This way, I continue to get inspiration for worldbuilding without ever feeling like I’m taking inspiration from story plots.


What do you feel about writers like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien who were both deeply religious men, but approached writing fantasy in very different ways (Tolkien was not keen on allegory, for example).


I love this common picture of Lewis vs. Tolkien. And what I love most about it is that Tolkien was so inconsistent about his use of allegory. That is, he had letters where he insisted Lord of The Rings was not allegory, but then wrote later how it was clearly a Christian work and contained allegory. The reality is, Lewis was much more upfront and honest with himself about allegory. And as much as I admire Tolkien, I think his own alleged disdain for allegory was a bit exaggerated. With that said, I absolutely appreciate both styles, but I gravitate more towards Tolkien. Except in my books, I recognize upfront that there are still some allegorical influences on Evorath. But overall, like Tolkien, I try to minimize that allegory.


Now that the trilogy is complete, will you write more books set in this world, or branch out into something different?


I think I’ve effectively alluded to this answer. At present, I have more than 30 novels planned in this world. And most likely, I won’t stop there. In fact, I’ve finished writing book 1 of Legends of Evorath, a new series (more than 3 books) set about 60 years after the events of the Evorath trilogy. But as alluded to before, I have nearly 1,000 years of history outlined for stories. And the best part of that for me is that I get to explore different genres in some sense. For instance, this trilogy and the next couple series are all medieval fantasy settings. But like I said earlier, there are five continents on Evorath and these first few series are just all about one, Erathal. So whether it’s visiting pirates and mermaids in the southern islands of Evorath, or heading east to the desert kingdoms, there are plenty of stories to tell and interesting characters to meet.


What can you tell us about your experience as an indie writer so far and what do you think of the current situation for writers - and readers?

This is a loaded question if I’ve ever heard one! So, I’ll start by looking at it from the simplest perspective of being an indie author. That is, every book we write costs us money. After professional editing and cover art, we need to sell a few hundred books just to break even. If you have a story, don’t let this concern stop you from telling it, but remember you need tenacity and real passion if you hope to make it a viable career. With that said, there’s the greater implications of modern technology that are making a lot of people scared for the future. That is, technologies like AI. And while on one hand AI is great for indie authors, because we can get things like character art generated for free, it also means people are using it to make covers and even write stories. I can’t speak for everyone, but to me, neither of those two uses is acceptable. As a writer, that makes this one of the most uncertain times to be alive. As a reader, you can help though. That is, when you read books written by people (and not machines), make sure to tell others. Follow that author’s page on Amazon, leave a rating and write a review, interact with them on social media. All these things not only help encourage us, but they help ensure the real people out here writing real stories can cut through the noise.



Amazon


About Joseph P. Macolino:





Joseph Macolino has a passion for nature, philosophy, and all things fantasy. An unwavering Christian and self-declared anarchist, he dreams of a future human society where people can truly cooperate and voluntarily exchange ideas, goods, and services. When he’s not writing Evorath, he’s likely outside gardening, spending time watching a show with his family, or reading a book on philosophy. Considering himself a lifelong student of humanity, Joseph enjoys meeting new people and being exposed to new perspectives. He believes each person’s unique gifts can help contribute to stronger communities and hopes his work encourages others to embrace their gifts. Find out more about him at his website.


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