Thursday, March 5, 2015

Black Ships by Jo Graham - A Review

I absolutely adore a good historical novel - the older the time period, the better.  Throw in some mythos, weave in some legends, and I am in heaven, which is pretty close to how I felt while reading Black Ships, by Jo Graham.

Black Ships is the Bronze Age story of Gull, a young slave girl who, having been lamed in an accident, is given as an acolyte to the temple of the Lady of the Dead. Her ability to see the future earns her a place as an oracle to her people, and when nine black ships appear, captained by Aeneas, a prince from the fallen city of Troy, she follows her destiny, aiding him in his journey to find the rest of their scattered tribe, and establish not only a new city, but a whole new era.

Based on Virgil's Aenead, the story is a deft blend of fact and fiction, taking the reader on a glorious Mediterranean voyage through the islands and harbors of ancient Greece, into the shadowy temples of Byblos, the watery world of Atlantis, and down the Nile into the mysterious land of Egypt.  I was completely caught up in Gull's journey, very happy to find such a beautifully crafted story set in an age of heroes, and pleasantly surprised by the author's take on what we already know of history.  I've already moved on to reading Graham's next novel, The Hand of Isis, which I'm sure will not disappoint.  5 Stars

Terri Garey is a Supernatural Underground author who writes award-winning and critically-acclaimed urban fantasy. Even though she's a big scaredy-cat who can't watch horror movies or visit haunted houses, she loves moonlit graveyards, moss-covered headstones and the idea that life goes on even after it's over. Her latest release is WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD, and you can visit her on the web at, or friend her on Facebook.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

How I do it: Equal parts Passion, Truth, Love, and Coffee

Year of Living Authentically #2: How I do it, a quick and dirty delve into the mind of one writer and what makes her tick.

This month I thought I would talk about the question I get most often from mothers: How do you do it? How do you write and have a job and be a mom and still manage to have time for a marriage? 

I didn't have a real answer until recently. I'd joke about my blood stream being equal parts coffee and white wine, but that's just me not wanting to really figure it out, to find out the truth about what makes me tick. 

I was filling out a marriage personality test with my husband when I finally realized HOW I do everything that I do. The scores of the test suggested that I have unnatural combinations of personality traits or that I was double-masked and so distorted by my life choices I didn't know who I was. According to the world, I'm crazy. 

But the truth is: I'm an artist, and an educator, and mother, and a wife. I am The Breakfast Club personified. And here is how my brain works. 

I have a full-time job- I coordinated several student programs at a major university. It is stressful and unpredictable, and I am REALLY good at talking to people, listening to what they need, and helping them. So it increases my confidence. 

I take that confidence and I teach creative writing to adults who have stories brewing in their souls and I get to help them percolate it and I LOVE the light they get in their eyes when it clicks and their story is now out in the world connecting to others. So that increases my passion for storytelling.  

And I take that passion and I write as much as I can because writing is breathing. I have things to say and questions to ask, and pain to experience, and joy to create. I want to know the depth and breadth of love and life, so I write to explore my truth. 

And I take that truth and I express it to my daughter in any way that I can. I know when I smile at her it is out of true happiness, and when I laugh, it is real laughter. When I am with my family, I am with them 100% because I am not longing to be anywhere else but with them. Because I know the work will get done, and the chapter will get written, and it will all still be there tomorrow and who can worry about anything when a block tower must be built. 

There is my circle of life (queue Lion King Theme). 

Does it get out of whack: Oh yeah. But now its easier to figure out which wheel needs to be greased. If I'm working too much, I feel it in my QT with the Bean. If I haven't written in a while, I can't concentrate on work. If i don't teach, I end up lecture my husband on Calls to Adventure. 

Does it mean I get less sleep: Oh yeah. But I am happy with my choice. My wheels are greased with coffee and white wine. I'm not denying that. Coffee is the flavor of my soul. But what fuels me is passion, and being true to myself, and family time.

So take that personality test who thinks I don't know who I am- I do. All four of me. 

Authenticity test #2: What fuels your passion? What makes you stay up late at night? When was the last time you treated yourself to it? Don't you think its about time?

Until next time YOLA!!!

Amanda Arista


Sunday, March 1, 2015

The "Immortalization In Fiction" Contest -- We Have A Result! Plus More Getting Fictional!

Victory Beach from "Bird of Passage"
w00t! Over the past two months I've featured a short story, Bird of Passage -- together with an opportunity for commenters to see their name immortalized in fiction.

That is, the winner's name will be used for a character in a future short story to be featured here on the Supernatural Underground during 2015 --because this, as discussed on my own blog today, is my Year Of Living Fictionally!

Because we experienced technical difficulties (for a while, they're all fixed now) with comments here on the Supernatural Underground, last month I also allowed eligible comments to be left on the link post on my own blog. But now, drawing on comments left here, on my January and February posts, as well as on the link post, today we have a result (drawn randomly via

Drum Roll! The commenter whose name will be awarded to a fictional character in a short story featured here (or on my own blog if preferred) is:

Pegasus 358 / Beth

Congratulations, Beth. I am looking forward to seeing your name in print!

(I should have your email via your comment, but if not, email me on contact[at]helenlowe[dot]info to discuss "where to from here.")


More On Getting Fictional

Although the number of comments suggest a certain degree of shyness regarding living fictionally yourselves :-), I've  been really pleased to see how many of you have taken the time to read Bird of Passage over the past two months.

You might also enjoy:

Cold Cass (flash fiction)

The Spit (realism)

The Brother King (legendary history)

Red Earth (eco-SF/future dystopia)

And for those who're fans of the Wall Of Night series, I posted a wee snippet from the edited manuscript last Thursday:

Another Sneak Preview For “Daughter Of Blood, The Wall Of Night Book Three”


Supernatural Underground regular, Helen Lowe, is a novelist, poet and interviewer whose work has been published, broadcast and anthologized in internationally. Her first novel, Thornspell, was published to critical praise in 2008, and her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Helen posts regularly on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog, occasionally on SF Signal, and is also active on Twitter: @helenl0we


Monday, February 16, 2015

5 Reasons to Reread Your Favorite Novels

The Art of Reading
Life is short; the TBR list long. So why would I encourage you to reread your favorite novels?

Tyrion Lannister, in  A Storm of Swords, says “Old stories are like old friends . . . You have to visit them from time to time,” and social psychologists are starting to agree.

Rereading books allows us to immerse in a familiar story world, which benefits our emotional, physical and mental health more than reading new material, or not reading at all. Here’s why:

1) Rereading stories we love is guaranteed entertainment. We escape, engaging in the story and letting go of our ‘real life’ worries and concerns. It’s a holiday anyone can afford, a real stress buster, and we all know, stress is at the root of most physical complaints.

2) Rereading favorite books (or watching favorite films and TV shows) gives us comfort. They nourish us on a deep level by taking us to a remembered happiness. Once there, we can experience  those pleasures all over again, reinforcing the ‘happy brain messengers’ in our biochemistry so vital to our emotional, and subsequently physical, well being.

3) Beloved old books are like our True North. They helps us make sense of ourselves by contrasting how we are now to how we were when we first visited the pages. They can help us put change into perspective and understand personal growth and evolution.

4) Familiar stories aren't like old friends. They are old friends. We make connections to fictional characters in the same ways to do ‘real’ people. Psychologists call it parasocial interactions, describing them as one-sided, but the fact is, these relationships offer us all the mental and emotional benefits of camaraderie, community and a sense of belonging, essential states for our health and well being.

5) Rereading favorite books can boost our energy levels, fueling the tanks as much, or more, than a good night’s sleep, or a healthy meal. Jaye Derrick, PhD, explains it like this:

People have a limited pool of mental resources such as drive, willpower and self control. The more we work at a task, the more we deplete our stores, until we refuel with rest and nutrition. But revisiting a much loved story worlds can fill our tanks, and fast.

What’s in play is the idea of social surrogacy where fictional characters become valuable friends. We form relationships to them that have a restorative effect, sometimes more so than our ‘real life’ companions who may make their own demands on us, or respond, at times, in unreliable and/or disturbing, draining, ways.

The operant word in this is “favorite”. Rereading or re-watching any old story won’t have the same benefits, nor will reading the next installment of a series for the first time. It is the familiar reconnection with what happens that really switches on our bio-chemistry, helping to balance our health, relax the nervous systems and contribute to a state of happiness and well being.

Of course, as authors, we return to our own story worlds repeatedly, often with a ticking clock. There are dozens of rereads while writing a manuscript, then multiple edits once it’s complete. Then we read the 4th, 3rd, 2nd and final proof pages and finally, re reread previous books in a series before writing the next, and the next and the next.

Aside from my own works and collaborations, I  have a few old favorites that have lit me up for decades - Lord of the Rings, Dragon Riders of Pern, Dead to the World, The Silver Metal Lover . . .

How about you? I’d love to hear the story worlds you return to and why. Please feel free to comment, sharing with us all your best friends!

Kim Falconer is a Supernatural Underground author writing paranormal romance, urban fantasy, YA and epic science fantasy novels.

You can find out more about Kim at the 11th House Blog, and on FaceBook and Twitter.

She posts here at the Supernatural Underground on the 16th of every month

Her latest release is"Blood and Water" in Supernatural Underground: Vampires Gone Wild.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Slipstream Goes Mainstream, or Why Weird Is the New Normal

I read an article* in the Wall Street Journal the other day about "Slipstream Fiction". It was a term I'd never heard before, which surprised me, but what surprised me even more is that I've been writing slipstream fiction for years, and didn't even know it!

Wikipedia defines the Slipstream genre as: "fantastic or non-realistic fiction that crosses conventional genre boundaries between science fiction, fantasy and mainstream literary fiction". Um, hello... we authors here in the Supernatural Underground write about ghosts and shapeshifters and time travel and shadowy creatures from other worlds. We weave tales of mystery and magic, blending fantasy with science fiction, modernity with the medieval, and while the settings and characters may differ, the focus remains on the universal aspects of the human condition: the quest for self, the need for love and acceptance, the choices we make on the moral issues between right and wrong, good and evil.

Slipstream fiction is being referred to as "the New Weird", and I, for one, am very glad to hear it.  I've never wanted to be a carbon copy of everyone else - I have my quirks (I adore Halloween, avoid red meat, and talk to my orchids while tending them). According to the WSJ article*, I'm not alone, as Slipstream Fiction is a fast-growing genre, indicating that readers seem to embrace the blending of the mundane with the bizarre. 

In short, I think it's apparent that we humans are becoming more comfortable in embracing our own weirdness.  :)

Do you enjoy "Slipstream Fiction"? Do you embrace your own weirdness? Any quirks you're willing to share?

Go ahead, tell us... we're all a bunch of weirdos here!

*You can read the WSJ article in its entirety right here.

Terri Garey is a Supernatural Underground author who writes award-winning and critically-acclaimed urban fantasy. Even though she's a big scaredy-cat who can't watch horror movies or visit haunted houses, she loves moonlit graveyards, moss-covered headstones and the idea that life goes on even after it's over. Her latest release is WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD, and you can visit her on the web at, or friend her on Facebook.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

S'more truth about sex, please!

Authentically means:  “true to one's own personality, spirit, or character.”

Year Of Living Authentically #1: The Truth about Sex

We are all grownups here and it is that time of year where hearts and flowers prevail, so I thought I’d talk about the one thing that truly peels off all the masks we wear. How’s that for starting off the YOLA!

The number three thing I get asked by non-writers is when you write about sex, are you basing it on your own experience?

First off, please don’t ask me about my private life. If I don’t talk to my mother about it, I’m not going to talk to a stranger about it.

Secondly, the truth is: I’m not the one in my books having sex, the characters are.  And contrary to popular belief, I am not my main character. However, superpowers would be cool.

I LOVE crafting the love story for my characters almost as much as I love crafting the demons they have to defeat. I look at their insecurities, their hang, ups, their flaws that have prevented them from becoming a hero already. Finding someone who loves them in spite of all this what really inspires me. And then I put them together, throw a bunch of obstacles in the way, and see what happens.

I write with the truth that love is seeing the inner, ooey-gooey marshmallow center of another person and embracing it in a graham cracker and chocolate hug. It is seeing what the other person hides from the world and accepting it. It’s knowing yourself enough to understand how you fit perfectly with another person. Add a little heat and, Voila! 

Speaking of heat, now back to the sex part.  When I’m writing this scene, it really is my main character informing the scene. How are they experiencing it? How would they sense it? What words would they use? I’m am just documenting it for other’s enjoyment. When the moment of fruition comes, I’m just as happy for them as they are, or scared for them, or exposed with them because they are their own little beings of thought and words and I want them to be happy, eventually. 

Wow. Some of that sounded really kind of dirty. But it’s the truth. I want everyone to experience this type of truth in their life. That is what romance writers are going for, informing that experience of finding love, of rekindling love. Finding all the paths, and shapes, and tastes of love to hopefully help you find one that it true to your spirit.

Authenticity test: Think about the thrill when your favorite on-screen/on-page couple FINALLY had their first kiss. Buffy and Spike? Booth and Bones? Why did it make you feel that way? Because you longed for the same kind of adventure? Because it helps you relieved some love you'd experienced before? 

Amanda Arista

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Bird Of Passage, Part 2 – Swinging Into 2015 With Story!


Credit: B. Miller
Last month I posted the first half of a short story, Bird Of Passage – all part of gettin' fictional on 2015. :)

This is the second and final part of the story, but before you get reading, there is more.

As promised last month, all commenters over the two parts of this story will go in a "Tuckerization" draw  i.e. the winner's name will be used for a character in a future short story to be featured here on the Supernatural Underground during 2015. Or if you prefer, you may post your comment on the linked post on my own blog.

The opportunity to comment will remain open until next time I post on 1 March (2015) and in the event of multiple commentators the draw will be via

Now onward, into the story.


To read the first part, click on Bird Of Passage, Part 1

Bird Of Passage: Part 2 

© Helen Lowe, 2014

The following morning was grey and overcast, threatening rain, and the house was so quiet I thought Debbie must have already gone out.  "Fry up time," I said out loud, and broke some eggs into the pan. I was buttering the toast when Debbie appeared, yawning mightily and looking pale above a man's old fashioned, plaid dressing gown. But it wasn't the dressing gown that made me pause, knife in mid-air. "What's that you've got on your head?" I demanded.  "It looks like a Rastafarian tea cosy!"

"Probably," she said, without much interest. She wasn't interested in eggs either, just made herself a large mug of herbal tea and stared into it as though she could read her future in the cloudy depths. I put her subdued spirits down to obvious, Saturday night causes and addressed my energies to the eggs. Neither of us spoke for some time, and it was only when I was tidying up that she said, "I may have to stay on a bit longer. Is that OK?"

"Has your course been extended?" I asked. "How long for?"

"Probably only a few weeks," she said. "An opportunity's come up to do something more, and there's the set project I'd like to finish here as well, because it's going to be impossible to take with me."

"It must be big," I said, and she nodded. "Will you be able to sell it here then, before you leave?"

She nodded again.  "I think so. I'll have to. So is that OK with you? The staying on, I mean?"

"Yeah, sure, of course," I said. I grinned, unable to resist teasing. "You're not too much trouble, for one of Tom's friends."

She smiled faintly. "Tom means well. I can give you some money, too, of course.”

I hesitated, then shrugged. “It doesn't matter. I don't really need it, you know."

She regarded me gravely across the rim of the mug.  "That's what Tom said. He said some aunt of yours left you a legacy, along with the house."

"Great-aunt," I corrected, "and the legacy is mainly for the house, to maintain it. Unfortunately, I still have to work for a living."

Her smile deepened momentarily, before she banished it. "That must be hard."

I laughed and looked out the window, assessing the day. "It looks like it's going to clear up after all. Why don't we go out to the harbor heads and see that wreck?"

She put the mug down and peered out, too. "Really? It would be so great to get out of town for a while."

"Let's do it then," I said.  "That is, so long as you wear something other than that tea cosy thing on your head."

Debbie grinned. "I'll wear a beanie: To spare your sensibilities."


"It feels quite different out here," she said, a few hours later, when we had parked the car and were walking out to the beach. "It's wilder, of course, and more open – but the town's always so drab and grungy. It's turned in on itself."

"Focused on past glories," I agreed. "But it grows on you after a while, all the same."

"There's too much stone," Debbie said. "And not enough trees, not down on the flat anyway. The town's turned its back on the harbour, too.  So it's all just stone, stone and more stone; that's what makes everything seem so heavy.” She paused, her eyes tearing up as she stared into the wind. “It weighs down on the soul."

I felt my eyebrows lift. "I thought you'd like stone, being a sculptor."

"That's different. It's not an environment."  She stopped, looking around at the long, lonely stretch of beach, the ocean and the brooding sweep of sky. "Now this is an environment! But where's the wreck?"

I pointed towards the far end of the beach. "It's just the wheel really, although I expect there're plenty of spars beneath the sand. You can just see it – there, in the surf."

We walked in silence after that. The wind was brisk, cool but not freezing, and Debbie seemed absorbed by the shifting colours of the sea and the multitude of birds, great flocks of them along the water margin and around the deeper pools. "I could watch them forever," she said, and did, standing motionless for a long time.

"I wonder how many of them are birds of passage," she said, when we moved on, "like the godwits further north? They say they migrate from New Zealand to the Arctic and back again every year. Isn't that amazing?"

I agreed that it was, but thought that most of the birds on this beach were permanent residents. By that stage we had come up to the paddle wheel, shell encrusted in the creaming surf, and I had to relate what I knew of the wreck, which wasn't a lot. The ship, I volunteered, had been called the Victory, the same name as Nelson's flagship, and now the beach was named after it as well.

"There were a lot of wrecks on the Coast too," said Debbie, with a shiver. Her face clouded and she said she felt like a rest, so we sat on the edge of the dunes, watching the waves and the wading birds. Debbie's eyes followed a gull's flight.  "I wonder if they know where they're going, those godwits," she said softly, "or is it just instinct they follow, out across the vast ocean?"

I said nothing, just watched the gull myself, not sure an answer was required.

"We're not that different, are we?" she continued after a while. "People, I mean. We have all sorts of ideas about what comes after, but we don't really know. We're like the godwits, compelled to head into the unknown with only a feeling, faith maybe, to guide us."

I looked at her, staring out at the horizon with her beanie pulled down over her ears. Her eyes were shadowed, even somber. Although that, I thought, might just be the effect of the day, which had grown overcast again. Sitting so close, I felt my awareness of her shift and sharpen, like changing up a gear on the bike. I could see the film of salt on her lips and imagine their taste beneath mine, the same wild tang as the ocean, and after that – what?

I almost did it, leaned that bit closer and kissed her, but caution prevailed. There was too much I didn't know – about Debbie's relationship with Tom, or how far I wanted to take things with her staying in the house for an open-ended period. Hasten slowly, I told myself, watching another seagull beat into the headwind. Wait and see how things go.

Debbie looked around then and smiled; the cloud cover shifted, letting through a gleam of sun. "Perhaps not you though," she said, still pursuing her line of thought. "I think you're a shore dweller at heart."

"Never looking beyond the horizon at all," I agreed, lightly, since it was true. I am not a reflective person. Later, and not without bitterness, I was to think – and not an observant one either. But that afternoon I was just pleased to see her mood lighten, and to hear her say, when we turned for a last look down the beach, "This has been a fabulous afternoon. I'd like to come out here again some time."

She never did, though. I don't know how long it was, after that, before I realised the hats were more than just an alternative fashion statement, and that although she really was working on a sculpture at the design school, the main course was at the hospital. As I said, not very observant, but even I couldn't fail to notice the signs in the end—which seemed to come swiftly after that. The bitterness stemmed from realizing, too late, how deeply she had gotten under my skin. I was almost surprised at how bereft I felt, listening to the emptiness of the house after she died.

"I should have warned you," said Tom, when he was staying on after the funeral. "Debs always was the sort who grew on you quietly – the kind you end up really missing."

I said nothing. What could you say to a man who had stayed on at the glaciers even when he knew how really sick she was. But that was Tom for you, he would always leave the hard yards to someone else. For a moment, I came close to hating him, sitting there so calmly, squinting down at his roll-your-own.

"She must have really liked you though," he said, "because she's left you one of her pieces of stone. It's a bit different from the usual – and big. It'll take the pickup and both of us to get it up here."
It did – and I saw what he meant about it being different. The sculpture was a bas relief, rather than one of the customary, figurative pieces, but it was all there, captured in the face of the stone: the long sweep of the beach and the solitary godwit wheeling, called to an unknown shore and striking out on its uncharted journey. I looked at it for a long time, and then I got Tom to help me put it in the garden, under what had been her window, facing out to the harbor and Victory Beach.

The End

Victory Beach